Sunday, January 23, 2011

Pair of important road games await Blues

Team needs strong finish heading into
All-Star break; play at Colorado, Calgary

ST. LOUIS -- Is it too soon to start calling games from here on out must-wins? Not if you're the Blues.

Thirty-five games are left in the Blues' season, but with their Western Conference peers showing no indication that they are going to falter, the Blues need to begin winning -- and winning now -- if they are going to keep pace in the playoff race.

The Blues (22-18-7) begin a two-game trip heading into the All-Star break, starting today against the Colorado Avalanche (8:30 p.m. on FSN, KMOX 1120-AM) and finish it off Wednesday in Calgary.

The Blues sit in 11th place in the West, four points behind eighth-place San Jose for the race to the playoffs and three points behind the Avalanche (24-18-6).

It's important for the Blues to get some points before taking a weeklong reprieve because the month of January has not been kind to them.

The Blues are 2-6-2 this month -- both wins over the Los Angeles Kings -- which means they've only taken advantage of six out of a possible 20 points on the table.

They left two of those points on the table Saturday in 5-2 home loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets that was not only disturbing but puzzling as well.

The Blues found themselves in a comfort zone, leading 2-0 less than eight minutes into the game before things surprisingly began to unravel.

The Blues got goals from Eric Brewer and Patrik Berglund, they also were inspired by three separate first-period fights (Brad Winchester, B.J. Crombeen and Tyson Strachan) and the 26th straight sellout crowd this season.

"I thought we came out with good jump, good pace to our game at the start ... a couple fights, a couple goals," Steen said. "We let off there a little bit in the second. They took advantage, got the two goals back and then in the third, we came out with the intent of shooting the puck a little bit more and getting pucks to the net. They got the third goal."

It was 2-1 after one period, 2-2 after two and the Jackets (23-20-6) outscored the Blues 3-0 in the final 20 minutes to complete the comeback with five unanswered tallies.

"It's about not being directed," said Blues coach Davis Payne, visibly disappointed with his team's performance Saturday. "We turned pucks over in the second period, we strung d-men out. These are all things that takes discipline within the structure, discipline within the game plan and playing winning hockey. We played it for 10 minutes. That's not enough in this league. That's why we didn't win."

Payne called the loss "inexcusable," words not often used by the Blues' coach when painting a picture of his players.

"We needed to match that work ethic and match the small simple things they were doing all over the ice to get success," forward David Backes said. "As you can see, we didn't do it as well as they did and they come out with the three-goal victory."

The Blues, who already have lost in Colorado this season, have dropped five straight to the Avs. A team that has played .500 or better on the road three of the past four seasons.

The Blues are 7-10-4 away from Scottrade Center ice this season, tied for the fewest wins in the league with the Edmonton Oilers, New York Islanders and New Jersey Devils.

"Obviously, it's a big game," Brewer said. "Every game's a big game. We're not happy about it. We didn't play well enough to win (Saturday). We've got to suck it up and play (tonight), because it doesn't get any easier."

Said Steen, "It's a tough one. I think we've got to go on this road (trip) now, two road games in Colorado, Calgary and we've got to have a good road trip.

"They're all important now. You've got to look to the next game."

* NOTES -- The Blues recalled forward Stefan Della Rovere and defenseman Nikita Nikitin Sunday while assigning defenseman Ian Cole and forward Ryan Reaves to Peoria of the AHL.

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