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At the Rink: Stars at Blues

by Louie Korac

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."

The Stars will look to pick up their first victory within the Central Division. They are 0-7-3 against divisional foes.

"For me, it just comes down to one thing, and that has still been defending," Ruff said, "whether it's division or outside the division. We have to be better defenders."

Here are the projected lineups:


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

Anders Lindback

Scratched: Travis Morin, Cameron Gaunce

Injured: Patrick Eaves (ankle), Valeri Nichushkin (hip), Patrik Nemeth (arm)


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

Martin Brodeur

Scratched: Magnus Paajarvi, Joakim Lindstrom, Ian Cole

Injured: Brian Elliott (knee), Jaden Schwartz (foot), Carl Gunnarsson (concussion)

Status report: Hitchcock said the team will get a better idea on Schwartz once he's able to put a skate on his broken foot. ... Gunnarsson is day to day after skating as a full participant Saturday morning. ... Gaunce was recalled from the Texas Stars of the American Hockey league Saturday morning as a precaution because Goligoski has been dealing with a lingering lower-body injury that he's been able to play through. ... Sceviour will get the chance to play with Seguin and Benn on Saturday. Ruff said he is looking for a consistent line mate to play with the pair. ... Moen returns after missing five games with an upper-body injury.

Who's hot: Tarasenko recorded his first career hat trick against the Stars on Oct. 28. He had four points in the game. ... Lehtera had a goal and two assists against Dallas on Oct. 28. ... Benn and Seguin each have two goals and two assists in the past three games.

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