Thursday, November 26, 2015

Blues want to dictate early, not play catch-up

Team has done well playing from behind, 
don't want to make habit of chasing games

ST. LOUIS -- The past five games, the Blues have picked up six of a total of 10 points.

Not bad in the grand scheme of things, as a record of 2-1-2 can attest.

The problem for the Blues (14-6-3), who took Thanksgiving off and will get back in the practice ice today at 10:30 a.m. at the Ice Zone in preparation for their next game Saturday at home against the Columbus Blue Jackets, is in each of those five games, they haven't had the lead heading into the third period.

It's a small sample size, but it's a trend they'd like to nip in the bud. 
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues defenseman Alex Pietrangelo (left) battles former Blue David
Perron for a loose puck Wednesday in Pittsburgh.

The going rate in the NHL is if a team leads after 40 minutes, chances are you're getting the two points at the end of the night. The Blues, who rallied late in the third to grab a point against Detroit on Nov. 21, won at Buffalo on Monday when down a goal after two and again rallied in the third Wednesday in Pittsburgh to pick up a point, appreciate the fight and no-quit attitude in the team but would rather be dictating rather than chasing.

"Too much, I think, this year," said left wing Alexander Steen, who like his teammates took a day off to step back and refresh the mind and body with a little food, drink and football on Thanksgiving. "It's a huge positive to be able to come back in the games all the time, but we've got to start putting ourselves out front.

"The fact that we're able to come back again, one of the positives I was talking about, the never-quit mentality. We just keep playing. We of course like everybody else make mistakes out there but don't let them bother us much. We just shrug them off and keep getting back to our game."

The Blues are 1-6-3 when trailing after two periods, so they have collected five points when behind but on the flip side, they're 7-0-0 when leading after two and what's even better, they're 6-0-0 when tied after two periods. So just having a game on level playing ground after 40 minutes has suited the Blues well. But being ahead tends to allow a team to dictate more and pounce on other teams' willingness to gamble because of the need to press the issue.

"It's not easy playing comeback hockey," defenseman Alex Pietrangelo said. "We've got to find a way to get up on teams early and bury them. We've had good character showing coming back here, but it would be nice to be up once in a while. But then again, it's tough on the road to carry that momentum for a full game."

The Blues got off to a solid start against the Penguins before falling 4-3 in overtime. Paul Stastny's power play goal had the Blues ahead and they appeared poised to take that lead into the second period before a Carl Gunnarsson gaffe led to Sidney Crosby's first career goal against St. Louis, one of two the Penguins captain scored.

The Blues couldn't ratchet their game back on a consistent basis until the third period when they scored twice, goals from Robby Fabbri and Pietrangelo to rally from one-goal deficits.

"We haven't played near as well as we have in the past," coach Ken Hitchcock said. "Even the Detroit game, there was way more tempo in our game than there was in the last two games here (in Buffalo and Pittsburgh).

"We've got too much slowness in our game, there's too much slowness. From where we were before, we were really in attack mode and we're on the heels now. We're way too much on the heels now. We're constantly trying to slow the play down instead of trying to get the pace back up again. That's something that we want to improve. We've got a day off, take a rest and then we'll have a great practice on Friday and see if we can gather our tempo back up and get our speed in our game and out transition a lot quicker than it is right now."

Though the players want to rectify the recent trends of playing from behind, they understand in an 82-game schedule, not everything is going to be perfect either.

"You're going to have those swings throughout the season where you have a couple games like that," said Stastny, who set up Pietrangelo's tying goal in the third. "You have games were you're up and you sit back (too). You play good teams. No matter who you play, some teams are on one night, some teams aren't. It doesn't matter. They're all good, close games. It never seems like you see blowouts anymore. If you do, the puck's really bouncing your way."

The Blues just wrapped up a stretch of nine games in 16 days and were 4-3-2. After Columbus, it's two more days between a home date with Florida on Dec. 1, then another two days between back-to-back games at the New York Islanders and home against the Toronto Maple Leafs. 
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues center Paul Stastny (26) chases Pittsburgh's Pascal Dupuis during
action Wednesday during the Penguins' 4-3 overtime victory.

With two games in the next eight days, some rest and practice time going through repetitions might help solve issues.

"It's been a lot of minutes, but we look at the schedule and we're prepared," Steen said. "There's no excuses or time for credit. We've played 22 games; there's a long way to go."

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