Sunday, January 15, 2012

Pietrangelo's game coming full circle

Fourth overall pick of 2008 adding offense to impressive resume 

ST. LOUIS -- He's always shown the flashes of why the Blues drafted him fourth overall in 2008. The defensive responsibilities have always been there. Now Alex Pietrangelo is beginning to crank the offense into gear.

After another night in which the Blues' top d-man logged a team-best 29 minutes, 6 seconds of ice time in a 3-2 shootout win over the Minnesota Wild, the 21-year-old King City, Ontario native played a part in the offense for the sixth straight game, a career-best.

Pietrangelo's seventh goal of the season now gives him two goals and nine points in the last half dozen games and 20 points in 43 games this season.
(Getty Images)
Blues defenseman Alex Pietrangelo is showing forms of becoming an
offensive force, with nine points in six straight games.

It's not in the echelon of the Nicklas Lidstroms, the Shea Webers or the Zdeno Charas of the world (not yet anyway), but with a full career ahead of him, Pietrangelo sure has the makings of one of those players ready to grab a premier defensive slot with some of the best.

"If you're a fan of St. Louis and a Blues fan, you're watching the emergence of a really good player," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock declared after Saturday's game. "... There's not many defensemen where you say this guy's got a chance to be a one. He has a chance to be a one. Not many teams have that. We have an opportunity to have a player like him become a one over time. He's a young guy, he's just learning how to play the game.

"There's not many players in the league that are able to play against top players, play on the power play (and) kill penalties. He's got a chance if he keeps improving to be in that one category. Those are valuable guys where you can play them heavy minutes and not worry about them."

Pietrangelo is playing heavy minutes. He leads the Blues at 24:18 per game, which is tied for 18th in the league. But the heavy workload for a guy who continues to thrive with partner and friend Carlo Colaiacovo doesn't affect his game in any one area.

"I like the responsibility and I like the challenge," said Pietrangelo, who's No. 1 in the NHL averaging 32.9 shifts per game. "It pushes you to be your best and it's good to know that the coaches have the confidence to put me in those situations."

Pietrangelo has logged 20-plus minutes in all 43 games he's played in this season and 64 straight games dating back to last season. Hitchcock, who's coached some pretty good d-men during his coaching career, said that Pietrangelo logging a plethora of minutes is never an issue. The veteran Blues coach doesn't think twice using Pietrangelo in all situations.

"Some guys can't. Some guys hit the wall halfway through the game," Hitchcock said of Pietrangelo. "I think it's all about cardio endurance. ... I remember Rob Blake, he'd sit on the bench; 30 seconds later, he'd be out there. There would be a timeout, he would be back playing again.

"There's certain guys that can play like that. Other guys can't. They need long rests. He's one of those guys that just goes back there, needs a few seconds and he's up and running again.

"(Pietrangelo's) more complete. He still has a ways to go like anybody, but it's fun watching a guy get better every day. I think his improvement is daily. He's doing little things on the ice. He's got a lot of confidence. He's good killing penalties, he's competitive, he's got a strong stick. Now he's starting to make little plays on the offensive side where he's got some patience again. He's not just burying his head and hammering the puck. He's got patience, he's changing the angle from the point ... all the little things you need to do to be a good two-way player. It comes with maturity.

"I like the way he's playing. Both him and (Kevin) Shattenkirk are logging big minutes for us, they're playing well. It's a good sign for us right now."

Pietrangelo, who led the team with seven of the Blues' 49 shots Saturday, dished out four hits and blocked a couple shots in a game that required a physical element.

"We like that style of game and we can live up to it," Pietrangelo said. "... That's the type of game we needed after coming off the Vancouver game."

And the kind of all-around game the Blues will continue to hope they get from Pietrangelo.

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