Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Blue collar Porter gives Blues reliability, stability

Left wing never complains about lack of ice time, just ready when called upon

HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- When the assembled media show up for a Blues practice or morning skate a little early and nobody would be on the ice for the Blues yet, more times than not, No. 32 will normally be the guy that pops out.

It's not some sort of omen or superstition, that's just who Chris Porter is.

Always one of the first to arrive, one of the last to leave.

The 29-year-old Toronto native and ninth round pick in 2003 by the Chicago Blackhawks is not going to be mistaken with Sidney Crosby-like skill or Alex Ovechkin's power-packed one-timer, nor does he try to be. But what Porter will give the Blues on a nightly basis is someone who will put their work boots -- or blades -- on with a plumber-like mentality.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Chris Porter (pictured) gives the Blues a grab-the-lunch pail, strap-on-the-workboots type of
player when he steps onto the ice.

That means forecheck in both zones, back-check defensively, retrieve loose pucks in corners, cycle pucks, sacrifice the body with blocked shots, and in Porter's case as he did Monday in a 4-2 victory against the Florida Panthers, chip in some offense with a goal and assist, his first points of the season.

It was Porter's 10th game of the season, and it's not that he isn't good enough to crack the Blues' lineup, but as a role player, it's part of the job. Be ready when called upon and work hard in between.

"There's obviously going to be times during the year where there's injuries and guys need to come into the lineup," Porter said Tuesday after practice at the St. Louis Mills Outlet Mall's Ice Zone. "During the course of my career, I've been one of those guys that's come in and out. I've learned to deal with the ups and downs. You've got to always show up and work hard. (Monday) night was nice to contribute to get the two points. Hopefully can continue to do that throughout the year.

"... Any competitor wants to play every game. I'm no different. I want to play in every game that I can. It (stinks) coming out of the lineup, but it's one of those things where you can't sulk about it. You've got to show up and work hard. There's obviously somebody else out there that wants to take your job just as bad as you want it, so that's the mindset I take."

For every Vladimir Tarasenko the Blues have in their lineup, there's always the need for a Chris Porter; the guy that will muck and grind for his linemate just so your shift can be spent with some freedom with the puck.

Porter, a University of North Dakota graduate who was a college teammate of current Blue T.J. Oshie, has the appreciation of his teammates and coach.

"He's one of those guys that works so hard off the ice," fourth-line teammate Maxim Lapierre said. "Every day he works hard. He's the first guy at the rink. He's unbelievable for our team. I don't think he gets the credit he deserves. He's an unreal player, doesn't make many mistakes out there. He's physical and blocks shots. I'm really glad to see that for him (Monday)."

Porter went 43 regular season games without a goal (his last came on April 7, 2013 at Detroit), and Monday's goal was the 11th of his career. But when coach Ken Hitchcock utilizes the 6-foot-1, 206-pound left wing, he knows what he's going to get.

"He's a low maintenance guy," Hitchcock said of Porter. "When you're a depth player, you're trying not to make mistakes. We're always trying to encourage him to play like he does in the American (Hockey) League. He's a dominant 200-foot player at the American League level. So we're thinking if he could ever get some of that -- which we're starting to see now quite frankly -- confidence with the puck, ability to make plays, he's a guy that I think everybody on this staff, if the game's tied or if we're up a goal, he's a real trustworthy player. But he's able to score at the American League on a very, very regular basis. We're hoping that he can do some of that stuff up here, which if he could do that a little bit up here, it probably makes him a real solid third-line guy."

Porter was moved up to the third line out of necessity Monday when David Backes went down with a facial injury. And with the Blues already missing Alexander Steen, there was no hesitation who's name would be summoned to take the responsibilities with Paul Stastny and Joakim Lindstrom.

"I try not to play differently," Porter said. "I think in the American (Hockey) League, you're put in a little bit different situation than I play up here. ... It goes with just playing the right way. Down there, you're playing a lot more minutes usually than you are up here. I'm just trying to make the most out of the ice time that I get. Hopefully good things continue to happen."

Porter's numbers (11 goals and 27 points in 159 NHL games spanning six seasons) won't wow anyone. Porter just wants to be known as that guy that works hard for his teammates and plays the game the right way.

"I like to work hard and that's my MO and that's not going to change, whether I'm here, the American League, or wherever it is," Porter said. "... I think I learned it from my dad. He always taught us hard work and it'll always pay off. Even though it doesn't seem like things are going to happen, they always usually do. It's been true so far."

Porter's goal Monday was the game-winner with 1 minute, 54 seconds remaining as the Blues went on to a 4-2 victory. He redirected a Barret Jackman shot from inside the left circle in the high slot area, and it was just the perfect example of what type of hand-eye coordination is needed to pull off that play.

"He's got decent hands," Hitchcock said of Porter. "He can make plays, too. I think sometimes your mindset changes. I think you're out there trying not to get scored on, but when David went down, we used a lot of guys here. We had some big minutes. We had a lot of guys play big-minutes today.

"I thought Porter played a really good game. I think everybody on the bench was really happy for him." 
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Chris Porter (32) gets congratulated by teammates after scoring with 1:54
remaining of a 4-2 victory against Florida on Monday at Scottrade Center.

"He played an unbelievable game," teammate Ian Cole said of Porter. "He was all over the ice, like always. But he's such a good player, I think such an underrated player in the sense of going to the net. ... Great tip. Just an unbelievable way to finish a game."

And apparently Porter has taken a new role at the morning skates in recent games: being the guy that shoots pucks first at future Hall of Fame goalie Martin Brodeur, who joined the team last week and has been in uniform for four games. 

"I think I've just been dragged into that," Porter joked. "I guess I'm out there early and Jimmy (goaltending coach Jim  Corsi) just grabs me. 

"I don't mind shooting on a Hall of Fame goaltender. I'll do that all day. ... Maybe I'm a good luck charm for him or something."

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