By LOUIE KORAC
ST. LOUIS -- The Blues' Ken Hitchcock and the Los Angeles Kings' Terry Murray have seen a few NHL games in their time.
When the Blues (10-7-2) host the Kings (10-7-3) at 6:30 p.m. today (Versus, KMOX 1120-AM), it will be the 1,048th game for Hitchcock and 1,004th game for Murray. The two are the oldest coaches in the NHL (Hitchcock is 59, Murray is 61) and the two friends go back a long way together.
"We go back way into the (International Hockey League) for crying out loud," Murray joked this morning. "He was coaching Kalamazoo where we spent some time together."
Murray, whose Kings beat the Blues 5-0 on Oct. 18, is glad to see his friend back in the game.
"I'm real happy for him. He's a real quality guy," Murray said of Hitchcock. "He's a real good coach, obviously. He's got a lot of games under his belt and had some great success, a Stanley Cup winner in Dallas.
"He waited for his time. He stays involved in the game when he was out ... probably running coaching clinics someplace, working with some people, some teams on the ice helping out there. He loves the game. I like to see a lifelong coach get back in."
When the Blues and Kings drop the puck, Hitchcock said look for a game of wits between two crafty guys behind the bench.
"Pretty snarly," Hitchcock said when asked to describe the Kings. "It'll be an interesting game; two coaches who know each other very well, are good friends, have the same belief system with the way the game has to be played.
"I would say this would be a game with not a lot of room. You're going to have to fight for your space and it isn't going to come easy. If both teams are on the mark, you'll see a helluva hockey game. We've coached against each other and with each other for a long time. Not much changes."
Added Murray: "That's so true in the game today. The way teams are structured on their checking part of the game. Everybody's relentless. There's a lot of dot-to-board battling going on. You've got to really fight for your space in front of the net now. The spacing that everybody shows defensively and offensively for puck support is getting tighter. There has to be a lot of dig-in attitude here tonight for sure."
- - -
After the month of October where they surrendered 20 goals in 11 games playing 5-on-5 hockey, the Blues have really buckled down in the month of November.
Through eight games, the Blues have surrendered only four goals playing 5-on-5, including three in six games with Hitchcock as coach.
"I think they bought into the checking part of hockey," Hitchcock said of his players. "They were already partly bought in and we just kind of continued the program.
"If they buy into it, the harder they check, the more they score and then they see results. I think what happened was we came out checking hard and scored because of it. The buy-in was a little bit easier."
Playing with a sense of urgency each and every shift seems to have paid dividends.
"I think we keep our shifts short," center Scott Nichol said. "I don't think we really over-extend ourselves. When you over-extend yourself and get tired, your game starts slowing down and you don't react quite as quick.
"All year long, we've done a good job of staying fresh and rolling our lines."
Added captain David Backes: "... When you're playing at that high rate changing lines over quick, it's tough to play against when the guy against you is going 100 miles an hour. Even when we're making mistakes, we're making them at full speed so we can recover and get back above the puck. Other guys are bailing guys out when mistakes are made. It's a good recipe."
- - -
Blues winger David Perron was cleared for full contact drills and has participated in five days now without the no-contact red jersey. Perron, out since Nov. 4, 2010 (concussion), has been involved in two days of hard practices where contact has been evident with no ill effects.
"It's hard when your player comes to full contact that he's not ready to play, but then you see endurance stuff," Hitchcock said. "He's getting closer from an endurance standpoint, and that's encouraging.
"I think for us, for him to be able to go through every day and then not have any repercussions the next day ... our focus is all on the next day. How does he feel the next day? He's had all the hockey soreness stuff and all the areas that you like with no repercussions at all. For us, that's good news.
"The next step is when does it slow down in his head? The tempo we practiced with the last two days, he had to keep up with it. I think the first day was a struggle for him, and yesterday was a lot better. We're getting closer. Now is just a matter of taking the next step. Taking the leap of faith and say it's time to go. He's the only guy that's going to know that. He's going to have to tell us when he thinks he's ready to go."
- - -
Blues winger T.J. Oshie, who sat out the last two practices with a sore wrist, has been deemed good to go by Hitchcock. But there is still no news as far as winger Andy McDonald (concussion) is concerned.
"I haven't seen Mac at all," Hitchcock said. "I don't really have a comment on it because I haven't even seen him here in person here. ... He's not able to participate yet."
Defenseman Carlo Colaiacovo (hamstring) will miss his third straight game but Hitchcock said there is progress.
"He feels better," Hitchcock said. "We're hopeful that towards the end of the week he can get back on the ice. We'll go from there, but he feels better.
"We need him back in the lineup. That's an injury where you don't know until you get on the ice. It's a hamstring injury. It might be good in 24 hours and you just go from there or it might take a few days. He's made improvement and that's a good sign."
- - -
Murray was asked how he would assess the first quarter of his team's season, considering they opened in Europe and on the east coast for two games.
The Kings played their home opener against the Blues on Oct. 18.
"I like where we are," Murray said. "Starting off with the trip over to Europe, I thought it was a very demanding start to the schedule. To come back with a couple more games on the east coast, we got through that.
"With all of the scheduling that we've had, especially the week before going over to Europe, then going overseas and regrouping and coming back, we got through the first quarter of the season in pretty good shape."
- - -
Tonight's Blues lineup against the Kings:
Alex Steen-David Backes-T.J. Oshie
Vladimir Sobotka-Patrik Berglund-Matt D'Agostini
Chris Porter-Jason Arnott-Jamie Langenbrunner
Evgeny Grachev-Scott Nichol-Ryan Reaves
Barret Jackman-Kevin Shattenkirk
Ian Cole-Alex Pietrangelo
Kris Russell-Roman Polak
Jaroslav Halak will get the start in goal; Brian Elliott will be the backup.
The Blues continue to play without Perron and Andy McDonald (concussion), winger B.J. Crombeen (shoulder), Colaiacovo (hamstring) and defenseman Kent Huskins (ankle). Brett Sterling, recalled from Peoria Sunday, is a healthy scratch.
- - -
Tonight's Kings lineup against the Blues:
Simon Gagne-Anze Kopitar-Justin Williams
Andrei Loktionov-Mike Richards-Dustin Brown
Kyle Clifford-Jarret Stoll-Trent Hunter
Ethan Moreau-Colin Fraser-Kevin Westgarth
Jack Johnson-Drew Doughty
Willie Mitchell-Slava Voynov
Rob Scuderi-Matt Greene
Jonathan Bernier, making only his fourth start this season, will be in goal; Jonathan Quick will be the backup on back-to-back nights, as the Kings play in Dallas Wednesday.
The Kings will be missing wingers Dustin Penner (hand) and Scott Parse (lower-body) along with defenseman Alec Martinez (upper-body) are on injured reserve. Centers Brad Richardson and Trevor Lewis along with defenseman Davis Drewiske are healthy scratches.