Saturday, February 5, 2011

Blues must be road warriors down stretch

Team has fewest wins in league away
from home, 18 of final 32 games as visitors

HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- OK, the Blues solved one issue ... at least temporarily. They stopped the bleeding and halted a four-game losing slide and in the process picked up two much-needed points. And it happened on home ice, where they have been pretty solid all season.

But as they embark on a two-game journey to sunny and much warmer Florida, beginning with a 2 p.m. tilt against the talented Tampa Bay Lightning today, the Blues are going to need to recapture some of that magic from last season and become road warriors again.

The Blues (23-20-7) came into Saturday's action six points out of a playoff position. That will likely be different when they wake up Sunday morning after a plethora of Western Conference teams played Saturday night.

Their record indicates they have 53 points. But with only a 7-12-4 mark away from home, that equals to 18 road points. That's it. Eighteen of a possible 46 points on the road.

The seven wins represent the fewest in the league -- even Edmonton and the New York Islanders have more -- after the Blues were one of the best road teams a season ago, sporting a 22-14-5 mark. And one can make a case for 24 wins, if you count the two wins from Sweden to begin the season.

There's no doubt winning on the road is no easy task. But the Blues have put a heavy onus to do some serious winning here down the stretch if they are to play beyond Game No. 82.

"There's no real rhyme or reason," forward B.J. Crombeen said. "I think it's just a matter of focusing on playing our game and going out and executing our game plan. If we do that, we'll have success whether we're on the road or whether we're at home."

The Blues have had some sparkling efforts away from Scottrade Center ice. Wins at Vancouver (3-2) and Los Angeles (3-1) along with an early-season 3-0 win at Nashville come to mind. But there also have been a number of clunkers, including games in which the team has given up five goals or more eight times.

"There's a certain mindset on the road of building momentum within your game," Blues coach Davis Payne said. "I think that we haven't done a great job of that. In the games where we've had success (and) the games that we've been in, we've understood that process pretty well and we're going to have to be pretty clear on that going down to Tampa and then on to Florida.

"We're going to have to make sure that the chances are limited against, we're going to have to make sure we're responding to special teams situations. ... We have to be deliberate in our game. We have to have all our guys committed. If you look at some of our road games where we have had that type of commitment. I look back in Vancouver, I look back in LA. These are some of the games where we've played some of our most committed hockey. That's what it's going to take."

The Blues have been outscored 81-59 in 23 road contests.

"I think our defensive game has slipped a little bit on the road, especially second periods," winger Alex Steen said. "Moving forward, it's just got to be sound and solid. We've got to make sure we get pucks out, pucks in, limit the turnovers."

One constant that has been true to form for the Blues, is playing solid, consistent hockey from start to finish. Too many times this season they have lulls or breakdowns that have cost them.

As Crombeen said, "It just comes down to us playing our game for 60 minutes."

After today's game against the 32-16-5 Lightning, the Blues then head to Florida Tuesday to play the Panthers and old friend Mike Weaver.

"We just have to play hard and outwork other teams," winger Brad Boyes said. "We need to keep doing that, especially on the road where we like to keep it more simple."

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