Friday, February 8, 2013

Blues are down with no time to fret

Three-game losing slide has team searching for answers, getting back to basics

By LOUIE KORAC
HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- After being outscored 11-2 in their previous two outings -- 14-2 going back to the third period in Detroit a week ago, it's easy to understand the somber mood in the Blues locker room Friday.

When asked, veteran Andy McDonald paused before responding, "Not very positive. We're real down in here about what's happened. It's amazing how things can change in a matter of a week.
(Getty Images)
David Backes (42) and the Blues hope to turn things around vs.
Anaheim Saturday night, looking to kick a three-game slide.

"In saying that,' McDonald added, "there's games before we've won and we were headed in this direction. We have to get better. There's areas we identified today, spent a lot of time (Friday) going over video looking at the game. There's a lot of fight in this room and I think guys realize the team we have, there's no reason we can't turn this thing around. That's what we're going to do. We can't go from feeling great about ourselves to down in the dumps and not being able to recover. I expect a completely different effort tomorrow night. Guys realize we have to bring our best effort."

Losses to Nashville (6-1) and Detroit (5-1) can bring a player -- or a team -- down, no matter how good the record was (6-1-0) before this three-game slide, the longest by the Blues since coach Ken Hitchcock arrived in November 2011.

And once again, just like the day after the spanking at the hands of the Predators, the Blues didn't go the 'bag skate' route. This time, it was an optional at the Ice Zone, with the majority of players working out off-ice/taking in video sessions and some (Kris Russell, Ian Cole, Matt D'Agostini, Ryan Reaves, Jaden Schwartz and Jake Allen) working on the ice with assistant coaches.

When asked if this would have been what he would have done 10 years ago, coach Ken Hitchcock replied, "No ... no. We probably would have done different things today, stuff like that, but you learn.
You learn over time that it's not the end of the world. If you treat it like the end of the world, then ... my job is to get them out of the ditch. And you don't get them out of the ditch with a bunch of criticism and a bunch of conflict. That's not how you get out of the ditch. My job is to get them back up and running and feeling good about themselves."
So one begs to question: how do things get to where they were after 12 of a possible 14 points in the Blues' first seven games to a sudden blitz of bad hockey?

"I think there's been a little bit of arrogance that's kind of crept into our game here, a little bit of complacency," defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk said. "Even (Thursday) night, we got that goal back at 2-1, we're just expecting things to fall into place for us because they did last year and we're kind of just sitting back waiting for it to happen instead of making it happen. That's kind of what the storyline has been here for these last two games and in the third period of Detroit.

"We just don't want to put in the hard work that comes along with winning. That's it right there ... cheating those little details. You always hear about them and those little things are what ultimately makes up winning teams and what gets you to that next level."

So when the Blues face the red-hot Anaheim Ducks, who played Friday night in Dallas, in the third of a four-game homestand Saturday night, they'll look to do so with what got them off and running in the first place.

"We've got to get back to basics and obviously communicate more on the ice," center Patrik Berglund said. "I don't think we're really helping ourselves out there right now. We're cheating in the d-zone. That's why they're getting their goals and they get pretty simple goals because we're already trying to blow out of the zone or something like that.

"This whole cheating thing, it caught us off-guard and that's not acceptable. That's not how we play. The only thing we can do is to be really honest about it. We all watched it this morning and we all agree on that. We've got to come out and be the hard-working team that pays attention to details, which we will tomorrow."

The word "cheating" was used quite a bit between players and Hitchcock following Thursday's loss. Cheating the details of the game, cheating the game itself. The Blues seem to be trying to skim by without what's been their staple: forechecking, puck possession and most importantly, outworking teams.

"We're a checking team," McDonald said. "I think when we're playing well, we're on top of the puck all over the ice. It doesn't matter what line's going over the board. We're in on top of the forecheck, we've got good back pressure on the puck coming back through the neutral zone and defensive zone coverage. We smother teams. We've had games where we've had 40 minutes of that, obviously not 60. And there are games where we really struggle like last night, there was even less of it.

"You go over the video and you identify the areas. Individually, guys need to prepare themselves. Getting back to being a checking team, that's going to create our offense. Everyone says you're a defensive team, but when we check well, we seem to score more goals."

Hitchcock used the extensive video session Friday to get everyone back on the team concept. When the Blues get too individualistic, that's when things go awry.

"What we're trying to do is get our game to have more structure, more patience with it," Hitchcock said. "When you get impatient offensively like we have been, you force it and so you turn all these offensive opportunities with all this work you've done to get the puck back, you turn it into back-check. When you're back-checking all the time, you get frustrated. It's not what the other team's doing to us, it's what we're doing to ourselves. That's what I told the players today.
(Getty Images)
Andy McDonald (10) said the Blues need to "nip it in the bud," referring
to a season-long three-game losing streak.

"We need to take control of the situation to understand that it's not near as bad as you think it is, forget about the score. There's lots of good stuff in the game, but we built this team in finishing the task and wearing people out. We're making it easy on teams by force-feeding offensive opportunities that end up being what I call hope-for plays. We're trying to get the players to visually see it, feel it and get back to what we do best."

And instead of harping on the negatives, re-inforce the positives as well.

"As much as you want to see them learn from their mistakes, they've got to see the good stuff, too," Hitchcock said. "It wasn't like a bunch of ... 60 minutes of bad stuff. The mistakes we make are similar to the mistakes we made in the last game. We've got to correct those. And then the good stuff has to be extended."

Which the players fully understand.

"The biggest thing for us is to nip it in the bud," McDonald said. "We can't have this happen again. ... We're aware of what's going on. There's too much fight in this room. We want to be a successful team. We want to be playing for the Stanley Cup and realize that this has to change right away."

* NOTES -- Hitchcock said Brian Elliott, whose goals-against average has ballooned up to 3.30 and his save percentage dropped to .864, will get the nodwhile Jaroslav Halak (groin strain) works his way back to health.

Halak skated again Friday for the third straight day and will practice while taking shots for the first time at the morning skate Saturday. The earliest he would be available is Monday night against Los Angeles.

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