Thursday, October 3, 2013

Defensively speaking, Blues plan on keeping same blueprint

Team opens tonight vs. Nashville, feels comfortable playing
low-scoring games after NHL opens with high-scoring Tuesday

ST. LOUIS -- After watching six teams empty pucks into the net with fervor as the NHL season opened Tuesday night, the Blues want to reaffirm exactly who they have been and what they plan to be.

"We stress defense first," defenseman Jordan Leopold said. "Our offense comes from our defense. It comes from goaltending, it comes from the 'D' and us getting the puck up to the forwards, getting it out of our own end and playing solid defense as a group of six.

"It's a message we had here last year and we're going to carry that same message this year and we're going to win games any way we can."

(Getty Images)
T.J. Oshie (pictured) says the Blues are comfortable playing and winning
those low-scoring games.
So when the Blues unveil their 2013-14 team and season today when they play host to the Nashville Predators (7 p.m. on FSN, KMOX 1120-AM and Y-98 FM), it'll be all about enforcing their depth across four lines, it'll be throwing six defensemen across the board that like to smother you in their zone and check the opponent into oblivion, and of course it'll be getting back to the great goaltending that Jaroslav Halak -- tonight's starter -- and Brian Elliott offered up in 2011-12 as the Jennings' Trophy winners.

Not the combined 26 goals scored in three games Tuesday.

"Those big-scoring games, they're hard to come by," right wing T.J. Oshie said. "We're not a team that plays that way where we're either going to score six or we're going to give up five. We'd rather win a game 2-0, 3-1, 2-1 ... we're fine with those.

"We've got great goaltending behind us. We've got great defensemen, we can roll lines throughout the whole game. That's going to frustrate some teams that like those big-scoring games."

But after watching Washington, Chicago, Toronto, Montreal, Winnipeg and Edmonton demonstrate the old run-and-gun days of the 1980's when scoring seven, eight, nine, 10 goals was common in those days, coach Ken Hitchcock could only cringe. His teams were ranked first in 2011-12 allowing 1.89 goals per game and tied for seventh a season ago at 2.38.

"It's the start of the year, and it's the coach's scary moments because you think you've done everything and put it into place and then the temperature goes way up and you find out in most cases that offense is way ahead of defense," Hitchcock said. "You're hoping from experience that you know how to get your tempo up at practices, figure out when you're playing a really good team in exhibition and then load up your lineups so you get a real good hockey game, but then you throw it out there ... those games (Tuesday) could have all been 20-19."

And just how long does it take for the playing field to level out where defense catches up to the offense?

"Fourteen days, 21 days, somewhere in there usually," Hitchcock said. "But I think we've got so much to build on from our last exhibition game from the way we played and the chances we created off our checking (a 4-1 win over Minnesota). All the things we liked to do that are the hallmark of our franchise looked like they were moving and trending in the right direction. ... I saw the games (Tuesday). It's highly entertaining but really scary.

"How many coaches that played last night do you think are working on PK this morning? A lot."

The Blues are anxious and eager to put the work they've put in since camp opened Sept. 12 to the test the work put in.

"We're ready to go," Oshie said. "I think a lot of the big mistakes -- and I don't want to say work ethic -- but a lot of the focused energy's going into the right spots now. It all comes down to the real game. Even exhibition games aren't going to simulate the same as a regular season game or opening night. Everyone's going to be ready to go.

"I just feel there's still a lot of mistakes being made and I think the teams that can limit those mistakes the most and capitalize on other teams' are going to get off to the best start."

(Getty Images)
Blues captain David Backes epitomizes the meaning of shutdown defense,
leads by example for his team.
And the Blues will open with five straight at home and would love nothing more than to establish some Scottrade Center dominance.

"It's that time of year," Leopold said. "We've got playoff baseball, we've got football, and now we've got hockey. It's a good time of the year for us because I know we had a long summer and looked forward to opening day during all those months of training. It's a long journey every summer to get here, but it's a good feeling when it comes.

"We're going to look to do a lot of the same things but 10 percent more if we can. Ten percent will probably put us over that hurdle and propel is to where we need to be for the season."

The Blues hope the additions of forwards Derek Roy, Maxim Lapierre, Magnus Paajarvi and most recently, Brenden Morrow, will help raise the level of expectations placed upon them.

"This team just really competes hard," Morrow said of the Blues. "I wanted to be in the fight with them."

No comments:

Post a Comment