Puck transition highlighting work for defensemen early
in camp; Butler aiming high; Hitch reviews; Sunday's lineup
ST. LOUIS -- Getting the puck, moving the puck quickly and getting it into the hands of the offensive players.
It's something most, if not all, NHL teams strive for when going back into their end to retrieve the puck. It's a sign of the times for the NHL moving forward.
It's why the Blues have brought in some new faces (Carl Gunnarsson and Chris Butler) to help in that regard, to complement Alex Pietrangelo, Jay Bouwmeester and Kevin Shattenkirk. Veteran Barret Jackman is left on the blueline to utilize the physical nature.
The trade that brought Gunnarsson to the Blues that sent rugged, physical defenseman Roman Polak to Toronto signified which direction the Blues wanted to move towards after a third consecutive disappointing showing in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
On the second day of on-ice workouts at the team's training camp at Scottrade Center, the focus for the defensemen was obviously retrieving the puck, making a quick first pass and gaining a seamless departure out of the zone.
"Our mindset's always been transition," Pietrangelo said. "If we can get the puck out of our zone as quickly as possible and get the puck into our forwards' hands, we're at our best. Our theory ... if the other team can't score, the puck's not in our zone.
"I think at times certainly we can be a little more physical, especially last year we could have taken a little pressure off 'Jacks' and 'Romy.' That's certainly going to lay on us now, guys like me, 'Shatty' and 'Bouw.' We're not going to run out of the way to make hits, but if we can be a little more physical in terms of helping the puck get out of the zone, we're ultimately going to do that."
But Jackman said the talk for some time now has been a shift and more of a focus on playing quicker and not relying so much on the physical nature.
"With the early stages of camp here and just the first couple weeks before camp, we've been talking about being more of a transition team, our D being more involved, more skaters, being more of an aggressive, checking team as opposed to a defending team," Jackman said. "Those puck touches are really good to feeding the offense in the transition game."
The Blues' inability to score in playoff losses to the Los Angeles Kings (in 2012 and 2013) and the Chicago Blackhawks this past spring has led them to more or less emulate those teams that had success moving the puck quickly before their forwards can get into the zone and check the D off the puck. Both the Kings and Hawks were able to do it. Now the Blues feel it's their best bet to get into a transition game as well but not completely eliminate the checking aspect.
"Physicality is still a big part of the game," Butler said. "Puck separation in the D-zone really limits teams from kind of getting some flow going, but at the same time, you look at the teams that attack well, those are the teams that always have the puck to transition the puck quickly. Chicago, St. Louis, L.A. ... it's puck-moving and it's a skating game now. I think that kind of fits my style of play."
"We've got to make sure we find a balance of being strong and in your face in our zone and being able to transition the puck," Pietrangelo said.
* Butler aiming high -- Butler is one of a number of camp participants competing on a two-way contract. The Kirkwood native, though, has one goal in mind even though the openings on the blue line are few.
"I think that's been my mindset every training camp I've gone into," said Butler, a six-year veteran who just completed his third season with the Calgary Flames. "I put enough pressure on myself as it is and my expectations are high for myself and I don't think ... outside opinion or battling for jobs or anything like that hasn't really had an impact on the way that I train or the way that I approach this camp. It's been two good days so far and I'm looking forward to the exhibition games."
Butler will be in the lineup when the Blues open the preseason schedule against the Columbus Blue Jackets at 5:30 p.m. at Nationwide Arena.
"It's been fast-paced and high tempo so far," Butler said of camp. "I think that's just proof how much guys care and how much guys want to battle for their spots. It's nice to get into a lot of the system work early so you can kind of get used to that before the exhibition games start. Guys are going to have an idea of how we like to play as an organization, so from that standpoint, it's been awesome."
* Hitch reviews -- Blues coach Ken Hitchcock is getting a close view of those vying for jobs and the reviews are good in the early going.
Some comments Hitchcock made on a few guys vying for jobs after Saturday's sessions:
On Joakim Lindstrom: "He's had two great days at camp. That's not unexpected when you saw him play in the World Championships. He was a real good player for Sweden there and just like he's carried it on. He's had two really good years, he's got a lot of confidence and it really shows right now."
On the chemistry between Paul Stastny and Alexander Steen: "You see things that you can practice those things all day and they just happen because you've got two really smart players with a very high hockey IQ play together. It's the reading off each other for me that would give any opposition fits. They read off each other, they make little plays in tight spaces in the offensive zone. This part of camp is just fun for them, so when there's more structure, the opposition's there and it's game-like situations, we'll get a better read on it, but jeez, there's a lot of high-hockey IQ going on and then you see it all the little plays they make to keep pucks alive, to get scoring chances, to create offense. And they've both got great work ethic. They don't cheat the game, so they don't play that high risk, limited reward game. They know what to do with the puck, they know a good spot to put it in and they get it back and stuff like that.
On Gunnarsson: "He's a top four defenseman, so wherever he plays, he's a top four guy. He's going to play somewhere in that top four. ... He's interesting because you look at the minutes, those are heavy minutes he got (in Toronto last season). He's not a big guy, but he's wiry strong. He's got big minutes for a guy that gets no power play time. He gets zero. He's carrying as heavy minutes as anybody that's a third on our team. It's pretty significant."
On Gunnarsson's availability while rehabbing a surgically repaired hip: "I would have said a week ago that we were looking at the start of the season, but things have really moved quickly now, so we'll see, but things have really moved quickly here in the last three days."
On Peter Mueller: "I think this has been a real shock to Peter. He was way more comfortable today than he was yesterday. I think the whole aspect of coming back to North America and playing was an adjustment for him. Yesterday, he looked a little overwhelmed and today, a lot more comfortable. He's getting up to speed. We're going to really give him a chance to play and if he shows as much improvement in 48 hours as he did the first 24 hours, that's going to be a real good sign. But he looked like a guy yesterday that (said), 'Holy ... I'm back on small ice.' Big adjustment and today, he looked like he was more used to the small ice. He's going to get a good go here. Lehtera's just been outstanding at camp and obviously Tarasenko's even moved his game up another level. He's going to get a real opportunity to have some success. We'll see what the line looks like."
On Nate Prosser: "He's a trusted guy. You know what you get with him. That's why we like him so much. Maybe it isn't picturesque at times, but it's very effective."
* Sunday's lineup -- The Blues and Blue Jackets will both open their preseason slate on Sunday. Columbus, however, will be involved in a split squad game with the Blues, as they will send half of their team to Carolina on Sunday to take on the Hurricanes at 1:30 p.m.
The Blues will play in Dallas against the Stars on Monday at 7:30 p.m.
Peter Mueller-Jori Lehtera-Vladimir Tarasenko
Chris Porter-Maxim Lapierre-Sebastien Wannstrom
Magnus Paajarvi-Philip McRae-Ryan Reaves
Terry Broadhurst-Rob Bordson-Cody Beach
Barret Jackman-Tommy Vannelli
Petteri Lindbohm-Nate Prosser
Chris Butler-David Shields
Jake Allen will get the start in goal; Matt Climie will be the backup.