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Blues updates: Looking for forecheck, Hitchcock reunites 4th line

2013-02-07T11:50:00Z 2013-02-07T14:27:02Z Blues updates: Looking for forecheck, Hitchcock reunites 4th lineBy Jeremy Rutherford jrutherford@post-dispatch.com 314-444-7135 stltoday.com

In the Blues' 6-1 to Nashville Tuesday, there was much missing. But a common theme when the Blues haven't played well in recent memory is the lack of a strong checking game.

One of the team's top checkers is forward Ryan Reaves, who was not in the lineup Tuesday. And whether it's coincidence or not, the Blues have lost two of their three games this season when he didn't suit up.

Blues coach Ken Hitchcock was asked today whether a player such as Reaves can have that much of an impact on whether the rest of the team is playing the body.

"It depends which Reaves," Hitchcock said. "We need the game on a consistent basis, which is a north-south game, not east-west. When he plays north-south, he's a very difficult player to play against. That's the game we're looking for on a consistent basis."

But then Hitchcock opened up, saying that perhaps the Blues' coaching staff could be part to blame because of its handling of the lineup. Because Jaden Schwartz had been struggling, the team moved Vladimir Sobotka to a higher line. But without Sobotka and Reaves, the Blues lost the effectiveness of their strong fourth line centered by Scott Nichol.  

"It's a little bit our fault too, because we've been screwing around trying to get people into the lineup and make them part of the team," Hitchcock said. "The lineup if you look at it tonight, this is the same lineup that we had the first couple of games, and we stayed with it and we played very well. Then we started moving around that fourth line to try to get people involved, and I'm not sure it helped. It kept people involved, but I'm not sure it helped long term.

"We've experimented enough, and we'll just settle in. If you're playing well, you play and if you don't, you have to sit out. But (Reaves) has got to be consistent in his performance of playing north-south, and he does it and then gets away from it at times. I'm hoping the last game was an eye-opener and now he's got to get back on track."

Reaves said that he wasn't putting any stock into the Blues' lack of forecheck without him, but he is placing the onus on himself.

"I've been fortunate that I can lead a little bit of the charge with the physical aspect and the forecheck when I get into the lineup," he said. "It's going to be the same tonight. I've got to be that leader that builds energy for the team and builds energy when we're having a couple of rough shifts." 

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TONIGHT'S LINEUP

Forwards

David Perron-David Backes-T.J. Oshie

Andy McDonald-Alex Steen-Chris Stewart

Jaden Schwartz-Patrik Berglund-Vladimir Tarasenko

Vladimir Sobotka-Scott Nichol-Ryan Reaves

Defensemen

Wade Redden-Alex Pietrangelo

Barret Jackman-Kevin Shattenkirk

Kris Russell-Roman Polak

Goalie

Brian Elliott

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SCHWARTZ WANTS MORE SHOTS

Schwartz is back in the lineup after being a healthy scratch two of the last three games. The left winger said one of his priorities in his return will be shooting the puck more.

After signing with the Blues last spring, Schwartz played seven games and had six shots, scoring two goals. This season, he's played seven games as well, but has a total of three shots, and two of those came in the season opener. That means a player logging an average of 10 minutes, 12 seconds of ice time per game has gone without a shot in five games this year.

"Play-making has always been a part of my game, so when the pass is there, I usually make it," Schwartz said. "But like Hitch said, I can shoot the puck a little more, and that's something that I've been working on. I've been doing it in practice; hopefully it carries over to the game." 

As for Hitchcock, when he watches Schwartz tonight, he'll be looking for a "take it to the net mentality. I think it's like any other young guy. You watch guys grow up on TV, you watch guys play, it's hard to not take matters into your own hands. You want to do things yourself to a certain extent and then defer to somebody. He's such a sincere kid, I think not playing, you have to make a decision. So his decision is, 'I want to play more than I want to just keep deferring.' So I think we're going to see the player that we thought we were going to see. Because there's so many things that he does effectively. He's a great forechecker ... he creates all kinds of opportunities for others. But when it's hit turn, he's trying to make the next play rather than make the play that's putting it on the net."

* * *

BLAMING ELLIOTT

In his first test with Jaroslav Halak (groin) out of the equation, Blues goaltender Brian Elliott wasn't sharp in Tuesday's 6-1 loss to Nashville. He allowed four goals on 11 shots before being replaced by Jake Allen, who was tagged with the last two goals.

But in reviewing the game, Hitchcock says he's being careful not to put too much blame on Elliott. On two of Nashville's goals, shots were deflected in off the sticks of the Blues' Alex Pietrangelo and Roman Polak.

"(Elliott) has had a couple of tough outings," Hitchcock said. "We just need to find a way so Brian can catch up to the pace of the game and the pace of the play ... (but) that's a hard evaluation because a lot of the goals that are going in are going in off our sticks. That's why I'm not prepared to sit here and say like a lot of coaches do, 'Well, we need better goaltending.' What we need is solid positioning around the goaltending and not scrambling back to position. When you scramble back to position, you end up in situations where you've got the wrong piece of equipment trying to block the shot. And that's why you see deflected pucks off skates, off blades, off shafts ...because you're scrambling back into position.

"When you play loose and you play with a sense of offensive flair without the conscious defensive structure, you end up scrambling back in your zone. Nothing good happens when defensemen are skating forwards back into your zone. And that's where we've caught ourselves. The wrong people are skating the wrong into our zone. We don't give up many chances at all. But the ones we give up are with people skating the wrong way, and that's why we get ourselves caught with these funny goals."

* * *

HALAK UPDATE

Blues goalie Jaroslav Halak skated Thursday for the first time since suffering the injury last Friday against Detroit. Halak skated alone and did not take any shots.

Hitchcock said the hope is for Halak to face shots in the "next couple of days." He added that the netminder would not return to the mix until he's 100 percent. 

* * *

BABCOCK ON PIETRANGELO

Detroit coach Mike Babcock has long been signing the praises of Blues defenseman Alex Pietrangelo, and recently he was at it again.

Babcock told Detroit reporters, "One of the best players in the league, in my opinion, is Pietrangelo. He’s a Nick Lidstrom-type guy with his calmness and his execution and his offensive ability and his ability to play defense without being involved physically. I think he’s a special player and I’ve been saying that for a long time now. Now it’s showing. As you saw, Nick made a huge difference for us. (Pietrangelo) makes a huge difference there.”

* * *

ODDS & ENDS

- Blues defenseman Wade Redden will play in his 1,000th NHL game tonight.He becomes the 31st active player to reach the milestone and the 10th active defenseman. Redden is the 11th player in club history to hit 1,000 games while playing for the Blues.

- The Blues are 6 for 10 on the power play in two meetings against the Red Wings this season.

- Andy McDonald has a six-game point streak (2 goals, 6 assists) against Detroit going into tonight's game.

Jeremy is a reporter at the Post-Dispatch. Follow him on Twitter at @jprutherford.

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