The Lehtera-Stastny-Tarasenko combination is something Blues Head Coach Ken Hitchcock tried Thursday in practice and was still sticking to during the morning skate Friday in Anaheim.
“This is the first time we’ve ever played them together,” Hitchcock said Thursday. “They looked good. We’re probably a few days away from Jaden (Schwartz) joining on a full-time basis, so it might give an opportunity for a game or two for us to look at that. We’re certainly intrigued by what we saw.”
Stastny, whose linemates have varied throughout the season, said he’s excited if this line gets a good look.
“You try different things. Some things are working and you’ve got to leave those, and sometimes when things aren’t going well, you switch things up,” Stastny said. “Like I’ve said in the past before, it’s always a long year and by the end of the year, we’re going to find the best solution for everything for the team to be where we want it to be when the end of the season comes.
“I think, just from practice, we have that little tic-tac-toe kind of play,” Stastny added. “They’re really easy to read, so we’re all excited.”
In this scenario, Lehtera shifts to left wing, a position he played at the World Championships and several times for Finland in the Olympics last season.
“A couple practices went well, we had some good passes, good things in practice. It’s going to be good today,” Lehtera said about playing with Stastny and Tarasenko. “I’m pumped up today for sure. You’re going to see me working hard and playing as good as I can.”
The line would debut against a Ducks team that currently sits first in the Pacific Division and first overall in the Western Conference with 54 points (24-9-6). On Wednesday, Anaheim suffered only their fourth regulation loss on home-ice to snap a five-game home winning streak.
The Blues lost their last game at Honda Center, falling 3-0 on Oct. 19. However, in the last meeting between the teams, Jake Allen recorded a 24-save shutout in a 2-0 victory on Oct. 30 at Scottrade Center.
Tonight’s game is the last meeting between the teams in the regular season, and Hitchcock said the start will be the key to the game.
“These teams, especially the three California teams, they get off to great starts. They try to get you on your heels,” Hitchcock said. “We’ve had success when we’ve matched their level on the ice, especially in LA and in San Jose, where we’ve really matched that level early in the game. It’s given us a chance to win, but the last time we played here, we were on our heels and it took us a long time to get off our heels. We’ve got to be ready for that. “
Carl Gunnarsson, who has been out of the lineup since being hit on Dec. 6 by New York Islanders forward Anders Lee, will return tonight.
Gunnarsson missed 10 games with an upper-body injury.
“I had a couple good days here,” Gunnarsson said after the morning skate. “The ultimate test is to be out there on the ice playing the game. Hopefully I feel as good as I do right now.”
FRASER GETS THE CALL
The Blues recalled forwards Colin Fraser and John McCarthy from the Chicago Wolves on Wednesday. With Gunnarsson’s return, McCarthy was sent back to Chicago this morning.
Fraser, meanwhile, will make his Blues debut tonight.
“It feels really good. I told my wife I felt like I was 22 again getting the call for the first time,” said Fraser, 29, who has played in 358 regular season games with the Chicago Blackhawks, Edmonton Oilers and Los Angeles Kings. “(I’ve got) that excited feeling to get back to the NHL, excited to play. Getting an opportunity here, I’ve just got to play well and make something of it.”
Fraser is expected to play on a line with Steve Ott and Maxim Lapierre.
“My game doesn’t change, even from the minors to here. Energy is first and foremost,” Fraser said. “Good defensively, and really simple hockey, try to bring some energy and juice. I’m a vocal guy and I play hard. If you’re expecting 50 goals, I don’t think it’s going to happen, but I’m definitely going to grind it out and play hard.”
Jaden Schwartz (foot injury) is on the trip and skated for the second consecutive day. Hitchcock said he could be only a day or so away from returning and wouldn’t rule him out for tomorrow’s game in San Jose.
After recording his 125th career shutout and first as a Blue on Monday, Martin Brodeur will start in goal tonight against the Ducks. Brodeur has won four straight against Anaheim and is 15-6-1 with a 1.88 goals-against average and a .929 save-percentage against them in the regular season.
Barret Jackman’s +11 rating over his last 11 games ranks second overall in the NHL in that span, trailing just New York’s Ryan McDonagh (+12).