Monday, December 5, 2011

Lighting the lamp more on Blues' agenda

Team is 22nd in league in goals scored; Hitchcock, players not overly concerned

HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- Despite a setback Saturday night in David Perron's return to the lineup, the Blues can look back and reflect on what has been a pleasant 8-2-3 run since Ken Hitchcock took over behind the bench.

The team has thrust itself into the Western Conference race and is primed to be among one of the eight representatives when it comes down to playoff time.
(Getty Images)
Chris Stewart (25) is one of many players the Blues would like to get it
going in the goal-scoring department.

But in looking back at what the Blues have been able to accomplish, it's been top-heavy in goal and playing shutdown defense. The team is second in the league in goals-against (2.12), including No. 1 in 5-on-5 play (30 goals against) and the duo of Jaroslav Halak and Brian Elliott is among the league leaders in a number of goaltending categories.

But when it comes to putting the biscuit in the basket, it's an area the Blues need to point the arrow northward.

After Saturday's 5-2 setback against Chicago, the Blues have now scored exactly two goals a game during regulation in eight straight games. There was a 3-2 overtime win at Pittsburgh in the mix, but that averages out to 2.13 goals a game over the last eight.

The Blues are 22nd in the league overall at 2.42 goals per game, including a paltry 8-for-87 clip -- or 9.2 percent -- on the power play.

The 2-0, 2-1 wins are good while they last, but it's not a recipe for success every night. There comes a time when four, five goals or more might be needed to win.

"We'd like to win 2-1 every night; that's playoff hockey, but that's just not realistic in this league," winger Chris Stewart said. "We have the offensive firepower to do it. We have four lines that can put the puck in the net, so there's no reason we can't put in more than two goals a game."

However, the Blues aren't that concerned. Simply because they are creating chances. If they weren't creating prime scoring chances, then there'd be cause for concern.

"My experience is if you just keep going and wade through it, it turns out," Hitchcock said. "But it's hard to sell that because you get over-anxious. You get over-anxious so now you pour more bodies in there. You pour more people in there and the next thing you know, now you're in a track meet. No team can win long-term if you're in a track meet. You've just got to kind of stay the course and then stay with the same structure that we're doing."

An area the Blues particularly talked about before practice Monday, watched video on and worked on the ice was getting more net-front traffic. It's how the Blackhawks were able to get three past Brian Elliott on Saturday night.

"We're kind of there traffic-wise, but we're kind of not there," Hitchcock said. "We're trying to tip the puck rather than screen the vision of the goalie. I think that's one area where we want to be better in.

"Taking away the vision creates a second and third shot whereas if you're trying to tip pucks ... if you don't get your stick on it and (the goalie) sees it, it's gone. That's the one area we talked about that needs to improve."

Big bodies like Stewart and David Backes would vastly improve that trait, but Hitchcock believes the onus is on everyone.

"I think it's a collective thing," he said. "I think it's a mindset. I think when you go to the net, the players have to understand you're sacrificing so that other people can get their second and third opportunities. That's what you're doing, rather than you're going (in there) to be the goal scorer. You might be the guy that takes the beating and somebody else might put it in, but I think you've got to have that mindset if you're going to be successful."

The return of Perron should also bolster the offensive output as well. Perron scored in his return to the lineup and greatly improves the skill-set on the ice.

(Getty Images)
Patrik Berglund (left) is another guy the Blues
would welcome with more goals.

"We're a different team with a guy like Perron in," Hitchcock said. "I think that's going to make us a lot different. ... You see a guy like David out there, it's not just that you get a good rush-attack player back, you get a player that can create. I think the whole team feeds off that stuff.

"When you get a creative player back, then I think the puck patience that he shows feeds everywhere else."

The Blues could count at least four opportunities that were lost against the Blackhawks, opportunities that are high quality scoring chances. It's frustrating when they don't go in but more frustrating if a team's not getting them at all.

"We're getting a bunch of chances," said Stewart, who noted his third-period empty-net look that he misfired on. "We're getting a lot of offensive zone time. If our power play kicked in a goal a game or something like that, too, that would obviously be a difference in the game. ... We realize we can't rely on our goalies to stand on their head every night and be the show. It is something we have to emphasize."

As Hitchcock would say, "bringing more people into the pile" could be dangerous to the defensive style the team is playing, especially if it leads to odd-man rushes for the opposition.

"I think we've got to trust the fact that if you just keep getting this many scoring chances (of) this quality, you're going to end up finishing (them). That's the one thing as a coach you can't teach, you can't teach finishing. We've just got to be careful how we deal with it. I think when you're not scoring like you think you can and you're still playing well defensively, it all recovers itself."

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