Playing a North-South game beneficial for
success; Pietrangelo travels, Halak stays back
By LOUIE KORAC
CHESTERFIELD, Mo. -- It's a simple formula that the Blues haven't seemed to adhere to yet in the Western Conference Semifinals against the Los Angeles Kings: play a North-South game.
And if the Blues don't do an about-face soon, their stay among the eight remaining NHL teams will be short-lived.
Instead of playing North-South, the Blues have seemed to catch themselves in an East-West game that's seen the Kings force them into turnovers and being hemmed in their own zone.
"The more we do go North-South, it turns into a quicker game, which suits our style," winger Alex Steen said. "We have tendencies to go a little East-West. Once we're in [the offensive zone] and generate that first North-South shot, we'll have chances to go East-West.
"It's back to basics. We've got to get pucks at [Jonathan] Quick, get bodies at him and start banging some in."
As the Blues prepare for Game 3 in Los Angeles on Thursday, a different style of game will be necessary to climb out of an 0-2 series hole.
"They play a lot like us," winger Jamie Langenbrunner said of the Kings. "They frustrate you and they make you have to work for it. For whatever reason, we've cracked earlier than we have. In Game 1, we came out and put our game out there. Whatever reason halfway through the game, we got away for it and they made us pay for it. Last night they came out and stormed us and we had no answer at the beginning."
No answers turned into a 4-0 first period deficit and the Blues were chasing the rest of the night.
"That's the bigger issue for me," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. "Three of the first four shifts, we went East-West. We bit on what we thought was an offensive opportunity that ended up twice being in our net. That's one of the issues.
"When the temperature of the game gets revved up, natural tendencies come in and sometimes ... I think if you look at the playoffs right now, one of the things that we're doing that we have to change is we're trying to create and stay in the offensive situations when we don't have any business being in there. We need to make sure the puck stays in front of us. We are really forcing offensive opportunities when we don't have to. We're not trusting a 60-minute time-clock. We're trying to apply a knockout punch right away."
So in other words, it's what the Blues are doing to themselves, not necessarily what the Kings are forcing them to do.
"We control how we go about things," said winger Matt D'Agostini, who scored in Monday's 5-2 loss in Game 2. "We'd definitely like to get more pucks behind their D and getting our forecheck game more often. That always leads to good things for us."
Along with, "The willingness of our guys to pay the price to go to hard areas, to take the hit, to get punched in the face and take the penalty and then prove that guys' sacrifice was worth it on the power play," center David Backes said. "That's what we need to do as far as sticking up for each other, not one guy gets a liberty taken on him and go backyard bully style. That's not the way playoffs are won. It's take that hit for the team and have your other five teammates go strong on the power play and make them pay for it. Then they can't take those liberties at you.
"The way our power play's going, they were taking liberties left and right because they kill it off, they score on the penalty kill. That's a good thing for them. It's something we'll look hard at and Thursday, be better at."
* Playing scared -- Hitchcock said when the Blues are at their best, they played scared. In other words, not scared of the opponent but scared of the situation.
Well, there's no time like the present than to play scared considering it's an 0-2 deficit in the series and it being in danger of not coming back to St. Louis.
"Not play scared, when you are scared," Hitchcock said. "You're scared of being embarrassed.
"It can go two ways: when we're a little bit uneasy with if we don't play well, we're going to get beat and thumped, we really play well. We've done that all year. I think that's typical of a young team. I think it gets their attention. This thing being 0-2's got everybody's attention right now. As a group, we need to play better, and we're capable of it."
Steen added: "I don't know scared is the right word. I'd say with a little bit more desperation to our game."
* Halak, Pietrangelo updates -- Defenseman Alex Pietrangelo made the trip to Los Angeles and continues to be day-to-day with a lower-body injury. However, goalie Jaroslav Halak, who Hitchcock ruled out for the series, did not accompany the team.
Halak, who's been out with a lower-body injury -- believed to be an ankle -- has not skated since a collision with teammate Barret Jackman in Game 2 of the conference quarterfinals.
Halak's skated on his own and rode the bike but Hitchcock deemed him unavailable with time differences.
"I felt after talking with him yesterday, the time frame if the series went seven between getting on, getting in shape, getting full practices in, there's just not enough time," Hitchcock said of Halak. "We'll move him forward where he can go forward with a more gradual schedule and obviously if we get out of this round here, he'd probably be available for selection."
As for Pietrangelo, who was hurt in Game 1 of the series, it's 50-50 whether he will be ready for Thursday. Obviously the extra days between Games 2 and 3 and 3 and 4 help.
"Obviously if he's able to practice with us tomorrow, that's a big step," Hitchcock said before the team departed for Los Angeles. "I don't want to get ahead of ourselves. He's injured, he's not ready to play.
"If the game was today, he's not ready to play obviously. We'll just see how he works out here. If he practices with us tomorrow, that's another nice step for us."