Blues looking for better return in Detroit; Steen finding offensive stride
By LOUIE KORAC
HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- The Blues return to the scene of the crime. That place that has been burdensome on many teams.
The Blues, on the other hand, have had their fair share of success at Joe Louis Arena, home of the Detroit Red Wings.
The Blues (14-9-5) will meet their Central Division rivals at 6:30 p.m today, and the last time they were in this building, it was their game to take -- for the first 52 minutes.
Even though they were deadlocked 3-3, the Blues were the better team against the Wings. They outshot, out-chanced, out-hit, did practically everything they possible could to get those two points.
Then, the Blues began to snooze. And against the Red Wings, when you snooze, you lose.
Even though there were some fortuitous bounces that went their way, the Red Wings blitzed the Blues with four goals in a 3-minute 14-second span and just like that: Red Wings 7, Blues 3.
"It all boiled down to an even hockey game," Blues coach Davis Payne said. "An experienced group and a skilled group found a way to apply enough pressure that the crack was there and they poured themselves through it.
"We've got to make sure we're very, very disciplined in our positions, very disciplined in our reads and committed to getting back on the right side of the puck and you can have your opportunity to work the other way. Unless you do that, they're a smart, experienced team that really takes advantage of mistakes. You have to play the right kind of game against them. It's a hard-checking game, you have to make sure their d-men go back to areas that they'd go the other way. We turned some pucks over in that game that we have to be conscious of. Those types of plays turned the game in their favor in a hurry."
It sure did, and the Red Wings, led by Pavel Datsyuk's 36 points (25 assists) in 29 games, feast off of mistakes and they like to dictate the pace if the opponent allows them to.
"That's definitely a 60-minute team. It's always fun games. I love playing in Joe Louis (Arena)," forward Alex Steen said. "It's a good atmosphere. It feels like hockey inside the building, so it's always fun to go there.
"The games are always high-energy, high-pace. They move the puck well from their back end up to their forwards really quickly, find those long seam passes in the neutral zone. It's up to us structurally to play sound and limit their time and space, especially guys like Datsyuk and (Henrik) Zetterberg."
The Blues, including last month's loss, are 6-6-2 at The Joe since 2006. Not many teams can lay claim to that distinction.
"We've had some good success against them in their building," forward Brad Boyes said. "I don't know what it is, but if you have that initially, every time you go in there you get that feeling again. ... The biggest thing is our mindset going in. We know we can win there. We know we can play well. It's a matter of having that full 60 minutes for us to get a win."
So would the Blues, who outshot Detroit 36-31 in the last meeting, take their last effort there? Perhaps. But they'd like to eliminate those last few minutes.
"Probably about seven or eight minutes and a couple reads off the rush, yeah," Payne said. "We played a pretty sound game.
"Looking back at that one, we handled their forecheck and did some things coming through the neutral zone that was pretty effective. When you're dealing with the return that you have to have against an offensive team like that, I thought we handled that situation very well. We're just going to have to make sure we go the whole way tomorrow night."
* Cracknell could make NHL debut -- Forward Adam Cracknell, who was recalled by the Blues from AHL affiliate Peoria Monday evening, could make his NHL debut with the Blues tonight in Detroit.
Cracknell, 25, has made 27 appearances in Peoria this season, tallying 13 points on four goals and nine assists.
A free agent signing by the Blues in 2009, the Prince Albert, Saskatchewan native had 38 points on 17 goals and 21 assists in 76 games for the Rivermen last season.
"That phone call definitely surprised me yesterday," Cracknell said Tuesday. "It felt good. It's like a dream come true getting up here. I'll hopefully make the best of it tomorrow in Detroit and just enjoy the moment.
"I'm definitely nervous. I only got a couple hours of sleep last night and fell in the first drill. I'm definitely a little nervous but exciting at the same time. ... I'm just working hard and it's nice to get rewarded."
Cracknell was recalled by the Blues along with center Dave Scatchard and winger Chris Porter.
"He's a detail guy," Blues coach Davis Payne said of Cracknell. "He's a guy who works extremely hard, has got a great head on his shoulders as far as being in the right position and making sure he executes, has got an unbelievable work ethic to kind of close the gap that way. He's got a great shot, a nose for the net and a decent ability in net-front situations. Reports about the way he's playing is he's contributing at a high level down at the American League.
"He's a guy who's working to the details, a guy who's working through their team success (and) we feel is a perfect guy to go into a game against Detroit. You talk about making sure that you're in perfect spots defensively, perfect spots positionally, he's a guy that understands that. We feel he could be a good option for us."
* Steen producing -- Forward Alex Steen, who has points in five of the last six games, is beginning to find his stride once again in the absence of Andy McDonald and David Perron (concussions) and T.J. Oshie (broken ankle).
Steen, who started slow out of the gates with one goal and three assists in the season's first eight games, has four goals and three assists in the last six.
"I feel like I've been playing pretty similar the whole year," Steen said. "The last little while, I've been finding the net more. I've been hitting a lot of posts this year, but sometimes that's just the way it goes. Going forward, I keep getting chances. Even at the start when I wasn't scoring, I was still getting looks. I wasn't getting too overly worried about it. They have to start going in now. ... I feel like I've got a lot of energy."