Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Blues slumping at wrong time

Differing opinions between players, coach 
have raised concerns off ice with playoffs looming

ST. LOUIS -- When one of the players in the leadership group makes comments that are viewed as pointed towards the head coach this late in the season, or at any point in the season, they'll raise eyebrows.

Case in point after a frustrating 4-1 loss on home ice to the Vancouver Canucks on Monday. Right wing T.J. Oshie was asked about another slow start for the Blues, who haven't scored a first period goal in 10 straight games.

Oshie, who wears one of the team's four 'A's on the leadership squad, veered in a completely different direction.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues assistant captain T.J. Oshie (74) returned to the lineup Monday and
raised eyebrows with comments of "a lot of information" that's helped lead
the team to its recent slump.

"I think it's been a long year for us," said Oshie, who returned after missing one game with a stomach flu ailment. "The fact there's so much information we're trying to pack in here before the postseason. I know we're not there yet, but there's a lot of information going around, guys are getting a little indecisive. Maybe it looks like a lack of urgency or a lack of effort. I'm not sure what it looks like from up top (in the press box), but I think guys aren't really sticking with their gut and going with their first instinct. Once we get back on that page, things are going to start being a lot faster for us."

So the question comes to this: is there too much information coming down from the coaching staff, particularly Ken Hitchcock?

"I can't point one finger on it," Oshie said. "I'll just say that it was nice for me coming in tonight. I was mentally fresh. Physically I didn't feel my best, but I think mentally I was so sharp out there that my game looked a lot faster."

Oshie added, "I didn't think the flu would be good for me, but coming back in tonight and not having to sit through all the meetings and same old practices, it really felt good to get out there. I was excited again to do something as simple as change well for the next guy coming out."

Hitchcock was made aware of what was said and said himself that it's something he and the assistant coaches will discuss with the players.

"That's something we'll talk (about) with the players. If they think it's too much information, then we'll adapt there," Hitchcock said. "But this is really effort-based. ... This is two games in a row now where quite frankly, we've lost a lot of board battles, we've been indecisive with the puck, we've been slow in our head and I think sometimes when you're slow in your head, any information you're getting is too much information.

"We're playing slow. Everything we're doing is slow. We're surprised by pressure, we're surprised by getting checked, we're getting beat on board battles. This is your reaction to this time of year. Your reaction to this time of year, things are dialed up. We'll get another team on Thursday (Calgary) the same: desperate, hungry hockey club, and if you don't match it, then any information you're getting is too much because you're overwhelmed. We have to increase our competitive level. ... If we increase our competitive level, we'll increase our alertness. We're not alert right now. We're not alert as a group, and we're very much a group that needs to be alert together on the ice. We're not alert; not on a consistent basis. We have stretches where it's really sound, but we have stretches where it's not good."

And the "not good" category has come to the forefront in the past couple games. The Blues, 1-3-2 on their past six games and have dropped six of nine at home. They're 46-23-7, good for 99 points and still right in the thick of the Central Division title chase, but they're also on the verge of falling behind Chicago (98 points) and even Minnesota (94 points). 

The mistakes have been magnified recently, and even one of the newcomers (Zbynek Michalek) was as forthcoming as can be with what's been going on.

"It's not even close. We gave up so many chances and so many breakaways and odd-man rushes. It's ugly to look at," Michalek said. "That's no way to play this late in the season. The other team is hard to play against; every team is playing defensively. We're not playing good defensively, we don't generate enough chances defensively and just too easy to play against right now.

"Guys in this room have to look in the mirror and make sure everybody brings their best every single night. I think (Monday) from the get-go ... we can have all the meetings in the room. It's on the ice were we have to show up. Right now, we aren't showing up. We need to change that."

The second-guessing is a good place to start the process of elimination.

"I honestly think it’s just guys being a little bit indecisive, not going with their first instinct," Oshie said. "If a 'D' wants to pinch, that's fine because the forward can read that if he goes early. If he can get over the top, a 2-on-1 turns into a 2-on-2 pretty quickly. Or he can back off and a forward can come over and pressure. We just have to get quicker on our reads. Like I said, hopefully a day off for everyone can let their minds kind of settle down a little bit. Hopefully we get a little bit sharper with those decisions."

So is there a problem with players not being on the same page? Trying to do something out of character, out of element?

"This is the ying and yang you get with the players. Is it over-pursuit or is it mis-reads? I think a lot of this was mis-reads (Monday)," Hitchcock said. "... We're not desperate. Other teams are trying to fight for their lives to try to get in. We're not matching that. When you're not matching the level of tenacity on the ice, you're a step behind, and right now, we're a step behind and in some cases, two steps behind; whether it's in foot speed, thinking, reacting, whatever; we're a step behind."

A step behind that seems to be affecting the goalies, too.

"It's small details," goalie Brian Elliott said. "There's a mistake every shift on every team, every game in the NHL. It's how you react and who backs you up and works hard for each other. It's not going to change. It's how you react and how you cover up for your guys. And my job and Jake (Allen's) job is to be the last line of defense.

"... As a goalie and personally, our job is to kind of clean up that mess. I'm not surprised, I'm not alarmed, I want to be ready for that. Whatever happens, you've got to be there to back up your guys. You still want to make those saves for them. It's a game of mistakes and the less you make, the better it is. How you react to your mistakes determines basically win or loss."

The Blues allowed three breakaways and a multitude of odd-man rushes in the game Monday, and they all came down to proper reads and execution that has gone AWOL. A 4-2 loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets showed glaring signs as well.

Maybe a day off to get away from hockey and what is viewed as information overload can be a good thing. It allows the mind and body to rest, recoup and reload. 
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Defenseman Zbynek Michalek scored his first goal with the Blues Monday
but after a 4-1 loss, said players "have to look in the mirror" in order to
break out of what ails the team.

"Hopefully a lot," Elliott said. "We have to take it in and learn from it. But it's good to spend some time away from the rink. We've just got to do a little soul-searching and come back with that fire and that determination that's needed to win at this time of year."

"It wasn't our worst game, that's for sure," Oshie said. "There were some good moments. But the same mistakes that seemed like happened last year against Chicago (in the Stanley Cup Playoffs) with a bad change that leads to a breakaway. I think it was a game-deciding goal against Chicago in the playoffs. Things like that are starting to creep in our game and that's something that we definitely got to get rid of. 

"Hopefully everyone can take a day off (Tuesday) and not think about hockey whatsoever and just get away."

* NOTE -- As of early Tuesday afternoon, there was no new update on the condition of right wing Vladimir Tarasenko, who sustained a lower-body injury midway through the third period Monday. 

Tarasenko, who leads the Blues in goals (36) and points (71), was seen walking through the locker room area after the game. He initially had his right leg wrapped in ice.

With the Blues having an off-day, left wing Alexander Steen (lower body) continues to be day-to-day after being injured Saturday.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Listless Blues fall to Canucks 4-1

Another error-prone, mistake-filled game 
prevents St. Louis from clinching playoff spot

ST. LOUIS -- The groundwork for motivation was laid in front of the Blues on Monday.

Win and you're in.

As in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

But the motivation for the Blues should have come a while back, around the time teams around them in the standings began ratcheting up their intensity and desperation level.

Instead, a disheartening 4-1 loss to the Vancouver Canucks on Monday was another stark reason of why the Blues are once again slumping at the wrong time.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Olli Jokinen picked up his first point with the Blues in a
4-1 loss to Vancouver on Monday.

The slumping Blues (46-23-7, 99 points) remain three points behind the Nashville Predators for first in the Central Division. Their hold on second place is down to one point and on the Blackhawks and four ahead of the Minnesota Wild. It's in serious peril.

It was a quiet locker room afterwards, and the Blues were left to answer questions of why things are spiraling downward.

But as teams are making that playoff push, the Blues are making mistakes on the ice -- grave errors -- and teams are pouncing on each blunder.

Whether it's a lack of communication, indecision, second-guessing, whatever, the Blues need to find the proper tonic fast.

"It's hard to say. There are so many things," said defenseman Zbynek Michalek, who scored his first goal with the Blues. "I don't think there's one good thing about our game right now. We need to look in the mirror and start playing as a team. Right now, it just seems like everybody's going different things. We need to get on the same page, play for one another. Right now, it's not good enough.

"This late in the season, you want to build your game, play a good game so you can get your confidence going into the playoffs and right now, we're doing the exact opposite. We've got to regroup here, take a couple days and make sure we come out with a much better effort."

Making matters worse for the Blues, they lost leading scorer Vladimir Tarasenko, who was tripped 8:08 into the third period by Canucks defenseman Kevin Bieksa. Tarasenko skated to the dressing room and did not return. Blues coach Ken Hitchcock, who had nothing new to report on Tarasenko other than to say he'll be evaluated on Tuesday, was not at a loss for words after the game regarding his flailing team.

"This is really effort-based," Hitchcock said. "This is really ... as the game went on, this is two games in a row now where quite frankly, we've lost a lot of board battles, we've been indecisive with the puck, we've been slow in our heads, and I think sometimes when you're slow in your head, any information you're getting is too much information. 

"We're playing slow. Everything we're doing is slow. We're surprised by pressure, we're surprised by getting checked, we're getting beat on board battles. This is your reaction to this time of the year. Your reaction to this time of the year, things are dialed up. We'll get another team Thursday the same, desperate, hungry hockey club, and if you don't match it, then any information you're getting is too much because you're overwhelmed. We have to increase our competitive level. It's not like we're giving up a million chances, but if we increase our competitive level, we'll increase our alertness. We're not alert right now. We're not alert as a group. We're very much a group that needs to be alert together on the ice and we're not alert; not on a consistent basis. We have stretches where it's really sound, other stretches where it's not good."

The "not good" portion began quickly in the second period. A horrendous line change resulted in the opening goal by Shawn Matthias, the third breakaway for the Canucks just five minutes into the period.

 Even when the Blues were able to tie it on Michalek's blast from the right point at 12:44, they surrendered the go-ahead goal by Nick Bonino 31 seconds later off another odd-man rush.

"The 2-on-1's a perfect example. We worked hard to tie it up and then the next goal we give up, it's a back-checking mistake," Hitchcock said. "That's Hockey 101 stuff."

A pinch in the offensive zone led to the Blues losing control of the puck in the third period and Radim Vrbata snapped a shot past Brian Elliott, who made 18 saves, for a 3-1 lead and ice the game.

The Blues, who did not score for the 10th straight game in the first period (a stretch that's reached 205 minutes, 40 seconds), have prided themselves on wearing teams down in the second and third periods. The downward spiral progressed this time around and there would be no answers.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues center Jori Lehtera (12) skates with his head down as a trio of 
Canucks celebrate a goal in Vancouver's 4-1 victory Monday.

"We're not desperate. We're not desperate," Hitchcock said. "Other teams are fighting for their lives to try to get in and we're not matching that. When you're not matching the level of tenacity on the ice, you're a step behind and right now, we're a step behind, and in some cases, two steps behind, whether it's in foot speed, thinking reacting, whatever, we're a step behind. We've got phases where we're right there playing really well, but we've got too much of our game where we're a step behind."

The Blues have a mandated off-day Tuesday. Perhaps getting away from the ice may help.

"Obviously we're having troubles breaking out of our little slump here," Elliott said. "We have a day off tomorrow, take some time to think about it and think about how much we want to invest, and come back ready to go.

"(The fans) are not happy, so I don't think anybody can be harder on themselves than the guys in this locker room. So, it doesn't really change how we feel. We're going to be not happy about how we played and how we lost, but they're the best fans in the league and they'll be behind us when we figure this out."

* NOTE -- The Blues' final game of the regular season against the Minnesota Wild on April 11 has been moved from 6:30 p.m to a 2 p.m. start to accommodate NBC.

(3-30-15) Canucks-Blues Gameday Lineup

ST. LOUIS -- In a best-case scenario, the Blues were looking to get two important pieces back in the lineup Monday against the Vancouver Canucks.

They'll have to settle for one.

Right wing T.J. Oshie, who sat out Saturday's 4-2 loss against the Columbus Blue Jackets with the stomach flu, will return against the Canucks (7 p.m. on FS-MW, KMOX 1120-AM) in an important Western Conference game. 

"It always sucks when you have to miss the game, especially with something that's just the flu," Oshie said. "It would seem something that you would be able to battle through, but I had a tough one there. I'm ready to go tonight. Had a couple good meetings here and ready to go.

"I haven't done anything. I just had my first full meal last night. I have to keep my feet underneath me tonight. I ate breakfast so I'm ready to go."

When asked what will keep him going to get some of that missed energy back, Oshie shot back jokingly, "Red Bull." 

"It's not too hard to get up for an NHL game, especially when you sit out and you have to watch your team on TV and they lose a game," Oshie added. "I was telling (fiancee) Lauren at home, 'I wonder if I can make it in for the third?' I'm excited to get out there tonight, try to get my legs back underneath me. It'll take a couple shifts in the first period to start feeling good again but hopefully Backes can carry me through that."

Oshie, who is fifth on the Blues in scoring with 56 points, will slide back in next to David Backes, but the duo will play Monday without left wing Alexander Steen, who sustained a lower-body injury in the first period against the Blue Jackets. Steen is listed as day-to-day.

"He feels a lot better today," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said of Steen, who leads the Blues with 38 assists and is second in points (62) behind Vladimir Tarasenko (71). "He's day-to-day, moment-to-moment. We'll keep him out tonight and just see over the next 48 hours when he's ready to play again."

- - -

The Blues, who do not play again until Thursday, will slot 18-year veteran Olli Jokinen into the lineup. 

Jokinen, acquired at the 2015 NHL Trade Deadline from the Toronto Maple Leafs, will play left wing on the top line Monday after playing on the fourth line his first three games with the Blues.

"I'm no different than any other guy," said Jokinen, who has 320 goals and 747 points in 1,226 NHL games. "Everybody wants to play. Once you get a chance, you try to do your best, try to play in the system, keep the game simple. 

"We're a good team here. We believe that we're going to need every player here. If you're playing or you're not, you're still a big part of the team. You've got to stay ready and once you get a chance to play, you've got to fill the role they ask you."

Jokinen, who doesn't have a point in three games, was acquired for this very time if and when the Blues needed a top-nine player at their disposal.

"He was pretty excited yesterday," Hitchcock said of Jokinen. "He skated really well. Yesterday was one of his best days with us. It's a good fit for David because Olli can take faceoffs on the left side and he's played a lot when he played in Nashville. He's played with replaceable players where they interchanged the center and wing position, so this is a good fit. We're going to give him lots of ice time and get a real strong evaluation in the next couple games on him.

"His first game was kind of playing out of position because we had him on the right side and the last two games he's played, we've really liked him. This is an opportunity for us, especially the game in Detroit, we really liked what he did, but this is an opportunity to play with good players. We need to get this evaluation. If he's able to play like he did for the first 30 or so games there in Nashville, if he's able to get up to speed by us pushing him further up the lineup, this is going to be really good news for us."

Jokinen goes when he gets the call.

"I try to work hard every day," Jokinen said. "I think it's one of the few practices that we actually had since I've been here. We haven't practiced that much. It's been a lot of games, a lot of optional practices. We're hockey players, our job is to work hard every day when you put the skates on. I'm not in a position here that I can take days off."

- - -

The Blues (46-22-7) can clinch a Stanley Cup Playoff berth Monday if they win in regulation or overtime OR if they win in a shootout AND either the Calgary Flames or Los Angeles Kings lose in any fashion OR the Flames lose in any fashion or the Kings lose in regulation. The Blues cannot clinch a if they lose in regulation.

The Canucks (43-27-5), who begin a four-game road trip, are in their own playoff battle. The Canucks, who have 91 points, lead Calgary by two and the Kings, who play at the Chicago Blackhawks on Monday, by three points. Vancouver holds second place in the Pacific Division.

"This is a first. It's the first year where you see this many teams involved in the playoff race this late," Canucks center Henrik Sedin said. "You look at Chicago, if they would have lost last night, they would have been right there, too. I think it's exciting for us, for fans and for the league.

"I think everyone looks (at the standings). You try to follow other teams' games. That's the fun part of it. For us, it's to win games. That's what it has been since a lot of weeks back. It seems like you win two games and you're in, and then you lose a couple, and you're out of it again. It's so tight. But it makes it fun. Every shift, you can go out there and make a difference. Not only that night but in the standings."

- - -

Despite getting defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk back, the Blues' power play was thrown into chaos on Saturday. They've scored power play goals in three of the past four games, but going 1-for-6 in a game they felt they could gave won Saturday, the Blues hope to rectify some things tonight.

"I hope a lot with our power play because we were somewhere completely or normally dysfunctional the last game," Hitchcock said. "We were not in sync. We could have won the game on the power play alone. We scored one goal, but man, we were passing to cover people and we were standing still. I think we were trying to play too much with our skill instead of our downhill mentality. We've had a heck of a year on the power play by playing downhill and we started to play sideways. So we've addressed that and we'll see if we can get back to where we were for most of the year."

Not having Steen on the point of the power play means "A lot, because he's the bomb," Hitchcock said. "He's the guy that shoots the puck. You've got to have that threat. But even in saying that, man, we play too East-West, trying to make plays through people. Teams watch video. They sat on that and we still tried to force pucks. We didn't function properly. Even on our entries, we were on the wrong side of the ice and passed it to cover people most of the game. We've got to fix that for tonight."

- - -

Blues prospect Ty Rattie was named the American Hockey League player of the week, announced on Monday afternoon.

Rattie, the Blues' second round pick in the 2011 NHL Draft, had two goals and five assists as the Chicago Wolves went 3-0-0-0 last week.

Rattie is second on the Wolves in goals (21), third in assists (21) and second in points (42) in 59 games this season.

- - -

The Blues' probable lineup:

Olli Jokinen-David Backes-T.J. Oshie

Jaden Schwartz-Jori Lehtera-Vladimir Tarasenko

Dmitrij Jaskin-Paul Stastny-Patrik Berglund

Steve Ott-Marcel Goc-Ryan Reaves

Carl Gunnarsson-Alex Pietrangelo

Jay Bouwmeester-Zbynek Michalek

Barret Jackman-Kevin Shattenkirk

Brian Elliott will start in goal. Jake Allen is the backup. 

Healthy scratches include Chris Porter, Chris Butler and Robert Bortuzzo. Alexander Steen (lower body) is day-to-day. 

- - -

The Canucks' probable lineup:

Daniel Sedin-Henrik Sedin-Alexandre Burrows

Shawn Matthias-Nick Bonino-Radim Vrbata

Chris Higgins-Linden Vey-Derek Dorsett

Ronalds Kenins-Bo Horvat-Jannik Hansen

Alexander Edler-Christopher Tanev

Dan Hamhuis-Yannick Weber

Luca Sbisa-Kevin Bieksa

Eddie Lack will get the start in goal. Jacob Markstrom will be the backup.

Healthy scratches include Brandon McMillan and Ryan Stanton. Ryan Miller (knee), Brad Richardson (ankle) and Zack Kassian (back) are out with injuries.

Sunday, March 29, 2015


Steen, Oshie questionable for Monday, both day-to-day; Blues looking to 
raise intensity; Shattenkirk's debut; Berglund on the scoresheet; Elliott in goal

ST. LOUIS -- The Blues may have dodged a bullet when it comes to one of their top forwards.

Alexander Steen, who left the 4-2 loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets with 11 minutes, 29 seconds remaining in the first period following a knee-on-knee collision with Blue Jackets defenseman Cody Goloubef to the right of the Columbus goal, did not practice on Sunday and is listed as day-to-day.

Coach Ken Hitchcock said Steen and T.J. Oshie, who sat out Saturday's game with flu-like symptoms, are both questionable for Monday's game against the Vancouver Canucks.

"We'll see tomorrow, see if he's ready to go tomorrow," Hitchcock said of Steen on Sunday afternoon at Scottrade Center. "He'll be questionable for tomorrow right now; I'd put him at questionable, day-to-day.

"We'll have to see how (Oshie) is, too. I would say both are questionable. Both were here today. We'll see how both of them are tomorrow morning. If they skate, they'll both play."

The play was missed by some after Steen's shot hit teammate Chris Porter in the chest.

"I honestly didn't see it. I was just on the 2-on-1 with 'Backs,' kind of got pushed into the net and trying to stay out of the goaltender in case," Porter said. "I knew the puck was coming in behind the net and didn't know if they were going to try and make a play on net. I was just trying to stay out of the way. Next thing I know, I have sharp pain in my chest. Got me just under the ribs. We all know how hard 'Steener' can shoot. It stabbed me for a second."

Hitchcock said Steen tried to return to the game but was rebuffed by team doctors.

"If he could have played, he would have played," Hitchcock said. "I didn't pull him out; the doctors pulled him out. I didn't pull him out, but he couldn't go back in yesterday. He tried to go back in but couldn't go back in yesterday. We'll see. Better today; we'll see how he is tomorrow."

* Raise the intensity -- Seven games remain on the regular season schedule for the Blues. There's still much on the line even after a 4-2 clunker Saturday against the Blue Jackets.

And with five of those games on home ice, the Blues (46-22-7) could learn a lesson from playing against the Blue Jackets, who aren't going to the playoffs but are causing havoc for anyone that doesn't take them seriously.

It's as simple as ratcheting up the intensity and match that of the Blues' opponents. Otherwise, it'll be more of the same the Blues went through on Sunday: a hard practice to refine some of the areas of the ice that have failed them.

"There's a whole other level," Hitchcock said. "Yesterday's game ... that's not even close to the level we played at on the road. Not even close.

"It's not just the neutral zone; all of the stuff today was puck-management stuff. Too much indecision, too much hesitation, not enough straight-lines. At this time of the year, everybody's packed in defensively. Yesterday's game was a perfect example. When we played really strong and really smart with the entries and decisions, we had good results. When we were loose and careless, we had bad results. Today's not reinforcing how we play; it's really enforcing how you have to play at this time of the year. It seems to be a given on the road and a struggle at home right now. I think we're just too loose and for me, we're giving the opposition too many freebies. We worked like crazy to get the puck back and then we were giving them freebies, so we're exhausting our energy when we already had the puck. It's not like we're chasing the puck; we already have it. Then we're exhausting our energy by giving it up so easily and having to work to get it back again. I think that's the biggest thing. It's the same on the power play, it's the same 5-on-5 and I don't think you can create offense if you give up the puck so easily."

And instead of enjoying a day off before facing the Vancouver Canucks on Monday, the Blues were forced to break a sweat ... or two, or 10.

"I think everyone this time of the year's realizing points are critical; whether it's for seeding or getting into the playoffs," captain David Backes said. "Every game seems to be up a notch, up a notch, up a notch and if you don't keep pace with the other guys, you've got practice on Sunday.

"We reached maybe the high water mark of the season on January when we really had four lines clicking and everyone was producing and everyone was putting in the work and team first. We've hit a little bit of some rumble strips here and slowed us down a bit. It's not too far to resurrect and get back to that standard and really hit our stride going into the critical time of the year."

The Blues' disposition, when at its highest peak, can be as good or better than any other team in the NHL. It's those lapses that tend to leave some scratching their heads.

"We should play on another level," said forward Patrik Berglund, who had his first two-point game (one goal, one assist) since Jan. 6. "I think we're making it really hard on ourselves. We just don't play the way we should. That obvious feeds the other team."

The Blues seem to get themselves in trouble trying to play East-West. And according to Hitchcock, this time of season, it's extremely difficult.

"It's the time of year; there's no more East-West," Hitchcock said. "There is no more East-West. You're not going to get East-West plays. You're not going to get the next play like you did in October, November, December ... you're not getting that. Teams are boxed in as far as ... they're packed in. They're packed in the inside of the dots. 

"Even the teams that are not going to make the playoffs, they are so focused on checking right now because it's that time of year. They don't want to get embarrassed, they want to make a good impression and the teams that are fighting for points and a playoff spot, they certainly want to make a good impression. So everybody's packed in. You look at the three goals we scored in Pittsburgh, perfect examples of all three goals how you have to score in this league right now. And then you looked at what we tried to do yesterday was we tried to play the whole game making the next play again. That's too loose, too loose for this time of year."

"It's a little bit of a wakeup call," Porter said of a Sunday practice. "We're not happy with the way we're playing at home, especially in front of our crowd. Instead of creating energy for the arena, we're sucking the life out of it. We're turning pucks over and we're not going to score every first period but not scoring in the first takes a little bit of the excitement away from the game. I think if we can just stick to what we do best and how we were playing earlier in the year at home, we'll get back to that and get the crowd into it real early."

* Shattenkirk's re-emergence -- Kevin Shattenkirk's 21 minutes, 34 seconds may be more than what the Blues bargained for when sliding him back into the lineup for the first time in nearly eight weeks, but the defenseman came through just fine.

"It was what we expected," Hitchcock said. "There was some stuff where you can see how he's really going to help us. There was some stuff where you can really see how he's going to help us. Give it another couple three games, he's going to be fine. We've got plenty of time with him, but I think there' some timing things I think he needs to continue to work on. Today was a good day for everybody, but it was especially a good day for him. This was really focused."

Shattenkirk amassed more than six minutes on the power play (6:47). 

"I didn't look at the minutes," Hitchcock said. "I was too busy looking at the forwards. When you're missing two of your top three guys, you're going to be scrambling. I was more in scramble mode myself."

* Berglund's strong game -- Berglund's two-point game was his first in 31 games but his goal in the second period 52 seconds in that tied the game 1-1 was his first in 13 games.

With two of the team's top forwards down, the Blues needed others to step up and pick up the slack.

Berglund may have played arguably his best game of the season in playing 18:12 and was the only player on the plus side (plus-1).

"I'm just trying to help out and do what I can," Berglund said. "I caught a few breaks yesterday obviously on the 2-on-0 and stuff like that. 

"I'm just trying to work hard every day. Hopefully I can get more of those. ... I'm just trying to work hard and the chances show up."

* Goalie update -- Hitchcock said that Brian Elliott, who gave up three goals on 16 shots against the Blue Jackets, will start against the Canucks on Monday.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Columbus keeps rolling, doubles up Blues 4-2

St. Louis, without Oshie, loses Steen to 
lower-body injury; Berglund gets goal, assist

ST. LOUIS -- The return of Kevin Shattenkirk was supposed to give the Blues a boost.

Shattenkirk, who missed 25 games after an abdominal injury sustained on Feb. 1 that required surgery, was back on the ice along with Carl Gunnarsson that gave the Blues a healthy crop of defensemen. It forced them to sit out Robert Bortuzzo, who's given them nothing but good minutes since being acquired from the Pittsburgh Penguins.

But before the game the Blues found out that T.J. Oshie would not be available because of flu-like symptoms, and they lost Alexander Steen to an inadvertent knee-on-knee contact with Columbus Blue Jackets defenseman Cody Goloubef. 
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues defensemen Kevin Shattenkirk (left) and Barret Jackman (5) try to
defend Columbus' Ryan Johansen in action Saturday night.

The Blues, fighting for position in the playoffs, were playing catch-up all night. The Blue Jackets are making life miserable for anyone on their path these days, and they made things tough on the Blues in a 4-2 victory, their sixth in a row -- all against Western Conference foes -- Saturday night at Scottrade Center.

Cam Atkinson and Boone Jenner each had a goal and an assist as the Blue Jackets (35-34-4) won a franchise-best eighth-straight road game. 

The Blue Jackets won for the ninth time in 10 games. The win was their 22nd on the road, also a franchise record.

William Karlsson had a goal for the Blue Jackets. Sergei Bobrovsky was in goal for the second straight night in and made 29 saves one day after making 31 saves in a 5-2 victory at the Chicago Blackhawks on Friday.

The Blues (46-22-7) remained three points behind the Nashville Predators for first place in the Central Division. The Blues have seven games remaining with one in hand.

Patrik Berglund had a goal and an assist, his first multi-point game since Jan. 6, and Vladimir Tarasenko scored his team-leading 36th goal. 

The second-place Blues lead the Minnesota Wild by four points and the Blackhawks by five in the Central Division. 

"I thought the difference in the game was the game was in their end quite a bit, but their ability to defend was greater than our tenacity to come up with loose pucks and score," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. "That was the difference in the game. They scored two goals off odd-man rushes where we made plays that were kind of hope-for plays offensively and led to odd-man rushes, goals. We didn't win near enough battles for space, pucks in the offensive zone to keep plays alive. We had opportunities and did a little bit in the third, caused a couple penalties. We've got it in there but were unable to sustain any prolonged pressure. They were off back-to-back. If we would have played in the first and second like we did in the third, we could have really worn them down. We didn't play that way."

Shattenkirk's return didn't spark the necessary jump to get two points. He played 21 minutes, 34 seconds.

"I felt alright," Shattenkirk said. "It's still a work in progress, but early on, it was a little panicky and just trying to get used to the speed of the game and making plays quickly. And then from that moment on, it was just trying not to over-extend myself. I know it's tough because we were always down by a goal, but not trying to get too crazy and over-extend myself offensively and on the power play, staying out too long and things like that."

The Blue Jackets took a 1-0 lead on Karlsson's first goal in 19 games. Columbus broke out with a rush, and Karlsson took a cross-ice pass from Scott Hartnell and beat Blues goalie Brian Elliott 7:06 into the first period. 

Ryan Johansen almost gave Columbus a two-goal lead near the end of the first period when he went in on a breakaway from the left after Blues defenseman Alex Pietrangelo fell down and lost the puck. But Johansen's backhand was wide of the goal. 

St. Louis went scoreless in the first period for the ninth straight game. The last one came March 10 against the Winnipeg Jets. They've gone 185:40 without a first period goal.

Instead of jumping on a tired team that played in Chicago 24 hours earlier, the Blues seemed passive.

"We know that they're a team ... they capitalize on your turnovers and giveaways," Elliott said. "They've got guys jumping. We knew that going into it, but it's a team coming on a back-to-back. We should be fresh on and get the jump on and we didn't tonight."

"They came out really well in the first and applied their pressure to us," Shattenkirk said. "We never really just kind of established our game and didn't really get sustained pressure in the offensive zone. We had some transitions, but we just needed more bodies at the net, more pucks at the net, especially with a team on a back-to-back. We kind of made it easy for them defending and allowed them to keep their energy, what they had left the rest of the game."

But the Blues were concerned about Steen, the team's second-leading scorer with 62 points and assists leader (38). He left with 11:29 remaining in the first after he collided with Goloubef, making contact with each other's right knees.

"Two really big pieces that we're obviously missing on the ice," Berglund said of Steen and Oshie. "I think you can tell. Hopefully they're better and they get back real soon.

"You've got to do the best you can with it, but we played pretty much 20 minutes today. The first 40 wasn't very good obviously. We've got to play for 60 minutes. ... We've got to start playing for 60 minutes."

Hitchcock didn't have an immediate answer regarding Steen.

"I don't know. We'll evaluate him for tomorrow," the coach said.

Going forward, the Blues were mixing and matching lines. There seemed to be no sync with players, and the power play was most affected. It went 1-for-6.

"There's no chemistry out there with the lines," Shattenkirk said. "It messes things up. Two guys who drive the bus for us. They're big leaders on our team.

"Going forward, it was ugly on the power play tonight, but that's something we have to build on, is that positive shift and we saw it worked."

The teams traded goals in the second period. The Blue tied the game twice and the Blue Jackets retook the lead each time. 

Berglund's first goal in 13 games tied the game 52 seconds into the period after Jay Bouwmeester poke-checked the puck away from Columbus' Nick Foligno and Jori Lehtera sprung Jaden Schwartz and Berglund on a 2-on-0. Berglund finished Schwartz's pass to make it 1-1. 

Johnson's power-play goal gave Columbus a 2-1 lead when his slap shot from the blue line beat a screened Elliott at 11:39. It was Johnson's first goal in 28 games. The Blues had been 44-for-47 killing penalties the goal. 

Tarasenko scored a power-play goal for the Blues to tie the game 2-2. He took a Berglund pass into the left circle and his wrist shot beat a screened Bobrovsky, who had David Backes in front of him at 14:44. 

But for the third time in the game, Columbus reclaimed the lead when Jenner was all alone in front after taking a Ryan Johansen pass with 20.1 seconds remaining. The puck deflected off Blues defenseman Alex Pietrangelo right to Johansen, who fed Jenner and he finished the shot on Columbus' 14th shot of the game.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Patrik Berglund (21) watches as Columbus goalie Sergei Bobrovsky makes
a save of a David Backes (middle) shot on the Jackets' 4-2 victory.

It was the kind of goal that can deflate a team at the end of the period, especially after allowing the go-ahead goal at that time.

"It bounced straight to their guy so I challenged (Johansen)," said Elliott, who made 13 saves. "He faked the shot and put it backdoor. Not much you can do on that one.

"Twenty seconds later, we're back in here ready to regroup. You never want to give that up. We can't be offense, offense, offense. You've got to keep it out of your net, too. Starting with me, we've got to be better."

"Turning pucks over in the neutral zone kind of feeding into their transition rushes," Shattenkirk said. "Our execution wasn't really in top form. A team like that kind of pounces on it when they see it. "

Atkinson, who had a hat trick Friday, sealed the win with an empty-net goal with 1:18 remaining. He has seven points in three games.

Columbus won for the fourth time in the last 20 games in St. Louis. 

(3-28-15) Blue Jackets-Blues Gameday Lineup

ST. LOUIS -- The Blues are fully aware of the run that the Columbus Blue Jackets are on.

And in situations like these, a potential playoff team facing one that likely won't make it, those can be the most dangerous situations for teams like the Blues (46-21-7, 99 points).

After a 5-2 victory against the Chicago Blackhawks on Friday, Columbus team record with its seventh straight road victory that tied a record for most wins on the road (21) in one season. The Blue Jackets (35-35-4, 74 points) have won five in a row, are 8-1 in the past nine games and have won nine of 11.

And Columbus beat the Blues 7-1 on Feb. 6 to end St. Louis' 13-0-1 streak. The rematch is slated for 7 p.m. today (FS-MW, KMOX 1120-AM).

"I think you have to mindful of their record the last while," left wing Steve Ott said of the Blue Jackets. "Obviously we don't see these guys very often, but I think they're 9-2 in their last 11. They're playing some really good hockey against some really good teams and when you do that, I think that's a bigger reason to be more cautious. Our situation at the time, we just threw that game (on Feb. 6) out the window and we start over."

Columbus has scored 22 goals during its five-game winning streak and for the first time all season, the Blue Jackets appear to be healthier than any other point in the season despite currently missing six players.

The Blue Jackets have lost 476 man games due to injury coming into the game Saturday, more than any team in the NHL.

"I think it's typical of when you look at the standings and you see a team below you in the standings and not going to make the playoffs, your assumption is, 'Well, this might be easier than we think,' and the second part is the players don't really look at who's injured," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said of the Blue Jackets. "They've had a season full of nothing but injuries and haven't even put a roster on there that's remotely close to what they started with at training camp. Now they're getting a little bit healthier, if you can say five guys out is healthy. And they look very dynamic. They've got a ton of skill, they're scoring goals like crazy, they're beating good teams. To me, when I watched the Anaheim game (Tuesday) and I watched the Chicago game (Friday), they're exactly the same. If you're sloppy against them, they make you pay."

The Blues are 16-2-1 the past 19 against the Blue Jackets on home ice.

- - -

Right wing T.J. Oshie was absent from the morning skate Saturday. Olli Jokinen took his spot during line rushes along with Alexander Steen and David Backes.

Hitchcock said Oshie was under the weather and was told to stay home and he's expected to play.

"He's under the weather. We're assuming he's going to play tonight," Hitchcock said of Oshie, who has 16 points in 27 career games against Columbus. "We told him to stay home, get rest and be ready for tonight."

*UPDATED* -- Oshie was not in the lineup on Saturday and was replaced by Chris Porter.

- - -

Defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk will finally find out what it feels like to play in a live game for the first time since Feb. 1 (25 games). 

Shattenkirk (abdominal surgery) will play for the first time since sustaining the injury at Washington and play alongside Barret Jackman.

Despite being a seasoned pro, Shattenkirk said there will be nerves.

"Yeah, definitely," he said. "I think it's only natural to be a little nervous and anxious. I think it's going to be fun, but I think the important thing is to keep all those emotions in check early on and just get my mind and my body back into the game as quickly as I can. It's going to be a process, and I think I have to realize that not try to go too crazy early on."

The biggest adjustment will be, "I think adjusting to the speed of the game," Shattenkirk said. "Not only is this game fast normally, but now we're in the crucial part of the season where teams are playing their best. I know Columbus isn't a playoff team, but they're playing probably the best hockey of most teams right now in the NHL. Just getting the timing back of making passes, putting them on the tape and just being quick with my decisions is something that will probably be the hardest adjustments to start."

Hitchcock will ease Shattenkirk in on the third pairing and eventually give him more responsibilities.

"I think you've just got to be patient," Hitchcock said. "You've got to be patient because he's passed every test but now the test is he's going to play against somebody in a different sweater than doesn't necessarily like him. He's going to have to play through that competition. Our hope is that he comes through healthy. We know we're going to get some good play from him and that he gets back and has enough games. I think he has plenty of games to get game-ready for the end of the season These are good tests for him, there's good challenges, but I think more than anything, getting him accustomed to not just playing, it's the whole routine of gameday. All of the sudden, you're playing with some nerves, you're playing with nervous energy, he's got some butterflies ... all those things that you stayed away from to get back in your body now. You've got to get used to that now."

- - -

The Blues will attempt to break a cycle of eight straight games without a first-period goal tonight.

The last time they were able to light the lamp was March 10 against the Winnipeg Jets. The Blues gave also shut out the opponents in the first period in seven of those eight games.

"I didn't even know that one. Don't really care," Hitchcock said. "I think at the end of the day, you go through cycles like that. To me, it's at the end of the game. I'd rather see us be stronger at the end. We've had great second periods, good third periods; I'd rather be that way. It's also the way we play. We manage the game properly at the start, we don't try to supply the knockout punch, we just manage the game properly and sometimes that leads to not scoring. But I think at the end of the day, more important is how you play in the second and third period."

Ott agreed.

"By the third period, we try to take over games by our heavy style of hockey," he said.

- - -

Blues left wing Jaden Schwartz play in his 200th NHL game tonight.

Despite facing 33 shots against Chicago on Friday, Columbus goalie Sergei Bobrovsky will start against the Blues.

- - -

The Blues' probable lineup:

Alexander Steen-David Backes-Chris Porter

Jaden Schwartz-Jori Lehtera-Vladimir Tarasenko

Dmitrij Jaskin-Paul Stastny-Patrik Berglund

Steve Ott-Marcel Goc-Ryan Reaves

Carl Gunnarsson-Alex Pietrangelo

Jay Bouwmeester-Zbynek Michalek

Barret Jackman-Kevin Shattenkirk

Brian Elliott will start in goal. Jake Allen is the backup.

Scratches include T.J. Oshie (sick), Olli JokinenChris Butler and Robert Bortuzzo.

- - -

The Blue Jackets' projected lineup:

Boone Jenner-Ryan Johansen-Cam Atkinson

Scott Hartnell-William Karlsson-Marko Dano

Brandon Dubinsky-Artem Anisimov-Nick Foligno

Corey Tropp-Mark Letestu-Jeremy Morin

Jack Johnson-David Savard

Kevin Connauton-Cody Goloubef

Fedor Tyutin-Dalton Prout

Sergei Bobrovsky is will be the starter. Curtis McElhinney will serve as the backup.

Justin Falk is the healthy scratch. Jared Boll is serving  three-game suspension. Injuries include David Clarkson (oblique), Jack Skille (shoulder), Matt Calvert (concussion), Ryan Murray (lower body), Alexander Wennberg (hand) and Rene Bourque (upper body).

Friday, March 27, 2015


Blues looking to establish home ice; aiding 
Shattenkirk; crowd on D; Gunnarsson eager for playoffs

HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- After their 10-day trip that culminated with a 3-1-2 record, the Blues can see the light at the end of the tunnel.

The regular season tunnel.

With eight games remaining in the 2014-15 regular season, the Blues are in the home stretch -- literally.

With six of their eight games remaining to be played on home ice, it's a chance for the Blues (46-21-7, 99 points) to reestablish home ice dominance, where they are 24-9-2 but just 3-4-0 the past seven games.

"I think it's the same as our road atmosphere and attitude ... we've got to go and get two points every night, regardless of who we're playing, where we're playing, we need two points, we need to focus that night and get a job done," captain David Backes said. "We had that singular focus for a little bit on the road trip, it fell off and we stumbled a little bit and then got it back there against the Penguins when we saw the light at the end of the tunnel. So we got some home-cooking, (slept) in our own beds, and we need to, yes, reestablish ourselves in our home dominance. But take it one game at a time and know that each two points in these last eight games is vitally important."

It all starts with the next three at Scottrade Center, with the surging Columbus Blue Jackets, who played Friday in Chicago, on the docket Saturday, followed by Vancouver and Calgary before the Blues go on the road for two in Dallas and Chicago and ending with home games against Winnipeg, the Blackhawks and Minnesota.

"There's a lot of good teams that are still coming into this building to play for spots, and we're still working on our game," defenseman Barret Jackman said. "We're still trying to be at our best going into the playoffs. Get the right combinations, the right chemistry and work on a few things so we're fresh but going hard for the playoffs."

For the moment anyway, the Blues have lost their hold of first place in the Central Division to the Nashville Predators, who are a point ahead and could go two or three points up when the Predators play at Washington Saturday morning. The Blues will have two games in hand when they take on Columbus.

And coupled with the Anaheim Ducks (101 points) in the Western Conference, the New York Rangers (101 points), Montreal Canadiens (100 points) and Tampa Bay Lightning (99 points), the race for the Presidents' Trophy will be furious down the stretch.

"It's never been this tight," Backes said. "You look at, there could be four teams, five teams (at) 110 points. Every point is going to matter. Who positions themselves best for first-round matchups, whatever that may be, you look down the standings and whoever is first may get the L.A. Kings in the first round. So you don't get to pick your partner, but you want to be playing your best hockey and that's what we can control and that's our focus."

What's most important for the Blues is not to finish the way they did last season, and that was on a season-worst six-game losing streak that not only cost them the Central Division title (Colorado win it by one point) but the Blues lacked any sort of momentum in their opening round playoff loss to the Blackhwks despite going up 2-0 in that series, a series they lost in six.

The Blues did have a plethora of injuries last season at the end but are healthy for the first time in two months heading into Saturday and they'd like to keep it that way.

"Yeah, I mean, that was different," forward Steve Ott said of last season. "I think the amount of injuries we had at the end was something that I've never seen in my career before, where you lose so many key guys to such bad injuries. Guys tried to give it their all and give it their best. You never want to make excuses, but this is a different team, a different situation for us. Collectively, we've been strong and collectively we have the depth for guys to keep pulling guys along.

"... A ton of work but I mean our focus in these last eight games is to be playing at our highest level. A lot of us obviously know what happened last year in the last six or so. We gave up home-ice advantage and other things and it's just too important for our team to have the opportunities to go out there and put the hammer down on teams, show how we are heading in, and have everybody clicking at a high level rather than having to hit the magic button come playoffs."

Blues coach Ken Hitchcock appreciates that his team is in a good position to qualify for the Stanley Cup Playoffs, because for some really good teams, it's a continuous dogfight.

"I thought (Kings coach) Darryl Sutter put it best yesterday. The biggest challenge in the National Hockey League is getting in the playoffs and it is really hard and it is getting harder every year," Hitchcock said. "I've said this before, the playoffs are for the players. We have some guidance that we have to supply, but it is really hard getting into the playoffs. When you look at the teams that are outside the playoffs right now, in the West alone, there are teams that we've had real difficulties with that have played better hockey than we have played against them. That is a huge challenge. When you see the quality of players and the teams that aren't going to make it, it really gives you pause thinking, 'For us to get to 99 points right now, a lot more went right than wrong.' A tough game at the end in Detroit, we've had a couple of tough games, but we've had a lot of things go right to get to 99 and so have a lot of other teams. You look at a team like L.A. who's playing as well or better than anybody right now, and all the points they lost in overtime. If they get even half those points, they're leading the league. That's just how close it is. I think to just get in is really challenging and really difficult."

* Helping Shatty -- With the return of Blues defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk, who's been out since Feb. 1 with an abdominal injury, Shattenkirk's teammates will do all they can to help him transition into the toughest time of the schedule after missing 25 games.

Shattenkirk, who was having arguably the best season of his career and was gaining attention in talk of being a Norris Trophy candidate, was averaging 22 minutes, 54 seconds of ice time per game. Hitchcock would like to ease him into the 18-plus minute range and go from there.

"He's one of those players that's going to go and play his game and he's going to be back pretty quick," defenseman Carl Gunnarsson, who also returns to the lineup Saturday after missing two games with an upper-body injury, said of Shattenkirk. "We'll just try to help him back as much as possible. We've just got to feel that he's comfortable with his injury and feel that he's healthy enough. I don't doubt him for a second; I don't think anyone does."

Shattenkirk will begin the game opposite veteran Barret Jackman.

"It would be nice and there's obviously plenty of options that we can play around with now," Shattenkirk said. "Someone for me (like Jackman), who jumping back in you obviously feel very comfortable with. It'll be nice to have someone that talks a lot. 

"I was telling him today (at practice) I've kind of lost that part of the game. It's just listening and listening to voices, the little things that make you a better player. He's someone who like an older guy knows how to do all that really well."

Jackman has little doubt in Shattenkirk's transition.

"Shatty's Shatty," Jackman said. "He's got unbelievable vision, he moves well. I'm sure the physical part of it and the fatigue of getting hit and battling is something that is kind of the last thing that comes back to you."

* Crowd on D -- With Shattenkirk and Gunnarsson back, the Blues are for the first time looking at a healthy defensive unit. It's so healthy, Petteri Lindbohm, who was playing as well as any blue liner the Blues had, was reassigned to the Chicago Wolves of the American Hockey League to reduce the number down to eight.

As it stands, Kirkwood native Chris Butler and Robert Bortuzzo, acquired at the trade deadline for Ian Cole, are the odd blue liners out of the lineup ... at least for Saturday.

And that speaks of itself since Bortuzzo has been such a pleasant surprise since being acquired. He scored his first goal as a Blue in Tuesday's 3-2 overtime win at Pittsburgh.

"I've said this before, we're a team of 25, we're not a team of 20 plus five," Hitchcock said. "So guys will get their chances. We've got eight games to play in 14-15 days, so we've got a lot of hockey left to play and who knows how it turns out. There's certain games that we want Robert to play in during the regular season for sure. There's three for sure that we want him in and have his role defined in those games. We're going to need him in those games."

Hitchcock would not say which three.

"I'm sure the last few games here we're probably going to try every combination and see what the coaches like best," Jackman said. "There might be some guys out of the lineup that aren't happy with it, but it's all going to be about getting the right combinations for the playoffs.

"We've got 25-26 guys here right now and everybody's healthy, everybody's capable of playing. You've got to go out there and you've got to do your job and play to the best of your ability and help the team."

"We have a lot of guys just waiting in line right now," Gunnarsson said. "We knew this was coming. Everyone seems healthy and we have guys that want to play. A little good competition is always healthy, right?"

* Gunnarsson thinking postseason -- He's played 359 NHL games and has been a steady player throughout his career, but for Gunnarsson, he's only been part of the Stanley Cup Playoffs once.

Gunnarsson, who spent the first five seasons of his NHL career with the Toronto Maple Leafs, has been a part of the playoffs in 2012-13, when he played in seven games.

Too often at this time of year, the Maple Leafs have been on the outside looking in and it was tough to be motivated when a player knows the end was near.

It's a different feeling for Gunnarsson this time around, and that's why the Orebro, Sweden native is looking forward to this postseason run.

"I want to get a run here before the playoffs and get a good feel," Gunnarsson said. "That's what I'm looking for.

"It's always nice when you get to the end of the season and have something else to look forward to."

Gunnarsson has two goals and 12 points in 55 games this season.

Adding him and Shattenkirk to the lineup is a big boost.

"Well yeah, it's a big boost," Hitchcock said. "(Shattenkirk) was trending towards 60-plus points, which would put him second or third in the scoring on our team and probably in the top of the league as far as defensemen. So it's a huge add. 

"It's a big boost for everybody. He's got great patience. I think the thing that maybe fans don't understand is that when you add a player who has puck patience, it seems like your whole group develops more puck patience. So we've got one of the best puck movers in the league, a guy that's got great patience and vision and I think it's going to help the whole group because they're going to feel more comfortable under pressure and stress during the competition."