Blues, NHL players utilizing video more than ever;
special teams solid in opener; Morrow debut; top line rock-solid
By LOUIE KORAC
ST. LOUIS -- When Blues players filed into Scottrade Center ahead of Friday's practice, they're typically asked to be there an hour ahead of time the day after a game to go over video.
Video is a tool used not only on game days but off-days as well, and it's become a useful tool for all teams, especially a past-paced game such as hockey.
Players can learn so much about game situations with the click of a finger, and on most occasions nowadays, they can get detailed situations to go straight to their iPad or whatever device they chose.
"The first year, I have a VHS tape of my highlights," joked Blues defenseman Barret Jackman, who joined the NHL in 2001. "Now, guys can (use) wireless and get every one of their shifts right after the game on an iPad and watch it on their way home if they like.
"You watch a lot of videos, a lot of preparation, a lot of good tools with video. It's a huge difference from my first year."
Fellow defenseman Jay Bouwmeester, who played his first NHL game in 2002, agreed.
"I remember my first couple years, it wasn't like the computer systems and stuff they have now," Bouwmeester said. "They sort of made video tapes. You'd watch video, but it was more just general team stuff, your power play, penalty kill, forecheck, that sort of thing. Definitely now, it's more individualized. Everyone can get their own shifts and different situations and pull it up real quick."
Traditionalists will say that meetings and coaching are enough to get through certain situations, but with so many details involved in games now, particularly the Blues' 4-2 season-opening win over Nashville Thursday, players were in at 10 a.m. going over every crevice of game situations.
"It's nice to be able to see," Jackman said. "Lots of times when you're in the middle of the action, you come to the bench and the coach might say something, you might see it differently and after a game, you get to see the shift and see exactly what the coach says and know that maybe something different could have been played out or just the situation plays out. If it was a good play too, you could see that. Your mind works one way and actually proof is another thing."
Added Bouwmeester: "There's just more attention to detail for everything. That's a tool where you can really see things from a different perspective because a lot of times when you're playing, there's a lot of times when something happens, something might have been going on behind you that you didn't see. On video, you can see that and see just the little things. It definitely helps."
And with a number of positives following Thursday's win, particularly on the specialty teams, there were also mistakes.
"There's a lot of glaring mistakes," Jackman said after seeing it for himself. "It comes with the first real competition with a team that's very hungry with a full lineup. You can see some miscues and things happening quicker than we anticipated. It's all things you can learn from. Every game is a learning tool. It's the team that uses those tools to better themselves is going to win."
* Blues special teams were special -- Not only did the Blues score a pair of power play goals (David Backes and Alexander Steen) in Thursday's win, but they also were able to thwart off all four Predators' power play attempts, and they did so by allowing only three shots total -- all on Nashville's final power play opportunity -- speaks volumes for a team that allowed seven goals in 27 chances in the preseason.
"It was just one game, so I don't want to talk about it too much," said defenseman Roman Polak, who had a team-high six hits Thursday. "It can be a different way tomorrow.
"We just play it like it's 5-on-5. We use guys, talk to each other, talk on the ice more and be aggressive. We were aggressive down low, we were aggressive on the wall and that's where we were good. We cleared pucks and that builds confidence for a PK. We won the faceoffs and if you start with the puck right away, that built the confidence too for the PK. ... I think on every team, it's a very important part because they are confidence-builders if you kill off a PK."
Blues coack Ken Hitchcock praised both units.
"Our special teams were really good," he said. "Special teams and goaltender (Jaroslav Halak, who will get the start Saturday vs. Florida) won us the hockey game. We were very good on the power play, we were very good killing penalties and I think like a lot of teams are looking at today, we need to get better 5-on-5. Pick a few subjects today, get better at it and hopefully we can improve for tomorrow because obviously with the speed and transitional game that Florida has, they're going to be a handful for us with the way they played against Dallas (in a 4-2 win Thursday)."
The Blues were seventh in the league in penalty kill percentage (84.7 percent) last season and the previous season (85.8 percent), and after they were 18th in 2010-11, the Blues were first overall in 2009-10 at 86.8 percent efficiency. They wanted to get off to a good start this season.
"I think it's because of the work that we put in," Hitchcock said. "We really put a focus in on not waiting until the end of training camp to start working on it. We were working on it the second day with the people that need to kill penalties this year. I know it wasn't easy for them, but hopefully it pays off here early in the season.
"I find when you don't have a good percentage killing penalties early, it's hard to catch those percentages up. We've had these monster comebacks in the second half of years to get in the top five or seven, but we had to be in the mid-90's on most to get where you're a good percentage. I'd like to see us start as well as we did last night."
* Morrow solid debut -- His name wasn't anywhere on the scoring summary, but Brenden Morrow more than paid dividends for the Blues in his debut.
Morrow, who didn't know until early afternoon Thursday that he was going to be able to participate because of working visa paperwork issues, was a steadying influence on the ice playing with Derek Roy and Chris Stewart.
The day began with Morrow coming into Detroit from his native Canada, he got his paperwork in order and flew back to St. Louis, touching down at 4:30 p.m., or three hours before puck drop.
"It wasn't the way you envisioned it happening," Morrow said. "You'd like to have, especially at home, the comforts of your routine and that was a little bit different for me. But we were still rewarded with a win, so it was worth it."
Hitchcock said after the game he felt Morrow "got into the game after that reverse hit" Morrow laid on Nashville's Mike Fisher in the second period that helped the Blues score a power play goal after Fisher retaliated.
Morrow got 11 minutes, 32 seconds of ice time with two shots and that one hit.
"That was my second game since June," Morrow said. "There's still some summer hockey habits and trying to get used to being physical again and keeping your wind while you're doing it. It's going to take some time, but every day is getting better.
"The legs were pretty heavy last night. I think they were working at the same pace (with his hands). ... The last thing (with the hands) to probably come is the timing."
* Top line good as advertised -- If the Blues are to make strides, they'll need Backes, Steen and T.J. Oshie to provide not only leadership but they'll need to produce the way they did Thursday night.
Backes and Steen each finished with a goal and an assist and Oshie tallied a goal off assists from his linemates. They combined for five points on the night.
"It was good," Hitchcock said. "It was probably better offensively than most people thought. Like everybody else, we need a little work without the puck, but I like their diligence, I like their competitiveness.
"Where they were really good was on both ends of the special teams. Those guys really contributed in a huge way. I think that's what really gave us the leg up was 5-on-4, four versus five, we were really good. Hopefully we can continue that trend."
Steen was the only player not on the ice at practice Friday. He was at the dentist getting some repairs done after taking a stick to the mouth late in the third period from Nashville defenseman Victor Bartley.