Monday, January 12, 2015


Backes earns NHL top star of the week; Stastny 
scoring; Elliott to rebound; Allen to play against Oilers

HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- For the second straight week, the NHL turned to St. Louis and awarded the 'First Star of the Week' to a member of the Blues.

Last week, it was T.J. Oshie. This week, the honor went to Oshie's linemate, captain David Backes, who recorded the second four-goal game of his career against the Arizona Coyotes on Jan. 6.

"Can't complain," Backes said. "I'm the beneficiary of some great play all around me. I'm honored by the mentioning, but you're not out there alone. There's a lot of guys making great plays all around me."

Backes, who had five goals and eight points in three games (all wins), has been a part of one of the more dynamic lines in the league these days.

Over the past eight games, the trio has combined for 38 points in eight games. Backes has accounted for 12 of them (six goals, six assists).

Blues coach Ken Hitchcock reunited the line after the Christmas break on Dec. 27 against the Dallas Stars and it hasn't turned back.

"It seems to be a combination that for whatever reason works," Backes said. "You've got three guys that work hard that are really inter-changeable, responsible in the defensive zone able to play down low, able to take faceoffs, able to be effective, first forward on the forecheck, strips pucks or read the play and pick one off with their 'D' trying to make a play up the ice. It just seems to be a combination that works. We're not going to screw with it and try to keep that magic going."

Backes is the fourth member this season to be named first star with Oshie, Vladimir Tarasenko, who also has a second star honor as well, and Jori Lehtera.

"At the rate I'm going, it's once every nine years (winning the first star award)," Backes joked. "Don't hold your breath for the next time. 

"We've sold the mentality that it's team first and the individual accolades will come after that. That's exactly what happened. Whether it is Vladi or Jori or whoever else is hot at the time, the rest of the team playing well and doing all the little things around them really gives them that opportunity, gave me that opportunity."

Hitchcock prefers to acknowledge the unit as a whole that makes each other go.

"I think it's more the line's play," Hitchcock said. "That line has really played well for probably 10 of the last 12 games. (They've) showed us the right way, played the right way. It's a really interesting dynamic because it's a line quite frankly that gets a ton of offense by checking and the more they check, the more offense they get. They really set a competitive tone, a structural tone for us. To see David rewarded is impressive."

And the checking comes from all three.

"It's collective," Hitchcock said. "Their reloads, their checking, getting above it, creating turnovers. 

"You look at (Patrik) Berglund's goal (Saturday), they got above it four times, turned it over, in the net. The simple play on Steen's goal is the way we create offense by funneling the puck. They do it. That's now four goals in four games they've done it by just being simplistic offensively and it ends up in the back of the net. It's a good sign."

The star of the week honor for Backes is just the icing on the cake for a real strong stretch that's been building for some time.

"I've been really trying to concentrate on the process and doing the right things, trying to contribute to wins however that's possible," Backes said. "Putting points up and producing on the scoresheet just kind of seems to be the next progression. The thing that broke the dam was the power play goal in Phoenix; it's Paul to Osh in the middle, who dekes everyone out and slides one to me backdoor and I've got an empty cage. That really got the confidence going and was able to put three more in that night really thanks to a great play by those guys to lift me up and let me join the party."

But when a player is confident, things just come naturally and instinctively.

"That's the only way to play because if you think too much, you're too slow out there," Backes said. "A lot of great players, a lot of fast players and the game's too fast to be thinking way too much. Instincts and physicality is something that just comes natural. I've got to go out there and worry more about the puck. The physical side's always there. I try to make plays, but with Steener and Osh playing the way they are, I'm just happy to be along for the ride."

* Stastny scoring -- Don't look now, but Paul Stastny is heating up, and the Blues are happy to have him aboard.

Stastny, who started quick, then got hurt (a shoulder injury) that forced him to miss eight games, came back slow, didn't have an identity or consistent linemates to play, has finally found his niche and producing for the Blues, who have won four in a row.

Stastny, who has 24 points in 34 games this season, has at least a point in seven of eight games and has 11 points in that span, or almost 46 percent of his season total.

"The injury kind of slows you down and then you come back, you're healthy but you're not ... you're not 100 percent or whatever and it takes time," Stastny said. "Will it ever be 100 percent (this season)? Probably not. Noone's ever 100 percent after Game One of the season. You adjust. With new teammates and new linemates all the time, you adjust to it. It doesn't take two or three games, I think, to adjust to the situation. Maybe two or three games, you can build something but after that, it takes a while to get in the groove of things. I feel more comfortable."

Playing on a line with Berglund and rookie Dmitrij Jaskin has given the Blues a formidable line to complement the Backes line as well as the "STL Line" with Jaden Schwartz, Tarasenko and Lehtera.

"I think when he got booed in Colorado, he settled in," Hitchcock said of Stastny. "The cord was cut, he's playing for us now. He has no ties to Colorado anymore; he's still got friends there, but there's no emotional ties there. When you get booed in a building you used to get cheered in, that's a reality check. He's back moving and he's a Blue now so that's a good sign for us."

After a stretch of games in which Stastny was playing anywhere from 12-15 minutes a game, he's played in six straight games with 17-plus minutes or more. Stastny moved between Schwartz and Tarasenko on Saturday to help spark the Blues' slow start that culminated with a 5-4 shootout win against Carolina.

"I figured out something with him," Hitchcock said of Stastny. "The more I play him, the better he plays. The more I include him, the better he plays. We're finding places for him to play."

* Elliott to hit reset -- Saturday wasn't the first time goalie Brian Elliott has been pulled from a game, and it likely won't be the last.

Elliott, who allowed three goals on 10 shots against the Hurricanes, will not play Tuesday when the Blues (26-13-3) host the Edmonton Oilers (10-24-9). Jake Allen, who relieved Elliott on Saturday and stopped 19 of 20 shots and all three in the shootout to preserve a 5-4 victory, was originally slated to start Tuesday, and Hitchcock is sticking with it.

But for Elliott, who leads the NHL with a 1.95 goals-against average and is tied for fourth with a .928 save percentage, is like any goalie. Nobody appreciates being pulled but they understand when it happens, chances are it's to spark the team more so than punish the individual.

"That's part of the job. When you take on being a goalie from a young age, sometimes you're going to be the hero and sometimes you're the goat," said Elliott, who is 11-5-1 with two shutouts. "It's part of the job and you have to take it in a positive way. It was awesome that the guys came back. Jake came in and won a big game for us. It's trying to reset and get the same mind frame back of winning and feeling good out there with the guys."

Allen knows a thing about being pulled from a game. He was pulled after the first period Dec. 6 at New York against the Islanders down 3-1. Veteran Martin Brodeur came on in relief, the Blues rallied and won the game 6-4, so it's worked out well twice for this team.

"It has happened a couple times. Sometimes we've played to the level of our opponent instead of to our level you want to play at," Elliott said. "Sometimes when a team like Carolina comes in, in the standings it doesn't show, but they are a good team. They just got healthy. Any team in this league can beat you on any night. It's if you're prepared and you're ready to go that extra mile out there. With the skill and personnel we have on this team, we have a fighting chance every night. We just have to have that mindset going into it. That's the big thing to it, that mindset."

Elliott will get back in goal Thursday when the Detroit Red Wings visit St. Louis. It started Monday and will continue Tuesday and Wednesday to prepare, and Hitchcock said he has no worries about Elliott hitting the reset button.

"I think he's done fine," Hitchcock said of Elliott. "I think it's the challenges of what happens when you stop and start, stop and start. That's what injuries force you to do. You're stopping, you're starting, you're going again. He's like the rest of us, he's just got to get more accustomed to ... it's a lot different stopping pucks in practice than it is in the games. I think he's just got to get more and more game action and then when it's time to take a break, he's got to get a real focused practice like (goalie coach) Jim (Corsi's) done today and will do again tomorrow and then do again on Wednesday so he's ready for Thursday. Between him and Jim, we look at this as three days to really work and grind. He's doing that stuff and then he's got to get back in and play on Thursday.

"... Jake playing two periods last game was not scheduled. Jake playing against Edmonton was scheduled. We're not changing the schedule because we've pulled Brian. We're staying on the schedule. Brian's obviously got to play the bulk of the games leading into the break, but unfortunately, he only played one period the last game. That probably didn't sit well with Brian, but we're not going to lose fact that Tuesday was Jake's game anyway and we want to stay on that task."

* Oilers on deck -- The Blues go from the worst in the Eastern Conference (Carolina) to the worst in the Western Conference (Edmonton). And after the trouble the Hurricanes gave the Blues and with the Oilers playing much better since firing Dallas Eakins and replacing him with Todd Nelson, the Blues will be mindful.

The Oilers' 5-2 impressive win against the Chicago Blackhawks certainly caught the Blues' attention.

"If we thought we could take any team lightly, (look) at a Carolina team that's not real high in the standings, maybe we come out a little flat against them," Backes said. "They had us in a 3-1 hole that we had to dig ourselves out of and we'd rather avoid those types of circumstances and just come out with our game, hopefully control the majority of it and see what happens.

"We're working towards bringing our 'A' game every night because that's what we need come playoff time is consistency and bring what we've got to the table no matter who our opponent is, what the series is, where we're at, on the road, at home ... bringing that game and see how the opponent responds to that."

It's a chance for the coaches to remind the team to not pay attention to the standings and where the Oilers are.

"People say that stuff. I look at it more from the tendency standpoint," Hitchcock said after practice Monday. "We have not played our game coming off of long road swings all year. So we've had trouble getting to our game coming off a road trip. I think there's just so much other things in people's lives that it's hard to regain the natural focus that you need. But I think having a couple days here ... we had a very good practice today. I think we'll play a lot better tomorrow."

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