Bacterial infection affecting Blues players;
Blackhawks on deck to renew rivalry; Oshie honored
HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- What was originally though to be a flu virus spreading throughout the Blues' locker room has been confirmed by coach Ken Hitchcock to be a bacterial infection.
It started with Jori Lehtera, who started to feel sick after the 6-1 victory at Arizona Saturday that caused him to miss Sunday's 3-0 loss at Anaheim.
Lehtera missed Tuesday's practice but was back at practice Wednesday and played in Thursday's 4-1 loss to Vancouver, a game in which multiple Blues players played after contracting the infection.
"It's a bacterial infection; that's what it is," said Hitchcock, who said previously it was a bacterial ailment. "It's not viral, it's (a) bacterial infection. ... It starts with one person and then it's passed very quickly through water bottles, or a towel, or whatever ... the shower floor. It just goes zipping through your team."
Hitchcock said it's spread to a handful or two of players throughout the locker room the past week and could wind up affecting every player until it's completely eliminated.
"We sent (Lehtera) home for the flu and then found out it was bacterial, and then that's when everybody else who we thought had the flu, we went, 'OK, just a second.' That's when we started checking everybody, and it was 'OK, these four guys have it, these three guys got it, these two guys got it.' Then it just started going. Everybody is rolling through it now.
"... It rolls through the team. You've got to hope it rolls through quickly and get out the other side and get healthy again."
Nobody's making excuses for the Blues' past two games (both losses that's dropped them to 2-3-1), but it's affecting the players' energy on the ice, where their facial glands are swollen. Hitchcock did say it's not a respiratory issue that team doctors have concluded, but it is affecting the players' stamina.
"It really zaps your energy, so you've got nothing," Hitchcock said. "You're not running a fever, so you can play (games). Once we found out what it was, guys could play with medication. They're not feeling great, but they can play."
There was an optional skate that was expected to be a full practice, according to Hitchcock. Those that didn't skate were forwards David Backes, Vladimir Tarasenko, Patrik Berglund, and Ryan Reaves and defensemen Alex Pietrangelo, Jay Bouwmeester and Jordan Leopold. Goalies Brian Elliott and Jake Allen experienced symptoms Thursday but appear to have alleviated them.
"I hope everyone's feeling better," said forward Steve Ott, one of the players who hasn't been affected by the infection yet. "... They're not feeling sorry for us to get going. The onus is in here. We have to play better; we know that. We have to give ourselves a better chance to win the games."
* Winning formula -- When Blues players and coaches start to talk about not playing the right way and getting away from what makes them successful, it begs the question of why that happens.
"The worst mistake you make in hockey is you assume," Hitchcock said. "You assume that everybody knows, you assume that everybody's going to get on the same page again. Players change, even the same players change. Some players want more, allotment of ice time changes and some players mature. Some of the players who were role players the year before are prime players the next year. Things change. Dynamics change.
"These are all the same struggles that a lot of teams go through. It's not just us. It's a lot of teams; it's the evolution. The key is to grab it. That partnership between coaches and players, you want to grab it because as I said to the guys today, we've got more in the tank and more to come to help us, but it doesn't matter. They're not going to help us if we're not playing the right way. We just want to get back to playing the right way so that the elements that we've added to the team can help us win those hard-fought, close games we expect every night."
Players don't assume. They tend to try and find the easy way towards winning.
"Winning is hard, no question about it," right wing Joakim Lindstrom said. "Winning is extremely hard. We've got to get back to doing the hard stuff. It might not be the fun stuff all the time, but we need to do the hard stuff and do it for the team to get back on track and get successful again.
"We're not satisfied with the way we've played in these two losses. We've got to respect the game better. We play for hope-for plays and eventually it sometimes works out, but we have to dig in and make plays happen and respect the opponent too. We can't just try to out-skill them from the get-go. We've got to put in the hard work first."
"It shows how hard it is to do and how easy it is to let things go quickly," goalie Brian Elliott, Saturday's starter, said. "The type of game we play, everybody has to be on the same page. If you have a couple guys who aren't or don't or aren't feeling it that night, other guys have to pick them up."
* Blackhawks on deck -- With the Blues mired in this two-game slide and the competition not getting any easier, here come their rivals from the North, the Chicago Blackhawks, who are coming off their first regulation loss, a 3-2 loss Thursday night in Nashville.
But who better to try to get well against than not only your Central Division nemesis, but the team that eliminated you from the postseason the previous season?
"No better time to get ourselves going," forward Steve Ott said. "Our division rival, our biggest rival and you want to have a good game against them. You expect all 23 guys -- whoever's playing -- ready to go. If your number gets called, it's a big night to turn this page.
"I think it's been all the years (having a rivalry). Those are the type of years that you made these type of rivalries. You want to play hard against those guys. You know that's probably who you're going to have to go through in the playoff time. But bigger picture is right now and you want to start getting yourself going, getting this team going in the right (direction)."
Elliott, who will start in goal for the Blues, said: "If you can't get up for that one, just go home.
"It's going to be -- right off the bat -- a hard-fought, end boards to end boards type of game. I don't think any team is going to give an inch."
Others are looking forward to jumping into the foray.
"I heard a lot about the rivalry and the playoff series that these guys had," right wing Joakim Lindstrom said. "It's a tough opponent, one of the top teams in the league. We really need to have a better performance than the last two games to even put us in a chance to beat them."
* Oshie honored -- Blues right wing T.J. Oshie has been named the 2014 winner of the Missouri Athletic Club’s "Sports Personality of the Year."
Oshie will be honored at the MAC’s Jack Buck Sports Awards on Wednesday, Dec. 10. The event is open to the public with admission available for $135 per person. The night begins with a cocktail reception at 5:30 p.m., followed by dinner at 7 p.m. and the program at 8 p.m.
Oshie becomes the sixth Blues player to win the award, joining Al MacInnis (1999), Brendan Shanahan (1995), Curtis Joseph (1993), Brett Hull (1990) and Mike Liut (1981).
Last season, Oshie posted a career year in points (60), goals (21), assists (39) and plus/minus (+19).
Oshie will forever be remembered for his accomplishments for the United States men's hockey team against Russia at the 2014 Sochi Olympics when he converted on 4 of 6 shootout attempts to lead the USA to a 3-2 victory.
The “Sports Personality of the Year,” an award Jack Buck established in 1970 to annually honor the top St. Louis sports figure, is voted on by members of the MAC. The Jack Buck Sports Awards Banquet is regarded as the premier sports dinner in St. Louis and has honored some of the biggest names in sports history including Bob Gibson, Joe Torre, Lou Brock, Ozzie Smith, Jackie Joyner-Kersee, Jimmy Connors, Marshall Faulk and Albert Pujols.
To make reservations, call 314-539-4470. The banquet will be broadcast on KMOX 1120-AM, while FOX Sports Midwest will air a one-hour recap show.
* Gunnarsson/Stastny update -- Blues defenseman Carl Gunnarsson was among the skaters at practice today but hasn't let the Blues' coaches know that he's feeling 100 percent and ready to play.
Center Paul Stastny, who injured his left shoulder at Arizona last week, has skated the past two days but hasn't shot any pucks, according to Hitchcock. Stastny is listed as week-to-week and removed the sling on Wednesday that he wore the first couple days.
The club announced Friday afternoon that Stastny was placed on injured reserve and recalled forward Dmitrij Jaskin from the Chicago Wolves. Jaskin had a goal and is tied for the team lead in points with four in four games.