Wednesday, February 6, 2013

No bag skates here: Blues get back to teaching

Coach cites lack of checking as area needed
to be reinforced after 6-1 whipping Tuesday night

HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- In the old days of the NHL, the aftermath of the Blues' performance Tuesday night likely would have included the proverbial 'bag skate' the following day.

Coaches of the past often used them and certainly would have warranted it after the Blues' 6-1 stinker on home ice against Nashville Tuesday night, the team's second straight loss.
(St. Louis Blues/Mark Buckner)
Vladimir Tarasenko (91) and the rest of the Blues will look to get back in
the win column Thursday night against Detroit.

But as the Blues (6-3-0) prepare to face the rival Detroit Red Wings (4-4-1) Thursday at Scottrade Center (7 p.m. on FSN, KMOX 1120-AM), coach Ken Hitchcock, an old-school coach himself at the age of 61, chose to use Wednesday's hard but brisk practice session as "a great teaching practice." Hitchcock calls 'bag skates,' where coaches put players through a hard skate session with no pucks that typically results in players barely being able to stand on their feet anymore, a "total waste of time."


"Because there's limited time to teach," Hitchcock said, specifically referring to Wednesday's practice at the Ice Zone. "... It was not long, but it was fast and furious. I think we're going to come with a good mindset moving forward now."

Depending on the coach or player, some might want to get right back at it the next day in game action. It can help alleviate all that went wrong the previous night, or help forget about it quickly. But the Blues wanted -- and needed -- Wednesday to get reacclimated with what's been ailing the last few days.

"We kind of needed today to get our act back together ... get a message from coaches," defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk said. "If we went back out today, it would have been hard to learn our lesson. I think coming and being able to see some video, just the obvious mistakes that we were making will hopefully be good for us.

"It was a slap in the face that we most certainly needed. I think it will be a good wake-up call for us and we'll be ready to go tomorrow."

As players have stated the previous couple days, they've gotten off to a good start but have gotten by with some late-game heroics to be on the plus side of the win column. But as Hitchcock said, one glaring aspect needs to be reaffirmed ... and done so quickly after a lengthy video session prior to practice.

"The video tells you everything. The details of checking have left us, so get it back as fast as you can," Hitchcock said. "You might win a game or two based on skill, but at the end of the day, if you don't have the details of checking, you're not going to win anything. It's not the quantity of chances you give up, it's the quality. The quality we gave up were just way too high. We had breakdowns at the net, little things at the end of the day that end up being big things. We stopped paying attention to some of the little things that mattered and it ended up biting us.

"It's the mindset when you go into the game ... are you going to check or you just gonna throw your sticks on the ice and play."

Against the Predators, who the Blues had already beaten twice this season, it was obvious the Blues just threw their sticks on the ice, because they were down 3-0 after one period and 5-0 before they could get a sniff at the other end.

"Our lack of compete," Shattenkirk said when asked what was glaring after watching a film session. "We didn't look like a St. Louis Blues team we normally are. We weren't winning puck battles, we were doing a poor job defensively making passes out of our own zone and getting lost in the defensive zone. It really was just a horrible performance."

A horrible performance that led to Brian Elliott being pulled from a start for the first time as a Blue. He allowed four goals on only 11 shots but could hardly be at fault for everything that went awry.

"You don't get to this league without a sense of pride," said Elliott, who will get the start against the Red Wings while Jaroslav Halak (groin strain) recovers. "Nobody likes that to happen, but you have to take it for what it is and go forward. The more you beat yourself up about it, the more it hurts you."

Hitchcock refused to place blame on his netminder.

"I think you can get into that, and that's your built-in excuse," he said. "I look at it a lot further up the line than that. There's always a reason that you end up in foot-race goals. You look at four of the goals were foot-race goals. We ended up in foot-race goals because of what we did with the puck in the offensive zone. Foot-race goals are dangerous, especially when you're playing against a quick team like (Nashville), and we put ourselves in position where we got involved in foot-race opportunities, exactly like we did against Detroit (Friday). We did it because we didn't manage the puck properly on their side of the red line."

The Blues have been praised for their outstanding season a year ago. Maybe the humbling defeat they absorbed can help them leave the past in the rear-view mirror and not soak in all the accolades bestowed to them.

"I think we've just come to expect it, which has been a problem in our last couple games," Shattenkirk said. "When things aren't going well, we just expect someone to turn it around for us and step up. It's got to be more of a collective effort.

"We had a lot of momentum from last season. We had a good start, but that's not going to carry us into the playoffs. We can't get complacent and I think it showed last night. When we get a little too arrogant, a little too comfortable, that creeps into our game and we don't look like a good team."
(St. Louis Blues/Mark Buckner)
Scott Nichol (right) and the rest of the Blues had trouble solving Nashville's
Pekka Rinna (left) in a 6-1 loss Tuesday.

They'll look like a good team again if they can get back to checking, according to Hitchcock. Whether that entails lineup changes, Hitchcock will make that decision in the morning.

"I think we just started the process. The hockey gods are going to make us pay for not checking, so we're going to have to check like crazy and then battle through to get back on the right page of things," Hitchcock said. "I think any team you see having to re-engage in the mindset of checking and managing the puck properly, it doesn't happen overnight. It kind of came on us quick from where we were.

"It started coming in the Detroit game, and it hurt us and then it came back and really hurt us against Nashville. We've got to get back on that page as quickly as we can, but realistically, I know as a coach that it doesn't turn automatic overnight. There's some mindsets that have to be impacted here, so we'll get to enforcing that. ... When we do practice as a group, you'll see more and more of them like the one today."

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