Ken Hitchcock

Blackhawks and Blues renew their Central Division rivalry

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The St. Louis Blues hope a visit from the Chicago Blackhawks can put them out of their early season funk.

Chicago knocked St. Louis out of the playoffs last spring and enter tonight’s game with a 4-1-1 record to start the season.

St. Louis on the other hand is 2-3-1 this season including a 1-2-0 record at home.

“We’re not playing the right way,” said Blues coach Ken Hitchcock. “We’ve made a heck of a run here playing the right way; no odd-man rushes, no forced offense, don’t give the puck away and make hope-for plays offensively.

“(But) we want to play a different game right now, so until we buy into that, we’re going to have some rough water we’re going to have to go through, and that’s what we’re in right now. We’re in rough water.”

The Blues enter tonight’s contest coming off back-to-back losses to the Anaheim Ducks and Vancouver Canucks.

“They’re big (games),” defenseman Barret Jackman said of his team’s meeting with Chicago. “Obviously with the playoffs last year, this is another step to making this one of the biggest rivalries in the NHL. They have a team that plays four lines, they’re coming hard, they’ve added Brad Richards to the third line…they’ve got a lot of depth and the rivalry is probably going to intensify.”

Chicago visits St. Louis coming off its’ first regulation loss of the season, 3-2 in Nashville, Thursday night.

“They have a good team,” defenseman Duncan Keith said of the Blues. “They have a good organization with great coaching and good players. They’re a tough team to play against. They play hard, they compete hard and they play their system well. It just makes for a challenging game playing those guys. It’s fun at the same time.”

Dmitrij Jaskin, who was recalled after Paul Stastny (shoulder) was placed on injured reserve, makes his regular season debut for the Blues tonight.

“Look, out of training camp, he deserved to be on the team,” Hitchcock said. “I’m sure it’s going to take him a couple of games to get revved up here and get back up to speed, but he went down to the American (Hockey) League with a great attitude.

“This is his opportunity and we’re hoping he takes advantage of it.”

Jaskin has a goal and four points through four games with the Chicago Wolves of the American Hockey League this season.

“I’m going to try and do my best and do everything I can to stay here,” Jaskin said. “I don’t want to be that guy traveling back and forth. I’m going to do everything I can.

“It’s a huge game, big opportunity for me.”

Tonight marks the first of five meetings between the divisional rivals. They’ll reconvene in Chicago Dec. 3.

Paajarvi to replace Stastny in Blues’ lineup

Magnus Paajarvi will take the roster spot of Paul Stastny when the St. Louis Blues visit the Anaheim Ducks tonight.

Stastny was injured on his first shift of the Blues game Saturday night in Arizona.

The Blues have called it an upper body injury. Coach Ken Hitchcock called Stastny day-to-day.

Paajarvi, who appeared in 55 games with the Blues last season scoring six goals and 12 points, will be making his regular season debut.

Blues sign Colin Fraser — one-year, two-way deal

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If the St. Louis Blues are looking for Stanley Cup-winning experience, they just found a guy to help provide that.

The Blues announced they’ve signed forward Colin Fraser to a one-year two-way contract. He spent the past three seasons with the Los Angeles Kings and was an important player in their Stanley Cup win in 2012.

Fraser, 29, was a favorite of Kings coach Darryl Sutter and played well on the fourth line for Los Angeles. Last season, he struggled a bit and spent some time in the AHL before being recalled for the Kings playoff run. He did not participate in the playoffs, however, as the Kings four steady lines rolled strong throughout the postseason.

In his career, Fraser has been part of three Cup-winning teams also playing on the 2010 Chicago Blackhawks team that knocked off Philly in the Final. His brand of physical, defensive play should have Blues coach Ken Hitchcock over the moon to have him potentially help in the bottom six.

Looking to make the leap: Jori Lehtera

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The St. Louis Blues have gone from thinking they’d lost prospect Jori Lehtera for good to hoping he’s ready to make the leap to the NHL.

Lehtera played in just seven playoff games with the Blues’ American Hockey League affiliate, the Peoria Rivermen, back in 2009 before returning to his native Finland.

St. Louis re-signed the Lehtera to a two-year, $5.5 million contract on July 1. As Blues beat writer Jeremy Rutherford, points out St. Louis was running out of time to bring Lehtera back into the fold. NHL teams control players’ rights until they turn 27, Lehtera will turn 27 on Dec. 23.

“I had a good chat with him quite honestly at the Olympics at the dining hall,” General Manager Doug Armstrong told the Dispatch following the signing. “I told him that we were disappointed that we couldn’t come to an agreement and he said at the end of the day, he felt he made a mistake (staying in Russia).”

The 26-year-old spent the past four seasons in the KHL where he averaged 13 goals a season playing for Yaroslavl and then Novosibirsk. In total Lehtera scored 55 goals and 100 assists in 178 games while in Russia.

But it was Lehtera’s performance at the 2014 Olympics where he had a goal and three assists in six games helping Finland capture a bronze medal, which impressed Blues head coach, Ken Hitchcock.

“When the Olympics started he was the fourth-line left-winger; the tournament finished with him being the second-line center iceman,” Hitchcock told NHL.com in July.  “He worked his way all the way up the lineup and he was a really trusted player by the coaching staff. What I really noticed was when the game was on the line that coaching staff trusted him more and more. When the World Championships were on, he was their No. 1 center. He played in every situation, almost 20 minutes per night, same coach, same trust. That doesn’t go unnoticed.

“I think the thing that comes to mind for me when I evaluate him is he’s going to find a place to play on our team because he’s competitive, he’s smart and he’s got great hockey sense. I don’t know where that place is, I don’t know how far up or down the lineup it’s going to be, but I just know he’s going to find a place to play.”

The Blues feel Lehtera, despite being an NHL rookie, could have an immediate impact in his first season and see him centring a line of Jaden Schwartz and Vladimir Tarasenko. Tarasenko and Lehtera do have experience playing with one another having spent time together with Novosibirsk during the 2011-12 season.

For now, Lehtera is pencilled in to that role. With the likes of Paul Statsny, Patrik Berglund and Maxim Lapierre all in the mix down the middle, Lehtera is sure to have competition at camp.

Related: After Miller (and many others) failed, Blues turn to Elliot and Allen

Under pressure: Ken Hitchcock

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We don’t want to beat a dead horse here, but things haven’t gone all that great in the playoffs for the St. Louis Blues.

Three years in a row the Blues have had huge regular-season performances, and all they have to show for it are two first-round losses and one second-round exit. A single series win over the San Jose Sharks isn’t anything to hang a banner over, and that’s something coach Ken Hitchcock knows.

What’s done in the Blues has been a mix of two things: Shoddy goaltending and a lack of offensive punch. St. Louis will look to answer those issues with a netminding tandem of Brian Elliott and Jake Allen, and an offense that added Paul Stastny. They also hotly pursued Jason Spezza in an effort to further boost goal production, but Stastny’s addition was what helped make the Blues winners on paper in free agency.

We know the Western Conference is difficult and the Blues’ division got a lot more difficult last season with the Colorado Avalanche, Dallas Stars, and Minnesota Wild all finding their way. Throw them into the mix with the Chicago Blackhawks and the Central Division is a bloodbath waiting to happen. Just what the Blues needed, right?

That’s why there’s so much pressure on Hitchcock.  Should the Blues make the playoffs and suffer another early exit, it will certainly lead to questions about his work behind the bench, as well as for the players on the ice. But as we’ve seen in the past, those kinds of battles usually result in the coach losing first.