Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Blues fall to Predators 3-2 on shorthanded goal

Weber's second of the game midway through third period spoils Elliott's return

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The Blues were looking for back to back strong performances in as many nights, and with their No. 1 goalie back in the fold, they felt like their chances were pretty strong.

But these Nashville Predators, coached by Peter Laviolette and out of the defensive-minded days of Barry Trotz, continue to defy the odds.

Simply put, Nashville will not go away. In coach Ken Hitchcock's words, the Predators knocked the Blues off the puck the entire game.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues goalie Brian Elliott (right) squares up to make one of 44 saves made
on Tuesday during a 3-2 loss to the Nashville Predators.

Shea Weber scored twice, including the tie-breaking shorthanded goal midway through the third period proved to be the difference in a 3-2 victory against the Blues Tuesday at Bridgestone Arena.

The Blues (22-12-3) certainly didn't give Elliott a break as far as action. In his first game since Nov. 25 after sustaining a knee sprain, Elliott faced 47 shots, a season-high allowed by the Blues. 

And with a tie game against a division rival with two crucial points on the line, the Blues allowed the first shorthanded goal of the season off a 2-on-1 rush with a pair of defensemen in Weber and Roman Josi.

Josi fed Weber rushing in and he fired a shot over Elliott's right shoulder 9 minutes, 2 seconds into the third that proved to be the difference.

"They earned them," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said of Nashville's goals. "They weren't coverage breakdowns. They were compete breakdowns. They knocked us off the puck. 

"The 2-on-1, they knocked us off the puck in their own zone, the winning goal. Their guy did a good job pushing us into the pile and got a 2-on-1 and made a great play.

"They use (shot volume) as a forechecking tool. I don't want to get involved in the shot total. They're a little bit unrealistic, but they use it as a forechecking tool."

Elliott said he was trying to read the play, with forward Alexander Steen defending. Vladimir Tarasenko couldn't catch up to the speedy Josi to even the numbers out.

"You're reading everything," Elliott said. "The pass wasn't flat and he kind of cradled the puck and it went right up on end. Just roofed it right as soon as he shot it. Those are the ones you really can't read when they're kind of on end. They worked to get their chances, but our power play, we can't get scored on like that, especially in that critical time of the game."

Elliott, who made some key saves throughout the game, felt pretty good afterwards.

"It's one way to get back into it, getting a lot of rubber," Elliott said. "It's probably not the game we wanted to play, but they came at us and we knew what to expect. Personally, I felt pretty good. I felt pretty comfortable in net. Trusting of everything in my game. It's tough we didn't get the result we wanted. 

"I was seeing through a crowd, picking things up and trying to control rebounds. Hopefully it only gets better for me."

The Blues were outshot 47-28 and after both teams played Monday, Nashville was able to limit the Blues' offensive zone time pretty much throughout the game.

"They knocked us off the puck a lot," Hitchcock said of the Predators, who improved to 24-9-3. "They were more determined at the puck than we were. That was the big difference in the game.

"To play a game like this, you've got to really simplify it. You've got to really have a simple game plan and we didn't have that."

"Even when we get pucks deep and check it back, it seemed like either they were forcing us to move it or knock it off our sticks or we were moving it voluntarily and they were getting possession, breaking out way too easily," captain David Backes said. "We just need that sustained zone time and wear teams out, build that offensive momentum. It's a great place to play defense from in their zone."

Weber's one-timer top shelf off the back of the pipe gave Nashville a 1-0 lead with 1:55 left in the first period off a feed from behind the net from Olli Jokinen. 

At the other end, Steen and Paul Gaustad were mixing it up as play continued, and there was room for Weber to come in from the point and take the pass that beat Elliott glove side.

The Blues gathered it in during the second period, getting goals from Butler and Oshie.

Butler's second goal in as many games -- he went 65 straight without a goal -- came after Backes won a faceoff, and Butler's shot from the left point changed direction  past Pekka Rinne 50 seconds into the period to tie the game 1-1.

It was the Blues' first road goal in 107:51, dating back to Dec. 20 on Steve Ott's goal at San Jose with 2:39 remaining in the second period.

Oshie put the Blues ahead 2-1 on a clinic of passing between he and Backes, as they went back and forth to each other twice before Oshie deposited the puck into an empty side with 5:21 left in the period.

But the Predators came back and thought they had the tying goal off the stick of Filip Forsberg, who's shot trickled over Elliott and was a hair from going in, but the officials waved it off. After a lengthy review, the Situation Room in Toronto deemed video review inconclusive and said the call on the ice stood with 3:57 left in the period.

However, the Predators got the tying goal from Bourque, after Paul Gaustad won an offensive zone faceoff and Elliott stopped Jokinen's shot, but Bourque got around Jay Bouwmeester and put the rebound in three seconds after the waved off goal to tie the game 2-2. 

It was an inopportune time for the Blues to give the break they got right back.

"You get that break, you need to take that as a momentum-builder for you and continue that momentum downhill for us," Backes said. "Three seconds later, they're scoring and it's like the replay never happened and we're at center ice and they've got the momentum again. But we don't curl into a ball. It's a 2-2 game at the end of two. We've got a tie game on the road in the third period with a great division rival. We need to bear down, dig in and find a way. Tonight, it's a shorthanded goal that's the difference, but same story, we're not managing the puck really well and they're making us pay and doing the right things."

The Blues had pucks towards the goal late, and nearly got the equalizer off a scramble but the puck squirted wide of the goal.

"We had chances," Butler said. "... I don't think we generated enough as a group. We didn't do enough job attacking as groups of five. We had a lot of even-man rushes. 

"You can't give up almost 50 shots a game and expect a positive result. ... Tonight maybe wasn't our best effort outside of Ells, who was phenomenal. You go from practice work to come into a game and getting peppered like he did tonight. I think you obviously saw their game plan was to throw everything at him. They knew he hasn't played in a while. He answered the bell for us and was phenomenal."

Backes agreed.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues' Vladimir Tarasenko (91) tries to break away from Nashville's Mike
Fisher during play Tuesday night in Nashville. The Predators won 3-2.

"He was the Ells we know," Backes said. "He was solid in there and made a lot of big saves. It's unfortunate we couldn't get him one or two more to make it more of a happy flight and let his return be a little more enjoyable.

"They put up almost 50 shots on us. I think we did pretty good job of limiting those to perimeter shots, but the three goals they get are on breakdowns, which a lot of teams are going to make good on. They didn't hesitate to put them in the back of our net."

The Blues will be off on New Year's Eve before resuming practice Thursday and then they'll head west for three more road games, beginning Friday at Anaheim, Saturday at San Jose and Jan. 6 at Arizona, then come home for a seven-game homestand.

They're 9-8-2 away from Scottrade Center and have lost four of five games (1-3-1). 

(12-30-14) Blues-Predators Gameday Lineup

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Brian Elliott has been out so long -- only a month as a matter of fact -- that even his own coach doesn't know who he is.

Elliott, who sustained a knee sprain Nov. 25 against the Ottawa Senators, was activated from injured reserve Tuesday and will get the start tonight against the Nashville Predators (7 p.m. on FS-MW, KMOX 1120-AM).

Elliott has done everything right and was right on course to get back into the lineup after the Blues listed him as week to week. So what did Hitchcock notice about his progress?

"Nothing," he said. "I haven't even watched him. I can't tell Elliott from (Jake) Allen. How about I give you that evaluation when I know No. 1's in the net tonight. They both look the same to me on the ice, so I couldn't tell the injured guy from the healthy guy."

Elliott is 8-4-1 with a 1.82 goals-against average and .931 save percentage. And with Hitchcock saying on Sunday not to rule Elliott out for tonight after a strenuous practice, no time like the present to get him in.

"It's a game that Brian has to get into to get into some type of playing rhythm," Hitchcock said. "I think what we have done is buy some time. Marty (Brodeur) seems to have caught a second wind here. That buys us even more time to get back on track to where we were before with our goaltending."

Brodeur earned the 125th shutout of his career Monday, an NHL record, with a 3-0 victory against the Colorado Avalanche. Brodeur made 16 saves and earned at least one other start but will be a healthy scratch tonight for one of the few times, if ever, in his 22-year career.

"Jake will back up and Marty is going to play one of the next two games (Friday at Anaheim or Saturday at San Jose) and we'll see from there," Hitchcock said.

- - -

Magnus Paajarvi, placed on waivers on Monday, cleared and was assigned to the Chicago Wolves of the American Hockey League. 

The 23-year-old Paajarvi, who has played in 65 games in two seasons with the Blues, has never seemed to blend into the system the Blues are trying to get him to absorb, and he became somewhat expendable with the team wanting to keep three goalies for the time being.

General manager Doug Armstrong has said that they want to carry three goalies to make sure Elliott is up to par.

The Blues only retain $275,000 of Paajarvi's $1.2 million cap hit while he's off the roster.

- - -

Winger Chris Porter, who sustained a nasty foot/ankle injury Monday night, was placed on injured reserve when the team activated Elliott.

Hitchcock said Monday after the game that Porter, 29, will be evaluated in six weeks.

- - -

Only a handful of skaters took part in an optional this morning, and defenseman Carl Gunnarsson was one of them. Expect the defenseman to return to the lineup either Friday against the Ducks or Saturday against the Sharks.

But for the Blues (22-11-3), they want to build off a strong outing against Colorado and hope to catch the Predators (23-9-3) in a letdown after losing a 3-0 lead at Chicago Monday before falling 5-4 in a shootout to the Blackhawks.

"We built on the good stuff we did in the Dallas game," Hitchcock said. "This is really three of the last four games we've done a really good job of managing the game. We were really good in San Jose. We throw out the game in Colorado and then the last two games we've bee very good. The biggest thing is we eliminated some of the mistakes. We still have two or three that end up right in the slot that don't need to be, and those are ones that still have to be eliminated. We're eliminating easy scoring chances and making teams earn it and then continue to build on the good things in three of the last four games. 

"There's a process in becoming a team, and sometimes that process evolves quickly and dissipates. Sometimes it grows gradually. You've just got to stay with the program."

- - -

Dmitrij Jaskin and Paul Stastny may have been named stars of the game -- along with No. 1 star Brodeur -- Monday night, but the Blues won't forget the job Ryan Reaves did. Reaves, who played 13 minutes, 20 seconds, will be with that pair again tonight.

"I wouldn't call it a new role, I'd call it a new line," Hitchcock said. "After a while, you've got to reward good play. Ryan's played really well. I just decided why am I giving ice to people who don't deserve it at some period of time. This is a guy that deserves it. At eight minutes, he's done a really good job so why not extend it to 12? ... He's earned the right to play more minutes so why not give it to him?"

- - -

The Blues' projected lineup (UPDATED pre-game warm-up):

Alexander Steen-David Backes-T.J. Oshie

Patrik Berglund-Jori Lehtera-Vladimir Tarasenko

Dmitrij Jaskin-Paul Stastny-Ryan Reaves

Steve Ott-Maxim Lapierre-Joakim Lindstrom

Jay Bouwmeester-Alex Pietrangelo

Barret Jackman-Kevin Shattenkirk

Chris Butler-Ian Cole

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

Martin Brodeur will be a healthy scratch. Jaden Schwartz (foot), Carl Gunnarsson (concussion) and Chris Porter (foot/ankle) are on injured reserve.

- - -

The Predators' projected lineup:

Filip Forsberg-Mike Ribeiro - Craig Smith

Colin Wilson-Mike Fisher-James Neal

Gabriel Bourque-Calle Jarnkrok-Olli Jokinen

Eric Nystrom-Paul Gaustad-Taylor Beck

Roman Josi-Shea Weber

Anton Volchenkov-Seth Jones

Mattias Ekholm-Ryan Ellis

Pekka Rinne will get the start in goal. Carter Hutton will be the backup. 

Newly acquired Mark Arcobello will be a healthy scratch. Arcobello was acquired from the Edmonton Oilers on Monday for former Blue Derek Roy. Matt Cullen and Victor Bartley are also a healthy scratches.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Marty rules the roost in 3-0 victory against Avalanche

Brodeur's 125th NHL shutout, 691st victory helps Blues stop 
losing slide; Jaskin solid, Butler scores first goal as Blue in hometown

ST. LOUIS -- If this was Martin Brodeur's last game with the Blues, or any other NHL team for that matter, the future Hall of Famer might as well add to his illustrious list of records.

But judging by Brodeur's 16-save shutout, the 125th of his NHL career, the Blues' 3-0 shutout victory against the Colorado Avalanche wasn't his last time between the pipes.

"I think I'm going to Nashville, I'm not sure," Brodeur joked, referring to the Blues' opponent on Tuesday. "I'm enjoying every moment of it. Whenever the decision will be made, hopefully I'll be the first to know and I'll be happy or disappointed one way or the other. It's been a great ride. If that's my last game, it's not a bad one to leave on."
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues goalie Martin Brodeur makes one of his 16 saves en route to the
125th shutout of his NHL career in a 3-0 victory vs. Colorado on Monday.

Brodeur moved one step closer to 700 victories with No. 691, his first shutout since Dec. 14, 2013. He added to his NHL record for shutouts with his first with the Blues. His prior start against the Avalanche, on March 15, 2012 with the New Jersey Devils, also was a shutout. He has stopped 54 consecutive shots against the Avalanche (13-15-8).

Per Elias, Brodeur (42 years, 237 days) is the oldest goalie to record a shutout since Dominik Hasek (43 years, 61 days) on Mar. 30, 2008.

"I appreciate them all," Brodeur said of the shutout. "This one is in the new organization. This is the first one with the Blues. It definitely means a lot to me. 

"The way we played today, you play so well, you deserve to be rewarded defensively. It's our job as goaltenders not to give up anything. It wasn't the hardest game to play, but you've still got to make the saves out there."

The Blues (22-11-3), who travel to play the Nashville Predators on Tuesday, got a goal each from Dmitrij Jaskin, Chris Butler and Vladimir Tarasenko. Former Avalanche center Paul Stastny had two assists, his first points against his former team since signing with the Blues as a free agent this summer.

"We're getting engaged," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. "Starting to look and act like a team. Starting to behave properly, good things, started showing signs the last game. We've had real pockets of it. 

"If you go back on the road trip, two great pockets in L.A. Great pocket in San Jose. You really gotta throw out the Colorado game (on Dec. 23). I think every coach probably throws out four games a year, that's one of them. Come back and play really well, but still got big errors in the Dallas game (Saturday) and then really solid today. We're building and moving in the right direction and starting to look and act like a cohesive unit hopefully."

The Avalanche, who shut out the Blues 5-0 at home on Dec. 23, got 22 saves from Semyon Varlamov. They've been shut out six times this season.

"A shutout is a shutout and you have to make some saves but I thought maybe it was one of (Brodeur's) easiest ones," Avalanche coach Patrick Roy said.  

Jaskin gave the Blues a 1-0 lead when Stastny picked off Varlamov's clearing attempt along the boards. He fed Jaskin in the slot, and the left wing flipped a shot harmlessly past former Blues defenseman Erik Johnson and through Varlamov's pads 28 seconds into the second period.

"He always sees me," Jaskin said of Stastny. "He's a great player. ... He just put it in there. I just tried to get it through. Shot ended up in the net."

Jaskin finished with a career-best 15:27 of ice time and it's becoming clear that he's finally finding his niche, especially playing with Stastny and new linemate: Ryan Reaves.

"That's exactly the type of game that I have to play," Jaskin said. "I have to play hard, physical, go to smart places. With Stas and Revo, it was perfect tonight."

Hitchcock has balked at pumping up Jaskin publicly recently but had no choice but to do so Monday.

"You can really screw young kids up," Hitchcock said. "He's having fun playing hockey. We've had him up, bounced around because we really haven't had a spot. We've got a spot (now). We just want to keep it real simple for him and just keep him playing with his instincts. I think what you're seeing now is a player that's starting to emerge as an offensive threat with real weight and size. For him, when you talk to him, the game isn't nearly as fast as it was when he first came up. Now he's starting to really look like a really good offensive player."

Butler, from the suburb of Kirkwood, Mo., scored his first goal with the Blues when he took T.J. Oshie's drop pass along the left boards, skated to the front of the net and lifted a backhand over Varlamov's right shoulder at the near post 4:30 into the second for a 2-0 lead.

"We had a long shift in their zone," Butler said. "I knew that they were kind of tired. I think (Oshie) was coming off the wall there. Their forward just kind of watched him, so I just tried to jump down and turn the corner. Luckily we had a lot of space and I kind of realized I was either going to shoot it or try and go through Brad Stuart. I kind of like my first option a little better.

"Never really thought about it too much, but that was a nice one to get. It's maybe a bit of a relief and hopefully we can pile on a few more going forward."

Tarasenko's team-leading 22nd goal (a career high) came after the Avalanche couldn't clear a puck in the slot, and his wrist shot beat Varlamov with 4:35 remaining in the game. It was Tarasenko's 10th goal and 16th point in the past 14 games.

Brodeur was called upon to make his best saves after a Barret Jackman giveaway in the first period. He stopped Marc-Andre Cliche's long-range shot and the rebound on Nick Holden coming in off the left side 6:17 into the game.

Those were the types of saves the Blues had been missing in the recent stretch of games. They seemed to fuel them moving forward.

"Those are the saves you need to make, especially when you play a team that plays well defensively," Brodeur said. "Sometimes that one save makes a big difference. Definitely I gave up a big rebound. I was able to come across and make a save. I think from there, it settled the game down a little better for us."

Hitchcock agreed.

"Three real good ones early," Hitchcock said. "We gave them a couple from the red tees there early and he made the big saves. I think everybody got excited. A little bit of debris from the last game. 

"The disappointment was there in the first period and once we got that first goal, the whole disposition of the team, we got back on our toes, stayed on our toes and played that way the whole rest of the night. I think Colorado got our worst, and then they got our best. They got our worst just before Christmas, and then they got our best today."

The sellout crowd of 19,749 began their chants of 'MARTY! MARTY! MARTY!' with roughly 7:30 remaining in the game and didn't stop until well after the game was over.

"They kind of chanted a little early for me," Brodeur said of the crowd. "When you're working on the shutout, you're kind of like, 'Ah, not trying to think about things like that.' But it's nice to be appreciated by the people you play in front of most of the nights. These are all fun things for me to be a part of."

"He was awesome tonight," Butler said of Brodeur. "I think he's gotten more comfortable here. He's been a tremendous teammate. For a guy with his credentials and his resume coming in here, he jelled right away and he fit in with the guys. Tonight was an awesome performance by him."

Brodeur, who has had long rivalries with Roy, was thinking whether he'd get the chance to at an empty-net goal late.

"I thought about it," Brodeur said. "It was like three minutes left and maybe [Roy] was going to do it. Usually he loves to do it, but maybe he was a little afraid."

But with another victory, Brodeur pockets $20,000 as part of the incentives for each victory he gets in goal with the Blues. Do shutouts earn more?

"I forgot about that one," Brodeur joked.

Blues forward Chris Porter sustained a lower-body injury 6:30 into the second period. He went to finish a check on Holden, the two got tangled up, and Porter went down awkwardly on his left leg. He needed to be helped off the ice.

Hitchcock said Porter will be lost a minimum of six weeks and will be reevaluated at that time.

"We'll evaluate him in six weeks, see where he's at," Hitchcock said of Porter. "A tough injury. Really unfortunate. He was playing really well for us, but hopefully we'll get some help here in the not too distant future from Schwartz obviously and we'll see what Doug wants to do with tweaking the roster here."

The Blues got back to their dominant form of checking, winning puck battles and controlling all three zones. 
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues winger Dmitrij Jaskin (23) fends off Avs defenseman Brad Stuart off
the puck Monday night. Jaskin scored in the Blues' 3-0 victory.

Brodeur sure noticed. He called it the team's best game.

"In front of me, for sure," Brodeur said. "We blocked shots, we were tough in our own zone, we didn't turn the puck over too many times. Maybe a little bit early in the first period, but after that, we just dominated. When we've got the lead, we played like we had the lead. We didn't sit back, we had a lot of great chances to get ahead even more goals. That was a pretty good game.

"We were physical. I thought our physicality took over the game in the second period. In the first period, we were so-so. They outshot us, I think 8-5, but i think from there, we played hard and we stayed out of the box. That's a great combination for success."

"We did a good job managing the puck in the neutral zone," Butler said. "We played fast, we played physical, we spent a lot of time in the offensive zone. And you see over the course of the game how hard those minutes are for the other teams to play when we're cycling the puck, when we're checking hard, when we're on it all night long. It wears on teams. That's the way we need to continue to play going forward."

(12-29-14) Avalanche-Blues Gameday Lineup

ST. LOUIS -- If it winds up being the last game for Martin Brodeur in a St. Louis Blues uniform, or any uniform in the NHL, the future Hall of Fame goalie doesn't have any regrets.

With Brian Elliott's return imminent from a knee sprain sustained Nov. 25, the Blues, who host the Colorado Avalanche on Monday, will be in the position of having to carry three goalies.

General manager Doug Armstrong has maintained recently that the Blues will keep three goalies until they're absolutely certain Elliott is healthy and doesn't have any setbacks. And the first indication of that came when the Blues placed left wing Magnus Paajarvi on waivers Monday.

But for the 42-year-old Brodeur, who will get the start Monday, it's been a unique situation for him after spending 21 seasons with the New Jersey Devils. But he's living moment-to-moment and having fun with it.

"I'm trying to enjoy every single time I'm out here," said Brodeur, who is 2-2-0 with a 3.29 goals-against average and .892 save percentage in five games with St. Louis. "The future, at the end of the day, it's not going to be in my hands. Somebody else will decide. I'll try to make the best out of the situation that we're in right now. I'm glad that [Elliott] is coming back. I think as a team, put the best product out there is what's the most important thing. Him coming back will be a big lift."

"It's been great. When I went home for Christmas, that was the question -- and they're not even reporters -- my family was asking. I've really enjoyed myself. This is a great opportunity for me to get back and hopefully it's going to last a lot longer, but if it doesn't, this has been a great month and hopefully it continues."

Blues coach Ken Hitchcock, who has a long history with Brodeur on the international level with Canada, said keeping three goalies for the time being makes sense.

"I don't believe Doug is prepared to go down to two goalies until he's assured that Brian is coming back and then when he does play, he comes out of the game healthy," Hitchcock said. "I think it would be prudent for us to stay with three knowing that Brian is not going to go from playing a hockey game to awful sore and not be able to participant for another few days. So I think he wants to really guard on that sense and I don't blame him a bit for doing that."

Brodeur's teammates are also living in the moment, knowing that this time with arguably the greatest goalie in the game is a teammate and interacting with them on a regular basis.

"It's so cool," right wing T.J. Oshie said. "That's one of the coolest things about our sport. The greats, they play for a long time. A lot of guys get to be their teammate and that's something you can always say. When (Oshie's daughter) Lyla grows up and she sees Brodeur in the Hall of Fame and she sees his jersey hanging up, I can tell her I played with that guy. He's a great guy who I got the best of on the golf course once. It's pretty cool.

"He's been great to have around from a leadership standpoint, from a winning presence that he has. It's been great for us younger guys to see him go about his day and see how much fun he has on the ice, even in practice. I rarely score on him, but when I do I've got to celebrate because he's doing it when he stops me." 

Brodeur, who signed a pro-rated one-year contract worth $700,000, knew the situation when he came in, and understands that anything can happen, including the potential of perhaps changing jerseys again.

"It would be another big change," Brodeur said laughing. "One big change a year could be enough. We'll see. We'll cross that bridge if it happens. Right now, I'm concentrating on being here and enjoying myself and try to help the team any way I can.

"I'm open to any kind of a situation. I'm just happy I'm on the roster of an NHL team and a great team this is. It's a fun atmosphere. Regardless of what it takes, we need to help the team one way or the other. I'm ready for it."

One unique instance for Brodeur tonight would be if the Avalanche coach, Patrick Roy, would suddenly suit up in the other end.

The two have a storied history as the greatest goalies to play the game with a combined 1,241 NHL victories.

"If he would play, that would be fun," Brodeur said with a grin.

"I feel good," Brodeur added. "It's fun in practices and to get some of the games in. I'm just kind of moving along just like I thought it was going to be. I feel real comfortable when I get out there. Definitely a different situation now than I'm used to, but it's been fun.

"I wanted this opportunity to get back, have fun a little bit and that's what I'm having. When you have fun, you don't want it to stop. If it happens, it happens. I know what my situation is, and I'm trying to make the best out of the situation as I can."

The enthusiasm has rubbed off.

"Just the amount of fun that he has when he's on the ice. It's amazing," Oshie said. "I like to bring that same kind of enthusiasm and it's definitely contagious."

- - -

Paajarvi being put on waivers likely ends a weird stint with the Blues since he was acquired -- along with a 2014 second round pick (which the Blues used to draft forward Ivan Barbashev) -- from the Edmonton Oilers in 2013 for David Perron and a 2015 third-round pick.

The 23-year-old Paajarvi, Edmonton's first round pick (10th overall) in 2009, has played 65 games with the Blues and has six goals and 13 points but he has never seemed to make the grade when it comes to consistently cracking the Blues' lineup.

Dmitrij Jaskin and Joakim Lindstrom have moved ahead of Paajarvi in the depth chart and the Blues will look to save $1.2 million in cap space.

"We've gotten more energy from other people," Hitchcock said.

- - -

Sunday's practice lines will resemble something that the Blues will go with tonight, including Ryan Reaves with Paul Stastny and Jaskin.

Reaves, a regular on the fourth line with Steve Ott and Maxim Lapierre, will get the chance to skate with scoring linemates

"Obviously I love playing with Otter and Lappy, but getting a chance with Stas and Jas, maybe they can throw one off my back, maybe my face," Reaves joked. "It doesn't even matter how it goes in the net. I'll try and create some space for them to do their thing."

Does Reaves dangle the puck tonight.

"I will not be,"  he said jokingly. "I will put it in the corner, and you come get the puck and do your thing.

"I don't know if I really have another game. Maybe I've got to be a little more patient with the puck and try and find them when I can. But for the most part, I've got to play physical and open some space for them."

Hitchcock wants to take a look at it.

"I want to see how they look and I wouldn't call anybody a third line right now or a fourth line," Hitchcock said. "I really feel like for us to win, we need two third lines. I think when we divy up the special teams ice time, we need a few more participants in our team game. This gives a chance for both Lappy and Revo and even Otter to participate more in the 5-on-5 part of our game because we use so many people to play both ends of special teams. We've got a situation right now without Schwartz that we are using the same people to kill, the same people on the power play and we haven't moved that along. I think as the games have gone on, we've gotten a little bit of tired play from overuse of some people."

- - -

With defenseman Carl Gunnarsson on the cusp of returning to the lineup, defenseman Petteri Lindbohm was assigned to the Chicago Wolves of the American Hockey League. 

Gunnarsson, out since Dec. 6 with a concussion, will not play tonight or tomorrow night in Nashville but is likely to return to the lineup this weekend against either Anaheim on Friday or San Jose on Saturday.

- - -

The Blues' probable lineup:

Alexander Steen-David Backes-T.J. Oshie

Chris Porter-Jori Lehtera-Vladimir Tarasenko

Dmitrij Jaskin-Paul Stastny-Ryan Reaves

Steve Ott-Patrik Berglund-Maxim Lapierre

Jay Bouwmeester-Alex Pietrangelo

Chris Butler-Kevin Shattenkirk

Barret Jackman-Ian Cole

Martin Brodeur will get the start in goal. Jake Allen will be the backup.

Healthy scratches include Joakim Lindstrom and Magnus Paajarvi. Brian Elliott (knee) is close to returning to the lineup. Carl Gunnarsson (concussion) continues to practice but will not play. Jaden Schwartz (foot) is also out.

- - -

The Avalanche's probable lineup:

Maxime Talbot-Matt Duchene-Nathan MacKinnon

Gabriel Landeskog-Ryan O'Reilly-Daniel Briere

Alex Tanguay-John Mitchell-Jarome Iginla

Cody McLeod-Marc-Andre Cliche

Jan Hejda-Erik Johnson

Nate Guenin-Tyson Barrie

Brad Stuart-Zach Redmond

Nick Holden

Semyon Varlamov will start in goal. Reto Berra will be the backup.

Ryan Wilson (shoulder), Jamie McGinn (back), Patrick Bordeleau (kneecap), Ben Street (hand) and Jesse Winchester (concussion) are all out with injuries.

Sunday, December 28, 2014


Elliott's return to the lineup close; Tarasenko fine; Porter being Porter

ST. LOUIS -- For Blues goalie Brian Elliott, getting the routine feel for the puck, having his own net and being around his teammates felt gratifying on Sunday.

Especially after Elliott was smiles following a practice session that gave him a strong indication that he's closer to a return to the lineup than not.

Elliott, who sustained a knee sprain Nov. 25 against the Ottawa Senators, was medically cleared by team doctors and it's only a matter of time when the Blues remove Elliott from injured reserve and insert him into the lineup.

The initial prognosis was good following practice.

Elliott, who is 8-4-1 with a 1.82 goals-against average and .932 save percentage, could perhaps return as soon as Tuesday's game against the Nashville Predators, according to coach Ken Hitchcock. The likelihood of that happening is a stretch, but with the way the 29-year-old Elliott was bouncing around the net Sunday, it's not out of the realm of possibility.

"I was able to get a whole net for a whole practice," Elliott said. "Just tested it even more. It gives you a workout really. It's tough to get an actual workout without getting out there with the guys and kind of battling through drills. You get tired and you've got to press on. It's more of a mental challenge as well.

"(I felt) good. Just trying to get up to the game speed. Just following pucks. It's one thing when you're off for a little bit, even like a three-day break like Christmas, some of the hardest things is just following the puck with your eyes so you're tracking pucks well. It's what I've been trying to do since I've been back on the ice. Today was another step forward."

The Blues will start veteran Martin Brodeur on Monday against the Colorado Avalanche, and once the coaching staff, trainers, Elliott and goalie coach Jim Corsi come to a conclusion, then there will be a concrete timeline for a return to action.  

"This is like three or four days in a row," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said of Elliott's workload. "We're going to start Marty tomorrow, but our hope is that (Elliott's) ready the next couple days. We're hopeful that after Jimmy works with him today that he feels good and he's up and running and ready to go.

"It's up to (Elliott) and Jimmy. I think the doctors have cleared him. It's how he feels and how he feels like he's game ready. We'll see. Hopefully we get good news after Jimmy comes off the ice with him, see how he feels."

When Hitchcock was asked if Elliott would be ready for the upcoming three-game west coast trip beginning Friday in Anaheim, Hitchcock said, "We'll see. Might be before that. Two games left, so we'll see, but all we know is it's one day at a time. We're playing Marty tomorrow and we'll figure it out from there."

With the Blues mired in a 0-3-1 slump and allowing 18 goals in that stretch -- 44 in the 13 games since Elliott has been of the lineup -- a boost in goal might be what the doctor ordered.

"You hate to see a little bit of a struggle here, a bump in the road," Elliott said. "I know we have the team to get out of it. It's just about having trust in teammates, having everybody doing their own job and coming together. I definitely want to be a part of that. It's tough when you're watching everybody go through it, some frustrations. But it's part of building a team as well through those things together. It's good to be back in the locker room going through it with those guys."

Blues goalies Jake Allen and Brodeur have given up three or more goals in nine of the 13 games since Elliott has been out, or 3.38 goals per game. 

"... It's coming closer for me personally," Elliott said. "It definitely wants to make you get out there and help. It's a fine line between knowing that you're ready and wanting to be out there. I know the guys know I want to be out there with them, but we've obviously got two other capable goalies that have done a great job. We've just got to put everything together as a package as a team. There's no magical solution for getting out of a hole, like a four-game losing streak. It's doing all the little things right together. Not one guy's going to do it."

The Blues put Elliott through a hard test Sunday, and there was an obvious jump in the team's game knowing the teammate they call "Moose" is on the verge.

"He works his tail off every day," winger Chris Porter said of Elliott. "It doesn't change from the day he came in here. He's been working hard to get back. I think he's really excited too. Seeing him out there gives you a little extra jump in your step knowing he's close. As soon as he's ready, obviously we're ready for him too."

It's all up to Elliott to give coaches the green light.

"I don't know what our protocol's going to be here, but it's just going to be a  discussion about how I'm feeling, what the trainer feels and what the coaches feel," he said. "I just want to be able to give my all out there for the guys and now be any kind of liability or anything.

"... In a league like this, when you go out there, you're always going to get scored on in practices and stuff. You never know how you're going to feel confidence-wise. It's just being within yourself and feeling good about the saves you're making, save selection and following pucks and controlling rebounds. It's all the little things. If you feel comfortable doing that in practice, you're definitely ready to go in the game. "

* Tarasenko misses practice -- Right wing Vladimir Tarasenko was the lone member to miss practice on Sunday.

Tarasenko, who leads the Blues in goals (21) and points (38), blocked a shot in the third period that saw him limp off to the bench. But Hitchcock said there should be no restrictions as to his availability on Monday.

"Maintenance day today," Hitchcock said. "I think we're pretty confident he'll be ready to go tomorrow."

* Practice makes perfect? -- With the Blues' penalty kill woes in full light recently (they've allowed 10 goals in the past 32 opportunities spanning six games), it gave the coaching staff ample time to get extensive PK work in.

The Blues came into Sunday 23rd in the NHL (78.3 percent) on the penalty kill and it's compounded matters with the plethora of penalties the Blues have taken.

"This is really the first time we've worked with PK," Hitchcock said. "The risk is when you work with PK, and you're using the same people that play on the power play, then somebody gets a shot off the foot, but we just feel like we've got to get better at it. 

"You can talk about it, but I think by practicing at it, paying more attention to it, we bring a stronger focus that way. That's really what we're doing is bringing a stronger focus into working on that. It's hurting us right now and we really need it to help us. It's been a real help for us for a number of years now. Now it's hurting and we need that to change."

One-on-one board and puck battles are a contributor why the team has spent more than their share of time in the defensive zone.

"It's more our first touches," Hitchcock said. "When our first touches are cleaner, or exit quicker, I think it's like anything else. When you're defending and you're tired, you're going to have a difficult time. Sometimes we've gotten bogged down in our own zone. Not very often, but when we do, we seem to get extended out there and then that's when the big mistakes come for any team. We did the same to Dallas yesterday. We bogged them down. So I think from that standpoint, we're working like every team, trying to get better at first touches as much as we can."

* Move on -- Petteri Lindbohm's mistake in the first period that led to Ryan Garbutt's goal and gave the Stars a 2-1 lead won't be the first mistake the rookie defenseman makes.

And it's not going to be one the coaches or the player dwells on too much either.

Lindbohm tried to make one of those cross-ice dangerous passes through the slot to the far boards to a streaking forward. Instead, the puck was intercepted by Garbutt, who read the dangerous pass, picked it off and drilled a slap shot top shelf past Allen from the left circle.

"You move on," Hitchcock said when asked about it Sunday. "That's a lesson that he'll ... knowing his conscience and how good he is that way, he's not going to make that mistake again."

* Porter's energy -- Porter once again gave the coaching staff plenty of reason why it's a good idea to keep him in the lineup with his play Saturday.

Porter, who filled in on left wing playing with Tarasenko and Jori Lehtera, was able to create space for the gifted forwards and led the team with seven hits in 13:46 of ice time.

"He was real good. He was excellent," Hitchcock said. "Him and (Dmitrij) Jaskin have really given us good energy, both guys have been excellent. Jaskin since he came up, Porter when he went in did exactly what we wanted them to. He was in on a few scoring chances, created a lot of energy for the line. That's a good sign.

"He makes it a good option. You're always looking for more because you think someone else is going to give you scoring, but before we can think about scoring, we need to think about energy. The energy that he gives is real positive and that's what we want to build on."

Porter played like ... well ... Porter and provided the necessary space for his linemates to operate.

"That's the way I play," Porter said. "If the hit's there, I'm going to try and finish it. Playing with two skilled players like that, the more space you give them, the better it is for yourself. I think I was able to do that. I created some offensive zone time for that. Vladi had a couple great chances in the slot, and so did Jori. Hopefully we can continue to do that.

"With those guys, they don't want to dump the puck all the time. It's a little bit different transition for myself wanting to play north. But anytime they have the puck, they create their own space. If you can give them one or two more inches, they can make it pretty good for yourself. I try to stay out of the way a little bit,  but also not be afraid to make plays yourself."

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Blues' mistakes costly again in 4-3 loss to Stars

St. Louis falls to 0-3-1 in past four games, fall short in comeback bid

ST. LOUIS -- This time, there was a push-back. The Blues were knocking on the door in search of a glimmer of hope that their brief losing skid would end.

But at the final horn, the result was alarmingly the same.

The Blues, plagued by uncharacteristic gaffes in the defensive zone in recent games, had more of the same on Saturday night against the Dallas Stars.

Coach Ken Hitchcock cautioned about "loose play" Saturday morning coming off the Christmas break, in which the Blues took three days off after a third straight game without a win in Colorado on Tuesday.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
The Blues' T.J. Oshie (74) looks to break away with the puck from the Stars'
Travis Moen on Saturday night at Scottrade Center.

The Blues were able to get away with some of these games earlier in the season, but the old saying is sometimes, karma catches up to you, and the Blues are feeling some heat.

The Dallas Stars came into Scottrade Center and took back to Texas with them two points after a 4-3 victory against the Blues on Saturday before 19,683 at Scottrade Center.

The Blues (21-11-3) are winless in four straight (0-3-1). They've allowed 18 goals (scored nine) in the past four games. Their errors are magnified grossly with pucks in the back of the net, and it started Saturday with rookie goalie Jake Allen making a mistake playing a puck behind his net that would wind up as the first goal seconds later. 

And another rookie, Petteri Lindbohm, would make a poor decision of his own, and one he will learn from playing in only his ninth NHL game, that would wind up in the back of the Blues' net again that produced Dallas' second goal. And then to the penalty kill, which has been more of a buzz kill for the Blues in recent games, failed to produce.

The Stars (15-14-5), who won their first game within the Central Division (1-7-3), scored twice on their power play in the decisive second period and dropped the Blues to 23rd in the NHL in PK efficiency (78.3 percent) and 13th out of 15 teams in the Western Conference (only Calgary and Arizona are worse). The Blues have allowed a whopping 10 power play goals in 32 tries over six games.

And to top things off, all the teams around them in the Central Division (Chicago, Nashville and surging Winnipeg) all won and gained. 

"I think the mistakes have been the same they've been for four games," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. "Other than the game in San Jose (a 3-2 overtime loss on Dec. 20), I think they've been the same mistakes. Can't defend our own zone. We're going to have to play with the same ferocity in our own zone than we do in the offensive zone. We won every board battle. 

"When we were chasing the game in the offensive zone, we won a lot of board battles. We came up with a lot of pucks, but the sense of urgency to do that in our 'D' zone is not there so we get scored on. I think it shows up on PK. It shows up 5-on-5."

So has that sense of urgency left the room?

"I don't know if it's disappeared," Hitchcock said. "It's not as good as it could be to win against good teams. It's not good enough. They get to play, too. 

"Our inability to win one-on-one battles, whether it's killing penalties or whether it's the tenacity against the boards, we're losing them. We're winning them in the other end and we're probably in reverse (in the defensive zone). We'd rather lose a few more in the offensive zone and win a lot more in the 'D' zone, but we're going to have to play with a much higher level of ferocity. We're not doing those things. That's the little difference between winning and losing."

Travis Moen, who missed five games because of an upper-body injury, returned to the lineup to score his first in 22 games this season after Allen mishandled a puck behind the net. The puck squirted to the side and Moen knocked it into an open net 2:08 into the game, and for a young goalie like Allen, that kind of mistake can only be magnified in his head, especially after being pulled from his last start, a 5-0 loss at Colorado in which the 25-year-old allowed five goals on 31 shots through two periods.

"That’s a mistake that can’t happen," Allen admitted. "It can’t happen in crucial games like this. It’s completely on me."

Alex Pietrangelo tied it for the Blues 27 seconds later off a shot from Paul Stastny that Lehtonen kicked into the slot, and Pietrangelo snapped a quick shot past the Stars goalie, but Lindbohm's turnover in his own zone, a cross-ice pass from deep in his end, was intercepted by Ryan Garbutt, who beat Allen with a slap shot top-shelf glove side with 5:14 left in the period to give the Stars a 2-1 lead.

"Our sense of urgency in our own zone has to increase a lot," Hitchcock said. "Just assuming the other team's not going to play there, or they got good players and they can dial it up, too. We're going to have to dial it up in our own zone. I think if we do that, we'll spend less time there and we're not going to get occupied like at times we get occupied now."

Vladimir Tarasenko's team-leading 21st of the season and 100th NHL point on the power play, off an Alexander Steen shot that was blocked towards the left circle with 3:50 left in the period tied the game 2-2. 

The Blues had life, they went into the second period all squared and ready to get back to their winning ways.

But then came the undisciplined game. More penalties, four of them, in the second period.

Eventually it catches up, and the Stars got two goals from Trevor Daley, who weaved through a trio of Blues players before beating a sliding Pietrangelo and Allen with a wrister on the short side 7:41 into the period.

Then a coverage mistake came late in the second, and Jason Demers converted a tap-in with 37.4 seconds left as four Blues players were slanted towards one end of the ice, and Demers snuck in behind Steve Ott.

"If you look at the penalties we're taking, they're stick fouls, so that's a little bit frustrating for everybody," Hitchcock said. "The biggest change in that, they're not spread out. If you look, they're four in a row, three in a row, five in a row and that ends up tiring out people, or keeps people out of the game that should be in the game. Quite frankly, we're not getting the job done. We're not getting the job done. That's everybody, that's the goalie, that's the PK guys, that's won faceoffs, that's won board battles, it's cleared pucks. We're not getting the job done. We've been very successful here for a few years doing it, but we're not getting that job done right now."

The Blues have gone on the penalty kill now 32 times in the past six games -- and have allowed 10 goals.

"The penalty kills got to get the job done," Steen said. "We are taking too many penalties. So some stuff to tidy up for sure. Five on five, I thought we played a lot better, but D-zone’s got to be cleaned up a little bit.

"A lot of it is taking penalties. We’ve been sitting in the box and having to kill off -- I think tonight was probably 10 minutes. So 10 minutes and we’re just defending. That’s probably No. 1 that needs to be cleaned up."

Pietrangelo agreed.

"You never want to get behind like we did. We’re taking a lot of penalties right now, penalties that don’t need to be taken," Pietrangelo said. "Penalty kill, too. Those penalties that are being taken, we have to find a way to start killing penalties because it’s losing games for us where usually it’s winning games for us. So we have to get that back on track.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Stars defenseman Jason Demers (left) scores on Blues goalie Jake Allen in
second period action of the Stars' 4-3 victory against the Blues.

"It’s a number of things. We have to start winning some battles, winning some one-on-ones and start trusting the structure that we put together on the penalty kill that’s given us success over the last few years."

David Backes cut the Stars' lead to 4-3 when Backes redirected Jay Bouwmeester's point shot past Lehtonen at 5:40 of the third period.

The Blues pushed and pushed the rest of the period, but Lehtonen was up to the task making big saves on T.J. Oshie and Pietrangelo to keep it a one-goal game.

"I thought we came out with a little bit of bite in the third," Pietrangelo said. "We just took too much a little too late."

"We could have scored quite a few goals in the third period today, but that's not winning hockey," Hitchcock said. "Chasing games is not winning hockey, and that's what we're doing. All those games that we caught up to earlier, that we were able to come back ... we did it in Dallas, same thing. You can't win like that, keep playing like that."

If they do, they'll fall down a slippery slope in an ultra-rugged Central Division and have to play what would be an insurmountable game of catch-up.

And despite allowing four goals on 24 shots, Hitchcock won't blame his goaltender for the team's recent woes.

"He's a young kid. Let's just leave it at that," Hitchcock said of Allen. "I'm not going to get into that stuff right now. He got dealt a tough hand. He'll look back on this as a learning experience."

(12-27-14) Stars-Blues Gameday Lineup

ST. LOUIS -- Veteran coaches Ken Hitchcock of the St. Louis Blues and Lindy Ruff of the Dallas Stars have been around long enough to understand that anything can happen when teams return from the Christmas break.

Games tend to be wide open, scoring is up and defending is normally lacking.

The Stars and Blues are two teams that get back to the grind of the NHL schedule Saturday after three days away from the rink, away from watching video and away from the rigors of the job.

"I find these games quite frankly are loose, very fast, very loose and that's not to our advantage," Hitchcock said. "We have to get the bruise on bruise feeling going quickly, so that's going to be important for us. One of the things when you take three days off, your body really kind of mellows out, and getting back engaged and getting alert again is going to be important. If we're not alert against Dallas, they're going to just be blowing right by us like they did against Toronto. We've got to get really alert early, we've got to get to our game early. If we get to our game early, I really like our chances. But if we're chasing the game, then it's going to be advantage Dallas."

Both teams are coming off shutout losses. The Blues fell 5-0 to the Colorado Avalanche and the Stars dropped a 4-0 game to the Toronto Maple Leafs.

"These games for me, you don't know what to expect," Ruff said. "For three days, the players have been out of your hands. You don't know how much they ate. Christmas is a great time, but you have no control over them. Some players pay attention to what they do, some players don't. So for me, there's been games after Christmas where you get really disappointed with some guys, and there's some guys where you know they've obviously taken care of themselves, got some fitness in. 

"I think you'll see tonight, you'll see some, just like our practice this morning, you'll see some pretty loose plays. You're going to see maybe some bigger mistakes. I think (once) you get through 20 minutes, usually that improves."

In certain instances, like for Blues goalie Jake Allen, who will start in goal after being pulled after two periods from the game against the Avalanche, a mental break for all players and coaches can be good.

"Yeah for sure," Allen said. "I'm sure everyone around the League says the same thing. Those (three) full days off was nice. It's good to be back though after a few days, you sort of don't know what to do with yourself. It's good to be back and exciting to have another chance at redeeming ourselves tonight."

Allen, who allowed five goals on 31 shots, will get the chance at redemption. In a previous instance in which Allen was pulled from a game (Dec. 6 against the New York Islanders), he came back in his next start with a victory.

Allen, who is 11-4-2 with a 2.69 goals-against average and .903 save percentage, will look to do the same tonight.

"It's a new start, new break," Allen said. "Three days to energize yourself. Tough test tonight. We have three tough tests before the new year. It's a good opportunity for all of us to get back on track and back on one page."

Hitchcock felt like it was a no-brainer to get his young goalie back in there.

"He's had some very emotional games," Hitchcock said of Allen. "The last two games have been very emotional for him, but that's the NHL. He's a good, young goalie. He's on the job learning. We didn't expect him to have to carry this type of load, but that's the cards we're dealt. He's got to get in and get playing and see what he does. This experience is, as hard as it is right now, it's going to be good for him in his career and moving forward."

- - -

The Blues will look to get back on track after an 0-2-1 trip, their longest winless stretch of the season.

And according to Hitchcock, a blast from the past is the way to do it.

"I think it's going back," Hitchcock said. "We're not built like Dallas, we're not built like Colorado, we're not built like Nashville. We're built differently. We've got to get our game in more minutes during the competition. We have got the record we've got by extraordinary performances at times during the competition, but we haven't had enough of that real sound team game on the ice for as many minutes as we've had in the past. That's the key, to find better minutes from our whole team game."

- - -

Since Jaden Schwartz (broken foot) has been out of the lineup, finding the proper linemate to play with Jori Lehtera and Vladimir Tarasenko has been challenging, to say the least.

Tonight, when the puck drops for the Stars (14-14-5) and Blues (21-10-3), it will be Chris Porter to the plate.

Porter, a healthy scratch in six of the past nine games, will draw back in and Joakim Lindstrom will be a healthy scratch.

"Obviously two great skilled players," Porter said of Lehtera and Tarasenko. "I'm not going to come in and try to change anything. Just coming in and playing my game. Hopefully it complements them a little bit and hopefully I can create some room with my physicality.

"When I come in, I'm obviously happy to be in the lineup. Playing with them is obviously an added bonus. Happy to be in tonight. Hopefully we can get back on the right track and start doing the right things."

Porter has typically been a fourth-line left wing but saw minutes recently on the team's third line with Paul Stastny.

"He's a similar player in conscience to Schwartzy," Hitchcock said of Porter. "He has a real conscience on the ice at keeping the puck  in front of him, he's a great forechecker, he's a great backchecker. He plays without ego, he plays with a kind of a real north mentality, which is what Schwartzy does and that's what I think that line needs. There's a tremendous play-making chemistry between Lehtera and Tarasenko, but somebody's got to create the space for them to work in. That's what Schwartzy did. We're real hopeful that that's what Porter can do."

- - -

Criticism has been levied towards the Blues' top defensive pair in Jay Bouwmeester and Alex Pietrangelo, who are a combined minus-17 on the season.

Hitchcock has split the minute-eaters up in recent games in hopes of sparking something, but tends to go back to them when the game is on the line.

Tonight, they will start together.

"I think they're like our team. I don't think we've seen their best yet," Hitchcock said. "I think their best is yet to come. ... What we're looking for is the more consistent throughout the lineup. 

"We're built with team momentum. We've been really good at doing that, but when we go in fits and starts, then we rely on individuals to come through for us. That's to me, a red flag. We're not built that way. We're not built on relying on two or three guys carrying us every day. We're built a different way and we've got to get to that game quicker."

- - -

Schwartz will miss his fourth straight game after sustaining a broken foot blocking a shot against the Los Angeles Kings' Drew Doughty on Dec. 16.

Hitchcock had no real timetable for a potential return.

"I can't really tell you until he puts his skate on, which we're hoping is in the next few days but we're not sure yet," Hitchcock said. "I can't really give you a defined program on that until he puts the skate on. ... But really until Schwartzy comes out on the ice, I can't tell you "

Defenseman Carl Gunnarsson, who's been out since sustaining a concussion on Dec. 6, was a full participant in practice and is not considered day to day.

"Gunnarsson was full-go with us and we'll just see where he is," Hitchcock said. "We'll just go day to day with him and see if he's ready to do. ... He's getting himself ready to be a player, so we'll bring up the evaluation every second day or every day or so and tell you when he's ready to go."

Goalie Brian Elliott, who has been out with a knee injury sustained Nov. 25 against Ottawa, continues to progress towards a return.

"I think the practice tomorrow for Brian is really important, full go and see how he does," Hitchcock said. "We'll give you a full evaluation after practice."

- - -

Hitchcock got a good look at the three Blues prospects that played Friday night at the World Junior Championships.

Forwards Robby Fabbri (Canada) and Ivan Barbashev (Russia) as well as goalie Ville Husso (Finland) had strong debuts.

Hitchcock was particularly impressed with Fabbri, the Blues' No. 1 pick this past summer.

"He looks the same way he did in the NHL," Hitchcock said. "I was laughing ... what would have happened if he didn't get hurt ... who knows? He looks the same as he did in the NHL to me. That goal he scored, that's the same goal he scored in exhibition. Looks like he has a chance to be a special player. That's really good news.

"The goalie in Finland, he looked really good. Good stuff."

- - -

The Blues are 7-0-1 in their last eight at Scottrade Center and have averaged 4.37 goals per game. The Blues are 12-3-1 on own ice, and only Nashville has fewer home losses (12-2-1).

Stastny turned 29 today.

The Stars are winless (0-7-3) against Central Division opponents.

Kari Lehtonen will start in goal for the Stars. He is 10-4-2 in his career against St. Louis with a 1.99 GAA and .931 save percentage. Allen will make his first appearance against Dallas.

- - -

The Blues' probable lineup:

Alexander Steen-David Backes-T.J. Oshie

Chris Porter-Jori Lehtera-Vladimir Tarasenko

Patrik Berglund-Paul Stastny-Dmitrij Jaskin

Steve Ott-Maxim Lapierre-Ryan Reaves

Jay Bouwmeester-Alex Pietrangelo

Chris Butler-Kevin Shattenkirk

Petteri Lindbohm-Barret Jackman

Jake Allen will get the start in goal. Martin Brodeur will be the backup.

Healthy scratches include Magnus Paajarvi, Joakim Lindstrom and Ian Cole. Brian Elliott (knee), Jaden Schwartz (foot) and Carl Gunnarsson (concussion) are all on injured reserve.

- - -

The Stars' projected lineup:

Jamie Benn-Tyler Seguin-Colton Sceviour

Erik Cole-Jason Spezza-Ales Hemsky

Antoine Roussel-Cody Eakin-Ryan Garbutt

Shawn Horcoff-Vernon Fiddler-Travis Moen

Alex Goligoski-John Klingberg

Jyrki Jokipakka-Trevor Daley

Jordie Benn-Jason Demers

Kari Lehtonen will start in goal. Anders Lindback will be the backup.

Healthy scratches are Travis Morin and Cameron Gaunce. Patrick Eaves (ankle), Valeri Nichushkin (hip) and Patrik Nemeth (arm) are out with injuries.