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Stanley Cup Final
POSTED ON Saturday, 12.03.2011 / 2:31 PM

By Louie Korac -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Perron returns for Blues after long layoff

ST. LOUIS -- It's not often that a team adds a prominent player in mid-season. But that's what the St. Louis Blues are doing Saturday night.

Blues general manager Doug Armstrong said Friday that when the team gets David Perron back from his year-long absence because of a concussion, "... it's probably our best free-agent signing this year."

After missing 97 games with a concussion dating back to last season, Perron makes his return tonight against the Chicago Blackhawks.

The Blues, coming off a 3-2 shootout loss at Colorado on Friday, left Perron behind to get a good night's sleep, considering the team didn't arrive back in St. Louis until around 2:30 a.m. local time.

Perron, who picked up his parents from the airport after flying in from Quebec to see their son make his return, was one of a handful of players on the ice Saturday morning for the Blues. He said the nerves will kick in eventually.

"I think it was worse yesterday," Perron said. "Hopefully, it's going to stay like that, but I get the feeling towards gametime it's going to get more intense. I was so exhausted from the day (Friday) and all the nerves. I fell asleep pretty good actually. That was the good part."

Perron will play left wing on a line with Patrik Berglund and Matt D'Agostini and is prepared for that first contact.

"That's the nervous side of it. That's the last step of the process and it's the biggest one," Perron said of getting hit. "I've done as good a job to get myself ready ... I've taken some hits, taken some bumps already. We'll see how it goes. Just like anyone, if you get an extreme big hit like I got, it's going to be another concussion just like it would be for anyone. But I've got to go in there and just try to play a normal game and not think too much about that. I'm pretty sure I'll be a little more careful to start with. ... After 10, 15, 20 games, that'll all go away but I'm ready to turn the page tonight."

Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said Perron, who had five goals and seven points in 10 games a season ago, is as ready as he can be and expects a loud and raucous building tonight.

"Well, I think anybody that's missed this type of time, it's pretty exciting for the hockey community in general," Hitchcock said. "For me, he's been around so long practicing with us, he just feels like a normal player. The game is going to be good for him, good for the fans, but I think it's good for the game to see good players come back in and play. He's an exciting player, he's a dynamic player. He was really coming before he got hurt. So I think from a game standpoint it's exciting.

"I think it bring notoriety to the organization. A lot of people are going to be watching to see how David does. The NHL is happy for him. I think (San Jose's) Joe Thornton is happy for him. And I think from our standpoint, we're happy to get him going. It's unrealistic to think that he's just going to come in and be the player he once was. He's just going to have to get his feet wet."

The Blues (14-8-3) and Blackhawks (15-8-3) will renew their rivalry tonight and it will be the second matchup of the season. The Blues won 3-0 on Nov. 8 here in St. Louis, Hitchcock's first game behind the Blues' bench.

The 59-year-old coach said that the Blues, who are 8-1-3 since Hitchcock's arrival, won't be catching teams by surprise anymore.

"We're going to find out here in the next six or seven games," Hitchcock said. "We're going to get a push. ... You can surprise a team, now we're playing the second wave. When we start playing the Chicago's and Detroit's again, now we'll have a look. They'll be ready for us. They're not going to be surprised by our game anymore."

Blues defenseman Carlo Colaiacovo was one of four skaters (with Perron, B.J. Crombeen and Evgeny Grachev) to skate Saturday morning. Colaiacovo will miss his eighth straight game tonight after injuring a hamstring on Nov. 17 against Florida.

Hitchcock said he's "hopeful Colaiacovo can play next week," and judging by today's skate, the Blues' defenseman looks to be on course.

"It's been a frustrating last two weeks, but the thing that's been keeping me going is that I'll be back quick," Colaiacovo said. "I've just got to keep working through it. The team is playing really well and that's really exciting to watch. It's motivating me to even be more part of it. I miss being out there. It's not fun watching, but in the same sense, I'm working as hard as I can to be
back out there.

"Another good skate today. It's been getting better every day, but obviously not as fast as I would like. But you've got to be careful with these things here. I don't want to rush and set myself back a bit. So it's been slow steps, but the focus is to make progression every day and do whatever it takes to get back out there."

Hitchcock likes D'Agostini's game so much that he will leave him in the top six, dropping Chris Stewart to the third line for the time being.

"I like the way D'Agostini's playing. He's playing with some speed, he's playing with some tempo," Hitchcock said. "For me, (Jason) Arnott's line gets more scoring chances in zone than probably any line. We need to finish those chances. You're talking six scoring chances a game, it'd be nice to see if we could finish those scoring chances. This gives us an opportunity to take a look at something.
"[Jamie Langenbrunner] can move anywhere and everywhere. He's a very versatile player. He can play left or right, he can play on the power play, he can kill penalties, he can do everything. He's going to be a versatile guy, and I think by playing it this way on back-to-back games, this allows us to play four lines and hopefully not wear guys out."

Asked about Stewart, Hitchcock said: "Stewy's just got to help Stewy. Stewy's got to continue to get better. I think right now for us from the red line in, I'm really impressed with what Stewy's doing. From the red line back, we've got teaching moments that we're going to have to work with. I think just understanding how to play fast defensively is going to have to be an adjustment for Chris. That's what we're teaching him and [Berglund] and even D'Agostini to play faster defensively."

The return of Perron has thrown a bit of a monkey wrench into the lineup, as a few alterations have been made for tonight's game against the Blackhawks:

Alex Steen - David Backes - T.J. Oshie
David Perron - Patrik Berglund - Matt D'Agostini
Vladimir Sobotka - Jason Arnott - Chris Stewart
Ryan Reaves - Scott Nichol - Jamie Langenbrunner

Ian Cole - Alex Pietrangelo
Barret Jackman - Kevin Shattenkirk
Kris Russell - Roman Polak

Brian Elliott, who is 10-1 with a league-leading 1.34 goals-against average and .951 save percentage, gets the nod in goal. Jaroslav Halak is the backup after stopping 33 shots the 3-2 shootout loss Friday at Colorado.

The Blues' scratch for tonight is wing Chris Porter. The team assigned winger Brett Sterling as well as defenseman Cade Fairchild to Peoria. Winger Andy McDonald (concussion), Crombeen (shoulder), Grachev (eye) and Colaiacovo (hamstring) and Kent Huskins (ankle) all remain on injured reserve.

The Blackhawks had an optional skate as well, with only three skaters and two goalies on the ice. They are expected to go with the same lineup they used last night:

Viktor Stalberg - Jonathan Toews - Patrick Kane
Patrick Sharp - Marcus Kruger - Marian Hossa
Ben Smith - Dave Bolland - Michael Frolik
Daniel Carcillo - Jamal Mayers - Andrew Brunette

Duncan Keith - Brent Seabrook
Nick Leddy - Niklas Hjalmarsson
Steve Montador - Sean O'Donnell

Ray Emery is the likely starter in goal after being first off the ice; Corey Crawford, who played in a 5-4 shootout win Friday against the New York Islanders, would be the backup.

Defenseman John Scott and Sami Lepisto and winger Bryan Bickell were extra skaters today and would be the healthy scratches.
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POSTED ON Saturday, 11.26.2011 / 4:53 PM

By Louie Korac -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Hitchcock doesn't expect emotional Columbus return

HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- When Ken Hitchcock goes back to Columbus on Sunday, don’t expect the 59-year-old to get all emotional and teary-eyed about it.

Maybe in another time and another place there would be mixed emotions, especially if it were his first job. But the veteran coach has been there, done that. This will be Hitchcock's third time going back to a place he once called his bench.

Hitchcock, who has coached in Dallas, Philadelphia, Columbus and now St. Louis, was with the Jackets for four seasons before being fired in 2010, the third time a franchise has relieved him of his duties.

"I've been out two years (in Columbus) doing work for them," Hitchcock said of the Columbus organization. "I've developed a friendship with obviously the American (Hockey) League guys and some of the business people there just for fun, getting to know other people in the business.

"If it was (a big deal), I'd tell you. It isn't. But it was hard in Dallas."

Yes, Hitchcock admitted that at one time, it was difficult, and that was when he was fired from his first NHL job with the Stars, for whom he had won a Stanley Cup with in 1999 and spent seven seasons with.

"I said to people it was tough for me going back to Dallas," Hitchcock said. "It was really hard because we were in on the design on some of the stuff in the building. We were in on the design of the locker rooms, coach's offices, training rooms, murals that are up there that are still there ... we were in everything. Mr. (Tom) Hicks (who owned the Stars at the time) included us in everything. So it was really hard for me to go back there. Very emotional."

But this will be just another game for Hitchcock, who is 6-1-2 since taking over the Blues after they fired Davis Payne on Nov. 6 following a 6-7 start.

The Blues went from 14th in the Western Conference at that time to sixth heading into Saturday's action, and they've done it by buying into a style that has seen Hitchcock win at all levels he's been at.

"When we do it, they have found value in puck management and checking," Hitchcock said. "They've found real value in managing the three lines on the ice and checking. They've seen through a lot of video how that can manage the game properly and create scoring chances.

"I think the toughest thing in this League is to convince the players that the harder they check, the more they score. I think that's where the players are getting a good feel for ... if I compete and check, then that's how I get the puck because just waiting for the game or waiting for the puck to come to you doesn't work in this league. Teams are too good."

In the initial aftershock of Payne being let go, it's natural for players to react in a favorable way, simply because they understand that it's now time to hold the players accountable after management serves notice by relieving a coach.

"Any time you get a shakeup like a coach getting fired, it sends a message through the whole team," said veteran winger Jamie Langenbrunner, who played for Hitchcock in Dallas. "Things weren't going horribly here. We were right around .500 but still the message was sent we expect to be bigger and better. I think that was a wake-up call for everybody.

"Unfortunately, [Payne] pays the price for it, but I think the message was heard loud and clear."

And the Blues have responded to Hitchcock's demanding style of play with a smothering style that has yielded only 11 regulation/overtime goals in nine games. Although the power play still has work to do, the penalty kill is much improved and the five-on-five play has been spectacular, allowing only six goals in the nine games under Hitchcock.

"It's attention to detail, just doing the little things," said goalie Brian Elliott, who leads the league in goals-against average (1.34), save percentage (.951) and is tied for shutouts with three to go with a 9-1 record. "If you go around the room, that's what guys would say. It's being accountable and knowing why you're doing the things you do. He has a good way of explaining how and why you're doing things. When you know why you're doing it, then it helps a lot. Everybody can read off each other easily. It's simplifying our game and playing to our strengths and doing it for 60 minutes.

"He expects a lot out of you, but I think in the end, he enjoys being around the guys. It's nice to come in to see a smiling face every morning, someone you can go to with a question and you don't feel uncomfortable. He knows what he's talking about. He's been around the game so long. Anything you get out of him you can probably trust is the right thing."

Defenseman Kris Russell, who played for Hitchcock in Columbus and who will be making his return to Nationwide Arena for the first time since being traded to St. Louis Nov. 10, said of Hitchcock: "He brings structure, leadership. He's a guy that's been there. He's won a Cup obviously. He took a team in Columbus to the playoffs when they've never reached it. Those records speak for themselves.

"I'm sure he wants us to play as well as we can to get a win in there, but Hitch is a coach that is pretty even-keeled every game. He takes it one game at a time. You can't be too high, can't be too low in this league or you go for a ride."

The Blues are enjoying the ride they're on now, and as long as they can adhere to Hitchcock's message, they may just keep themselves in the thick of the rugged Western Conference race.

"For me, the controlling of the three lines ... when we do it well, we can play with and against anybody," Hitchcock said. "We did it for two periods and five minutes in Pittsburgh (on Wednesday) as well as we've ever done it since I've been here. We were really good. If we do those things, then we can beat anybody. That's where, to me, the buy-in has started. When your best players do it, then everybody else has to follow.

"It's not fun to play that way. It's a constant tug-of-war. The more success you have, the more they want to go back and play a different way. It's not easy playing that way. It's not easy at all. Not fun. It's very rewarding, but it's not fun. But when those guys buy in and play that way, we're very good."
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POSTED ON Friday, 11.25.2011 / 2:58 PM

By Louie Korac -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Cole relished challenge of shutting down Crosby

ST. LOUIS -- It was only his 31st career game, but for Blues defenseman Ian Cole, it was the most critical -- and certainly most challenging -- assignment he's drawn as a National Hockey League player.

It helps having Alex Pietrangelo as a defensive partner, because you'll draw tough assignments on a nightly basis, but when you're asked to harass Pittsburgh's Sidney Crosby, that's a different breed.

Cole and Pietrangelo came out with flying colors, though, not only keeping the best player in the League scoreless in his second game back from a concussion, but also winning in a building that's been tough on visiting teams this season.

"It was, for sure, but then in that third period when they were down by a goal, they started throwing Crosby and (Evgeni) Malkin out there together," Cole said of the Blues' 3-2 overtime win in Pittsburgh Wednesday. "And then you're playing against two of the best players in the world. They're arguably one-two or one and top five. ... It was definitely a test, definitely a battle. But it definitely feels good to shut those guys down."

It was Cole's fifth game of the season and he played a season-high in minutes at 21:48. Pietrangelo skated a game-high 27:59 and scored the winning goal in overtime.

"There's not many defensemen where you say this guy's got a chance to be a one. He has a chance to be a one," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said of Pietrangelo. "Not many teams have that. We have an opportunity to have a player like him become a one over time. He's a young guy, he's just learning how to play the game.

"There's not many players in the League that are able to play against top players, play on the power play (and) kill penalties. He's got a chance if he keeps improving to be in that one category. Those are valuable guys where you can play them heavy minutes and not worry about them."

Hitchcock said Pietrangelo reminds him of Nashville's Ryan Suter and lists players like the Preds' Shea Weber and Los Angeles' Drew Doughty as those players that have that ability to be a No. 1 guy.

With Cole, it wasn't a question of whether to throw him out against Crosby. Hitchcock felt it was time. The Blues' coach liked the end result.

"Really good," Hitchcock said when asked to summarize Cole's game Wednesday. "To get to the next level, if he can get firmer with the puck, it's going to help us a lot. But he's hard on people. He's really got that second and third effort defending-wise, which is really good.

"If we can just get him firmer under pressure with the puck so he's not feeling like there's three guys after him ... there's just one, sometimes younger players think there's more coming at them than there is. If we can get him up to speed there, he's a very competitive guy, which is a good sign for us."

So after Crosby debuted with 4 points against the New York Islanders Monday, Cole and Pietrangelo held Crosby scoreless Wednesday. Malkin did have 2 assists.

So is there a secret to containing Sid the Kid?

"There's not one thing that you can do," Cole said. "He's so good, so well-rounded. You've just got to play him hard and stay in his face, not give him too much room. If he has room, he makes stuff happen."

------------

After stopping 31 shots, including 15 of 17 in the third period, the Blues will once again turn to backup Brian Elliott tonight against the Calgary Flames.

Elliott is a sparkling 8-1-0 on the season with a league-leading 1.48 goals-against average and .946 save percentage.

"The guy that's playing tonight, he weathered the tsunami in the third period ... more than weathered it, so he gets to play tonight because he got real wet in the third period," Hitchcock joked. "Just out of sympathy alone, he gets to come back and play today."

------------

The Blues will not make any lineup changes from the one they used Wednesday night in Pittsburgh:

Alexander Steen - David Backes - T.J. Oshie
Chris Stewart - Patrik Berglund - Matt D'Agostini
Vladimir Sobotka - Jason Arnott - Jamie Langenbrunner
Brett Sterling - Scott Nichol - Ryan Reaves

Ian Cole - Alex Pietrangelo
Barret Jackman - Kevin Shattenkirk
Kris Russell - Roman Polak

Brian Elliott will start in goal; Jaroslav Halak is the backup.

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POSTED ON Friday, 11.25.2011 / 2:52 PM

By Louie Korac -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Flames' Butler gets to spend holiday at home

ST. LOUIS -- Calgary Flames defenseman Chris Butler, a native of Kirkwood, Mo., was more than happy to spend the Thanksgiving holiday here.

Butler, whose parents still live in the St. Louis area, also saw his brother and sister come to town to spend the holidays. The Butlers entertained the Flames organization for dinner Thursday night at Chris' parents house.

"I don't think I've been home for a stretch since I left for juniors," said Butler, who still owns a home and spends his summers here. "For me, it was an exciting time. ... We had the whole team over for Thanksgiving dinner last night. It was awesome.

"For me, it will always be home."

Butler, who was traded to the Flames from Buffalo this past summer, will play his third game here against the Blues (second time this season, once previous with Buffalo) and said the trade really helps his family see him more often. The trade also gave him a perspective of where he fits in with the Flames.

"For my family, it's nicer being in the Western Conference," said Butler, who has 4 assists in 20 games this season. "They can go to games in Chicago, Columbus, and obviously here in St. Louis. It keeps a few miles off the car for my dad.

"I had a relatively smooth transition. I sat down with the coaches in training camp and talked about what my role is going to be with this team and where they see me fitting in, the type of game that we like to play. I felt like that type of game really suited the way I like to play the game."

Butler is a huge baseball fan and was obviously thrilled to see the Cardinals win the World Series.

"I've always enjoyed the game of baseball," Butler said. "Most nights in the summer time, I sit around watching Cardinals games. ... Once they got into the playoffs and they beat Philly and they beat Milwaukee and to win the World Series, I was loving every minute of it. It's neat to see what they did."

------------

Looking to bolster their lineup, the Flames claimed forward Blake Comeau from the Islanders on Friday.

The Flames put a claim in with the understanding they were getting a player coach Brent Sutter was familiar with.

Comeau played for Sutter at the World Juniors, and Sutter knows him from coaching against him when Sutter was in New Jersey and when Comeau was playing for Kelowna of the Western Hockey League and Sutter was in Red Deer.

"Blake is a real good, solid two-way player," Sutter said. "He can skate, he's intelligent. I like him as a hockey player. ... He's a good penalty killer, definitely a top-nine player. We'll see when he gets here. His best position is the left wing side. He can play both sides, but he's a better player on the left side."

The 25-year-old Comeau was en route to St. Louis today and barring any further complications, was expected to be in the lineup Friday night.

"He is a player that we have been watching for some time," Flames general manager Jay Feaster said. "He is someone that our scouts feel very strongly will fit into the way we want to play. He's a very good skater. He's a responsible guy defensively. He's a very reliable player in that you can put him out there with a lead in the last minute of play. He's also a guy that can score some goals. Our scouts have been watching him this year and feel that the thing that he needs most is a change. He needs a new opportunity. When we saw he was on waivers, we jumped on that opportunity."

Comeau didn't have a point in 16 games for the Islanders this season and was a minus-11. He's coming in on the heels of a 24-goal season in Long Island last season.

"There's reasons for it, obviously, or else he wouldn't be on waivers," Sutter said. "It's something you can't read too much into. There's circumstances that surround that. We're excited about having Blake become a Calgary Flame."

To make room for Comeau, the Flames sent forward Paul Byron to their American Hockey League affiliate in Abbotsford.

"As I explained to Paul, that's simply because we have to do something in order to be able to create the roster spot," Feaster said of Byron, who had two goals in six games. "It's no reflection on the way Paul's played. My goal starting right now is to create a roster spot for Paul Byron and get him back here just as quickly as we can."

------------

Sutter said aside from Comeau, the Flames lineup will be the same as it was Wednesday night in Detroit:

Alex Tanguay - Mikael Backlund - Jarome Iginla
Curtis Glencross - Olli Jokinen - Rene Bourque
Blake Comeau - Roman Horak - Lee Stempniak
Tom Kostopoulos - Brendan Morrison - Tim Jackman

Scott Hannan - Mark Giordano
Jay Bouwmeester - Chris Butler
Derek Smith - TJ Brodie

Miikka Kiprusoff, who owns a 19-4-2 lifetime record and a 1.90 goals-against average and .927 save percentage against the Blues, will start in goal; Henrik Karlsson is the backup.

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POSTED ON Tuesday, 11.22.2011 / 6:54 PM

By Louie Korac -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Blues put Colaiacovo on IR

ST. LOUIS -- The St. Louis Blues on Tuesday placed defenseman Carlo Colaiacovo on injured reserve, retroactive to Nov. 18.

Colaiacovo has a left hamstring strain that he initially injured in the first period of Thursday's 4-1 victory over the Florida Panthers.

Colaiacovo, who has a goal and six points in 13 games this season, is eligible to come off injured reserve on Friday. Earlier in the day, Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said Colaiacovo, who missed five games earlier this season with a concussion, is feeling better and the team is hopeful he can get back on the ice by the end of the week.

The Blues recalled defenseman Cade Fairchild from their American Hockey League affiliate, the Peoria Rivermen. The 22-year-old Fairchild is the team's fourth-round pick (No. 96) in the 2007 NHL Draft. He will be available for Tuesday night's home game against the Los Angeles Kings.
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POSTED ON Tuesday, 11.22.2011 / 1:50 PM

By Louie Korac -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Hitchcock, Murray go back a long way together

ST. LOUIS -- The Blues' Ken Hitchcock and the Los Angeles Kings' Terry Murray have seen a few NHL games in their time.

When the Blues (10-7-2) host the Kings (10-7-3) at 6:30 p.m. CT tonight (Versus, KMOX 1120-AM), it will be the 1,048th game for Hitchcock and 1,004th game for Murray. The two are the oldest coaches in the NHL (Hitchcock is 59, Murray is 61) and the two friends go back a long way together.

"We go back way into the (International Hockey League) for crying out loud," Murray joked this morning. "He was coaching Kalamazoo where we spent some time together."

Murray, whose Kings beat the Blues 5-0 on Oct. 18, is glad to see his friend back in the game.

"I'm real happy for him. He's a real quality guy," Murray said of Hitchcock. "He's a real good coach, obviously. He's got a lot of games under his belt and had some great success, a Stanley Cup winner in Dallas.

"He waited for his time. He stays involved in the game when he was out ... probably running coaching clinics someplace, working with some people, some teams on the ice helping out there. He loves the game. I like to see a lifelong coach get back in."

When the Blues and Kings drop the puck, Hitchcock said look for a game of wits between two crafty guys behind the bench.

"Pretty snarly," Hitchcock said when asked to describe the Kings. "It'll be an interesting game; two coaches who know each other very well, are good friends, have the same belief system with the way the game has to be played.

"I would say this would be a game with not a lot of room. You're going to have to fight for your space and it isn't going to come easy. If both teams are on the mark, you'll see a helluva hockey game. We've coached against each other and with each other for a long time. Not much changes."

Added Murray: "That's so true in the game today. The way teams are structured on their checking part of the game. Everybody's relentless. There's a lot of dot-to-board battling going on. You've got to really fight for your space in front of the net now. The spacing that everybody shows defensively and offensively for puck support is getting tighter. There has to be a lot of dig-in attitude here tonight, for sure."

------------

Murray was asked how he would assess the first quarter of his team's season, considering they opened in Europe and on the east coast for two games.

The Kings played their home opener against the Blues on Oct. 18.

"I like where we are," Murray said. "Starting off with the trip over to Europe, I thought it was a very demanding start to the schedule. To come back with a couple more games on the east coast, we got through that.

"With all of the scheduling that we've had, especially the week before going over to Europe, then going overseas and regrouping and coming back, we got through the first quarter of the season in pretty good shape."
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POSTED ON Friday, 11.18.2011 / 3:30 PM

By Louie Korac -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Blues' Colaiacovo ruled day-to-day

HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- St. Louis Blues defenseman Carlo Colaiacovo is listed as day-to-day after suffering a mild strain of his left hamstring in the first period of Thursday's 4-1 win against the Florida Panthers.

Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said Friday that Colaiacovo will not make the trip to Minnesota for Saturday's game against the Wild and will be evaluated when the team returns. Ian Cole will return to the lineup Saturday.

"We'll further evaluate it the next couple days," Hitchcock said. "... This is mild so that's good news there. It could have been a lot worse there, too. Got a break there."
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POSTED ON Thursday, 11.17.2011 / 2:45 PM

By Louie Korac -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Stewart expected suspension

ST. LOUIS -- After finding out Chris Stewart's fate on Wednesday, the Blues will move on and do without their bulky power forward for the next three games beginning with tonight's game at Scottrade Center against the Florida Panthers (8 p.m. ET, FSN, KMOX 1120-AM).

The Blues have accepted the ruling of the NHL's Senior Vice President of Player Safety, Brendan Shanahan, and moved on.

Stewart was suspended for a hit Tuesday on Detroit's Niklas Kronwall in the first period. Kronwall left the game but returned for the second and third periods and suffered no injury.

Stewart reflected on the suspension for the first time after the morning skate today. He had a conversation with Shanahan and understands where the League is coming from.

"When in doubt, you probably shouldn't do it when you see his numbers to you," Stewart said. "There's definitely a gray area there.

"I was obviously hoping for no suspension, but I kind of expected it. I've seen a couple replays. It looked pretty bad."

Added captain David Backes: "It's up to the rest of the guys now to fill that void and make sure that we're making up for his absence. When he comes back, he'll be more energized and more determined than ever."

Backes said the League is trying to crack down on any type of hit, whether done by accident or not, and the team accepts the consequences.

"It's those kinds of hits that he said as a League we're going to have taken out," he said. "Unfortunately, it's a guy on our team that's the recipient of a suspension. I think he's been relatively consistent throughout the season on hits that are into the boards or hits from the backside.

"Chris plays hard. He's a great part of our team. We wish he wasn't suspended, but the fact of the matter is when you play hard like he does, when you're in the trenches, when you're battling all the time, you're probably going to be suspended. Especially with the way things are right now."

Stewart, who has 3 goals and 5 points in 17 games, said he'll use caution but won't change his style.

"I've got to stick to my game here," he said. "I'm definitely more valuable to my team on the ice than in the press box.

"I'm probably going to think twice the next time I see a guy's numbers to me. As far as competing and going out there and playing with that edge, I'm still going to play with that edge, for sure."
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POSTED ON Thursday, 11.17.2011 / 2:40 PM

By Louie Korac -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Blues turn back to Halak against Panthers

ST. LOUIS -- Despite leading the NHL in goals-against average (1.43) and holding down second in save percentage (.946), Brian Elliott will take a seat as Jaroslav Halak will get back in goal for the Blues tonight against the Florida Panthers.

Halak, who is 2-6-1 with a 2.78 GAA and .882 save percentage, hasn't played in a week when the Blues dropped a 3-2 decision to the Toronto Maple Leafs in a shootout.

"Obviously I'm looking forward to get in," Halak said. "I know it's not going to be easy. Florida has been playing really good hockey on the road this season. We need to be ready for that and for their tempo. We need to try and create our tempo and be ready."

Both goalies are now into form. Elliott's been solid all season, and Halak, after an inauspicious beginning, seems to be finding his game as well. Blues coach ken Hitchcock seems to have a problem in goal -- a good problem.

"I'm happy with both guys," said Hitchcock, whose team is 9-7-1 overall and 3-0-1 since his arrival. "We get into these debates in here, I don't know what everybody's thinking. When both guys are playing well, it's pretty easy for me who goes.

"When they're both playing good, just play them."

The netminders seem to push each other on off-days, which is creating that proverbial healthy competition, and the players are thriving off of it themselves.

"It is good for our team," Halak said. "Brian has been getting the wins for us. It's great every time you get a win. When you have competition, it makes it better for both of the goalies. They both want to play.

"You need to work hard every practice and every game you play. You need to give it the best you have and that's what it's all about."

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POSTED ON Thursday, 11.17.2011 / 2:25 PM

By Louie Korac -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Projected lineups for Blues, Panthers

Here are the projected lineups for when the St. Louis Blues take on the Florida Panthers tonight at Scottrade Center:

BLUES
Alex Steen - David Backes - T.J. Oshie
Evgeny Grachev - Patrik Berglund - Matt D'Agostini
Vladimir Sobotka - Jason Arnott - Jamie Langenbrunner
Chris Porter - Scott Nichol - Ryan Reaves

Carlo Colaiacovo - Alex Pietrangelo
Barret Jackman - Kevin Shattenkirk
Kris Russell - Roman Polak

Jaroslav Halak will start in goal; Brian Elliott is the backup.

Chris Stewart starts serving his three-game suspension. Defenseman Kent Huskins (left ankle surgery), winger Andy McDonald (concussion), winger David Perron (post-concussion syndrome) and winger B.J. Crombeen (shoulder) are on injured reserve. Defenseman Ian Cole will be a healthy scratch for the third consecutive game.

PANTHERS

Tomas Fleischmann - Stephen Weiss - Kris Versteeg
Evgenii Dadonov - Mike Santorelli - Tomas Kopecky
Marco Sturm - Marcel Goc - Jack Skille
Shawn Matthias - Tim Kennedy - Sean Bergenheim

Ed Jovanovski - Keaton Ellerby
Jason Garrison - Brian Campbell
Dmitry Kulikov - Mike Weaver

Jose Theodore will get the start in goal; Scott Clemmensen is the backup.

The Panthers are without injured Mikael Samuelsson (hip), Scottie Upshall (hip) and Matt Bradley (upper body). Defenseman Erik Gudbranson is a healthy scratch.
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For me, it's a great win for our hockey team and for a lot of people back in Columbus, especially our fans in particular … people who have been devoted to this organization, it's big.

— Blue Jackets coach Todd Richards on their win vs. the Penguins in Game 2, the franchise's first-ever Stanley Cup Playoff victory