Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Blues' kids will have chance to shine

Perron, Berglund appreciated Murray,
anticipate great things with Payne

HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- Some of the speculation surrounding the firing of Andy Murray by the Blues revolved around his handling of the younger members of the team.

Murray, 58, comes from the old-school background and with many of today's younger stars, it can be an adjustment for those that have to deal with on a daily basis those that go by the old-school dialogue.

And while David Perron, Patrik Berglund, T.J. Oshie, Erik Johnson and a host of young Blues players have positive results during Davis Payne's first couple days as Blues coach, they also would not hurl the blame at Murray as the reason they've played inconsistent and not up to par this season.

"It's nothing to do with Andy that made me or other players under-perform," Berglund said Tuesday before the Blues departed on a three-game trip to California. "I think it's up to yourself. We're in the best league in the world. We know what to do. You can't blame anyone for that. It's up to us when we're out there to go and make the jump and score that goal, block a shot or whatever. We know what to do, we just need to go in and do it and do it with confidence."

Berglund, the subject of many of those accusations by fans because of Murray insisting on scratching the talented Swede six times this season, is off to the slowest of starts among the Blues' youth movement.

Berglund has 12 points (six goals) in 35 games this season. This after a 21-goal, 47-point season a year ago. Perron, although he's second on the team in goals (11) behind Andy McDonald (13), has run hot and cold for much of 2009-10. Johnson is playing his first hockey this season since his freakish knee injury that wiped out all of last season, and Oshie has 20 points in 27 games after a 39-point campaign last year.

But it's quite evident through the first two full practices under Payne, 39, that the team is loose, especially the young stars. They're smiling and laughing all while learning under Payne, who's exceptional track record with young players helped make him a good fit here.

"I don't have the perspective of the older coach. I only have my perspective of dealing with the young athlete," said Payne, who was a nine-year coach in the minors before being handed the Blues' job Saturday. "I suppose back when some of our veteran guys have played -- and myself included have played -- we played in a day when we were told what to do and we did it. There was no further explanation. I think nowadays, we have to communicate a little bit deeper explanation. There's more teaching involved. It's not just what to do, it's why to do it. How this process will pay out in the long run. I think it's just a level of understanding where they are as people as well. It's communication skills. It's teaching skills. It's all the abilities to establish relationships, so that they know I'm there on their best behalf and that's for them to play an important part of the hockey club.

"Their birth certificate largely doesn't matter to me. If they're performing well, and doing the right things and are accountable in the process, that gives the St. Louis Blues success and that's what we're here for."

Perron, who has clashed with Murray in the past but also insists that things got blown out of proportion, loves the new voice. It's a fresh alternative that gives a different meaning to the only coach he's known as a pro before Murray was relieved of his duties.

"He's awesome so far. He's been really good," Perron said of Payne. "He's been talking to everybody and putting everyone on the same level. He really wants us to be a team. I think it's really going to be good. We've just got to work and play our game and we'll be fine.

"I think the guys are looser on the ice. We have a lot of fun ... we did have a lot of fun with Andy as well, but I think it's a little different now. I think guys are enjoying it that way."

One of Payne's strengths is his ability to communicate, as he stated previously. And the guys on this team appreciate the fact that he wants to know them individually and will seek their advice -- young or older -- as to what they can do to be better hockey players and make the Blues a better hockey club moving forward.

"He wants to know more about me and I like that," Perron said. "It's fun to see him in the room and he enjoys to be around the rink just as much as Andy. It's fun so far.

"He wants to put everybody on the same level. He said we're the team in front of the jersey. We're the Blues and nobody's ahead of that and I think that's great so far."

Perron, Oshie and Berglund will get their chance to shine together, and seeing how the practices have gone, it'll be interesting if the Blues can parlay their new lease on life into games -- beginning tonight in San Jose.

"It's different now," Berglund said. "... So far I think it's been really good. The team is staying positive and we believe in what we're doing. We want to turn this thing around.

"I think it's always good with a newer voice, especially in a situation like this. I believe a lot in Davis and he believes in us. That's all we need. ... It's up to us players. We are out there and we are playing. We can make a difference. We need to go out and do it."

As of Tuesday afternoon, both Perron and Berglund have yet to have 1-on-1 meetings with Payne, who said 40 percent of individual player meetings were complete. But they are both eager to have a say in what they can do to get the Blues back on track.

"I'm a young guy, so I still have to stay in line there a bit," Berglund joked. "... I'm real excited to have a conversation with him and to see what he wants me to do. I'm going to tell him what I can do and where I can get better. So far it's been good, but it's still a work in progress. The only thing we have to focus on and what we are focusing on is to win the next game."

Murray was a stickler for having his players -- young guys in particular -- stick with the system and not stray into individual situations, which at times hampered the skill level of the young kids. Perron knows it got him into hot water at times, but it didn't keep him from doing what he does best.

But these guys will certainly get the chance to shine with their new coach.

"No matter what, I've always played my game, whether it was Andy or not," Perron said. "I know we weren't getting along at first with some of that stuff, but we did get along with some of that stuff as well. I played my game no matter what, and sometimes you get in trouble."

"I can do it. When Murray was here, I could do it, too," Berglund said. "And obviously, I did it last year and I've been good in a couple games this year.

"I think I'm still the same player. It's just I need to pick myself up from the hole I'm in right now. I'm staying positive and I really want to be out there and make a difference and that's what I'm looking for."

If the Blues are to move forward, they'll be looking for it as well.

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