By LOU KORAC
ST. LOUIS -- The Blues will make two lineup changes on Thursday when the play host to the Dallas Stars (7 p.m.; FS-MW, KMOX 1120-AM).
The Blues (18-8-2), coming off a 4-3 win at Montreal to snap a three-game losing streak (0-2-1), will put rookie defenseman Vince Dunn back in for Robert Bortuzzo and veteran right wing Chris Thorburn will replace Sammy Blais in the lineup.
Dunn, who has two goals and four assists in 26 games, played in every game before being a healthy scratch the past two games.
"Obviously it's not ideal," Dunn said of sitting out. "I guess getting another perspective. It's better to be back in.
"I thought I was fine. We've got seven good d-men. Whoever the coaches feel like is going, they're going to be going; have to be ready for whatever. ... I don't know if I really learned anything. Maybe watching the guys that have done so well before, maybe watch their habits. There's nothing really to watch. It's just being ready when you're back in."
Blues coach Mike Yeo again doesn't see it as a reflection as someone playing poorly. Just keeping everyone fresh, and with the Blues playing seven games in 11 days and 10 of 17 heading into the Christmas break.
"That's a huge part of it," Yeo said. "Three games in less than four days. That's going to be important that we're ready to use everybody here, keep fresh bodies. It's good for the team to make sure that one, that everybody's staying involved and everybody's staying sharp in their game and it's good for the team that you come to the rink and you you know that you have to perform and you have to play well. It doesn't mean that you play a perfect game but it means you have to bring the energy and the emotion that you need.
"You look around the league and one thing that every team is going to do is they're going to include all players, they're going to adjust on the opponent you're facing and they're not going to allow their team to be complacent or satisfied on what they did in the previous game. Obviously consistency is a good thing, but consistent competition is a good thing too. And in order for that to happen, you have to make sure that the new guy is ready to come in.
"It's been difficult (rotating the defensemen) in the sense that we're going to have to take out a good player, a guy who's done a good job for us. It's been easy in a sense that we know we're putting in a good player as well. We have to make sure that everybody's staying involved. 'Dunner's been out for a couple here now so it's a good opportunity to get him back in."
Thorburn also has been a healthy scratch the past two games, and unlike Dallas' teams of the past that teams talk of their speed and skill, Yeo wants Thorburn's physical element in there against the Stars (16-11-1), winners of five of the past six.
"You look at the way that Dallas has been playing, they've been playing very physical," Yeo said. "So this is a different type of game that we've seen the last couple games. It's going to have a different feel tonight. Getting him back in will be good for our group."
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The Blues are going to stick with keeping the line of Jaden Schwartz, Brayden Schenn and Vladimir Tarasenko split up, at least for the time being.
It will mark the third game in a row Tarasenko will play with Paul Stastny and Vladimir Sobotka, and Alexander Steen will play with Schwartz and Schenn.
"Obviously 'Shenner' got a hat trick last game, they did a pretty good job," Yeo said. "They've proven that they can score without (Tarasenko) there and obviously we know what 'Vladi' can do as well. That line was together for a whole at home and we haven't had a lot of success at home lately. Having the same kind of mindset that we take out on the road, this might not be a bad idea."
Tarasenko has a six-game goalless drought and has three assists (in two games against the Minnesota Wild) during that span.
"He's had a lot of chemistry and has played well with 'Stas,'" Yeo said of Tarasenko. "They haven't really factored into the scoresheet, but the line has played well for us. They're generating good momentum, they're generating good quality scoring chances in the offensive zone. I like a lot of things that they're doing. They're close to breaking through. 'Sobe's game the last couple games has been probably his best hockey of the season. I feel like Stas' level has really gone up. They've done a lot of good things for us and hopefully they can push through on the scoresheet now."
Schenn, who went five games without a point before scoring three against the Canadiens, said it's been a difference playing with Steen.
"I think he gets in there a little more," Schenn said. "He plays that grinding style of game and is good on the forecheck. Obviously good in his own and and whether it's him or 'Vladi' or whoever may be there, just try and find chemistry as soon as possible.
"I felt in Minnesota, we had a good game. We had our chances obviously last game and he's playing good for us. ... We play a pretty simple game, kind of straight forward hockey."
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The Stars will play the Blues with backup goalie Kari Lehtonen tonight, with native boy Ben Bishop out with a sore back.
The Stars recalled another native St. Louisan, Mike McKenna, to back up Lehtonen tonight.
"We've put him in some tough spots, had to play back-to-back, the tough travel to Colorado, we've put him in some tough spots and he's answered the bell," Stars coach Ken Hitchcock said of Lehtonen. "We're kind of lucky, we've got a starting goaltender who plays a backup role, it's been a blessing for us because he's got his points when we've been physically and mentally down. He's brought us up. He's played well. This is a different animal, playing a team like St. Louis right now. It will be good experience for everyone today."
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The game tonight also marks the return of former Blues coach Hitchcock, who was in town to face the Blues' in their home opener on Oct. 7, a 4-2 Blues victory. Hitchcock received a tribute then but doesn't expect one again.
"There won't be any tributes," Hitchcock said. "I hope the booing starts pretty quick here."
Hitchcock peeked his head out of the visitors bench and had a conversation with some of the Blues players he coached during the morning skate, among them including Schwartz, Tarasenko, Kyle Brodziak, Patrik Berglund and Steen.
"The crazy uncle came back a few weeks later, so they're thinking it's Christmas time hopefully," Hitchcock joked.
Hitchcock also has the utmost respect for the Blues, who he coached for five-plus seasons.
"It's a veteran team, they know how to play the right way," Hitchcock said. "They cut you to death over 60 minutes and you just bleed out. Bottom line, you bleed out. That's what veteran teams that know how to win and have won and have that experience know how to do and they're good at it. They're really good at it. So you've got to be able to sustain a certain level of play with no dropoffs. If you have passengers, they get exposed. We've got to find a way to make sure we have no passengers tonight, everybody's focused, to give ourselves a chance to win in the third period."
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The Blues' projected lineup:
Vladimir Sobotka-Paul Stastny-Vladimir Tarasenko
Jaden Schwartz-Brayden Schenn-Alexander Steen
Magnus Paajarvi-Patrik Berglund-Dmitrij Jaskin
Scottie Upshall-Kyle Brodziak-Chris Thorburn
Jay Bouwmeester-Alex Pietrangelo
Joel Edmundson-Colton Parayko
Carl Gunnarsson-Vince Dunn
Jake Allen will start in goal; Carter Hutton will be the backup.
Healthy scratches include Robert Bortuzzo, Oskar Sundqvist and Sammy Blais. Zach Sanford (shoulder) is out indefinitely and Robby Fabbri (knee) is out for the season.
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The Stars' projected lineup:
Jamie Benn-Tyler Seguin-Alexander Radulov
Curtis McKenzie-Jason Spezza-Brett Ritchie
Remi Elie-Mattias Janmark-Devin Shore
Gemel Smith-Radek Faksa-Tyler Pitlick
Esa Lindell-John Klingberg
Dan Hamhuis-Greg Pateryn
Jamie Oleksiak-Stephen Johns
Kari Lehtonen will start in goal; Mike McKenna will be the backup.
The Healthy scratch includes Julius Honka. Antoine Roussel is sick and could play; he is questionable. Ben Bishop (back), Marc Methot (knee) and Martin Hanzal (hamstring) are out.