Sunday, November 28, 2010

Blues feel they have an identity, not using injuries as excuse

Team looks to regroup after losing third-period
leads in back-to-back losses over weekend to Dallas

ST. LOUIS -- In the early stages of a season, teams often use that time to not only establish themselves by winning games but also to find an identity.

For the Blues, that played itself out quite nicely through 12 games as the team jumped out of the gates 9-1-2.

But injuries can tend to derail a team's quest to find out who they really are.

The Blues, 12-7-3 at the quarter point of the season, have certainly had their share of injuries to deal with. Losing four key cogs (forwards T.J. Oshie and David Perron as well as defensemen Roman Polak and Barret Jackman who's since returned) can definitely throw a squad off-kilter.

But the Blues are not using that as an excuse. They know who they are and feel good about who they are becoming.

"With Osh gone and Perry and Roman, those are three pretty big players," said defenseman Alex Pietrangelo, who played a game-high 25 minutes, 36 seconds Saturday. "But those are no excuses. We've got to start playing 60 minutes. We played two pretty good hockey games this weekend. We've just got to find a way to win (them)."

The Blues head into a new week on the heels of two disheartening losses -- both to Dallas in back-to-back games -- in which they led both heading into the third period.

The Blues led the Stars 2-1 in Dallas on Friday, only to fall 3-2. They also led here Saturday 1-0 and saw that lead evaporate in a 2-1 loss.

The Blues' seven regulation losses and three overtime/shootout losses have come as a result of not doing what they do best for a full 60 minutes:

"If you look at the majority of our losses, it's been five, 10, 15 minutes where we've got off-track and stopped skating and stopped getting pucks behind teams," said forward B.J. Crombeen, whose goal Saturday gave the Blues a one-goal lead in the second period. "It usually comes back and bites us. They score one, two, three goals and that's the difference in the game. We've got to make sure we're playing our game for a full 60 and I think we'll have good results.

"If you look at how our team plays, we try to play the same way every night. When we're getting pucks behind people, skating with it (and) getting it to the net, that seems to be our identity. We've had some success when we've done it. We've just got to make sure we're doing it for 60 minutes because the nights we haven't done it, it's come back and bit us."

The Blues opened Saturday with a flurry. They outshot the Stars 13-4 and got pucks in deep, got them into the middle of the offensive zone and they skated with a purpose. For whatever reason, the last two third periods they've gotten away from that identity and it was the Stars, who have beaten the Blues three times already this season, that found another gear.

"I liked a lot of what we did in the first period," said Blues coach Davis Payne, whose team threw 36 shots Saturday at Stars goalie Kari Lehtonen. "... We had most of our good interior looks in the first period. We had a couple key offensive chances in the third period that didn't happen. Lehtonen makes a big save on Backes' tip there late, but again, we've got a 1-0 lead. It's one thing to have a team come back on you when you're playing direct, playing to the right spots and continuing to apply pressure. The (first) game in Dallas (on Oct. 16) is a perfect example. We didn't back off at all. I don't think we backed off from a work ethic standpoint. We got ourselves back to the outside and it's an ineffective game against a team like Dallas that is going to give you all the outside space you need. They'll own the interior part of the ice.

"I don't think we worked any less. I think we worked to the wrong areas of the ice. I'm not saying we didn't work in this hockey game from start to finish. I'm saying we worked into spaces that Dallas was going to give us. It's very tough to generate offense if that's where you're going to decide to play. We played in the right spot in the first period, the second two not enough."

The Blues have had a see-saw time of it this season. They've had a seven-game winning streak along with a five-game slide. But no matter how much experience everyone continues to gain, there seems to always be that learning curve that one can never get enough of.

"Every team goes through some ups and downs," said goaltender Jaroslav Halak, who has certainly seen his share of ups and downs. "It's up to them how they respond the next game. We lost two games in a row right now. It's going to be up to us to respond the next game in Chicago.

"It's tough to lose the games like this going into the third with the lead. We need to learn how to play these types of games and these types of games we need to win."

The Blues were 7-0-1 with the lead going into the third period. But after the weekend losses to Dallas, it's time to regroup.

"Learning how to win? No, I think we know how to do that," Payne said. "I just think we need to be consistent in some areas that make a difference for us.

"I think the biggest thing is learning how to rely upon our game again. ... We've got to make sure that the team game and the team pressure that we apply has to be consistent. I thought it was there in the first period like it was (Friday) night. We got ourselves a little misdirected. ... If this is something that we're obviously going to have to go through, then we're going to have to go through it and be better for it."

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