Friday, October 11, 2013

Blues wary of next opponent

Rangers next to come to town, outscored 15-2 in previous two games

HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- First, it was a 9-2 thumping in San Jose, followed by a 6-0 drubbing in Anaheim. Outscored 15-2 in their last two games, the New York Rangers come into St. Louis a wounded animal.

And with the Blues off to a rock solid 3-0 start, it's a clear-cut advantage for the home side?


(St. Louis Blues/Mark Buckner)
Derek Roy (right) said the Blues will have to be ready from the start, with
the New York Rangers coming to town and being outscored 15-2 in their
last two games. 
"It doesn't matter if it's the Rangers or Blackhawks or whoever it is, they've been humbled like that for a couple games, you know coming in they're going to be hungry," Blues left wing Brenden Morrow said of the 1-3 Rangers. "(Rangers coach Alain) Vigneault has probably been putting them through the paces and they're probably going to be an angry bear or wounded animal and sometimes those are the worst types to find."

So instead of focusing on what the Rangers haven't done well in the previous two games, Blues coach Ken Hitchcock has stressed the point of focusing on New York's lone victory: a 3-1 triumph Monday in Los Angeles against the Kings.

"When we talked about New York, we watched them beat LA, and that's the game we're focusing on," Hitchcock said. "To me, you've got an eastern team learning what it's like to play our west, not fun.

"We're 100 percent focused on the LA game. It was a great hockey game. We saw how good they were, we saw how good they played, we saw how in sync they were and that's what we're running our read on. I don't look at those other games. To me, those are both write-off games. One's a right-off game because of travel and the other's a write-off game because of recovery from a blowout."

The Rangers are in the middle of a season-opening nine-game road trip, and it can get to be excruciatingly long when losses pile up -- and in the fashion in which they come.

"Obviously they're going to be hungry to get back on track," Blues defenseman Alex Pietrangelo said. "They put together a really good game against LA, beat LA in their home opener so we know what they're capable of. They're obviously a very good team. You can't take anybody for granted now, especially in this league. We're going to be ready to play because we know they're going to come out hungry."

What's especially puzzling in the Rangers' start is the fact that they've gotten below-average performances by a number of impact players, including a defensive unit of Marc Staal, Dan Girardi, Ryan McDonagh and Michael Del Zotto. The defensive miscues has also filtered back into goal with Henrik Lundqvist, who only allowed four or more goals four times in 43 games a season ago. He's already allowed four or more goals three times in four games. And to top it off, star right wing Rick Nash will not play after taking a shot to the head against the Sharks' Brad Stuart, who was suspended three games.

"When they're down, you've got to kick them because you know with a world-class goaltender like they've got, he can steal games," Morrow said of Lundqvist, who has a 4.31 goals-against average and .879 save percentage. "I know the makeup he's got and the mindset he has, when he's letting in goals like that, he's going to come back with a stellar effort at some point.

"You can't sit here and look at scoreboards and think there's going to be an easy night for us. It's going to be a heck of a fight for us because they're going to be really hungry."

Which makes the start to Saturday's game important, when a team is fragile with confidence.

"We've got to be ready for them," Blues center Derek Roy said of the Rangers. "We know they're going to be wanting to play well against us and maybe a turning point in their season. That's how they're looking at this game probably, so we have to make sure we start off real quick and make sure we're getting pucks towards the net and pucks deep and making them work.

"Those (losses) are tough. Everyone's been through a game somewhat like that where bounces aren't going your way and everything seems to be going in the net. That's when you've got to bear down in the next practice and the next game, turn it up a notch and make sure you do everything right because as soon as you do something wrong, it usually ends up in the back of your net. I know the feeling they're going through. I know they're going to come out hard next game. Their confidence is maybe a little fragile over there, so we have to make sure we come out and play well right off the bat and use the crowd to our advantage."

The Blues, on the other hand, have been able to answer the bell in all three games despite some slow starts to games. They've been pushed by Nashville, Florida and most recently, Chicago, and have been up to the challenge each time.

"The thing we've done really well is play with spirit," Hitchcock said. "We've been pushed in all three games. When you look at it if you're a purist, you can say we've been outplayed in the first part of all three games, but then we've really dug in our heels and really responded in all three also, which is what I like the best."

But the concern Hitchcock has for his team's starts is there.

"Yep. Sure am," he said. "You've got to adjust the engine earlier, not wait halfway through the game like we did last game. We've got to adjust the engine earlier, and that means different people and different lines earlier. We've got to get their interest level piqued a little earlier."

The Blues will be looking for the franchise's first 4-0 start in team history, and with surprising starts for some Western Conference teams, there's no time to adjust on the fly.

"I think what's really important at this stage of the season is it's really important to play well," Hitchcock said. "To me, it's less about the wins and more about playing well. Wins happen to be connected, but it's about playing well.

(St. Louis Blues/Mark Buckner)
Brenden Morrow (middle) likes the Blues' ability to park games and begin
focusing on the next opponent. The New York Rangers are here Saturday.
"This doesn't look like it's going to be the season to be going out there and finding your game because there's some new birds in this little next, like Colorado, Winnipeg ... these are new teams that look like they're really significant right now, and Calgary. Getting off to a bad start or trying to find your game in the middle of November is not a fun time. You want to be tweaking your game or you want to be adjusting your game. You don't want to be looking for it. So to me, 3-0 is a reflection of the way we played. I want us to continue to play well."

And when they do play well, the ability to park games and switch focus to the next opponent has been evident of a team hungry for more.

"That's the attitude you've got to take," Morrow said. "The season was condensed last year because of the lockout and this year with the Olympics, when we start to get into games fast and furious, you've got to be able to park them quick, wins or losses. This team does it. It comes to work the next day. The attitude's been great."

Added Pietrangelo: "We've got to keep building on what we've done. The way the league is now, anybody can beat anybody. It doesn't matter what happened the game before, you've got to be ready to play, put that behind you."

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