Wednesday, October 22, 2014


Allen feeling good about his game; Oshie's slow 
offensive start; Steen sits practice, Lehtera returns

HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- With a 4-2-0 career mark, 1.86 goals-against average and .933 save percentage on Scottrade Center ice, it's only logical that Blues coach Ken Hitchcock gets goalie Jake Allen in a game at home.

That game will come Thursday at 7 p.m. (FSN, KMOX 1120-AM) when the Blues (2-2-1) host Ryan Miller and the Vancouver Canucks (3-2-0).

Allen, who stopped 24 shots Saturday in a 6-1 victory against the Arizona Coyotes, was impressive in his season debut after missing all of 2013-14 while playing for the Chicago Wolves of the American Hockey League, where he was goalie of the year.

"I think it's important that Jake plays at home," Hitchcock said after practice Wednesday. "I think he's got to get a home game in sooner or later. Obviously (Brian Elliott) is going to play against Chicago (Saturday), so then we're going to be waiting even further.

"Jake played really well for us in Phoenix. I don't want to see him wait too long to get his next start, so this is an opportunity."

Allen, who is 10-4-1 with a 2.36 GAA and .908 save percentage in 16 career games, last played a meaningful game on home ice April 5, 2013, a 3-1 victory against the Columbus Blue Jackets.

"It was exciting to get my first game in at Arizona, but to be able to come back in front of our fans and play that first game in a while at Scottrade's going to be fun," Allen said. "I'm looking forward to it.

"That was my goal, to get into it as early as possible. It's been a little while before I played. I tried to touch the puck as much as I can, keep communicating with my D-men and get  a good feel there and feel comfortable. The guys made it easy for me, but it was  a good first game and it was just a building block. Tomorrow's a big test for our team."

With the quirkiness to the Blues' early-season schedule where they had four and three days off, respectively, sandwiched around three games in four nights, it's important to keep both Allen and Elliott fresh and involved in game activities and not just get in practice reps.

"The schedule's going to pick up the pace eventually, but right now, I think that would probably be the mentality of everyone, try to get everyone in the game, get a good feel for it, get confident moving forward," Allen said. "... I try to treat my practices like my games when I wasn't playing the first few. I feel good in practice and I feel ready.  Hopefully those translate into my games."

Allen, 24, said the help he's received from Elliott and veteran goalie coach Jim Corsi is immeasurable to his progress.

"He brings such a good attitude to the rink," Allen said of Corsi. "He makes it fun to get on the ice and fun to work with. He's been great since Day 1 for me and Brian. 

"You can get better every day, but I feel the foundation of my game's pretty solid right now. I feel good about it. There's always things you can improve on. No one's ever perfect but still got a long way to go and I'll just try to give the team a chance tomorrow night."

* Oshie's offense -- If there are any hints that right wing T.J. Oshie was squeezing his stick, Oshie wasn't offering any after practice Wednesday.

Who would have thought that Oshie, who for the first time in his career (seven seasons) has started a season without a point through five games, would have more fights (one) than points at this juncture, even though it's early?

"I'm still getting opportunities," said Oshie, who has taken 13 shots on goal. "My linemates are still getting opportunities. They just haven't quite gone in yet. It's nothing that I'm worried about. It's going to come. Just have to stick with the program."

Hitchcock said it's understandable if Oshie is cognizant of the fact. The veteran coach isn't worried -- yet.

"It's probably weighing on him a little bit," Hitchcock said after practice Tuesday. "He carries the conscience of the team. Points come and go. Sometimes he's going to have a three- or four-point night. 

"I would be concerned if he wasn't playing the game the right way; he's playing the game the right way. The points would be good for him, they'd give him a better feeling so he's not frustrated. He's a guy that can pop every night and say this is how you have to play, which is significant."

Hitchcock has in the past called Oshie the "conscience of our team." When the 27-year-old plays with his motor running high and fast and furious, good things tend to happen.

"There's no more eagerness than there was in the first game," Oshie said of the lack of points. "I'm more concerned about playing the right way. It's going to come. This team has always been the kind of team where one month one line is hot and the next month another line is. Obviously, you want to score, but there's a little bit (of a) different role for me this year. Little less ice time, little less opportunity on the power play. So it's going to have to happen 5-on-5."

* (Flu)id lineup -- Alexander Steen missed practice Wednesday, with what Hitchcock is calling "a bacterial ailment," or in other words, players getting sick with flu-like symptoms.

Jori Lehtera, who sat out the 3-0 loss at Anaheim after falling sick following the win Saturday in Arizona, was back at practice Wednesday and is expected to play Thursday.

"He's like five or six guys on the team," Hitchcock said of Lehtera. "They have a bacterial ailment and we're seeing who it pops up with. We are a very fluid situation right now. 

"We're going through an interesting health time right now. We'll just see who pops up tomorrow. Two guys left practice early. It popped up early this morning and got worse, so we'll just manufacture and see what's available for tomorrow."

Steen is expected to play Thursday, but Magnus Paajarvi was skating in his place on the all-Sweden line with Patrik Berglund and Joakim Lindstrom just in case Steen is downgraded.

Lehtera was back in his familiar spot at center between Jaden Schwartz and Vladimir Tarasenko and said he feels fine.

"I had a little fever and stuff like that," Lehtera said, "but I'm fine now."

* Practice makes perfect -- With the loss of Paul Stastny (shoulder) on a week to week basis and players shuffling in and out of the lineup and practice, the Blues spent the past two days in preparation for the Canucks doing the little things to get, according to Hitchcock, more continuity.

"We needed to get better communication from transition from offense to defense and from defense to offense," Hitchcock said. "We spent two days, had some really good practices getting ready for it. That's number one. Number two is just that five-man continuity where we're five up together five back together. We had a lot of good stuff happen in the first two games (on the recent trip)  and then we got a little bit sloppy in the third game. It's just kind of rebooting all the stuff that involved communication and talk and things like that, and getting a read on our health. Our health is not great right now. Just seeing who can play and who can't play and seeing what we can get out of the next two games."

* Gunnarsson update -- Defenseman Carl Gunnarsson (hip) was a full participant in practice once again Wednesday but not part of the regular rotation of defensemen and it appears he will miss a sixth game to begin the season Thursday night.

"He's not ready yet. Closer, closer, but not yet," Hitchcock said of Gunnarsson, acquired in a draft-day trade from the Toronto Maple Leafs along with a fourth-round pick for Roman Polak. "It's really in his camp. He's got to just decide, 'OK, I'm ready to go.' 

"He feels comfortable and he's getting closer and closer. I would hope that in the not-too-distant future whether it's the weekend or not if we're going to see him."

* Facing Vancouver -- It appears the Blues will face Miller, their teammate from the end of last season, Thursday night.

Miller, who was acquired from the Buffalo Sabres days before the NHL Trade Deadline for a package that included goalie Jaroslav Halak and Chris Stewart, signed a three-year, $18 million contract July 1 after the Blues informed Miller, 33, they would not be bringing him back.

The Blues lost three one-goal decisions (3-2 in a shootout Oct. 25 in St. Louis, 2-1 on Jan. 10 in Vancouver and 1-0 on Feb. 26 in Vancouver, which was the first game after the Sochi Olympics). All were with Eddie Lack in goal.

"I think it was more Vancouver had our number," Hitchcock said. "We played some of our best hockey in Vancouver (and) couldn't score. ... It's the same thing. We've got to keep building good minutes in our game. I think it's more continuity."

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