Blues trying to figure out consistent stretch; Allen status
undetermined for Saturday; Bortuzzo progressing; world junior payoff
HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- Judging by their recent run of games, tomorrow's game against the Dallas Stars should go the Blues' way.
At least that's how the latest run of the schedule has gone. It shows the Blues' penchant to stay consistent in one area: win one, lose one, win one, lose one, and so forth.
There's a good news, bad news moment in that scenario.
The good news is the Blues are 11-5-2 following losses. They seem to get back on track after losing games, which is a big reason why they're 20-14-5 and have 45 points on the season as it approaches the midway point.
"Obviously the message gets a little bit louder when you lose a game and the crew comes back with real strong sense of purpose and how we're going to play and obviously we have success, so it's a matter of just getting more consistency and an understanding of what's needed and when we do that and we do it consistently we'll be fine," said associate coach Mike Yeo, who ran Friday's practice for coach Ken Hitchcock, who is also under the weather like a number of players.
"That's a good quality to have for sure," defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk said. "It's about following up the win with the win now. We take a lot of pride in what we do here and we care a lot about this team and I think that's why we bounce back so well. We get pissed off when we lose a game like last night. I have no question in my mind that guys will be ready to play tomorrow night."
But the bad news is that the Blues, who are 2-1-0 against the Stars this season (one win in a shootout and one in overtime) and play them for the final time in the regular season, can't seem to string together consecutive wins.
They've gone 17 in a row without doing so, 21 straight without doing it in regulation after falling 4-2 on home ice to Carolina on Thursday night after impressively defeating the Chicago Blackhawks 4-1 Monday at the Bridgestone Winter Classic.
"It's mentally frustrating because one day you know what you're doing, the next you don't execute the way you did before," center Paul Stastny said. "If we're going to lose games and we're going to play the right way, that's fine. But if we're not all on the same page, we get frustrated, we get mad at each other, we start playing with each other or just start playing with our linemates and not our D-pairs, or vice versa, if we're not supporting each other, that's when the team kind of breaks apart. We have to find a way to stick together through the bumps in the roads."
And that's where the mentally strong typically prevail. When the chips aren't always falling in the right positions, the Blues must continue to find the right formulas that will start bringing more consistent performances together.
"Sometimes it takes a little stretch like we've had here and then all of the sudden, you really start to dial your game in and when that happens, all of the sudden you start to see the results and you start to see benefits," Yeo said. "We're not that far away, but there's still some work to be put in for sure.
"It's gone on for a long time and if we just want to break it down from Christmas on to this point, and that's exactly the way it's going right now. You win one, you lose one, you win one, you lose one. We recognize one game we're not good enough and then we step it up the next game and then we get a little comfortable, a little satisfied and all of the sudden, bad habits creep in. It's a matter of consistency and consistency is an easy word to throw out there, but you can't be consistent in this league if you can't be consistent with the puck and that's been a huge source of our problems right now the way that we're turning pucks over, the way that we're not getting to the offensive zone, staying in the offensive zone, hanging onto pucks just allows teams to transition too easily against us, forces us to defend and I think that's what you've seen a lot of lately."
* Bortuzzo continues to progress -- Robert Bortuzzo will miss his 15th consecutive game Saturday night, but the Blues defenseman, who's out with a lower-body injury, skated again Friday during an optional and feels things are progressing well.
"Good. Coming along, going through the steps," Bortuzzo said when asked how he is. "I've felt better every day, not taken any steps backwards. Not exactly where we want to be at this moment, but definitely we're headed in the right direction and want to be back as soon as possible.
"... Main thing is making sure you get your feet under you. I'm feeling good in that way and I feel like we're going through the right steps here. I don't want to rush anything back. Having said that, you want to obviously get back as quickly as possible and try and contribute, but we're just going through the process right now."
Bortuzzo was injured Dec. 3 against the Winnipeg Jets. It's the second time this season he's missed time with separate lower-body injuries; he was also hurt Oct. 27 against the Detroit Red Wings and missed 10 games.
"I've had some other freak stuff happen in the past, but it's all about how you handle things mentally," Bortuzzo said. "We're definitely doing a good job and the people I've surrounded myself with have definitely helped, whether it's teammates or staff. That's important to stay positive about things. I know there's a lot of season left that you want be healthy and ready for."
It one does tend to wonder why the Blues would stray away from what worked when they win.
"It's a matter of understanding what our game is and getting back to it quickly," Yeo said. "A lot of the games, even last game, despite being down 1-0, the first period really wasn't that bad, but when things are going well, you have the ability to stay on top of it. When things start to go south, that's where it's the recognition of how you have to play the game and the little things it takes to turn things back around for you, and that's what we've lacking. Hitch had a great meeting today, great video of illustrating some of those points, some of the areas we need to be better and now it's a matter of getting it done."
And the alternating wins and losses means the Blues are placed into one category, one they don't like.
"There's not much to analyze. It's just not OK," Shattenkirk said. 'It's not what we want to be around here is .500. That's just an average team and that's where we're sitting right now in the standings and that's how we're playing. We're making good strides, we're showing we can do it, but we just have to stick with, especially games like last night, we have to stick on script. Little turnovers, all these little things, start to become contagious at that point and it bleeds into the rest of your game. We have to stick to that simple mindset of chipping pucks in and going to work. We do it really when and we're successful when we do it."
* Allen misses practice -- It is unknown if goalie Jake Allen will be available for the game against the Stars.
Allen missed Friday's practice to be with his girlfriend, who was expected to deliver the couple's first child.
"He's away today because he's having the opportunity of having his first child here," Yeo said. "We're all real happy for him of that, but obviously with that, you know how sometimes things can go as far as lack of sleep and what-not. We'll see how he is when we see him."
Allen has had a weird season, his first as the full-time starting goalie.
He has 17 wins (17-10-3), but his goals-against average (2.63)and save percentage (.904) are less than desired for a No. 1.
Allen is tied for seventh in wins, but is tied for 37th in save percentage and 27th in goals-against after Thursday's games.
"If you look at save percentage, it's not. If you look at win totals, then he's up there with a lot of the top goalies," Yeo said of Allen's play. "I think Jake is similar to our team where he'd probably like to have a little bit more consistency there as far as just night in, night out getting the wins, which has lacked for our entire group. There's been frustration for everybody. For me, this is a player that is a young player having to learn and deal with this for the first time in his career of really having to get through this and that's part of the development of a starting goalie."
* World juniors pays off for one Blue -- Team USA's gold medal-winning performance over Canada on Thursday in the World Junior Championship was joyous for many Americans, particularly those on NHL rosters, but in the case of Shattenkirk:
"Extra pride and a little extra padding in my wallet today," Shattenkirk, a Boston University attendee, said with a smile. "I was able to reap the benefits. It was cool to see. There was one BU player on Canada so he's going to have a tough go for the next couple months going back to school with those guys, whenever you see that representation it means a lot of the alumni and a lot for the program that they're doing a hell of a job recruiting and doing a good job there.
"Four guys (paid). A couple nice steak dinners the next couple weeks. Carter Hutton is one of them. My girlfriend caught a couple death stares in the better half lounge when she cheered after they won. Got to give the Canadians credit, they support that team really well but it's always nice to stick it to them."
Team USA overcame a pair of two-goal deficits at Bell Centre in Montreal before shootout hero Kyle Terry, who scored three times in the shootout during a semifinal win over Russia, scored the lone goal against Canada and goalie Tyler Parsons slammed the door shut by not allowing a goal in five rounds.
"That's the beauty of the world juniors, it seems like there's no lead that's too big," Shattenkirk said. "It's almost the kiss of death when you go up two goals early in a game. It's like you're waiting for the tide to turn. It was a great game in total world junior fashion.
"Charlie McAvoy, I've had the pleasure of skating with and training with. He led the way. Great to see those guys chipping in."
* Hunt an AHL all-star -- Defenseman Brad Hunt was announced as one of two Chicago Wolves (along with Kenny Agostino) selected for the American Hockey League all-star team. But Hunt, who would require waivers to go back to the AHL since he's been here beyond 30 days (10 games or 30 days), doesn't want to go.
"It's a cool accomplishment," Hunt said, "(but) hopefully, I don't have to go."
Hunt is expected to stay in the lineup against the Stars Saturday. Defenseman Carl Gunnarsson (lower body) is day-to-day but did not skate on Friday.