Thursday, April 26, 2012

Power play success in Round 2 more challenging for Blues

Kings' penalty killing unit was fourth in regular season, Sharks were 29th

HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- The Blues' success on the power play in the Western Conference Quarterfinals against San Jose was undoubtedly a glowing reason why the Blues moved on.

They were 6-for-18 (33.3 percent) -- second among the 16 playoff teams -- against a Sharks team that was exposed in the regular season; they were 29th in the NHL.

But as the Blues prepare for the Western Conference Semifinals against the Los Angeles Kings, they'll be facing a more dangerous animal when on the power play.
(Getty Images)
Andy McDonald (right) led the Blues with eight points against the Sharks in
the opening round.

LA's penalty kill was fourth in the regular season, only allowing 38 goals on 293 opportunities (87 percent) and they killed off 18 of 21 power play chances by Vancouver in their first round upset.

So what stands out most about LA's penalty kill? The consensus agreed that it's the Kings apply more pressure than what the Sharks applied.

"They pressure," defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk said of the Kings. "They come a lot harder than San Jose does. It's a matter of having good entries and getting the puck in and really kind of relieving that pressure as soon as possible.

"You've got to know that when you get the puck, someone's going to be running at you. You kind of need to have your options and your plays in your head even before you get the puck."

Added winger Andy McDonald, who was a power play catalyst for the Blues in the opening round: "It's going to be night and day. San Jose was a lot more passive, they like to stay a little more tighter in the middle. These guys like to pressure. They had a pretty successful PK all year long. We know that they're going to come hard with pressure and battle on pucks a lot harder. We'll have to be prepared for that.

"You're going to have to make quicker plays, quicker reads and better support. At the same time, it can be a weakness for them. You're just going to have to be prepared for it. It's going to be a lot different than last series."

The Blues, who only scored three goals in four games against the Kings during the regular season, were 0-for-14 in those four contests.

"Even when we played them during the season, we had that pressure that we didn't see at all the last series," defenseman Carlo Colaiacovo said Thursday after practice. "We expect them to scout us just like we're going to scout them and make adjustments.

"We practiced on a few things today that they have real tendencies of doing. It's a matter of us getting that focus in our head knowing that they're going to come hard at us, they're going to pressure us at every chance. We've just got to know what our next option's going to be and find a way to be on top of them with an extra man."

But it's also a case of not trying to do be different.

"The worst thing you can do is start putting pressure on yourself and start over-thinking the situation," Colaiacovo said. "At the end of the day, we're out there because we have guys that can make those plays and can be counted on to make those adjustments. ... We have guys that bring experience at what that situation is like. We count on those guys to make those plays for us.

"It's a seven-game series. There's going to be adjustments every game. We've just got to make sure that when we're out there, we're focused and we're working at it. Even if you don't score a goal, you're creating momentum which is what we're trying to do when we didn't score against San Jose."

Blues coach Ken Hitchcock has been working extensively with his unit this week, with the power play getting ample emphasis.

"They check different," Hitchcock said of LA. "We were able to take advantage of time to prepare [against San Jose]. We've done the same thing.
(Getty Images)
Alex Steen will be leaned on to provide power play success for the

"Tomorrow will be the fourth day on power play that we've spent. We'll have to be ready. They're attention to detail ... I know the guy that's doing the PK [Kings assistant coach John Stevens]. I know exactly what he's working on. We were together for an extended period of time in Philadelphia. I know his attention to detail and the players have the same attention to detail. This will be much harder to get quality scoring chances."

The Blues had their success against the Sharks because of the amount of zone time they created for themselves. Winning those offensive zone faceoffs paid huge dividends.

"We've got to find a way to break that pressure and freeze them to make them sit back more," winger David Perron said. "... If you start with the puck instead of go back down 200 feet and work on your breakout, it's a big key."

Colaiacovo agreed.

"The more times you've got to go back and break the puck out, the more energy you waste and the more chances they kill off the clock," Colaiacovo said. "It's more of a tougher situation because then you've got to worry about getting the puck in and getting it back. If you start with the puck, it's easier getting to where you need to be and make plays."

* Norris candidates announced -- The NHL announced that the three finalists for the Norris Trophy are Nashville's Shea Weber, Boston's Zdeno Chara and Ottawa's Erik Karlsson.

The Blues' Alex Pietrangelo was not among them, but Hitchcock believes he will be soon -- and could easily be there now.

For sure he can be there. Depending on how you look at defensemen, he could be there now ... in my eyes," Hitchcock said. "He's a growing player. He's a young guy and he's growing. He's going to get better and better in the offensive part of his game. He's getting more and more comfortable handling the puck in traffic in the offensive zone, getting right reads. If there was ever an award for the most improved defenseman in the National Hockey League, he'd be one of those guys.

"For me, he's always going to be in that consideration for the rest of his career because he's developed his game so much. He's always had good composure defensively, but now he's shown that composure offensively. You look at the players that are here now ... here are three different defensemen: you've got a point-producing defensemen, you've got a shut-down guy and then you've got a two-way guy. Depends on how you look at defensemen. I look at it differently than other people. I don't want to get into that part of it, but I look at it as a position where I think Alex has a real value on any team in any organization as an elite player."

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