Monday, January 28, 2013

Blues pass one major hurdle with flying colors

After six games in nine days, team sitting in good shape with 5-1-0 record

ST. LOUIS -- Six games in nine days is enough to zap the energy out of the best conditioned athletes.

But six in nine for a hockey player, considering there was a limited training camp and not much time to mentally prepare for the grind of a compressed schedule, a day off couldn't be more welcomed than the one the Blues got Monday.

The Blues, who got Monday off after hitting the ice with their blades leaving a fiery trail to begin the season, came out of one of their toughest stretches of the condensed 48-game schedule with only one blemish -- a 3-2 loss at 6-0-0 Chicago. They capped things off with back-to-back wins at Dallas (4-3) Saturday and a crazy back-and-forth 5-4 overtime win over Minnesota Sunday night.

When the Blues got a close look at what was ahead, coming out of it winners of five of six, they'll take it.
(St. Louis Blues/Mark Buckner)
Andy McDonald set up the game-winning goal Sunday night, helping the
Blues get off to a 5-1-0 start to the season.

"That's a pretty good start to the season, but you can't get too high, you can't get too low," said Chris Stewart, who got his fourth goal of the season and second in as many nights in the third period Sunday night. "We'll enjoy it for the night, take the day off (today), get some great rest, come back Tuesday and put the works boots back on."

Probably the greatest reason the Blues were able to get through this rugged stretch and why they'll be able to persevere when the schedule gets even more compressed is their ability to roll four lines consistently. Sure, the top-end guys will get more ice time but the utilization of four lines that can get you 12-13 minutes a game proves to be invaluable.

"I think our depth is obviously going to play a factor this year, especially playing the last game of six games in nine nights," Stewart said. "We have that ability to play four lines that can play and I think that showed tonight in the third period."

Indeed it did.

The Blues trailed at one point 3-1 but got a big goal from Patrik Berglund late in the second  period and turned up the dial in the third when the legs could have easily wilted under pressure.

It all boils back to playing the Vladimir Sobotkas -- who scored the game-winner in overtime -- and the Jamie Langenbrunners, the Ryan Reaves,' the Scott Nichols and the Matt D'Agostinis.

"We've got a few guys that have top-end skill, but we've got a lot of workers and we've got no give-up in us," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. "I think we could have gone away and said (a) 4-2 start, we're OK, but we just wanted more and I'm hoping we can keep that attitude going.

"I just liked the way we responded when we got pushed like that in the third period. We pushed back in a big way. It's a good sign."

Sunday's game-winner began with an offensive rush from the defensive-minded and reliable Roman Polak, who initially fanned when he tried to snap the puck on goal from the right half wall. Good thing he whiffed because Polak was able to quickly recover, get the puck to Andy McDonald, who in turn found Sobotka in the slot for the quick redirection, chopping at the puck and getting it over Niklas Backstrom.

"It was bad eyes," Polak joked. "I wasn't even looking on the tape if I had it. It was bad luck, but on the other side, I know it was good luck, too. We scored.

"(Fatigue) was a factor, but we knew before the game it was going to be a tough game because Minnesota has a great team, too. They play a similar type of game like we do. We knew it was going to be a tough game and a tough battle. It was, but we made it through this stretch of games and it's a good start for us."

Added Sobotka: "(Polak's) got good speed. He's quick and he can shoot, too. He made a good play, too. ... I was wondering if (Polak) should make a play or if he should shoot it on the net. I think he lost it or something and then he got it. I just stayed in front of the net and Andy made a good play.
(Mark Buckner/St. Louis Blues)
Jaden Schwartz (left) and the Blues have gotten off to a hot start this
season. The Blues are 5-1-0, two points off the top spot in the NHL.

"It was a tough game. I'm glad we got two points."

David Perron, who had five points over the weekend, said this was a nice gut-check win by the Blues.

"Back-to-back for us," Perron said. "We knew (the Wild) were going to be sitting back in our hometown. It's just good to find a way to get that win and a great goal by Sobe there at the end."

Beginning Thursday in Columbus, then followed up by a Friday game in Detroit which will be their third set of back-to-back games, the Blues will begin a stretch of 11 games in 21 days before their next set of multiple nights off between games.

But this group is beginning to live under a previous slogan used: "Whatever It Takes."

"It's all about the energy and the spirit," Hitchcock said. "You can't lose the energy and you can't lose the spirit or else you're going to be in trouble.

"... Energy and spirit are going to get you more points than precision and exactness. I said this before and I really believe it's six weeks. If you look at a normal hockey season, it's three weeks of training camp, it's the first three weeks of the schedule, and then your team starts to sort itself out. We're going to have to weather this storm for six weeks. That's what it is. That's normal in an NHL 82-game season. It's six weeks before you find our pretty much the tempo of your hockey club. But we don't get the first three weeks like you do in training camp. They're all games."

So far, so good.

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