Stastny's return a success; Edmundson understands being scratched, eager
to work on things; Pietrangelo managing his minutes; Allen to start vs. Penguins
PITTSBURGH -- For the first game action in five weeks, Paul Stastny's return to the Blues' lineup couldn't have been scripted any better.
That shiner under Stastny's left eye wasn't planned and of course if Stastny, who played 19 minutes, 37 seconds in his return to the lineup from a broken foot in the Blues' 2-1 victory against the Buffalo Sabres, could have put his name on the scoresheet, it would have looked better. But considering Stastny played on the top line and played 19:13 of his time at even strength, it was a good start to what Stastny and the Blues hope is an injury-free rest of the season.
"I didn't even know what I played," Stastny said after an practice at CONSOL Energy Center. "Felt pretty good. Going to take a couple games for me to keep getting in … first shift, I wanted nothing to do with the puck, just get out there, quick 20, 30 seconds, get out of the zone. After that, think less and less. As the game went on, I started feeling the puck more, started making more plays. Early on, I think I was more defensive minded, being in the right spot. As the game went on, I got the puck more, started making more plays, got more comfortable, started putting more weight on (the foot), couple battles where maybe came in a little late. That may just be being away for a while, not knowing, then don't even think about the foot. That's the most important thing; out there not thinking about it, it doesn't bother me. When I'm standing there, maybe it does feel weird because I haven't been in a skate for five weeks. Maybe more psychological than anything. Then the game happens so fast, between periods, there's no worries, it was good, excited to be back."
Coach Ken Hitchcock, who was pleased with Stastny's first game back, was even more pleased with the aftermath.
"The best part for me was he looked fine at practice today, so that was a good sign," Hitchcock said. "... I didn't notice the minutes until I looked at the stat sheet. It didn't feel like he played as much as he did, but obviously he did. I thought his tempo was fine, I thought he kept up speed-wise. I thought he looked fine. He's in good shape. We're going to need him."
It probably would have helped Stastny out had he got minutes on the power play, but since the Blues didn't have a power play in the game at all, it was a trial-by-error type of game, and Stastny passed.
"I thought it was pretty good yesterday," Steen said. "It's just fun, enjoyable to have him back. Me and him do a lot of talking on the bench. He's good at keeping things light. I was happy to get him back.
"For me, me and him have extremely good chemistry. It's hard to find that type of connection between two players, like just switching in and out. We're good friends off the ice, too, which I think helps. It keeps you talking all the time. That's just been a benefit to this thing. I thought he played great for hi first game back. It's not easy. You're almost hoping for like a power play or something so he can get in and feel the puck, but there was none of that yesterday. But I thought it was great. I thought we made some quick, good plays. ... We could have had some goals; we've just got to start putting them in. I thought it was a good, first game. At the same time, it's his first game back in five weeks. It'll take a game or two, but I thought he looked good."
Stastny, who had five points in five games (four assists) before being injured, had a shot on goal, one hit and won eight of 17 faceoffs which was one of the toughest aspects of getting any rhythm back.
"I think sometimes it's in your head, trying as hard as you can, trying to use your body instead of what works, over-thinking maybe," Stastny said. "I want to get that first win, then go out there and play. I think I'm at best on faceoffs when I just go out and don't think. When I over-think, that's when I get in trouble."
Stastny, who said he took a stick to the face and then a thumb, said, "I was like a boxer.
"I got a stick in the face, especially (coming) back, right? Five weeks; that's what happens. It was just like a thumb and I was like, 'Man, it feels all swollen and I was like pushing in. I looked and it was a black eye."
* Edmundson to sit again -- Rookie defenseman Joel Edmundson understands he wasn't going to play 82 games this season. So the fact that Edmundson will be made a healthy scratch for the third time (second in as many games) Wednesday against the Pittsburgh Penguins, Edmundson isn't pouting. He isn't taking it hard. But he is being hard on his past few games.
"Someone's got to sit out and being a rookie, I knew I wasn't going to play every game of the season," Edmundson said. "I wasn't too pleased with my last couple games. I think it's just time to regroup, watch a couple games, see how much space I actually have out there, just do some studying. Just got to take it as a positive and make the best of it."
It means ex-Penguin Robert Bortuzzo, who was a healthy scratch in seven of the nine previous games before Monday in Buffalo, will be in the lineup for the second consecutive game.
And it's not that Blues coaches are disappointed in Edmundson's game. But Bortuzzo brings a certain element Hitchcock thought was necessary. So in the meantime, Edmundson has been putting in the extra work with associate coach Brad Shaw.
"The exits out of our zone. I think I was a little hesitant, maybe should have just made the first pass and not think too much about it," Edmundson said. "'Shawzy' has been working with me after practice and whatnot. I think whenever I get back in the lineup, I think it will be a good steppingstone for me."
"I think a combination of taking a step back and working on some skill stuff with Shawzy allows him to find another gear," Hitchcock said of Edmundson. "But it's just the evolution of a younger player. We're not disappointed, but with Bortuzzo, we've got a different energy and you go through energy flows with your team all the time. But we get a good energy with Robert. Our feeling was we needed a different energy back there, so Robert supplies it. You saw it yesterday. I'm sure you're going to see it again tomorrow, and we need that type of energy. But it won't be long before Eddy's back in and playing. I think one of the things, Eddy's such a physical presence. We're trying to get him to have that presence earlier in the game rather than later in the game. We're working hard with him. Obviously he's here, he's a young guy, we like what he brings, but when we need the boost, we want to put 'Borts' back in."
And being able to step back and watch from afar above the rink has given Edmundson, who has two assists in 20 games, a different perspective.
"I was out half the season last year, so I watched a lot of hockey," Edmundson said. "I think that really helped my game just seeing how much space is actually out there; you get more time than you think. That's what 'Shawzy' said, take a game or however many there is and watch the games and learn from it.
"I missed one game before last night, so I can't really complain. I'm a rookie; I knew I wasn't going to play every game. It's just how the way it goes. ... In a hotel for the past three months, going through camp, and everything about making the team and what-not, this might actually be good for me. I'm just going to keep my head held high and work through it. You never know when you're going back in, but when that time comes, I'll be ready. My body feels good and I've just got to keep a positive attitude."
* Pietrangelo's overload -- Defenseman Alex Pietrangelo's use this season by the Blues is not what they intended, according to Hitchcock.
But it's been necessary.
Pietrangelo, who averages 27:24 per game, behind only Minnesota Wild defenseman Ryan Suter (27:39), knows that the most important part of being fit for games and absorbing the amount of minutes he's getting is what he does away from the ice. Those off-days are equally as important.
"Pretty good," Pietrangelo said when asked how he feels. "I'm doing the best I can. I mean obviously it's a lot of hockey. There's no secret math, but you feel like you get into the game when you play those big minutes. So really I have to take the extra time to rest when I can, nutrition. All that stuff comes into play.
"You've got to make sure you're picking your spots, too. Your shifts have got to be somewhat consistent. Obviously you're going to get caught out there sometimes, but for the most part, try to keep them consistent, try and make the first play and not get yourself caught out there. ... Certainly it's not easy, but you get used to it, too. It's a learning process, too. How to manage your rest, how to manage days off, how to manage your time to prepare for that. I've had to put a little extra effort into that. It's been important to stay healthy, knock on wood. I've been pretty good my whole career. I've always played a fair amount."
Pietrangelo, who played a career regular season high of 32:54 against the Detroit Red Wings on Saturday (a 4-3 overtime loss), has been pressed into extra duty with the Blues in a group of games recently that has seen them trail and chasing the score.
Hitchcock wants to change it. He doesn't want to see Pietrangelo "hit a wall," but it's been impossible to avoid.
"It's not ideal, but when you're taking as many penalties as we are, it becomes necessary," Hitchcock said, "but it's not ideal. There's not a plan that we want to put forward that has that in it. It's not a plan that has a good ending. We've got to help him by not taking as many minor penalties. By playing more 5-on-5, we can manage his minutes a lot better, but it's very similar to what's going on with (Ryan) Suter. They had a plan to manage his minutes and you get killing more penalties than you want and that goes right out the door. That is not a good recipe moving forward."
It makes one appreciate what players like Suter and Los Angeles' Drew Doughty, Chicago's Duncan Keith and those that average 27-29 minutes per game year after year do on a daily basis.
"They hit the wall; you can't help it," Hitchcock said. "You can't play that many minutes during the long course of the season with all the travel and not hit the wall. We've seen Petro be the best player on the ice for either team and then all of the sudden at 25 minutes hit the wall. We've seen that from him. I think we've got to try and avoid that as much as possible. That's on us."
* Likely lineup for Penguins -- The Blues don't appear to be changing anyone out from Monday's game in Buffalo, which means Jake Allen will also start in goal for the 12th time in 14 games and appearing in a game for the 14th time in the past 15.