Blues already feeling effects of Payne; Tkachuk questionable for trip
By LOUIE KORAC
HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- One full practice into his tenure as the new Blues' head coach, Davis Payne already is displaying his own distinct personality, one not seen often -- if at all -- by his predecessor.
"He's got a good demeanor on the ice," Blues forward David Backes said. "He's smiling a lot, correcting when necessary, trying to get guys on the same page so we can work together to get stuff accomplished out there."
And there it is, the Blues are smiling themselves, skating freely, loosely and most importantly, they're relaxed.
The 39-year-old Payne, who took over for Andy Murray after the 58-year-old was relieved of his duties after guiding the Blues to a 17-17-6 record through 40 games, spent a full practice for the first time with his squad and used most of Monday in individual meetings trying to dissect each of his players so he has a better knowledge and understanding of them.
But the players who were on the ice Monday at the U.S. Ice Zone inside St. Louis Mills, they sense the change and embrace it as well as the team attempts to break its recent struggles and season-long inconsistencies.
"He's getting to know guys, introducing himself. He's easy to talk to," forward Brad Boyes said. "He comes up to guys business-like but joking too, making sure we're doing our jobs and telling us what we do well and to go out and do it. He talks about being responsible, having trust, having energy, going out there and playing hard. I think if we do that, that will definitely show him respect and he'll come and respect us right back. The open path of communication is there right off the bat."
Somehow, the path of communication between Murray and the players seemed to get lost, and it's now up to Payne to seek and find it before the Blues' submerging ship sinks to the bottom -- of the Western Conference standings.
"A lot of these guys respond in different ways," Payne said after practice. "Certainly through practice today, I thought the jump and execution was there. There was obviously some mistakes made, but some of the stuff was new. ... The message is going to change, it's not going to be the same every time. It's not going to be the same delivery mechanism every time. It can go anywhere from the soft cell to the fiery one. You like to not have to get to that, but all different areas, I'm not going to lock myself into one delivery method for sure."
What the players find most gratifying is Payne seems to be willing to allow them to thrive and allow them to do what they can do best.
"Philosophy is probably the biggest thing," Backes said. "He does have X's and O's and he does have systems and stuff like that, but there's a lot more on passion and trusting your teammates and playing as a group. Not that Andy didn't preach that, but this is more in the forefront of you've just got to play and use your instincts. The X's and O's are just kind of a guideline."
* Change in strategy -- While many fans criticized Andy Murray for being to conservative and thus, that's a primary reason the Blues lost many of their close games, Payne seems to want his team to go full throttle all the time, any time.
"We want to attack in all areas," Payne said. "We want to attack with the puck, we want to attack without the puck. We want to be a team that applies and directs our game in a predictable manner.
"When we look at Chicago's game, there was very little hesitancy in their game," Payne added. "They knew where they were going with the puck, they knew where they were going without it. There were some times in our game where I felt like we had some real hard work, we had some great energy, we had some great passion going early, but it started to bog down based on us being unpredictable to ourselves. And that's a tough thing to have happen. We're going to drill that, we're going to preach it. It's going to be a three-zone philosophy and making sure we understand, 'Hey, when this scenario occurs, this is what we're doing.' From there, we can certainly branch out and the playbook can get bigger. Options can expand and roles can expand, but we've got to get a base of understanding. Everybody says we've got to get on the same page. Let's all write on that page, let's all read it and then we can write more pages."
* Tkachuk in pain, questionable for California -- Payne said that veteran Keith Tkachuk lost "a few teeth" and that he's sore from seeing the oral surgeon late Saturday night.
Tkachuk, who took a shot to the mouth in Saturday's 6-3 loss to Chicago off teammate T.J. Oshie's shot from the point -- and scored on the play -- is listed as questionable for the three-game trip.
"He's obviously lost a few teeth and there's some dental work there, a lot of swelling going on there,." Payne said. "He's a proud guy. The only thing he's disappointed in is that that goal didn't get the game tied. You go to the net, you go to tough areas, things like that happen. I talked to him last night and he was obviously having some trouble getting full rest."
Payne said it will be up to doctors for the team to proceed from here.
"I haven't had that full assessment," Payne said. "I talked to (athletic trainer) Ray (Barile) this morning and (general manager) Larry (Pleau) a little bit just what his availability is. If he'll get on the airplane and that kind of stuff is still totally in question."
* Kariya still in limbo -- Blues forward Paul Kariya, who has not played since taking an elbow to the head on Dec. 27 in a loss to Buffalo, went through testing again on Monday. They're tests Payne calls procedural.
"He's going through another evaluation today," Payne said Monday. "I guess that's baseline testing to find out just where he is and how he's feeling. I'd love to have a guy like that in there, but there's still some procedures to make sure get checked out and perhaps even some healing there, too."
* Breath of fresh air -- Not only was Andy Murray here since late 2006, but there comes a time when one's message becomes stale. A new voice sometimes needs to be heard when one gets stagnant.
That's a primary reason Payne was brought in to guide the Blues, according to Blues President John Davidson.
"We felt we needed a new voice from the outside," Davidson said. "He's a fierce competitor. He has good communication skills with the players. He is very upfront, forthright. ... we feel strongly about his future."
Murray did bring the Blues to this point, as they were laboring at the bottom of the league standings for much of the time removed from the lockout up until the last two years, but expectations came with last season's playoff tag and obviously they weren't met.
"It's a fresh slate, so everyone's got that fresh air and that's nice to have," Boyes said. "From here, we go make our impressions, we go do our thing and (Payne) can kind of read that and make his impressions based on those things."
* Jackman sits -- Defenseman Barret Jackman was also not on the ice for Monday's practice, but Payne said Jackman was suffering from the cold and had flu-like symptoms.
* Stastny back? -- The Blues have placed Peoria forward Yan Stastny on re-entry waivers for the purpose of bringing him up to the big club should he clear.
Stastny, who has played with the Blues for three games after a recall earlier in the season, will accompany the team to San Jose should be clear by 11 a.m. this morning with the uncertainty of Tkachuk's status.