Intense practice fueled by lackluster loss;
Porter gets green light; Lindbohm recalled
HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- What was initially termed an optional practice turned into one of the most intense Blues practices in recent memory.
On the heels of one of the more befuddling performances of the season in a 4-1 loss to the Dallas Stars on Tuesday that basically was over not too long after the puck was dropped, the Blues (37-16-4) put in an aggressive, battle-tested, hard-working, crisp hour-long practice that left many players gasping for air in the locker room afterwards Wednesday at the Ice Zone.
"This has been coming," coach Ken Hitchcock said. "We got away with it against Florida, we got away with it against Arizona, but it's been coming so gotta hit the reset button and get back to the working details of our game. I don't think one practice is going to change everything, but we can start taking the steps in the right direction back to where we were. But we have a lot of work to get back on tap again.
"Yeah, it was a hard practice for the guys. Lots of tempo, lots of competitive drills, lots of team-oriented stuff, a lot of stuff that had to get looked at. Some guys really rose and some guys really struggled today. To me, that was the big thing. We did this not as a punishment practice but as a real strong evaluation practice of who could keep up to the tempo and we had some guys that were very good and then we had some guys that quite frankly really struggled, really struggled with the pace."
All 23 players participated and even the goalies got in some heavy sweating.
"That was pretty good," goalie Jake Allen said. "I think at the start of practice through three or four drills, we didn't stop getting shots. It was nice; we don't mind those practices. It makes us better, too.
"I think that's a page that we need to get back on. Hopefully that practice will carry over into the weekend. That's when we're at our best. None of us are happy with the effort last night. We want to go out there and get back on the right page. I thought the guys worked their tails off today."
That was not the case against the Stars, who were minus their star center Tyler Seguin but captain Jamie Benn more than made up for Seguin's absence with his first NHL hat trick. The Stars, out of a playoff spot today but fighting for one of two wild-card berths, had a 3-0 lead less than nine minutes into the game and chased goalie Brian Elliott after the Blues came out of the gate sleepwalking on ice.
"It's going to happen. It's an 82-game season," center Paul Stastny said. "You're going to have bad games, you're going to have bad stretches. It's human nature. You've just got to kind of get into our old habits, what made us successful and we want to get back to that. I mean practice is practice. We always do drills like that. ... With that extra day off, it's good to have a hard practice, rest up tomorrow and get ready for back-to-backs.
"You have one bad shift sometimes. Sometimes it's certain players, sometimes it's certain lines, sometimes it's the whole team. It's a team game where you need all four lines, six d-men and both goalies going well. When we're all not playing well, sometimes you can get away with it if another line's carrying everyone. This time of year, I think when you're playing teams that are desperate, teams that are fighting to stay alive, they're going to give it their all the last 25, 26 games of the season and we've got to match that intensity."
What the Blues want to distinguish of what is a bad loss (Tuesday and losses to Columbus and Colorado earlier this year) and games in which they lose but compete hard.
Tuesday was one of the bad losses, one Hitchcock called "worrisome". But according to players, it's not the end of the world.
"Whenever we lose here, it feels like it's worrisome," Stastny said. "I think that's a bad habit that we have to get out of. When we're doing well, it seems like we're not winning; when we lose a game, it seems like the end of the world and that's gotta change. That's on the onus (of) the players in here and just the atmosphere because if we're going to be like that, might as well chalk it up right now. It's a game; you play a bad game, you forget about it. You fix your little mistakes, but tomorrow's another day and you focus on the next game. We got away (with mistakes) the last couple games (in victories); we haven't been playing our best. Some games have been good, some games bad, kind of inconsistent, but we've just got to get back to being consistent and being able to rely on all four lines."
To which Hitchcock replied, "I think expectations are pretty high here. I don't think it has anything to do with losses. I think what guys get upset with is the way we play. If you happen not to win a hockey game, and I've said this to you before, there's a difference between not winning and losing, and yesterday was losing hockey. That's the way we played. I think that really upsets the core guys that are here. I think anybody that's been here a long time, when they see stuff like they saw yesterday, it really upsets them because that's not the way it was built here. It really bothers us when we play like that. It bothers the coaches, it bothers the leaders and that's the part that I think people get upset (about). It's not losing hockey.
"We lost against Chicago and we just moved on. I mean we played a good hockey game (and) we lost, and we moved forward very quickly because we followed it up with a good performance and I think that's the part that ... I don't blame the guys, I don't blame the coaches for being upset. ... If you write off yesterday anything less than what it was, it's a huge mistake. It was a poor performance with poor values in what we have put in place here, a very high value system. I think when you look at the players that were here before and especially the leaders, you saw a whole different mindset at practice today because they recognize that."
* Line changes -- Hitchcock's plan to switch Stastny and Jori Lehtera at the center last all of about one period. But it's not because of what fans may think.
Hitchcock flipped Stastny to play with Jaden Schwartz and Vladimir Tarasenko and Lehtera to play with Patrik Berglund and Dmitrij Jaskin to get added balance into the forward group. He switched back towards the end of the first period because of, "Turnovers. It was the blue line, the red line, the blue line, just take a turn. Turned it over all the time.
"It was the way it was being played by the lines that dictated that (change) 100 percent."
Stastny, who got an assist on Berglund's goal to break the shutout in the third period, his ninth game with a point in the past 12, played with Schwartz and Tarasenko when Lehtera went down with a concussion last month. But Stastny's chemistry with Berglund and Jaskin was undeniable and had fans wondering.
"I guess for him, he can always go back to old faithful, but chemistry isn't built in a day," Stastny said. "It isn't built in one shift or two shifts and when things aren't going well, sometimes you've got to change a line or two."
* Porter ready -- The Blues haven't formally made the announcement as of Wednesday afternoon, but left wing Chris Porter has been activated from injured reserve and Hitchcock said Porter is "playing one of these two games this week, yeah, for sure," against the Boston Bruins on Friday or the Pittsburgh Penguins on Saturday.
Porter has missed 21 games since sustaining an injured left ankle against the Avalanche on Dec. 29. But he's been skating with teammates, including Wednesday's "bag skate" and declared himself ready when called upon.
"Yeah, I'm ready," Porter said. "Last couple days have been good strides for me. Being able to practice with the guys is a good indicator of where I'm at. Getting out there and skating with them has been great. I feel ready to go."
Porter, who has a goal and an assist in 14 games, said it's been the longest time away from the game due to injury and an injury he's never dealt with before. Being away from his teammates was the toughest adjustment.
"Physically getting back in shape is tough work, but being away from your teammates and stuff is never easy," Porter said. "I'm happy to be back in the fold and back practicing with the guys, but I think other than that, just getting my conditioning back was probably the hardest thing, not getting on the ice for five weeks."
* Lindbohm recalled -- The Blues have been carrying only six defensemen since the injury to Kevin Shattenkirk (abdomen) on Feb. 1, but after Tuesday's loss, they recalled Petteri Lindbohm from the Chicago Wolves.
Lindbohm, 21, has played in nine games with the Blues this season and picked up his first NHL point Dec. 18 against the Los Angeles Kings.
"We need a seventh defenseman," Hitchcock said. "We need a guy who can challenge for position. He's played great there (in Chicago). We need some competitiveness back there where we can get our attention, get the other team's attention."
Lindbohm has six goals and 17 points in 41 games with the Wolves this season. He's played with Jani Hakanpaa before a recent stretch of games with Brent Regner.
"I got a lot of ice time, which is really good for me," Lindbohm said. "I'm young and that's really good. It's went really well. Of course there's also (been) bad games, but I just try to learn and that's the way to go. I try to do my best every game."
Hitchcock didn't say when Lindbohm will play but it's difficult to believe he was recalled to be a healthy scratch.
"We play a lot of hockey, back-to-back games and stuff like that," Hitchcock said. "We need to get him in."
* Goalie rotation -- Hitchcock also did not commit the goalie schedule for the weekend games. But after Elliott gave up three goals on six shots Thursday, it would make sense to come back with him against the Bruins.
But the coach's message was the same to his goalies as his players after Wednesday's practice.
"It's like the rest of the team, get better the next day and move on," Hitchcock said. "And that was what today was about. Getting better and moving on. Very competitive, spirited practice. It was good to see."
Allen stopped 15 of 16 shots in relief.
"We know we're going to have our ups and downs and we've had some so far this year, and (Tuesday) was definitely not one of our bright spots, but we still have 20 or so games left to prove a point," Allen said. "We're still in a great position and we still can catch some teams in the playoff race and still a long way to go."