By LOU KORAC
DALLAS -- Blues coach Mike Yeo talked of Ivan Barbashev not going to get a better opportunity than the one he'll get tonight.
Barbashev, a healthy scratch the last three games, will play on a line with Brayden Schenn and Vladimir Tarasenko when the Blues (23-14-2) make a quick trip to play the Dallas Stars (20-15-3) at American Airlines Center (7:30 p.m.; FS-MW, KMOX 1120-AM).
Barbashev, who has played in 10 games this season without a point after 12 points (five goals, seven assists) in 30 games last season, was expected to perhaps be among that next wave of young talent to infiltrate the Blues roster on a regular basis. But after coming in and not being in the proper shape and lagging from the start, it's been an up-and-down season for the 2014 second round pick.
But in getting the opportunity to play with the Blues' top-scoring players tonight, it's the chance to get back on track.
"I've just got to play hard," Barbashev said. "I know they play with 'Schwartzy' (Jaden Schwartz) before. 'Schwartzy's a hard-working guy. He's always in on the forecheck, he plays hard. I've just got to do the same thing, play physical, hard, just to (make) a difference out there, especially with those guys. It's a huge step for me.
"I haven't played for a while, so today is a good step for me. First time with 'Vladi' and 'Shenner' and it's just a huge chance for me to stay here and just to be in the lineup. ... I feel comfortable to day. I have some confidence and it's going to be fine today. I'm just really excited about it."
Yeo just wants to see Barbashev play with a purpose. He last saw the ice in Calgary on Dec. 20, and the Flames were scoring the eventual game-winning goal in a 2-1 victory. Barbashev played 7 minutes 35 seconds that night and never saw the ice again.
"We I want to see him go out and play with confidence, make plays," Yeo said. "I don't want him going out there with the attitude that he can't make a mistake and it's going to bury him, but what I feel has been lacking compared to what we saw from him last year was just a passion in his game and sort of an attitude that he's going to make a difference shift after shift. I think that last year when he was successful, that showed up in his competitiveness, that showed up in his ability to win loose pucks and to jump on pucks and make things happen. I hope he plays with that type of excitement tonight.
"Obviously we've had conversations. It's not an easy thing for a young player. Certainly confidence comes into play, but there's not much we can do to try to boost his ego and his confidence in this game. This shows we have confidence in him to give him this kind of look and this kind of opportunity and now it's up to him to take advantage of it.
"This is not uncommon for young players. Everybody takes a different path. His path was moving along really quickly and he did a good job last year, jumped in and got off to a good start. He was able to build off that good start and carry it through. Whatever happened through the course of the offseason, with him coming back into training camp whether it was expectations, maybe typical of what happens with young players, a sophomore slump, just getting off to a tough start and not being able to rebound from it has been what we've seen. But there's still lots of hockey left this season. The only thing that matters to him is getting this opportunity and getting excited about it and taking advantage of it."
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It'll be a friendly battle in goal tonight when Jake Allen will man the cage for the Blues and Des Peres' own Ben Bishop does the same for the Stars.
It will be Bishop's 300th NHL game and first this season since he joined the Stars as a free agent over the summer.
"It's always fun," Allen said. "I've played against him a few times now, so I think that's a little bit over, but he's a great goalie and it's a big pick-up for this team."
For Bishop, who came home to the St. Louis area for Christmas, he says it's just another game but hard not to get geared up for playing against the guys he skates with during the summer.
"The first few times was different, but now, it's gotten more normal," he said. "I've played against them in the preseason so I was able to see some of the players, some of the younger guys. Obviously they're a good team and it should be a good test for us tonight."
It's been quite the path for both Allen and Bishop, who were together with the now defunct Peoria Rivermen of the American Hockey League as Blues draft picks.
Allen was taken in the second round in 2008, and Bishop was picked in the third round in 2005.
Bishop started in Peoria in 2007 but his and Allen's paths crossed in 2010-11 and they played two seasons together.
"I knew he was a really good goalie when I first stepped in there," Allen said. "He's earned everything he's gotten. He almost has a Stanley Cup in his back pocket. He almost made this team and I think it was for the best that they sent him to the minors; he proved everyone wrong and ended up being one of the best goalies in the league for a long time. It was a huge pick-up for this team for Dallas in the offseason and he's got a lot of good years ahead of him. ... He's such a good guy, he's such a down-to-earth guy. I'm really happy for his success."
Stars coach Ken Hitchcock was in St. Louis when the two were in Peoria and can reflect on how they've both gotten to where they are.
"[Bishop] was in the American League when I first came in there," Hitchcock said. "You had him and Jake down in Peoria, which is a pretty strong tandem to see both guys and have the careers they're having right now, that's pretty impressive with two guys coming out of the American Hockey League and to be as good as they are I think is really good. To me, Ben's one of those guys that made big sacrifices, his family made big sacrifices to bring his career to where it's at and it's nice to see. He went the full gauntlet of North American Hockey League, obviously college and into the American League and the NHL. He's paid his dues. Both guys have paid their dues in a big way, it's nice to see. Both guys are getting rewarded."
Bishop shrugs it off playfully, but he makes no mistake about the fact that he's from St. Louis and not Denver, where he spent eight months after being born there.
"That's home for me," Bishop said of St. Louis. "... I grew up playing hockey there, I know the alumni and played with some of their kids and a lot of the players and staff being drafted by them. St. Louis has always been my hometown. When they say Denver, it's more of a birthplace."
As for 300 games?
"It's cool," Bishop said. "Hopefully we can get that number even higher. I take a lot of pride in games played, so you try to get that number as high as you can and it's pretty cool. It's ironic that it's against St. Louis.
Bishop's first NHL game was Oct. 24, 2008 with the Blues against the Los Angeles Kings in relief. He stopped 15 of 17 shots that night and played two periods.
"I definitely can remember it," Bishop said. "It's been a long path in between then and now. There's been some ups and downs but obviously a good road. I'm still enjoying it, so hopefully we can add to it."
Bishop can really stand with pride for St. Louis, especially since four players (Joseph Woll, Brady Tkachuk, Logan Brown and Trent Frederic) are representing the United States at the World Junior Championships in Buffalo to go along with others who were recently drafted in the NHL, including Matthew Tkachuk and Luke Kunin.
"It just says a lot about the Blues alumni, really," Bishop said. "Not just the Blues alumni but a lot of people in St. Louis. A lot of those guys have stuck around and taught all these kids. I was the beneficiary of one of those. Mike Zuke and Perry Turnbull and those guys helping me out along the way. I think it just shows the right coaching and development can go a long way, so it's exciting to see those kids representing the United States last year and this year. I think that people are kind of figuring it out that it's a little hockey hotbed there. I'm excited that they're getting that rink built, so that'll be good for St. Louis. Hopefully we can keep adding to it. It makes you proud to be from St. Louis and a hockey player.
"You always kind of hear about those hockey states in Minnesota and whatnot. Missouri's actually kind of starting to get on the map there and becoming one of those. It's fun and it's good to see these kids and now you're playing against them in the league, so it's fun. It just makes for better skates in the summer, too."
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Blues defenseman Jay Bouwmeester and forward Sammy Blais both made the trip and skated this morning but will not play.
Both are nursing lower-body injuries.
"I think he's pushing it harder and harder every day," Yeo said of Bouwmeester. "We'll have a chance to talk with him. I talked with him yesterday and we were happy with the way yesterday went, so today was another good opportunity to get in there."
The Blues return home after the game and host the Carolina Hurricanes at Scottrade Center on Saturday, so there's a possibility one or both could suit up.
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The Blues' projected lineup:
Alexander Steen-Paul Stastny-Tage Thompson
Ivan Barbashev-Brayden Schenn-Vladimir Tarasenko
Vladimir Sobotka-Patrik Berglund-Dmitrij Jaskin
Scottie Upshall-Kyle Brodziak-Chris Thorburn
Joel Edmundson-Alex Pietrangelo
Carl Gunnarsson-Colton Parayko
Vince Dunn-Robert Bortuzzo
Jake Allen will start in goal; Carter Hutton will be the backup.
Healthy scratches include Magnus Paajarvi, Jordan Schmaltz and Oskar Sundqvist. Jaden Schwartz (ankle), Jay Bouwmeester (undisclosed), Sammy Blais (lower body), Zach Sanford (shoulder) and Robby Fabbri (knee) are out.
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The Stars' projected lineup:
Jamie Benn-Tyler Seguin-Devin Shore
Mattias Janmark-Jason Spezza-Alexander Radulov
Antoine Roussel-Radek Faksa-Tyler Pitlick
Remi Elie-Gemel Smith-Brett Ritchie
Esa Lindell-John Klingberg
Dan Hamhuis-Greg Pateryn
Stephen Johns-Julius Honka
Ben Bishop will start in goal; Kari Lehtonen will be the backup.
The Stars have no healthy scratches. Martin Hanzal (undisclosed) is doubtful, Marc Methot (knee) is out.