After time off, Blues set for big week of
games; Nilsson getting acclimated; Reaves a father
HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- The Blues resumed their mini training camp-like schedule in March on Saturday as they prepare to play an actual game for the first time in five days on Sunday.
The Blues (37-20-9), who last played in that epic 4-3 11-round shootout victory against Ottawa, a game in which they lost a three-goal lead before recapturing the second point, feel like they've benefited from the down time to allow the body to rest, injured guys get to heal some bumps and bruises and then there's Ryan Reaves, who was on hand for the birth of his son (Kanen John Reaves, who Ryan Reaves said came the first name came from a television show he and his wife Alanna watched) on Thursday.
It's a stretch in the schedule during the grueling days of March in which the Blues have four days off, then will have six sets of two off-days; they play just 12 times in 31 days in the month.
"It's nice for us because we never really get this," defenseman Alex Pietrangelo said. "Last couple years, usually we have a busy schedule (in March). For us to kind of change it up here, go into the stretch with a bit of a break, a bit of a break (two) weeks in Vancouver, it's a pretty good feeling for us because we're not really used to it. The important thing is to really take advantage of it.
"With all the injuries, too ... four days (off this week), three days in Vancouver, two days in San Jose, these are all extra days that guys aren't missing games so it gives us an opportunity to recover some bodies."
What it allows the coaching staff to do is implement more practice time and to get things accomplished from a standpoint of execution and improvements.
"It's good for coaches as long as you're not playing stop and start again," coach Ken Hitchcock said. "That's what I'm curious (about). We had some really good moments the last two games we played, but now we're going to see how we look stop and start. We've had a lot of time off; for this time of year, we've had a lot of time off. Now we're going to play and get more time off, and then play and get more time off, so we've got to figure out what's a good balance. This game tomorrow will be a great judge of what is a good balance.
"We tried to keep the pace as high as we could (Saturday) knowing that's what the game's going to be like. Until you play the game, we won't know. We had good energy, we had good work. We'll see."
The extra rest is especially good for Pietrangelo, who has played two games since missing three weeks (nine games) with a right knee injury sustained Feb. 6 against the Wild.
"It's good for me, too, because you play those first couple games," Pietrangelo said. "Obviously you're feeling a bit sore. Not just the injury but in general when you don't play for a while. You get some bumps and bruises. Take a bit of a break and recover, take care of the body. I know most guys have done the most they can to make sure they're getting some rest.
"I wouldn't have came back if I wasn't at that point. Unfortunately sometimes in the games, you think about it. It seems like you always get hit in the same spot when there's an injury and you just notice it more. ... For me, it's just the first period. You get that first period to get into the groove of things."
* Nilsson getting acclimated -- Backup goalie Anders Nilsson, acquired last week from the Edmonton Oilers for goalie prospect Niklas Lundstrom and a 2016 fifth-round pick, manned the net for most of practice Saturday after starter Jake Allen departed roughly 35 minutes before the conclusion.
Allen will start, according to Hitchcock, who said he was fine, but these are the situations the Blues felt they needed insurance with Brian Elliott (lower-body injury) already down.
"It was good. I got a lot of reps in today," said Nilsson, who would welcome a start at some point. "I saw a lot of pucks, so it was some good drills and a lot of game-like stuff.
"You can't control everything, but I'm trying to control what I can control, and that is how I work in practice and how my practice habit is. I'm just trying to work as hard as I can and improve my game every practice. If I get a start, I'm going to try and make the best out of it."
Nilsson went from playing out the string with the Oilers, who will miss the playoffs again, to competing for a playoff position and a team hopeful of bigger things.
"I feel more and more comfortable for each day," Nilsson said. "You get to know the team, you get to know the guys here and coaching staff and you get familiar with the city. It feels better every day.
"It's a new experience for me. I never been traded before. It's definitely something I'll learn from. It's good."
Nilsson spent last season with Ak Bars Kazan of the Kontinental Hockey League and went 20-9-0 with a 1.71 goals-against average before signing as a free agent with the Oilers.
"It was a good experience," said Nilsson, who is 10-12-2 with a 3.14 GAA and .901 save percentage this season. "I felt like I was lucky I came onto a good team. I was on one of the top teams and top organizations. I had a good Finnish goalie coach. For me, it was a good experience. I felt like I developed my game a lot. I got to play a lot of games. I played at a high level against a lot of skilled guys. I felt like I took a big step last year actually."
* Scouting the Wild; big week for Blues -- Since the Minnesota Wild, the Blues' opponent Sunday (7 p.m. on NBCSN, KMOX 1120-AM), fired coach Mike Yeo and replaced him with John Torchetti, they've gone 8-3-0 in 11 games after beating the Buffalo Sabres 3-2 in a shootout on Saturday afternoon; they were 1-11-2 in 14 games before the coaching change. But not much has changed, according to Hitchcock.
"I saw them play against Toronto and that wasn't an evaluation from what their 'A' game was," Hitchcock said. "I've seen them play two games. For us, it's so hard to judge because they play so well against us. Every game they've played well this year. I don't see the change yet until I watch again because every game they play, they play really really good against us."
The Blues are on level playing ground now with the Chicago Blackhawks and Dallas Stars. Each team has played 66 games and the Blues trail both teams by two points (83-81).
"I told the players after we finished in Ottawa everybody catches up now," Hitchcock said. "We've got to answer the bell starting on Sunday night. It's our turn to answer the bell. It'll be a helluva hockey game, two hungry teams, two teams that play each other in a real honest fashion. Looking forward to it."
The game against the Wild begins a tough stretch of four games in seven days for the Blues, who will play at Minnesota, host Chicago Wenesday and the hottest team in the NHL right now (Anaheim) on Friday before going to Dallas for a night game Saturday.
"They're all top teams," Hitchcock said. "Everybody's a top team. Everybody's a playoff team, everybody's fighting for their own place. We knew this time was coming and we're hoping that we're ready for it."