Morrow arrives, practices for first time with new
teammates; Wednesday lineup; goalie situation unclear
By LOUIE KORAC
ST. LOUIS -- Brenden Morrow stood in front of the assembled media following Tuesday's practice -- his first since signing with the Blues Monday -- sweat dropping off his face and feeling the affects of another Ken Hitchcock practice session.
Morrow, 34, last played for Hitchcock 11 years ago when the two were together in Dallas but many of the same aspects still remain in tact.
"It's tailor made for the way I play," said Morrow, who finished the season last year in Pittsburgh after nearly 13 seasons with the Stars. "I've worked extremely hard this summer to make sure I was prepared and ready for the season. It was a little bit delayed but I still feel like I set myself up for a good year. The body feels good and I'm looking forward to this first game -- whenever that is.
"The pace was a step up probably from what I was used to just skating on my own back in Dallas. There's a lot of energy out there. It's good to get in and meet the teammates and get this first day out of the way."
Morrow, who finished with 14 points in 15 games with the Penguins after only tallying 11 points in 29 games with the Stars a season ago, was playing out the final year of a six-year, $24.6-million contract for the only team he had known. Then came the trade to the Penguins, one he had to approve with a no-trade clause, then went into a summer of free agency with no contract in hand until Monday.
"About six months ago, I probably felt like I was never going to leave Dallas, and here I am making my way around the league. That's interesting," Morrow said jokingly. "It's a different feeling, but coming here and seeing so many familiar faces again, it kind of feels like it's got a bit of Dallas to it. That had a lot to do with the decision. I wanted to be comfortable, feel comfortable.
"This is a great team. For one, it's got great fan support, they have stability in ownership now, but I wanted to be comfortable with who was putting the team together and who was throwing the lines out there. It didn't get any farther than St. Louis because it had all the answers I needed."
And the first day of practice was everything Morrow expected.
"Somebody's barking at him already," Hitchcock joked about Morrow. "He's a good player. We had a good relationship together. He did a lot of the hard work. We had some good runs. He was there for a lot of good runs. The player that he was in Pittsburgh when he went there and until he hurt his knee in the Ottawa series, that's what in a couple weeks we're anticipating we're getting, and that's an awfully good player. That's a good sign."
Morrow, who will not play Wednesday in the preseason road game at Minnesota, was paired with Derek Roy and Chris Stewart in practice, doesn't expect anything to be handed to him. The veteran of 850 career games (249 goals and 542 points) will work anywhere the Blues' coach plays him.
"I knew coming in there would be a lot of juggling until you find chemistry," Morrow said. "There's going to be some matches that he was going to try. I didn't know where in the lineup I was going to fit and that didn't bother me. I feel like I'm going to compete and find my way into the lineup.
"Growing up all my life, I was never given anything and I don't expect it here. I wasn't scared of the challenge to try and compete and earn my ice."
Morrow, who as recently as 2011 scored a career-high 33 goals for the Stars, has dealt with back, neck and knee issues in recent seasons, most recently with the Penguins in the playoffs last season where he suffered a bad kneecap injury but played through it, trained in Dallas this summer in anticipation of signing a contract.
"I feel extra healthy," said Morrow, who was Stars captain from 2006 until his trade last season. "The last few years I've been banged up and going to the summer, you're rehabbing something. You feel like you're slowed down by some injury and so you prepare differently.
"I just went into this year saying, 'Let's pretend I'm 17-18, let's beat me up like you do everyone else.' So when I go into the season, I'm not feeling like I'm handicapped going in. I feel like I'm strong."
* Wednesday lineup -- The Blues, 2-1-1 in the preseason, will play their final two games with a home-and-home with the Minnesota Wild. They play in Minnesota Wednesday night (7 p.m. on KMOX 1120-AM), then host the Wild Friday at 7 p.m. before opening against Nashville Oct. 3.
The Blues' lineup Wednesday night:
Alexander Steen-David Backes-T.J. Oshie
Jaden Schwartz-Vladimir Sobotka-Dmitrij Jaskin
Magnus Paajarvi-Patrik Berglund-Vladimir Tarasenko
Chris Porter-Maxim Lapierre-Ryan Reaves
Jay Bouwmeester-Alex Pietrangelo
Barret Jackman-Kevin Shattenkirk
Ryan Whitney-Ian Cole
Jaroslav Halak gets the start in goal; Brian Elliott will be the backup. Both will split time in nets.
* Schwartz demoted? -- All the buzz around Blues practice was the arrival of Morrow playing with Roy and Stewart, since Jaden Schwartz had been playing with that duo throughout camp thus far.
Schwartz, who suited up with Vladimir Sobotka and Dmitrij Jaskin in Tuesday's practice, will not be getting a dimished role. In fact, according to Hitchcock, it will most certainly be an increased one.
"He's been our best player," Hitchcock said of Schwartz. "I can put him anywhere he wants. Whoever he plays with, he makes better.
"He's not one of those guys you question. We'll find a significant role for him because we're going to need him on the ice a lot. We'll find a really significant role for him."
* Morrow debut Friday? -- Initially, Hitchcock indicated the plan would be for Morrow to not play Wednesday in Minnesota but play on Friday. Hitchcock backed off that notion Tuesday and will leave it up to the veteran left wing.
"The plan is to talk to him after his hard skate on Thursday and see how he feels," Hitchcock said of Morrow. "I think a veteran player ... it's a little bit different if it's a traded for or a young player, he needs to feel used to things. But I think Brenden having played for me before and then played in the Olympics with the same terminology, he's going to pick up things.
"I'm going to pretty much let him make the decision on Thursday. I would like to play him on Friday just to get him into the rhythm and the routine, but it's going to be his call for me. I want to see how he feels after Thursday's practice."
* Goalie situation unclear -- Jaroslav Halak and Brian Elliott will split the game against the Wild on Wednesday, but with Jake Allen playing sharp in a 3-2 overtime win over Dallas Saturday night, Hitchcock was asked if the goaltending battle has gained any separation.
"If you're talking all three, no," he said. "It's a nice problem to have, but it's a problem.
"Jake Allen made a great account of himself the last game. I think the next two games will tell us a lot where Brian and Jaro are at. We're hoping they're trending forward. They've had great practices and we think they're both getting ready, but we want to see that, too. ... Jake's not going away quietly."