Friday, December 31, 2010

Winning streak now at five in a row as Blues top Coyotes 4-3

Halak strong; Steen bags goal, assist, Jackman earns pair of assists

ST. LOUIS -- It's looking more and more like the Blues of the first 12 games this season, the one that got off to a franchise-best 9-1-2 start.

The Blues began this streak of five straight wins after downing the Phoenix Coyotes 4-3 Friday night with good goaltending, having their top six defensemen all in the lineup and healthy again and they're also getting timely scoring.

The mix has the Blues (20-12-5) in a logjam in the Western Conference right now, but they're in fifth place right on the heels of the Los Angeles Kings.

"When we're playing well, we're on the body, we're skating really well and guys are making plays," Blues defenseman Barret Jackman said. "It's not about fancy plays and being over-confident. It's just about making the right play and everybody playing together. It kind of gives us a bit of mojo, I guess."

That "mojo" started with Jaroslav Halak on this night. The Blues' netminder, despite allowing three third-period goals, stopped 30 shots and won for the third straight time and ran another shutout streak over 100 minutes. When he was beaten by Shane Doan 6 minutes, 20 seconds into the third period, it snapped a shutout streak of 129:29. He also had shutout streaks of 160:08 and 153:03 as well.

"I'm not trying to think about streaks or anything like that," Halak said. "I'm just trying to get the wins obviously. It would have been nice to get a win 4-zip, but a win is a win and we got two points."

The Blues got goals from Brad Boyes, Erik Johnson, Alex Pietrangelo and Alex Steen, whose goal put the Blues up 4-0 3:05 into the third period and seemingly gave the home team control.

"They didn't go away," Steen said of the Coyotes. "They battled back, worked hard, but we got the 'W' in the end."

Phoenix (17-13-7) got two Shane Doan goals sandwiched around a Lauri Korpokoski goal to make the game interesting late, but the Blues picked up what they set out for: two points.

"Their comeback was due to some negligence on our part," Blues coach Davis Payne said. "A couple plays that we certainly could have cleaned up, but at this point, we've got two points and we'll move on.

"We did enough in the second period and at the start of the third. I thought we were a little slow to get to the type of game from an engagement standpoint that we talked about that we certainly finished against Chicago. ... I thought we played a really good second period, a lot of zone time, more directed intent as far as our back pressure and our responsibilities there. I thought the game kind of seemed in control after Steener's fourth."

Halak kept the Blues at bay in the first period, making 14 saves as the Blues were outshot 14-6 but led 1-0 on Boyes' ninth of the season.

"The first period, he was outstanding," Payne said of Halak. "The stuff in front of him, quick whistles ... I thought that he controlled that game, read plays extremely well. Very, very sharp tonight."

Johnson's shorthanded goal came off a great individual effort from David Backes, who powered his way to the net from the corner, got a shot off on Ilya Bryzgalov before Johnson snapped in his third of the season from the right circle 7:23 into the second period.

"That was probably the moment that allowed the game to tilt a little bit more in our favor," Payne said. "... Great individual play, great read, and now all of the sudden, we feel like we're in more command of the game."

Pietrangelo's power play goal with 1:29 in the second gave the Blues a 3-0 lead and Steen's 2-on-1 effort with Eric Brewer produced the fourth goal before the Coyotes got it cranked up late.

Korpikoski scored with 1:27 to play before Doan made it 4-3 with 20.9 seconds remaining.

"Apparently bringing the new year some excitement," Jackman joked. "A couple goals, a couple bounces that went their way at the end. They were pressing. they've got a good offensive team, and they made it close at the end.

"They kind of took their game to us in the first 10 minutes, but once we got on track, chipping pucks and getting things deep and trying to get some possession in the offensive zone, I thought we played pretty well."

The Blues ended the calendar year much better than the one that ended 2009, when they also played here, blew a 3-0 third-period lead to Vancouver, lost that game 4-3 in overtime and ultimately cost Andy Murray his job as head coach.

"We wanted to finish the year on a winning note," Halak said. "Fortunately for us, we got a 4-0 lead. We got a little comfortable in there, giving them opportunities to score goals, but they all count. We got the two points and that's all that matters right now."

* NOTES -- Halak faced the Coyotes for the first time in his career. ... Steen has at least a point in 12 of 15 games. ... The Blues' current winning streak is two off a season-best seven-game winning streak from Oct. 22-Nov. 7. ... Defenseman Carlo Colaiacovo now has a four-game point streak against Phoenix after picking up an assist tonight.

(12-31-10) Coyotes-Blues Gameday Lineup

ST. LOUIS -- The Blues, seeking their fifth straight win when they entertain the Phoenix Coyotes tonight at Scottrade Center, are displaying remnants of their franchise-best 9-1-2 start.

Yes, the Blues are missing some key pieces on offense (Andy McDonald, T.J. Oshie and David Perron), but the defensive unit is in tact again and the team has only allowed six goals during this four-game winning streak and nine in five games with the d-corps in tact. When the same unit was in tact for the first seven games of the season before injuries occurred, the Blues allowed 12 goals in those seven games.

"I think that the belief in what we're doing and how we need to do it is strong," Blues coach Davis Payne said. "I think the execution has gotten better. I think that the commitment to the defensive side of the game and limiting opportunities has gotten better, so I think that's something we established very well early. We got away from that, and we had to re-establish it. We've done a good job of that. It's paying off. We need to understand that this is our formula and we need to stick to that formula."

Not only are the Blues (19-12-5) locking down defensively and getting great goaltending from Jaroslav Halak and Ty Conklin, but Payne's mantra of a five-man return game has resurrected itself as well.

"I thought it was good against Chicago," Payne said. "I think it's continuing to be a part of our game that we need to take pride in and we need to make sure that we know that's how we're going to defend. I thought Chicago had some opportunities to gain some middle ice, so we were there but still allowed some things to happen. We've got to make sure we deny any of those opportunities. I think guys understand that there's a requirement there that is (not compromised)."

- - -

For those that didn't know Oshie was rehabbing from a broken left ankle and saw him skate with the Blues this morning, you'd think he was in the lineup tonight.

Oshie, injured Nov. 10 in Columbus, had his reevaluation timeline bumped up to near the all-star break, could possibly return sooner than that if he continues to skate like he did Friday.

"Yeah, he looked good," Payne said of Oshie. "Another good step in the rehab process. Hands looked fine and skating looked pretty good. He's got lots of work left to do, but certainly another good step today.

"The timeline is a moving target. We've got late January. If he beats it, great. If we've got to wait a little bit longer, then we keep moving."

Oshie said, "I wish," when asked if he was in the lineup tonight.

Of course, that's not possible but one can imagine his energy.

- - -

Some debate has surfaced on Matt D'Agostini's hit on Chicago's Jonathan Toews and whether it was a clean hit or not.

D'Agostini came from the side and caught Toews with a hit that knocked the Blackhawks captain into the boards. Toews suffered an apparent right shoulder injury and the Blackhawks have said he will miss at least two weeks.

"I didn't intend on driving him from the backside," D'Agostini said of Toews. "I think when he pulled up, it kind of made it seem more like it was from behind ... because he tried to get to the red line and stop. I just tried to get him from the side. He just went in badly."

D'Agostini also tumbled awkwardly himself but was fine as a result.

- - -

No changes for the Blues again tonight:

Vladimir Sobotka-David Backes-Matt D'Agostini

Alex Steen-Patrik Berglund-B.J. Crombeen

Brad Winchester-Jay McClement-Brad Boyes

Chris Porter-Adam Cracknell-Cam Janssen

That also applies to the d-pairings:

Eric Brewer-Roman Polak

Barret Jackman-Alex Pietrangelo

Carlo Colaiacovo-Erik Johnson

Jaroslav Halak
, who has a 1.50 goals-against average and .957 save percentage in his last two starts, will make his first career start against the Coyotes tonight.

- - -

The Coyotes come in with a 10-7-3 road mark but have scored one goal in each of their last three road contests, going 1-2-0 in those games and being outscored 10-3.

"Our intent is to play our game. We don't expect anything less," Payne said. "... If we think anything that happened a couple nights ago is worth repeating, then that's a good message but making sure that we know that two nights ago doesn't get us tonight. Phoenix is going to come in, they're going to compete. They're coming off a big win themselves, it's a Western Conference matchup and we've got to make sure we're at our best."

The Coyotes were thought to be possibly getting some injured players back from injury, including forwards Radim Vrbata, Taylor Pyatt and Martin Hanzal. Unless those players return tonight, these are the lines the Coyotes are expected to roll out:

Scottie Upshall-Eric Belanger-Shane Doan

Ray Whitney-Lauri Korpikoski-Lee Stempniak

Brett MacLean-Kyle Turris-Mikkel Boedker

Wojtek Wolski-Vernon Fiddler-Paul Bissonnette

D-pairings include:

Derek Morris-Keith Yandle

Adrian Aucoin-Ed Jovanovski

Sami Lepisto-Oliver Ekman-Larsson

It's not known who will be in goal for Phoenix. Ilya Bryzgalov is 5-7-1 with a 2.93 GAA and .907 save percentage career-wise against the Blues but is coming off a back injury and would make a third start in four days. Jason LaBarbera could get the nod tonight.


Deal with new investors close to being
finalized; Blues looking for five in a row

HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- Seven months ago when TowerBrook Capital Partners announced it was divesting it's equity in the team -- they owned roughly 75 percent of the franchise -- Blues fans began to cringe at the thought that another relocation process was about to begin.

But current owner, Dave Checketts and SCP Worldwide, reassured hockey fans that the Blues were here to stay and that he would be able to replace the TowerBrook with another equity firm.

On Thursday, Checketts announced that SCP has rounded up a new investment firm that also includes local investors along with TowerBrook now not pulling completely out of the equation.

"I can see the light at the end of the tunnel," Checketts said. "Our investor group is 95 percent assembled ... now during the next few weeks, we'll work on league approvals and getting everything done and wrapped up.

"I said in Florida at the (NHL) Board of Governors meeting that I thought this would happen in the early part of the year, and I think that's still true."

The plan is for Checketts to have everything in order by the NHL All-Star break (which is the weekend of Jan. 30) but it's not a guarantee.

"I don't know if we'll have it done in time for the All-Star break, but that would be a worthwhile goal to be talking to the league about our investor group and having them do all of their background work around the All-Star break, or maybe even a little bit later in February," Checketts said. "But this is going to happen in the next couple of months."

The identity of the new investors is not known at present time, but it includes more than one grouping. And to the surprise of many, TowerBrook will now keep a vested portion of its equity in the franchise but not nearly the 75 percent it currently holds.

Maybe it has something to do with how well the franchise is holding up and how well the current Blues are playing.

"They're thrilled about how things are going, and the way the club is playing," Checketts said of TowerBrook. "... As we got into the fall, it didn't hurt that we got started (with a record of 9-1-2), and the business dramatically started to improve, and we got the opera house deal all done ... and then looking toward the new (NHL) television agreement. All of those things created a situation where they notified us that they would be willing to continue to play a role and we accepted that with open arms.

"So TowerBrook is actually not exiting completely, but is going to stay in for a major chunk of the equity, and that makes it that much easier for us to not only stay in control, but to continue to run the things the way we are."

TowerBrook, SCP Worldwide and minority owner Tom Stillman have been the investment structure up to this point but now will include the unknown group of investors.

Checketts is expected to stay on as the Blues' governor.

"Between Towerbrook and our new investors, they are very, very supportive of us continuing to run the franchise and be in control," Checketts said.

With team president John Davidson's five-year contract set to expire in June, expect the Blues to announce soon an extension.

* 'Yotes stand in the way -- The Blues (19-12-5) will be seeking their fifth straight win when they entertain the Phoenix Coyotes (17-12-7) today at 7:30 p.m. (Versus, KMOX 1120-AM).

It'll be the second meeting between the two Western Conference foes, with the Coyotes winning 5-3 on Nov. 13, a game Blues coach Davis Payne said was not one of the Blues' better efforts.

"We were really slow to get going," Payne said. "It was far too methodical, we got picked apart there on the PK ... two five-on-four goals and a five-on-three goal, which is uncharacteristic of our group. We know that we'll have to be sharp there but making sure that we start with good, solid work (and) good, solid energy is something we didn't think we were fully engaged at the start of that hockey game. That was one game a long time ago. There's been a lot of hockey played since, there's going to be a lot of hockey played after this, but (Phoenix) played a solid hockey game (Wednesday) night and I'm sure they'll have lots of intent on copying that one and bringing it to St. Louis. We've got to be ready."

The Blues, 6-2-1 against Phoenix in the last nine, will look to even the season series.

"They absolutely thrive on turnovers, so it's going to be a big, big part of tomorrow night's game, especially when you've got a guy that can transition as quickly as (defenseman Keith) Yandle can," Payne said. "He can skate through people, he can skate by people, he's a guy that not only do you have to pay particular attention to in the offensive zone based on where he is but he'll be in different spots. We've played against a lot of guys who have been effective in that way. He's just a guy we're going to have to pay attention to. His ability to come up ice and come up ice quickly is something that we're going to have to be aware of and make sure we stay on the right side of that."

* Janssen vs. Bissonnette -- Blues enforcer Cam Janssen got his teammates and the crowd going early in Tuesday's 3-1 victory over Chicago when he took on the Blackhawks' John Scott two minutes into the game.

It might be the same scenario tonight when Janssen is on the ice with Phoenix enforcer Paul Bissonnette, who's not short on words.

Janssen and Bissonnette locked horns in Phoenix and the Coyotes enforcer for the best of this round.

"I fought him this year and didn't perform as well as I would have wanted to," Janssen said. "So we'll see what happens. I know he's been getting in a lot of scraps lately and I'm sure his hand's not feeling too good. But mine doesn't feel good either. We'll go out there and play the game and whatever happens, happens. He's a tough kid. If it needs to be done, it will be."

Janssen said Bissonnette is a tough out.

"He's got a long reach," Janssen said. "He took care of me pretty good early this year, but it was the first fight coming back in a long time after my concussion. You've got to get back in the mix of things. No excuses. I never make excuses for losing fights by any means. ... I'm not going to go with the same approach I did last time."

* Flexible D -- While most squads prefer to use a stabilized group at both forward and defense, the Blues have been forced to mix and match for the majority of the season, particularly on the back line.

"It's a flexible group caused out of necessity a little bit," Payne said. "Guys have been in and out of the lineup, so they've had to adjust, they've had to play with a lot of different partners. We look back at our combinations, I think we've used about 12 different combinations in the last eight or nine games. That's just part of it. You'd like to see things stabilized, you'd like to see lines stabilized, you'd like to see d-pairings, PK units and power play units all stabilized, but that's not how it is for us right now so we'll just keep adapting and overcoming."

* Schwartz sidelined -- Blues top draft pick Jaden Schwartz, who's sister Mandi has been dealing with multiple bouts of cancer, will be sidelined a minimum of six weeks after fracturing his left ankle playing for Canada at the World Junior Championships.

Schwartz, who has a goal and two assists in two games for Canada, was injured against the Czech Republic on Tuesday.

Schwartz was the Blues' top pick (14th overall) in this past summer's NHL Entry Draft. He had 11 goals and 15 assists in 17 games during his freshman season at Colorado College.

Other teams' castoffs turn into Blues' gems

Crombeen, Winchester, D'Agostini, Sobotka all find
homes in St. Louis after drafting teams said goodbye

HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- The Blues' 19-12-5 start deserves a lot of credit from different angles.

The defensemen and goaltending have for the most part been steady and solid. Despite having difficulties at times scoring goals, there have been games where timely goals have been scored.

What may surprise some but not the Blues are some of the players contributing to those areas. They're players that were considered castoffs by other organizations.

The Blues are getting the job done with certain players that other teams basically had no use for.

Brad Winchester and B.J. Crombeen were second-round draft choices by Edmonton and Dallas, respectively. Matt D'Agostini was picked in the sixth round by Montreal. Vladimir Sobotka was a fourth round pick by Boston.

What do these guys have in common? They are all players their original teams gave up on but the Blues have somehow, someway found prominent roles for.

How can a player fall off the charts from one team and find success with another?

"It's a situation where a player finds a niche for himself and does a job," Blues coach Davis Payne said. "Sometimes it takes more than one organization. There's plenty of examples that have made a first stop here and have had success in other places. It's finding a role, finding an opportunity. There's a certain amount of development that a player goes through in order to get to that point as well. It's right-time, right-place but right amount of work, right amount of preparation, right amount of commitment, too. An opportunity's there and you're ready for it, you're doing the most with it."

Winchester was not brought back by the Oilers, who picked him in the second round in 2000. He signed a free agent contract with Dallas before eventually landing with the Blues in 2008. Crombeen was a 2003 second-round pick by the Stars, who turned around and waived him before the Blues plucked him off the waiver wire, also in 2008. D'Agostini was a 2005 sixth-round pick by Montreal, who traded him to the Blues for prospect Aaron Palushaj last season and Sobotka was the latest, dealt to the Blues in the off-season for defensive prospect David Warsofsky after the Bruins picked him in the fourth round in 2005.

All have found life with the Blues, and all have played key roles one way or another keeping the team afloat while injured players recover from serious injuries.

"They've found ways to contribute," Payne said. "They've found ways to earn their next opportunity, whether it's with Beener and Sobe in penalty killing or checking roles, whether it's Winny in providing a physical edge and some toughness, these guys have found a way to keep the door open long enough to establish themselves. That takes career focus, it takes work, it takes opportunity."

Crombeen remembers the day when he was told by the Stars they no longer needed him. It was like a kick in the gut.

"They kind of said to me, 'We're happy with you, but we don't have room for you and we've got guys coming back. We're going to put you on waivers,'" Crombeen recalled. "It's obviously a disappointment at first, but I tried to kind of keep an even-keeled approach and if I did go down (to the AHL), work my hardest to get back up and not let anything get in my way. I was lucky enough to get the opportunity to come here and it worked out great for me. I couldn't have asked for a better opportunity or organization."

Getting traded is just as hurtful. D'Agostini knows all too well.

"It's kind of mixed emotions when you get traded," D'Agostini said. "You kind of feel like, 'Oh, wow. I didn't do the job here, so they're shipping me out of town.' At the same time, you've got to feel that there's other teams interested and hopefully, the Blues saw the potential I can bring to this team. They're showing a lot of confidence in me now with the ice time. I've just got to prove I can play a good role here."

As the old saying goes: one person's loss is another person's gain. The Blues don't turn away when a player has been dispatched by another organization. They do their due diligence, see if the player is a fit and make it work, as general manager Doug Armstrong attests.

Armstrong was not around when the Blues signed Winchester and picked up Crombeen, but he helped orchestrate the trades that brought D'Agostini and Sobotka to St. Louis.

"(Director of professional scouting and Peoria GM) Kevin McDonald gets a lot of credit for this one," Armstrong said of the Sobotka deal. "He obviously followed him through the Boston area and in the minor leagues. And when I was doing my work for the Canadian Olympic team, I saw Boston quite a bit and he was a player you noticed. You just noticed when he was on the ice. You were always looking down at your sheet and saying, 'Who's that kid? Where did he come from?' And when you look at his American (Hockey League) stats, he produced offensively. His offense isn't a shock to us.

"It was an area that we had an opening. Boston certainly had enough players to fill that role on their team. They got a good, young defensive prospect. We needed more immediate help. It was a trade that worked for both sides, but obviously, I'm glad it's working for us."

And there are also the scouts, who are dispatched all over the country and in Canada to see players that might be good fits for the Blues.

"(Pro scout) Rob DiMaio saw quite a bit of (D'Agostini) and really pushed for us to take a chance on him, too," Armstrong said. "That's where your pro scouts -- that get no recognition -- go to see games at different spots in the minor leagues. The credit for these trades, the (general) manager is obviously responsible for it on making the decision, but the groundwork is done by the pro scouts, and I want Robby and Kevin McDonald to get the credit for D'Agostini and Sobotka."

For a player that is basically told he isn't wanted anymore, it becomes a mental grind to try and regain the confidence of someone.

"Half the battle of getting in the league is trying to find a spot where you fit and getting an important role," Crombeen said. "Obviously I started out in Dallas and it wasn't working out there. I got the opportunity to come here and right from the start, they gave me an opportunity to play and let me try to prove myself as a player in this league. ... It's something that you're obviously very thankful for and you have to continuously work because there's always people trying to take your job and knocking on the doorstep. It's something that if you take for granted, it could be gone the next day."

Crombeen has been everything the Blues could hope for, a tenacious presence on the penalty kill, a physical force with the occasional penchant for the net and positive influence. D'Agostini has found his offensive touch with the Blues after the Canadiens felt it was gone. Winchester is the physical presence and big body in front of the net that can throw down the gloves when needed, and Sobotka is turning into a diamond in the rough that the Bruins one day might regret letting go. He's already an instant fan favorite who is thriving in a top six role and continues to get better.

"He was in a situation where he had done his apprenticeship in the American Hockey League," Armstrong said of Sobotka, who has 16 points in 32 games. "We obviously felt he was an NHL player. We gave him a contract that showed that. He's been everything we want, not only what we're seeing on a nightly basis but off the ice and his commitment to detail. He plays the style of hockey we want to be known as here as a Blue. He's a competitor. He plays every shift. He plays every night. For our organization to add players with that type of character, it raises the bar on the younger players, it raises the bar on the players that are here."

Not every situation will turn out like this for teams, but the Blues seemed to have struck the right chord on these particular moves. And they found the players with the right attitudes.

"You just enjoy every moment and continue to work hard, try and get better and establish yourself more and more," Crombeen said.

"Deep down, maybe there is a little something to prove there," D'Agostini said. "Not just Montreal but to everyone knowing I can play in this league."

Sometimes, these deals can be crapshoots, but as Armstrong laughed when talking about the Sobotka deal, "I knew it was going to turn out exactly like this."

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Blues lose Svatos to Predators

Winger was claimed on waivers Wednesday
after signing one-year deal with St. Louis Tuesday

HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- Marek Svatos came to the Blues like a flash in the pan.

Unfortunately from the Blues' standpoint, that's all he'll be remembered for because his departure occured faster than his contract signing.

Svatos, signed to a one-year, two-way contract Tuesday by the Blues, had to clear waivers by 11 a.m. Wednesday morning before officially becoming Blues property.

However, that never materialized as the Nashville Predators claimed Svatos on waivers before the 24-hour deadline elapsed.

Svatos, whose contract is an $800,000 NHL contract and $105,000 AHL contract, practiced with the Blues on Tuesday but was not eligible to play until he cleared waivers.

So his stay in St. Louis was short-lived. He now belongs to the offensively-challenged Predators.

Svatos, who scored 32 goals his rookie season with the Colorado Avalanche and another 26 goals during the 2007-08 campaign, was a free agent this past summer and when he didn't receive any suitable offers, he took his game overseas and was playing for Avangard Omsk of the Kontinental Hockey League.

The Blues came in and hammered out a deal and Svatos, who had eight points in 19 games with Omsk, was able to get out of his KHL contract and return to the NHL but in order to do that, he first had to clear waivers despite being an NHL free agent.

"We felt it would be 50/50 that he would go through," Blues President John Davidson said Wednesday. "That was our assessment. If you look at Nashville's roster, they're trying to find goals and they have some legitimate injuries and people missing. Their thinking was along the same lines as ours."

The Predators, who lost their fifth in a row Tuesday at home, are without leading scorer Steve Sullivan, Martin Erat and now Jordin Tootoo. They needed help and used the rules implemented when a player that signs a contract in a league overseas and plays in such league on Oct. 1 or later, if the player chooses to come back to the NHL, such said player must clear waivers first.

The Blues knew it was a crapshoot but were willing to take the risk.

"Obviously we felt like it was something worth the risk or worth the exercise to get him in here," Blues general manager Doug Armstrong said of Svatos. "I think that he could have provided us with a little bit of stability, a little bit if experience but we understood going into this that there was the risk that he would get claimed by another team. Obviously Nashville felt the same way we did and they claimed him.

"I look at it as it was a good exercise for our team, it was a good exercise for our organization. Unfortunately for us, he'll get back in the NHL in Nashville, but I would do it again."

The Blues, who despite a four-game winning streak, are looking for some scoring pop in light of the absences of Andy McDonald (concussion), David Perron (concussion) and T.J. Oshie (broken ankle).

Svatos, a power play specialist who has scored 33 of his 96 career goals with the man advantage, would have stepped into a top six role with the Blues immediately. Looks like he'll do the same in Nashville.

"Doug Armstrong did a great job hatching the idea, seeing who was in that situation over in different parts of the world," Davidson said. "With us, we felt it was a legitimate opportunity for (Svatos) to come in with the opportunity to play well and maybe get something done for us. You never know where it was going to go, but we felt that that was a good shot. And Nashville's had injury problems and of course, they lost Tootoo, so you can understand why they did what they did. That's just the price of doing business in our league."

Had Svatos not taken on a contract in the KHL and remained in North America, he would have been eligible to sign with a team of his choice.

"When you enter these, you never know," Armstrong said. "Other teams have injuries also or other teams are looking to bolster their rosters so you just never know.

"I thought it was the best opportunity for the St. Louis Blues. It gave us an option that we wanted to explore, but the rules are the rules. I knew the rules going in and I knew what the potential was."

The Blues (19-12-5) are disappointed but are moving on, just as they have when their injured players started going down.

"You get disappointed but then you know it's business and it's hockey," Davidson said. "Once that little bit of water goes under the bridge, it's gone. You look forward to what's out here.

"The good part about it is our team is playing well, we're getting contributions from different people. I think the players that have had to jump into the lineup and player different slots, higher up than normal, have really acclimated themselves well. This team's tight and they feel good about themselves. We're not in a real big bind by any means. We're playing well, so let's just keep playing well."

The Blues polished off the Chicago Blackhawks, 3-1, Tuesday night for their longest winning streak since winning seven in a row from Oct. 22-Nov. 7.

Tuesday's win may have been the Blues' most consistent and complete efforts of the season.

"It's one of those where you need to figure a way to bottle that and reproduce it," Blues coach Davis Payne said. "We did a lot of things with good team intent, a lot of support reads were dead-on, especially coming out of the Nashville game where we didn't do a very good job of that. The physical part of our game, taking that step and being into the battle in the right situations was there for us. A lot of pressure to the net. I thought (Blackhawks goalie Marty) Turco had a pretty good evening based on how hard we made him work, but a lot of great execution, a lot of great second- and third-efforts by our guys and that's the type of hockey we need to play."

The Blues are doing it with their full d-corps in tact, they're getting solid goaltending from both Jaroslav Halak and Ty Conklin and they're starting to get balanced scoring.

"This is our group," Davidson said. "When those guys (McDonald, Perron and Oshie) come back and if they come back, we'll see what happens then. You can sit at home at night and think about Perron and McDonald and where's Oshie ... it doesn't do you any good. You've got to deal with what you're dealt, and this is it.

"I commend these guys because they have never since Day 1 stopped. They've had a couple of clunkers like everybody else has, but they don't stop. This is a good group and it's a very tight group. They care for each other, they don't get bumped around by anybody, they're playing really strong at home, which is a good sign. I like it."

But that doesn't mean the Blues will close the doors in search of help if they can find it.

"We'll obviously keep our ear to the ground to see if there's other players out there in that same situation or if there are potential trades to make," Armstrong said. "Probably nothing different than we were doing two weeks ago or three weeks ago. Our jobs are to always talk to the other teams. If there's something there that can improve our team, short- and long-term ... if we do end up making a player trade, then we want to make a good player trade, whether it's for a current roster player or Peoria players, draft picks or prospects, we want to make sure we're not being reactionary to a one- or two-game winning streak or a three- or four-game losing streak. We want to be careful in what we do. But for sure, we want to keep exploring."

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Dominating performance sees Blues win fourth in a row

3-1 victory over Blackhawks fueled by one
of team's best performances of season

ST. LOUIS -- From an execution and effort standpoint, one would be hard-pressed to find a better result than the one the Blues got against the Chicago Blackhawks Tuesday night.

Sure, the Blues' 3-1 victory over the Hawks may sound like a competitive game based on the score, but it was hardly that close.

The Blackhawks can thank Marty Turco's 40-save performance. The veteran goaltender kept this one from being a 7- or 8-1 whitewash, as 19,150 fans at Scottrade Center witnessed. Turco was borderline phenomenal.

The Blues (19-12-5), winners of four in a row, snapped the four-game winning streak the Blackhawks (20-15-3) came in here with, and they did it with conviction in all facets of the game, outshooting the Hawks 43-26. The Blues also caught the Hawks in the standings, as both are tied for second in the Central Division.

From the tone set by Cam Janssen's fight with towering John Scott two minutes into the game, to Matt D'Agostini's crunching hit on Hawks center Jonathan Toews that knocked Toews out of the game with an apparent right shoulder injury, the Blues were not flustered after falling behind and having to somehow beat a goalie that was on his game.

"It's a pretty good watermark for our club," Blues coach Davis Payne said. "I thought guys came with the right energy, guys came to make sure we skated through the battles, making sure that we were two-hand strong in making those statements, putting a lot of pucks on net which is what we wanted to do right from the start. We wanted to get our game directed.

"As off as we were against Nashville (in Sunday's 2-0 win) as far as handling our fore-check, I thought our (defensemen) generated some real clean exits based on moving their feet, based on moving the play, the forwards did a much better job in supporting. As a result, we were able to get up ice and get to those spots. Pretty solid hockey game by our team."

The Blues, after seeing Jake Dowell give Chicago a 1-0 first-period lead, got goals from Vladimir Sobotka, Brad Boyes and Brad Winchester's clincher late that needed video review to confirm the goal. And Ty Conklin, who was horrific in Chicago Nov. 30 during a 7-5 loss that saw the Blues netminder allow seven goals on 24 shots, was the surprise starter and gained some retribution in stopping 25 shots.

"Yeah, I think we all were," Conklin said, talking about getting back at the Hawks. "It certainly wasn't the game we wanted in there (last time). I thought we played about as complete of a game as we have in a while.

"It was nice to get a second chance at them."

Payne rewarded Conklin, who has won three straight starts, with another crack at the Hawks despite Jaroslav Halak winning two in a row and coming off a shutout of the Predators.

"Yeah, I was, certainly" Conklin said, when asked if he was surprised to get the start. "I'd be lying if I said I wasn't. But I was glad to get in there.

"(Payne) said, 'you're playing tomorrow.' I said, 'Ok.' I said, 'I'm playing?' He said, 'Yes.' I had to ask him again. He said, 'You sound surprised,' and I was."

Payne said the decision was easy.

"Big picture look. Ty had a solid game in Atlanta," Payne said. "Jaro had a couple solid games. As far as keeping each guy going and keeping each guy playing well, a chance for Jaro to kind of get himself reset for the next one. Just all part of the big picture, if you will. It might have looked off the wall for some, but Ty played a good hockey game.

"Nothing an athlete wants more than another kick at it. That's exactly what Ty got against these guys. I know his teammates were ready to put a better performance on the ice as well. It was a great team win."

Janssen and Scott fought for the second time this season and were engaged in a good battle, with each landing some good blows. The fight seemed to motivate the Blues.

"I'd like to think so ... big man," Janssen said. "I was trying to get a spark going. I knew he'd probably be running around, so I wanted to set it off as quick as I could, get the boys going as soon as possible and it looked like it worked."

Scott was more than eager to get it going as well.

"I love fighting him," Scott said of Janssen. "I saw him in warmups, and I was like, 'I want to beat him up bad. I wanted to get it over with early. He's a good guy, he's a good fighter, I'm sure we'll tangle up again."

A turnover and consequent goal by Dowell with 1:47 left in the first gave the Hawks a 1-0 lead, but the Blues walked out of that period having outshot the Hawks 18-7, and it was Turco that preserved the Chicago lead.

"From our opinion, we'd take two more (periods) just like that (first one)," Payne said. "We felt that the odds and time and pressure would eventually land on our side with that generating that type of zone time, drawing some penalties because we were moving our feet. ... Our battle level was extremely high. We felt if we could just keep going with that type of game plan at the end of 60, we'd be in charge of this one."

Sobotka, playing with more and more confidence with each passing shift, was able to get off a shot from the top of the left circle that was wired for the top of the net, finally getting a shot by Turco on the Blues 25th shot of the game 4:39 into the second period.

Then they took control when Erik Johnson fired a shot from the right point 3:08 into the third that Boyes got a stick on to give the Blues a 2-1 lead.

"There was good traffic in front," Boyes said. "I got a piece on it. I'm trying to shoot them, and they're not really going in. So I tipped one ... I'll take that."

The Blues were buzzing around the Hawks goal, even with a 2-1 lead, and Winchester was rewarded for his efforts by deflecting Barret Jackman's one-timer that Turco got a piece of but the puck flopped over Turco, who lunged to keep it out and gloved it out of midair to get a whistle. The referees initially ruled it no goal but video replays showed the puck was across before Turco could get it out. It gave the Blues a 3-1 lead with 5:50 to play.

"It originally started down low. It was a great pass out from Jay (McClement) and the puck kind of came back to Jax and hit Turco in the shoulder," Winchester said. "I was just able to get a stick on it. I thought it had a good chance of crossing the line.

"It was a good feeling. Certainly at the time of the period, we did generate a lot of shots. It was good to have one sneak in. ... Yeah, my gut feeling was that it was good. That's the benefit of the replay."

The Blues continued their relentless play, not giving the Hawks any breathing room at either end of the ice until the final horn sounded.

"We did a lot of things well," Winchester said. "For us, everything stems from hard work and certainly getting into our fore-check early on, having good back pressure, good returns certainly was key for us. We were able to generate chances off of the fore-check, which is something we keyed in on doing tonight."

(12-28-10) Blackhawks-Blues Gameday Lineup

ST. LOUIS -- Blues fans have been clamoring for a goal-scorer to help a offensively-challenged lineup. None had been forthcoming for almost half of this season.

But Blues general manager Doug Armstrong hopes the signing of former Colorado forward Marek Svatos to a one-year, two-way contract can help solve some of the much-needed goal scoring.

Svatos, a former 32- and 26-goal scorer with the Avalanche, was reportedly signed to a $800,000 NHL contract and $105,000 AHL deal but he must clear waivers first after getting out of his Kontinental Hockey League contract in Russia.

Svatos played with Omsk and tallied eight points in 19 games but must clear waivers by 11 a.m. Wednesday to officially become a member of the Blues.

"We've competed against him, we've seen him compete for a number of years in Denver," Armstrong said of Svatos. "He's got offensive capabilities, he's a good power play player, he's very good on the half boards. He's a player that isn't afraid to go into the hard areas to produce offense. It seemed like a gamble for us that was worth taking when we found out he wanted to come back and give the NHL a try.

"This isn't a stopgap thing. If he plays the way we hope he can play, then we'll find out if there's a long-term fit."

The Blues are starving for goals, since they've been playing a large portion of the season without injured forwards Andy McDonald, David Perron and T.J. Oshie.

"Good inside skill, competitive skill, a guy who can get to areas and get to tough areas, get great intention to shoot the puck," Blues coach Davis Payne said. "We'll make more firm comments after the next 24 hours go by."

Svatos, who went unsigned this past summer and opted for a deal with the KHL, said his signing with the Blues came together over the last couple days and a deal was hammered out quickly.

"My agent was talking to some teams and the Blues came forward," Svatos said before the Blues faced the Chicago Blackhawks tonight. "... I left Russia to be on this team.

"The team has some injuries. Hopefully I can help the team win some games and I'm going to try to put the puck in the net. Hopefully, they picked me to help the team so hopefully I can do that."

Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville coached Svatos in Colorado and says the Blues have a nice player.

"He's got a quick stick, he's a real tricky player, dangerous 1 on 1, great around the net, great shot, quick hands ... he's a real good goal-scorer, a dangerous player," Quenneville said. "... He's a useful player. On the power play, he can help them in a lot of ways."

Svatos took part in Tuesday's morning skate with the team but wouldn't be eligible to play until Friday against Phoenix.

"I'm very thankful for the opportunity," Svatos said. "I left Russia to play for St. Louis and I'm really looking forward to it. I'm very thankful to get back to the NHL and get my career back on track."

- - -

The news on Oshie beginning to skate last week traveled fast, about as fast as Oshie's recovery from a broken left ankle is taking.

Oshie, who suffered the injury Nov. 10 at Columbus, has been skating on a daily basis -- aside from the Christmas holiday -- but in recent days has been skating harder and harder.

Armstrong, who said he's been pleasantly surprised by Oshie's rapid healing time, announced the Blues have upped Oshie's timeframe to at or around the all-star game, which would put it 2-3 weeks ahead of schedule.

"He's progressing real well," Armstrong said of Oshie. "We're shooting for around the all-star game, which is the end of January. That's a little bit ahead of schedule. I think three months was going to be Feb. 10th, so he's pushed it a hair ahead of that. He's working hard."

Oshie, who says he'll continue to skate on a daily basis,

"It feels good out there," Oshie said. "I've been ripping around pretty good. Obviously my leg's not as strong as it was before, but things are going well. I'm doing what I can and when things get too intense, I pull back a little bit. It's going real well.

"The doctors kind of told me a timeframe. ... I've kept telling them it feels better, but I still really took it slow. I think that's paid off. Now it's feeling great and a little earlier than expected."

Armstrong mentioned Oshie's attitude as a big reason for his speedy recovery.

"He's really taken care of himself. He's worked hard off the ice," Armstrong said. "... He's a quick healer. That's good to know moving forward too.

"I think a lot of it has to do with his attitude too. His attitude is unbelievable. He's here every day, he's working hard, he's got a smile on his face. He's really pushing his teammates to hang in there, to battle through."

To which Oshie replied, "Maybe staying positive helps a little bit. It definitely helps the mental side. I'm no doctor or anything like that, but if anything like that carries into the physical stuff, I'll definitely do what I can."

Oshie still has a way to go, but the news is encouraging for the Blues.

"Range of motion's a big thing," Oshie said. "Altering my skates so that it feels good on my foot. Other than that, everything's feeling pretty good right now. Just getting stronger and getting back in shape."

"With his work ethic and his healing and the way he's been, we're confident somewhere around the all-star break is a realistic goal for us," Armstrong said.

- - -

While the news is good on Oshie, the report on concussed players McDonald and Perron is "status quo," according to Armstrong.

"They're still not symptom-free," Armstrong said of McDonald and Perron. "Unfortunately, there's really not much more to report except they're not symptom-free. When they become symptom-free and once they go through the protocol and pass all the tests and get ready to go back on the ice, I think that's when we can update it.

"I really don't want to create any false hope but also get people thinking that they're not coming back either because we're just not sure of that situation. Until they're symptom-free, they're status quo."

Armstrong says the Blues are prepared to move on without Perron, out since Nov. 4, and McDonald, out since Dec. 4.

"It's a lot for the players in the room right now," Armstrong said. "They have to move forward with the group that's here. With David and Andy and concussions, our thoughts are with them every day, but we as an organization have to prepare to move on. We're going to be pleasantly surprised when they come in and say they're symptom-free and they've passed all the necessary tests and they're ready to get back on the ice with their teammates."

- - -

The Blues (18-12-5), winners of three straight, are going with Ty Conklin in goal tonight against the Blackhawks (20-14-3), winners of four in a row and the team that knocked in seven goals on 24 shots in the teams' last meeting, a 7-5 Chicago victory on Nov. 30.

The move may come as surprise considering Jaroslav Halak is coming off two straight wins, including a 32-save shutout over Nashville Sunday. He's 2-0 with a 1.50 goals-against average and .957 save percentage in those two games.

"Just like in any situation where a guy doesn't have success, the best medicine is to get back out there and get back up on that horse and get to playing again," Payne said. "His last game was very good in Atlanta and we expect him to continue that."

- - -

Armstrong is also pleased with what he's hearing from reports about Blues prospect Vladimir Tarasenko.

Tarasenko, the team's second first-round pick over the summer (16th overall), has been playing in the KHL with Novosibirsk Siber, where he has 16 points (eight goals) in 35 games.

Tarasenko is currently playing for Russia in the World Junior Championships.

"We're hoping to get him for camp here next year," Armstrong said. "That's the goal ... or over here to train in the summer and be a part of the training blocks that the players partake in."

The Blues cannot talk to Tarasenko during the KHL season, and once the season ends, they can't talk to him until the World Championships come to a close either, the reason Armstrong says next summer is the earliest the Blues can get their hands on him.

- - -

The Blues did not mess with their forward lines this morning:

Vladimir Sobotka-David Backes-Matt D'Agostini

Alex Steen-Patrik Berglund-B.J. Crombeen

Brad Winchester-Jay McClement-Brad Boyes

Chris Porter-Adam Cracknell-Cam Janssen

However, the d-pairings saw the following:

Eric Brewer-Roman Polak

Barret Jackman-Alex Pietrangelo

Carlo Colaiacovo-Erik Johnson

Ty Conklin
is 7-5-0 with a 3.20 goals-against average and .893 save percentage in his career against Chicago.

- - -

The Hawks, who got winger Marian Hossa back from injury over the weekend, will get another boost with the addition of Patrick Kane (ankle) to the lineup tonight.

"I'm pretty happy about it," Kane said. "I'm skating, shooting and everything's fine. I'll just see how it is during the game but I think right now, it's probably as good as it's going to get for a while. I'll probably have to deal with it for a bit, but that's another thing I'll have to worry about."

Kane, who has 27 points in 28 games, is excited about getting back to the Blues-Blackhawks rivalry, something he feels will stick for a long time.

"I think the rivalry's pretty good to be honest with you right now," Kane said. "We know as players, it's probably one of the toughest that we're going to play. They play really hard against us. Every time you play them, it's always going to be a hard-fought battle. It's probably going to be the same tonight. ... I think it's going to be a good rivalry for a long time because you look at both teams, they're pretty young."

- - -

The Hawks are expected to roll out the following lines:

Troy Brouwer-Jonathan Toews-Patrick Kane

Tomas Kopecky-Patrick Sharp-Marian Hossa

Bryan Bickell-Dave Bolland-Jack Skille

John Scott-Jake Dowell-Viktor Stalberg

D-pairings include:

Duncan Keith-Brent Seabrook

Niklas Hjalmarsson-Brian Campbell

Nick Boynton-Jassen Cullimore

Marty Turco
, 11-9-3 with a 2.48 GAA and .902 save percentage in his career against the Blues, gets the start for Corey Crawford, who's been battling the flu.

Injury-free, playing confident, Brewer having most consistent season as a pro

Defenseman providing leadership, solid
veteran experience to young defensive corps

HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- Since the day he was acquired for Chris Pronger in one of the most controversial deals in Blues history, Eric Brewer has seemed to be fighting an uphill battle no matter what he's been able to do on the ice.

Maybe Brewer will never live up to the trade that also brought defensemen Jeff Woywitka and Doug Lynch on Aug. 2, 2005, but it's never stopped the Vernon, British Columbia native from trying.

Through all the boos and occasional cheers, Brewer has been quiet and reserved in the public eye. Nothing seems to rattle his psyche.

Maybe that's why finally in his sixth season as a Blue, Brewer may finally be living up to the potential St. Louis thought it was getting when the Blues acquired Brewer in 2005.

Brewer, who has eight points (five goals) in 35 games and is tied with David Backes atop the plus-minus stats at plus-10 as the Blues get ready to face the Chicago Blackhawks at 7 p.m. today (FSN, KMOX 1120-AM), is quietly putting together arguably his best season as a pro.

Few have doubted his ability. Sometimes, it's taken awhile to see the full potential.

Brewer, 31, is making plays, playing with confidence and doing so with assertiveness. Those have been elements missing from his arsenal in seasons past at times.

And most importantly, he's injury-free.

"When your body's not feeling right like it has in years past, it's hard to skate to the spots you want to, it's hard to get into the battles and battle the way you'd want to," Blues coach Davis Payne said of his captain. "It's difficult when your body's not letting you. All of the sudden, you find him in a healthy situation and he's playing good hockey for us."

Brewer will be the last guy to boast about his effectiveness. He's humble in his own right. All he cares about is coming to the rink, making himself a better player and focusing on helping his team win.

"It's OK. It's a constant work," said Brewer, when asked if he's playing his best. "I never look at it that way. Just going out there and doing my thing.

"I don't feel any less confident than I have in other times. I'm seeing the play and trying to make some reads and seeing where it takes us. I really don't look at is this my best, is this whatever ... I go with 'did it work well, what do I need to improve in,' that's how I see it."

A large portion of Blues fans have never allowed Brewer to live freely. He'd been a target for boo-birds at nearly every touch of the puck, whether making a good play or whether it resulted in a mistake.

This was Pronger's replacement. Brewer could have been shipped to St. Louis wrapped in the form of Bobby Orr and still would have been received the same.

Brewer's career with the Blues has been marred by inconsistent play, largely due to some serious injuries. His first season, missed 50 games with two separate shoulder injuries, the ladder being a separated left shoulder.

After a pair of injury-free seasons, one in which brought a new four-year, $17-million deal.

Then came more injury problems, including shoulder surgery suffered on opening night in 2007 despite playing through the season with pain. He missed all but 21 games in 2008-09 and 23 more a season ago with a serious herniated disk issue in his back that turned out to be a sciatic nerve issue. There was talk of his career being over.

"It certainly makes a difference," Brewer said of being injury-free. "But if you're going to dress, you have no excuses. That's what it is."

But now virtually healthy for the first time since he slipped on the Blue Note, Brewer -- in the final year of his contract -- has also gained the respect of his teammates and become a mentor to a talented cast of young d-men.

"He's been awesome. He's a great leader," Blues defensive prospect Ian Cole said recently. "Awesome guy as far as learning the game. I know people have been getting on him -- so I hear -- but he's a great player. He's been awesome teaching me how to be an NHL player. I can't say enough about how awesome he's been, such a great mentor as far as that goes."

To which Brewer replied, "Sometimes I feel like a nagging parent. I feel like sometimes I almost need to be quiet. The guys are really receptive ... I'm not one to nitpick. It's more just on-the-fly adjustment during the game or in a practice. I'm more a guy of, 'We need to address this, and if I'm off-base, then fine. If I'm not, this is what we're going to do.' ... It's just us working together and me having a little bit more experience in some situations with some players that maybe don't."

For the first time in six years, when Eric Brewer is announced as a starter or when scoring a goal or picking up an assist, there are more cheers to go along with his name. It's been a long time coming. The cheers are large in number these days.

"He's skating, he's defending, he's reading, he's communicating, he's shooting the puck, he's doing a lot of the right things," Payne said of Brewer. "I think this is exactly why we felt that he was a guy that can come back and continue to provide leadership for our young d-corps and for everything we're going through. We need that type of play from him. He's giving it.

"There's not a lot that surprises him. ... When he's up and moving his feet, his gap is closed, he's able to use a long stick, he's able to use his reach and influence plays, stepping into confrontations with his body. Perhaps we wouldn't have seen that a year ago, but here's a healthy guy. He's able to skate like he's used to, whether that's in separation with a puck, whether that's in defensive responsibilities, whether that's getting up ice, he's playing a firm game. He's playing a game that we've seen. He's another guy -- as required -- has stepped up for our team."

Stepped up not only on the ice but off of it and in the locker room as well.

"I don't think it's really difficult. Whether you have it or you don't have the 'C,' I'm still going to do what I do and I'm comfortable saying what needs to be said," Brewer said. "I've always liked to be in the mix and kind of sort out what needs to be sorted out and be one of the guys."

With veterans Barret Jackman and Carlo Colaiacovo along with rising youngsters Roman Polak, Erik Johnson and Alex Pietrangelo, Brewer may be cast in one of the best Blues' defensive corps in the last decade.

"Everybody recognizes the need to do their job," Brewer said. "It doesn't necessarily have to be fantastic. You just have to play solid and be reliable. That always makes a difference, especially when you're playing so many games. It's easy for it to snowball one way or the other. We'd like it to go in a positive way, obviously.

"I definitely think we have a good group of guys. We have a good mix of personalities and players. It's pretty close, if it's not."

So the next time Brewer is seen at the rink pay attention to what he is doing when he's at his best.

"Just skating well, not giving up a lot, get some shots through, up the ice a little bit making some aggressive plays," Brewer said.

Simple but for the Blues these days, extremely effective.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Halak, Backes help Blues win third straight

2-0 victory over Nashville vaults St. Louis back into top eight

ST. LOUIS -- What more could the Blues and Nashville Predators expect? Their matchups typically come down to the wire.

Sunday was no different.

And it was David Backes (offensively) and Jaroslav Halak (defensively) that stood tall for the Blues, along with a defensive effort good enough to solidify a third straight win.

Backes scored twice, including the game-clinching empty-netter with 16.8 seconds remaining and Halak, who earned his 13th career shutout, blanked the Predators for the second time this season by kicking out all 32 shots as the Blues won their third in a row with a 2-0 victory over Nashville Sunday night at Scottrade Center.

Another one-goal nail biter was in the works again for these two teams, as 11 of the previous 16 meetings and seven of eight were decided by one goal.

It was headed that way again until the waning seconds.

"They're tight-checking," Backes said of the Blues-Predators matchups. "I don't know if they're the prettiest hockey ever to watch, but when we come out with our two points, we'll take it as ugly as they come."

The Blues (18-12-5) maybe didn't display some of their best hockey of the season, but they will move on with only their third winning streak of three games or more this season (the last was Nov. 19-24) in a game that only saw one minor penalty.

Halak, who has allowed seven goals in five games against the Predators (17-12-6) this season, was extra sharp in the second period when Nashville seemed to have the Blues bogged down in their end. His best stop may have come when he flashed the glove and snagged Cal O'Reilly's wrister four minutes into the period.

"Obviously, I like these types of games," Halak said. "Everybody likes more shots than a few shots on the net.

"They had some chances, we had some chances. It was a close game. Sometimes, that one goal makes the whole difference. Sometimes, it doesn't make any difference. Tonight, it made a difference. I'm really happy with the two points."

Backes, who last scored two goals in a game Feb. 3, 2010 at Chicago, snapped a wrist shot into a tight spot over Pekka Rinne's right shoulder just 1:45 into the second for the lone goal scored off the two netminders.

Nashville defenseman Cody Franson flipped a backhand pass through the neutral zone that Backes picked off, skated to the top of the right face-off circle and beat Rinne.

"I'm not at a very good angle there," Backes said. "I should probably have dumped that in there and got a line change. I kind of closed my eyes and saw a little daylight. I don't know if (Rinne) was expecting me to shoot from that angle there. We'll take it."

The Blues maintained that lead the rest of the game thanks in large part to Halak and a defensive effort that -- although they did allow 30 or more shots for the fifth time in the last seven games -- did not allow a plethora of prime scoring chances.

"It was a lot of chip-and-chase, a lot of skating and trying to turn the d-men back," said defenseman Barret Jackman, who along with Roman Polak and Eric Brewer earned high marks for their play from Payne. "Typical game against Nashville. They play hard. We just kind of outlasted them tonight.

"(Halak) played amazing, against Detroit the other night and I thought tonight, he stole the show and kept us in it and gave us a chance to win and maybe got us the win."

"From a shot-blocking perspective and from a physical perspective, not allowing any space in behind, I thought they did an outstanding job," Payne said of Jackman and Polak. "I thought Brew was best on puck touches and taking those possessions to space where we could deal with Nashville's fore-check. They're always a tough fore-checking team. ... I'd say with those three again, our defensive crew, guys who really take pride in that part of the game, were strong."

The teams continued to play penalty-free until Nashville's Joel Ward was whistled for tripping the Blues' Carlo Colaiacovo with 4:47 to play. It was the lone power play for either team as referees Tim Peel, a native St. Louisan, and Justin St. Pierre were relatively whistle-free.

The Blues, who are the third-most penalized team in the league averaging 16.7 penalty minutes a game, last went a game without a penalty was April 1, 2004 against Detroit.

"Until that one (tripping) call, I didn't think there was a heck of a lot out there that you could find fault with if you're looking for a penalty," Payne said. "I thought it was one of those games where we didn't get in enough people's way to manufacture any type of call. Guys were disciplined enough in making sure that sticks were down knowing that it was going to be a tight hockey game. One power play could swing it any way. We had to be disciplined."

The Predators pulled Rinne with a little over a minute to play and pressed the Blues once again, but Alex Steen was able to get a clear out of his end by banking the puck off the boards and out. The puck was spinning towards the goal but was running out of steam. However, Backes outraced O'Reilly to the puck and scooped it in before crashing back-first into the back boards.

"I was thinking about a change there, too," Backes said. "I noticed their guy (O'Reilly) wasn't going back exactly full speed for it. I figured even if I didn't have a chance to get the puck, I could put some pressure on him, maybe even make him stop back there. Not a ton of time left, and it might make him drain the rest of it out before they get back to our end. Then I realized I was gaining ground on him. I tried to protect it and throw it in there."

The Blues jumped back into the top eight in the Western Conference and are only two points out of fourth place. That's how tight the West is.

"These are the kinds of games if you're on the wrong end of them, you look back in April and say, 'Hey, those two points were critical at that time,'" Backes said. "For us to find a way to win them, that goal and an empty-netter is all we muster up tonight, but it was enough to get a win."

(12-26-10) Predators-Blues Gameday Lineup

ST. LOUIS -- After a two-day Christmas hiatus in which some players traveled to spend time with family and some players stayed here, Blues players did nothing as far as on-ice activities were concerned.

They weren't the only ones, as the National Hockey League shut things down for a couple days, and the league gets back in full swing tonight with a slate of 11 games, including the Blues, who host the Nashville Predators at 6 p.m. (FSN, KMOX 1120-AM)

The Blues were on the ice this morning getting the holiday kinks out and working on getting back into rhythm and work on building off that two-game winning streak the Blues took with them; two victories against powerful teams in Atlanta and Detroit.

"It's going to be tough because two days off, I didn't do anything," defenseman Roman Polak said. "I just laid on my couch ... I did walk my dog, too, so it's going to be tough, but we have to be ready. They are in the same situation. They didn't practice for two days either. We have to be ready. There's no excuse."

The Blues (17-12-5), who last year traveled on gameday to Minnesota to play the Wild, needed some time to get the juices flowing and they eventually did before falling 4-3.

The Predators (17-11-6) are in the same boat this year, as they flew into St. Louis this morning, practiced after the Blues and will play on the same day. It's something the Blues hope they can take advantage of with a quick start.

"We just simply talked about whether it was a travel day (for Nashville) or not, it was a non-travel day for us coming off of two days off and coming out of the holidays," Blues coach Davis Payne said. "There's an advantage there to be had for the team that gets the full engagement. We've talked about making sure that that's mental, physical and we're well-connected to this hockey game right from the start."

The Blues got off to a flying start against the Red Wings Thursday, jumping out to a 3-1 first-period lead before Detroit got it in gear to make things interesting at the end as the Blues prevailed 4-3.

"We talked about that, try and be the first team to get on them," winger Brad Boyes said. "That's going to be the team that gets an advantage. That's our plan, to come out early. Come out, take advantage and capitalize on them early."

- - -

The Blues, who have dropped five straight to the Predators here at Scottrade Center, will take the ice tonight looking at a mirror image of themselves.

Nashville, which is one point better than the Blues in the standings, also don't have that standout offensive player lighting up the scoreboard, just like the Blues.

There are no Sidney Crosbys or Alex Ovechkins on either of these teams, which is why games between them typically comes down to one goal.

"We're similar teams, hard-working teams, defensive styles, we don't give up a lot but yet we fore-check hard, both teams work hard and don't score a ton," Boyes said. "But we've got a lot of similarities when it comes to the team winning. We win as a team just like they do. That's why when we play each other, the games are so tight."

Eleven of the last 16 meetings between the teams -- including seven of eight -- game been decided by one goal.

"I think when you look at both us and Nashville, the formula is largely the same," Payne said. "Both teams have to play a hard-checking game, they have to work, rely on good goaltending, we make sure that we put pucks in disciplined areas, play great team structure and great team defense.

"If you look at the way both teams are built, you look at where we are in the standings and how we play, it's really head-to-head, strength vs. strength as far as this one goes."

- - -

Two games back after missing 24 because of a tendon injury in his right wrist, Polak feels like he's getting back into a groove.

Well, sort of.

Aside from some timing issues and making the right decisions, Polak has played well in his return to the lineup.

"I'm getting there," Polak said. "Just better timing, better reads, play more minutes, get more games under my belt. I think every game is better and better.

"I'm feeling good. I felt good the first game too, but mentally, I wasn't ready. I just didn't make the good reads. I'm going there. ... It depends on the timing to be physical. That's improving a little bit, too."

Payne doesn't feel like Polak is far off.

"He's gotten better each game," Payne said. "I think his reads defensively are much more confident and allowing his feet to take him to some confrontations that he knows he's going to have success in. The next step of that is the separation and taking the stride with the puck, finding those outlet plays, getting up ice. When we start getting to see him do that, we'll feel like we're pretty much there."

Polak hasn't lost his sense of humor, though.

When asked about getting back with his natural defensive partner (Barret Jackman) and helping him get back to where he wants to be, Polak joked he can play with anybody except Eric Brewer

"He's way better than Brew," Polak joked, referring to Jackman, which got a laugh out of Carlo Colaiacovo. "I like him more than Brew. He's a way better partner than Brew."

Polak was even put on the spot, being asked about Colaiacovo.

"I like Carlo. I like everybody except Brew," Polak laughed.

Polak first started out with Colaiacovo in his first game back Monday.

"They put me with him to gain his confidence back," Colaiacovo joked. "Now after a few games, he's back."

But Polak did indeed credit being back with Jackman helping him find his groove.

"Jax is a horse out there," Polak said. "It's helping me a lot, he's talking to me a lot, too."

- - -

The Blues will not change anything, going with the same guys who got them their two wins:

Vladimir Sobotka-David Backes-Matt D'Agostini

Alex Steen-Patrik Berglund-B.J. Crombeen

Brad Winchester-Jay McClement-Brad Boyes

Chris Porter-Adam Cracknell-Cam Janssen

Ditto with the d-pairings:

Eric Brewer-Erik Johnson

Barret Jackman-Roman Polak

Carlo Colaiacovo-Alex Pietrangelo

Tyson Strachan (healthy scratch) is the extra player tonight.

Jaroslav Halak, who is 4-1-1 with a 2.26 goals-against average and a .911 save percentage in his career against Nashville, will start tonight.

- - -

The Predators, much like the Blues, have been hit with injuries and will be missing two key pieces tonight.

Forwards Steve Sullivan (lower-body) and Martin Erat (back) were both injured in Nashville's 2-1 loss at home against Ottawa.

Sullivan has 49 points in 60 career games against the Blues.

The Predators recalled left winger Linus Klasen from AHL Milwaukee and he will be in the lineup tonight:

Linus Klasen-Marcel Goc-Sergei Kostitsyn

J.P. Dumont-Cal O'Reilly-Patric Hornqvist

Colin Wilson-Jerred Smithson-Joel Ward

Wade Belak-Nick Spaling-Jordin Tootoo

D-pairings include:

Ryan Suter-Shea Weber

Francis Bouillon-Kevin Klein

Shane O'Brien-Cody Franson

Pekka Rinne
, who returned from injury (knee) in Nashville's last game after missing nine straight, will start tonight. He's 8-3-2 with a 2.09 GAA and .924 save percentage in his career against the Blues.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Key contributions help Blues go into Christmas with pair of wins

Berglund, Johnson, D'Agostini step up in victory over Red Wings

ST. LOUIS -- The Blues, looking to stay afloat in the ultra-competitive Western Conference, earned a nice two-day Christmas reprieve after an entertaining 4-3 victory over the Detroit Red Wings Thursday.

It's impressive enough when the Blues win over Detroit period. The Red Wings have had their way with the Blues -- and the rest of the West -- for a long time.

But it's the way the Blues won is what will be needed as a blueprint going forward as they continue to play without key injured forwards.

Prior to Thursday's game, the Blues had scored six goals in three games. Fifty percent of them came off the stick of Alex Steen, who's really jumped to the forefront of the Blues' offense. He has points in 10 of his last 12 games and is second on the Blues (behind David Backes' 26) with 23 points.

But when the Blues, who will return post-Christmas on Sunday night at home against Nashville (6 p.m. on FSN, KMOX 1120-AM), get scoring from the likes of Patrik Berglund, Matt D'Agostini and Erik Johnson from the blue line, the Blues (17-12-5) will be able to build on that two-game winning streak they are currently on.

Throw in the production of Backes, Vladimir Sobotka and if Brad Boyes, who did light the lamp Tuesday in Atlanta, can find his scoring touch, it makes the Blues a player in the Western Conference once again.

"We need these contributions from all of us like that, especially when you see Steener running around and controlling the play like he does," said D'Agostini, whose first goal in eight games and second in 20 was the game-winner Thursday. "We got some big goals from our power play, which is always good to have and good to see."

Johnson, the top overall pick of 2006 who came into this season with high hopes of building on a 10-goal, 39-point year he had in 2009-10, found the net for only the second time this season but first since scoring Oct. 23 against Pittsburgh.

"It definitely feels good to have myself and Bergy and Dags contribute on the scoresheet and get a big win before the holidays," said Johnson, who has 11 points in 33 games.

Blues coach Davis Payne agreed.

"It's different guys contributing and it's exactly what we have to have," Payne said. "If we're going to pick Alex Steen to be the guy every night, it's going to be tough weight for him. But he's done his part. Bergie stepped up tonight, EJ with a goal, Dags with a big goal ... that fourth one was a great transition play by (Eric Brewer), great decision and even better recognition by Backs to spring Dags in on that goal and a great finish.

"It's the type of performance that you need. We're the type of team where we need contributions from everybody and we need scoring depth. We can't have anybody going for too long without it. I (also) thought Boysie had another strong game."

Berglund, who shows flashes of being that center the Blues envisioned when they picked him in the first round (25th overall) in 2006, potted his second career two-goal game and first since March 24, 2009, his rookie season.

Thursday was a game that showed Berglund getting involved at both ends of the ice and putting his 6-foot-4, 218-pound frame to good use.

"Every once in a while, you get a little emotional out there," said Berglund, who has eight goals and 20 points in 34 games. "I think I've been more and more emotional lately and maybe that's bringing out a little more aggressive play from me. I think it's been helping me a lot out there.

"We're sticking to our standard every game. Every game counts. We want the two points in every game, but a game like this, it brings out more confidence in us. We got two straight wins here, one against Detroit, a great team. Now we can go into the holiday break here with family and celebrate Christmas. It's a great finish for us."

A great finish and for the Blues, they hope it's the start of another streak of victories.

"To beat a team like that, a division rival, they're a high-skilled team as it is so it definitely feels good to get those two points and ride into the holidays on a little roll," Johnson said.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Blues use strong start to down Red Wings

Berglund leads way with two goals; Halak preserves win with 35 saves

ST. LOUIS -- If the Blues are to make any kind of noise in the Western Conference, these are the types of games -- and types of teams -- they are going to have to overcome.

Not only overcome but beat.

Setting the tone early, the Blues were able to establish the kind of pace they wanted. They got an early lead, helped by a pair of Patrik Berglund goals, before the Detroit Red Wings came on fast and furious.

But in the end, Jaroslav Halak exorcised some of his demons he faced against the Red Wings and came on sharp, stopping 35 shots that included all 15 in the third period as the Blues held off the Wings 4-3 Thursday night before a packed house at Scottrade Center.

The Blues (17-12-5), who have won back-to-back games for the first time since Dec. 5, blitzed the Wings (21-9-4) and goalie Chris Osgood with three first-period goals as Osgood, a former Blue, was looking to become the 10th player in NHL history to record his 400th career win.

He'll have to remain at 399 for at least a couple days.

That's because the Blues, who outshot Detroit 14-9 in the first period, got it going on the power play, they got it going 5 on 5 and they pushed Detroit back in their own end and came out of the first 20 minutes up 3-1.

"We came out of the locker room knowing that we wanted to set the pace of the play," Blues coach Davis Payne said. "We wanted to make sure that (we were) skating, we were the team that (was) getting the first hits and we were the team getting the first shots. I thought we did a real good job of that. Detroit had to turn around and defend some pucks towards their net."

Erik Johnson, stuck on one goal this season, picked up his second of the season and first in 26 games with a power play goal on a shot straight away from the blue line. The puck hit the right post and got past Osgood 13 minutes 21 seconds into the game.

"Part of my game is contributing offense and it's obviously been a little bit since I scored a goal, so it's nice to contribute and help the team out any way I can," said Johnson, who led the Blues in ice time at 21:29.

Even though Johan Franzen tied the game 30 seconds after the Johnson goal, Berglund got it going by scoring a pair. The first came on a shot from the high slot that caromed off Detroit defenseman Niklas Kronwall at 14:27 and then his second came as a power play expired, just firing a puck from the left corner with 1:13 left in the first for a 3-1 lead.

"You get more confidence when you score an early goal obviously," said Berglund, who netted his second career two-goal game and first since March 24, 2009. "That's what I got today.

"The second one, I just took a shot on the power play. I was pretty tired. I wanted to just take it and go change, but it went in and it's a good feeling."

Payne said when Berglund is involved in the Blues' end, it bodes well for his game.

"If he's got that type of awareness in our own end, it usually translates to that first stride," Payne said. "When he gets that first stride going and heading north, he's a load. He gets the space, he's skating past people and all of the sudden, he's got confidence to take another step to win another battle, to drive through a seam. When he's playing like that, now it translates to him finding the shots and taking them and rewarded twice tonight for a couple pretty good plays."

The Blues got the fourth goal -- which was the game-winner -- from Matt D'Agostini 5:51 into the second period for a 4-1 lead.

Eric Brewer was able to pick off a puck, get it to David Backes, who sprung D’Agostini to go in alone on Osgood. D'Agostini got Osgood to bite in the forehand before pulling it to his backhand and tuck it into the open side.

"It's a good job by Brew," D'Agostini said. "He kind of quick-upped it right away. There's a little turnover there at the blue line and he got it going and me and Backs were kind of just turning in transition there, so it's a good play.

"I just kind of waited. I was going to snap it early and I kind of felt a little pressure, so I didn't want to bring the puck back to much, so I just kind of held it out in front of me. I don't know if I gave him too much of a fake, but he kind of just opened up on the blocker side there."

All appeared to be safe for the Blues.

But these are the Red Wings. Too much firepower to keep them down. Give them a glimmer of hope, and they can pounce.

Detroit made a game of it when Nicklas Lidstrom scored with the Red Wings holding a two-man advantage and then Patrick Eaves scoring late in the second to make it 4-3.

Detroit got the two-man advantage when Johnson was called for illegal use of a stick to give the Red Wings 1:30 of 5 on 3 time.

Johnson was trying to pick up the stick of Barret Jackman and hand it back to him, but when the puck came back towards the net, Johnson dropped the extra stick and got called for the infraction.

"I heard Jax yelling, 'Go to the right side,' but I had already picked his stick up and I was trying to hand it to him," Johnson said. "It was just a bad play by me not dropping it or handing it to Jax. That's my fault."

Eaves pounced on a Blues turnover and got the Red Wings feeling like they had a shot.

"All of the sudden we look around, that thin air caught in a little bit of gasp and Detroit came on," Payne said. "Mistakes were made, they got close enough but not all the way."

Despite allowing the two second-period goals, Halak rose to the occasion when the Blues needed him most. Not only did he snap a personal four-game winless streak (0-3-1) but he also wiped out losses suffered in Detroit earlier this season that saw his numbers at 5.55 goals-against average and .836 save percentage.

"It's always nice to win against a divisional rival, especially against Detroit," Halak said. "They've got a great team. Especially in these games, we need to get the points. I'm really happy with the effort tonight. Even though we were up 4-1, they came back, but we were still able to keep the score tight and win the game at the end of it.

"The first five minutes (of the third period) were huge. We didn't want to give up a goal early in the period. From then on, we had a few chances and we started skating a little bit better."

Detroit came on hard early in the third and then again at the end. They outshot the Blues 15-4 in the final period, but Halak made key stops, defensemen blocked shots and the Blues (now 11-4-2 at home) picked up two huge points.

"We showed up at the rink here tonight intending to go 60, whatever that game looked like," Payne said. "We were going to play a full 60 minutes. The fact that a good hockey club closed the gap, we shouldn't be surprised. Our intention was to play 60 minutes to our standard. We'll add up the results at the end of that. We liked the results."

"We knew that they had a high-powered team and that they can come back at any time if we're not on top of our game," Johnson said. "We definitely had to be sharp at the end and make sure they didn't get the tying goal there."

(12-23-10) Red Wings-Blues Gameday Lineup

ST. LOUIS -- The Blues know all too well just what the Detroit Red Wings are feeling this morning. They know what injuries to key players will do to a hockey club.

And don't expect the Blues to feel sorry that the Wings will be missing Blues killer Pavel Datsyuk.

Datsyuk will miss tonight's game and at least the next four weeks after breaking a bone in his right hand/wrist area resulting from tripping over ex-teammate Mikael Samuelsson in Detroit's 5-4 overtime win over Vancouver Wednesday night.

Datsyuk, who has 61 career points in 49 games against the Blues, is one of a number of offensive weapons the Blues (16-12-5), who host the Wings (21-8-4) at 7 p.m. today (FSN, KMOX 1120-AM), will not have to deal with.

"In my opinion, he's probably the toughest guy to defend 1 on 1 in the league," Blues defenseman Erik Johnson said of Datsyuk. "Obviously it's a big loss for their team, but they have a lot of firepower. I don't really expect it to affect them too much. They'll probably keep rolling along."

The Blues, who are 0-2-0 against the Wings this season, dropped both games at Joe Louis Arena by 7-3 and 5-2 results. Datsyuk had two assists in two games.

But Detroit, first in the Western Conference standings, can still throw the Henrik Zetterbergs and Johan Franzens along with the Nicklas Lidstroms at you and not miss out on much.

"He's an exceptional player. Everybody knows that," Blues defenseman Alex Pietrangelo said of Datsyuk. "What makes them good is they have quite a bit of depth. But they certainly have guys who can step up. It's a big loss, but at the same time, they still have talent."

Blues coach Davis Payne says the Blues won't alter their game plan.

"That doesn't change anything we do," he said. "I'm not sure it'll change anything they do. They've got a great deal of scoring depth, they've got a great deal of talent, they've got experience and they'll have other guys ready to step into that role and that ice time. We have to play the Red Wings. We're not playing individuals.

"(Datsyuk's) a dynamic player. He's got a ton of skill, ton of ability, ton of creativity, but he's also one of the smartest defenders in the league ... and hardest-working defenders. You want to see a guy who plays the game the right way all 200 feet of the ice. He's one of them. As good as he is in the offensive end, he's that good or better on the defensive side of things."

Regardless of who Detroit skates tonight, the Blues won't miss Datsyuk.

"I don't wish he was in the lineup," Blues forward Brad Boyes joked. "It's good for us he's out of the lineup. If we can take advantage of that, that's what we're going to do. It's not going to change our game plan because he's not there."

- - -

Blues forward T.J. Oshie was on the ice this morning at Scottrade Center for the second time in as many days, continuing his rehab process following a broken left ankle suffered Nov. 10 in Columbus.

The skate, just like his first time on the ice Wednesday at St. Louis Mills, was light and the timeframe for Oshie's re-evaluation of early-to-mid February.

"Just part of the rehab process," Payne said. "Any time a guy's injured, he's going to get himself back on the ice and go through the process.

"We're not going to comment on a whole heck of a lot on anything a guy's doing as far as rehab. ... He's been healing, the timeline has been ticking and every day is a day closer. Obviously we've still got some time to go through."

- - -

Jaroslav Halak will start for the Blues tonight against Detroit, and the ongoing debate the last couple days has been whether backup Ty Conklin getting another start since Conklin has won his last two games, including Tuesday's 4-2 victory at Atlanta.

But let's take a look at a number that is quite interesting:

The Blues have scored 57 goals in 26 Halak starts, which amounts to 2.19 goals per game compared to 27 goals in seven Conklin starts, or 3.86 goals per game.

"I just think it's one of those things," Johnson said. "Obviously they're both good goalies. Both are big parts of our team. I wouldn't really look at it that we score more for Conks or anything like that. Sometimes, that's just how it is and how it's working out.

"No matter who's in goal, we're going to have confidence in them. There's definitely no doubt in our mind both of those guys can get the job done."

Keep in mind also that in Halak's last eight starts, the Blues are 2-4-2 and have scored two or fewer goals in six of those eight starts and one goal in five of those games. Included is a penalty shot goal (against San Jose) and an empty-netter in a win over Columbus, so there have not been more than three goals scored in any of those starts.

"Conks (had a) big game in Atlanta and Jaro's played well," Payne said. "We don't win games for a lot of different reasons and we win games for a lot of different reasons.

"(Halak's) played well, and we need to either figure out a way to keep one more out of the net or put one more in theirs. It's a team effort, and we've gotten strong performances from that side of things lately and we've got to make sure we parlay that into wins."

Halak, who is 0-3-1 in his last four starts, including three regulation losses in a row, has been hot and cold, just like his teammates.

"Jaro's been great all season," Pietrangelo said. "If you look at the team generally, we've had those ups and downs, too. When Jaro hadn't won, I don't think the team was doing what it needed to do to be winning either and giving him enough support. It's not so much anything to do with him. We have a lot of faith in him."

- - -

The Blues will need a 60-minute effort in order to down the Red Wings tonight, sans Datsyuk.

They were close on a couple occasions in Detroit, but close isn't enough.

"The first time in there, our puck decision got us in serious trouble. The second time, our discipline and composure got us in serious trouble," Payne said. "We know the animal that's in town. We know what we have to do against it and we've got to make sure it's for a full 60."

- - -

The Blues will stick with the lines they used Tuesday at Atlanta, and they were changes that resulted in sustained offensive zone time.

"With us, sometimes you make changes and you get some fresh guys and it works for us," Boyes said. "We got some good production (Tuesday). You expect that. When things are going well, you don't want to change them. When they aren't, sometimes a change is for the better. And when it does (get better), you have to keep that going, keep working and do what you can do with the changes."

Vladimir Sobotka-David Backes-Matt D'Agostini

Alex Steen-Patrik Berglund-B.J. Crombeen

Brad Winchester-Jay McClement-Brad Boyes

Chris Porter-Adam Cracknell-Cam Janssen

D-pairings won't change either:

Eric Brewer-Erik Johnson

Barret Jackman-Roman Polak

Carlo Colaiacovo-Alex Pietrangelo

Jaroslav Halak
, whose only two starts were against Detroit this season (0-2-0 with a 5.55 goals-against average and .836 save percentage), starts tonight.

- - -

With Datsyuk out of the lineup, the Red Wings will do a little improvisation.

Kris Draper, who's missed most of the season with sports hernia surgery, will step into the lineup tonight.

"You take out a Datsyuk and they replace with whoever, it's a big difference," Boyes said. "We'll have to take advantage of that. I can't remember the last time we played them when he wasn't in there, but without him, it's a big hit but they've got a lot of depth. They've got a lot of guys who can play. We're not going to take them lightly or anything like that. It's the same game plan that we need to go into. That part's not going to change."

Johan Franzen-Henrik Zetterberg-Tomas Holmstrom

Dan Cleary-Valtteri Filppula-Todd Bertuzzi

Jiri Hudler-Justin Abdelkader-Drew Miller

Kris Draper-Darren Helm-Patrick Eaves

The d-pairings will remain the same from last night's game:

Nicklas Lidstrom-Brad Stuart

Jonathan Ericsson-Brian Rafalski

Niklas Kronwall-Ruslan Salei

Former Blue Chris Osgood will get the start tonight, looking for career win No. 400.

Osgood is looking to join a group of nine goalies who have 400 or more wins in their career.

They include: Martin Brodeur 602, Patrick Roy 551, Ed Belfour 484, Curtis Joseph 454, Terry Sawchuk 447, Jacques Plante 437, Tony Esposito 423, Glenn Hall 407 and Grant Fuhr 403.

Joseph, Plante, Hall, Fuhr and Osgood all played for the Blues at one time.

Of Osgood's 399 wins, 35 of them came with the Blues between 2002-04. He's 20-11-8 for his career against the Blues, with a 2.33 GAA and .909 save percentage.