Sunday, October 6, 2013

Blues taking 2-0 start in stride

Team outscored Nashville, Florida 11-2 in
winning twice; coach said can't evaluate yet

HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- It's exactly what the Blues were hoping for out of the gates.

Two wins, both in pretty convincing fashion, outscoring Nashville and Florida by a combined 11-2. They've gotten timely special teams from both the penalty kill (11-for-11 to start the season, 21-for-21 dating back to last season), and the power play has scored on 3 of 8 opportunities. Jaroslav Halak has allowed only two goals on 51 shots and has a .959 save percentage and of the Blues' 11 goals, only Alexander Steen has more than one goal (two). Ten different players have scored.

(St. Louis Blues photo)
T.J. Oshie (right) is one of 10 different goal scorers for the Blues this
season, which has led to a 2-0 start.
They've gotten contributions from everyone across the board, including newcomers Derek Roy (three points) and Brenden Morrow, who along with Roy scored his first goal as a Blue in Saturday's 7-0 win over the Panthers.

But instead of relaxing and taking the day off on Sunday, the Blues were back on the ice for a brisk 37-minute workout looking to get better.

"I don't worry about what people say around us anymore," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. "All the predicting's gone out the window. Now it's just playing hockey.

"I'm more concerned with the way the players come back and respond the next day, and we had a great, focused 37 minutes of practice. The coach screwed up the last drill, so the coach gets a 'C' and the players get an 'A.' I wasn't explaining the drill. I envisioned the drill going one way and it went the other way. They had a good sense of humor with it. But for 37 minutes today, we went hard and fast. There was excellent focus, which is a good sign. It's not light-loose, it was ready to work more."

There's no complacency in the locker room. The attitude Sunday was park what's happened and move on.

"I think we had a good off-season, but I wouldn't look too much into the goal differential, more so the wins," said right wing T.J. Oshie, one of those 10 goal scorers on the season. "... We've just got to look at the positives out of the wins and the two points and keep moving forward, keep building. We still had some low points during the games that we need to sharpen up. Other than that, it's a great start and the boys definitely worked on their game this summer."

Of course, both the Predators and Panthers were teams to miss out on the playoffs last season, so it's really hard to get a gauge on what has and hasn't happened.

"No evaluation yet. Evaluation is in the next three," Hitchcock said, referring to the Blues' next three opponents. "You get a better evaluation of what we need to work on.

"We don't have enough information. There was a list of things that we need to get better at after game one, there's a bigger list after game two. We need these next three opponents to give us a real evaluation. We're going to get three significant teams coming right now and we need the information to get better. We have a lot of elements of our game that we see continuity in, we have a lot of things that need to get addressed. It's early in the season."

The Blues' next three opponents (Chicago, New York Rangers and San Jose) are a combined 3-1-1, but they're all battle-tested, veteran, playoff experienced squads.

"I don't know that you can get a read on it yet. I don't think you can get a read until someone pushes you in that environment," Hitchcock said. "The next three teams are going to push us really hard, so we're going to get a really good read. They're going to push us with their skill and their determination, and I think we're going to get a really, really good idea where we're at."

(St. Louis Blues photo)
Jaroslav Halak (41) makes a pad stop on former Blue Brad Boyes Saturday
night. Halak earned a shutout with a 19-save effort and has a 1.00 goals-
against average and .959 save percentage in two games this season.

The Blues have gotten three points from five different players (Steen, Roy, Jaden Schwartz, Vladimir Sobotka and Alex Pietrangelo). They've gotten contributions across the board, which is their key to success.

But the defending Stanley Cup champion Blackhawks are next on the docket Wednesday night, and the challenge will be amped up higher with tougher obstacles ahead.

"We're obviously happy, but there's 80 games left," said Oshie, downplaying the first two wins. "We're happy that we got four points right off the bat, and now we've just got to look at the next opponent, which is going to be a tough one and get ready for them."

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