Blues get lesson in preseason loss; Edmundson misses practice;
Parayko's picking spots to shoot; Pietrangelo's new PP role; roster close to final
ST. LOUIS -- It was the preseason, yes. It counts for nothing in the standings, yes.
But with the Blues playing many of their regulars that will resemble a lineup that will start the regular season next Wednesday night in Chicago, the 4-2 loss to the Washington Capitals Wednesday in Kansas City served as a reminder that both players and coaches took credence in that it certainly mattered.
"It was a can of whoop-ass; we got it taken to us good," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. "They were flying on all cylinders. They were on top of their game from start to finish. It was a great wake-up call for us.
"It energized practice today, it energized the players. They saw what it was like at a high level. It moved us from training camp to the start of the season mode and it couldn't have come at a better time and it was excellent for us. It was an excellent lesson and the guys took it the right way. Best practice of the year by a mile today. We got back on task where we were before last year and stuff like that. It was a whooping, but it was one of those whooping's where you're not losing anything. You're just gaining information, information that we needed the players to receive. They got it loud and clear in the game last night."
The Blues (3-3-1 in the preseason), who still have one practice game remaining Saturday at home against the Blackhawks, want to take that with a more serious approach and be polished before it gets real next week.
But having just a few days with what amounts to as the regular group, may need a little more time than expected.
"Training camp's tough, especially guys coming from the World Cup coming in late, and then we come in for three days, four days or whatever," defenseman Alex Pietrangelo said. "We do have some new guys and some new lines, so it's going to take a little bit of time. Once we solidify some spots in the lineup, it seems like guys start feeling a little more comfortable.
"... It was a good wake-up call. I think first time close to having our full game lineup, so we finally felt like we're getting to where we want to be. It was a disappointing effort, but at the same time, we've got to use it as a wake-up call. We've got one more preseason game and we start with back-to-backs. Today was a good step. We talked as a leadership group knowing that we have to be better starting in practice. I think today, and even coaches would say it, was probably our best practice."
It was a lively practice with pace and the Blues were able to get in two sessions of energetic work.
"Obviously every night, you want to win," defenseman Colton Parayko said. "It's a good thing that it's the preseason because we can work out the kinks and see what we did wrong. We just want to make sure that doesn't happen in the regular season when the points are on the line because obviously we know how tight the West is, how tight the Central Division is. Luckily, it's an eye-opener at this point in the season before it gets into the big games."
* Roster spots dwindling -- Forward Kenny Agostino, placed on waivers Wednesday for the purpose of assigning him to the Chicago Wolves, cleared on Thursday and along with center Ivan Barbashev, were not on the ice.
Although both haven't been officially assigned to the AHL, it seems likely they're destined there, and it leaves two roster spots available for the last few guys still in camp, including Landon Ferraro, who's on a two-way contract.
"I think it's pretty obvious that the 14 that are here, or 15 that are here we're able to pick from," Hitchcock said. "We probably still have a couple things we need to think about without (Jaden) Schwartz here, but we're getting closer and closer. We're down to probably numbers that are going to play games for us this year.
"... I'm really look at seeing if somebody's going to earn it, basically not give it them by default, but are they going to go out and take it. We're giving them the opportunity and quite frankly, whoever grabs ... there's a regular spot and there's a depth spot wide open, and whoever grabs it is going to get it. I can't tell you right now anybody's gone out and grabbed it yet. Our hope is that they do that. If they do that, then they can have it. Right now, we're not going to give it away. We'll see. We've got two things going on. We've got those guys going on here, and then we've got a three-in-three nighter in Chicago, so if there's somebody that steps up in Chicago, we'll put them in right away. If the guys here earn it, then we'll keep going with what we've got here. We're just not going to give a guy a spot because he's the last guy standing."
* Edmundson misses practice -- Defenseman Joel Edmundson was the lone skater to not participate in practice on Thursday.
Edmundson apparently was injured Wednesday and was held out as a precaution.
"He took a shot yesterday on the leg and we just felt it was best he take the day off and back at it tomorrow," Hitchcock said.
* Parayko's shot -- Parayko is in the second year of his NHL career; that's obvious. But with experience comes a greater knowledge of when to pull the trigger on certain points in the game and when not to.
After a terrific rookie season, one of the few criticisms Parayko received was his willingness to defer shooting the puck with that big, booming windup he has.
It's still a learning curve, Hitchcock said. "That's the same speech five years from now you're going to say. That's just those type of guys. It's not automatic yet, and it's going to be a while before it becomes automatic, but he's still going to do the damage all the time.
"Just because you've got a great shot, you've got to be in position and people now are cheating over to that shot now. That's what we're finding," Hitchcock added. "That's why we're trying to keep him at the top of the zone so he's got more space to do it. It's very similar what you do with (Alex) Ovechkin; they're leaning that way now because they don't want it coming to the net. He'll work at it, and it's going to take time, but in a couple years, he's going to be really dynamic with it."
Parayko is finding that dynamic of when to shoot and when to pass, but is finding more attention being paid to him now. It's easy to understand when you're at times compared to having a shot like Al MacInnis had.
"I think a little bit of both. I think at the beginning, it was a little bit of I had more time and space, but now it's me getting covered a little bit more," Parayko said. "It's me having to find the prime opportunities to take the shots and make sure that I'm getting the shots through and things like that. Whenever I have the opportunity, I want to shoot and give the forwards the opportunity to get the puck down low, do what they do best. Making sure I can get open for the forwards and hopefully I can help them out.
"When they first had me on the power play, I had a little bit more space, but it makes it fun for me, too. I have to work that much harder, too, to find the open space, to find ways to get the shots through and things like that. It's exciting."
Hitchcock said they're looking for a distinctive edge when getting Parayko in position to shoot.
"With Colton, we're trying to get him in a position where ... it's not his slap shot that does the damage; it's the snapshot," Hitchcock said. "We're trying to get him to snap the puck more, and the only way you can do that is be the shooter. You can't have like three shooters on the power play because nobody's going to know when it's coming to the net. So when Parayko has it, we know it's coming to the net, and when Tarasenko has it, we know it's coming to the net. We don't want any variance with it. In practice, I've really liked the way we look when we do it properly and when we get away from it, it's been a little bit of a struggle."
Pietrangelo went through it when he first broke into the league, too. It's only a natural process to learn with experience.
"We all go through it as young players when teams start keying in on you and you have to find a way to play through that," Pietrangelo said. "He's done that so far. This year's going to be even more of a test where he's at the top of that power play unit. He's going to have to find a way to get through that. A shot like that, if a guy wants to block it, kudos to them."
* Pietrangelo moves to top PP unit -- Pietrangelo has always been part of the Blues' power play the past few seasons but mostly on the second unit on the right point.
Now with David Backes gone to Boston, Pietrangelo moves into his spot, but not necessarily Backes' place on the ice.
And there's a reason.
"The unit that 'Petro' plays on, the shot comes mostly from 'Vladi' (Tarasenko) and (Kevin) Shattenkirk," Hitchcock said. "They're the most accurate shooters we've got on the team."
Pietrangelo will get ample looks to shoot it, but also set up Tarasenko on a unit that also consists of Shattenkirk, Paul Stastny and Alexander Steen, who for the time being moves down low instead of playing the point.
"It's easy to defer when you've got a 40-50 goal scorer over there," Pietrangelo said. "We all want the puck, so we're going to have to find a way to share the puck and find lanes and make plays. Certainly it's going to run through him though.
"... They're just throwing me in there instead of 'Backs.' I know what each guys does. It's the other unit, too. It's chemistry, it's everybody getting to their spots, finding their spots. I think we've got to work on it every day to make sure we get ready."