Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Despite dropping three straight, Blues not panicking

Lead in Central Division down to two points; players sticking together

ST. LOUIS -- The Blues departed Wednesday afternoon for another tough two-game set away from Scottrade Center.

And despite the first three-game losing streak of the season with the playoffs right around the corner, the sky is not falling.

"It's all noise. It doesn't matter," Blues defenseman Jay Bouwmeester said Wednesday. "We have a good enough group in here. It's easier just to rely on each other. I don't think anyone's worried about that."

As the Blues (52-20-7), who will play at Minnesota Thursday and at Dallas Friday, shouldn't be.
(St. Louis Blues/Mark Buckner)
T.J. Oshie (74) and the Blues are feeling the squeeze these days from
their competitors in the standings following a three-game losing streak. 

However, they know that teams now are breathing down their necks in regards to the Western Conference top seed and even the Central Division title. Anaheim had a chance to leapfrog over the Blues with a home win against San Jose Wednesday night, and the surging Colorado Avalanche are just two points behind the Blues in the division race.

"There's definitely urgency in the standings," defenseman Barret Jackman said. "We can fall in the standings if we're not too careful and aren't playing our game. It's definitely added motivation and increases the urgency and maybe what we need going in the last three games against three very good teams right now."

"We still control our own fate," Bouwmeester said. "But (what Colorado is doing) perks your ears up. I don't think we need any extra motivation."

The Blues came to practice Wednesday on the heels of a 4-1 loss to the Washington Capitals, a game in which they took 80 total shots to Washington's 32. The difference is the Blues, who outshot the Capitals 29-22, had 26 shots blocked and they missed the net 25 times.

The Blues have scored two goals or fewer in nine of 12 games, including six straight in which they've only scored eight times. And against the Capitals, the Blues were guilty of missing the net on quality odd-man rushes.

"Sometimes when you slow down, you don't execute it," coach Ken Hitchcock said. "I think if we would have kept going ... we're a shoot-first mentality hockey club. I think if we would have shot the puck, we probably would have been facing off at center ice. It's a good lesson for us. Just continue to shoot the puck."

With losing consecutive games, there is the tendency to not trust your teammates on the ice and players sometimes attempt to do too much, which in essence compensates what their individual job is.

"That happens any time you struggle, especially when the goals aren't coming as easily as they were early in the year," said Bouwmeester, who is without a goal in 31 straight games. "I think human nature is to try and do more and more and sometimes you're getting out of position and doing less. We have to remind ourselves we've gotten where we are because we're a good team and just get back to basics."

The Blues, who practiced in full aside from David Backes, who will not play Thursday after blocking teammate Alexander Steen's shot midway through the second period Tuesday, were working on odd-man rushes and just hammering pucks at their goalies.

"It was a good skate," Jackman said. "It wasn't anything special. Just getting shots on net and driving. A few battle drills but nothing too strenuous. Just get the feel and get the legs going and get the mind going the right way."

Which is why Hitchcock chose to be positive after practice and not dwell on any negatives.

"We're making progress," he said. "We probably had two sloppy games (against Colorado and Chicago). The last game we showed a lot of improvement, a lot of good things. 

"I'd rather right now build on the positives and we're doing a lot of things that I liked to see and the feeling I think with us and the players was it was a good thing what we saw today and it was a lot of good stuff yesterday. We've just got to stay with the program."

What did the Blues coach like?

"We just started to get back to our fundamentals of offensive hockey, of the forecheck," Hitchcock said. "We did a lot of good things. I think (Maxim Lapierre's) line did a great job. We had other lines do it in fits and starts and now we're looking for more consistent behavior from the rest of our group. If we were guilty of anything, maybe we were guilty of looking too far ahead (of the schedule). Last three games have caught our attention and now it's back to work."

It starts with the leaders and trickles throughout the lineup.

"You talk about it, but you have to show as a leader exactly what those things look like, such as competing, moving on every puck, driving the net, getting shots through as a d-man," Jackman said. "It's on everybody in this room to show that they get it by putting the product on the ice. It starts with the leaders and it should be contagious throughout the room."

Nothing like a win, or two, or three to finish the season to get panicky Blues fans to lower the stress meter either. As for the players, they're not overreacting.

"If we have a couple good games on this road trip, then everyone's back feeling good," Bouwmeester said. "... We just have to move forward. We know what's around the corner. It's getting close now and we want to get playing well going in.

"Just get back to feeling good about ourselves. Just simplifying some things and doing the things that we need to do to score goals more consistently. Just get back to the work, the checking. When we're real good, for the other team, it's an overwhelming feeling."

As for Backes, Hitchcock said it hasn't been decided if he will or will not play at Dallas. Backes traveled with the team.

"He's out for tomorrow's game and then we'll see from there," Hitchcock said. "He's still day to day. He's going to be on the trip with us, but we'll see from there.

"We just keep playing. We'll decide our lines tomorrow. I think what you saw at practice today is close to what we'll play with. Might be positive things. Other guys get to step up and make accounts of themselves. May be a positive thing."
(St. Louis Blues/Mark Buckner)
Maxim Lapierre (40) scored his ninth goal Tuesday, matching the number
he scored in 2011-12 with Vancouver. His career-high is 15 in 2008-09 
with Montreal.

The Blues' practice lines included Vladimir Sobotka between Steen and T.J. Oshie, Patrik Berglund between Jaden Schwartz and Dmitrij Jaskin, Derek Roy between Brenden Morrow and Magnus Paajarvi and Chris Porter with Paajarvi taking most of the shifts and Lapierre between Steve Ott and Ryan Reaves.

Ryan Miller will start in goal against the Wild and Brian Elliott is projected to get the nod against the Stars and Hitchcock did not disclose who would play on defense. Carlo Colaiacovo skated with Roman Polak Tuesday.

Vladimir Tarasenko (thumb) skated again with his teammates and even fired some wrist shots during the pre-practice session. He skated in drills but did not wind up and shoot any slap shots. He's still sporting a cast on his right hand and has missed 12 games.

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