Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Blues' Weaver continues to defy odds

Defenseman having banner season,
bringing consistency on every shift

ST. LOUIS -- Sunday at Scottrade Center, two players were converging on a puck that was played into the corner of the Blues' defensive zone. One player is listed at 6-foot-4, 245-pounds, the other is 5-9, 186.

Guess who won that battle?

One would think the match was no contest.

Well, that is correct. It was no contest.

But yes, the diminutive one, who happens to be the Blues' Mike Weaver, was able to have his way with much larger Edmonton forward Dustin Penner.

This is the life of Weaver, having to scratch, claw, fight and battle his way through life's challenges in the National Hockey League. His way of life as an eight-year veteran has been one on the go, and one of having to prove himself over and over again.

Weaver, who signed with the Blues prior to last season as an unrestricted free agent after playing the previous season in Vancouver, was added by Blues President John Davidson at the behest of former Blues coach Andy Murray. Murray, who had previous experience with Weaver in Los Angeles, was looking for Weaver to provide depth and veteran leadership.

Weaver played in 58 games a season ago with the Blues, a career-best. He won't overwhelm you with his offensive presence, attested by his seven-assist season. But the Blues thought highly enough of him because of intangibles often gone unnoticed, so they brought him back this season on a one-year deal.

After playing in his career-best 71st game in Tuesday night's 4-2 win over Chicago, it's quite evident that Weaver has been the steadiest and best defensive defenseman the Blues have put on the ice.

The guy that would last get recognition for points but first noticed as far as goals against, leads the team in the plus/minus category at plus-10.

His value, which may be undervalued around the league, doesn't go unnoticed with Blues coach Davis Payne and Weaver's teammates.

"If he flies under the radar, it's the radar that is measured in goals, assists, points, power play," Payne said. "But if it's a coach's radar, if it's a teammate's radar, if it's a battle-level radar, you're not missing it. He contributes, he sticks to the details, he executes systems and he battles extremely hard. He makes up for size with great angles (and) great anticipation. You look at the size battle he gave up to Dustin Penner but won that battle in his corner handily. He's a guy who finds a way and he's not being missed on our radar."

Weaver, whose career spans stints in Atlanta, Los Angeles, Vancouver and now St. Louis, has carried that rock-steady presence since his entry into the league in 2001.

He's the type of player that won't display the rocket one-timer from the blue line but will lay down and block a shot for you, sacrifice his body while mixing it up with opposing forwards, making those crisp plays out of his end and getting pucks out of dangerous areas.

Flashy? Not a chance. Consistent? You betcha.

"I've played the same way I've always played," Weaver said. "I haven't really changed. I've maybe gained a little bit of experience, but I really haven't changed too much. I've always kind of played an unnoticed role. I guess when your penalty killing gets up to the top of the league, the penalty killers get noticed a little more."

Weaver, 31, is a key contributor to the league's No. 1 penalty unit. The feat exemplifies what Weaver stands for.

"I absolutely love Weaves," Blues goalie Chris Mason said. "For what he does in his game and on the PK, the way he clears pucks out, he always makes great first passes, he sacrifices the body every game, it's awesome. Between he and (Alex) Steen, they've probably been the most consistent players all year. I just absolutely love playing behind Weaves. He's been underappreciated for a lot of his career, but I think this year, he's starting to get the recognition that he deserves. He's been an absolute treat to play with.

"He's had to earn his keep throughout his whole career. That's something that he's familiar with. He came in here, he never complained. He just kept putting his head down, kept putting his nose to the grindstone and working and working. When you put him in there, he plays solid."

Weaver, a Bramalea, Ontario native, won't be the guy that shows too much emotion vocally either. He will wear his emotions on his sleeve. His actions on the ice speak louder than words.

He has been paired for much of the season with fellow defenseman Carlo Colaiacovo, the anti-Weaver with an offensive mind that balances out a consistent pairing.

"He's a real warrior out there," Colaiacovo said. "He does a lot of things well. Obviously, he's a great penalty killer and he's a real compliment to play with. I really enjoy playing with him.

"For a small guy, he does a lot of big things; blocks shots, plays tough, throws big hits and he's got that long reach, a small guy playing with a big stick."

Weaver, who scored his first three career goals with LA in 2006-07, recently netted his fourth career goal and first with the Blues in New York against the Rangers. It was his first goal in 185 games -- on the same night Paul Kariya potted goal No. 400 -- and one that his teammates have razzed him about since.

It's that kind of camaraderie that makes his teammates appreciate Weaver, and vice versa.

"It was great. It was kind of funny," Weaver said. "I saw the reaction of Colaiacovo after I scored on TV. His expression was like he was my dad right there. ... It was great. We had the puck in the dressing room. He said all he wanted was a picture of me and the puck."

Colaiacovo said when the shot from the right point got past Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist, he thought the moment was surreal.

"I've been bugging him all year, honest to God. It was a pretty good feeling, for me anyway," Colaiacovo said. "Obviously for him, he must have been ecstatic. Playing with him for most of last year and all of this year, for him to finally get one ... he's been bugged about it a lot. I've been teasing him about it a lot, and I always told him, 'We better not go our separate ways without you actually scoring one.' It was nice for him to get that, and hopefully there's many more for him to come. Hopefully, it's here and we can be here a long time together.

"He's a guy that some of the guys pick on all the time, but he just shrugs it off and just plays his heart out on the ice."

The new wave of hockey has created space for the defenseman that carries a lot of size both measuring in height and bulk. Weaver understands that his kind are a rare commodity, which is why he helps carry the torch for the little guy trying to make it in the league.

"The game's evolved and the game's changing," Weaver said. "The new rules are obviously affecting the GM's decisions now. You can't clutch and grab anymore, so as far as a big, tall defenseman that can't really skate, it's almost a thing of the past. You rely on your d-men to be a puck-moving, quick guy back there. He's a quarterback. He has to be quick. You can't cross-check in front of the net anymore ... it's all about the thinking game now. It's all about the position. If you're able to get pretty good position ... even though I'm 5-9, it's easy for me to box out a guy in front of the net when he's coming to the net. It's all about body position, it's all about being in the right place at the right time.

"I was talking to Mase the other day and on the ice, I always turn around and ask him, 'Can you see the puck after a shot?' He always says yes. I don't know if it's almost an advantage now to having a shorter defenseman in front of the net so you have one less guy for the goalie to look around. If you get two big bodies in front of the net, one being your guy and one being the defensive guy, it's got to be tough for the goalie to see that. ... The way the game's going, you're able to do more things than a taller defenseman."

That smaller-body position helped Weaver go a long way with the Oilers' Penner, who was outmatched in that particular sequence in the Blues' 2-1 victory Sunday.

"Going against Penner, it's all about positioning, it's all about getting just a step ahead of the guy," Weaver said. "You can stop any tall guy now. He almost has to push down on you. It's a little different."

Weaver certainly won't grow any more, so it's a case where he does what's necessary and what makes this hockey club go.

"It's one of those where he's figured out a way," Payne said. "He's figured out a way to make himself successful, he's figured out a way to contribute to the hockey team and he's done a great job with it."

When the season is over, Weaver will once again go into the summer with something to prove. It would be beneficial for the Blues to bring Weaver back into the fray, even though the franchise needs to see what it has with some of its young, talented defensive corps.

But one thing's for certain, if the Blues want to move forward, they know what they'll get with Weaver, and they know that he will hold the fort together at all times no matter what the circumstances.

"Every year, I've always had to sign a two-way (contract) and just live up to the challenge," Weaver said. "I was never really worried about not making a team. I know I'm pretty consistent back there and that's half the battle for a d-man, to be consistent and to be able to be relied on. I've built up a reputation of that. It's a challenge. I'd rather make it the hard way than the easy way. It feels a little bit better."

Weaver understands Blues management has a decision to make regarding his status, but he's made it clear St. Louis is a place he'd like to remain.

"My family loves it. I think the organization's great," Weaver said. "We got a good up-and-coming team. We'll just have to wait and see what happens in the off-season. It's one of those things where they have a lot of decisions to make. I guess it's a good situation to have. it's better to have more decisions to make than less. ... I'd be happy in St. Louis.

"I think they're going to do what's best for the organization. ... They know my game. They know how I play. They know me. At the end of the day, it's pretty much them saying, 'Hey, we want you back.'"

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Steen, Mason lead Blues past Blackhawks

4-2 victory over Chicago pulls St. Louis within six points of Colorado

ST. LOUIS -- As the final horn went off Tuesday, it was fitting that the two best players on the ice for the Blues congregated together, offering high-fives and hugs on a solid home victory.

Alex Steen was the first to pat Chris Mason on the head, and the rest of the team followed suit in making sure the top two players got their just dues.

In the case of Steen, don't let the dream end, because right now, it's a magical carpet ride that continues to escalate into great things.

Steen's two goals and an assist enabled him to set a career-high in points, and Mason was steller -- particularly early in the game, thwarting a pair of Chicago breakaways -- in stopping 32 shots as the Blues doubled up the Blackhawks 4-2 in front of 19,150 at Scottrade Center, the Blues' sixth win on home ice in eight games.

The Blues are a season-best seven games over .500 at 37-30-9 and moved within six points of eighth-place Colorado in the Western Conference playoff race with six games to go. The Avalanche was idle Tuesday.

As they trudge along in this playoff battle, Blues players were hoisted on the shoulders of Steen, who arguably is the team's MVP this season.

"He's playing great hockey," Blues coach Davis Payne said of Steen, who has 23 goals and 23 assists, surpassing his 45-point rookie season in 2005-06 with Toronto. "It's obvious that it's in his blood and he's come into this year determined to elevate his level, elevate his stature. We're certainly reaping the benefits of that. The determination to make the play, the determination to get the job done, the determination to make sure he's in the right place ... it's impressive."

Steen's second goal of the game was the game-winner against a Chicago team that has lost three games in a row in regulation for the first time this season and is 3-6-2 in its last 11.

The goal came 3 minutes 27 seconds into the third period, breaking a 2-2 tie when Steen coralled a cross-ice feed from David Backes and snapped a shot that went off the left arm of goalie Antti Niemi.

"The second one is a great pass from Backs," Steen said. "I was just fortunate it trickled in."

There's nothing fortunate about Steen shooting the puck these days. He leads the team in goals and took a team-leading seven of the 30 shots the Blues had in the game.

"It was a couple lucky ones there," said Steen, who took the spot of Paul Kariya on the top line after Kariya left early in the second with a lower-body injury. "The first one, Jay Mac pushes the d-man way back, gives me that extra time to get it off."

Steen, who logged 20:50 of ice time, knew the double-shifting was in order once Kariya went down.

"Going into the second, we knew we were a man short there with Paul out," Steen said. "The first shift there with Backs' line, (Payne) asked me to go, and I went."

For Payne, the decision was a no-brainer.

"It didn't take very long to come up with that one," he said. "... Here's a guy that's going. He seems to make every line kind of get a little more jump and a little more zone time and his ability to shoot the puck to generate those plays. It's great to see."

Probably more impressive that Steen's two goals was his ability to win a puck battle in the left corner that set up Erik Johnson's ninth of the season 10:22 into the third that gave the Blues a 4-2 lead.

Steen came out of a scrum after kicking the puck to himself, then feeding an on-rushing Johnson into the slot, and Johnson one-timed a shot between the pads of Niemi.

"I saw there was a little bit of a scrum over there in the corner and Steener came out with possession and then their defenseman was cheating away from that a little bit so I snuck in down the slot and got a really nice pass from Alex," said Johnson, whose nine goals are the most by a Blues defenseman since Chris Pronger scored 14 in 2003-04. "I just tried to put it on net and it's five-hole and it went in. It was a big goal at a big time of the game and it definitely felt good to score."

Steen had the play in front of him and saw Johnson rushing the slot.

"He made a great read, too," Steen said of Johnson. "He comes in as soon as I kind of kicked it out of there, EJ came down the pipe pretty quick and he made it an easy play."

The Blues had to overcome an early 2-1 first-period deficit in which the Hawks (46-22-7) had their pick of the ice and scored twice off costly Blues turnovers.

Two turnovers right inside the Chicago blue line led to both Blackhawk goals in the first period, with Patrick Sharp getting one 7:41 in and Marian Hossa getting another at 16:25.

The first one, T.J. Oshie's pass was behind that of Backes that allowed Jonathan Toews to spring Sharp in on a breakaway, and the Hawks winger waited Mason out before roofing a backhand shot for a 1-0 lead.

Steen's 22nd of the season at 13:05 tied the game 1-1, but then a puck hopped past Eric Brewer and Toews was off on a breakaway again. Mason made the initial stop, but Hossa was there to collect the rebound and backhand it past the sprawled Blues goalie for a 2-1 Chicago lead.

Obviously, the Blues had areas to clean up.

"All game there, they were flying guys out of the zone," Johnson said of the Hawks. "They had two guys stretch at the far blue line almost all night. We had to read and adjust to that. They have such good speed up front that we had to make sure to bog that down and clog that up a little bit for them. After the first, I think we got a little bit better, but we still had a few breakdowns -- myself included -- so it was something we tried to shore up.

"You have to be on a shoulder check and have your head on a swivel for sure. It can be tough, but it's what we've learned growing up since I've been a little kid. It's just kind of engrained into me and something you kind of learn from."

Brewer's seventh of the season tied the game, a shot from the left point that caromed off a Chicago player over Niemi 5:39 into the second period.

The Blues certainly tightened up the ice and limited Chicago's space, and Mason came up big when needed.

He stopped Hossa on a breakaway attempt just 1:25 into the third period of a 2-2 game, stacking the pads.

"I was fortunate enough to make a couple saves for the guys," said Mason, whose 27 wins match a career-best set last season. "We kind of got our legs and our heads back in it after the first period and started to play a lot better.

"You've got to watch that team. They've got some high-end talent. It's tough giving them chances like that because eventually, they're going to score. We tightened up after that. I don't know why we came out like that, but we recovered and got the win."

The Blues recovered because of Steen's offensive prowess and Mason's clutch saves.

"He's probably our MVP," Johnson said of Steen. "Chris Mason's up there. There's a lot of guys that have contributed, but I think he's been our most consistent worker every night. ... He's a jack of all trades and he leads by example."

* NOTES -- Payne said he didn't see Kariya's injury but that it would be a wait-and-see process. "I haven't seen the mechanism either. I don't know if it happened on contact or skating motion, but right now, it's lower-body, day-to-day." ... Blues goalie Ty Conklin turned 34 Tuesday. ... The Blues signed 2009 second-round pick Brett Ponich to a three-year, entry-level contract Tuesday. Ponich, a defenseman, will remain with his junior team, the Portland Winterhawks of the Western Hockey League. ... Forward Patrik Berglund returned to action after being benched on Sunday for missing practice Saturday. Berglund was a plus-1 with 14:07 ice time. ... Blues forward Cam Janssen was involved in two fights, the second drew him a game-misconduct after a fight with Chicago's Nick Boynton. Janssen got tossed because of the last punch he delivered to Boynton after he was on the ground.

(3-30-10) Blackhawks-Blues Gameday Lineup

ST. LOUIS -- Davis Payne was back in his old stomping grounds this past weekend, getting acclimated with the sights and sounds of the American Hockey League once again.

But this was no feel-good trip for the Blues' coach. He was on a scouting mission to see one of the Blues' up-and-comers that fans will grow accustomed to seeing in a Blues uniform in the very near future.

Payne was at Carver Arena taking in the Peoria Rivermen's game Saturday and he was there to see Ian Cole, the Blues' first-round pick (18th overall) of 2007.

Cole, 21, just recently signed a amateur tryout contract after foregoing his senior season at the Notre Dame.

And so far, the reviews are right on par, as Cole has tallied a goal and three assists in four games for the Rivermen.

"I thought he handled himself very, very well," Payne said. "I thought his read of the game, his gap and spacing was very good. His crispness with his puck decisions ... it was a guy who was coming out of college off for two weeks stepping into the American (Hockey) League and looked very comfortable in his reads, trusting his feet, trusting his abilities to make plays. I thought he played a very poised hockey game, which is good to see."

It seems that the sky's the limit for Cole, all 6-foot-1, 220-pounds of him. But Payne says it's still too early to tell.

"You're asking me to scout off one game. That may be a tough task," Payne said. "I think when you look at his physical attributes, he's certainly got the body and the strength and drive. To see that poise show up, now all of the sudden that poise has to start translating into a bigger, faster pace.

"Obviously, it's a higher level of opponent when you step up into this league. There's work to be done, but there's certainly plenty to work with."

* * *

The Blues (36-30-9) had a brisk but light skate this morning at Scottrade Center.

Payne said that center Patrik Berglund, who was benched for Sunday's game for missing practice on Saturday, will be back in the lineup tonight. Also, defenseman Roman Polak, who is nursing a sore right shoulder sustained March 20 in New Jersey, will play.

So it appears that line combinations will revert back prior to the Edmonton game:

Paul Kariya-David Backes-T.J. Oshie

Andy McDonald-Patrik Berglund-David Perron

Alex Steen-Jay McClement-Brad Boyes

Cam Janssen-Keith Tkachuk-B.J. Crombeen

Matt D'Agostini, who's been battling the flu bug, Brad Winchester and D.J. King are healthy scratches.

The D-pairings will remain the same:

Eric Brewer-Erik Johnson

Barret Jackman-Roman Polak

Carlo Colaiacovo-Mike Weaver

Darryl Sydor will be the healthy scratch.

Chris Mason, who's 26-21-8 with a 2.53 goals-against average and .913 save percentage, will make the start. He's 1-1-0 with a 2.02 GAA and .938 save percentage in two starts against the Hawks this season.

"Typical, close, hard-fought games," Mason said when asked of the games against Chicago this season. "We've had a couple of stinkers with them, but for the most part, we play them hard, kind of down to the wire, especially the last two."

* * *

The Blues announced Tuesday that they have signed 2009 second-round pick Brett Ponich to an entry-level contract.

Ponich, 19, will remain with his junior club, the Portland Winterhawks of the Western Hockey League where he's played the past four seasons.

Ponich, who is 6-foot-7, 215-pounds, was the 48th overall pick in last summer's draft. He has one goal and 13 assists in 66 games this season.

* * *

Payne was in his media briefing and asked by the panel of Chicago reporters as well as the reporters from Versus, who will be doing the national telecast tonight, about what makes the Blues go and what drives this team in its success.

"We can define our game with the momentum routes that we run through the neutral zone," Payne said. "We're not a team that wants to take a lot of time and pace ourselves coming through there kind of working our way through the neutral zone. We've got guys who play good hockey on their toes and we have ways to define getting ourselves moving in that direction, being predictable and defining that momentum into the offensive zone and allowing forechecks to work. The quicker we get through, the less time and more support we have coming through the neutral zone, we feel that it fuels our forecheck, it fuels the type of game we want attempt through definition get that ice tilted in our own direction."

Payne was also asked about the Blues' slim playoff hopes, as they have 81 points and trail eighth-place Colorado by eight in the Western Conference.

"We've talked a lot about the standard. We understand where we sit, we understand we need some help, and we're not happy about that," Payne said. "We've played some decent hockey lately, but the standard has to be as such that we're playing at a high level that instead of worrying about consistent play, we're worrying about finding ways to win, and that's what has to happen right now.

"We need some help, but we also have to take care of our business and make sure that we're posting a number. If other teams do their job, then we might be in a tougher situation than we want to be. But we want to force them to have to take care of their business as we do ours. ... Small, narrow focus each day, and that's all that we can take care of."

- - -

The Blackhawks (46-21-7) come into Scottrade Center tonight in their worst slump of the season, going winning just three games in their previous 10 (3-5-2).

The goaltending has been at the forefront of the discussions as to reasons for the downhill turn, but the Blues, who are 1-3-0 against the Hawks this season including 0-2-0 here, will not take a 99-point team lightly.

"With the talent pool that they have and the way they've played this year, I wouldn't say they're a wounded duck," Mason said. "Every team we play at this point of year is desperate one way or the other, whether they're going for the top spot in the west or fighting for playoffs or pride.

"They're one of the best skating teams in the league. Their depth makes them dangerous throughout the whole game. They have a lot of good depth scoring, they obviously have a lot of high-end talent on their top two lines. Good goaltending and solid D, so they're pretty a well-balanced team."

When the Blues play their best against the Hawks, Mason said it's a simple formula.

"We're physical, but we're not going too far out of the way where it's getting us out of position," he said. "Just being physical on the guys when we have an opportunity and just making smart plays because if you turn the puck over against a team like this, they make you pay."

The Hawks, coming off back-to-back losses against Columbus, have been tinkering with their line combinations in recent games and will likely go with the following combinations:

Patrick Sharp-Jonathan Toews-Marian Hossa

Dustin Byfuglien-Kris Versteeg-Patrick Kane

Andrew Ladd-Dave Bolland-Troy Brouwer

Ben Eager-John Madden-Adam Burish

Defenseman Brian Campbell (broken clavicle, broken rib) is still sidelined, as is defenseman Kim Johnsson (concussion). D-pairings will feature the following:

Duncan Keith-Brent Sopel

Niklas Hjalmarsson-Brent Seabrook

Jordan Hendry-Nick Boynton

Antti Niemi (20-6-3, 2.25 GAA, .910 save percentage) will be in goal.

Monday, March 29, 2010


Berglund back on ice, apologizes for missing
practice; Blackhawks in town tonight

ST. LOUIS -- Patrik Berglund was back on the ice for the Blues on Monday morning and he most certainly has learned a hard lesson.

Berglund was scratched for Sunday's 2-1 win over Edmonton by Blues coach Davis Payne because he missed Saturday's practice. Berglund and Payne both said the 21-year-old overslept.

Berglund, who has 13 goals and 11 assists in 67 games this season, apologized to his teammates for the transgression.

"Obviously, I let down my teammates, didn't show up to practice. I overslept, so ... it's team rules and team fines," Berglund said. "Whatever they decided they're going to do, we'll move on from there. It's my responsibility and I accept the consequences obviously."

Berglund participated in today's practice and took in some tough love from Payne and teammates. His intensity level was high in many instances, and it shows a sign that he's ready to get back on par with his teammates.

"It's nothing you want to have on your record," Berglund said. "I'm very disappointed in myself. It's going to take a long time for me to get over what happened. But I have good teammates and this is a really good organization and I know I will be fine."

Berglund has gotten the support from his teammates and everyone is ready to move forward.

"The situation has been dealt with," Blues captain Eric Brewer said. "It's certainly not a situation that he likes. We're just really, to be honest, moving forward. He's good, we're all good, and we'll just carry on."

Payne said Monday that a decision as to whether Berglund will return for tonight's game against Chicago has not been made, but the anticipation is he will be back.

"We've had our talks and we'll move on from here," Berglund said.

* Polak update -- Blues defenseman Roman Polak was the only player not to skate at today's practice at Scottrade Center, as he's still nursing a sore right shoulder sustained at New Jersey on March 20 that caused him to miss two games.

Polak, 23, did return to play in the last two games but was dinged up a bit again in Sunday's win over Edmonton.

"Upper-body, but it's more of a maintenance thing so we can have him ready to go tomorrow," Payne said.

When asked if he expects Polak to play tonight, Payne said, "That's what we're anticipating."

* Scouting the Blackhawks -- The Blues and Blackhawks will renew their I-55 rivalry when the puck drops at 7 p.m. today (Versus, KMOX 1120-AM) at Scottrade Center.

The Hawks, who have cooled off a bit after playing among the upper echelon teams in the league, are 3-5-2 in their last 10 games but still have 99 points on the season at 46-21-7 and have secured a playoff berth.

The Hawks lead the season series with the Blues 3-1-0, including 2-0-0 in St. Louis.

"They've obviously got a lot of talent up front," said Payne, whose first game as coach of the Blues was against Chicago Jan. 2. "They have four lines that can score and contribute at any given moment. We have to be disciplined in that regard. They also play with a real good transition game. But I think part of the thing that is most impressive when we watch Chicago is how hard they pressure from behind. It gives their D a real strong ability to play tight gaps and if we're not disciplined with our puck possessions and making sure we're going forward, it kind of feeds their transition game."

Chicago, which comes in off back-to-back losses against Columbus, seem to be heading down the stretch with goaltending issues with both Cristobal Huet and Antti Niemi.

"I know when we watch them, we still consider them a very dangerous team, a quality team, a very skilled, a very fast team," Payne said. "Even if they haven't had the results they've wanted, right now they're still a 100-point hockey club that's still in the playoffs and have Stanley Cup aspirations. We've got to make sure that we're ready."

* Ending tidbits -- The Blues, who come into tonight's game with a mark of 36-30-9, good for 81 points, have the same record they had a season ago at this time. But last season, the Blues were tied for eighth in the Western Conference with Edmonton. This year, they trail eighth-place Colorado by eight points and are currently 10th. ... Blues goalie Ty Conklin turns 34 today. ... After tonight's game, the Blues will have six games left, three at home (Saturday vs. Dallas, April 5 vs. Columbus and April 9 vs. Anaheim) and three on the road (Thursday at Nashville, April 7 at Chicago and April 10 at Nashville).

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Tkachuk celebrates birthday in style

Veteran, who turned 38 Sunday, nets
game-winner in 2-1 victory over Edmonton

ST. LOUIS -- The wily, grizzled veteran still has the touch around the net.

Keith Tkachuk, grey-breaded and all, who was celebrating his 38th birthday on Sunday, came into the Blues' game against the Edmonton Oilers with 537 career goals, and many of them came in typical Keith Tkachuk fashion: tip-ins, redirections from fighting for position around the goal.

Tkachuk was true to form with the game-winner in the third period, his 538th career goal, 13th of the season and first in 14 games as the Blues continue to breath on a respirator as far as their playoff lives are concerned with a 2-1 win over the Oilers at Scottrade Center.

The goal broke a 1-1 tie when Alex Steen threw the puck towards goal from the blue line before Brad Winchester got a tip on it, then Tkachuk also redirected it between his skates past Oilers netminder Devan Dubnyk 7 minutes 36 seconds into the third period.

"It was a great shot and a great high screen by Winchester and a great shot by Steen," Tkachuk said. "It was a critical part of the game.

"We didn't start off very well tonight in the first, but we started getting more shots, more bodies to the net and I think we wore them down."

The Blues (36-30-9) kept their slight playoff hopes alive by downing a floundering Oilers team that boasts the worst record in the NHL, which now stands at 24-44-7. St. Louis now has 81 points, eight less than eighth-place Colorado, which fell 4-3 at San Jose Sunday night. The Blues have seven games remaining.

Erik Johnson scored his eighth goal of the season, and Chris Mason stopped 23 shots as the Blues improved to 14-18-5 at home but 5-2-0 in their last seven here.

"It's a big win at home. We're still alive, and you get on the board finally," Tkachuk said. "It seems like a long time, so it's nice to contribute."

The Blues were sluggish from the outset and paid for the sloppy start when Patrick O'Sullivan intercepted a poor Barret Jackman outlet pass, skated in alone on Mason and beat the Blues' netminder with a backhand five-hole 10:22 into the period for a 1-0 Oilers lead.

The Oilers outshot the Blues 10-7 in the first, and some reassessing needed to be addressed between periods.

"We were terrible after the first period and coach (Davis) Payne came in and let us hear it that we really needed to step up our game," Johnson said. "We came out better in the second and closed it out in the third. We were very much improved from the first period. We got a good wake-up call from him."

"I think the feeling in here was a little intense," defenseman Carlo Colaiacovo said. "I think we just needed to settle down and play confident and do the things that we were accostomed to be known for doing; moving the feet, hitting the body and playing to our level and not theirs."

Payne said it wasn't just the fact that the veteran Jackman tried to go cross-ice with the puck from the left boards, but many other aspects.

"It was probably not just the goal we were dissatisfied with," Payne said. "I don't think we played a very intent first period. It wasn't the type of puck possessions, wasn't the type of support, it wasn't the type of defensive intensity we were looking for. We made special mention of that after the first period and made sure we got to our game in the second."

The announced crowd of 19,150 did not have much to cheer about through the first half of the game, but Johnson finally woke them up with a slap shot from the blue line that beat Dubnyk, a power play goal 10:43 into the second to tie the game 1-1.

"I got a nice pass from T.J. (Oshie) and just set it up and had a great screen in front by Brad Winchester, which made the whole play happen," Johnson said. "It was nice to see it go in."

The Blues outshot the Oilers 16-6 in the middle period and carried some momentum into the third, which finally paid off with Tkachuk's game-winner.

"He'll tell you how many goals he's scored, and I'm sure he's scored a high percentage of them with his back to the net," Payne said of Tkachuk. "There's an art to it. There's body position, there's willingness to go there. He's given up a few teeth, we know, in order to get there and score some. Just a typical Keith Tkachuk goal."

Edmonton intensified its game, and even tried to stir things up when Marc Pouliot tried to take on Colaiacovo, which turned out to be a bad move.

Colaiacovo caught Pouliot with a clean right-handed haymaker that drew oohs and aahs from the crowd.

"The time of the game, I was just sticking up for myself," Colaiacovo said. "The guy hit me real late there. It was a nice way for me to respond."

Edmonton pulled Dubnyk with 1:33 to play and was hovering around the Blues' goal in the waning seconds but could not pot the equalizer.


Berglund scratched for missing practice; Tkachuk's still got it

ST. LOUIS -- Settling an example, Blues coach Davis Payne stood firm on his decision to make an example out of forward Patrik Berglund.

The talented Swede missed Sunday's 2-1 victory over Edmonton because he missed Saturday's practice at Scottrade Center, as Payne said Berglund overslept.

The two met to discuss the matter, and it was decided that he would sit out Sunday's game, and further punishment would be forthcoming if deemed necessary.

"There's consequences to our actions," Payne said. "In that event, he broke a team rule and this was our decision to take him out of the lineup tonight. The rest of it will be internal, and that's all we're going to say out of it.

"We have standards. We have standards that apply on the ice, we have standards that apply off the ice, we have standards that apply in our locker room. We won't compromise those. We have to live up to them. This is part of what the message was today."

When asked if the message was delivered and put to rest, Payne said, "We're just getting done with today. We'll gather back here tomorrow and deal with tomorrow. We'll see where we sit from that point forward heading into (Tuesday's game with) Chicago."

* Still getting the job done -- Blues forward Keith Tkachuk, who turned 38 on Sunday, is the elder statesman in the Blues' locker room.

The wheels aren't what they used to be, but they still turn out critical plays -- and goals -- when the team needs him at his best.

'Big Walt' scored his 13th goal of the season and 538th of his career, which is 30th on the all-time goal-scoring list. He is just four goals shy of tying Chicago great Stan Mikita for 29th.

"You couldn't script it any better being his 38th birthday today and for him to get the game-winner ... obviously he's been around the league a long time," Blues defenseman Carlo Colaiacovo said. "I think it's a real special feeling for him and glad he got it done."

Tkachuk scored Sunday in typical style: with his back to the goal, using his stick for a redirection or taking a beating.

"Probably about 525," Tkachuk said when asked how many he's netted like Sunday's goal. "... You've got to teach these young guys how to go to the tough areas to score goals."

The players were razzing the 18-year veteran afterwards.

"He's the old man of the team. I don't know if he'll have to buy dinner for some of the guys because it's his birthday, but it's good to see him score," Blues defenseman Erik Johnson joked, who's 16 years younger at 22. "He's a big leader in our locker room and really helps us out. He's such a vocal guy who does so many things for our team. It's good to see him get rewarded."

When asked if Tkachuk's wheels were still motoring fast, Johnson laughed, "I don't want him to take the wrath out on me. He was flying out there."

Tkachuk, whose career began with the Winnipeg Jets in the 1991-92 season, recalled his days being a youngster watching the veterans of those teams.

"I was in awe of guys like Randy Carlyle and Mario Marois that they were playing hockey at that age, so now I'm that guy," Tkachuk said. "It's not too much fun."

Colaiacovo was asked if he sees himself playing when he's 38, to which he said, "I sure hope so. I'm hoping to chase down (Chris) Chelios (who's 48)."

* Cole shines -- Defenseman Ian Cole, the Blues' first round draft pick in 2007, is making quite the early impression with the team's AHL affiliate in Peoria.

After signing an amateur tryout contract last week to join the Rivermen, Cole has fit in quite nicely with one goal and three assists in three games.

* Fight king -- With teammate D.J. King standing next to him, Colaiacovo was asked about his fighting prowess.

Colaiacovo, not known to throw down the gloves, fought Edmonton's Marc Pouliot and gave the crowd something to cheer about with a clean right to the Oilers' center's jaw.

"Sometimes, you just get lucky when you're in that situation," Colaiacovo said. "And there's no better feeling when the fans respond the way they did."

King laughed when hearing Colaiacovo say he watches him and Cam Janssen duking it out in practice.

"I always get pointers from (King)," Colaiacovo said. "I always see him and Janz duking it out in at the end of practice. I'm in there listening to stuff."

Saturday, March 27, 2010

No Goal Patrol tops in league at its trade

Blues' PK unit has been one constant
in a season of unfulfilling expectations

ST. LOUIS -- The Blues, in a season where hopes and dreams of following up last season's playoff team are currently on thin ice, have certainly had their share of ups and downs.

The one glaring down -- to the surprise of the team, it's fans and the entire city -- is the team's paltry record at home. It will be the primary reason this team doesn't follow up on another playoff entry when they're mathematically eliminated.

But one constant this season -- and in season's past -- is the job that the Blues' penalty killing unit has done.

It's been nearly impeccable.

Call it the 'No Goal Patrol.'

The unit has been stingy on a consistent basis for much of the season -- aside from a few hiccups here and there. But after slamming the door shut on Los Angeles on six of seven tries Thursday night, the Blues are atop of the league in penalty killing percentage.

It enters today's 5 p.m. game against the Edmonton Oilers as the No. 1 unit, slamming the door shut at a clip of 86.1 percent. They've allowed 43 goals on 309 attempts.

Going back to last season, they were third in the league at 83.8 percent, and in 2007-08, they were seventh at 84.4 percent.

It's been an area that the Blues have thrived in, and one they take no prisoners in. They just seal the deal.

What makes this year's unit even more remarkable is the games in which the Blues have killed off four or more penalties. They've accomplished that feat in 39 of their 74 games. Their best for one game is eight, done twice (against Vancouver on Dec. 31 when they were 8-for-9 and against Toronto on Feb. 12 when they were 8-for-8).

They're equally as good when killing off 5-on-3's. Considering the percentages of scoring when a team is playing with a two-man advantage, the Blues have allowed only four goals on 15 attempts in 10 minutes 54 seconds of time. That says something in itself.

Is there a technique to it? Not really.

Is there a special formula? Certainly not.

So then why has it been so successful?

"As a penalty killing unit, we're sticking together," said defenseman Mike Weaver, a mainstay on the PK unit. "I think we're on the same page. We're getting key saves by our goaltender and getting the puck out (of the zone). When we get a handle on the puck, we want to get it out ASAP."

So that's it. Getting the puck out as soon as possible.

Sounds logical.

"They have the one-shot-and-out kind of mentality," goalie Chris Mason said. "They clear rebounds, let me see the puck. When I tell them I can't see, they do a great job of clearing the guys out or stepping out of the way or blocking the shot. ... The PK has been good all year."

Several guys take it as an honor to be a part of this team's PK unit, which is led by assistant coach Brad Shaw.

At any given time, it can be Weaver and Barret Jackman, along with Alex Steen and Jay McClement. Or it can feature Roman Polak and Eric Brewer, to go with T.J. Oshie and David Backes. Erik Johnson takes his turn at it along with B.J. Crombeen. Even Paul Kariya and Andy McDonald have had their dibs at killing penalties.

For the Blues, it's a collective effort that has them atop the league.

"That group takes a lot of pride," Blues coach Davis Payne said. "Shawsie's got them extremely well-prepared. As far as understanding when the opportunity is to pressure, when the opportunity is to take away next options, they're very much an in-sync group. We really try to get the pairs and the groups of four out there on the ice at the same time so that we have that consistency. They generally read off each other very well. To this point, it's the strength of our hockey club."

It's a strength that sees the Blues thriving in when at times, scoring goals and succeeding on the power play has been inconsistent often.

Guys like Brewer, Polak, Weaver and Jackman are the masters at blocking shots, McClement, Oshie, Backes and Steen reading the plays on the point and disrupting the passing lanes and putting pressure on the opposition.

The Blues may allow entry into the zone, but they don't give you a whole lot of room to operate. There's times where they bend but don't break. That's been the key.

"I think everybody on the team really appreciates the job those guys do and the sacrifice it takes," Payne said. "... It's work. No. 1 (it) is work. And you've got to use your head and you've got to sacrifice. Those guys have a high level of all three of those things and those don't go unnoticed within the group.

"They generate momentum moments for us, whether it's a block or a read or a denial or a great save. All of those guys are working together, along with the goaltender. There's lots of different structure that's designed to enhance that. These guys have done a great job in their units and as pairs, making sure (that when) the arm goes up and the group goes on the ice, and we've got a pretty high level of confidence in those guys going out there."

The success doesn't just come with stepping on the ice and killing off a penalty. The Blues and Shaw spend countless time at practice perfecting their trade.

The communication efforts go hand-in-hand and allows the group when on the ice at all times to positionally know what each other is doing.

"I think it starts with Brad Shaw, heading it up," Weaver said. "He's got us on the same page and everybody is buying into the system. Obviously key saves at the right time are huge, and our goaltenders have done that for the last two years. It gives us a chance."

Had it not been for an unfortunate turnover in Thursday's 3-1 win over the Kings, the Blues would have been a perfect 7-for-7. They've been perfect in 38 of 74 games this season.

"We gave up that one (Thursday), but all-in-all, the PK (has been) a success," Oshie said. "We didn't let them get too many opportunities and when we did, Mase was there to slam the door shut."
Slamming the door shut is the nature of the business for the Blues when it comes to killing penalties. Most teams dread it. The Blues relish the challenge.

"When we get a penalty called against us, it's actually great momentum for us," Weaver said. "We know that we're going to kill it off. It's great to have that feeling that every time we have a good chance of killing it off."

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Blues keep faint playoff hopes alive with victory

Mason, PK unit backstop 3-1 victory over Kings,
leaves St. Louis 8 points out with 8 games remaining

ST. LOUIS -- As long as the Blues have a pulse, there's no need to ignore what the ultimate goal is.

That was the message after Thursday night's 3-1 win over the Los Angeles Kings at Scottrade Center that left the Blues (35-30-9) eight points in back of eighth-place Detroit in the Western Conference standings with eight games to play.

"We're going to keep on winning hockey games," said Blues coach Davis Payne, whose squad has won 10 of its last 15 games. "Until they tell us we're not eligible (for the playoffs), we're going to make sure that hey, if there's fight left in us, we're going to put it out there, here at home (or) on the road.

"Stranger things have happened and we intend to keep winning until the games run out."

The Blues had the fight against the Kings, who the Blues have beaten three of four games this season. And they got a rare win at home, which has been the team's Achilles' heel all season long.

"We're definitely far from the situation we would like to be in, where we thought we would be in, but we are where we are and we're not going to give up," said Blues goalie Chris Mason, who stopped 30 shots in winning his 25th game. "You never know."

The Blues got goals from B.J. Crombeen, T.J. Oshie and Paul Kariya, whose goal came after a video review that showed Kariya's 18th of the season and 402nd of his career rattle around off a couple bodies in front before being tucked into the corner of the net as Kings defenseman Randy Jones swiped it out with his skate.

"I just shot it five-hole and I was kind of tired, just trying to get off the ice," Kariya said. "It bounced around, ping-ponged around there and got into the net."

The Blues' best line of defense, aside from Mason, was their penalty-killing unit, which is now No. 1 in the league after thwarting the Kings (42-25-6) on six of seven attempts which included a 41-second stint of a two-man advantage.

The PK unit jumped into No. 1 as the top ranking squad in the NHL at 86.1 percent.

"Some of the calls were deserved, some were questionable, but we had a lot of opportunity to work on our PK, which has been pretty good all year," Mason said. "It was the one-shot-and-out thing, clearing rebounds, letting me see the puck."

Crombeen got the scoring started when he converted a 2-on-1 break after stripping the puck from Davis Drewiske and beating Jonathan Quick 3 minutes 57 seconds into the game. It was the sixth game in a row the Blues scored the game's first goal. They are 3-3-0 in those games.

Oshie's 16th of the season made it 2-0 off another turnover, this time by Kings phenom Drew Doughty. Oshie patiently waited out Quick and roofed a wrister 1:06 into the second after Kariya threw the puck at the net that caromed off Keith Tkachuk.

"Quick is a great goaltender," Oshie said. "Luckily, I got it upstairs and got it past him."

The Blues carried a 2-0 lead into the third period, and it's a known fact about the Blues and third periods -- particularly at home.

And when the Kings' Dustin Brown converted a power play goal just 4:38 into the final 20 minutes, a hush fell over the announced crowd of 19,150 that must have feelings of "here we go again."

But Kariya's goal with six minutes remaining reestablished the Blues' two-goal advantage.

"They got it to 2-1 and there were some questionable calls and it seemed like we were in the box the whole third period," Kariya said. "It was tough to generate any offense, so it was nice to turn the tides there."

* NOTES -- Kariya's goal was the 402nd of his career. ... Tkachuk (lower-body) and defenseman Roman Polak (right shoulder) returned to the lineup for the Blues. Polak missed the previous two games, while Tkachuk sat out Wednesday's 4-2 loss at Detroit. ... Blues winger Brad Boyes played in his 400th consecutive game. He ranks third in the league in the iron man streak. ... The Blues have now won the series against the Kings in 11 of the last 14 seasons. ... The American Hockey league announced the individual team winners of the American Specialty/AHL Man of the Year awards, selected by their respective clubs for their outstanding contributions to the local community and charitable organizations during the 2009-10 season. Blues prospect Lars Eller was chosen as the representative from the Blues' AHL affiliate in Peoria.

(3-25-10) Kings-Blues Gameday Lineup

ST. LOUIS -- As long as the math doesn't exclude them from the postseason, the Blues will approach the remaining games they have left as if they still have a pulse.

It's the only way to go about it, according to Blues goalie Chris Mason.

"Whether we do or we don't, we're professionals and you should have enough pride in here that nobody should ever quit regardless of the circumstance," said Mason, who will start tonight's home game against the Los Angeles Kings. "... You never know until it's official.

"The bottom line is you never know what's going to happen. The last two games really hurt our chances a lot. It's tough to swallow right now, but you never know what's going to happen. There's a lot of pride and you just have to keep playing because you just never know. There's always a chance."

The Blues (34-30-9) limp home after losses against Nashville (3-2) Sunday and Detroit (4-2) Wednesday night and now trail the eighth-place Red Wings by 10 points.

It looks pretty bleak, but the players feel a sense of obligation to try and finish strong and hope for the best. There's also the realization that some people are also playing for jobs for next year and that also plays a role.

"We've got a good group of guys in here that's not going to quit," forward B.J. Crombeen said. "Obviously the last couple games would have been big to come out on the other end of them, but we can't do anything about that now. All we can do it try to take care of what we can take care of, and that's going and winning one game at a time."

* * *

The Blues have used an array of centers this season to fill in whenever needed.

Both Keith Tkachuk and David Backes are converted wingers now playing center on a regular basis for the team. T.J. Oshie, a natural center by trade but playing on the wing since joining the Blues, has also filled in down the middle. And of course, there's center-turned winger Andy McDonald.

Crombeen, a winger his entire playing career, has been the next one to audition for a new role.

With Tkachuk missing games in recent weeks because of a dislocated pinky finger and also sitting out Wednesday's game with a lower-body issue, Crombeen has been asked to fill in.

"It's been a little different," Crombeen said this morning. "Obviously, it's a whole new position that I've never played before. It's been a bit of a learning curve. I've had about four or five games with it now."

When asked how it's gone, the 24-year-old said, "It's not too bad. The draws are one of the hardest things to try to get, to try and get the timing on against guys that are pretty skilled at it. So I just try and keep working on it. Other than that, defensive zone, offensive zone, it's pretty similar. It's just a lot of communication, a lot of talking. It's a little bit more skating, but you know what, I've enjoyed it so far. I'll try and do whatever I can."

Crombeen centered the fourth line with Brad Winchester and Matt D'Agostini Wednesday night.

"They kind of put me there. I'm not going to say no," Crombeen said. "If that's where they need me, that's where they need me and I'll do whatever I can to help."

* * *

Both Tkachuk and defenseman Roman Polak (sore shoulder) participated in today's morning skate and both seemed to do enough to get back into the lineup.

When asked if he had a green light for tonight, Tkachuk said, "Yeah ... I hope so." Polak was also asked if he will go tonight, and he said, "I think so."

So barring any late changes regarding Tkachuk, the forward lines look similar to this (but keep in mind, today was an optional and 11 players and two goalies of the 24 skaters were on the ice today for the optional skate):

Paul Kariya-David Backes-T.J. Oshie

Andy McDonald-Patrik Berglund-David Perron

Alex Steen-Jay McClement-Brad Boyes

Cam Janssen-Keith Tkachuk-B.J. Crombeen

Healthy scratches will be Matt D'Agostini, D.J. King and Brad Winchester.

The D-pairings, barring any late change regarding Polak, will see a familiar lineup:

Eric Brewer-Erik Johnson

Barret Jackman-Roman Polak

Carlo Colaiacovo-Mike Weaver

With a return of Polak, that will make Darryl Sydor a healthy scratch.

Chris Mason gets back in goal tonight.

- - -

The Kings (42-24-6), who dropped a 4-3 shootout decision at Colorado Wednesday night, did not skate this morning.

They took the only meeting between the two teams here by a 2-1 score back on Oct. 10. The Blues won both meetings in Los Angeles, 5-4 in a shootout on Dec. 5 and 4-3 on Jan. 9.

The Kings are expected to use the following lineup:

Brad Richardson-Anze Kopitar-Wayne Simmonds

Fredrik Modin-Michal Handzus-Dustin Brown

Ryan Smyth-Jarret Stoll-Justin Williams

Alexander Frolov-Jeff Halpern-Scott Parse

The D-pairings should feature:

Rob Scuderi-Drew Doughty

Sean O'Donnell-Jack Johnson

Randy Jones-Davis Drewiske

Jonathan Quick will start in goal again tonight despite being pulled after allowing three goals on 16 shots Wednesday night in Denver. It will be Quick's 72nd appearance.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Opponents making life tough in West

Despite winning 9 of 13, Blues lose
ground against teams in playoff race

ST. LOUIS -- Last season, while the Blues were ascending up the playoff mountain, their competitors were slowly losing steps.

An improbable finish to the 2008-09 season catapulted the Blues into the postseason for the first time since 2004, and there was no way of stopping the express that was hurling speed bumps in front of every challenge.

A 9-1-1 finish to the season ended with the Blues entering the postseason as the No. 6 seed in the Western Conference.

But as the current season winds down, it's looking more and more as if the Blues will be spectators rather than participants despite winning nine of the last 13 games.

When the Blues finished drubbing Dallas 6-1 on March 4, they were within one point of stepping into the Western Conference's Elite Eight. It was their season-best fifth win in a row, and there were thoughts that deja vu could quickly emerge once again.

But since that stretch, the Blues have gone 4-4-0, and as they face Detroit today at 6:30 p.m., the margin has widened to eight points and only 10 games remain on the docket.

"That's the way it goes," Blues forward Brad Boyes said Tuesday. "That's the way that the league is meant (to be) run. There's three-point games. When you're looking at a couple teams ahead of you, you put on a run, they put on a run. ... It’s tough. You can't control it. We've got to control obviously what we can. We've got to win every game. That's almost the mindset we've got to have.

"We can't do anything about that. We're just looking at whatever we can get. We're playing the team we're battling with (for the last playoff spot) tomorrow night. That's a big game for us."

The players have come to the realization that too many games -- and precious points -- were given away early on in the season.

Last year's team put itself in the same predicament. But they wiggled out of that jam.

It's looking more and more like the current roster will not embark on the same destiny.

"It's real frustrating because it seems like we're playing well, but the teams we're fighting with are playing just as good," said goalie Chris Mason. "They're the hottest teams in the league and it's tough. We have good stretches like this and it feels like you're not gaining anything and it's disappointing. ... We put a really good stretch together, but we put ourselves in this position early in the year. We only have ourselves to blame for that."

Defenseman Erik Johnson, who was not part of last season's magical run because of the knee injury he suffered that caused him to miss all of 2008-09, knows that even though it's one loss, the stinging defeat to Nashville on Sunday and the way the Blues lost cripples a team so severely at this point in the season.

"When you're in a hole like this, you need help from the teams you're chasing to lose a little bit, but that's our own fault for blowing games at the beginning of the season," Johnson said. "All we can do is worry about ourselves right now and win as many hockey games as we can.

"It's frustrating because every game is so important right now. You can't afford to blow away points when other teams are winning. The games that you're playing against the other teams you're trying to catch are the most important ones and that game against Nashville really stings. We just have to keep plugging along, we have to pretty much win out. I think everyone believes they can do it."

It can be a daunting task considering the Blues are winning consistently, but the teams they're fighting with or trying to catch are winning just as much, if not more.

"I suppose, but we knew it was a tall task. We know it still is," coach Davis Payne said Tuesday. "We also know the possibilities and the opportunities for us to play great and do some great things. That's our focus. I don't know how it played out last year when that type of winning, nine out of 13 or whatever it was ... I don't know what kind of gap that would have closed last year, but hey, this is a completely different entity. You've got Calgary, Nashville (and) Detroit all playing extremely well. Those are the teams we're trying to chase. You get yourself into a situation where if they meet that pace, it's tough to catch. But we've got to take care of our business and that starts tomorrow night in Detroit."

The Blues, who play six of their 10 remaining games at home, can take solice in the fact they are 22-11-4 on the road, especially after losing like they did Sunday. And if they want to cling onto those diminishing playoff hopes, winning in Detroit tonight keeps them afloat for the time being.

But many of the players are flummoxed with the whole situation regarding home and away games.

None that spoke Tuesday have ever seen such dismal numbers at home, yet rock-steady results on the road.

"I think when you're in habits ... on the road, we've had great habits and it's been showing," Boyes said. "We haven't had the great habits at home and it's showing. ... Normally, the home record is the stronger one. I think we were a solid road team last year, too, but we had that home record last year and that really helped us. For whatever reason this year, we've struggled a lot."

Which makes it easy for fans to feel like it's been two different teams that take the ice.

"It seems sometimes it's two different teams that are taking the ice," Mason said, agreeing with that assessment. "We just haven't been tough enough and not hard enough on teams at home. It's unexplainable. It's just disappointing to look back on it.

"To have the worst home record in the NHL is embarrassing. We played so well here last year. This has always been a tough building to come in. The leads that we've given up and the way we've played at home, we have nobody but ourselves to blame. We have the team in here that we all think we can do it, but it's really unexplainable at this point to have the road record we have, which is extremely tough to win in other teams buildings and to have the record we have at home, that's the reason."

Johnson summed it up best when he said, "It's really kind of kicked us in the (tail) a little bit."

This past weekend's games are the classic example between winning and losing for the Blues.

They held a 1-0 lead at New Jersey, which is as tough a building to play in, and won that game by that same margin. But Sunday against Nashville at home, a 2-1 lead quickly evaporated late when the Predators scored twice within a 48-second span with under four minutes remaining.

"It's the game plan. It's the execution. ... I'm beyond explanation," Mason said. "I really don't know anymore because we play differently. It seems like when we're on the road, we're executing our game plan, we play it from start to finish. When we get at home, we get away from it, and it costs us. ... That's not our game plan to sit back and defend.

"Last year, we played physical (and) direct. This year, a little too cutesy, just not tough enough."


Polak to miss 2nd game with sore shoulder;
Johnson still progressing after knee surgery

ST. LOUIS -- Roman Polak's goal of playing a full 82-game schedule was steadily on course.

But in a split second, doing what he does best -- going hard into the corners in his own zone -- Polak crashed hard into the corner boards in the waning seconds Saturday against New Jersey, injuring his right shoulder with a little help from the Devils' Travis Zajac.

Polak, 23, missed his first game of the season in Sunday's 3-2 loss to Nashville after playing in 71 straight to begin the season.

It looks like Polak will miss his second consecutive game when the Blues (34-29-9) look to cling to slim playoff hopes when they face the Detroit Red Wings (36-23-13) at 6:30 p.m. today (FSN, KMOX 1120-AM).

Polak took part in the team's practice Tuesday before departing for the Motor City and was engaging in many aspects -- maybe not quite to the fullest extend. But after practice, he declared himself not quite ready to go.

Blues coach Davis Payne and Polak both said he is day-to-day. Payne listed his defenseman as questionable. Polak was more forthcoming. He did not accompany the team to Detroit.

"It was kind of alright, but it's still sore," Polak said after practice at Scottrade Center. "I don't think I'm going to be able to play tomorrow.

"I have to be patient and go day-by-day. Just make sure I don't want to hurt it more."

Polak said his shoulder was not hurt as seriously as it appeared on television and he wanted to play Sunday. He took part in the pre-game warm-up but it was decided that it was best for him to sit out as a precaution.

"He's a guy that plays a great deal of minutes," Blues coach Davis Payne said of Polak. "He does those D-zone situations, net-front strength, speed to corners, speed to assignments and winning those battles. He's a guy that does (all) that without question."

Veteran Darryl Sydor will play his second straight game after sitting out 12 in a row.

"I wanted to play against Nashville, too, but you have to think the other way," Polak said. "If it isn't 100 percent, I don't know if I can help the team if I'm not playing at 100 percent especially with my game because I like to go strong in the corners and hit people.

"That was one of my goals, to play all 82 games. I couldn't and that's frustrating. ... It was kind of painful to watch that game (Sunday). But it's hockey and it happens."

* Blanking the Wings -- In a rare feat, the Blues have an opportunity to go unbeaten in regulation against the Red Wings tonight in a season for the first time since 1980-81, when they were 4-0-0 against their Central Division rivals.

The Blues are 4-0-1 against the Wings this season, with the only defeat being a 4-3 shootout loss on Nov. 28.

But the Red Wings, who are in that eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference with 85 points, are healthy once again and will surely be looking for some retribution tonight.

"It's a scary thing when you've got the Stanley Cup champions (two years ago), being in the Stanley Cup finals a year ago ... the team that they have, when they're on a roll, they're one of the best in the league," Blues forward Brad Boyes said. "But we're playing well, too, and we've played well against them this year. We're looking to go in and not change anything, especially the way we've played on the road. It's going to be a good road test for us."

The Blues, who are tied with Washington for most road wins (22), won 1-0 in the only meeting in Detroit on Dec. 9.

"We've got a good sense of how they play, they've got a good sense of how we play," Boyes said. "I think we've just kind of swarmed them a bit and not given them too much space."

So what is the Blues' success this season against Detroit?

"I don't think anyone underestimates them," defenseman Erik Johnson said. "Everyone knows what they've accomplished. It's a team you have to be on your toes every play. I don't know what it is about playing against Detroit, but we always seem to find a way to get it done. Certainly going into that building is going to be tough, but we have to go in with the mentality we're going to get two points."

* Johnson still learning, feeling stronger -- Defenseman Erik Johnson, who missed last season after tearing both the ACL and MCL in his knee, said on Tuesday that the injury took time to get back into playing form and is nearly complete.

There have been some bumps and lumps sprinkled in here and there, but in the grand scheme of things, it's full speed ahead for the No. 1 overall pick of 2006.

"Ten times better," Johnson said when asked about the feeling in his knee Tuesday compared to the beginning of the season. "You're always going to deal with some kind of soreness, but for the most part, it's held up really well. There's been no issues with it. It's felt really good."

Johnson, who leads the Blues' defensemen in goals (seven), assists (26) and points (33), still feels like his game can be better despite the trials and tribulations of a season geared to get back on track after being derailed by the freak golfing accident that sidelined him for all of last season.

"Inconsistent would be the word I'd use," Johnson said describing his season. "I think I've had some good moments and some not-so-good moments, but there's going to be bumps in the road. It's just managing through those bumps and not letting it happen for a long period of time.

"You're going to have rough games, but it's about not dragging those rough games on and having them be a consecutive thing. I feel good, but it's about being consistent every night."

Johnson had no foresight for what his future had in store this season, just that he wanted to make a smooth transition and forget about not playing a year ago.

"I don't set goals as far as numbers," said Johnson, who has matched his rookie season of 33 points. "I set goals as far as how I want the team to do and how I can accomplish that within the team. I've set myself up to play as well as I could. It's hard to say how you're going to feel and how you're going to react after a surgery like that. There's been some good things, but there's been some things I can work on going into next year."

Home ice primary reason Blues won't get in playoffs

12-18-5 record is among worst in franchise
history as team is on outside looking in

ST. LOUIS -- When the Blues' current playoff string runs dry after only one season, they'll look back on an unusual campaign that saw the team play admirably on the road.

But the reason they will be on the sidelines watching the other 16 participants battle for arguably the greatest trophy in all of sports: a borderline pathetic home record.

With the Blues eight points out of a playoff spot after Detroit's 3-1 win over Pittsburgh Monday and with only 10 games to play, the margin for error is gone.

Actually, the margin for error disappeared when the Blues continually piled on loss after loss at Scottrade Center.

So it begs the question: how can a team be among the best on the road be at their worst at home?

The Blues are 22-11-4 away from Scottrade Center, where they are tied with Washington for most road victories. But they're just 12-18-5 at the not-so-friendly confines of home. If you consider one of those "home" wins came in Sweden on opening weekend, that's 11 home wins at 14th and Clark.

Sunday's 3-2 loss to Nashville was a microcosm of the way things have gone at home -- Blues lead a game in third period, only to somehow walk off the ice empty-handed.

"We needed those two points tonight and we didn't quite show enough to get the job done," forward David Backes said after the game. "We got the lead and then we got a few shifts that we were still on the attack. (The Predators) raised their game a little bit, and rather than counteracting that and raising ours and staying on the attack, we kind of went into that shell and tried to hang on. Obviously, the result was what we were not desiring."

Obviously right, and it was an all-too-familiar script for this team that curls up into a cocoon instead of protecting it's home, something they have been criticized for in the past, particularly under Andy Murray's days as head coach.

Blues chairman Dave Checketts issued a brisk and stern warning to his players following a lethargic 3-1 loss to these same Predators that dropped the Blues' home mark to 2-6-1 in mid-November.

"We better never get outworked at home," Checketts said at the time, "because the hallmark of our club even when we didn't have the talent was we never got outworked at home. ... When we come home, this has got to be a very tough place to play. You see it in our fans, the building is either full or nearly full every night."

The building was once again full, and the sulking demeanor of 19,150 that dragged out of the building Sunday night was another reminder of everything gone awry here.

Even team president John Davidson was on board at the time Checketts made his comments and felt like something needed to be addressed.

"I think our home record is something that should be a lot better and if it was a lot better, we'd be in good shape," Davidson said then. "Our road record has been fine (4-1-3), ... and our home record has not.

"Anybody in this league that's going to be a playoff club ... and it's hard to make the playoffs, especially in this conference, you've got to be better on home ice than we've been. I don't want that to be our bugaboo at the end of the season saying, 'Gosh, we've been terrible on home ice. I don't know what went wrong.'"

Unfortunately, that's going to be the focal point when fans want to know why they should renew season tickets and believe in a team that has taken a step back in 2009-10 after a 2008-09 season in which maybe it wasn't expected to make the playoffs. But this season, the Blues' expectations were higher, and the home ice drawback is at the peak of discussion. And rightfully so.

The Blues (34-29-9) have 29 points on home ice, by far the fewest among the 30 teams in the league. Should they not get another point on home ice this season, it would be the worst in franchise history (the 2005-06 team accumulated 30 points).

"It's unacceptable," Blues goalie Chris Mason sternly said after Sunday's loss. "Bottom line, one team came to play to win, the other team just came to play. End of story."

Here is a list of games the Blues led in the third period and failed to come away with two points:

Nov. 28 vs. Detroit: Blues led 3-2 when Henrik Zetterberg tied the game for Wings with 56.7 seconds remaining, Detroit eventually wins 4-3 in a shootout.

Dec. 11 vs. Edmonton: Blues led 3-0 in the second, 3-1 after two periods when Oilers tie it with 8:41 to play, get the go-ahead goal with 6:08 to play in a four-goal period and win 5-3.

Dec. 27 vs. Buffalo: Blues led 3-2 in third, but the Sabres tie it 3:15 in and score three times to claim 5-3 win.

Dec. 31 vs. Vancouver: Blues blaze out to another 3-0 lead, they led 3-1 after two, but Canucks get two third-period goals which included the tying goal with 1:56 remaining, then win 4-3 in overtime. It would be Andy Murray's final game as Blues coach.

Jan. 23 vs. Anaheim: Blues jumped out to -- you guess it! -- a 3-0 lead on the Ducks when T.J. Oshie scored 3:35 into final period, but Anaheim would eventually tie it with 30 seconds left and win 4-3 in a shootout.

March 21 vs. Nashville: Blues led 2-1, getting the go-ahead goal from David Perron 3:29 into the third period. But the Predators scored twice within 48 seconds, once with 3:34 to tie it and with 2:46 left to win 3-2.

And here is a game the Blues were tied in the third period late and lost:

Nov. 12 vs. Nashville: tied 1-1, Predators score with 3:43 remaining, add empty-netter with seven seconds left to win 3-1.

They also lost a 3-1 lead on Feb. 9 against Detroit, saw the Wings score twice in the game's final five minutes before winning 4-3 in a shootout but Detroit gained a valuable point.

And to think, the Blues are eight points out of a playoff spot heading into Wednesday's road game at Detroit.

"You can talk about it all you want, but it's going out there and doing it," Backes said. "The end goal has not changed. Our route there is just a little bit more up hill."

* Cole signs contract -- The Blues did announce on Monday the signing of 2007 first-round pick Ian Cole to an amateur tryout contract.

Cole, the 18th overall pick of the 2007 entry draft, will report to Peoria and play with the Rivermen the rest of the season and forego his senior season at Notre Dame.

Cole, 21, played three seasons with the Fighting Irish, where he played in 111 games and totaled 17 goals and 65 points.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Predators shock Blues with two late goals

3-2 setback cripples St. Louis' playoff chances;
home loss is sixth when leading in third period

ST. LOUIS -- Game over. Season over.

Well, maybe the final nail hasn't been pounded shut on the season, but the hammer is ready to flail.

In a season where the Blues have coughed up leads in the third period -- at home particularly in inexcusable fashion -- the one they floundered away to the Nashville Predators on Sunday may have been the fatal pill to swallow.

Holding onto a one-goal lead late, the Blues saw the Predators score twice in a span of 48 seconds and in essence steal two points, winning in stunning fashion by a 3-2 result in front of 19,150 shell-shocked Blues fans at Scottrade Center that have seen this painful scenario all too often.

Patric Hornqvist tied the game with 3 minutes, 34 seconds to play, then Dustin Boyd scored his second of the game and eventual game-winner with 2:46 remaining as the Predators (42-26-5) won their sixth in a row and crippled the Blues' playoff hopes as they remain six points out with 10 games to play.

"It hurts tremendously," Blues coach Davis Payne said. "We knew we were in a position with a great opportunity with this number of games to go, and have a lead late and all of the sudden end up with nothing ... it stings pretty good."

This was the kind of feeling the Blues (34-29-9) experienced all-too-often earlier in the season when they fumbled away a plethora of points that has them sitting in 10th place and on the outside looking in. It's the sixth time this season they lost a lead in the third period at home.

"That's been the story here at home," said forward Alex Steen, who collected two assists Sunday. "We haven't been able to hold onto leads. Tonight, I thought we had a good vibe and I thought we were going to do it.

"(Nashville) worked hard and they got their goals. We can't sit back like that and expect Mase to make all those saves. I don't know how many shots he faced, but it was too many. We lose an important one. Big game."

Chris Mason, who returned to goal after seeing Ty Conklin win road games in New York and New Jersey, was stellar in stopping 36 shots. But it was obvious the frustration level for the usually mild-mannered Mason, a former Predator.

"The bottom line is one team came to play to win, the other team just came to play," Mason said. "That's what happened.

"It's unacceptable. Bottom line, one team came to play to win, the other team just came to play. End of story."

The Blues, who got goals from Carlo Colaiacovo and David Perron, led twice in the game and saw Nashville increase the intensity level and in the end, gain the necessary points to vault the Predators' stance in the standings.

When Perron batted in a backhand 3:29 into the third period past Pekka Rinne that gave the Blues a 2-1 lead, the Blues failed to press forward and get the next goal.

It was a familiar scene that cost them in the end, sitting back and waiting for the opposition to strike.

"It seems to be that old shell that we got into midway through the season, one-goal game, at home, trying to hold onto what we got rather than staying on the attack and making them play in their own end," forward David Backes said. "I don't know how long the puck wasn't in our end in the last 10 minutes. If it's in there long enough, they're going to end up capitalizing and that's what happened."

Under Payne, the Blues appeared to shift away from that protect-a-lead-at-all-costs mentality they seemed to have under Andy Murray. But Nashville seemed to expose some of those flaws once again that proved costly for the Blues.

"(Sitting) back's never been part of our game," Payne said. "... It certainly looked like that. We want to play on our toes and that's with the puck and without the puck and I don't think we defended in that way, I don't think we got all the way to finishing our job in the (defensive) zone. That cost us extra time and that caused us to face extra pressure. We didn't handle it, spent too much time there."

The Blues failed miserably at clearing pucks out of their end, lost neutral zone battles and over the last five minutes or so and did not to an efficient job in the coverage areas needed to win.

If not for Mason, this could have been a runaway much earlier in the game.

"Without question," Payne said when asked if Mason gave his team a chance to win. "You look at the chances they had even through the second period, we hadn't played very good hockey up until then. It seemed like we were a step behind, not necessarily in skating but either in making the decision or making the support read or getting to an area where we could skate a puck out of trouble. To me, it was a little bit less than 100 percent of finishing the job that we needed to do tonight in all areas."

Mason said when the Blues got the lead, they did not raise their level of play.

"It was disappointing," he said. "It was a terrible period.

"You know that that team's going to come and bring a certain level of work every night. That's what they're built on. We just got outworked ... it's disgusting."

Hornqvist beat Darryl Sydor, playing his first game after sitting out 12 for the injured Roman Polak, and powered in the tying goal after Nashville pounced on the Blues' mistakes in which three different clearing attempts out of their end failed. Then Boyd got a pass in the slot from Martin Erat and snapped in the game-winner after the Predators got the puck in once again and forechecked the Blues into oblivion.

"We got the goal and we sat back," Steen said. "They took it too us, we let in one and then we let in two ... game over."

The Blues fell to 12-18-5 on home ice, and when they're on the outside looking in when the playoffs begin, they can stare at that record as the main culprit why they're not part of the chase for the Stanley Cup.

"I don't know what the reason is," Steen said. "We get to 2-1 and we sit back ... there's too many plays where we got chances to get pucks out. Me personally, I had one or two.

"It's just not good enough. That's why we're in the spot that we're in right now in the standings and that's what makes these games tough to swallow."

* NOTES -- Polak, who took part in the pre-game warm-ups, was injured late in Saturday's 1-0 win at New Jersey. He did not suit up after appearing to injure his right shoulder. "I was hoping (to play), but the coaches decided to not take the chance to hurry it," Polak said after the game. "If somebody hit me or something, it's going to be bad. We would have had to play with five (defensemen), so he didn't want to take the chance ... so that was the reason I didn't play today." Polak said it's not too serious. "I feel all right, sore, but all right." ... Blues defenseman Erik Johnson turned 22 on Sunday. ... Rinne, who is 8-1-0 since the return from the Olympic break, saw a shutout streak end on Colaiacovo's goal at 16:28 of the first period. His streak ended at 149:04. ... Predators captain Jason Arnott (head injury) did not play.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Tkachuk weighing his options

18th season could be last for Blues' veteran; decision not final

Keith Tkachuk sat at his locker as the Blues were packing up for the summer following a first-round playoff sweep against Vancouver, discussing his immediate future.

With a couple reporters surrounding the Blues' veteran, Tkachuk was undecided whether he'd return for an 18th season.

When one is so undecided, chances are they likely are thinking about doing it all over again, which Tkachuk, 37, eventually decided he would do. Not once did he ever contemplate hanging the blades up before the season ended.

But as season No. 18 is close to winding down, 'Big Walt' is hinting that this season could very well be his last.

Although as he spoke Thursday morning before the Blues faced the New York Rangers about it, Tkachuk has not made a final decision, but reading between the lines could be a good indicator. He turns 38 on March 28.

"I've got some thoughts running through my mind," Tkachuk said after the Blues' morning skate at Madison Square Garden. "You get older and you're just not the same way you used to be. It gets a lot harder. ... Guys are bigger, faster, stronger."

Those are some telling comments from a guy that has 537 goals and 524 assists in his career.

Tkachuk, who has 12 goals and 16 assists in 56 games this season, has not had numbers this low since his inception into the league in 1991, when he skated in 17 games for the Winnipeg Jets.

He's done everything from play on the first to fourth lines with this Blues squad, even change positions from his natural left wing to center for the betterment of the team.

Tkachuk has had a tough go of it since Davis Payne came aboard as coach, and it has nothing to do with the coaching change.

Tkachuk was hit in the mouth with a shot which resulted in the loss of five teeth against Chicago on Jan. 2, then suffered a dislocated left pinky finger trying to protect his face from another shot on Feb. 9 against Detroit.

While indications are leading towards a retirement, don't discount Tkachuk on returning once again.

"I know I can compete every night and go out and try to help out in different ways," Tkachuk said. "I've played first line, I've played second line, I've played fourth line, I've played center, I've played wing. It's a little different this year, but I still go into every game to prove that I can play and push other guys to perform. Like anybody else, you want to play as well as you can.

"I know that I can still play, but it's been a long time ... a lot of hard games, a lot of hard years. I'll talk to my wife (Chantal) and talk to (Blues general manager) Larry (Pleau) and we'll make a decision. (But) I love this game. I love these guys."

Tkachuk has been a mainstay in the Blues' organization since he was dealt here at the trade deadline in 2001, aside from an 18-game stint with Atlanta when he was dealt there in 2007.

He returned the following season and has played in 552 games as a Blue.

"What Larry Pleau has done for me really extended my career, by bringing me to St. Louis," Tkachuk said. "Who knows where I'd be ... would I still be playing if I didn't come to St. Louis? I've learned a lot. It's a great organization. There's been some ups and downs here. When I first got here, it was automatic: win now. Then we went through some changes."

Tkachuk signed a one-year, $2.1 million deal last summer to stay here and give it another go instead of trying to go to another team that is closer to winning than the Blues.

"The bottom line is I didn't want to play anywhere else this year," Tkachuk said.

If he chooses to play again next year, chances are it will be here or nowhere.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Blues will not abandon playoff chase

Rangers on tap tonight as team is seven points
out of 8th place with 13 games remaining

ST. LOUIS -- Each time that a Colorado Avalanche puck would pierce the back of the net Tuesday, Blues fans felt every part of the puck pierce their hearts.

And after the Blues suffered their second straight defeat, 5-3 against the Avalanche, it knocked one more valuable game off the schedule and one more opportunity to stay afloat in what is clearly becoming a grim playoff chase.

The Blues (32-28-9) have 13 games remaining on the regular season schedule, including today's 6 p.m. tilt at Madison Square Garden against the New York Rangers (31-30-9). They trail eighth-place Detroit by seven points in the Western Conference playoff race and seventh-place Nashville -- whom the Blues have three head-to-head meetings with -- by 10 points.

But the problem now for the 11th place Blues is that they also have two more teams to climb over just to set their sights on the Red Wings. And it's becoming quite clear that -- as easy as it may sound -- they just may have to run the table to get this playoff push done again this year.

The Blues went 9-1-1 down the stretch a season ago to charge in. They'll need something similar again this year, but such a remarkable feat may not be enough.

Or would it?

"You never know," forward David Perron said after scoring his 18th goal of the season in Tuesday's loss. "How many games we got left, 12 or 13? If we win them all or we go 11-1 (or 12-1) ... we did that last year. We're ready to do it again this year."

The Blues have not been poor as of late, as they've gone 7-3-0 in the last 10 games, but the problem is that Nashville also has the same 7-3-0 record in that stretch, Detroit is 7-2-1, Calgary is 5-5-0 and Minnesota, which is one point ahead of St. Louis in 10th place, is 5-3-2. So the Blues are not gaining much ground -- if any at all against the teams they're supposed to chase down.

In fact, just in the last two games, they've lost ground by not budging off 73 points.

"It's tough right now, the situation," goalie Chris Mason said. "We're all aware of the points we have to make up. We have to go in and focus and we have to get points in our next game.

"We have to continue ... we need a winning record here. Probably something like 10-3 or something like that to get in. We'll just worry about New York."

Blues coach Davis Payne, guiding his first NHL bench in a postseason fight, said there's still plenty of fight left in his team. Keeping things together will not be an issue.

"Not difficult in that regard," Payne said. "Lots of fight and lots of time left for our hockey club."

Exactly two weeks ago after the Blues finished dismantling Dallas 6-1 in Texas, the Blues were just one point out of that eighth and last playoff spot. But since that win, they have gone 2-3-0 while other teams have pulled away, which made it easy for the 19,150 in attendance Tuesday night to start throwing in the while towels.

But not the guys skating on the ice. As long as there's a flicker left in the lighter, the Blues will keep pushing.

"A lot's happened with two outs in the bottom of the ninth," said forward David Backes. "We're not going to count ourselves out. We've got a task every night. We play a lot of teams that are ahead of us still. If we take care of business, I still like our chances. But losing games like this (Tuesday) where we give our opponents a lot more than they take from us is going to be things that we'll kick ourselves in the end for."

After tonight, the Blues then play at New Jersey on Saturday. Then the season comes down to 11 games, with seven of those coming at home. But the Blues have been one of the worst teams on home ice (12-17-5) this season.

And it gives the Blues another tall hill to climb.

"We know what's at stake," Perron said. "We don't want to get any further back for a playoff spot.

"It's going to be a tougher road. We're ready for it, and we're looking forward to it right now."