Wednesday, October 22, 2014

(10-23-14) BLUES NOTEBOOK

Allen feeling good about his game; Oshie's slow 
offensive start; Steen sits practice, Lehtera returns

By LOU KORAC
HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- With a 4-2-0 career mark, 1.86 goals-against average and .933 save percentage on Scottrade Center ice, it's only logical that Blues coach Ken Hitchcock gets goalie Jake Allen in a game at home.

That game will come Thursday at 7 p.m. (FSN, KMOX 1120-AM) when the Blues (2-2-1) host Ryan Miller and the Vancouver Canucks (3-2-0).

Allen, who stopped 24 shots Saturday in a 6-1 victory against the Arizona Coyotes, was impressive in his season debut after missing all of 2013-14 while playing for the Chicago Wolves of the American Hockey League, where he was goalie of the year.

"I think it's important that Jake plays at home," Hitchcock said after practice Wednesday. "I think he's got to get a home game in sooner or later. Obviously (Brian Elliott) is going to play against Chicago (Saturday), so then we're going to be waiting even further.

"Jake played really well for us in Phoenix. I don't want to see him wait too long to get his next start, so this is an opportunity."

Allen, who is 10-4-1 with a 2.36 GAA and .908 save percentage in 16 career games, last played a meaningful game on home ice April 5, 2013, a 3-1 victory against the Columbus Blue Jackets.

"It was exciting to get my first game in at Arizona, but to be able to come back in front of our fans and play that first game in a while at Scottrade's going to be fun," Allen said. "I'm looking forward to it.

"That was my goal, to get into it as early as possible. It's been a little while before I played. I tried to touch the puck as much as I can, keep communicating with my D-men and get  a good feel there and feel comfortable. The guys made it easy for me, but it was  a good first game and it was just a building block. Tomorrow's a big test for our team."

With the quirkiness to the Blues' early-season schedule where they had four and three days off, respectively, sandwiched around three games in four nights, it's important to keep both Allen and Elliott fresh and involved in game activities and not just get in practice reps.

"The schedule's going to pick up the pace eventually, but right now, I think that would probably be the mentality of everyone, try to get everyone in the game, get a good feel for it, get confident moving forward," Allen said. "... I try to treat my practices like my games when I wasn't playing the first few. I feel good in practice and I feel ready.  Hopefully those translate into my games."

Allen, 24, said the help he's received from Elliott and veteran goalie coach Jim Corsi is immeasurable to his progress.

"He brings such a good attitude to the rink," Allen said of Corsi. "He makes it fun to get on the ice and fun to work with. He's been great since Day 1 for me and Brian. 

"You can get better every day, but I feel the foundation of my game's pretty solid right now. I feel good about it. There's always things you can improve on. No one's ever perfect but still got a long way to go and I'll just try to give the team a chance tomorrow night."

* Oshie's offense -- If there are any hints that right wing T.J. Oshie was squeezing his stick, Oshie wasn't offering any after practice Wednesday.

Who would have thought that Oshie, who for the first time in his career (seven seasons) has started a season without a point through five games, would have more fights (one) than points at this juncture, even though it's early?

"I'm still getting opportunities," said Oshie, who has taken 13 shots on goal. "My linemates are still getting opportunities. They just haven't quite gone in yet. It's nothing that I'm worried about. It's going to come. Just have to stick with the program."

Hitchcock said it's understandable if Oshie is cognizant of the fact. The veteran coach isn't worried -- yet.

"It's probably weighing on him a little bit," Hitchcock said after practice Tuesday. "He carries the conscience of the team. Points come and go. Sometimes he's going to have a three- or four-point night. 

"I would be concerned if he wasn't playing the game the right way; he's playing the game the right way. The points would be good for him, they'd give him a better feeling so he's not frustrated. He's a guy that can pop every night and say this is how you have to play, which is significant."

Hitchcock has in the past called Oshie the "conscience of our team." When the 27-year-old plays with his motor running high and fast and furious, good things tend to happen.

"There's no more eagerness than there was in the first game," Oshie said of the lack of points. "I'm more concerned about playing the right way. It's going to come. This team has always been the kind of team where one month one line is hot and the next month another line is. Obviously, you want to score, but there's a little bit (of a) different role for me this year. Little less ice time, little less opportunity on the power play. So it's going to have to happen 5-on-5."

* (Flu)id lineup -- Alexander Steen missed practice Wednesday, with what Hitchcock is calling "a bacterial ailment," or in other words, players getting sick with flu-like symptoms.

Jori Lehtera, who sat out the 3-0 loss at Anaheim after falling sick following the win Saturday in Arizona, was back at practice Wednesday and is expected to play Thursday.

"He's like five or six guys on the team," Hitchcock said of Lehtera. "They have a bacterial ailment and we're seeing who it pops up with. We are a very fluid situation right now. 

"We're going through an interesting health time right now. We'll just see who pops up tomorrow. Two guys left practice early. It popped up early this morning and got worse, so we'll just manufacture and see what's available for tomorrow."

Steen is expected to play Thursday, but Magnus Paajarvi was skating in his place on the all-Sweden line with Patrik Berglund and Joakim Lindstrom just in case Steen is downgraded.

Lehtera was back in his familiar spot at center between Jaden Schwartz and Vladimir Tarasenko and said he feels fine.

"I had a little fever and stuff like that," Lehtera said, "but I'm fine now."

* Practice makes perfect -- With the loss of Paul Stastny (shoulder) on a week to week basis and players shuffling in and out of the lineup and practice, the Blues spent the past two days in preparation for the Canucks doing the little things to get, according to Hitchcock, more continuity.

"We needed to get better communication from transition from offense to defense and from defense to offense," Hitchcock said. "We spent two days, had some really good practices getting ready for it. That's number one. Number two is just that five-man continuity where we're five up together five back together. We had a lot of good stuff happen in the first two games (on the recent trip)  and then we got a little bit sloppy in the third game. It's just kind of rebooting all the stuff that involved communication and talk and things like that, and getting a read on our health. Our health is not great right now. Just seeing who can play and who can't play and seeing what we can get out of the next two games."

* Gunnarsson update -- Defenseman Carl Gunnarsson (hip) was a full participant in practice once again Wednesday but not part of the regular rotation of defensemen and it appears he will miss a sixth game to begin the season Thursday night.

"He's not ready yet. Closer, closer, but not yet," Hitchcock said of Gunnarsson, acquired in a draft-day trade from the Toronto Maple Leafs along with a fourth-round pick for Roman Polak. "It's really in his camp. He's got to just decide, 'OK, I'm ready to go.' 

"He feels comfortable and he's getting closer and closer. I would hope that in the not-too-distant future whether it's the weekend or not if we're going to see him."

* Facing Vancouver -- It appears the Blues will face Miller, their teammate from the end of last season, Thursday night.

Miller, who was acquired from the Buffalo Sabres days before the NHL Trade Deadline for a package that included goalie Jaroslav Halak and Chris Stewart, signed a three-year, $18 million contract July 1 after the Blues informed Miller, 33, they would not be bringing him back.

The Blues lost three one-goal decisions (3-2 in a shootout Oct. 25 in St. Louis, 2-1 on Jan. 10 in Vancouver and 1-0 on Feb. 26 in Vancouver, which was the first game after the Sochi Olympics). All were with Eddie Lack in goal.

"I think it was more Vancouver had our number," Hitchcock said. "We played some of our best hockey in Vancouver (and) couldn't score. ... It's the same thing. We've got to keep building good minutes in our game. I think it's more continuity."

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

(10-22-14) BLUES NOTEBOOK

By LOU KORAC
HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- Last season, it was smooth sailing for the Blues. 

Injuries were far and few between during much of the regular season until they hit an avalanche over the final six games.

It didn't take long for the injury bug to derail the Blues' plans for the start of 2014-15 as defenseman Carl Gunnarsson began on the shelf recovering from off-season hip surgery. And now with the addition of center Paul Stastny out week to week after injuring his left shoulder against the Arizona Coyotes and with center Jori Lehtera shut down the past three days with sickness, the Blues are seeing their forward depth tested early this time around.

That's why they stocked the cupboard.

"We'll kind of evaluate it here on the weekend," Hitchcock said of Stastny, who has four points in four games. "It gets better every day. ... If he's week to week, IR's what, seven days? This weekend will probably be the evaluation to see is he going to come back right away or is he going to take another few days. We'll do the evaluation here on the weekend here and see how he's doing.

"It tests (the depth) a lot. It was tough to absorb the loss of really your first and third icemen with no chance to practice. But allowing us a couple days of practice, I think we'll recover nicely. Everybody goes through this stuff, but I think with having time to practice and put your lines in and having that good practice tomorrow; hopefully Lehtera's in and that'll give us a chance to regroup and get ready."

The Blues, who host the Vancouver Canucks on Thursday before getting another crack at the Chicago Blackhawks here Saturday night, must soldier on.

"He's a great player," captain David Backes said of Stastny. "He's a huge addition, huge part of this team. We're going to have injuries this year. Get them out of the way maybe earlier in the year than later in the year and find ways to shed the responsibility of other guys, guys stepping up. We'll be fine. We've just got to keep it all together, make sure we're playing our game, supporting each other, picking each other up and take care of business.

"We're not going to dwell on one injury. We've got new guys, old guys ... it doesn't matter. We're a group of 23 and we've got guys in the minors that can step up and play, too. We're going to have injuries. We're going to have guys that are in and out of the lineup because they're hurt. It's an 82-game season in the best league in the world. Do we want Paul in the lineup? For sure. He'll fix his injury, he'll be back and he's a guy with his smarts and his abilities, he'll be right back in the lineup and won't miss a beat for sure."

Teammate Jordan Leopold, who also played with Stastny with the Colorado Avalanche, doesn't expect Stastny to be out very long.

"I've played with Paul in the past. I've known him for a long time," Leopold said. "He's going to bounce back from this just fine. We've got guys who are stepping in and doing the job for us. Who that's going to be night in and night out, we don't know. We have to stick to our game plan now and what we've done in the past. We have to get points. It's as simple as that. We've got a light month and we have to take advantage of it and come out on top here by the end of this month.

"It sucks for him, especially when you come to a new team. You want to make an impact, you want to be able to stay in the room and see how things work and learn what's going on.When you're injured on the outside looking in, it's really hard. He'll be at every meeting, he'll be around. It's unfortunate, but he'll be there when we need him."

But with Stastny out and Lehtera fighting the flu bug, the Blues were forced into mixing and matching lines at practice Tuesday.

"It really blew up three lines," Hitchcock said. "When you lose a winger, it's one thing, but I think when you lose a couple (of) center icemen, it blows up your lineup. 

"Today was a really good day to recover on the ice and get some continuity back in our lines and get some role definition back again, so you make the adjustments. I look at Tampa, they've got four guys down, three in the last two games. Those are the adjustments you've got to make. I think any coach knows if you just get a day or two to catch your breath, you can regroup your group and other guys will step up and make account of themselves."

The lines included an all-Swede combination of Alexander Steen, Patrik Berglund and Joakim Lindstrom.

"They were told to speak English today, which is something they were challenged with and they did a good job of it," Hitchcock joked. "... I don't know. They looked good at practice today. If you can move that onto the games ... if they look like they did today, that's a significant move for us. That really makes us dangerous when Lehtera comes back. That can really make us look dangerous right now."

Versatile Steve Ott was back on the top line with Backes and T.J. Oshie.

"Our hope is that in some period of time during the competition, we'll flip him and Magnus (Paajarvi) and see how both sides look," Hitchcock said of Ott. "We'll have Magnus practice there again tomorrow, but we'll see during the game depending on what the opponent is. I would look for him and Magnus to flip positions during the game. He's going to play in both spots."

* Back to familiar ground -- It didn't take long for Hitchcock to reunite defensemen Alex Pietrangelo and Jay Bouwmeester, the team's top defensive pairing the past season and a half.

After spending much of training camp trying to figure out a way to balance the D-pairs out by splitting up Pietrangelo and Bouwmeester, Hitchcock went back to them during the 3-0 loss against the Anaheim Ducks Sunday.

Why?

"Continuity, plus Gunnarsson's getting closer and closer to (being) ready," Hitchcock said. "Looking at the opponents coming up, we're going to need one pair that carries yeoman work 5-on-5. They're the pair that does it, so we're going to use them."

Pietrangelo's been playing with Ian Cole, and Bouwmeester has skated with Kevin Shattenkirk, who's thrived in the role. On Tuesday, Shattenkirk was skating with Cole and Barret Jackman and Leopold were on the third unit with Gunnarsson filtering in.

"That's the coach's decision. Whatever they want to do ... we played together a little bit there at the end of the Anaheim game," Pietrangelo said. "They're going to do whatever they think is right. 

"Inside and out is an understatement. I think when you play a year and a half together, go to the Olympics together ... you can go on and on about on the ice, off the ice. You come to know each other. When we get back together, it seems natural. Anybody that goes with Bouw, it's an easy transition. He's a world class player."

As for Gunnarsson, who was cleared for contact a week ago Monday, Hitchcock said, "He's getting better and better. We'll kind of have a real firm evaluation after tomorrow's practice. He did fitness again today. He passed it with flying colors, so let's see where the next step's at. A lot of it's in his hands now."

* Assessing a 1-1-1 trip -- The Blues dominated play against the defending champion Los Angeles Kings but were thwarted of a point by nemesis Jonathan Quick in a 1-0 shootout loss, then blitzed the Coyotes 6-1 Saturday as Jaden Schwartz recorded his first-ever hat trick and four-point game before the team's flattest game of the season Sunday against the Ducks.

"Three in four after a long break early in the season," Backes said. "It's not an ideal schedule, but no excuses. We played a good game in L.A. We won a game pretty handily in (Arizona) and then we came out and played pretty flat in Anaheim. Whether that's back to back or whatever happened there, that's where we needed another 60 minutes to make that a great road trip."

"I think we definitely would have liked to get that last one," said Leopold, who was a healthy scratch Sunday in favor of Petteri Lindbohm, who Hitchcock raved about. "Maybe short on gas or whatever it may be, but we look to regroup this week. We've got two good days of practice, a day off here and here comes Vancouver rolling into town and here we go again. It's been a light month for us and hopefully we can take advantage of that."

* Special teams start -- The Blues come home to play four of the next five (Jake Allen will start in goal Thursday against the Canucks). They do so tied for second in power play efficiency (6 of 20, good for 30 percent) but needing some fixing on the penalty kill, where the Blues gave up two goals in the loss Sunday.

The Blues enter Thursday tied for 17th in penalty kill efficiency at 80 percent, allowing four goals on 20 opportunities that included 2 of 3 to the Ducks.

"Our power play's been great," Hitchcock said. "Our power play, even when we don't score, I don't know ... what do we've got, six or seven goals already in the season? That's pretty significant. It's our penalty killing we're probably concerned about. We're letting too many goals go in, we're making too many errors, and we've got to get that cleaned up quick because when you let in goals on the penalty kill, that's what loses you hockey games. Power plays can help you win games, but you don't need them every night. But when you don't have your penalty killing going, you're going to be in trouble. We need to get that cleaned up."

Monday, October 13, 2014

Bonding Blues look to grow in California

Team departed after Saturday game for Palm Springs 
ahead of three-game trip to Los Angeles, Arizona and Anaheim

By LOU KORAC
ST. LOUIS -- It was a lengthy flight of four hours to begin with for the Blues, but the travel became pleasant one instead of a longer journey following a victory.

The Blues (1-1-0) took off for Palm Springs, Calif. following their 4-1 victory against the Calgary Flames on Saturday night.

The Blues left for California to spend a few days away together ahead of the first away games that will take them to Los Angeles on Thursday, Arizona on Saturday and Anaheim on Sunday.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Brian Elliott (1) gets congratulations from Ryan Reaves and Kevin
Shattenkirk (right) after the Blues' first win of the season Saturday night.

It's a chance to grow as a team, just like they did last season during a week-long trip to Charleston, S.C. when the Blues had an unusual week off between games in October. But according to coach Ken Hitchcock, it's a few days that will be spent growing together and prepare for an early-season tough test.

"To be honest with you, we've had no time together as a team," Hitchcock said after the victory Saturday. "We're not a team yet, and we've had no social time together. We've had no fun together. It's just been training camp, exhibition games, start of the season. There's been no building and bonding that's gone on. Everybody goes home, there's no quality time together. 

"This is a terrific opportunity if we take advantage of it. We've got lots of time with each other, we've got lots of practices planned. The players have a lot of stuff that they can do. It's a great place to relax and enjoy yourself. Quite frankly, we need to do that. We need to start having a little fun here so we can build a little bit better bond than we've got right now. We're an OK team right now, but we're not near as tight and cohesive as we need to be. Hopefully this can do it. ... We've got to take another big step here. Win lose or draw, we've got to take steps. We're playing three really good teams, and we've got to show that we can play with them. I think we will."

It's a time for those familiar to get re-acquainted as teammates, and it's a chance for those who are new to get familiarized with their new teammates.

"The wife's sick right now, so I get away from her and try to get the flu bug out of me," center Paul Stastny, who leads the Blues with four points through two games,  joked. "When you go on the road, you hang out with the guys, get to know them a little better. 

"That's one of the fun parts of playing hockey, doing those road trips. Going out west, we get to go out a couple days early to do a little team bonding, so it should be fun."

Defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk, who had three assists against the Flames on Saturday, agreed.

"We've had time here in the locker room, but we haven't really had real time on the road together," Shattenkirk said. "It's going to be fun to get to know some of these guys, allow them to get comfortable and feel comfortable in this locker room with the team. 

":It's really just a great time to get out of St. Louis and just get ready for the season. This is what you kind of get used to as the season goes along; be able to do this with a little more of a casual manner. Getting on the road early and get ready for L.A.'s going to be nice."

The Blues were able to connect with the hockey fans in Charleston last season and hope to do so in California, although they're close to enemy territory with fans of the Kings and Ducks so close.

"I'm sure there will be some youth hockey kids that come out like we (had) in Charleston (S.C.) last time," captain David Backes said. "It's fun. You connect with the community a little bit. They're hosting us, they're always treating us really well."

But it's important to put in the practice time as well, as the Blues -- who lost 3-2 to the New York Rangers to open the season -- get geared up for some big-bodied Western Conference foes on the docket.

"We've played the Eastern Conference champs, now we're going to play the Stanley Cup champs two out of our first three games," Backes said of the Kings. "It's going to be another measuring  stick, but we've got to show that we're up to that level and that we can play that hard, heavy game and let that skill element that we definitely have kick in when we get our chances rather than try to make that carry the game.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
David Backes is looking for the Blues to bond with the hockey
fans of south California as the team spends a few days out west.

"I'm sure Hitch will have some things we'll pick apart and we'll focus on getting pucks to the net, finding rebounds, finding that heavy game."

It's early in the season, but these are the types of opponents the Blues will have to measure up against when it's all said and done at the end of the season.

"Just trying to get better every day and not really wasting those days," goalie Brian Elliott said. "It's an opportunity to get together and get your stories and go out to a couple dinners. Those are always good for the team  morale. But you're wanting to make sure you're not wasting those days. You want to get on the ice, work hard and get off and enjoy yourself after.

"They're going to be measuring sticks. You want to come out hard and show teams what you're made of. Build your momentum for the rest of the year."

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Blues start fast, top Flames 4-1

Stastny, Shattenkirk each collect three assists in 
the victory; Lindstrom scores in NHL first since 2011

By LOU KORAC
ST. LOUIS -- The St. Louis Blues were looking for a quicker start Saturday night after coming out of the gates slow in their home opener Thursday against the New York Rangers.

Players and coach Ken Hitchcock made it a point of emphasis to come out of the chute much quicker, to set the tempo, get off more shots and for the Blues to get their game going in the right direction.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues players (from left) Kevin Shattenkirk, Jay Bouwmeester, Vladimir
Tarasenko and Jori Lehtera celebrate a Blues goal against Calgary.

Scoring in the first minute of the game doesn't hurt, and the Blues were relentless the rest of the way.

Joakim Lindstrom scored his first NHL goal since 2011, and David Backes scored a first-period power play goal to stake the Blues to an early two-goal lead, en route to a 4-1 victory against the Calgary Flames before 17,120 at Scottrade Center.

"We had a lot more participants," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. "... We managed the puck well, we really did a lot of things. We played on our toes. I thought we did a whale of a job. Still in saying that, we needed Brian (Elliott) today. Brian was really good today."

Paul Stastny continued his mastery of the Flames with three assists, giving him 49 points in 41 career games against the Flames. Kevin Shattenkirk had three assists, and Elliott stopped 23 shots as the Blues evened their record at 1-1.

"I think we just got more comfortable out there," Stastny said. "The first game, we were kind of getting the jitters out of the way. We knew the ice wasn't going to be the best this early in the season. I think we just kept it a little more simple and kind of created chances through turnovers.

"When you play a team that many times, you're going to get points against them. My first couple years, I played them eight times a year. If it happens to be like that, it happens to be like that. I can't really control it."

Vladimir Tarasenko and Alex Pietrangelo scored for the Blues, who improved to 7-1-1 in the past nine games against Calgary and have defeated the Flames five straight times on home ice, outscoring them 18-6.

"We weren't really waiting for the game to come to us and taking it to them," Elliott, who made an acrobatic save on the Flames' Paul Byron in the second period, said of the Flames. "I think we executed for the most part the whole game. It's fun watching those guys working hard for you in front of you."

Added Shattenkirk: "We played simple early, we played hard and we did the things that make us successful. We chipped pucks in, played a physical game and we were able to be successful on the power play and 5-on-5 as well."

The Flames, who played their third game in four nights to begin the season, got a late goal in the third period from Curtis Glencross. Jonas Hiller stopped 35 shots in defeat.

"We were chasing the puck all night and we weren’t winning the battles," Glencross said. "It makes for a long night."

Flames coach Bob Hartley agreed.

"I think the game was in the image of their first goal," Hartley said. "A couple of our guys get tangled up and they get a 3-on1 out of it. Playing a team with so much talent, so much depth, you don’t want to give them early momentum  and they got this.

"They basically took the wind out of our sails." 

Lindstrom got the Blues on the board 48 seconds into the game with his first goal since Oct. 13, 2011 as a member of the Colorado Avalanche when he finished off a tic-tac-toe play in front after getting a clever little pass from Stastny in tight. Lindstrom redirected the puck past Hiller into the open side.

He even remembered the last time he scored in the NHL.

"Yeah, I think I do. I think it was against Ottawa," Lindstrom said. "But it's been a few years, so it was nice to put one in today. It was a nice play by my linemates there. I was holding my stick down and it was an empty net. It was nice.

"We all wanted some redemption from our first game of the year. We didn't play as well as we can. It was important to come our strong. I think we did that tonight. ... I think today we put work ahead of skill. It paid off for us."

With Calgary's Matt Stajan off for tripping, Backes redirected Shattenkirk's shot from the blue line past a screened Hiller 8:44 into the first for a 2-0 Blues lead.

The Blues were aggressive, assertive and they played the puck in Calgary's zone for much of the first 10 minutes, setting the tempo for their first win of the season.

Pietrangelo's first of the season gave the Blues two power play goals in two tries, after he collected a shot from Shattenkirk off the back boards around to the right circle. Pietrangelo wasted little time in blasting a one-timer past Hiller 3:12 into the second period to make it 3-0.

The power play finished 2 of 5 but was much sharper than the opener, when the Blues were 0-for-5 against the Rangers.

"We just got back to our identity," Hitchcock said. "Until the two weeks of the season, we were second place in the national Hockey League last year with a certain identity, and then we lost those players and we stopped scoring on it and it led into the playoffs. ... We just got back to it. That last power play in Game 1, led us into what we did today. We just followed that script and were very effective. We had quality chances on every power play with lots of traffic and lots of second and third opportunities because of it."

Shattenkirk quarterbacked the power play to perfection with Alexander Steen and led by example on the blue line.

"He was really good tonight," Hitchcock said of Shattenkirk. "He didn't lose his energy, he skated, he was mobile the whole night, he was a threat the whole night. He was a real good player in the game today.

"Shatty's been our best defenseman first two games. He's been excellent. If this is the type of quality play, he pretty much can play with anybody and help them."

Tarasenko made it 4-0, when he one-timed a shot from the low slot after Jaden Schwartz dug a puck out from behind the net and flipped it in front, and Tarasenko made no mistake at 7:10 of the second.

Hiller, who allowed four goals on the first 15 St. Louis shots, kept the game at 4-0 with several strong saves as the second period progressed. He faced 19 Blues shots in the period.

"Today, I thought the second part of the second period was the way we needed to play to win," Hitchcock said. "... There was a lot of penetration on the attacks and some good o-zone play. Things that we need to do to score goals. I thought as the game went on, our exits were better and better and more defined when we got better puck support."
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Paul Stastny had three assists in a 4-1 victory Saturday night against the 
Calgary Flames, giving him 49 points in 41 career games against the Flames.

The Flames spoiled Elliott's shutout bid when Glencross redirected Mark Giordano's shot from the blue line with 4:13 remaining, but it didn't matter. The Blues were in complete control and got back on the horse after what they felt was a less-than-stellar game against the Rangers.

"You get in those summer hockey habits and you're playing a good team and you're trying to make it a little too cute at home for the home opener," center David Backes said. "... I think tonight we came out with a much better game, much concerted effort to get pucks deep, play our hard-nosed, heavy body type of game. Two power play goals never hurt the cause at all."

The Blues immediately chartered a flight to Palm Springs, Calif. for a team bonding trip ahead of their upcoming three road games on the West Coast. They will play at Los Angeles on Thursday, Arizona on Oct. 18 and Anaheim on Oct. 19. 

* NOTE -- Forward Patrik Berglund was a late scratch from the lineup after participating in the morning skate.

Berglund, who was injured from a slash against the Rangers, sat out with an upper-body injury and was replaced in the lineup by Maxim Lapierre, who initially was scratched in favor of Chris Porter.

(10-11-14) Flames-Blues Gameday Lineup

By LOU KORAC
ST. LOUIS -- Not looking to sugarcoat underachieving, the Blues will make one change to their lineup when they host the Calgary Flames today.

Chris Porter, a healthy scratch  for the opener against the New York Rangers, will replace Maxim Lapierre on the Blues' fourth line when they drop the puck at 6 p.m. (FSN, KYKY 98.1-FM).

The Blues, who dropped a 3-2 decision against the Rangers, are expected to use Porter as the center on a line with Steve Ott and Ryan Reaves.

"We've played together before, last year a bit in the playoffs," Porter said. "So I think we all kind of have a good familiarity there -- play a pretty simple game, do a good job of creating energy and good in our own zone.

"They probably would rather have me on the left side, but I've definitely played up the middle. Wherever they need it is fine by me."

Porter is glad to be playing, period.

"I'm going to bring energy, physicality to the game," Porter said. "I thought the guys the second half of the game (Thursday) really picked that up, so I'll try and just step in and make it as seamless as possible."

Forwards Paul Stastny (quad contusion) and Patrik Berglund (upper body) were both part of the morning skate after sitting out Friday's practice. Stastny is back in the lineup, but Berglund was not on the ice for the pregame skate and was a late scratch.

"I wouldn't read our lineup into anything right now," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said after the morning skate. "We're kind of moment to moment with a few guys here."

Stastny comes into the matchup Saturday with impressive numbers against the Flames. In 40 career games, Stastny has 19 goals and 27 assists.

- - -

It's not considered a must-win, but with the Blues heading out on a three-game trip on the West Coast (to Los Angeles, Arizona and Anaheim) after the game tonight, a win on home ice would be well-timed. The Blues will leave for a team bonding trip to Palm Springs, Calif. for three days before settling into Los Angeles, where they'll play the Kings on Thursday night.

"It's pretty early. We want to play well. We want to play well for 60 minutes," Hitchcock said. "We put 40 great minutes in (the) last game and we'd like to put 60 in. I think we let New York dictate period one. We don't want to let Calgary dictate. They've got too many tenacious, high-energy guys so we can't let them dictate. We've got to do that ourselves.

"You want to win because it's a good feeling. For us, you don't want to be grabbing the game in the second period all the time trying to get to play the right way. We really played well in the second and third and we want to try to out that out there for 60 minutes so we get ourselves into a rhythm. To me when you keep trying to grab the game, you're playing catch-up all the time. It was a heck of a hockey game and as some of our players and some of the Ranger players said, it was a Game 7. You expect that when you've got two great teams going at it early in the year, you expect to be acting and behaving like it was a sudden death game."

Nipping losses in the bud, especially for consecutive games at home, is what the Blues will hope to accomplish.

"You try to limit that as many times as you can," defenseman Jordan Leopold, a former Flame, said. "We did some good things later in the game. I think we found our game late. They got a fortunate bounce on the last one, but if we come out with that kind of start, we should have a better outcome than we had last game."

"Hopefully we get away on a high note. That's a goal, feel good about yourself, have a little confidence, have a little bit of enjoyment and get some down time. Of course, maybe I'll catch up on some speed I haven't had due to watching my kids."

By getting into their game, the Blues will look for an early north-south game.

"It happens with adversity. I think it happens with people looking and saying, 'OK, this is how we had success in the game and this is how we didn't and lets get more guys on that page,'" Hitchcock said. "I think it's been typical of our exhibition games. We incorporated more puck skill into our groups, but it's not losing our principals that made us so successful here f or the last three years. Sometimes you have to engage in games that matter for two points before it really hits home. I think it's starting to hit home and hopefully we can start to improve on it.

"Calgary plays the best territorial game I've seen so far. We've got to take them out of their territorial game. We've got to make them defend more than they want to. I think that when they're allowed to dictate and put pressure on people, they come at you. They're very aggressive on the forecheck. They're very aggressive in the neutral zone. We've got to make them defend more than they want to, because once they get a beat on you, they've got foot speed and tenacity that can take the game over like they did in the third period against Edmonton. We've got to find a way to make sure that we make them defend more than they want to."

- - -

The Flames, who are 1-1, will be without forwards Jiri Hudler (sick) and David Jones (lower body) but will get former Blue Dennis Wideman, who was a healthy scratch in their 5-2 win against Edmonton on Thursday, back into the lineup.

Hudler, who is tied for fourth in the NHL with three points (two goals), became sick overnight according to coach Bob Hartley, who said Hudler is "very, very doubtful" for the game.

Along with Devin Setoguchi making his Flames debut, enforcer Brian McGrattan will step into the Flames lineup, and paired with former Chicago Blackhawk and St. Charles native Brandon Bollig, Reaves may have his hands full.

"I think you've kind of seen me in the last couple years not really do something until something's needed," Reaves said. "You know I always will so, if something happens in the game where we need a spark or something doesn't go our way and I need to go out and do something, I absolutely will. I'm not just going out looking for something for no reason.

"That's always my role and I embrace it. I love that part about hockey and that's the one thing I bring to the team better than anything else I do. If we need a little extra physicality, I'm always there to do it."

- - -

The Blues' lineup:

Steve Ott-David Backes-T.J. Oshie

Alexander Steen-Paul Stastny-Joakim Lindstrom

Jaden Schwartz-Jori Lehtera-Vladimir Tarasenko

Chris Porter-Maxim Lapierre-Ryan Reaves

Ian Cole-Alex Pietrangelo

Jay Bouwmeester-Kevin Shattenkirk

Barret Jackman-Jordan Leopold

Brian Elliott will start in goal. Jake Allen will be the backup.

Carl Gunnarsson (hip) hopes to get clearance when he visits a specialist in Nashville on Monday. Patrik Berglund (upper body) was a late injury scratch. Magnus Paajarvi is the lone healthy scratch.

- - -

The Flames' lineup:

Curtis Glencross-Mikael Backlund-Lance Bouma

Johnny Gaudreau-Joe Colborne-Mason Raymond

Paul Byron-Sean Monahan-Devin Setoguchi

Brandon Bollig-Matt Stajan-Brian McGrattan

Mark Giordano-TJ Brodie

Kris Russell-Deryk Engelland

Ladislav Smid-Dennis Wideman

Jonas Hiller will start in goal. Karri Ramo is the backup.

Jiri Hudler and Raphael Diaz will be scratched. Corey Potter (shoulder), Sam Bennett (shoulder) and David Jones (lower body) are out with injuries.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Missed scoring chances have Blues thinking shoot more pucks

Stastny, Berglund miss practice Friday, will play 
Saturday against Calgary after avoiding serious injury

By LOU KORAC
ST. LOUIS -- A loss on opening night was enough for the Blues to digest.

It could have been worse.

So all things considered, the Blues can deal with losing, move on and improve.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues forward Patrik Berglund (right) fights for position with the Rangers'
Ryan McDonagh Thursday night at  Scottrade Center.

The Blues' 3-2 loss to the New York Rangers ended in the strangest of ways, with Rick Nash scoring his second goal of the game with 1 minute, 50 seconds remaining after a weird carom off the side glass as the puck his a stanchion off Alex Pietrangelo's clearing attempt and came back into the low right circle in front of Brian Elliott.

Martin St. Louis passed the puck under a diving Jay Bouwmeester to Nash, who deposited the puck into the top shelf and snatched at least a point, if not two, from the Blues, who surged towards victory with a big third period.

"I didn't know where (the puck) was," Bouwmeester said. "I knew it went up in the air. You've got to look and see where everyone was looking. It's a pretty crazy bounce and falls to the guy right in front of the net. Things like that happen. It works both ways sometimes.

"Throughout the year, you're going to get your fair share of bounces go your way. The timing of it wasn't very good. It happens."

It was earlier in the game that could have cost the Blues a pair of regulars, as both Paul Stastny and Patrik Berglund suffered injuries in the game. So consider their injuries being minimal a good bounce.

Stastny's could have been more serious than originally thought after the Blues' center was upended by Rangers defenseman Dan Girardi, who stuck his leg out and appeared to make contact with Stastny's knee late in the second period. Stastny skated off the ice under his own power after being attended to by trainer Ray Barile and fortunately for the Blues, returned to the game in the third period and scored his first goal as a Blue to tie the game 2-2 after the goal originally went to Vladimir Tarasenko.

Both Stastny (quad contusion) and Berglund (upper-body) missed practice Friday, but coach Ken Hitchcock said neither will be affected for the Calgary Flames, who come to Scottrade Center for a game Saturday.

"He's sore today, but he'll be good to go tomorrow," Hitchcock said of Stastny. "Both him and Bergie (who took a slash) were sore today, but they'll both be in the lineup tomorrow, so that will be good."

Stastny said after the game he didn't feel the Girardi play was malicious and felt it was OK. Hitchcock wasn't OK with it.

"I wasn't," he said. "It's like anything else, that step-up play is dangerous. Whether it's your player or someone else's player, you're always fearful when a player steps up and then the angle changes. 

"I'm sitting there looking at him on the ice thinking MCL, ACL. We're lucky that it was a quad contusion."

The loss Thursday was marred by a slower-than-usual start for the Blues, who were outshot 16-8 in the first period -- they gave up only nine shots the rest of the way -- and a lack of shooting pucks. 

"I thought they were better than us in the first period, but not that much better," Hitchcock said of the Rangers. "It felt like it on the bench that we were behind it in the first period, but then you looked at the scoring chances and we had more scoring chances than we did in the second. And then the second, I thought, 'Jeez, we were playing really good. We didn't create a lot.' And then we created a lot in the third. We had a lot of opportunities in the third. Once we caught up to speed, I thought we played really well in the third. It was a heck of a hockey game. It was a hard, demanding game for both teams. I thought both teams' defense ... we struggled with their speed, and they struggled with our weight and size. I thought both teams' defense were under a lot of pressure and a lot of heat most of the night."

The Blues decided to come out and instead of playing their tough, gritty style of game, they tried showcasing more than usual for the 19,183 that packed into the arena.

"Maybe earlier we tried getting too cute," Bouwmeester said. "We're trying to make pretty plays instead of just doing the work. I think everyone knows the simpler you keep it early in the game, maybe it backs teams off and you wear them down. You tend to open things and you can make plays. We probably got a little ahead of ourselves not going the work and putting the skill in I guess."

Defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk agreed.

"I think we were kind of still playing preseason hockey and then we saw what it takes to get back into the swing of things in the regular season," Shattenkirk said. "You could see it in the second and third period, we definitely started playing in the right way. It was just a matter of shaking out those jitters with the ceremony and everything. We were a little flat-footed out there. We kind of took too long to shake the cobwebs out.

"We knew (the Rangers' speed) was there. If you look at their top two lines, they have a ton of speed up there. That (Anthony) Duclair kid was someone we really didn't know about. He was very fast and played a very good game. It wasn't like we weren't prepared for it. It's the style in the East, too. It's that fast-paced style. It wasn't as gritty and physical that you normally see in a Western Conference game."

But a daunting issue on many nights a season ago (shooting pucks) seemed to be a looming problem for the Blues against Henrik Lundqvist, who didn't have to work too hard until the ladder portions of the game.

The Blues passed up scoring opportunities to make an extra play. Sound familiar?

"The happy medium is to shoot the puck more," Hitchcock said. "We want to make the next play too much. That's what we have to get rid of. If we want to score more, we have to shoot the puck from the shooting positions. ... It's not hammering the points. It's understanding how you score. It's how you score in the National Hockey League. That's how you score. The teams that scored six goals last night, they were just drilling pucks at the net left and right. That's how you score. You've got bodies at the net, you've got traffic at the net, you've got people willing to stick around long enough to score and that's how you score goals.

"... What we've done since Day 1 of training camp is look for a different opportunity that's kind of there, but I've said this before and I've said this about Tarasenko: we're still too unselfish. We need to be more selfish inside the dots. We need to put more pucks and make them defend more because we have the ability to create more. But it doesn't equal scoring more because you have a little more skill. You still have to shoot the puck from the hard areas, and we were guilty of it yesterday, passing off. We've been like that since Day 1 of training camp. We've got to get that out of us. Sometimes when you play games like that and you figure it out, it helps you. Yesterday was missed opportunities. ... I think we're too busy at times looking for empty-net goals rather than let's get that funneling mentality activity at the net back again."

Sometimes, old habits tend to be tough to change.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
The Rangers' Mats Zuccarello (second from left) looks to maneuver between
Blues players Kevin Shattenkirk (22) and Jay Bouwmeester on Thursday.

"As much as you think things are going to be the same, they change," Hitchcock said. "It's just drawing guys in one player at a time. We have some guys who are already in and up and running and then we have some guys that are still trying to find their way. 

"I think the thing that really impressed me was (Jori) Lehtera's game. I thought (Joakim) Lindstrom really showed a lot of moxie also. We've got a lot of stuff we can build on, but it's the first time Ian Cole's played against top players in his career. He had a little bit of a phase where he played with Petro for a little while there, but that was a small sampling. Yesterday was the first time where all of the sudden, he's playing against top players every shift, so there's a mental adjustment for guys to go through, too. We're going to be like everybody else. There's going to be some growing pains that we go through. I just like the potential at the end of the day. Hopefully we can build on it."

* NOTES -- T.J. Oshie's fight with the Rangers' Mats Zuccarello was only the third fight of the Blues' right wing's career. But after taking a late, high hit from the Rangers' right wing, Oshie felt he had no choice.

"So I gave him a little shot to the back of the legs," Oshie said of Zuccarello. "He turned around and asked me if I wanted to go right away. I said, 'Yes' and we went."

Oshie fought San Jose's Tommy Wingels in 2013 and Colorado's Ryan Wilson in 2011.

"I don't know if it's a good thing if you can count them all on one hand," Oshie said. ""The first one (against Wilson) was actually OK. I threw a couple of punches in my one against Wilson. The second one against Wingels was kind of just a wrestling match. That one last night, I was fresh on the ice and ready to go."

One teammate was appreciative of Oshie's extra-physical activity at the time.

"I was going crazy on the bench," enforcer Ryan Reaves said. "He handled it real well. I've seen him fight once a year and he always does real well. I don't know, I guess he's got that inner-killer in him."

* * * Shattenkirk said that when he got stripped of the puck by Kreider for the Rangers' first goal -- also scored by Nash -- he wasn't aware until it was too late that there was a forward coming at him from behind.

Shattenkirk was looking to move the puck up the ice before Kreider stripped him of the puck and fed Nash, who beat Brian Elliott with a similar shot as the game-winner from the high slot.

"No, I took a little long finding the puck in my skates and then as I kind of got it and started to skate up ice, just at the last second, I heard someone call it, 'Heads up,'" Shattenkirk said. "And (Kreider) just lifted my stick and he made a good second effort to get that puck to Nash.

"That's something where more than anything, we had numbers. We had numbers back, which means you protect the puck or make a quick play. You just want to pass the puck and get it out of harm's way."

Shattenkirk said it's a matter of working out the quirks early and get better the next time.

"It's one game. We still have 81 to go," he said. "I think we can take the positives that we built in the right way as the game went on. The game-winning goal was a fluky play. It's a tough way to lose it, especially after we mounted that comeback. Now we know what it takes. It's just a matter of doing it tomorrow. If we don't do it tomorrow, then we have an issue there."

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Fluke bounce ends up costing Blues in loss to Rangers

Nash goal with 1:50 to play snatches at 
least a point from St. Louis in home opener

By LOU KORAC
ST. LOUIS -- Alex Pietrangelo had the puck on his stick, ready to whip it off the boards in front of him out of danger in the Blues' zone.

It seemed like a harmless enough of a play. 

What transpired next had the Blues baffled and scratching their heads in the 2014-15 season and home opener.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Paul Stastny (26) scored his first goal as a Blue Thursday night against the
New York Rangers but Henrik Lundqvist (30) and New York won 3-2.

Rick Nash's second goal of the game and third point of the night with 1 minute, 50 seconds remaining gave the New York Rangers a 3-2 victory against the Blues before 19,183 packed into Scottrade Center.

The Blues, who started slow in allowing 16 Ranger shots and seemed at times discombobulated and passing up scoring opportunities, got the game back on their terms and were poised to grab the two points, but were the victims of a fluky sequence.

After Pietrangelo fired the puck off the left side glass, the puck took a funny carom off the stanchion and instead of being out of the zone, the puck caromed back into the high slot at the stick of Martin St. Louis. St. Louis flipped the puck to Nash, who calmly beat Brian Elliott with a wrist shot top shelf stick side to snatch at least a point from the Blues, who scored twice in the third period to erase one-goal deficits.

"Tough way to lose a game when something like that happens," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. "... For something like that, you feel bad for the players because if the puck goes off the glass, we're looking at a 3-on-1. Their defenseman is out of position, three forwards are trapped.  Puck goes off the stanchion and it's a 2-on-1 right back in our net."

Elliott said he was prepared and spotted the puck immediately. He felt helpless.

"I knew exactly where it was," Elliott said. "You're in between trying to tell your guys and not tell their guys. You're hoping your guys see it and come back and just be ready for it. (St. Louis) made a pretty slick play to settle it down and get it across the crease there for their goal. 

"... That last one's just a tough bounce. I know we talk about working hard for your bounces. Nobody worked hard for that one. That was lucky." 

Chris Kreider each had a goal and an assist, and Henrik Lundqvist stopped 23 shots to beat the Blues for the first time in his career. Lundqvist now owns wins against all 29 other teams.

Jaden Schwartz had a goal and an assist for the Blues, who also got a goal from Paul Stastny, his first as a Blue. Elliott stopped 22 shots.

"'Ells' kept us in it that first and we tried making too many passes," Stastny said. "We played the game the way we wanted as the game went on and it was just kind of a bad bounce there off the glass. Sometimes it happens, sometimes it doesn't. You've just got to deal with it."

The Blues know it was a bad break that went against them, but there will come a time when that break goes their way.

"No excuses ... we've got to be better," Blues captain David Backes said.

The Blues lost Stastny late in the second period when Rangers defenseman Dan Girardi stuck his left leg out and brought down the Blues' center with 4:22 remaining in the second period but he returned for the third period.

"It's a little tender right now," said Stastny, who indicated that it was his quad and not his knee. "... I went around (Girardi). I think he was beat. 

"He's an honest player; just a natural reaction. He tried to get a piece of me for me not to beat him."

Stastny, who signed a four-year, $28 million contract this summer to join the Blues, did not return for the remainder of the period but came back for the third period.

Nash, who now has 23 goals and 43 points in 51 career games against the Blues, snapped a shot from the high slot past Elliott 4:01 into the game. 

Chris Kreider stripped Kevin Shattenkirk from behind in the Blues' zone and was able to set up Nash with the high percentage shot, as the Rangers had the better of the play in the first period. They outshot the Blues 16-8.

"First period was skill ahead of work," Hitchcock said. "We wanted to put on a show; they weren't having anything to do with it. Quick, fast forwards, very aggressive. Once we settled and played in the second and third periods, we really played."

The Blues got their game back, and did so by, "We started to play north," Hitchcock said. "We started playing in straight lines. We're still not close to where we need to shoot the puck a lot more, but we started to really play north. We put a lot of pressure on them. I thought we were wearing on them in the second and third period."

Schwartz finally broke Lundqvist's shutout bid when he charged the net after Backes threw a puck towards the goal and scooted past John Moore. Schwartz popped a backhand over Lundqvist's glove at 1:32 of the third period after the Rangers goalie left a juicy rebound and tried to poke it away from the crease.

"It's never been our recipe for success to try and make ESPN's Top 10 by any means," Backes said. "We've got to shoot pucks, find some ugly ones and we'll have success. That's what we did when we finally did score. Shot, rebound, and (Schwartz) puts one in."  

Krieder scored the go-ahead goal to give the Rangers a 2-1 lead 6:30 into the third period when Nash sprung Kreider loose on a breakaway, and he beat Elliott short side. 

What was disappointing is it came after T.J. Oshie's third career fight and first since Feb. 19, 2013 when he pummeled the Rangers' Mats Zuccarello 5:07 into the third.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues defenseman Alex Pietrangelo (27) looks to get the puck away from
Rangers wing Chris Kreider Thursday night.

However, Stastny got the Blues back even at 2-2, when Schwartz stripped a puck in the neutral zone, sprung Stastny loose who fed Tarasenko, and Stastly tipped Tarasenko's shot past Lundqvist at 10:42.

The Blues, who were 0-for-5 on the power play including 28 seconds of 5-on-3 in the second period, had a chance with the man advantage late and had some of their best scoring chances ... right before the fluky Nash game-winner.

"When we started playing with tempo, we were very effective," Hitchcock said. "That's what needs to take place. 

"The details in power play ... we were half on the page and half not on the page on the power play. There's a lot of things we can take from this on improvement. There are a lot of things we did really well, but they're a good hockey club. But we need to get that in our mindset that the score or the way we play shouldn't dictate that. It should be matter-of-fact for us. It's going to be a little bit of a tug-of-war for us to get there."