By LOU KORAC
ST. LOUIS -- Chad Johnson's smile on Saturday in Chicago told the whole story.
The Blues goalie already knew he would be making his first start on Sunday when the Blues (1-1-2) host the Anaheim Ducks (3-1-1) today at 6 p.m. (FS-MW, KMOX 1120-AM).
Johnson was signed to a one-year, $1.75 million contract on July 1 to be Jake Allen's backup.
Allen played the first four games for the Blues this season, including making a career-high 46 saves in a 4-3 overtime loss to the Chicago Blackhawks on Saturday.
But for Johnson, this will be his first chance to play with the full Blues squad after playing with a mix-and-match lineup during the preseason.
"I am excited," Johnson said. "I put a lot of work in the summer time. Obviously through preseason, just getting myself ready for the season and stuff. It's going to be nice to get out there with the whole group this time. The preseason, no one really plays everybody, so it'll be kind of nice to get everybody and get things rolling, get things started with my season.
"There's always nerves ... I wouldn't say nerves, but some of that anxiousness, excitement to get in that first game to get things going, get on a roll and get some confidence with the guys, with my game in the organization. You want to let them know that I can be relied upon. You sort of build that through practice, through exhibition and through the season. I'm excited about the first start here."
The Blues had a plan for when to get Johnson his first game, and with this being the first set of back to back games makes perfect sense, especially with the workload that Allen received Saturday facing 50 shots Saturday.
"Especially the first month, they have an agenda to get guys rolling," Johnson said of the coaching staff. "Things are usually pretty penned in the first month and then after that, things obviously change depending on where we are as a group and individuals and stuff too. I knew this would probably be my first start of the season. I was excited. I didn't know which one I would get, but I was excited for the opportunity one of these games."
Johnson will hope to get the Blues going with only one win in the first four games, but he won't alter any part of his game to do so.
"For myself, my game, I always keep it the same no matter ... again, if there's highs or lows, I always feel the way I play could give me success with the situations of how I deal with those types of things," said Johnson, who is 78-61-15 in eight NHL seasons, including 10-16-3 with a 3.55 goals-against average and .891 save percentage last season with the Buffalo Sabres. "I don't change the way I play. I always thrive in being consistent and the way I do things, my preparation and my style of play. Obviously make adjustments here and there. With this team, I feel like there's well-coaching structures there and you find what you need to do to have success, and that's playing strong defense as a group. All five guys on the ice really help each other out defending and really helping Jake and I out stopping pucks and eliminating the Grade A scoring chances. Just an overall strong offensive and defensive-minded team and a lot of depth with forwards and defense as well. I'm excited to be able to be a part of this group and hopefully tomorrow's a good start."
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The Blues are only four games in, but through those four games, they've allowed 17 goals this season, or an average of 4.25 per game. Last season through four games when the Blues were 4-0-0, the Blues allowed nine goals with virtually the same defensive lineup but some drastic changes at forward.
"For me, it's about building here right now," Blues coach Mike Yeo said. "It's good that the guys battled back and got a point [Saturday], that's for sure, but still, there's some areas that need to improve here and we need to fix. The emotions are there, the intentions are there, but we're not playing smart enough yet to be a good team, to be a really consistent team. Too much hope in our game when you play like that.
"You have to play smart to be good defensively. I think that when we start to have sort of an internal pride in our locker room that when you're on the ice, that matters as much not to have anything bad to happen as it does for something good to happen, then we start to come together more as a team. It's not a matter of guys not wanting to do well right now, it's a matter of our focus that we have to sharpen up and obviously as a coach, we've got to make sure that I get on top of that because we have to be smarter to win hockey games."
The Blues have scored 13 goals, or 3.25 per game, which is a good marker to be at later in the year. It is early, and that's not bad, but by trying to do too much offensively, it's compensating the defense, and that's where Yeo's "hope" comment comes into play.
"I just mean too many times, we're on the wrong side of things, too many times we're trying to force offense and putting ourselves in high-risk situations. We're too OK to give stuff up. We want to try to get the chance, we want to try and get the goal without enough concern with of what could come the other way. That's a tough way to play the game because that's back-and-forth hockey. That's a tough game for us. We have to be more in control, we have to be better defensively."
And how does the coaching staff get on top of it?
"Obviously that's our job," Yeo said. "We're going to start (tonight). It's going to be a tough test. They played (Saturday), but still, it's going to be tough for us. It's just a matter of pride. We've got to start taking pride in those little things, those things that winners do and understanding what they are. It could be a blocked shot, it could be getting a puck in deep, it could be not trying to make a play that's a 50-50 play that's going to result in something going the other way. We have to be smarter and we do believe that we can be a lot harder."
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Yeo said Saturday that forward Jaden Schwartz, who was hit with a puck after a Vladimir Tarasenko shot on Thursday, is doubtful to questionable for tonight. One would lean on doubtful.
Forward Chris Thorburn only had four shifts in the game Saturday and played a total of 1:52. None of those shifts came after the first period.
Defenseman Vince Dunn could play tonight after being a healthy scratch the past two games. One would think Jordan Schmaltz, who had an assist Saturday, played well working on the third d-pairing with Robert Bortuzzo.
After scoring last night, forward David Perron has four goals the past two games.
Center Brayden Schenn has five points (two goals, three assists) after his two goals Saturday.
Rookie forward Jordan Kyrou matched a career-best 13:17 in time on ice on Saturday; he also played 13:17 against Winnipeg in the season opener.
The Ducks also played Saturday and lost 5-3 at Dallas. Anaheim led 3-0 in the second period before being outshot 30-4 in the second.
Neither team had a morning skate today.
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The Blues' projected lineup (updated through pregame warmups):
Alexander Steen-Ryan O'Reilly-Vladimir Tarasenko
Sammy Blais-Brayden Schenn-David Perron
Pat Maroon-Tyler Bozak-Jordan Kyrou
Ivan Barbashev-Robert Thomas
Joel Edmundson-Alex Pietrangelo
Jay Bouwmeester-Colton Parayko
Robert Bortuzzo-Jordan Schmaltz
Chad Johnson will start in goal; Jake Allen will be the backup.
Healthy scratches could be Chris Thorburn and Jakub Jerabek. Jaden Schwartz (lower body), Robby Fabbri (groin), Carl Gunnarsson (knee, hip), Nikita Soshnikov (concussion) and Oskar Sundqvist (concussion) are all likely out.
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The Ducks' projected lineup:
Max Comtois-Adam Henrique-Jakob Silfverberg
Andrew Cogliano-Ryan Kesler-Rickard Rakell
Ben Street-Sam Steel-Kiefer Sherwood
Isac Lundestrom-Carter Rowney-Brian Gibbons
Cam Fowler-Brandon Montour
Hampus Lindholm-Josh Manson
Marcus Pettersson-Luke Schenn
Ryan Miller could start in goal; John Gibson would be the backup.
Troy Terry and Andrej Sustr could be the healthy scratches. Ryan Getzlaf (groin), Patrick Eaves (shoulder), Corey Perry (knee), Korbinian Holzer (wrist) and Ondrej Kase (concussion) are all out.