Special teams going in opposite directions; Elliott
earns award; McDonald, Oshie skate, Jaskin joins team
By LOUIE KORAC
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- When they came into this short season, it was the Blues' idea to be as balanced on both sides of their special teams.
Being among the top 10 in each category would be the ideal situation.
Well, the Blues are one of three teams (Philadelphia and Edmonton being the others) to be in the top 10 in both power play and penalty killing efficiency, but considering how sizzling the power play was earlier in the season, it's gone virtually ice-cold since scoring twice in one game Feb. 15 at Calgary.
Since going 2-for-4 against the Flames, the Blues' PP has five goals total since, a span of 23 games going 6-for-62. They've slipped to seventh in the NHL after being either first or second for most of the season.
"It's been hard here lately because we're not getting many opportunities in games," right winger Chris Stewart said. "When you do get them, you've got to make them count. We've got some new units going out there. We've got Leo (Jordan Leopold) and Bouw (Jay Bouwmeester). I just think we've got to keep it simple, shoot pucks. The simpler the better. You want to be one step ahead (of the opponent).
"We've got the personnel to make plays. We just want to shoot pucks and get to the net. We've gone back and watched video from earlier this year, and that's where we had our most success."
The Blues had 19 power play goals in the first 14 games, and personnel has changed because of injury or new acquisitions getting acclimated. It all boils down to more zone time, according to center Patrik Berglund.
"Our power play obviously has been up and down. ... We just need to find that possession with the puck at first and get set and then start shooting the puck a whole lot," said Berglund, who has one of the recent six man-advantage goals. "Keeping it as simple as possible is the best when you're struggling. It's just been hard for us to set up. Other teams are scouting us like crazy, too. They see that we've been in the top 10 all season. A lot of the PK's like us take pride in challenging themselves to beat our power play."
On the flip side, the penalty kill, which was having plenty of difficulties keeping the puck out of the net early in the season (10 goals in the first nine games), has been a solid fortress in recent weeks that has seen the Blues vault all the way up to eighth in the NHL at 83.9 percent.
They've managed to kill 18 straight dating back seven games and have only allowed one power play goal in the last 28 attempts in the last 11 games.
"It's not like we didn't take pride in it before, but I think we're just taking the PK to another level," said Berglund, one of the forwards coach Ken Hitchcock uses to kill penalties. "When we're clearing pucks, we're really clearing the pucks away. In the overall scheme, we've just minimized the mistakes. We're not feeding the other team's offense as much as we did before. I think that's the key."
* Fun at the rink -- After playing three games in 3.5 days and with another three games in four nights staring at them beginning Tuesday here against Nashville, the Blues could have used Monday off the ice.
But after matching a season-high four-game winning streak following Sunday's 1-0 win at Detroit, the majority of the Blues skated Monday afternoon at Bridgestone Arena in preparation for Tuesday's game.
"It's great to be at the rink. The boys are having fun," Stewart said. "This is the time of the year that you look forward to. Every game's like a mini playoff game. It's pretty intense and we're doing well right now so that's why we're having fun."
But when the team is winning, maybe a day of rest isn't always the best option.
"It's always good to stay on the ice," Berglund said. "Usually when you get a full day off, the next day you step on the ice, your legs are really tired and they've kind of been deactivated. You just want to get a little sweat going. When we're winning, everybody's in a good mood."
* Elliott earns league award -- Blues goalie Brian Elliott was named as the NHL's Second Star of the Week Monday morning.
Elliott, who's won three straight decisions, was 3-0-0 with a 1.45 goals-against average and .952 save percentage in three games, one which was in relief of goalie Jaroslav Halak after being injured.
He stopped 19 of 20 shots in a 4-1 win at Minnesota April 1, then stopped 33 shots in a 4-3 shootout win at Chicago Thursday before capping off the week with his first shutout of the season, a 28-save effort in Sunday's 1-0 win over the Red Wings
"We have expecations of ourselves and for a little bit, we weren't meeting those," Elliott said. "I think now we're getting some gritty wins and wins that we got last year. It's a positive sign and we've got to keep building on that."
* Moving forward in the standings -- Sunday's win helped the Blues leapfrog Detroit in the standings by one point (44-43) and gave the Blues solid footing in their pursuit of a playoff spot.
The Blues (21-14-2) have games in hand on all the teams around them in the standings and still feel like they can make a run at the fourth spot in the Western Conference. Currently, Los Angeles holds that spot with 48 points but the Blues have two games in hand.
"We've got to get to the point where we stop looking behind us," Hitchcock said. "We've got to start looking above us. We've got to start thinking about getting a higher seed. We spent two months looking over our shoulder. Ten days ago we were in 11th place. We were not looking good, and then we win four in a row against real good teams. Now we're looking can we get to sixth place. We've got to start looking up.
"I think the teams that narrow their focus at this time of year are going to be successful."
* Injury updates, Jaskin coming -- Forwards T.J. Oshie (lower-body) and Andy McDonald (flu) were both on the ice for practice Monday, but Oshie was still skating gingerly on that injured left foot/ankle and will not play Tuesday. Hitchcock said McDonald is 50-50.
Defenseman Kris Russell filled in as a fourth-line left winger Sunday and logged 5 minutes 11 seconds of ice time.
"If McDonald can't go, we'll put Russell in," Hitchcock said. "We'll have to put Russell in."
Dmitrij Jaskin, the team's 2011 second round pick who recently signed a three-year entry-level contract, was to come into Nashville Monday night but unless of an emergency case, he will not play against the Predators.
"Unfair. He hasn't skated," Hitchcock said. "He'll come in, get used to everybody, skate a few times, see what he's got."
Center Scott Nichol and Halak are not on the trip.
Guys who were told to take a day of rest Monday included Forwards David Backes and Alexander Steen as well as defensemen Alex Pietrangelo, Bouwmeester, Barret Jackman and Roman Polak.