Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Mixed emotions for Cole after trade to Penguins

Defenseman excited to join Cup 
contender, disappointed not ti fulfill goal with Blues

By LOU KORAC
ST. LOUIS -- When the Blues and general manager Doug Armstrong traded for Arizona Coyotes defenseman Zbynek Michalek at the NHL Trade Deadline on Monday, Ian Cole saw the writing on the wall.

Cole, one of three first-round picks (18th) for the Blues in 2007 (Lars Eller 13th and David Perron 26th being the others), makes it a clean sweep. The Blues are now without any of their three top picks from that year.

Eller was traded as part of the deal that brought goalie Jaroslav Halak from Montreal in 2010, and Perron was  traded to Edmonton in 2013 for Magnus Paajarvi and a 2014 second round pick (that turned into Ivan Barbashev).

Cole, who was traded to the Pittsburgh Penguins at the NHL Trade Deadline on Monday for fellow defenseman Robert Bortuzzo, who coincidentally was the Penguins' third round pick in 2007.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues defenseman Ian Cole (28) fights off San Jose's Barclay Goodrow in
a game earlier this season. Cole was traded to Pittsburgh on Monday.

It marked the end of what was a very adventurous five seasons for Cole with the Blues. There's always a high upside for first round picks with the hopes that the team that drafted the player hit a home run. 

The experience with Cole, who had nine goals and 31 points in 167 career regular season games with the Blues, didn't appear to fully develop.

In the past two seasons, Cole was finally given more of a top six role on the blue line after being relegated to more of a seventh or eighth defenseman. There were many recalls from the American Hockey League, then assignments back to the AHL, mostly in Peoria.

But this season, Cole had already played in a career-high 54 games with the Blues. But with Kevin Shattenkirk, who is rehabbing from abdominal surgery, and Michalek now in the plans, the writing appeared to be clear.

Cole had conversations on multiple occasions with Armstrong about his role. There was no animosity. Just straightforward honesty. Cole's desire was to get a role in the top four. 

With Alex Pietrangelo, Jay Bouwmeester, Shattenkirk and Carl Gunnarsson this season and others before this season's crop, that opportunity never presented itself.

"I told him if I'm not gonna play here, then I need to play somewhere," Cole said by phone Monday night. "Making the move to get Michalek, fine, no problem. I just didn't want to sit here by the wayside and do nothing. And that's fine, but (Armstrong) said if that was going to be the case and I was gonna sit and not play, then he would trade me. He did. He's a 100 percent man of his word and followed through and I can't thank him enough for saying he was going to do something and actually do it. It's rare to have someone say they're going to do something and to actually follow through and do it. I have the utmost respect for him. Obviously the job he does without a doubt one of the best, if not, the best in the league. He's a great GM on not a huge market team, puts together a fantastic team every year. Can't say enough great things about Doug Armstrong. I have a ton of respect for the guy, a really stand-up guy and a really great guy."

Cole's Monday was chaotic. The Blues, who had a late Sunday game in Vancouver, didn't arrive in St. Louis until roughly 6:30 a.m. Monday morning. By the time he got to bed at 8 and getting the call from Armstrong that he'd been traded, it was hard to process.

"Absolute whirlwind," Cole said. "... Hearing you get traded and find out you get traded to an absolute contender in Pittsburgh, it's crazy. It's exciting, it's a whole bunch of emotions. It's all crammed together. It's one of those things where it's never happened before. I didn't really know what to expect when it was going to happen, but it's been a very exciting day and I'm definitely excited to continue this journey to the Stanley Cup with Pittsburgh."

But flip the coin, and Cole is saddened. The Blues drafted him, nurtured him, groomed him and the players he called teammates were the only ones of his professional career.

The majority of them called or text Cole to offer best wishes.

"This is the only organization I've ever played for," Cole said. "These are the only teammates I've ever had professionally. It's really strange to be leaving all these guys, the only guys I've ever known as teammates. There's definitely a lot of apprehension in that fact. And then, on the flip side of that coin, going to such a great team and great organization in Pittsburgh, it's really exciting. It's going to be another team very capable of winning a Stanley Cup. We saw firsthand a week ago. An extremely good team that can beat any other in the league without a doubt.

"... It's been a great stretch of years here, a great experience here in St. Louis. Definitely grown as a person and as a player. ... I love these guys. It's family. It's tough leaving family. I'm looking forward to seeing them, especially in two weeks." 

Cole, who left St. Louis on Tuesday to fly to Denver to meet his new teammates, where the Penguins will face the Colorado Avalanche on Wednesday, he gets the opportunity to play with a team more offensive-oriented and playing with superstars like Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin offers a different element.

But Cole, quickly quipped he also gets to be reunited with, "David Perron and Max Lapierre. And I get to play for (former Blues assistant coach) Gary Agnew again. I don't know a ton of guys there, but I know a few. I'm sure it'll be a smooth transition. From everything I've heard, they have a great locker room and great bunch of guys. I'm really excited to get going."

Cole touched base with Penguins GM Jim Rutherford and coach Mike Johnston but didn't go into too much detail.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Robert Bortuzzo, shown here playing against the
Blues recently, was acquired for Ian Cole Monday.

"Didn't get too much into expectations," Cole said. "Talked to them all, talked to Bill Guerin, which was pretty cool and was able to touch base with all of them and say hi. I'm sure the expectations are going to be the same as they were here: win games, put a great product out on the ice and win a Stanley Cup. For any good teams, that's what the expectations are." 

Cole's biggest regret is not winning a Stanley Cup in St. Louis but feels the Blues will continue that march forward.

"For us in St. Louis, our goal is to win the Stanley Cup," Cole said. "My first year, it was to get back in the playoffs. For the past two, three years, it was to win the Stanley Cup and we haven't done that. 

"It is a little sad in that we weren't able to do it while I was here. I would have liked to bring the Stanley Cup to St. Louis, parade it down Market Street. It would have been fantastic, but it didn't happen for whatever reason. We weren't able to pull it together in the playoffs. St. Louis Blues are another fantastic team this year, another very talented team, another very, very good team. That opportunity is most certainly still there, but the same can be said for Pittsburgh too."

Monday, March 2, 2015

Blues trade for injured defenseman

Team acquired Zbynek Michalek from Arizona for prospect Letunov
trade Cole to Penguins for Bortuzzo, add Jokinen for Lindstrom, pick

By LOU KORAC
ST. LOUIS -- The Blues bolstered their defensive corps by acquiring Arizona Coyotes defenseman Zbynek Michalek and a conditional 2015 third round pick for prospect Maxim Letunov.

However, Michalek is currently on injured-reserve, and the condition on the third round pick has been reported as being how many games Michalek plays with the Blues.
(Arizona Coyotes photo)
The Blues have acquired Arizona defenseman Zbynek
Michalek at the NHL Trade Deadline.

Letunov, the Blues' second round pick in 2014. Letunov is currently playing with the Youngstown Phantoms of the United States Hockey League. He is committed to playing at Boston University next season.

The Blues weren't done, as they acquired defenseman Robert Bortuzzo from the Pittsburgh Penguins for defenseman Ian Cole and added veteran winger Olli Jokinen from the Toronto Maple Leafs for forward Joakim Lindstrom and a conditional sixth-round draft pick in 2016 that, according to reports, can become a fourth round pick in 2015 if the Blues reach the Stanley Cup Final and Jokinen plays a role in it.

Blues general manager Doug Armstrong, who clarified that the conditional pick goes back to Coyotes once Michalek plays a game and becomes a player for player trade. He said the Blues had interest in Michalek before his injury and it slowed the process, but had to assume some risk with the trade deadline approaching.

"Working with (Coyotes general manager Don Maloney) and getting the doctors and trainers in touch with each other, we had to get to a decision point last night that we were ready to assume some risk on an injured player," Armstrong said. "... Michalek brings us a player that has played against the other team's top players now for a number of years. He plays in all the key situations. ... He's a guy that can give us minutes, and he's a guy that is comfortable defending against the other team's best players. It gives us a deeper group of players to play against."

The 6-foot-2, 210-pound Michalek, 32, has not played since sustaining a concussion on Feb. 14.

"It's another step in the recovery and I'm hoping it won't be too long before I'm back on the ice playing," Michalek said. "It could be a few more days or weeks, you just never know with this type of injury."

A right-handed shot, Michalek has 73 hits and ranks 12th in the NHL with 130 blocks in 53 games this season. He’s in the final season of a five-year, $20 million contract.

ESPN and TSN's Pierre LeBrun reported that the Coyotes will retain 50 percent of Michalek's salary the remainder of the season.

It is believed that once he joins the Blues, Michalek, who averaged 21:05 ice time with the Coyotes, will be paired with Barret Jackman on the Blues' third defensive pairing. He arrived in St. Louis on Monday night and will skate Tuesday for the first time.

With Kevin Shattenkirk (abdominal surgery) sidelined week to week, the Blues felt they needed to fortify their blue line, but Armstrong said Shattenkirk will accompany the Blues on the remainder of their road trip to Philadelphia and Toronto to see the specialist in Philadelphia who performed the surgery on him. 

Shattenkirk was injured Feb. 1 against the Washington Capitals but has since started skating on his own. His return is still to be determined.

Michalek is a minus-6 on the season but was one of the top Coyotes defenseman with a 51.87 SAT percentage.

Michalek said he's looking forward to helping the Blues in a deep playoff run after speaking with Maloney.

"It means a lot," Michalek said of the Blues taking a risk on him. "I appreciate that somebody took a chance on an injured player and I just hope that I can be back soon and prove that they didn't just waste their draft picks or prospects for nothing. I want to repay them and do whatever I can to get back on the ice soon.

"... I have to move on and right now, I'm really excited to join a really good team and getting healthy and hoping to help them make a deep run in the playoffs." 

Michalek has two goals and six assists this season and 38 goals and 129 assists in 696 games over 11 seasons with the Minnesota Wild, Pittsburgh Penguins and Coyotes.

The addition of Michalek likely spelled the end of Cole's tenure in St. Louis. 

A former first round pick by the Blues in 2007 (18th overall), the 6-1, 219-pound Cole, 26, played in a career-high 54 games this season after spending the past four seasons getting in and out of the lineup.
Robert Bortuzzo

He had a career-high four goals this season to go with nine points and has nine goals and 31 points in 167 games in five seasons.

The 6-4, 215-pound Bortuzzo, 25, gives the Blues a physical, abrasive edge to his game who is known more for his physicality than his scoring and is another right-handed defenseman, something the Blues were lacking. He was a third round pick, coincidentally, in the same 2007 draft with Cole.

Armstrong said he talked to Cole on a couple occasions throughout the season and that Cole's goal was to play in the top four on defense, and if not, he'd welcome a trade.

"His goal was to be a top-four player here and get those type of minutes," Armstrong said of Cole. "The feeling was if we couldn't find the proper fit, he would accept a move to a different organization for a fresh start.

"Ian was a great pro here. He was a healthy scratch at times. He might not have gotten the ice time, but he showed up every day to work. It was a good opportunity to give Ian a fresh start and also bring in a player that we felt is a dimension that we don't have in our back-end."

Bortuzzo has two goals and four assists with 68 penalty minutes in 38 games this season and four goals and 20 points in 116 games in four seasons.

"Bortuzzo is another right-shot guy, brings a physical element certainly on the back-end," Armstrong said. "... That was a win-win for all the parties involved."

Both players' salaries were similar, but Cole made slightly more and the Blues retained a portion of his salary to even out the dollars for each player.

Jokinen, 36, will be playing with his third NHL team this season and 10th in all. The 17-year veteran, who started this season with the Nashville Predators before being traded to the Leafs, had three goals and seven points (three goals, three assists in 48 games with Nashville, one assist in six games with Toronto) this season.

"Jokinen just brings us an experienced player," Armstrong said. "When I look at our roster, I like our group of 12 very much, but our ability when a top-nine player gets injured and has to come out of the lineup, the guys that we have ... we really didn't have a player that can consistently play in that top nine. I think Jokinen coming in is a player that's comfortable. He's played in that environment before and he has experience in those areas." 

Jokinen, the third overall pick in 1997 (Los Angeles Kings) has played in 1,223 regular season games and has 320 goals and 747 points. But Jokinen has only been involved in one playoff series (2009 with the Calgary Flames) and had two goals and three assists in six games.
(file photo)
Olli Jokinen (left) will join his third team this
season after being acquired by the Blues. Here he's
playing for Nashville in a game against Toronto,
who he also played for.

"In talking to Olli, I really got the sense he's excited," Armstrong said. "He said he knows what it feels like to win the lottery. ... He hasn't played in many playoff games. He wants to play deep, he wants to win the Stanley Cup and he told me he's willing to take whatever role, if it's a daily basis or platooned in. He's 100 percent committed to doing whatever hecan do to be a great teammate and also give us the depth if necessary."

Lindstrom, who was signed to a one-year, $700,000 contract, was brought in to play in the top-nine and played in 34 games. However, the offensive production was limited to three goals and three assists and had been a recent healthy scratch. With the emergence of Dmitrij Jaskin, it would have been tough for Lindstrom to find his way back into the lineup.

"He had lost his roster spot to Jaskin recently and was a player that wasn't getting a lot of ice time on our team," Armstrong said of Lindstrom. "Hopefully he goes to Toronto and he may get an opportunity to play there and earn himself an NHL contract for next year also."

The Blues did option (paperwork-wise) Petteri Lindbohm to the Chicago Wolves of the American Hockey League for the purpose of having him on the AHL roster by the 2 p.m. (CT) deadline to be eligible for the playoffs. He was immediately recalled back to the Blues.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Blues re-acquire Cracknell

Forward comes back to St. Louis for future considerations

By LOU KORAC
ST. LOUIS -- The Blues made a minor trade on Thursday and brought back a familiar face.

The Blues acquired Adam Cracknell from the Columbus Blue Jackets for future considerations.

Cracknell, 29, spent the first four seasons of his NHL career with the Blues after being drafted by the Calgary Flames in the ninth round of the 2004 NHL Entry Draft.
Adam Cracknell

Cracknell, who will report to the Chicago Wolves of the American Hockey League, played in 65 regular season games in St. Louis from 2010-14, where he had six goals and 10 assists.

Cracknell had one assist with the Blue Jackets this season in 17 games. He played in 18 games with Columbus' AHL affiliate, the Springfield Falcons and had three goals and four assists.

Last season, Cracknell had 12 goals and 25 points in 28 games with the Wolves.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Struggling Blues hit road for tough stretch

Recent stretch of poor performances will be 
tested; 11 of next 14 away from Scottrade Center 

By LOU KORAC
HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- The Blues held a very optional practice on Wednesday before boarding a flight to Winnipeg to begin what will amount to be a five-game trip.

The Blues, who ended a four-game homestand with their third loss to the Montreal Canadiens by a 5-2 score Tuesday, are 38-18-4 on the season, good for 80 points. Only four teams had higher point totals and two were tied with the Blues heading into Wednesday games, which not bad all things considered.

But after losing their fifth in nine games and allowing 14 goals this past homestand (13 in losses to Dallas, Pittsburgh and Montreal), the Blues are no doubt in a funk as a result of poor play. 
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues defenseman Barret Jackman (left) said on Wednesday that
the team could help from playing away from home.

They play 11 of the next 14 games away from the all-of-the-sudden not-so-friendly confines of Scottrade Center, and why not try and take what ails them and fix it on the road, where the Blues have won seven of the past eight.

"I think a road trip could help," defenseman Barret Jackman said. "You've got to do things a lot simpler on the road and compete harder to win those matchups. That'll be a good test for our team."

"It can," captain David Backes said when asked if a road trip can help. "We can bond on the road and use that to grow as a group and get back to our ways. It's not going to be easy, it's going to take a lot of hard work, but this is why you play a sport, to (face) challenges, to conquer them and to be better on the other side of them."

In losses to the Penguins and Canadiens, two of the quicker teams in the Eastern Conference, the Blues exposed themselves to countless odd-man rush after odd-man rush among other in-game errors, and coach Ken Hitchcock voiced his displeasure over it in his postgame comments after losing to Montreal.

There may not be a simple answer as to why, but center Jori Lehtera had a simple fix.

"Work harder," he said.

"When you're winning a lot, you think you can win a bad game or you don't have to work that much," Lehtera said. "It doesn't go like that. It's weird thing. Everybody knows it, but they can't do anything about it. Now we're in a bad spot again and we have to come back.

"I think it's a good time for us to go on a road trip. We know on the road, you have to play 100 percent every game. ... I think we play a little bit different, yeah. We have to find our way. There's not just one problem. I think we have to find a way. When we get one win, it gets easier."

Jackman said the results are just not translating to what the general ideas are right now.

"We have the right intentions, but the way that we're thinking, we're just not putting it on the ice," Jackman said. "We're a little bit disconnected, we're not talking enough. There's a way to simplify our game and success will come from that.

"We have a lot of turnovers, too aggressive and too close in our forechecks which allowed way too many odd-man rushes. There's a lot of things that we need to clean up. The sooner we get out of this funk that we're in, the better we are looking forward to this last 21 games."

When it falls on effort, that's a player fix. A coach can't solve effort.

"Absolutely, that's the solution to the problem," Backes said of more effort. "It's each individual guy going back, reflecting and seeing how he can be better and help the team win in any way possible. Together we'll be a lot better as a group."

Maybe leaders can voice their opinions and be more vocal at times like this. The Blues met for roughly 45 minutes before departing for the first of what will be a tough three-game jaunt that concludes with back-to-back games in Edmonton on Saturday and Vancouver on Sunday. 

The NHL trade deadline is Monday, and the Blues could very well be in on some activity and then finish the trip with games at Philadelphia on March 4 and Toronto on March 6.

"Trust me, we've had meetings," Backes said. "You can talk until you're blue in the face. You've got to go out there and do it. As a leader, the first thing I can do is go out there and be the first guy to up my game and be a better player and lead by example."

"We've still got to play for each other," defenseman Alex Pietrangelo said. "We've got to lead by example. The leadership group is here for a reason. We've got to lead by example on and off the ice. That depends on us to do that and we'll take full responsibility.

"... Sometimes you don't always have the matchups that you want (on the road). You don't have a choice. We'll see. We're going to have to play a more simpler game, whether it's at home or on the road. That's all it comes down to right now. Winnipeg will be our first step."

And in that first step, communication will be key.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues captain David Backes (right) battles with Canadiens defenseman
P.K. Subban during Tuesday's 5-2 Montreal victory.

"I think it's just collectively all being on the same page in our game," Jackman said. "We have a system that works, that's been proven in the past to work. Right now, we're a little bit off on a lot of things with our checking because we're either too spread out or we're too close. There's a lot of things that we looked at today that we can correct and we'll do that.

"Whether it's a lack of communication, guys not helping each other out with support. A lot of it is communication, just letting guys know what the next play is and having the trust of the guys there and having the patience to make plays. ... It's a dip that happens, but it can snowball if we don't do something about it right now. We've got a lot of intelligent guys in the coaches room and in our locker room and know that we're not playing a winning recipe right now. We're ready to correct that and I think guys are chomping at the bit to prove ourselves tomorrow night."

* NOTES -- Hitchcock did not address the media before the Blues departed but it's expected that Brian Elliott will make the start in goal against the Jets. ... Skaters on the ice Wednesday included forwards Joakim Lindstrom, Chris Porter and Dmitrij Jaskin, defensemen Chris Butler and Petteri Lindbohm and goalies Jake Allen and Elliott.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Blues flounder again in 5-2 loss to Canadiens

St. Louis goes 1-3-0 on homestand, 4-5-0 in past nine games

By LOU KORAC
ST. LOUIS -- Teams go through their ups and downs in a long, arduous 82-game season in the NHL.

It's safe to say the Blues are in one of those down spots that will take some creative posturing from the 23-man roster to get out of what ails them most in this recent stretch.

A team that's been dominant on home ice this season concluded a 1-3-0 stretch in a 5-2 loss to the Montreal Canadiens on Tuesday night at Scottrade Center that has players and coaches alike searching for the solutions.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
David Backes (right) scores past Montreal goalie Carey Price during the
Blues' 5-2 loss to the Canadiens on Tuesday night. 

The Blues (38-18-4), who now trail the Nashville Predators -- who won 5-1 against the Colorado Avalanche on Tuesday -- by nine points in the Central Division and coupled with the Chicago Blackhawks' 3-2 shootout win against the Florida Panthers, the Blues' lead against Chicago for second place in the division is down to three points.

But that's the least of the Blues' worries.

Their game has gone dormant, their confidence is shaken and it's past gut-check time. 

A day after saying all the right things in practice and making more tweaks to their top nine forwards, it was the same old stuff on Tuesday against the Eastern Conference's top team: turnovers, odd-man rushes, no sustained offensive zone pressure, odd-man rushes, poor puck decisions, odd-man rushes.

Oh, and more odd-man rushes.

"What we're doing is not paying any respect to checking," coach Ken Hitchcock said. "We're not paying any respect to defense, to managing the puck, to managing the proper way to playing. I don't care what the shots on goal are. When you give up as many odd-man rushes we we gave up in the last two games, we're showing no respect for what matters in the National Hockey League at this time. And in the offensive zone, the sense of urgency that we're not playing with, that we've played with all year is not there. That's why we don't score, that's why we don't get second and third chances, that's why we don't win the front of the net battles. Those combinations are lethal the wrong way." 

Alex Galchenyuk scored two goals and had an assist in his return to the Canadiens lineup. Galchenyuk, who missed the past two games because of the flu, had his first three-point game since his hat trick Dec. 16 against the Carolina Hurricanes. 

Carey Price made 27 saves and set a Canadiens record with his ninth consecutive road victory. 

Brendan Gallagher scored twice, and Michael Bournival scored for the Canadiens (39-16-5, 83 points), who won in St. Louis in regulation for the first time since March 10, 2007. P.K. Subban and Andrei Markov each had two assists.

The Canadiens moved past the New York Islanders into the top spot in the Eastern Conference with two games in hand, and Price broke a record he shared with Rogie Vachon set in 1968-69.

"It's pretty neat," Price said. "I think that speaks volumes of the character of our team and the way that we compete on the road. We're a very confident team when we go into an opposing team's building and we wind up playing the right way and we've been rewarded for it."

Price leads the NHL in goals-against average (1.91) and is second behind Pekka Rinne of the Nashville Predators in wins (34). Price has allowed more than two goals in a game once in the past 15.

The Blues (80 points) got a goal and an assist from T.J. Oshie, David Backes scored and Jake Allen made 18 saves.

The Blues fell to 4-5-0 in the past nine games. And now the onus falls on the leadership to be tested as much as it has since this group was put in place. 

"It's a collective group, it's a team game," Backes said. "You win as a team. We had a January that was fantastic, where we were getting accolades and we were spreading that around the team. Now we're in a little bit of a lull and a dip and we're going to shoulder the load as a group, and then the solution is spread between everybody as well. So lean on each other, make sure we're working and getting better every day so that we've got a road trip now where we're going to have to play tough teams on the road in their buildings and we need to bear down and play our game and simplify to get a win."

Galchenyuk gave the Canadiens a 1-0 lead when he deflected Subban's shot from the right point past Allen with 6:38 remaining in the first period. 

The Blues, who have been outscored 11-3 in the first period over their past 11 games, have allowed the first goal in eight straight home games. They failed to score in the first period in seven of those games and have gone nine straight home games without a lead after one period. 

Galchenyuk gave Montreal a 2-0 lead when he took Tomas Plekanec's faceoff win and took a wrist shot from a sharp angle that beat Allen on the short side 3:11 into the second. It was his 18th goal.

Backes cut Montreal's lead in half when he took Vladimir Tarasenko's pass in the slot and redirected the puck past Price 6:01 into the second for his 20th goal.

This is when one would think the Blues would turn the dial up a notch and grab the game. They've done it in the past. 

Key word: past.

Not so much in present time.

The Canadiens scored two goals in 49 seconds to go up 4-1, and it came as a result of careless puck play. 

Gallagher made it 3-1 when he took a snap shot that beat Allen with 4:11 left in the second off a 2-on-1 after Tarasenko's blind drop pass in the offensive zone was behind Jay Bouwmeester. 

Bournival. who was serving a penalty for roughing, came out of the box, took a pass from Galchenyuk and beat Allen upstairs on a breakaway with 3:22 left in the second.

"You have no control over the hockey game because of the scoring chances you give up off these odd-man rushes," Hitchcock said. "You work your way back in the game like we did today and give up the chances on casual puck play that we're giving up ... we're a team that's made a very good ... a lot great in-roads on playing a certain way and now we don't want to play that way, and we're not interested in playing the way that's been successful here. We want to play a different way right now and it's really, really hurting us." 

Hitchcock was asked from a coaching perspective why he feels the team wants to play a different way.

"I don't know. That's probably a question you should ask in the room because those directions aren't coming from us (coaches)," Hitchcock said. "Whatever's going on, since we've come back off the Florida road trip, we have not paid the healthy respect that we need to for what's important for our team to win hockey games. Not one bit."

Oshie's shot from the high slot got through traffic and past Price after a deflection off a Canadiens defenseman at 17:45 of the second to make it 4-2. It was Oshie's 17th goal. 

Gallagher scored his second of the game, 17th of the season, on Montreal's second power play of the game at 15:47 of the third period to make it 5-2.

Allen was left bewildered after the game.

"This time of year, that can't happen," Allen said. "I don't know, not just because I'm a goalie. If I was a forward, I'd say the same thing. You can't give up that many odd-man rushes. That's where they live and die. It's almost playoff hockey time now, time to go back and tighten things up a little bit.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
T.J. Oshie (right) tries to chase down Canadiens defenseman Nathan 
Beaulieu during the Blues' 5-2 home loss Tuesday night.

"It was a weird game, lot of point-blank shots; don't know how many shots they had. Majority didn't create much, but that's their game, that's the way they play, that's why they're the best team in the East."

Said defenseman Alex Pietrangelo: "It's that time of year. If you're a step slow, you're giving up breakaways and odd-man rushes, stuff that's a little bit uncharacteristic of it.

"We're a little slow on our support, a little slow in our puck decisions and other teams are creating turnovers and they're getting those breaks."

When asked about the players saying all the right things after practice, Hitchcock wasn't buying it.

"Proof's in the pudding. Come on," he said. "It's something we need to address now."

(2-24-15) Canadiens-Blues Gameday Lineup

By LOU KORAC
ST. LOUIS -- Blues coach Ken Hitchcock is a believer that eventually, what goes good tends to at times run its course. 

So when the Blues (38-17-4) host the Montreal Canadiens (38-16-5) on Tuesday (7 p.m. FS-MW, KMOX 1120-AM), the Blues will sport a different look when the puck drops. But it's a look that has some familiarity.

Hitchcock will move around his top three left wings in hopes of refreshing the Blues' top nine group.

That means Patrik Berglund, who's been playing with Paul Stastny and Dmitrij Jaskin, will move up to the top line with David Backes and T.J. Oshie. Alexander Steen, who's been playing with Backes and Oshie and putting up lots of points, will slide on the left side and play with Jori Lehtera and Vladimir Tarasenko and Jaden Schwartz will move into Berglund's spot alongside Stastny and Jaskin.

"It's a different challenge for us today, though," Hitchcock said. "I'm more curious ... this is three new lines. Some of these lines have had ancient history together, some of them, this is brand new, so I'm more curious to see how we look energy-wise with these line combinations coming out to see if there's any change that we can create little bit of additional energy from what we've been playing here in the last couple games.

"... I don't think it's a gamble right now. We need to find additional energy. There's probably six, seven, eight teams right now that's talking about the same stuff we are. I know two teams right now in the West that the conversations are exactly the same ones we're having. Let's see what we've got. Let's see if this adds to it. If it doesn't, we can always go back."

How long can Hitchcock expect to see results?

"I don't know to be honest with you," he said. "I don't know if this is going ... I can tell if it's not good, it's going to look not good right away. If it looks like it has potential, we're hoping it shows that. But there was a renewed energy at practice yesterday with different combinations, guys having to speak to each other, talk about stuff. It created conversation, created some more chemistry. That's the good stuff. Now we've got to put it into action."

The Blues will conclude a four-game homestand against one of the top teams in the Eastern Conference. They want to gain a split after losing two of the first three.

"I consider Montreal to be a good measuring stick for us to see where we're at and I'm sure they consider that from our standpoint," Hitchcock said. "I think more than anything, we need to get playing a little bit better early in the games and not chasing the games. We've had a lot of chasing going on the last three games. We caught Boston once, but you're not going to catch good teams. For us, the first period and in particular the first 10 minutes, we want to have a better start in the game."

- - -

Goalie Jake Allen will start against the Canadiens. Allen, who is 6-0-0 with a 1.50 goals-against average and .937 save percentage his past six decisions, played junior hockey in Montreal.

"I've just tried to go back to my basics, trust myself, just play the game, don't think too much," Allen said. "Just be myself, enjoy it. I got away from that the last few games of 2014. I'm back to my old self again."

Allen, who played his first game at Bell Centre when the Blues lost 4-1 to the Canadiens earlier this season, relishes going against the team he grew up following.

"Everyone at home's a Canadiens fan," said Allen, a Fredericton, New Brunswick native. "We had their American (Hockey) League team for numerous 15-20 years in Fredericton. I would say a good 95 percent of my city are Canadiens fans. It's pretty fun to play against them.

"It was great to be able to play in the Bell Centre the first time. Even though it didn't go my way, it was just a pretty cool experience. We get a second crack at them tonight and the best team in the East so it's going to be a challenge."

"In fairness to Jake, he's played really well," Hitchcock said. "The last couple games he's played really well so let's give him an opportunity. This is a big game for both teams. It's an important kind of comparison game. Let's give him a chance and see what he can do."

Allen will oppose Carey Price, who has won eight consecutive road games and can set a franchise record with a victory Tuesday for most consecutive road wins. He shares that honor with Rogie Vachon, who established his mark during the 1968-69 season. 

"I think he's probably the best in the world," Allen said of Price, who is 33-11-3 with a 1.91 GAA and .935 save percentage. "A second chance to face him. It's a pretty cool opportunity. I played junior in Montreal and watched him, watched him quite a bit. He's a guy that I've watched and learned from too so it will be fun to face him.

"I (grew up and) liked (Jose) Theodore. That was sort of my prime, my era. I watched Price when he first started and I was still in junior. They practiced at our game rink. I watched them all the time. (Tomas) Plekanec is still there. It's going to be a fun test. The Canadiens are probably the most famous team in NHL history. It's always fun."

- - -

The Blues' probable lineup:

Patrik Berglund-David Backes-T.J. Oshie

Alexander Steen-Jori Lehtera-Vladimir Tarasenko

Jaden Schwartz-Paul Stastny-Dmitrij Jaskin

Steve Ott-Marcel Goc-Ryan Reaves

Jay Bouwmeester-Alex Pietrangelo

Carl Gunnarsson-Petteri Lindbohm

Barret Jackman-Ian Cole

Jake Allen will start in goal. Brian Elliott will be the backup.

Healthy scratches include Chris Porter, Joakim Lindstrom and Chris Butler. Kevin Shattenkirk (abdomen) is on injured reserve.

- - -

The Canadiens' probable lineup:

Max Pacioretty-David Desharnais-Brendan Gallagher

Lars Eller-Tomas Plekanec-Alex Galchenyuk

Brandon Prust-Jacob De La Rose-Dale Weise

Michael Bournival-Manny Malhotra-Christian Thomas

Andrei Markov-P.K. Subban

Nathan Beaulieu-Tom Gilbert

Jarred Tinordi-Greg Pateryn

Carey Price will start in goal. Dustin Tokarski will be the backup.

Healthy scratches include former Blues defenseman Mike Weaver and Devante Smith-Pelly, who was acquired Tuesday morning from the Anaheim Ducks for Jiri Sekac. PA Parenteau (concussion), Alexei Emelin (upper body) and Sergei Gonchar (upper body).

Monday, February 23, 2015

(2-24-15) BLUES NOTEBOOK

Blues juggle lines again; Shattenkirk skates; Allen in goal; Jaskin's strong play

By LOU KORAC
HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- The Blues stepped onto the ice at the Ice Zone on Monday with a bit of a different look.

Again.

Coach Ken Hitchcock, who has seen his team go through its share of ups and downs in February, tweaked three of his four forward lines looking for a fresh approach.

All three changes are on left wing, where Patrik Berglund was playing with David Backes and T.J. Oshie, Alexander Steen was with Jori Lehtera and Vladimir Tarasenko and Jaden Schwartz suited up with Paul Stastny and Dmitrij Jaskin.

The practice had a teaching flavor to it, and the veteran coach is calling for continued balance with 23 games regaining in the regular season.

"We'll take a look at them in the pregame skate (Tuesday before facing the Montreal Canadiens), see how we look and try them out," Hitchcock downplayed. "I don't think anything's cast in stone. I think it all depends on the players and the continuity. We're not gonna wait 10 games to sit on it. If we think there's some energy ... there's a couple lines, they looked very good today. If there's good energy, then we'll continue down that path. If not, we'll make a change.

"... If you look at this thing, this is three balanced lines. This is three lines you can't tell the different in. There's three balanced lines here; fourth line has played solid hockey got a little while now. This is three balanced lines where I'm not worried about who's going against who. They should feel confident they can play against anybody. That's the way we're going to play the game for a little while."

The only line in tact was Steve Ott, who returned to practice after wife Erica delivered the couple's son Saturday morning, Marcel Goc and Ryan Reaves.

"We need a different dynamic in our team," Hitchcock said. "I think the group that played the last game, we've run our course with that group. So let's see if we can find a new bit of energy. A lot of teams are going through it right now. Some are building, some are trying to tread water like us and some are floundering. We want to go from treading water into the top echelon again. Why not try some new stuff that's worked on a very small sample but looks pretty dynamic. There's a couple lines that's looked very dynamic and let's have a look at it, give it a little bit bigger sample a couple games and see how we look."

Of course, the players are doing what they're told despite the feeling they were well-balanced in the first place.

"Coach's decision obviously," Schwartz said. "I played with 'Stas' and 'Jask' for not very long before, but I have played with them and both great players, so I'm looking forward to that. Hopefully I can boost the line and give some energy.

"I thought we were balanced before, too, but just a little different look. Get some chemistry, get a few more goals. We were balanced before, but we'll see how she goes tomorrow."

Tarasenko and Steen have been down this path before.

"He was my first linemate here in St. Louis, he and Andy McDonald," Tarasenko said of Steen. "We had a lot of time to play together and it was a good experience. Happy to be together again.

"... It's a great line. We play like this before. We have some success. It's a pleasure for me to play with every guy on this team. I play with many guys before this season and nothing new, nothing special; just keep going and try to give more energy to our team."

For a guy like Jaskin, playing with whomever is his preference. He's glad to be in the NHL, period.

"I don't really care who I play with," Jaskin said. "All these guys are great players. We'll just try to make it work tomorrow.

"(Schwartz is) a really fast skater and really good on the puck. I'm expecting the same kind of game, maybe a little faster and he's really smart. More opportunities in the offensive zone. ... I think it was OK before, but he's a totally different guy than Bergy; he's a different player, but we still can really protect the puck and make some plays. I'm excited for tomorrow."

* Maverick on board -- Ott's first son -- he has a daughter from a previous marriage -- born at 9:37 a.m. on Saturday, makes it two kids in his household these days.

The veteran left wing missed his second game of the season Saturday against the Pittsburgh Penguins after his wife went to the hospital Friday night and he rushed out to be with her after the Blues' 5-1 win against the Boston Bruins.

"It is the best. Anybody that knows that has a kid in this dressing room or in the world, there's no better feeling that can relate to that moment when you get to meet your child for the first time," Ott said. "At the same token, mama and baby are doing great.

"That's the only reason (to miss a game). No one ever wants to miss a game. During the game (Friday), she went into the hospital and I went over there in my suit, got a change of clothes and we had him at 9:37 in the morning (Saturday), so we pulled an all-nighter and obviously there was no chance in making the (Saturday) game by then in the type of situation I was in. The Blues organization were first class and told me, "Obviously family's your most important and this is my second family.' I'm back at it and strong at it today on a Monday."

And where did the name Maverick come from?

"My wife's a southern girl from Dallas and she came up with a bunch of names," Ott explained. "When she said that's the one, I agreed in an awfully quick fashion. I just wanted a strong name and hopefully he lives up to it."

* Teaching day -- The Blues' practice on Monday didn't have quite the punch -- and demand -- that the practice after a 4-1 loss to the Dallas Stars recently had, but there were moments of high octane.

"We did a lot of instructing," Hitchcock said. "You can get upset by the energy level this time of year ... this is the time where the energy level has to come from the players a lot and we've got to find a way to get the technical part of our game back on track. Today was lets get back where we got some continuity going and let the guys take care of the energy level where they want to take it to. Let us do the accountability from a teaching standpoint. So from positional play to just being in the right spots from puck support standpoint, this was a good teaching day.

"This team absorbs well when you really work on things. When there's an actual physical element to what you want to teach, this team really responds in a positive way. It doesn't absorb the visual part as much. This is the physical element to the teaching."

The practice was a reminder of the past.

"There was almost some training camp stuff going on in the sense of reiterating what our strong forecheck is, the strong details in our game, things that maybe we've been lacking a little bit that make us really, really strong to play against," Ott said. "It's our job in here to grab those details and start executing them."

But the demand for games down the stretch seems to be stressed, and the Blues are catching opponents playing desperate.

"It's a big part of the year and everyone knows it," Schwartz said. "Teams are trying to get in that playoff race and teams are trying to move up the ladder. It's like this every year. The level of play and intensity goes up and we need to match it and better it. ... This is the fun time of the year. This is what you play for, exciting games and points go a long ways. The intense games are the fun ones to play in."

* Shattenkirk skating -- Blues defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk was back on the ice, but not in the capacity of skating with his teammates just yet.

Shattenkirk, who two weeks ago had abdominal surgery, skated for roughly 30 minutes, according to Hitchcock, and has skated with trainers the past few days.

"He's skated the last few days. Not with us yet obviously, but it's nice to see him out there shuffling around," Hitchcock said of Shattenkirk. "He's working with the training staff. Things look positive in that direction.

"Everybody's really excited and happy. It's nice to see him part of the team, it's nice to see him back on the ice. He's graduating up to where he's starting to move a little bit more on the ice. I think he was out there for about 30 minutes today."

Hitchcock still termed Shattenkirk "weeks" from returning.

"Until I see the whites of his eyes and he comes to practice, I don't worry about it," he said.

* Allen in goal, Lindbohm's, Jaskin's and Elliott's play -- Goalie Jake Allen, who played his junior hockey in Montreal, will get the start in goal against the Canadiens on Tuesday.

"Jake's a Montreal guy, isn't he? I hope he is because he told me he was ... I hope he didn't lie to me," Hitchcock joked.

As for Elliott, who is 2-4-0 with a 3.85 goals-against average and .876 goals-against average in his past six starts that includes being pulled twice, Hitchcock said, "He's a perfect reflection of our team: up, down, up, down. That's our team right now."

Defenseman Petteri Lindbohm's recent recall has seen the Finnish native play both games over the weekend, and Hitchcock called it a mixed bag.

"Game one was good," Hitchcock said. "He had a couple mistakes in game two that came back and haunted him just like it does any young player. But he has good energy. He brings good energy, brings good focus, he's very competitive. I really like what he brings right now."

Jaskin, who has three goals in the past six games and five in 11, Hitchcock really likes what he's seeing.

"He just plays," Hitchcock said. "He's a big, strong guy. He just plays. Man, he's really playing right now. He's got tempo in his game, he's really playing. Wherever we play him, he brings a lot to a line. He brings a lot of heavy, offensive, on-the-puck, at-the-puck, for-the-puck kind of play. Whoever he plays with, he brings a lot."