Blues prepare for visiting Stars with a few lineup changes
ST. LOUIS — The Blues will get another look at their "Dallas Stars" third line of Brenden Morrow, Derek Roy and Steve Ott tonight against the visiting Dallas Stars.
That line is back together again, like a boy band from the early 2000s on a reunion tour, after a somewhat truncated performance Thursday and coach Ken Hitchcock will be watching closely to see if they can still play their old hits.
"They were good for two periods and then the third period they struggled a little bit because (Roy) didn’t have the energy that we expect him to have tonight," Hitchcock said. "He’s coming off a pretty good injury there. He didn’t get to skate. So it was kind of one pre-game skate and then play and I think we’ll expect more from him tonight."
Roy returned to Blues’ lineup Thursday after missing two games with a groin injury. That trio had some success previously in their brief time together — which we wrote about here — before the Blues began their four-game road trip in Chicago. Before Thursday, they hadn’t been together since the Blues’ 3-1 win against Winnipeg on March 17.
"It’s three veteran guys that know how to read off each other," Hitchcock said Thursday after the morning skate. "Obviously Ott takes a lot of the faceoffs and ends up down low in our zone. I want to see it play consistently well before we evaluate whether we’re going to stay with it or not. I’m not 100 percent sure yet. They’ve shown flashes where they really play well together and then for whatever reason, mostly through injuries or whatever, it’s gotten broken up or we’ve needed help somewhere else."
It’s certainly an interesting trio, three veteran guys who have played more significant roles in the past who are in their first and possibly last season with the Blues and who could end up becoming difference makers down the stretch and in the playoffs.
"There’s a lot of games between us three," Roy said. "We like to talk on the bench and communicate on what to do out on the ice. We all take it to heart. We try to push each other and keep each other accountable on the ice. A lot of communication lines are open, which helps a lot."
Roy, who centers the line, has been the most productive offensively of the three with 37 points (nine goals, 28 assists) in 68 games. Morrow, who scored a power-play goal Thursday, has 23 points (12 goals, 11 assists) in 65 games. Ott has two points in his first 14 games after the trade from Buffalo but has won a remarkable 61.1 percent of his faceoff attempts.
"Roysie has obviously had a phenomenal career on top lines, so you know he can handle different situations and so has Brenden and obviously myself," Ott said. "So if you make us that third line and we’re going up against whoever I think we can be a real valuable asset to our team with making us so much deeper."
Hitchcock is making some lineup changes against the Stars as he looks to get some playing time for guys who have been out of the lineup recently.
"We’re in position where we need to get more people involved in the solutions here, so I want to see other people play and not leave people on the sidelines too long," the coach said. "The focus is more on including as many people as we can and give them what I consider to be the same responsibility when they go in rather than just find a spot and try create a role. Put them in a role they are going to have success in and see how they look."
Defenseman Ian Cole, who was a healthy scratch the past four games, is back in the lineup in place of Carlo Colaiacovo and paired with Kevin Shattenkirk on the Blues’ third defensive line.
"They played minor hockey together," Hitchcock said. "They played national program together. I think we want to see Cole play more of an offensive role. I think he’s underrated from the red line in. He’s also going to get power-play time today, not just tokens at the end. I think he’s going to get some significant power-play time today and we’ll see how he looks."
Winger Chris Porter, who was a healthy scratch on Thursday, will be on the Blues’ fourth line in place of Magnus Paajarvi.
"He wins all the board battles," Hitchcock said of Porter. "The fourth line has got to win a lot more board battles than they’re winning right now. It’s one and done and it’s not good enough. So we need to get more play from our fourth line, more sustained pressure, more weight and tenacity brought in. Every time it seems like we play him on our team our team plays really well and plays really sound. He’s got a great conscience. He’s a smart player. If he could finish on all the empty nets he’d probably have 20 goals this year, even in a limited role. He wins all the board battles and that’s exactly what we need from that line right now."
ODDS AND ENDS
â¢ Alexander Steen will play in his 600th regular season game on Saturday.
The Blues forward is having the best season of his nine-year NHL career this winter with 31 goals, 27 assists and 58 points and a plus-21 rating through 62 games.
The goals and points are both career-bests. He had 24 goals in 68 games in 2009-10 and had 51 points in 72 games during the 2010-11 season, when he had a career-high 31 assists.
â¢ The No. 1 line of Steen, David Backes and T.J. Oshie has accounted for 17 points and is a combined plus-19 over the past three games. Backes and Oshie each have four goals over that span and Steen also has a goal.
â¢ The Blues’ next victory will tie the franchise record for wins in a season, which was set during the Presidents’ Trophy-winning 1999-2000 campaign.
You can follow Nate Latsch on Twitter (@natelatsch) or email him at email@example.com.