Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Blues hard at work after lackluster loss

Team put in hard hour of practice in light 
of 3-1 defeat to Florida Panthers on Tuesday

HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- A day after arguably the most unimpressive performance of the season in a 3-1 loss to the Florida Panthers, the Blues hit the ice Wednesday at the Ice Zone, and it was predictable what practice would consist of.

There would be lots of skating, puck movement, puck possession, hard battles, a physical atmosphere and all done with pace.

To the naked eye from the most informative hockey fan, they may have called it a bag skate. Perhaps it appeared that way, but for the Blues (15-7-3), it was a day of working a day after feeling like they didn't work when it mattered most.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
David Backes (42) and the Blues had a tough go against Roberto Luongo (1)
and the Florida Panthers on Tuesday.

"Yeah, and we needed it. We didn't have a very good performance yesterday, so we're putting the work in today and need to put it in the game so we can earn days off rather than, if you don't work in the games, you're going to work in practice," captain David Backes said. "It's tough to win in this league. There's 30 good teams. We need to bring our game every day. We didn't bring it and the result was fitting for our lack of effort. We just need to be better, especially at home in front of our great fans and what they've come to see. ... At the end of the game, I think we end up outshooting them 30 to just over 20 or something like that (30-23). To not have our compete level where we need it to be, to not throw our best game out there and make them respond, it's a few miscues that end up in the back of our net, but over the course of the game, we should be able to put more volume on them and be able to come out with a victory in that game."

The Blues weren't able to sustain any sort of consistent pressure until the third period when coach Ken Hitchcock took the top three lines and threw them in a blender. By then, the Blues were chasing, something that's been going on far too much lately.

"We played too careless. We played careless with the puck, gave it away, didn't support it like we know we can," Hitchcock said. "Today and tomorrow is all competitive, support-based drills. Everything is about puck support, competing at the puck, supporting the puck, being there for the other guy and then being strong enough not to give it away. The whole practice is support-based communication drills. Every drill is specific to getting better. If we're guilty of anything right now, we are giving the puck away far too much in the offensive zone and it's allowing the other team to exit easy, to frustrate us easy. It's not like we're getting hemmed in our zone, it's that we're giving the puck away through the neutral zone and in the offensive zone and it's not allowing us to spend any time being dangerous offensively. So you end up with limited shots on goal and you end up with limited scoring chances because you're not sustaining any continuous pressure in the zone."

The Blues, who were credited with 10 giveaways, seemed to have more. The movement of the puck was not sharp, it was not crisp and it was not quick with any sort of pace. So in practice Wednesday, all points were stressed, repeated and executed.

"The onus is on the puck carrier and also the support the receives," Hitchcock said. "Neither one were very good last night, so when you're inconsistent in that, you become slow, high risk. You might get away with it for a little while, but in the end, you end up usually not having much success that way, so everything today was all support-based in competitive situations and that will be the same for tomorrow."

As players exited the ice Wednesday, there was a large circle surrounding Hitchcock. The talk was straightforward and to the point. Players exited the ice in almost single-file fashion, rookies Colton Parayko, Joel Edmundson and Robby Fabbri stuck around to collect the practice pucks and the coaching staff departed later than usual after a conversation of their own.

The Blues have always been good about putting an end to bad play pretty quickly. It's the first time they've dealt with it thus far, and if a player doesn't want to go through these things, they'll implement good play in their game again.

"I think so for sure," center Kyle Brodziak said when asked if players were upset. "You could see the difference for sure when the group is engaged and when we're not. It's two totally different teams and I think you saw it in today's practice, where guys were battling hard. It is tough to really engage yourself against your own teammates, but I think it's something that needed to do, especially with a group of older guys. There's a fine line, you want to have that respect level for your teammates, but you've got to put in the work to make each other better. I think today we went about it the right way.

"... It was a good practice today. We've been talking about the starts we've been having lately and it seems to take us a little while to get into the game and I think today guys came out with a good mindset. We worked hard, worked on the things that we needed to work on and everyone was pretty engaged in that."
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Magnus Paajarvi (right) battles a fallen Erik Gudbranson for the puck in a
3-1 Florida Panthers victory against the Blues on Tuesday. 

And when the Blues left the rink Wednesday, a special diversion awaited them when players visited four children's hospitals in the St. Louis area as part of the Blues for Kids Foundation launch week. Players met with hospitalized children and gave them gifts with Christmas approaching.

"We put some work in today and have another great practice tomorrow, but this afternoon, we (got) to put things in perspective with some hospital visits," Backes said. "It'll all be put in perspective when we get to go there and see these kids dealing with these ailments. They've done nothing wrong to have these battles on their hands."

* NOTES -- Right wing Vladimir Tarasenko was the lone player who did not participate in practice, and Hitchcock said after wards Tarasenko was sick and was hopeful of having the Blues' leading scorer for Thursday's practice.

There were different line combinations that awaited the team for practice, lines that for the most part, ended the game Tuesday and lines Hitchcock could implement moving forward.

Backes centered a line with Alexander Steen and Troy Brouwer; they were wearing blue. Paul Stastny and Jori Lehtera were in yellow with wings Magnus Paajarvi and Scottie Upshall; Scott Gomez centered Fabbri and Dmitrij Jaskin in white and the fourth line of Brodziak, Steve Ott and Ryan Reaves stayed in tact in red.

Will they resemble something like this when the Blues resume with games at the New York Islanders on Friday and host the Toronto Maple Leafs on Saturday?

"I don't know yet. I finished with that blue line (Tuesday)," Hitchcock said. "It was very good yesterday in the third period, I liked it again at practice today. I'm not sure if I'm going to go that angle right now. 

"It's hard to separate Stastny from Steen, but I like the direction they gave us in the third period when we needed it and I certainly liked the way they practiced today. They set a very competitive direction today in practice, which was really good to see. There were an awful lot of people that had to work hard to keep up to that line. It was good to see."

Brian Elliott will start in goal against the Islanders, and Jake Allen will get the nod Saturday against the Maple Leafs. And Hitchcock said Gomez, Jaskin and defenseman Robert Bortuzzo will all draw into the lineup on Friday. Who comes out is unknown at this time. A clearer picture will likely come to light Thursday.

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