Blues and Bruins: Big names decide to sit one out

News-DemocratFebruary 7, 2014 

— While the Boston Bruins were without star defenseman Zdeno Chara on Thursday, the St. Louis Blues had a big hole in their lineup as well with Vladimir Tarasenko out with the flu.

Tarasenko was replaced in the lineup Thursday by rookie Dmitrij Jaskin, who collected his first NHL assist on a goal by Jaden Schwartz.

The 6-foot-9 Chara left the Bruins earlier this week to fly to the Winter Olympics in Russia after receiving the rare honor of carrying his native Slovakian flag in the opening ceremonies.

He missed the Blues game Thursday and will miss another game Saturday.

"It's a really class move, it speaks volumes about the organization to allow a player to do that," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. "I think it also shows you why the Olympics mean so much to the players. It's the first and only time and NHL player gets to feel like he's an athlete, not an entertainer.

"The players yearn for that, they want to just go an play hockey, they want to be part of a team. They love that atmosphere, they love living in that village. They love the simple life. They only get to do it every for two or three weeks every four years, but man, they love it being able to be there."

While Chara is missing an NHL game, an injury has caused Blues forward Vladimir Sobotka to miss another opportunity to play for his native Czech Republic.

"This is the third time he's been invited to represent his country; all three times he's gotten hurt," Hitchcock said. "I think that was a bigger devastation. To go down ... he thinks there's some black magic going on right now.

"He feels pretty good today, he's thinking if he could have bought another week he probably could have played. He's really disappointed. He's really heartbroken by this.

The Blues are just as heartbroken not having Sobotka in their lineup. He has been one of the team's best forwards and most versatile players.

"He's had a great year for us, he's a really important player," Hitchcock said. "You don't realize how much you miss him until you're in all kinds of situations at the end of games where you really need him.

"We've had some difficulty shutting down games ... lost faceoffs, lost battles, things like that. Those are positions he's played all year."

Ironically, Chara's absence led to a spot in the Bruins lineup for former Blues defenseman prospect David Warsofsky. Warsofsky was traded to the Bruins for Sobotka on June 26, 2010, a trade that has been paying dividends to St. Louis ever since.

Morrow's 900th game

Blues veteran forward Brenden Morrow played in his 900th NHL game Thursday against the Bruins.

"If you'd have asked me a couple years ago I thought maybe I was ready to hang em up, but the body's starting to feel a lot better now," said the 35-year-old Morrow, who has battled several injuries in recent years and is in his 14th season overall. "I feel pretty good. It's a physical sport and the game's changed a little bit.

"It went from a clutch-and-grab game where you were fighting through things to now everyone going 100 miles an hour finishing checks."

Morrow said he felt rejuvenated last season after being traded from Dallas to Pittsburgh for the stretch run and the playoffs. He had six goals and 14 points in 15 games with the Penguins during the regular season.

"A couple years ago I'm not sure what I had left in the tank and now I'm feeling like I can get a lot more than 900," said Morrow said. "That's pretty good."

Hitchcock was also Morrow's coach for his NHL debut when both were with the Dallas Stars.

"He had a great training camp, but I think we spent a big part of the first month or two convincing him he could play because I think he was in awe of everybody," Hitchcock said. "Once he felt comfortable he could play in the league, I think he just started to take off from there."

Chasing Bowman

With the Blues' overtime win Thursday, Hitchcock tied Hall of Fame coach Scotty Bowman for fourth on the Blues' list of all-time coaching victories. Bowman was 110-83-45 during his tenure with the Blues from 1967 to 1970 before going on to become the league's all-time winningest coach and winning Stanley Cups everywhere he went.

The Blues are 110-44-15 under Hitchcock, one of 11 NHL coaches with 600 or more victories with 642.

Bowman stands No. 1 on that list with 1,244 wins.

"You've got to think that nobody's going to ever get close to what Scotty did in this game," Hitchcock said. "He coached a long time, but he just won everywhere -- and he won with big numbers, especially in Montreal, Pittsburgh and Detroit."

Contact reporter Norm Sanders at 239-2454, nsanders@bnd.com or follow him on Twitter: @NormSanders

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