Sunday, March 13, 2011

Spotlight will be on younger players for Blues down the stretch

Detroit's experienced squad punished St. Louis' mistakes in 5-3 loss

ST. LOUIS -- After battling back against the Detroit Red Wings, the Blues were in a position to pull out another one of those comebacks that's rare in the NHL these days.

With games being so tight and teams playing with the understanding that there's little margin for error with two points on the line each game, the Blues have been on the wrong side early in games, only to see the end result become a positive one.

But these are the Red Wings, winners of four Stanley Cups since 1997 with a wealth of experience. They gave the Blues a harsh lesson: do not bend, do not crack, because we will pounce.

The Blues trailed 3-1 in the third period, and as they did twice against Columbus earlier in the week, this time, they could not complete the comeback.

Pavel Datsyuk's world-class effort gave the Wings the lead, and Justin Abdelkader added insurance to Detroit's 5-3 win.

"It's great to know obviously that we have that resiliency and we can fight back," Blues defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk said, "(but) that's definitely not a position that we want to start getting ourselves into."

The Blues (31-29-9) gave the kind of effort necessary to win. But as is often the case, Detroit (41-20-8) makes those that make mistakes pay.

They wiped out the Blues' early-game lead scoring twice in 16 seconds, then regrouped in the third when the Blues gave their best push and netted two more goals in 1 minute, 20 seconds.

"I thought we came out with a great deal of energy and executed in the right areas," Blues coach Davis Payne said. "Turn one over and now it's 1-1 off of us grabbing the lead. They go 2-1 on what just seems like a play to the net that we had numbers back and it found its way in."

The Blues have 13 games remaining and will make every effort to gauge the young and very limited experience they have in some of their players.

They continue to play with the youngest defensive unit in the league because of a season-long rash of injuries and roster makeover, but consistent play down the stretch can only bode well moving forward.

"We've been getting better every game," said defenseman Alex Pietrangelo, the youngest of the six d-men at 21. "Obviously, experience goes a long way. We're going to keep getting better here. There's going to be mistakes for all of us. That goes along with having a young d-core, but we're all supportive of each other and we all know what each guy's capable of."

Added Payne after Saturday's game, "There's a lot of resolve in that locker room. We've played a lot of hockey games here lately. The last few games, we've found a way to push it right through. I'm quite frankly proud of the effort we put forth tonight."

The Blues' coach must continue to push the right buttons with guys like Ian Cole, Nikita Nikitin, Shattenkirk, Adam Cracknell, Ryan Reaves, Chris Porter, and T.J. Hensick, the majority of this group guys that were to be penciled in at Peoria for most, if not all, this season. Of course, Shattenkirk came over in the trade with Colorado that sent Erik Johnson to the Avalanche.

"You have to make the recognition that the type of game you're going to play will get you results," Payne said. "There's going to be times where you face a little bit of a bump and you've got to push through it. ... Understand that good effort, good structure (and) good decisions put you in a position to take advantage and that has to be a real sound commitment and we have to be disciplined in that. We have to stick with it. There's going to be times where it may not for awhile, but it's how long you stay with it that's important."

The Blues are in the middle of three days off -- the most since the middle of February -- before beginning a four-game journey out west, beginning in Anaheim Wednesday and concluding in Phoenix on March 22. There are also games in Los Angeles and San Jose.

* NOTES -- Nikitin, who only played two shifts and 1:33 of ice time Saturday, left the game early in the first period after taking a shot off the hand. The injury apparently did not do any structural damage and the defenseman is considered day to day.

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