Monday, January 3, 2011

Blues players take heat after poor outing

Payne puts team through intense practice in light of
Sunday's 4-2 loss to Stars, snapping five-game winning streak

By LOUIE KORAC
HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- The Blues had won five games in a row, some with authority, some that were maybe not their best efforts, but all-in-all, the team has that early-season resemblance.

They had that swagger again.

But nobody's going to win every game, and sooner or later, the Blues' winning streak was going to come to an end. Sure, everybody wants to win every single time, but that's next to impossible.

So why was Davis Payne putting his team through a rugged practice on Monday morning at St. Louis Mills after having their winning streak snapped Sunday? Simply put, the Blues' coach can accept losing if his team works hard, plays hard but got beat by a team that made a play or two more.

But Sunday's 4-2 loss to Dallas -- in which the Blues lost a third-period lead to the Stars for the third straight meeting -- the Blues lost every phase of the game, despite having a lead after 40 minutes.

So the Blues were put through as rugged of a practice as they'll see throughout the regular season, which prompted enforcer Cam Janssen to say as coming off the ice and into the locker room area, "My arms are sore, my legs are sore ... I'm dead."

Call it a Herb Brooks-like endeavor

"I think the boys got the picture after that one," forward Matt D'Agostini said.

"We needed to get some work in," Payne said. "We didn't play the type of game that's necessary for our team to have success. We're going to make sure it gets addressed and gets put behind us quickly."

Instead of striking off areas the Blues excelled in Sunday, Payne had a checklist of items that were not to his liking.

"There's a lot of detail areas," he said. "Our puck possessions, our support, our work away from the puck, our work to the puck. We touched on a lot of making sure we supported the puck in our own zone. To get it out, we made sure we stayed on plays. I didn't feel like we had enough puck pursuit or determination in the offensive zone, so we finished some of that as well.

"We've had success for all the right reasons over the last little bit of games. We didn't have success for very obvious reasons (Sunday) night. We make sure they get addressed, we make sure we fix them. This practice time will give us a chance to fix them and make sure we're well-directed heading into Toronto."

The Blues (20-13-5) lost all four meetings against the Stars this season. The first one came down to a shootout, but the second, third and fourth meetings, the Blues led 2-1, 1-0 and 2-1, respectively, in each meeting going into the third. All three ended in regulation losses, the only regulation losses the Blues have suffered this season when leading after two periods.

"It wasn't a good game (Sunday)," said forward David Backes. "We're not happy with it by any means, but we've played good hockey in the last stretch and need to get back to the things we were doing when we were playing well. Dwell on the positive and try and rekindle that fire we had before and not focus on missed opportunity or lack of effort because that just breeds more of the same."

Sunday, Backes and Alex Steen scored first-period goals that gave the Blues a 2-1 lead, a lead that lasted through a scoreless second period. But there was a sense the Blues were fortunate to have had that lead.

"We hadn't played our best hockey and we needed to take another step," Backes said. "(Because) we didn't take that step is a little disheartening.

"When we go into a third period with a one-goal lead, we need to have that fortitude to make sure we're taking care of our business. Even if we hadn't played well for 40 minutes and say, 'Hey, we play well for 20 and get two points in this league against a team that's taken a lot from us already.' To see that we didn't take that initiative and step up is a little disheartening and we paid for it today. We'll move on against a team on Thursday."

With three days in between games when the Blues play at Toronto Thursday, there's plenty of time to spruce up -- and be reminded of what can happen if the team strays away from the task at hand.

"We weren't too sharp in all areas," D'Agostini said. "This skate was more or less let's put it behind us and let's be better Thursday."

* NOTES -- Steen and center Jay McClement were not on the ice Monday dealing with some minor bumps and bruises. Payne said, "Just a couple of nicks that we're managing." When asked if it's anything serious, Payne replied, "No." Both are expected to be fine and ready to play against the Maple Leafs. ... Forward T.J. Oshie, recovering from a broken ankle, did not skate with the team during practice, and it's probably more so because of the intensity of the practice more than any setback. ... The Blues are off today and will skate Wednesday at 10 a.m. at the Ice Zone before departing for Toronto.

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