Sunday, January 11, 2015

Blues have opportunity to establish mark on lengthy homestand

Taking advantage of teams with lesser 
records, not taking them lightly will be key

ST. LOUIS -- Judging with the naked eye, the Blues were supposed to dispose the Carolina Hurricanes on Saturday night.

The Hurricanes came into the game last in the Eastern Conference with 30 points. The Blues came in with 52. These are games you're supposed to win.

The Blues did come away with a 5-4 victory, but it came in a shootout and it came in a game that they never led for any of the 65 minutes played. 

It goes to show you not to take anyone for granted.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues defenseman  Kevin Shattenkirk (22) moves the puck past Carolina
left wing Eric Staal during a 5-4 shootout victory by the Blues on Saturday.

If anything, the Blues (26-13-3) should have learned that very lesson 24 hours earlier when the Edmonton Oilers, last in the Western Conference, whipped the Chicago Blackhawks 5-2.

"There's a couple teams down at the bottom of the standings like that, but any team can kind of beat anybody on any night," defenseman Jay Bouwmeester said. "That's what makes things interesting."

The Blues won their previous three games by a combined 20-4, or by five goals or more in each game in victories against San Jose (twice) and Arizona.

Sometimes, that swift kick in the pants can do a team good, especially when they come away with the two points even though it might not have been their best game that day or night.

"It brings you back down to reality," defenseman Alex Pietrangelo said. "We've had a lot of success here last couple games scoring goals, but we realized tonight how hard it is to score those goals. Obviously you want to win 7-2 every game, but sometimes it's good to take a step back, get a look and make you remember how hard it is to score those goals."

Carolina got the Blues down 3-1 in the first period when reality set in. It wasn't going to be an easy night.

"It's human nature, you look at the standings. You think it's going to be an easier night and you get schooled, and that's what happened," coach Ken Hitchcock said. "They had a real purpose, we were a little bit of a target. They played a very good first period, that's as well as anybody's played in this building for a long time against us and they were a step and a half or two steps quicker than we were in the first period. As we started to check, we started to catch up to the game. We were on it in the third period.

"You kind of saw this with Carolina, when they're healthy they could be a good team. When they added five players in the last week or so, all veteran players, you could see the potential they could have."

And Hitchcock, who earned career win No. 150 behind the Blues bench Saturday, has been around long enough to know persistent reminders from not only himself but the coaching staff to the players is necessary.

"Every time. Every time, all the time," Hitchcock said. "But with our team right now, we want to build the right momentum and it was good that we grabbed this one because I think earlier in the year, this one probably would have gotten away from us."

The Blues made the necessary adjustments, which included jolting the team and goalie Brian Elliott, who was pulled after giving up three goals on 10 shots and was replaced by Jake Allen. The Blues were able to harness the game back in their direction.

"I think the big thing was our work ethic in the first," left wing Alexander Steen said. "We were getting out-muscled in our own zone. It wasn't so much as puck placements or things like that. It was more getting out-muscled in our own zone and we spent a lot of time there. A couple quick mistakes and they were in the back of our net. At intermission, we regrouped, discussed it, it wasn't good enough and we wanted something better in the second and I thought we did.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues left wing Alexander Steen (20) looks to get past defenseman Justin 
Faulk of Carolina during action Saturday at Scottrade Center.

"... We didn't play hard enough for (Elliott). It's tough when your buddy gets pulled like that. We certainly weren't going to make the same mistake with 'Alls' coming in. ... He did a good job, a very good job. Shootout, he was solid. He's composed, played well."

The Oilers are up next for the Blues in the third game of a seven-game homestand. With Nashville and Chicago not going away anytime soon, it's imperative to keep the momentum going in the right direction, and amassing points during this homestand will be beneficial.

"We talked about that a little on the road," said defenseman Chris Butler, referring to the last trip. "We were in a bit of a funk there and for whatever it may be, we weren't playing the type of game that we typically play that gives us a chance to be successful night in and night out. We knew that if we could kind of weather the storm on the road and get back to the comfort mode that is our home building, that we can really kind of try and make a push to climb the standings."

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