Extended trips will determine where Blues finish, if playoffs become a reality
By LOUIE KORAC
ST. LOUIS -- Playing 19 of their final 31 games away from the comforts of home, the Blues have the opportunity to get re-acclimated with what life on the road feels like.
After Saturday's 3-1 loss at Nashville, the team proceeded to fly to Ottawa Sunday and face the Senators on Tuesday before wrapping up a three-game swing Thursday in New Jersey.
There will be a six-game swing coming up at the end of the month and another seven-game tour that will be split up, but the Blues, who dropped to 8-11-3 away from Scottrade Center, need to get up to speed -- and do it fast.
Kris Russell (4) and the rest of the Blues once again had trouble trying to
solve Nashville goalie Pekka Rinne Saturday night.
The regular season is coming down the stretch and for a team that has playoff aspirations, to get deep into the postseason, one has to become a road warrior. To this point, the Blues have not been.
Of the top 11 Western Conference teams wrapped around them, only the Blues have less than 10 road victories. The only Western teams to have as many or fewer? The three bottom-feeders in Edmonton, Anaheim and Columbus.
"We definitely need to get something going on the road here," said veteran winger Jamie Langenbrunner after Saturday's loss at Bridgestone Arena. "Obviously, we're gonna get plenty of opportunity here in the next month-and-a-half. It can be a good thing if we embrace it.
"Playing on the road is definitely tougher, especially this time of the year when points are going to be so valuable. If you want to be playing late into the spring, you've got to do that anyway. It's a big opportunity, it's going to be tough, but we're going to have to keep learning and growing and realize that every game's not going to go perfect and keep battling through."
Saturday was a prime example.
The Blues weren't perfect in the first period, but they weren't bad either. But after a 13-5 edge in shots early on, somehow they managed to slip into a 2-0 hole because of a power play goal and a mistake in coverage on a Mike Fisher goal.
"It's tough, but when that happens, there's lots of game left," defenseman Kris Russell said. "That's when you have to turn things around. We can't wait to kind of ease our way in and start playing in the third period. We're too good of a team to do that. They're not going to give you any easy ice; they showed you that tonight. We have to do a better job of finding the hard areas, outbattling them. That's how they got their goals and that's where their success is, in the tough areas."
Added Langenbrunner: "I think we came out pretty good. We wanted to take momentum and I think we did early on. There was great energy in this arena and it was a fun game to be a part of, but they score the power play goal and on a breakdown of ours.
"We seemed to go into a little bit of a lull there and watched them play for a while. We snapped out of it in the third but maybe a little bit of them sitting back and us being a little more desperate."
That lull occurred in the second period, when the Predators outshot the Blues 17-7 and did all they could to put the game away. If not for timely saves from Jaroslav Halak, the game could have been well out of hand and not be there for the Blues to mount a third period comeback -- which they almost did.
"We've got to play 60 minutes on the road," Langenbrunner said. "For whatever reason, we haven't been doing that. We've had breaks in our game where we've allowed the team to take control. We can't do that."
But the Blues, who got a goal from Chris Porter, made a game of it and had multiple chances -- including a terrific look from Russell with under nine minutes to play -- to tie the game. But Nashville goalie Pekka Rinne, who has been a thorn in the Blues' side time and time again, validated that point once again with a 42-save effort.
"Sure, it definitely gets in your head a little bit, but we can't worry about that going into a game," Porter said of Rinne's dominance of the Blues. "We've just got to put pucks in traffic to the net. The more bodies we get there, the more pucks he can't see, the better off for us.
"... We started moving our feet a little bit there in the third, getting the goal that kind of gave us a little bit of life as well. We needed probably five more minutes and it would have been a different game, but we've got to put 60 minutes together instead of just 20. ... A couple different bounces in the third, we could have had the second one and it would have been a different game."
Chris Stewart (right) tries to score on Pekka Rinne during Saturday's
game in Nashville. The Blues continue the trip Tuesday in Ottawa.
Added Langenbrunner: "The one thing you can't do is try to get too cute. There's not too many ways of scoring in this league other than going to the net hard and getting to those dirty areas, especially against this team. They're obviously very good at letting you shoot from the outside and controlling the pucks around the net.
"Obviously (Rinne) played extremely well and made some big saves. But I think what we seem to do in stretches is get away from our game and find some cute way of passing it around them. That's exactly what they want and they take advantage of that. When we played our game and made it tough on them, we had our chances. We have to start capitalizing on them."
The show now moves North of the Border to the capital of Canada, where the Blues need to unveil a road show that produces wins.
"It was a good test for us (Saturday), but we've got to regroup and go after Ottawa here," Russell said.