Monday, April 7, 2014

Blues understand issues need to be resolved quickly

With four games and six days remaining in 
regular season, St. Louis must recapture their its swagger 

By LOU KORAC
ST. LOUIS -- As he was walking out of United Center following a 4-2 loss to the Chicago Blackhawks, T.J. Oshie offered the following proclamation:

"We've got to look in the mirror," Oshie said. "We don't want to go home early and be playing golf in May this year."

But the Blues, who despite their 52-19-7 record and still on top of the Western Conference with 111 points (three ahead of the Anaheim Ducks and four in front of the Colorado Avalanche and San Jose Sharks), have seen spurts in their game flounder.
(St. Louis Blues)
Blues defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk (22) said the team must "figure it
out on out own." 

The Blues' loss Sunday was the eighth time in 10 games they've scored two goals or less. And to top it off, their stingy defensive game has surrendered four goals in three of the past five games.

All aspects are tied in together, but for the Blues, who finish the season with four games in six days beginning Tuesday against the Washington Capitals, need to right the ship before the playoffs begin a week from Wednesday.

"It's a wake-up call right now and we've got to figure it out," said goalie Brian Elliott, who was in net against the Blackhawks Sunday and called it gut-check time. "It's everything. It's putting everybody's game together as a whole and as a team. 

"When we play as a team, I think if not the best, we're one of the best teams in the league. But when we don't put it all together, it kind of falls apart on us. We just need to come together and really be a group and not individuals."

Blues coach Ken Hitchcock disagrees with the gut-check moniker.

"No, it's not gut-check time. That starts in the playoffs," Hitchcock said. "What it is is a chance to rest and get ready for this week. 

"Our game, when it's really effective, is a really simple game. And when we play it the right way, we're really good at it. When we get away from it, we allow other teams to play their game. ... No team can afford to make the poor decisions in critical spots on the ice. We've been guilty of that the last couple games. That's the area we're getting hurt on."

The players know adversity is upon them. There's not much time left to try to get things fixed, but they believe they can.

"This is a rough patch for us, and it's obviously a tough time with not too much time left in the season," defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk said. "We have a group in here that's pretty experienced and I  think we can work through it and get to our top game by the time playoffs comes around.

"It's obviously a mental aspect now that's kind of holding us back, but it's not a hurdle that we don't welcome and we don't think we can't get over."

So for all the talk of winning the division, winning the top seed in the Western Conference and Presidents' Trophy, maybe simplifying the game is what needs to be the primary focus.

"It doesn't matter where we end up," Oshie said. "We're going to have to go through four really good teams to get the Cup and chances are, our first opponent is going to be at the top of their game just to get in the playoffs. 

"We just have to get back to what gives us success, whether that's everyone staying calm on the bench and everyone playing simple. We don't have the guys getting 100 points a year. We need everyone to play with each other and get on the same page. Once we do that and we roll four lines consistently, that's when teams run out of gas on us."

It's up to the players to figure that out.

"It's time to figure it out on our own," Shattenkirk said. "It's not the coaches. It's no one but the guys in this room. 
(St. Louis Blues)
Goalie Brian Elliott, who took the loss Sunday in Chicago, said the it's 
gut-check time for the Blues.

"We can switch lines, we can do whatever we want, but at the end of the day, we have to just really put our best foot forward here and really believe what we have in the locker room because it has worked most of the year. When we get it back, it's going to work again."

When they get it back is the key question. The season ends Sunday. Then the real fun begins.

"We've got to get back on the grind again," Hitchcock said. "We're really good on the grind. Volume means we have a philosophy of creating offense and we've got to get back to that philosophy on a consistent basis.

"Our offensive game is based on offensive energy. When we don't have it, we don't have near enough zone time. We score by volume and when we don't get the volume, we don't score. The last couple games we haven't gotten the volume we normally get."

* NOTES -- Alexander Steen, who's missed the previous two games with an upper-body injury, was back on the ice for the optional skate Monday at St. Louis Outlet Mall.

Steen, who is tied with Oshie for the team lead in points with 60, leads the Blues with 33 goals (a career-high).

Steen was a full participant in practice but was not forthcoming with his progress or when he will return.

"No news really guys," Steen said after practice. "Sorry. ... it's boring that way.

"Whenever I feel like I'm ready to go, I'm ready to go."

Asked if the time off in recent days has been good, he said, "Yeah, usually time heals. It's just a matter of how much time you need."

Steen wasn't divulging what has ailed him.

"I'm really not getting into anything," he said. "I'm not giving anything other than I skated today. It was a step and that was about it."

There are no guarantees if Steen will skate tomorrow, or perhaps play.

"We'll see tomorrow," he said. "I really don't have any updates."

But Steen offered up one quip: "I think I gave you guys too much. Enjoy writing the story."

. . . Niklas Lundstrom, the Blues' fifth round pick in the 2011 NHL Draft, was on the ice at practice along with Ryan Miller, who will get the start against the Capitals. Lundstrom was recalled Saturday to give both Miller and Elliott a break when needed down the stretch. 

Lundstrom, 21, relieved Elliott at practice Monday.

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