Blues defensemen understand risks of
not seeing ice; Paajarvi to make Blues debut
By LOUIE KORAC
CHICAGO -- With the proximity of where the hit from the Blues' Maxim Lapierre on Dan Boyle took place, it was difficult for those on the ice -- particularly on the benches -- to see exactly what took place and how.
But veteran defensemen around the league understand the vulnerability that comes with retrieving pucks and the dangers that potential face them.
It could happen to any of them, a forward finishing a check catching a d-man in the wrong position, in the wrong spot. There's a potential of serious injury, such as what was presented when Lapierre hit Boyle in the first period Tuesday night, or else nothing can come of it.
But one thing's for certain: it's tough to break certain habits, and defensemen have no choice but to retrieve pucks with their backs to the ice. But you do try and avoid those situations.
"It's a play that happens a lot where you're going back for pucks and it's a close race and you're stuck on the boards," Blues defenseman Jay Bouwmeester said. "... It does happen. You try and avoid those situations. I'm sure if you ask (Boyle), he'd say the same thing. You try to avoid putting yourself in those positions. When you are vulnerable, you hope a guy doesn't follow through high. It does happen, though. It happens all the time. I've had it happen. I kind of got knocked out like that in the American (Hockey) League.
"No one wants to be in that position and no one wants to see that happen. You just hope he's OK."
Blues defenseman Jordan Leopold said he experienced something similar recently. The result was much different.
"Yeah, it happened a couple games ago," Leopold said. "Any time you go back for a puck and you know you've got heat on you, sometimes you second-guess, 'Should I turn, should I not turn?' If you have a guy coming down on you, you expect to get hit.
"I haven't looked at the (Boyle) hit much, I've seen it once, so I can't comment much on it. But of course you don't like to see guys injured. I've had my share of injuries over the years. Some of them have been reckless, some of them haven't been. I think everybody respects everybody out there. Of course accidents do happen, but by no means was (the Lapierre hit) intentional."
* Paajarvi to make debut -- Blues left wing Magnus Paajarvi probably expected to make his Blues debut a couple weeks ago. At least that was his thinking when he was acquired from the Edmonton Oilers for David Perron.
But Paajarvi, 22, has been working his way into the Blues' system, and with the pending suspension of Lapierre, Paajarvi will make his debut Thursday night at Chicago.
Coupled with left wing Brenden Morrow, who missed practice Wednesday after getting hit by San Jose's Brent Burns, being questionable in Chicago Thursday, Paajarvi's time has come.
"He was banged up from yesterday, he finished the game," Hitchcock said of Morrow. "He'll be good to go. We gave him the day off.
"We'll either use (Adam) Cracknell or (Vladimir) Sobotka (in the center slot on the fourth line). We'll see what Chicago brings to the table, but we'll use one of those two guys in there. For sure Paajarvi's playing. We'll see how it goes. We'll see how Brenden feels tomorrow whether he needs another day off or not."
Paajarvi, the 10th pick in the 2010 NHL Draft, is ready.
"You never want to wish anybody suspension or injury or whatever," Paajarvi said. "If it happens, I'm ready. You never know until you play, but I feel like I've done what I needed to do and what I need to do every day. Hopefully I can bring my abilities when I get the chance.
"Patience is a very big factor here, especially for me. Mentally you can feel you're not on the team, but that hasn't been the case yet. I feel very comfortable on this team. I feel like I fit in with this team on the ice and off the ice as well."
Also, Hitchcock said Jaroslav Halak, who was pulled after the second period Tuesday after allowing four goals on 26 shots, will get the net Thursday in Chicago and the plan is to play Brian Elliott Friday in Winnipeg.
* Rebounding -- Winning breeds success, and the Blues' 4-0-0 start had people feeling good about the season's start. But after one resounding loss against a formidable foe in San Jose Tuesday (6-2), has the Blues hitting the reset button.
"We're going to have a lot of games in a short period of time, three in four nights and without Lappy for a few games," Blues defenseman Barret Jackman said. "It's our first test, going to give us a wakeup call from last night against San Jose. We definitely have to play a better team game, a lot better communication and our PK's got to be better and not catapult our team defense.
"There's a lot of things we can work on. To get the wakeup call in the fifth game is better than getting it in the 20th or 30th."
But Hitchcock said he feels the loss Tuesday to the Sharks was in the making prior to the game.
"I don't look at it from the loss, the loss for me against San Jose was from the New York Ranger game," Hitchcock said. "It wasn't from San Jose. San Jose came in and played us the way they have to play. They checked hard, they tracked the puck well, they did a much better job of puck management. The same script was there against the Rangers but we got away with it. It's no different.
"We wanted to play the same game against San Jose that we did against the Rangers. The Rangers got tired in the third period. The (David) Backes line stepped up and continued to play the right way against New York and we held serve because of it, but we had the same concerns after the New York game that we did after San Jose, except San Jose was dialed in. Their checking caused us to do nothing but turn the puck over and when you do that, it's hard to have success. Way too many turnovers, way too many times checked off the puck, but it's not like, 'How did that happen?' We tried to put the brakes on it after the Ranger game, weren't successful."
It's why the Blues skated heavy and hard prior to boarding a flight for their first road games of the season.
"We're already focused on Chicago," Hitchcock said. "That's why we practiced today the way we practiced. But it's very similar. Chicago and San Jose are the same teams. They're teams that have a high level of skill, but they check like crazy so you really have to be strong with the way you manage the puck, you've really got to be determined not to turn it over. You've got to really be communicating, helping each other, all those things. They put a lot of pressure on you. They put a lot of checking pressure on you.
"For everybody talking about scoring goals, I go back to the conversation we had at the start of the year ... everyone's screaming about goals, everybody's screaming about offense. Now what are we screaming about? Turnovers and not playing 200 feet. The commitment to play 200 feet is exactly that. You make the other team defend and you make sure that you're determined to get it behind their defensemen. That's 200 feet, and yesterday we got caught in a 130-foot game and got killed because of it. If you want to create more offense, you've got to create more 200-foot games so that your team is firmly committed to managing the puck the right way. The really good teams manage it the right way. That's what we've got to get to."