Sobotka returns for Blues, but hit draws 3-game suspension

News-DemocratSeptember 19, 2013 

— While his swollen left eye still had quite a welt left by a big hit from Tampa Bay rookie Adam Erne the night before, St. Louis Blues winger Vladimir Sobotka was back on the ice for practice on Thursday.

"He feels good," St. Louis Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. "We'll play him on Saturday. He wanted to play tomorrow, but we'll hold him out and play him on Saturday."

Erne's shoulder hit early in the first period drew a three-game preseason suspension by the NHL for an illegal check to the head. He also received a minor penalty on the play.

While Erne is an 18-year-old rookie and it was an exhibition game, should someone on the Blues have handled the situation differently in terms of a response?

"All I know is the issue's been dealt with," Hitchcock said Thursday. "We're moving forward on it, but we're not going to allow that to happen on our team. That's not a St. Louis Blues team that allows that to happen.

"We dealt with it and we'll move forward."

Blues winger Chris Stewart called the physical and versatile Sobotka the team's "unsung hero."

"The guy's a warrior, he brings it every game," Stewart said. "He's arguably one of our most consistent players here the last three years. It's no surprise to me that he's back on the ice today with a smile on his face."

Stewart wasn't surprised that Sobotka was back on the ice so quickly after a rough hit that drew a suspension.

"He does the little things every night," Stewart said. "He's blocking shots, he's winning faceoffs, he's playing physical and finishing checks. He's a guy you love to have on your team and hate to play against."

Blues home opener

Hitchcock said he will be using a lineup heavy with veteran players for the Blues' preseason home games Friday vs. Tampa Bay and Saturday against Dallas.

Friday's game will include the Blues' top line of David Backes centering Alexander Steen and T.J. Oshie along with Patrick Berglund with newcomer Magnus Paajarvi and Vladimir Tarasenko.

The defense pairings Friday will include Alex Pietrangelo and Jay Bouwmeester and Barret Jackman with Kevin Shattenkirk.

Pietrangelo missed only two days during his contract holdout, so Hitchcock wants him getting as many minutes as much as possible.

"He feels really good right now," Hitchcock said. "We'll see how much game stuff he needs. If he looks like he needs to play a lot more, he might just play the rest of the games."

Jaroslav Halak is the Blues goaltender Friday and Jake Allen will play Saturday.

Schwartz draws raves

Even before ripping a sizzling wrist shot for a second-period goal Wednesday against Tampa Bay, Blues winger Jaden Schwartz has been drawing attention during training camp.

"I thought Schwartz was outstanding from start to finish," was Hitchcock's assessment a day later. "Unbelievable from start to finish."

Schwartz has been on a line with center Derek Roy and Stewart.

"No matter where he plays, he's exactly like (Sobotka) -- wherever he plays he elevates that line's intensity level," Hitchcock said. "I loved the goal he scored, that's a goal-scorer's goal. He's going to bring a lot to this team this year. A lot."

Early area of concern?

Hitchcock has not been happy with the penalty-kill unit, though he admits using players there that won't be there during the regular season.

The Blues allowed two power-play goals in each of their first two preseason games.

"Our penalty killing is not good, but we're asking people that normally don't do it to do it," Hitchcock said. "If the penalty killing is poor (Friday), then there will be an alarm bell going off. We've had much more continuity on the power play than we've had killing penalties.

"We've allowed four power-play goals in two games and all of them are mistakes from people that normally aren't out there."

Blues moves

The Blues on Thursday assigned forwards William Carrier, Zach Pochiro and Ryan Tesink and goalie Francois Tremblay to their junior teams.

Contact reporter Norm Sanders at 239-2454, or on Twitter @NormSanders

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