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Blues' reviews of realignment are favorable

2011-12-06T11:09:00Z 2011-12-06T14:54:21Z Blues' reviews of realignment are favorableBY JEREMY RUTHERFORD stltoday.com
December 06, 2011 11:09 am  • 

Players and coaches in the Blues' locker room were still soaking in the changes of the NHL's new re-alignment this morning.

The early reviews, however, were favorable.

The league announced Monday night that there will be four conferences instead of the current two-conference, six-division format. There will be two eight-team conferences made up of current Western Conference teams and two seven-team conferences made up of Eastern Conference teams.

The details: Here are the new conferences, which for now are being called A, B, C and D (they will be assigned names at a later date):

(A) Anaheim, Calgary, Colorado, Edmonton, Los Angeles, Phoenix, San Jose and Vancouver.

(B) BLUES, Detroit, Columbus, Nashville, Chicago, Minnesota, Dallas and Winnipeg.

(C) Boston, Buffalo, Florida, Montreal, Ottawa, Tampa Bay and Toronto.

(D) Carolina, New Jersey, New York Islanders, New York Rangers, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Washington.

The schedule:

* Teams will play each other at least twice per season, with one home game and one road game.

* Teams will play teams in their conference five or six times per year and non-conference teams twice. Currently, the Blues are playing Central Division teams six times, so that schedule will stay roughly the same, but the Blues will play more games against Dallas, Minnesota and Winnipeg.

* Travel will be lightened for the current Western Conference teams. Since the Blues, for example, will only play their non-conference opponents twice each season, they will make only one trip to cities such as LA, San Jose, Anaheim, Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, etc.

* In the playoffs, the top four teams from each conference will advance, meaning two rounds of postseason games will be with the four conferences. The NHL has yet to decide if it will re-seed the remaining teams for the start of the third round. It appears conceivable, however, that teams who are currenlty in the Western and Eastern conferences could meet before the Stanley Cup. That also means two teams from the current Western Conference could mean in the Cup finals. A decision on that will come later.

The Reaction:

Blues forward Jason Arnott: "I just caught a brief bit of it ... but you get to see all the stars around the league and they come to your building and you go to their building. That's the way we used to do it when I first started and everybody seemed to enjoy it. (The lightened travel) is huge, huge. You find a big difference in the East and the West travel wise ... especially in the playoffs, it will help a lot and make for a better game."

Blues forward T.J. Oshie: "I think it's good. It's nice to be playing every team twice. It's nice to get those tests when you play teams like Pittsburgh and Washington. I think that's been a big stepping stone for our team this year to play well against them."

Blues coach Ken Hitchcock: "I hope we go to Winnipeg in October and November is my first thought ... You look at the eight teams and pick four, it's a hard thing to do. There's a lot of good teams in our conference. You're going to have your A game for a lot of nights if you expect to make the playoffs now. It's the toughest conference I've ever been associated with ... since I've been in the league."

Detroit coach Mike Babcock when asked about keeping the Blues-Red Wings' rivalry: "My comment is this, I would have been ecstatic if they would have told me we were going to the East. But I'm happy with this too. It works out good for everybody. St. Louis and us, we haven't really had a rivalry. But I think there's going to be one coming just because how good their hockey club is now."

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TONIGHT'S LINEUP

Forwards

Alex Steen-David Backes-T.J. Oshie

David Perron-Patrik Berglund-Chris Stewart

Matt D'Agostini-Vladimir Sobotka-Jamie Langenbrunner

Chris Porter-Jason Arnott-Scott Nichol

Defensemen

Carlo Colaiacovo-Alex Pietrangelo

Barret Jackman-Kevin Shattenkirk

Kris Russell-Roman Polak

Goalie

Brian Elliott

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HITCH'S TAKE ON NEW LINES

With the return of David Perron, adding depth to the Blues' forward combinations, Hitchcock is now allowed to make some moves that he's wanted to make for a while.

1) Sobotka back to center: "I want to see Sobi play center. He's good a player ... the light that I knew him from the Worlds and various events is as a two-way player, not a defending player. So I want to see him play in a two-way role. He's going to get some power-play time. I'd like to see him play in that role because I think he's an under-used player offensively and I think we can take advantage of that. I think in order to score in the league, you've got to have three lines that are a threat and this gives us a third line that's a real threat now."

2) Keeping Arnott fresh all season: "He's going to get ice, but I think by putting two speedy guys (Chris Porter and Matt D'Agostini) with (Arnott), he's able to play in the middle of the ice more and control things. He doesn't have to play 200 feet every shift. I think he can play 150-foot game and be a good player. For us, on paper anyways, it looks like a pretty effective group."

Because of Arnott's move to center, however, Scott Nichol will move to the right wing. When asked how much wing Nichol has played in his career, Hitchcock said: "I'm not sure. I haven't asked him that and I'm not asking him. He's over there, good luck and way to work."

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COLAIACOVO RETURNS

Defenseman Carlo Colaiacovo is back in the lineup tonight after missing eight games with a hamstring injury. Colaiacovo will be paired with Alex Pietrangelo 5 on 5 and he will help Pietrangelo man the point on the power play.

"That was a great pair until (Colaiacovo) went down," Hitchcock said. "Him and Petro really work well together. The thing that Carlo adds to us, he sees thing from an offensive standpoint on the power play really well. He's able to think one step ahead, which is really going to help us on the power play over time."

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PAYNE UPDATE

Blues general manager Doug Armstrong met with Davis Payne recently and the two agreed on a job description for the former head coach. Payne, who is in the final year of his contract with the Blues, will work as a pro scout and handle any special assignments that might come up. Payne will attend some Blues' games.

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ODDS & ENDS

- Don't forget that tonight's game is on Versus and therefore starts at 6:30 p.m.

- The Blues have scored two goals in REGULATION in nine of their last 10 games. 

- Brian Elliott gets the nod today and Jaroslav Halak will be in net Thursday against Anaheim. 

- Barret Jackman will pass Keith Tkachuk tonight for 11th on the Blues' all-time list for games played with 544. Jackman will be 51 games shy of tying Jamal Mayers for 10th all-time.

- Patrik Berglund has four goals and five assists in his last seven games against Detroit.

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