Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Depth paying off for Blues on 'D'

Cole, Colaiacovo fill in nicely with Leopold injured,
Shattenkirk ill; three-game trip begins Wednesday at Colorado

HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- In the NHL, teams will face adversity in a number of different ways, most notably it typically has to do with how they handle the injury bug.

The Blues (17-3-3) were relatively injury-free for the first month of the season but have since seen their share of injuries.

Guys like Magnus Paajarvi, Brenden Morrow and now Ryan Reaves have been shelved at times this season, and the Blues have had the depth up front to offset their losses.

(St. Louis Blues)
Blues defenseman Ian Cole (28) has helped fill the void on the blue line.
It gets a little trickier on defense, and the Blues were playing without one-third of their top six on 'D' Monday night against the Minnesota Wild.

They didn't miss a beat.

Jordan Leopold (hand) is out up to two months or longer, and Ian Cole has stepped in and filled the void. Monday, Kevin Shattenkirk came down with the flu. Who stepped in and filled nicely? Carlo Colaiacovo, who the Blues signed to a one-year contract on Nov. 12.

Not many teams could survive losing two of their top six on defense, but with general manager Doug Armstrong's commitment to keep a nice supply of depth on hand, the Blues can plug gaps as if those players were never gone.

"That's the plan," Cole said. "That's what we have to do as teammates. One guy goes down -- Leo or Shatty or whoever -- we have to be able to step in and play just as well as the guy that goes out.

"Leo is such a good player, I step in, I try to play the same, simple game and really help out Roman (Polak) as a d-partner. Coco did the same thing (Monday). He took over Shatty's spot on the power play. ... Enough can't be said for the team that we've put together. Obviously Army's done a great job and the coaching staff has prepared us well to hop in there and hopefully not miss a beat."

Colaiacovo was signed because the Blues did not feel any of their prospects at the American Hockey league level were ready to make the jump up, nor did they want to bring a young player up to simply sit as a seventh defenseman. All he did was play 14-plus minutes in Monday's 3-0 victory and assist on Vladimir Sobotka's goal on Colaiacovo's first shift and first shot.

"Carlo brings a good element to us," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. "You forget how well he passes the puck. He gets us into a lot of transition that not many guys can do. His first touch is excellent.
Carlo Colaiacovo

"I think the other thing that's happening is that the Cole and Polak pair is becoming a good pair. They're becoming very sound and solid. They're playing simple. Coley's starting to see the ice a little bit better. Things aren't as fast. He's starting to get comfortable playing and they're starting to play the game the way we want them to, too. I think our transition back there's getting better throughout the group. We're still obviously getting the good performances from 19 (Jay Bouwmeester) and 27 (Alex Pietrangelo) every night, but I think we're starting to get better transition across the board."

And bringing in Colaiacovo, the Blues added an element familiar with the system. Before he signed with Detroit in the summer of 2012, Colaiacovo spent four seasons in the Blues' system.
"I think the familiarity with each other, guys have played together for a long time," Colaiacovo said. "We practice those details when we can. Guys really feed off each other and work off each other, always talking about different things and different plays, making different adjustments in games.
"It's something that's worked, something that's been successful for this team and we're going to continue to need it."

* Three game trip -- The Blues headed to the West Coast to begin a three-game trip, beginning with a rematch with the Colorado Avalanche on Wednesday (8 p.m. on FSN, KMOX 1120-AM).

The last time these two teams met, the Blues ran away with a 7-3 victory in which they outscored the Avalanche 4-0 in the second period in a game that got heated with a trio of fights.

It could get very interesting at Pepsi Center when the puck drops, and it's a place the Blues haven't won since April 12, 2009, going 0-6-2 since that 1-0 victory. In goal for that game? Chris Mason.

"I think probably too much is made of it, but we're going to just have to be ready ... first of all, they're a good team," Hitchcock said of the Avalanche, 17-5-0 under first-year coach Patrick Roy. "They're playing well again. We've got to find a way to win in that building. It's a difficult building to win in. It's a fast game there.

"I'm more concerned about us playing better in that building. I haven't seen us play to our capabilities in that building yet, so I'm more concerned about the way we play."

The Blues have three wins in Colorado going back to the 2006-07 season and are 3-11-2 there since 2005.

"You've got altitude issues and you don't have a chance to get used to it, and they've got a fast team," Hitchcock said. "They've built their team around that building. The rink's fast, the boards are fast, the team's fast. They're a young team that plays with a lot of energy at home. It's a tough building to win in."

After Wednesday, the Blues will then play an afternoon game Friday at San Jose before finishing the trip Monday at Los Angeles.

"Big tests because they're all great teams," Hitchcock said. "Every one of these teams has got a great record right now. It's pick your poison.

"Dallas was hot, Minny was hot. You just pick your poison. It's one day at a time and just try to play as well as you can for as long as you can. With playing every second day or sometimes even shorter than that, you've got to let go of the game, good or bad. You've got to let go right away. I think we've done a good job of letting go, moving on to the next day, the next event. I like our attitude ... we're playing one day, the next (day), we're showing up ready to go to work."

Hitchcock said that Jaroslav Halak (13-3-2 with a 2.21 goals-against average and .911 save percentage) will get the start against the Avs. It's quite possible Brian Elliott (4-0-1 with a 1.79 GAA and .932 save percentage) could face the Sharks, as Hitchcock said after Elliott beat the Stars this past Saturday that Halak would play against the Wild and Elliott would go against Colorado or San Jose.

Also, Shattenkirk was at the rink Tuesday after spending Monday battling the flu in bed. Hitchcock said he expected Shattenkirk to play Wednesday after he exercised and rode the bike but didn't skate. If Shattenkirk plays Wednesday as expected, Hitchcock was not sure which defenseman would sit.

No comments:

Post a Comment