Players ready for opener; Stastny fitting in;
Lindstrom a virtual lock; Schwartz x2; three cut
HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- The Blues had the day off Monday, as they enjoyed the sun-splashed, cool, brisk greens at Norwood Hills Country Club for the annual 14 Fund Golf Tournament.
After finishing the preseason at 2-3-2, when they take the ice on Tuesday, the real preparations get under way for the season opener Thursday night when the Blues host the Eastern Conference champion New York Rangers.
But for the Blues, who come in with lofty expectations once again in a loaded Western Conference, they already began putting in the work and gearing themselves towards Thursday, using the final preseason games to do so.
"When we didn't win the first few preseason games, we had a meeting and we said we need to amp things up," forward Patrik Berglund said Sunday after practice. "I think we did. I think it was better execution in practices and we won two games there. I think we got better. And we needed to get better. We need to really get going for the home opener. We know it's going to be a much better game, a much higher tempo, physical and all that. We need to get used to that.
"I think we've been having a good camp. I think we've been smart in it. I think we've been having a pretty good balance in practices and all that. I think everybody's ready now and it seems that everybody's getting into the year and getting comfortable on the ice and all that. Now we're excited to get the real thing going."
For Blues coach Ken Hitchcock, who spoke a few times after preseason losses that some of those games were a "wakeup call for the veterans," didn't use a 'kick-in-the-pants' mentality for his veteran players.
"I think it's less about that than it is about standards," Hitchcock said. "The standards are high here. The players have bought into a very high standard of activity here. It's everything, it's off-ice, it's conduct in the locker room, it's behavior in public. The standard here is really high and the players know one way to do it and when they don't see it, they address it. We don't need to go in and monitor it. It's monitored with a veteran group, and there's a tremendous level of in-house accountability on conduct.
"This is a very strong group on proper conduct in every aspect. From the moment they come into this locker room, they hold each other to a very high standard as far as conduct. The behavior that they expect from themselves is very high, knowing that it's going to lead on to on-ice performances. But it's very high and it's everything. It's 'don't cheat a workout, make sure you're on time perfectly ... we don't wait here, we don't wait a second here.' The respect you have for the other people in the locker room as far as the way you conduct yourself when you're not the focus. All of those things are very important for the players here and if somebody veers from that, they deal with it immediately. They don't wait."
* Stastny acclimated -- He's played in four preseason games and got a head start skating with his new teammates before training camp opened.
For center Paul Stastny, who signed a four-year, $28 million free agent contract to join the Blues on July 1, the acclimation process will be an ongoing aspect as the season approaches and gets underway.
"It's not going to be perfect from Day 1," said Stastny, who's played the majority of camp with Alexander Steen. "I think it's going to take a while, but that's why you have a whole season to play. As long as you're working hard ... you're going to make mistakes, that's fine. As long as you're learning from them. You're constantly getting used to different guys. You play three or four preseason games with one guy, even every game, you're learning a little bit. Timing's a big thing."
Going from a system he played with the Colorado Avalanche for eight seasons to a new one in St. Louis, however, won't be as much of an adjustment as one would think.
"They're all cookie-cutter minus 20 percent," Stastny said of the systems teams implement. "Any time you go to a new team or any time you switch systems to me, that's really easy. When you overthink, that's when you get in trouble. You kind of read and react. As long as you're going hard and you're the first guy forechecking, then you can just read off him. System stuff is really easy for me. ... Once you get that down, it's just about individual efforts and one-on-one battles.
"It's not 100 percent comfortable because I was with one team for eight years. You're still learning to play with new guys and new defensemen and working on different power play units and different PK units. The more games you play, the more comfortable you'll be."
Hitchcock was asked if anything surprised him about Stastny's game that he may not have known during camp. He said it's a player that won't surprise anyone with a fancy demeanor.
"His offense isn't flashy offense, but it's very effective offense," Hitchcock said of Stastny. "The offense that he creates is not flashy. The 'wow' factor is not going to be there, but there's tremendous substance to what he brings to us that if he does the things that he's capable of, that substance is very effective. But it's not going to be flashy. We knew that going in and having coached him, that's pretty relevant. His offense comes from details; little things that end up making a big difference, not on this wild skill that has to be out there. It's real detailed, offensive opportunities created in small spaces. He creates a number of scoring opportunities in very, very small spaces. We knew that going in."
* Two enough for Schwartz? -- Ready or not, forward Jaden Schwartz got a quick crash course in getting ready for the season to start, since he missed the first 10 days of training camp working on getting a new contract.
Schwartz, who signed a two-year, $4.7 million contract Sept. 27, played in the final two preseason games against the Minnesota Wild. He finished with three assists.
"It definitely sucks missing part of camp," Schwartz said. "It helped getting these two games in for sure. Just handling the puck and taking some hits (helped). Also getting pucks in tight areas and trying to make those plays. It probably would have helped if I got another game or two in, but overall, I played pretty well and I got three or four more practices to get better."
Schwartz, who had 25 goals and 31 assists last season, played more than 17 minutes in each games, which seems like a lot for the first taste of game action, but Hitchcock said that was done with a purpose.
"He was excellent (Thursday) and (Saturday), he was a little bit tired but he still found a way to impact the game," Hitchcock said of Schwartz. "I think he found out how how much not being here impacts because it's missing quite a bit. He missed a lot of action.
"I think getting these two games and us playing him a lot on purpose has given him a chance to at least get the bumps and bruises on to the body so you're not feeling it before you start."
Schwartz played with Jori Lehtera and Joakim Lindstrom on Saturday, and the trio had a combined seven points.
"We had puck possession for a lot of the game," Schwartz said. "They're both smart players. When they're in tight, when there's not a lot of space, they can still make plays. I thought overall, we played pretty well as a line and had a lot of scoring chances."
Hitchcock liked the trio, and indicated they could possibly open the season together.
"I liked Lehtera with Lindstrom (Saturday)," Hitchcock said. "That was a good line. That might be something that we consider moving forward. It would allow us to play (Vladimir) Tarasenko with Stastny and Steen. It's something that we're going to talk over with the coaching staff."
* Lindstrom a virtual lock -- The final preseason game Saturday, a 5-4 overtime loss to the Wild, was Lindstrom's best game that he played this preseason. And his performance all but solidified his spot on the opening night roster.
Lindstrom, who signed a one-year, $700,000 contract in May and had two assists Saturday, feels like he gave it his best shot to make the team.
"You never know, but I can look myself in the mirror and feel that I worked as hard as I could," Lindstrom said. "I put a good effort in. We'll see how it goes.
"It feels better and better each and every game I've gotten to play here; more and more comfortable with the system around me. ... My skating is the one thing I've improved the most. If I can get a step or two on a guy, then I will be able to make plays. ... When you get a step, you get a little bit more time and it makes it easier on yourself. I knew I came into camp in great shape. Physically and mentally, I was ready to compete and battle. I expected that out of myself, too."
Lindstrom, a second round pick of the Columbus Blue Jackets in 2002, will get a second chance playing for Hitchcock -- who coached Lindstrom briefly in Columbus -- if he's on the opening night roster.
"Lindstrom, he's done a nice job," Hitchcock said. "He's been effective. He's kind of a sudden offense guy.
"He plays a lot like Alex Tanguay. ... He plays a quick, smart game."
Lindstrom, who had 23 goals and 63 points with Skelleftea AIK in Sweden last season, feels he's better equipped for the NHL this time around after stints with the Blue Jackets, Avalanche and Arizona Coyotes.
"It's a different system, different team, different surroundings, different environment and everything," Lindstrom said. "I'm a better player now. Physically I'm stronger and more confident. It feels better this time. ... Confidence is a big thing in hockey. It's huge. Hopefully, I can bring it with me all year round."
* Banking on the goalies -- When Brian Elliott resigned for three years and $7.5 million and the Blues allowed Ryan Miller to walk as a free agent, Elliott knew his chance finally arrived.
Being the "1B" guy since his arrival in St. Louis three seasons ago enabled Elliott to test his patience and perseverance while working on improving his game.
"We're hoping that he's got enough information that he's now the leader because he's always been the guy that's been underneath ... the name," Hitchcock said of Elliott, who will start the opener against the Rangers. "Whether it was (Jaroslav) Halak or whether it was Miller, he was underneath the name. Well guess what? His name's up at the front."
Elliott and Jake Allen will have the microscope placed on them and for good reason. The Blues are banking on both for big seasons. And Hitchcock realizes their importance.
"I think what I've learned overall is that it's going to be a major part of success," Hitchcock said of the team's goaltending. "How good the goalies are is going to be a major part of our success here. It's like anything else. I more looked at it from when I watch other teams play and I go, 'Jeez, that team's even better than I thought,' or, 'Man, that team's very good and that team's even deeper than we thought.' I think the reality for us is that this is as deep as it's ever been in the West and every aspect of your game's going to get tested, but at the end of the day, your goaltending's going to get the biggest test. That's all I know moving forward. It's going to be a major factor in our success."
Both Elliott and Allen will get their share of games, especially early on in the month.
"It's a light October, so both guys are going to play because there's a lot of space between games," Hitchcock said. "We'll just monitor as we go. We've got two good goalies. The reason Jake Allen's a backup is because he's inexperienced. That's in name. That experience can change in a month. But I know we're going to need both guys and both guys are going to play in October and then see where we go. But Brian's going to get the start (Thursday) and get a chance to carry a significant responsibility."
* Gunnarsson update -- We know that defenseman Carl Gunnarsson, acquired via trade from the Toronto Maple Leafs for Roman Polak, will start the season on injured reserve.
Gunnarsson, rehabbing from off-season hip surgery, is still practicing with a red no-contact jersey. But Sunday marked a first, which indicates the Swedish blueliner isn't that far off.
"There (were) no restrictions on or off the ice with him," Hitchcock said of Gunnarsson. "Off ice as far as workouts, no restrictions. And no restrictions as far as skating or mechanisms in place there. This was the very first day that there (were) no restrictions placed on him."
Gunnarsson's open spot means the Blues will make a decision on who stays on to begin the season, either veteran and Kirkwood native Chris Butler or 2012 sixth round pick Petteri Lindbohm, who has been one of the top surprises in camp.
* Three cut, roster down to 27 -- The Blues made three more cuts on Sunday, as they assigned forwards Peter Mueller, Colin Fraser and Cody Beach to the Chicago Wolves of the American Hockey League.
Beach was certainly no surprise, as he was recalled on Friday to play in the Blues' final preseason game in Minnesota as a result of a more than expected physical matchup against the Wild here in St. Louis on Thursday.
And in a sense, Mueller and Fraser -- both signed to one-year, two-way contracts -- were really not surprise cuts either, although Mueller, a former first-round pick in 2006, was given a tremendous opportunity to make the team out of camp.
Mueller, 26, appeared in four preseason games for the Blues and had one assist. Last season, the 6-foot-2, 204-pound left wing appeared in 49 regular season games for Kloten of the Swiss National League A (NLA), where he ranked third in the League overall with 46 points and sharing the League lead with 24 goals.
Fraser, 29, appeared in three games for the Blues this preseason, and he posted a plus-2 rating. Last season, the 6-1, 191-pound forward recorded two assists in 33 regular season games with the Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings, as well as six points (three goals, three assists) in 10 regular season games with the AHL's Manchester Monarchs.
Beach, 22, appeared in three games for the Blues during the 2014 preseason, serving 14 penalty minutes. Last season, the 6-5, 200-pound forward posted 11 points (five goals, six assists) and 109 penalty minutes in 34 regular season games with the Wolves, as well as three points (two goals, one assist) and 14 penalty minutes with the Blues' then East Coast Hockey League affiliate, Kalamazoo Wings.
Beach and his wife welcomed a daughter, London Presley, into the world last Wednesday.
With Gunnarsson starting the season on IR, the Blues will need to have their 23-man roster set by 4 p.m. Tuesday. It means there will be three more cuts (two forwards, one defenseman) from the 27 remaining players.