ANAHEIM, CA - MARCH 18: Jaroslav Halak #41 of the Washington Capitals tends net against the Anaheim Ducks at the Honda Center on March 18, 2014 in Anaheim, California. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

NHL on NBCSN: Halak returns to St. Louis


NBCSN continues its coverage of the 2013-14 campaign tonight when the St. Louis Blues host the Washington Capitals at the Scottrade Center at 8:00 p.m. ET. In addition to NBCSN, you can also watch the game online.

Washington has been all-but eliminated from the playoff race and realistically, winning tonight won’t change much. For at least one player though, this game is very important.

Jaroslav Halak was looking forward to the opportunity to prove his critics wrong and lead the Blues in their postseason run. St. Louis didn’t want to take that chance though and instead packaged him in a deal to the Buffalo Sabres in exchange for goaltender Ryan Miller. Halak’s stint with the Sabres was brief as Washington acquired him.

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“Obviously, I wasn’t happy when I got traded (by St. Louis),” Halak told CSN Washington.

“You’re trying to build something with the team. You try to play well for them and then you get traded.”

Halak would like the opportunity to face them and while it’s not guaranteed that it will happen, it is probable. Regardless of who starts for Washington though, St. Louis needs to be at its best.

The Blues are in the running for the Presidents’ Trophy, but more importantly, they want to enter the playoffs on a high note. St. Louis lost back-to-back games against Colorado and Chicago over the weekend, which, as goalie Brian Elliott put it, should serve as a “wake-up call.”

Among other things, their offense hasn’t been clicking lately as they’ve scored just six goals in regulation over their last five games. In contrast to Washington, the Blues’ offense is built around depth rather than star power, but when the team isn’t scoring there’s no one player that can be looked at to snap them out of it. As Elliott emphasized, this is a team that needs to put it all together to be successful.

In some ways, this can be seen as a tuneup game for St. Louis, but for Halak and a Capitals’ team that still wants to believe they can make the playoffs, this contest is so much more.

DiMaio named Blues’ director of player personnel

via St. Louis Blues
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The St. Louis Blues named Rob DiMaio their director of player personnel on Tuesday.

He’s been with the organization for some time. He joined as a pro scout in 2008 and was the pro scouting director starting in August 2012.

He was also a scout for the Dallas Stars before landing with the Blues (one would assume his biggest connection is GM Doug Armstrong, then).

In case his nose didn’t give it away, he also enjoyed a lengthy hockey career over 19 seasons.

No doubt about it, this is a pivotal season for the Blues after multiple campaigns in which strong regular seasons dissolved into playoff disappointments. Perhaps DiMaio can make a difference in a heightened role?

Hitchcock going to more aggressive attack for Blues

Ken Hitchcock

ST. LOUIS (AP) After three straight first-round playoff exits, the St. Louis Blues have learned to temper expectations.

They have been consistently among the NHL’s best in the regular season and realize it is past time to build something for the long haul. The sting still lingers from the latest failure, against the Minnesota Wild last spring.

“We’re all disappointed, everybody can agree on that,” defenseman Alex Pietrangelo said. “It’s never easy to kind of think about your failures, but we grow every time it happens.”

Management isn’t ready to tear it all down yet.

“We play, in my opinion, one of the toughest if not the toughest division in the NHL, and we’ve finished first or second in the last four years,” forward Alexander Steen said. “So we have an extremely powerful team.”

Maybe a change in strategy will be enough: Coach Ken Hitchcock is back with a mandate for a more aggressive, even reckless, style of play from a roster that hasn’t changed appreciably.

“We’re coming hard from the back and we’re coming hard to see how close we can get to the attack,” Hitchcock said. “I think it’s where the game’s at; I think it’s where the game’s going to go.”

The 63-year-old Hitchcock is pushing forward, too, unwilling to dwell on the flameouts. Coach and players agree that would be “wasted energy.”

“My opinion is when you sit and think about the past, you do yourself no good,” Hitchcock said. “If you learn from the past, that’s when you do yourself a whole bunch of good.”

There were only two major roster casualties. Forward Troy Brouwer came from Washington in a trade for fan favorite T.J. Oshie. Defenseman Barret Jackman, the franchise career leader in games, wasn’t re-signed.

“If you were expecting 23 new faces to be on the roster this year, I don’t think that was realistic,” captain David Backes said. “We’re going to miss those guys in the room and on the ice, but there has been some changeover and I think it’s pretty significant.”

Things to watch for with the Blues:

GOALIE SHUFFLE: Just like last year, there’s no true No. 1 with Brian Elliott and Jake Allen sharing duties. The 25-year-old Allen missed a chance to seize the job last spring when he failed to raise his level in the playoffs.

TOP THREAT: Vladimir Tarasenko had a breakout season with 37 goals and was rewarded with an eight-year, $60 million contract. The 23-year-old winger is by far the Blues’ most dangerous scoring option and said he won’t let the money affect his play. “I never worry about it,” Tarasenko said. “If you play good, you play good.”

NEW FACES: Brouwer and center Kyle Brodziak add a physical element that was perhaps lacking a bit last season. Brouwer has three 20-plus goal seasons and Brodziak, acquired from Minnesota, fills a checking role. Veteran forward Scottie Upshall got a one-year, two-way deal after being coming to camp as a tryout. Rookie forward Robby Fabbri, a first-round pick last year, will get an early look. Another promising youngster, forward Ty Rattie, begins the year at Chicago of the AHL.

RECOVERY WARD: Forward Jori Lehteri bounced back quickly from ankle surgery and opens the season without restrictions. Another forward, Patrik Berglund, could miss half of the season following shoulder surgery.

TRACK RECORD: The Blues won the Central Division last season and Hitchcock, fourth on the career list with 708 regular-season wins, has consistently had the team near the top of the standings. “He is our coach, tough cookies if you don’t like it,” Backes said. “From my experience, he puts together one heck of a game plan.”