Team continues to prepare vigorously for return against Phoenix
By LOUIE KORAC
HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- While the Ice Hockey competition at the Winter Olympic games is boiling down to a climax, the Blues are just beginning to heat up.
Three days into heavy, intense workouts in preparation for the season's final 20 games saw the Blues perform many season-opening tasks.
As in training camp tasks, which means a lot of cardio work, lots of start-and-stop skating and above all, contact drills.
Yes, play time is over. It's time to get refocused on the task at hand -- getting back into the playoffs.
"It was very high-tempo," Blues coach Davis Payne said. "We covered things with very good intensity and very good pace to it. Obviously we finished with a little bit of a skate there. To me at this time of the year with the break we've had, it's about getting ourselves sharp and getting ourselves back into the pace and the intensity that we're going to need next Tuesday."
If players thought the first day was tough and things would get easier, they need to rethink that process.
"You look at the schedule through the year, have we had this many days of practice in a row," Blues defenseman Carlo Colaiacovo said. "It's really tough to go back and look at it, but it's sort of got that feeling (of training camp), especially Day 1 when you don't skate for almost 10 days and you come back and you're feeling the burn, feeling your lungs. You get better with each skate and it's been good progress."
The Blues (28-25-9), who are four points in back of eighth-place Calgary in the Western Conference, will certainly be tested in the first third of the last leg of the season.
Six straight on the road will see the Blues embark on visits to Phoenix, Dallas and Colorado, then come home for four days before hitting the road again for visits to the New York Islanders, Columbus and Minnesota.
"I don't think we're even looking that far ahead," forward T.J. Oshie said. "I think we have to look at the next two practices before we leave, focus on getting back in shape, getting into game shape.
"It's tough without playing games. There's only one way to tell, and that's when you get into the game next Tuesday."
Which is why the Blues can only look to the Coyotes, who they are 1-1-1 against but haven't faced since Nov. 19.
"People look at it like it's a six-game road trip. We come home in between, but we've got to start Tuesday in Phoenix," Payne said. "You can throw any cliche you want at it ... one game, that's where we start. We know how important every two-point situation is and we've got to be ready for it."
So as he looks back on what the past three days have meant, Payne said it's all been about focus and touching up certain parts of the game.
"We tried to use this week to sharpen up some of the areas that we've been talking about but also expand and improve some of the areas we feel we can make those adjustments in," he said. "... We've covered the ground we've felt we needed to and will continue to do that Sunday and Monday.
"We've added some things, we've made sure we've addressed some things we feel we can better at. That's what it's going to take. We can't just sit back with what we've finished going into the break with. We've got to make sure we're coming out of this break with a better understanding of things we're trying to do but also expanding on some of the areas we know we can get better in."
"There's lots of timing issues and conditioning issues, although we feel these guys have kept themselves in pretty good shape," Payne said. "It's still skating, it's still game-conditioning, it's still competing-conditioning that's different. You don't find that (after being) 10 days off.
"We're trying to reacquire a lot of things. Part of that is our skills and our feel for the puck and plays we're able to be making. Part of that is our conditioning. We'll lean on each other and make sure we feel some of that body contact conditioning. We also want to make sure we expand some of the areas we feel we can. We feel we can make some improvements. We don't want to tinker too much. We feel we've played some pretty good hockey heading into the break. We want to make sure we come out of the break playing that good hockey but also add a few dimensions and clean a few things up."