Thursday, October 13, 2011

Huskins provides Blues with stability in backend

Veteran won't dazzle, just gets the job done when called upon

HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- When Kent Huskins made his Blues debut Monday, some thought it was an odd pairing to see him playing with the naturally-gifted Alex Pietrangelo.

But in reality, coaches around the NHL like to pair those guys that like to join the rush with players like Huskins, who is more of a defensive-minded thinker. They're considered safety values or buffers.
(Getty Images)
Kent Huskins (left) made a successful debut in Monday's 5-2 win over
Calgary. He was on a defensive pairing with Alex Pietrangelo.

Huskins, signed to a one-year, $1 million free agent contract over the summer, gives the Blues a veteran presence on the left side to play with some of their younger defensemen that are more prone to join the offensive rush.

"He's a great player who's only going to get better as well," Huskins said of Pietrangelo. "He does so many great things and has such poise for such a young guy. It's impressive."

Blues coach Davis Payne said playing Pietrangelo with the veteran Huskins lets "Petro do his thing."

"Petro's able to play his game, which is make reads, create things, extend some plays that allow our transition to get going," Payne said. "I think with Husky, you know where he's going to be, know what play he's going to make. When you have that, there's generally not two reads that anybody on the ice has to make. It's the read on the play and our next reaction. He's just a solid, sound, steady defender that let's Petro do his thing."

The 32-year-old Huskins didn't register a point in Monday's 5-2 win over Calgary but did total 18 minutes 38 seconds in ice time and was tied with Pietrangelo for a team-best plus-3. He's the kind of safety valve the Blues can rely on in their own end in the absence of Carlo Colaiacovo (concussion symptoms).

"That's what you want," said teammate Scott Nichol, who played with Huskins in San Jose the last two seasons. "You don't want a riverboat gambler back there. You want a guy you can count on to always get a good stick in the lane and read the play. That's what he was with us in San Jose. We had some real offensive guys. He's a really mainnstay, stable guy back there."

Said Huskins, "I just try to play an even-keeled, steady game back there and play smart. I try to play well positionally and move the puck when I can.

"Everyone likes to play offense, but I definitely have that defense-first mentality."

Payne, who chose not to dress Huskins in the season-opener against Nashville in favor of Nikita Nikitin, liked what he saw.

"I thought he was solid," Payne said. "Positionally, he was very very sound. He made simple decisions. He rarely gets himself out of position.

"We want to make sure that all our guys are taking opportunities to skate to the ice and make our exits coming out of our own zone cleaner. It was his first real go in there, but I thought it was a real sound game for him."

When Huskins won a Stanley Cup with Anaheim back in 2007, he was also paired with someone that had a knack for joining the rush. You may have heard the name before: Scott Niedermayer.
(Getty Images)
Defenseman Kent Huskins (right) was all smiles with teammates Chris
Stewart (25), Andy McDonald (10) and Alex Pietrangelo after a goal
against Calgary Monday.

"He's not going to jump into every play, but he's a smart player back there where if he sees an odd-man rush, he's going to jump in," Nichol said of Huskins. "He's got offensive touch and talent that he can make plays. And he does make good plays.

"You won't see him go up and down the ice like a racehorse, but when there's a chance to go, he's going to go. That's part of his mentality."

Huskins, in his sixth season in the league after being drafted in the sixth round by the Chicago Blackhawks in 1998, spent the last two seasons with the Sharks and saw an opportunity to sign with a team he believes can compete.

"I could tell playing against them the last couple years," Huskins said. "I knew there was a lot of talent in this dressing room, a lot of youth and a lot of potential. When it was kind of put on the table, I was excited and happy to be a part of it.

"We've got great depth here and a lot of quality players throughout the lineup. It's a real strangth of this team and it's up to us to make it all count moving forward."

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