Blues turn to a familiar face, lament missed opportunities
in OT loss; Polak on goal; Halak describes Coyotes game-winner
By LOUIE KORAC
HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- When word came down that the Blues brought back veteran defenseman Carlo Colaiacovo, the question many Blues fans seemed to ask was why.
Why not go down to the American Hockey League affiliate in Chicago and grab one of the Wolves' defensemen? Why turn back to a player the Blues turned the page on just a little more than a year ago?
The answer is simple, according to coach Ken Hitchcock.
"He's a known guy," Hitchcock said of Colaiacovo after practice Wednesday. "I think two things. This is for the kids to play down there, we need them to play down there rather than come up here and sit as a seventh (defenseman). I think when you're looking at two months (at the earliest that Jordan Leopold will return from ligament damage in his right index finger) and you're looking at 32 hockey games, that's a lot of hockey. That's almost half the season and we looked and said, 'Man, we need to have an NHL player.'
"... When you're missing a guy for two months minimum, that means that's a pretty significant player and that's why we need an NHL player. The other thing is (Colaiacovo's) a versatile guy that can play either side of your ice and he can play up and down your lineup. He can play in the third pair, he can play for a short period of time on the top pair. He's done it with (Alex Pietrangelo) before. It allows us some versatility that maybe we wouldn't have if we bring in a young guy."
Colaiacovo, 30, took care of his immigration paperwork and got into St. Louis Wednesday night, got medical clearance and passed his physical. The team announced Colaiacovo's one-year, one-way contract for the league minimum of $550,000 Thursday morning.
"With Jordan Leopold out for a significant period, we wanted to bring an experienced player into our group of seven," Blues general manager Doug Armstrong said in a statement. "Being a former Blue, Carlo is familiar with our organization which should make for an easy transition."
Hitchcock admitted not knowing Colaiacovo, who played four seasons in St. Louis from 2008-2012. Hitchcock had him for one season. He trusted the opinion of assistant coach Brad Shaw.
"I don't know him that well. Shawsie knows him, so we've trusted Brad's relationship with him," Hitchcock said.
Pietrangelo was obviously elated to get one of his closest friends back. The two have stayed in contact since Colaiacovo left St. Louis and signed a two-year, $5 million contract with the Detroit Red Wings before being bought out of the final year.
He's been in Toronto since, working out with a junior-A team there.
"Off the ice, obviously we're real good friends, but on the ice, I think he has something to contribute, adds depth the team," Pietrangelo said. "I know he's real excited to get back here. We all feel the same way about him.
"I'm more excited from a team standpoint having another guy with veteran experience that can kind of step in while Leo's gone. ... He wanted to be playing. This opportunity came up and he jumped on it."
* Lamenting missed opportunities -- The Blues' 3-2 overtime loss to the Phoenix Coyotes Tuesday had the aftertaste of leaving a point on the ice. Not because of a lack of execution or effort but of a pair of breakdowns in the first period that led to two goals and missed scoring opportunities, particularly in the third period.
"The first goal was a turnover by us because we didn't skate with the exit," Hitchcock said. "Second goal was kind of holding on offense too long.
"I think the whole first period was not skating, not skating to check, not skating to recover, not skating to back-check, not skating on the cycle and then in the second and third, we did the things we needed to do but probably didn't have the traffic that we needed to, which allowed the goalie (Mike Smith) to outwork us. We had a lot of scoring chances, but I think any time you allow a team who plays a very patient style to get into their set early in a game and you don't get them out of their rhythm, I've always found over time that ends up being a little uncomfortable for us. We're trying to grab the game back rather than make them chase us."
Center Patrik Berglund agreed.
"We came out kind of soft in the first 20," Berglund said. "Obviously we weren't ready to play. Then I think in the second or third, we were playing our game and were funneling the puck. We were missing that net-front guy. He saw a lot of pucks, but he also made some really good saves that helped his self-confidence. We talked about it before the game to outwork the goalie, but we really didn't do a good job."
Berglund is one of those players that may be squeezing the stick a little tightly these days.
Berglund, who has only one goal in 16 games and none since the second game of the season, is getting the chances and is working in other areas of the ice. The benefits haven't come full circle in the scoring department as of now.
There was a glorious opportunity to put the with just under nine minutes remaining for Berglund to put the Blues ahead, but he whiffed on a tight cross-crease feed from T.J. Oshie.
"We both got so close to the net," Berglund said. "He got close to the net and I did, so the puck came kind of fast and the d-man was in between us so it took me a while to really see the puck. I swung at it and missed."
Hitchcock feels the goals, and points -- Berglund has one assist in 11 games -- will come.
"The work's good," Hitchcock said. "I think he'll score when he gets the release a little quicker. I think he's kind of double-clutching right now. Yesterday he had three no-brainers and shot two of them in the (goalie's) belly. I think he's just kind of got to calm down when he's in those delicate positions to score, but he's getting all those chances, he's creating all those turnovers. They're earning them, they're plus on scoring chances every night and you hope that after maybe getting one or two and then he calms down a little bit in the critical areas.
"I know he's frustrated, but not to the point to where he's not working and competing which is a really good sign for us."
* Polak goal -- Blues defenseman Roman Polak came through with a big third period goal that at least helped the Blues earn a point in the overtime loss Tuesday.
Polak, who has two goals on the season, was able to read that he could move into a backdoor position and take a slick pass from Alexander Steen and bury it into the goal early in the third period to tie the game 2-2.
"I made eye contact with the 'Big Swede,'" Polak said, referring to Steen. "It was a great pass. Good patience by him. I kind of looked at Steener and he saw me there. We just looked at each other, I just jumped there and he made a great pass."
* Coyotes win it in OT -- Blues goalie Jaroslav Halak, who allowed three goals on 19 shots Tuesday, didn't have a chance at the precise shot by Pheonix defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson, who won the game for the Coyotes 56 seconds into overtime.
Ekman-Larsson grabbed a feed from Mike Ribeiro, moved to the center of the ice just inside the blue line and let go a shot into the top portion of the goal to end the contest.
Pietrangelo claimed he likely screened Halak on the shot trying to get in the shot lane to block the puck.
"The first one, I didn't see it at all," Halak said. "The third one, I saw him getting the puck, faking a slap shot and that's where I stopped seeing the puck. The next thing you know, it's in the net."