Friday, December 11, 2009

Dec. 11 Gameday news and notes

ST. LOUIS -- As much as been said of the Blues' struggles at home, they face the challenging task of preventing the Edmonton Oilers from setting an unprecedented road mark.

Think of all the greats to play for the Oilers, including the Great One himself, Wayne Gretzky. From Messier to Kurri to Anderson and Coffey, Fuhr ... the list goes on and on. And as awesome as those Oiler teams from the 80s and 90s were, they never won five consecutive road games.

The Oilers of 2009-10 will be looking for a record fifth straight road victory when they drop the puck at Scottrade Center at 7 p.m. today.

"To think of all the great teams the Oilers have had, and here tonight, they're going for the fifth (consecutive) road victory in a row," marveled Blues coach Andy Murray at Friday's morning skate. "It's almost hard to believe. It's tough to get that many wins in a row on the road obviously. You just have to take your hat off to the Oilers and how hard they're playing."

This is the last leg of a six-game trip for Edmonton, and they're 4-1, opening with a 7-3 loss in Vancouver before winning at Detroit (4-1), Dallas (3-2), Florida (3-2) and Tampa Bay (3-2).

"The only unfortunate thing is we couldn't play the Oilers two weeks ago," Murray said. "They're playing very, very well right now (6-3-1 in their last 10 games). They're playing the Oiler style of hockey that everybody has come to appreciate for years. ... Whenever it gets back to the basics, that's what you see from the Oilers is their hard work, their forecheck and how assertive they're playing. We're going to have to be at out best to beat them. I don't care if they've won four in a row or 10 in a row, we need to get two points tonight."

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* PK on a roll -- Much has been made of the Blues' penalty killing unit, which certainly is on a roll right now.

They've killed off 27 straight penalties on the road and have not been scored upon this season in 5-on-3 situations, which is remarkable in itself.

"When you can get on a roll and get aggressive on teams, it's going to make them hesitate a bit," forward B.J. Crombeen said. "Obviously that first and second PK are important because (the opposition) is coming out with confidence, they're coming out with the plays they want to make. We're usually real good in preparing and knowing what their tendencies are. ... Any time you can make a power play hesitant, it obviously favors you."

But at home, the Blues have only killed one of the last five opportunities, which is another leading contributor to a less-than-stellar home mark, among many deficiencies.

"We've got a great road record and if we can translate that to home, we'd be at the top of the standings," Crombeen said. "It's something we've got to figure out here. We've talked about it and we feel it's as simple as our game plan, doing the things well, getting pucks deep, finishing our checks, going to the net. On the road, we keep things real simple."

So what has been the key to the Blues' recent PK success? Take a look at the welts on some of the bodies that partake in the PK unit. How about taking away the shooting lanes, or more importantly, saves by your goaltender.

"Your goalie's your best penalty killer," defenseman Mike Weaver said. "The forwards have done a great job of supporting us.

"Being a penalty killer, you don't get too much ink in the papers. We block shots, we do the stuff that needs to get done and we've been successful in the last little (while). Every team goes through their ups and downs in the penalty killing. Right now, I think our goalie makes the first save and we're able to get the rebound out of there and get it down the ice."

The Blues are tied for first in the league with eight power play goals allowed on the road and have the second-best PK percentage on the road (87.3 percent).

"You look at any great PK, the goalies have been great," Crombeen said. "We try to talk a lot out there and limit the quality of chances. They're obviously going to get shots, they're going to get their chances but try to get pressure when they're shooting. Make sure it's from the outside and not a backdoor tap-in play."

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* Home sweet home -- So what do the Blues do with their home mark? It can only get better, and the way to get things rolling in their building is to play like they're away from home, according to Weaver.

"Play a road game at home," he said. "Just do the little things; get it in deep, it doesn't have to be fancy. That's what we have to do at home, too, instead of trying to be too skillful.

"On the road, we're simplifying the game. It's not rocket science out there. That counts for every single time we're on the ice. It doesn't matter whether you're home or away."

Murray calculates that 15 home losses is the norm for a season, so, "Out of 41 games at home, you should expect to lose about 15," he said. "That's how I'm going to look at it, we're probably going to only lose six the rest of the way. We've got our nine losses out of the way at home and we're maybe willing to accept a couple more but certainly not tonight against the Oilers. We play to win the rest of the home games."

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