Wednesday, February 15, 2012

(2-16-12) BLUES NOTEBOOK

Blues try to get back to working methods; Arnott,
Huskins ready to play, Colaiacovo injures wrist, Steen skating

By LOUIE KORAC
ST. LOUIS -- The Blues were back on the ice Wednesday, taking part in a good hour long practice at the confines of Scottrade Center.

It might not sound out of the ordinary, but for a team that had been playing well, and if it would have come off a road victory Tuesday night, Wednesday would have likely been a day off or an optional skate at the most.

But after a bad 2-1 loss at Columbus, the NHL's worst team statistically in the league, in which some of the players called it "the worst loss of the season," it was back to a good old-fashioned refresher course on what has made this team productive this season and how they were winning hockey games.

"We thought the game would be a little bit easier after the first period," Hitchcock said, referring to Tuesday. "It wasn't, we learned our lesson hopefully and moving forward.

"To me, it's all about the response. When you play every second day, it's yesterday's news. It's all about how you play tomorrow. We had a very good practice today, lots of intensity, lots of hard-working drills. Now it's about getting ready for the (New York) Islanders. It's a league you can't waste much time on. You have to learn your lessons and move forward. Hopefully, that's what we've done. We've learned our lesson and we just wanted the game to be a little easier than what it was. That's what happens. Sometimes when you've got a younger team, you want different things."

At one point early in the practice, Hitchcock was barking at his players to funnel pucks to the pads, or get pucks on goal.

Why?

"
When we're putting 40-50 shots up, we're putting pucks to the net, we're driving the net, getting rebounds," defenseman Alex Pietrangelo said. "When we kind of get away from that, we try and make too many plays. That's when we get ourselves into trouble. ... It's just simplifying it. With the size of the forwards and d-men that we have, guys going to the net, putting pucks to the pads, putting pucks laying in the slot are tough to handle. That's where we're scoring a lot of our goals right now.

"At times, we kind of got away from it (Tuesday night). We weren't willing to put pucks in, we weren't willing to shoot pucks towards the net. We were looking for the perfect shot. We're going to score goals with hard work."

Hitchcock said it's all about the chances after the initial wave of action.

"We get in games like that and we want the offensive part of our opportunities to be easier," he said. "We had all kinds of first responses, but we didn't have any second and third like we've had in the past here. For whatever reason, we get in a mode where we want to make plays standing still.

"Today was move-your-feet-offensive-day. There's lots of defending against it, but boy, you really had to move your feet to create scoring chances today. I think it was a real eye-opener for people because we didn't do it again. We didn't do it in Ottawa, we didn't do it in New Jersey and got away with it. Didn't do it last night and didn't get away with it. For whatever reason, we have a tendency at times to want the offensive opportunities to be cuter and easier. They're not. Even a team like Columbus, they're a proud team. They don't want to give up on the season right now. They played us hard and we looked for more easy opportunities and didn't get them."

The Blues (34-15-7), who host the improving Islanders (24-24-8) Thursday night, fell to 10-12-3 away from Scottrade Center. It was an opportunity to get back to .500 away from home and try for the fifth time at extending a winning streak past five games. They were unsuccessful on all fronts, falling to 0-2-3 with a chance to win five games in a row this season and 0-5-1 in their last six games against Central Division teams.

"We need to stop the inconsistent play right now," defenseman Barret Jackman said. "We can't play great Blues hockey at home and be lackluster on the road. We need to address things right now, change the way that we play on the road and get back to the grind it out style that we play and the strong defensive style and hard-nosed, quick feet, quick puck movement and moving the puck forward."

* Colaiacovo injured; Huskins, Arnott ready to go; Steen practices -- One downside to Wednesday's practice was defenseman Carlo Colaiacovo, who slipped coming around a turn by the right corner boards, slipped and injured what appeared to be his right wrist.

Colaiacovo was sent to the hospital for X-rays and if there is any type of injury involved, veteran Kent Huskins will step in and mark his return to the lineup.

Huskins, signed to a one-year free agent contract last summer from San Jose, has been out since Oct. 28 when he broke a bone in his left ankle blocking a shot in a game at Calgary.

"We just sent (Colaiacovo) to X-rays to rule out anything," Hitchcock said. "If his wrist is sprained, then we'll probably play Husky tomorrow.

"Husky's ready to go. He knocked on my door today and said hello, I'm ready to go. He'll go in."

Huskins, who has played in only nine games this season with two goals and four points, said he's ready if called upon.

"I feel good out there," he said. "I don't think anything's going to prepare you for games. Now it's strictly up to the coaches ... just now kind of waiting for when they think I'm ready to go and put me in there. I'll be ready.

"It's at a point now where I'm game ready. I just really look forward to getting back in there. ... There's probably some lineup decisions they need to make. I'll leave it in their hands, but as far as I go, I'm ready."

As for Arnott, he's been out since injuring his left shoulder Feb. 3 against Los Angeles, missing the last six games. But the 37-year-old, who Hitchcock said could have probably played Tuesday, was back on the ice centering a line between Vladimir Sobotka and B.J. Crombeen.

"Arnott's ready to go," Hitchcock said. "To me, he could have played yesterday, but with the extra day and a good practice today, he's ready to go."

Winger Alex Steen was at practice Wednesday as well but not ready for game action. Steen has been missing from the lineup since Dec. 27 and has missed the last 20 games with concussion symptoms.

"It's nice to see Steener out there," Hitchcock said. "He's not ready to go though. ... He's got a big smile on his face. He's having fun and obviously he's getting better, but he's nowhere near playing yet."

Winger Matt D'Agostini (concussion symptoms) was not on the ice and not ready to return himself. He's been out since the game at Ottawa Feb. 7.

With Arnott and possibly Huskins ready to play, the team optioned winger Evgeny Grachev and defenseman Ian Cole back to Peoria.

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