Blues back to work after holiday hiatus; Winter Classic
approaching; Stastny, Allen back on the ice; outdoor game uniform sneak peak
HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- The Blues were back at work after a four-day hiatus away from the rink, away from the coaching staff, away from video sessions, away from training sessions ... basically all things hockey were put on hold.
The Blues will go six days between games, a nice breather after a condensed schedule that had them play 10 games in 17 days to close out the pre-Christmas portion of the schedule.
But it was back to work Tuesday for the Blues (18-12-5) in preparation for a huge six-game homestand that begins today against the Philadelphia Flyers (20-12-4) at 7 p.m. (NBCSN, KMOX 1120-AM).
"Our execution was good today," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. "We have some things we need to get better at. We just have to find a way to cut down scoring chances against. In order to do that, it's based mostly on puck management. I thought the guys really paid attention to that today, and then as they started to do that, they saw more scoring chances coming, which really elevated the excitement level, which to me is good.
"I think the sense of urgency is elevated with us because we've put some pressure on ourselves not being able to win on the road. The pressure at home is getting magnified because every home game is going to feel like a four-point game. I just don't want to see us in a hurry to get back out on the road and prove ourselves again. We've got top opponents coming right now, teams that are on top of their game and I think we've got to play awful well to get points from, but I think it's almost made the home games even more important because we've got to get the points there because some of the teams like now, you've got Montreal going on the road (for an) extended trip. You've got other teams going on the road for extended trips. We're going to end up being one of those teams in a couple weeks. We've got to get as many points as we can right now. ... Our goal every 40 games is to get 45 points and I think we're seven or eight points short of that with five games left so we've got some work to do. We reached our goal the first segment. We've got some work to do to get it in the second segment here."
The Blues begin the longest homestand (six games) of the season with the Flyers, Nashville Predators and then the long-anticipated 2017 Bridgestone Winter Classic on Jan. 2 against the Chicago Blackhawks, a game that's rapidly approaching.
"It's hectic for everyone, I think, especially not more or less us, but the training staff, our team organization," goalie Jake Allen said. "It's exciting times for everyone. Really looking forward to it. Obviously got two big games before that, but it's in the back of our minds. It's hard not to be excited and prepared for it. Just seeing everyone with the colors on, I think they look great.
"That's an exciting time; it's going to be a fun game, but we get all these games in a row at home and we're pretty fortunate that the schedule leans that way in our favor. Hopefully we can really take advantage of it and move our way up the standings and get back to the top of our division. I think it's a great chance. We have some divisional games. "
It doesn't diminish the fact that perhaps some rest and relaxation with family and friends was what the doctor ordered.
"Break was great," left wing Alexander Steen said. "It gave guys time to heal the body a little bit and come back rejuvenated and excited."
"It's been a busy month for us," captain Alex Pietrangelo said. "Didn't end the way we wanted it to either. I think guys took an opportunity to kind of get away from rink, get away from the game, enjoy time with their families. We've got a lot of hockey coming up, Winter Classic, staying busy with that. Before you know it, it'll be March and we'll be gone with that. You need to enjoy all the time you can to be with your families."
* Stastny, Allen back on the ice -- Allen, who left the Blues' last game, a 5-2 loss at Tampa Bay, late with a lower-body injury, and center Paul Stastny, who did not play because of an upper-body injury, were both skating and part of the regular group.
Allen will not play against the Flyers, as backup Carter Hutton will get the start, but will return against the Predators on Friday; he appeared to twist his left ankle trying to stop a Jonathan Drouin goal with under two minutes to play.
"Quick bang-bang play," Allen said. "Sort of just more precaution than anything. I don't even know how much time, maybe a minute left. Hitch just puts 'Hutts' in just in case. No big deal.
"You never know, but it is what it is. It's nice to have the rest when we did. It felt alright out there today."
Stastny left the game on Dec. 20 early in the third period against the Dallas Stars. He sat on the bench after momentarily leaving the bench area but returned. He did not take another shift and missed the loss to the Lightning.
"Good. Getting better," Stastny said when asked how he felt. "We'll see. It felt good today in practice. If no setbacks, I'll play tomorrow.
"I think it was just a wear and tear issue and as the game went on, it just got worse and worse and it was a tightness. I felt it the game before too, after the Chicago game, after the Edmonton game. I think just the three in four with the travel didn't really help off. ... I was fortunate with the timing we had to have that and then have three or four days. Let it flare down a bit."
Hitchcock had Stastny between Jaden Schwartz and David Perron.
"We knew a couple days ago he'd be good to go so he's good; that's a good feeling for us," Hitchcock said. "When Ray (Barile) came back to the bench, he said, 'He's fine,' and I just thought, 'I'm not taking a chance here. We're down two goals; we're going to pull the goalie anyways and it's best that he gets out.' I knew on the 24th that (Allen) was going to be fine for practice."
* Winter Classic gear tease -- The Blues were sporting some of their Winter Classic attire at practice, wearing the pants and helmets they will use in competition on Monday at Busch Stadium.
"Pretty sweet," Pietrangelo said. "Bring back the old-school."
Allen wore his new pads, half and half color of Blues colors blue and gold.
"I think Vaughn did a great job and designed them for me," Allen said. "They look really well. They match our uniforms, which look very nice. It's pretty cool to wear them for the first time.
"Goalies get more excited about gear than some of the players do, but I think 'Hutts' gear and my gear look pretty good with the jerseys."
Hutton stood out more than any; he wore the solid gold mitts with matching blocker and glove.
"He went with a little bolder approach," Allen said of Hutton. "I like them. It's different. It's a chance to have some fun with it."
And then there was left wing Robby Fabbri, who broke out the blue blades he will be wearing that have meaning. Fabbri's just not saying yet what they stand for.
"We're not putting anything out for right now, but yeah," Fabbri said. "Today was the first day I wore them. Yeah, I think they match perfectly and it's something different. It'll be explained.
"... I thought it was awesome. I think it was cool change there. I think the colors go good together. I think it's going to look good."