Blues back in national spotlight, look to begin anew after point streak snapped;
Lehtera, Porter close to active duty; Elliott in goal for Sunday's division game
ST. LOUIS -- The Blues had an optional skate Saturday afternoon at Scottrade Center prior to facing the division rival Chicago Blackhawks on Sunday (11:30 a.m. on NBC, KMOX 1120-AM).
Roughly half the team took the ice 12 hours or so after the Blues (34-14-4) rudely had their 13-game point streak (12-0-1) snapped in a 7-1 loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets.
And although the Blues had points in 13 straight games, a franchise record, there has been an ongoing theme that coach Ken Hitchcock wants to see his team fix, and fix quick.
"Same stuff. Poor puck management and the five-man group ... the gaps are too big, poor puck management leads to turnovers, leads to improper spacing between your forwards and your D's and then there's gaps in your games," Hitchcock said. "Same stuff that we had earlier in the year.
"We've got to figure out a way to grab it quickly without practicing. We grabbed it before because we had a ton of practices. We played a little bit, practiced a lot, got it back. That's what we need to do, but we've got to do it without practicing right now."
The Blues, despite wins against Tampa Bay (2-1 in overtime) and 3-0 at Buffalo on Thursday, may have picked up points in those games, but the trends came to a boil on Friday. In those victories, goalies Brian Elliott and Jake Allen played so well, the points were preserved.
"We were just fortunate ... unbelievable goaltending," defenseman Ian Cole said. "There's a different caliber team between Buffalo and Columbus. Obviously Columbus has had a lot of injuries, so that's kind of the reason they're in the position that they are standings-wise, but they're obviously a much better team, I think, than the standings show.
"A lot of things contributed to (the loss Friday). Both the fact that we're playing six games in eight or nine days or whatever it is, travel ... and obviously none of these are excuses ... they are excuses obviously, but they're not valid excuses the product on the ice was quite frankly embarrassing. I think we got away with one against Tampa ... we got outplayed and we certainly didn't play well against Buffalo."
Center Paul Stastny said maybe it was best for the Blues to lose in the fashion they did instead of a close, down-to-the-wire game because the way they lost Friday forces the Blues to step back and reassess how they're playing.
"You're going to lose one here and there. We went on a good streak," Stastny said. "We probably should have lost against Tampa, found a way to squeak that one out. ... It's a good wakeup call for us, get back to what works and maybe we got a little too comfortable, too loose, which tends to happen I think when you go on a good streak. I think we're a little gassed too from traveling. What better way to try to get back on the winning track than playing a division game on Sunday afternoon."
* Blues in national spotlight -- For the second straight Sunday, the Blues will be in the national spotlight as the NBC Sunday Game of the Week when they host the Blackhawks (32-18-2).
Last Sunday, the Blues took care of business against Alex Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals 4-3, and while Chicago is used to being in the national spotlight, the Blues are getting more and more exposure.
"National TV game against obviously our biggest opponent, biggest rival," Cole said. "... It's an NBC game, we know it's a national game, but I think more so than that, it's the fact that we're playing our biggest rival. They're a team that we've obviously had a lot of heated contests with, a team that we've beaten and they've obviously certainly beaten us. The (regular season) success we've had, they've had in the playoffs. If we want to be the best, you have to beat the best and for us to be able to get to where they have and be as successful as they have with two Stanley Cups in the last five years or four years or whatever it is, we need to beat them and beat them consistently."
The Blues are 4-2-0 in games which they've been showcased on either NBC or NBCSN, including a 4-1 loss in Chicago on Dec. 3.
"I don't think we're an under-the-radar team," Stastny said. "Everyone knows what to expect out of us. we have high expectations for ourselves, so for us, we treat it like another game. Maybe a little bigger because it's a division game. We've just got to go out there and have fun with it.
"It's always fun playing against Chicago. I think it's a rival, but coming off a loss, you want to get back on the winning ways. What better way to get tested than play probably the top team in the Western Conference."
* Porter, Lehtera getting close to returning -- Center Jori Lehtera, who's missed five games with concussion-like symptoms, and left wing Chris Porter, who's missed 16 games with an injured left ankle, both were participants on the ice in one-on-one activity prior to their teammates joining the ice.
For Lehtera, there was some thought he might make a return against the Blackhawks, but Hitchcock quickly squashed that notion when asked.
"No he's not ... he's not in. Not playing," Hitchcock said. "... It's a good sign that he's skating, but he's not playing tomorrow."
As for Porter, who crashed heavily into the side boards in front of the Blues' bench against the Colorado Avalanche on Dec. 29, he's been on the ice since Monday.
"Hopefully in the next few days I can go from skating on my own to skating with the guys and kind of taking it from there," Porter said. "I've made good strides over the last week. I started skating on Monday and hopefully I can progress from practice and take it from there.
"You kind of each day try and test it a little bit more and kind of get more on your edges. Hopefully every day do a bit more until I can say I'm ready to play."
Porter was originally projected to be re-evaluated in six weeks and is right on schedule.
"I think I'm kind of right on, maybe a little bit ahead, but at the same time, I don't want to push it too hard and have a setback," Porter said. "It's kind of listening to Ray (Barile) and kind of following his guidelines and hopefully push it as far as I can.
"As soon as it happened, I knew something was wrong. I felt it kind of pop. I knew right away things weren't good and Otter was right there and he was nice enough to get the refs to stop play. I haven't really been hurt so it's not something I'm used to and something that was a big adjustment for me."
"Porter skated good today; not ready but skated good," Hitchcock said. "He's getting closer and closer to joining us full time."
One person anxious to see Porter back on the ice?
"I think my wife was ready for me to get out of the house after the first week," Porter joked. "She'll be happy when I start playing again.
"... I wasn't sure what to expect going back on the ice. The ankle's responded well. Not too much swelling and stuff after the skates. I think the hardest thing is just watching the guys play and being away from them. ... Hopefully I can get back in the room soon."
* One-timers -- Brian Elliott, who was pulled after allowing four goals on 14 shots against Columbus, will get the start against Chicago. ... The Blackhawks, who defeated Winnipeg 2-1 in overtime Friday to stop a brief two-game losing streak, will counter with Corey Crawford in goal.