Plus-minus a difference in team's play; Allen sent to Peoria; Oshie day-to-day
By LOUIE KORAC
HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- The records may not reflect it as much, but when the Blues look at the difference in goals scored and goals given up, they notice.
Through 33 games a season ago, the Blues were 19-10-4, good for 42 points. It's not a whole lot different from the current Blues, who are 17-14-2, which is good for 36 points. A tweak here or a little shift there and it all evens out, right?
Well, through those 33 games a season ago, the Blues were plus-20, scoring 88 goals and allowing only 68, which equals to 2.06 goals per game. The Blues are scoring slightly more this season (94) but they are allowing 93, or 2.82 goals per game.
It's easy to point the finger at the goaltending. Obviously Jaroslav Halak and Brian Elliott, who were razor-sharp a season ago, have not lived up to last season's billing. But it boils down to a number of aspects why the Blues aren't as stingy as a season ago when they allowed only 165 goals, which is tied for an NHL record.
"It's in two areas," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. "Number one, it's critical ice management. It happened again in the last game (a 4-2 loss to Los Angeles). We got out of the first period, but we gave up two breakaways. I think that's the number one area. I don't care how many players you add, I don't care who you bring in new here. When you don't manage the puck in critical ice in key situations, or you make errors that lead to 2-on-1s and breakaways, you're always living on the dangerous edge. That's number one for me.
"The other area for me is the details in our own zone aren't as good as they were last year. The goalie bears the brunt of it sometimes, but I think it's a team thing. There were months where we were perfect. Last year, we went 11 games not giving up a breakaway or 2-on-1. We haven't done more than two games (this year). That to me is a big difference. When we clean up the critical ice areas .. we had three of them (Thursday), which is down, but two of them were doozies, then I think we'll get better, but it's just an ongoing improvement. We're getting more pressure. Teams are more aggressive on us. But I think that's a big thing for us right now."
Center Scott Nichol, the team's fourth-line specialist and defensive stalwart, certainly recognizes the disparity.
"We know the numbers," Nichol said. "We know we haven't been as good five-on-five this year. At the beginning of the year, our power play carried us a lot. Maybe it has to do with going to the hard areas like Hitch said, and even not having as much practice time.
"It's one of those years where those numbers don't lie. That's winning hockey right there when the numbers are plus rather than minus."
Without all the focus being on the defensemen and the ability to get pucks out cleanly, there's also the management of the puck in the offensive zone, which the Blues seemed to thrive on in 2011-12.
"I would say 80 percent is on forwards, 20 percent on D," Hitchcock said. "I would say 80 percent is on the forwards ... managing the puck the right way. I would say that's a bigger responsibility than even the defensemen because the forwards are the ones that have the puck for the most part from the top of the circle to the top of the circle."
Top defenseman Alex Pietrangelo, who garners the most minutes on the team, won't place blame on the goaltending either.
"We're trying to find ways to take care of our end first. We know that," Pietrangelo said. "It has nothing to do with the goaltending. A lot of the goals are opportunities that they don't even have the chance to save them. Losing guys on the back side that turn into 2-on-1s, 3-on-1s or breakaways. We've got to start finding ways to manage the puck better, which is going to result in less opportunities with the other team in our zone.
"The d-men finding ways to get the puck out quicker, the forwards coming back, back-checking their guys and the d-men winning winning 1-on-1s in the corner instead of losing those battles. It all relates to each other. When we need to make the save, make the save. It's a collective effort."
* Allen to Peoria -- In a somewhat surprising move and one that all but keeps Brian Elliott in a Blues uniform through the remainder of this season, the team assigned Jake Allen to Peoria.
The Blues needed to make room on the 23-man roster with the addition of defenseman Jordan Leopold, who was acquired from the Buffalo Sabres Saturday afternoon.
Elliott, who was sent to Peoria Thursday on a two-game conditioning assignment, will return following Saturday's start against Lake Erie. He stopped 26 shots in a 4-2 loss to Oklahoma City Friday, allowing three goals on the first 10 shots but stopping the final 19, according to Hitchcock.
"Jake's done very well in his time up here," Blues general manager Doug Armstrong said of Allen, who was 8-3-0 with a 2.45 goals-against average and .906 save percentage. "But we have a 23-man roster now and this is it. Jake was told to go down there and continue to play well. ... Right now, I see Jaro and Ells as our two goalies (for the remainder of the season)."
* Oshie questionable -- Blues forward T.J. Oshie, who did not practice Saturday at St. Louis Outlet Mall, is listed as day to day, according to Hitchcock.
Oshie sustained a bruised foot blocking a shot in the loss to the Kings. He is listed as questionable for Monday's game in Minnesota.
"Oshie has a lower-body bruise. He's day-to-day," Hitchcock said. "I would say he would be questionable for Monday. Up in the air right now.
"(He) blocked a shot. He is day-to-day but we don't want to sit and wait and hope he shows up. We'll move on without him for that one game, and then if he comes in, he comes in."
The Blues won't play again until Thursday in Chicago.
The Blues' line combinations at Saturday's practice had David Backes skating between Andy McDonald and Jaden Schwartz, while Patrik Berglund was flanked by Alexander Steen and Chris Stewart. But Hitchcock said he wants to get Steen back with Backes and will play McDonald there if Oshie can't go and have Schwartz play with Berglund and Stewart. Steen would play on the right.