Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Blues need Berglund line stronger to open games

Along with Schwartz, Tarasenko, line playing well as games
progress; Hitchcock looking for more consistency to begin games

ST. LOUIS -- With so many areas good in the Blues' game early on, there are certainly areas that could be better.

Among them for Blues coach Ken Hitchcock, better starts to games, particularly the Patrik Berglund line with Jaden Schwartz and Vladimir Tarasenko.

The trio has combined for nine points through three games but it's the fact the group gets better as games progress.

(St. Louis Blues/Mark Buckner)
Patrik Berglund (pictured) and linemates Jaden Schwartz and Vladimir
Tarsenko combined for seven points through two games. 
"It's just the responsibility of starting periods. We've got to have better starts," Hitchcock said before the Blues faced the Chicago Blackhawks Wednesday. "We're not going to get away with that in the next 10 days. In the next 10 days, we're not going to get away with not having good starts. It's good starts to games, and really good finishes in periods. If you look at our games, we've had below-average starts to periods and starts to games and it's kind of put us on our heels."

Case-in-point, Hitchcock started the Berglund line against Florida. And immediately after the faceoff, the Panthers were in Jaroslav Halak's face with the puck whacking away at the Blues' goalie. Three shots in all over the first 10-20 seconds and no puck possession or defensive responsibility from that unit.

"To me, when they're tagged with starting a period or starting a game, they've got to dig in," Hitchcock said. "(Florida) had four scoring chances in the first shift. They were whacking at our goalie five times there. We want them ready at the drop of the puck, and especially if you want to start, you're usually playing against the other team's most inspirational players, especially when you're at home. They want a great start ... just can't throw your sticks on the ice and play. You've got to dig in."

But once that unit started to "dig in," it's been good play for the Blues. Berglund set up Tarasenko with a nice defensive play Wednesday night by picking off a pass in the neutral zone for the first goal against the Chicago Blackhawks.

"Definitely as the game goes on, we're getting better," said Schwartz, who leads the trio with a goal and two assists. "(Saturday) in the first shift, (Florida) had the puck in our zone and they got a couple shots, but both first periods, there's been penalties so we haven't really gotten a whole lot of flow as a line. For whatever reason, we didn't create as many chances in the first as we did the other two periods. I think our focus should be come out to a good start the next game, I think we'll probably talk about that. I think our firsts have been our worst periods. They haven't been terrible, but they have been our worst out of the three.

"I don't know if we come out slow or just some shifts you're on the ice and they've got control of the puck and they're coming at you and you're in your zone for 20 seconds and that's shift. It kind of depends sometimes how you come on the ice and where the puck is. I really don't have an answer why we play better as the game goes on. Maybe we get more involved ... I don't know what it is. Definitely in the first, we've got to get a little better."

Hitchcock knows why they get better.

"They're really engaged," Hitchcock said. "They establish great forechecking, they scored two goals because of their forechecking presence, their continuity in the offensive zone and being able to use the width of the ice is terrific, they're getting better and better at it and they can score.

"How many guys score a goal like Tarasenko (did Saturday)? There's not many guys in the league that can score a goal like that. He's got the goalie plus two defenders draped on his back and he still finishes it. Schwarzy, that snap top shelf ... I saw that from the bench. There's no chance for the goalie on that one. It doesn't matter who you are. It was a perfect-placed shot, but it was also again off a forecheck. So for me, they really get engaged as the game goes on, but against good teams, you could be down 1- or 2-0 if you don't start well."

Schwartz, the 14th pick in 2010, has carried his impressive camp into the early going of the regular season. And with Schwartz's progression, it's not a surprise to his coach.

(St. Louis Blues/Mark Buckner)
Vladimir Tarasenko (left) battles with Florida's Tom Gilbert in Saturday's 7-0
win over the Panthers. Tarasenko has a goal and an assist in two games.
"I saw it in world junior," Hitchcock said of Schwartz. "I saw it when (Canada) played in Calgary and Edmonton there. I saw kind of the glimpse of what type of player he was going to be because he was on the puck, on the puck, on the puck every game. I saw that and I thought that's the type of player he was going to become. He was going to be one of those guys that just is dogged, determined, has skill to finish but the strength of his game is going to be his dogged determination to do things right."

And Schwartz, all 5-foot-10, 190 pounds of him, won't settle. He'll continue to work on being a better all-around player.

"It's nice. We're only two games in, so there's obviously a long way to go, but I think the first couple games, I've been playing pretty well," Schwartz said before Wednesday's game. "I think our line -- the second and third (periods) -- both games, we started to play better, get a little more confidence and maybe get our chemistry going a little bit more. It's nice to see us get two wins, but when you're chipping in and contributing, it feels nice."

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