Berglund line effective; Steen still out; team gets in shootout work
By LOUIE KORAC
HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- It's no secret that Patrik Berglund has been an enigma during his four-year playing career.
There would be flashes of brilliance, signs that the Blues used a No. 1 pick on him in 2006 for a reason. But there would be signs of puzzling, head-scratching play as well, frustrating not only fans but the Blues themselves.
But in talking with Blues coach Ken Hitchcock after Wednesday's practice, Berglund's game Tuesday against the Phoenix Coyotes was a blueprint of what makes the 23-year-old Berglund an effective player.
The line of Berglund centering Matt D'Agostini on the left and T.J. Oshie on the right clicked extremely well.
"It's one of the first times we felt like we had two (line) threats going," Hitchcock said.
When asked why, he said, "Forecheck. Knocked people right out of the box.
"I've got six, seven clips where one guy knocked two guys out of the box. (Berglund) went in, knocked the puck carrier off the box and then the support guy came in and knocked him out of the box too and then took the puck. That's their game ... forecheck. When Bergy plays like that, he's really effective."
Hitchcock said Berglund, who has nine goals and 17 points in 39 games, has played well all along. But the Vasteras, Sweden native needs to play within himself and not get frustrated when he doesn't produce points.
"He starts that way and he plays that way ... he's too hard on himself," Hitchcock said. "He's just got to keep playing. He's way too hard on himself. ... Good players have a chance to impact the game with five minutes to play. You've just got to keep going. He's hard on himself, though.
"I'm just figuring out some of these guys now. There's certain buttons to press. There's a different button for him to press."
Just like Hitchcock said that David Backes drags Chris Stewart into the fight, maybe it's Oshie that drags his buddy Berglund into the fight as well.
"I think Oshie has that affect on our team. We're way better when Osh is playing," Hitchcock said. "He just has that affect on our team. He's a high-energy guy that plays with second and third effort.
"It doesn't matter where he plays, whether you're on the bench looking at him or you're on the ice playing with him, Osh plays that way and just drags everybody along. ... He does it with a lot of flare. He's very much a reckless player. He's a reckless player that does it with a lot of flare and I think it energizes our bench, it energizes our room, energizes his linemates ... that's just the way he plays. Now he's playing with more structure. I think it helps a lot. It helps our team, I know that. When he wasn't in the lineup, we were a different team."
* Back on the saddle -- The Blues' 4-1 win not only erased their first two-game winless skid of the season, but it also restored that confidence the team had built up prior to losses against Detroit (twice) and Nashville.
The Blues got back to doing the things that vaulted them in the standings prior to last week's hiccup: getting a solid forecheck in all three zones, a quick transition game, getting pucks to the net and jamming the goal area.
"That's huge with the way that we won last night," defenseman Carlo Colaiacovo said. "We're starting a month right now where we're playing the majority of our home games. It's a crucial month.
"You look at the past years where we sort of faltered, it's been in the month of January. For whatever reason, we have a lot of home games this month and we have been very good here. It's a good opportunity for us to really stabilize where we're going to be this year and where we're going to finish in the standings and how good of a team we're going to be. To start off with a win at home to start the month and start off the new year, especially after coming off two hard losses to Detroit, it's huge. It's a huge confidence booster. You can see guys are starting to feel good about themselves again on the ice. I'm not saying that we weren't, but obviously those losses put a bitter taste in our mouths."
Hitchcock was asked if the team has found that all-in mentality yet.
"Not yet. But close. We're close," he said. "What we did was we moved our feet offensively and we moved our feet defensively. When we move our feet defensively, we're really good."
* Steen update -- Winger Alex Steen (concussion-like symptoms) missed practice again Wednesday and will not play again when the Blues host Edmonton tonight at Scottrade Center.
Steen, who is tied for the team lead in goals (13) and is third in points with 24, has not played since Dec. 27 in Detroit. Tonight will be his fourth game missed and Hitchcock said the team is in a holding pattern right now after being asked if Steen's been able to do anything.
"No, but he felt better," Hitchcock said. "... At least he's able to come to the rink and feeling better every day. Not where you can get tested and approved and you can play. When that happens, it's going to be a quick turnaround for him. We're not there yet."
* Shootout work -- The Blues took extensive time working on the shootout, which has been an Achilles' heel to say the least this season.
The Blues are 0-5 in shootouts, 0-6 dating back to last season and are the only Western Conference team without a shootout win and one of three teams (Philadelphia and Carolina) in the NHL without a shootout victory at all.
They're 1-for-17 on the season but they used a variety of guys to see who can step up to the forefront and get this thing turned around.
"We wanted the first rotation speed and shooting," Hitchcock said. "The next one was pace. We wanted to see who could do what if you had to go with speed, what move do you have? If you did it with pace, what move do you have? If you did it with (an) angle, what move? ... We went through three rotations of everybody had to do the same thing and then play it from there."
And who stood out?
"Obviously Shatty looked good, obviously McDonald looks good, Perron looks good," Hitchcock said of Kevin Shattenkirk, Andy McDonald and David Perron. "No. 10 doesn't hurt. It doesn't hurt the way he does it."
* Oshie, Polak sit out again -- Oshie (wrist) and defenseman Roman Polak (unknown injury) both sat out practice again Wednesday, with Hitchcock saying that it's in the best interest that they not skate during practice for the time being.
"We decided after the Detroit game if we're going to get 100 percent from the players during the games during this period of time, we need to not lean on them," Hitchcock said. "We decided with players like (Polak) and Osh, that they would skate once rather than twice so we're not wearing them down.
"There's no issues when they play. There will be issues if you continue to wear them down. Neither guy likes to take time off skating, so we took the option out of their hands. Osh skated again today, just cardio. Roman, we've opted to just keep him off the ice. Play in the game, skate in the morning ... he does all his cardio on the bike or on the treadmill or whatever it is."
Polak is especially critical to keep him game-ready. The Blues are already thin on the blueline with Ian Cole (suspension), Kris Russell (groin) and Kent Huskins (ankle) all out.
"We're down to five NHL defensemen," Hitchcock said. "We're trying to get (Cade) Fairchild up to speed quick. We're in a dangerous position if we don't protect the players."
* Protecting leads -- The Blues have been good at protecting leads this season, especially after two periods where they are 17-1-1 in that department to go along with 17-0-0 when they score three goals or more.
But Hitchcock said his squad can simplify protecting the leads they get by gaining more access to the puck, which is something that the veteran coach said is lacking right now.
"The easiest way to protect the lead is to start with the puck," Hitchcock said. "We have to find a way to start with the puck more. That's one area we need to improve in a lot. We've got to get better at that. You can't be a good faceoff team if you're under 50 percent. You're not going to be a good puck-possession team. We've got to be better starting with the puck.
"Nothing more wears out the opposition than having to chase the game when they're down. That's how Detroit wears you out. They've got three centers that win a lot of faceoffs. You're trying to get back into the game and you're not starting with the puck. That's one area we need to improve on, and it's not all on centers either. It's on 50-50 lost draws, it's on win the draw, lose possession ... it's all five guys on the ice. We've got to spend more time working on that."
* Halak gets another start -- Goaltender Jaroslav Halak, coming off a season-best 34-save performance in Tuesday's win over Phoenix, will get the start again tonight against the Oilers. Hitchcock said there's a chance Brian Elliott could go Saturday against Colorado at home and Halak would go Tuesday in Montreal, the first time he would play at Bell Centre since being traded to the Blues in the summer of 2010.
After starting 1-6 with a 3.53 goals-against average and .835 save percentage, Halak has found his game, going 5-0-3 in his last eight starts. He has a 1.45 GAA and .945 save percentage in those eight games. He's 8-7-5 on the season with a 2.21 GAA and .911 save percentage.