Sunday, March 31, 2013

Elliott focused, confident game is on track

Blues netminder played well in pair of
minor league games; Oshie out Monday night

HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- A veteran National Hockey league player never wants to admit a trip to the minors is a good thing.

But for the Blues' Brian Elliott, a trip up Interstates 55, 155 and 74 into Peoria to play for the American Hockey League's Rivermen could be the best medicine a goalie could get.

Elliott's two-game stint with the Rivermen produced a split, a loss Friday followed by a win Saturday. But after an inauspicious beginning that saw the 27-year-old Elliott allow three goals on the first 10 shots he saw against Oklahoma City en route to a 4-2 defeat, he stopped the final 19 shots he saw against the Barons, then followed it up with a 27-save shutout of Lake Eric Saturday night. Peoria won that game 2-0.

(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues goalie Brian Elliott is looking to get back on track after a playing
a pair of games at AHL Peoria.
And after the game, Elliott, who is 3-6-1 with a 3.65 goals-against average and .851 save percentage this season with the Blues, hopped into his truck and made the three-hour journey back to St. Louis and was on the ice for practice on Easter Sunday before the Blues hopped on a charter to Minnesota, where they'll face the Wild Monday night.

"It was good to get back in some game action and have that little competitive nature out there," Elliott said. "Those guys are fighting for a playoff spot down there, so I wanted to do the best I could for them. I wanted to play a great game in front of them, so it was good to see the puck. It's a different game, but stopping those first couple just to get back in the groove of things and (got me to) have a little fun out there.

"It's obviously been a while since I played (March 5 in a relief role at Los Angeles). I think it was a good idea to go down there and feel the puck, those first-shot jitters to get them out of the way and smile again when you're out there having fun. The guys made it easy for me to have fun down there. Now it's try to get back to the same thing up here."

To say it's been a rough season for Elliott would be understating things. After last season's sparkling year in which Elliott led the league in goals-against average (1.56), save percentage (.940) and tied for the league lead with nine shutouts, those numbers plummeted during this lockout-shortened season. It got to the point where Elliott was third on the depth chart after Jake Allen's ascension from Peoria and Jaroslav Halak's up-and-down games and subsequent groin injury.

The Blues carried a three-goalie carousel along with Halak for the better part of the last six weeks but elected to send Allen, who was 8-3-0 with the Blues with a 2.45 GAA, .906 save percentage and one shutout, back to Peoria and give the Halak-Elliott tandem the work for the rest of the season.

"It's up to Jaro and Brian. It's their ball. They've got to run with it," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said after Sunday's practice. "... Jake's come in and ... I don't want to say saved it, but he's done a heck of a job. He's come in and given us a real opportunity to stay in this race. Now it's up to these two guys to get us to the finish line, get us in the playoffs. They're going to have a real opportunity to come in and play really well. They're going to get every chance to do what they do best. Hopefully they can do it.

"It doesn't matter if it's Jaro or Brian. These are the two guys we're going to roll with. Hopefully they get the job done. I don't want to dismiss that Jake came in and did a great job in keeping this thing going. When Jaro was injured, Brian was struggling, Brian went down and got some games in, felt good about the way he played down there. So that's a good sign, but at the end of the day, both guys have got to help us win some hockey games."

Elliott admitted it's been a unique and tough season, especially being a healthy scratch and relegated to the press box much of the past six weeks. But he's continued to work at his game in practice and hopes that playing two games in Peoria and playing well will get him on the right track again.

"It's definitely hard, but you want to be out there helping your teammates," Elliott said. "When you see things go well, you want to be out there. When things go bad, you want to go out there. Sometimes it's a little tough to take, but we were playing well for a stretch there. I was happy for the team. I just want to contribute as much as possible. Hopefully I have a chance here coming up.

"It's a process, and I think it was a positive step in the right direction going down and playing and seeing some pucks."

Hitchcock wouldn't say if, or when, Elliott would get a start. The Blues have 15 regular season games remaining and will take it one game at a time.

"I really want to get out there, get back into that game atmosphere," Elliott said. "It's fun to play in front of these fans. I want to get back out and contribute.

"Like it says on the wall here, 'You've got to win the day.' It doesn't matter when it is. We're going to do that to the last day."

* Oshie ruled out -- Blues forward T.J. Oshie, who is nursing a bruised foot after blocking a shot during Thursday's 4-2 loss to the Los Angeles Kings, did not accompany the team on the trip to Minnesota and has been ruled out of Monday's game, Hitchcock said.

But the Blues coach did say Oshie, who did not practice over the weekend, is better today and is hopeful he can play in the next game, which is Thursday in Chicago.

Leopold excited for another opportunity at playoffs

Veteran defenseman was acquired for pair of
draft picks, will debut Monday in Minnesota

HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- The last 24 hours have been a whirlwind for Jordan Leopold. But the newest Blues defenseman has been through this routine before with it being his sixth National Hockey League stop.

The 32-year-old Leopold, acquired from Buffalo Saturday for a 2013 second-round pick and a conditional 2013 fifth-round pick that can turn into a fourth round selection should the Blues win a playoff round, got the call from Sabres general manager Darcy Regier prior to the Sabres facing the Washington Capitals. He will wear No. 33 for the Blues.

(Buffalo Sabres photo)
New Blues defenseman Jordan Leopold will make
his debut Monday in Minnesota.
"I was pre-game napping yesterday to get ready and play the Capitals," Leopold said Sunday afternoon after flying in and taking a physical. "I woke up and got a call from Darcy Regier and (he) quickly said I ended up trading you. ... I really didn't sleep last night. I think I finally dotted out about 1:30 (local time). I got up at 4:30. It wasn't a good, quality night of sleep. After two short flights, here I am."

Leopold, who coach Ken Hitchcock said will be in the lineup when the Blues play at Minnesota Monday night, was able to have dinner with his three daughters ages 9, 7 and 4. Then it was off to his new adventure and trying to get the Blues (17-14-2) into the playoffs after a couple disappointing seasons with the Sabres, who've had high expectations.

"It was a couple tough years," said Leopold, who's in the final season of a three-year, $9-million contract. "You look at last year and then this year the start we got off to wasn't the way we pictured it. You get to this point of the season and of course the trade deadline looms. Guys are going to come and go. Of course, UFA's are the first to go. It's just a matter of time to see where I landed and when. I'm really excited to be here."

It is a fresh start for Leopold, who's also had stints with Calgary, Colorado, Pittsburgh and Florida.

"I'm really excited," said Leopold, who has two goals and eight points in 24 games this season. "You look at where I just came from and where we are now, we're fighting for a playoff spot. It's a good opportunity for me. Hopefully I can be able to contribute and help the team accomplish that goal."

Leopold who struggled at the start of the season, was a minus-8 in the first nine games he played this season. But he is a plus-2 over his last 15 games and has four points in eight games since returning from an upper-body injury.

"When you get moved, you can't look at the team didn't want you," Leopold said. "You have to look at the new (team) looking forward ... the new team really wanted you, and it's true. It's a fresh start for guys. This is a fresh start for me. I got off to a rough start this year in Buffalo and ended up playing my best hockey when I came back from injury a few weeks ago. I look to just step in here and do what I've been doing lately."

Hitchcock plans to insert Leopold into the lineup playing alongside Kevin Shattenkirk and if it needs adjustment, the team will plan accordingly.

"He's a steady, kind of multi-dimensional defenseman," Hitchcock said of Leopold, who has played with David Backes, Scott Nichol and Chris Stewart on previous teams. "He's good on the power play, either in a 2-1-2 or 1-3-1 setup. Either way, he's fine. He's played both in Buffalo.

"He's very good at transitioning the puck. He closes. He's got good mobility at closing defensively 5-on-5. ... He's got good transition speed, he's got good transition instincts. He sees the ice really well. He's a steady guy that's going to really help us."

"He was one of the vocal leaders for the short time I was in Colorado," Stewart said of Leopold, who were teammates during the 2008-09 season. "He's a veteran guy who can make plays. I think he keeps the game easy. He doesn't try to do anything that's out of his personality. That veteran presence is definitely going to help down the stretch.

"He's one of those guys you don't notice in the game, but when you check the scoresheet, he had a goal and an assist and probably a plus-2. He's going to log some quality minutes for us."

With Blues general manager Doug Armstrong making the trade for Leopold, it's an indication the Blues, who came into Sunday clinging to the eighth and final spot in the Western Conference playoff race, are in fact going to do whatever they can to solidify their position and go for it.

"We've never doubted that we're out of this," Shattenkirk said. "I know Army feels the same way. He obviously has a lot of faith in this team. We all believe in this team. To see a move like that, it's a good sign.

"It makes you feel confident, and it's something that we need. I think it's going to work out well."

For Shattenkirk, he'll do whatever's necessary to try and get acclimated with his new partner after stints with Wade Redden in recent games.

"It takes a little time, without a doubt," Shattenkirk said. "It's hard for me to say because I'm going to be the young guy and he's going to be the experienced one. It's a tough situation there to be talking to him but just try to talk through as many plays as we can, as many plays as we can go through. Once you get that communication level down, I think that's where the chemistry really starts."

(Buffalo Sabres photo)
Jordan Leopold (pictured) is expected to play with Kevin Shattenkirk
Monday night against the Wild. 

Leopold, who has 65 goals and 202 points in 610 career games, will try and do his part.

"My game is moving the puck and getting it to the guys that can do something with it, getting out of our own end and playing some good defense and being able to contribute on the other end if the situation arises," Leopold said. "I try to keep things pretty simple. I'm not a flashy player. I try to complement my d-partner and make him better out there."

Leopold can become an unrestricted free agent after the season. What lies ahead is anybody's guess.

"We'll see," Leopold said. "We've just got to take one step at a time. I'm not looking for any commitment by any means. I have to go out and play and do my thing. They can assess if it works, if it doesn't work. By all means, I hope it's going to work. I think it's a good fit for me. I think I can complement some of the players here."

Saturday, March 30, 2013


Plus-minus a difference in team's play; Allen sent to Peoria; Oshie day-to-day

HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- The records may not reflect it as much, but when the Blues look at the difference in goals scored and goals given up, they notice.

Through 33 games a season ago, the Blues were 19-10-4, good for 42 points. It's not a whole lot different from the current Blues, who are 17-14-2, which is good for 36 points. A tweak here or a little shift there and it all evens out, right?

Well, through those 33 games a season ago, the Blues were plus-20, scoring 88 goals and allowing only 68, which equals to 2.06 goals per game. The Blues are scoring slightly more this season (94) but they are allowing 93, or 2.82 goals per game.

It's easy to point the finger at the goaltending. Obviously Jaroslav Halak and Brian Elliott, who were razor-sharp a season ago, have not lived up to last season's billing. But it boils down to a number of aspects why the Blues aren't as stingy as a season ago when they allowed only 165 goals, which is tied for an NHL record.

"It's in two areas," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. "Number one, it's critical ice management. It happened again in the last game (a 4-2 loss to Los Angeles). We got out of the first period, but we gave up two breakaways. I think that's the number one area. I don't care how many players you add, I don't care who you bring in new here. When you don't manage the puck in critical ice in key situations, or you make errors that lead to 2-on-1s and breakaways, you're always living on the dangerous edge. That's number one for me.

"The other area for me is the details in our own zone aren't as good as they were last year. The goalie bears the brunt of it sometimes, but I think it's a team thing. There were months where we were perfect. Last year, we went 11 games not giving up a breakaway or 2-on-1. We haven't done more than two games (this year). That to me is a big difference. When we clean up the critical ice areas .. we had three of them (Thursday), which is down, but two of them were doozies, then I think we'll get better, but it's just an ongoing improvement. We're getting more pressure. Teams are more aggressive on us. But I think that's a big thing for us right now."

Center Scott Nichol, the team's fourth-line specialist and defensive stalwart, certainly recognizes the disparity.

"We know the numbers," Nichol said. "We know we haven't been as good five-on-five this year. At the beginning of the year, our power play carried us a lot. Maybe it has to do with going to the hard areas like Hitch said, and even not having as much practice time.

"It's one of those years where those numbers don't lie. That's winning hockey right there when the numbers are plus rather than minus."

Without all the focus being on the defensemen and the ability to get pucks out cleanly, there's also the management of the puck in the offensive zone, which the Blues seemed to thrive on in 2011-12.

"I would say 80 percent is on forwards, 20 percent on D," Hitchcock said. "I would say 80 percent is on the forwards ... managing the puck the right way. I would say that's a bigger responsibility than even the defensemen because the forwards are the ones that have the puck for the most part from the top of the circle to the top of the circle."

Top defenseman Alex Pietrangelo, who garners the most minutes on the team, won't place blame on the goaltending either.

"We're trying to find ways to take care of our end first. We know that," Pietrangelo said. "It has nothing to do with the goaltending. A lot of the goals are opportunities that they don't even have the chance to save them. Losing guys on the back side that turn into 2-on-1s, 3-on-1s or breakaways. We've got to start finding ways to manage the puck better, which is going to result in less opportunities with the other team in our zone.

"The d-men finding ways to get the puck out quicker, the forwards coming back, back-checking their guys and the d-men winning winning 1-on-1s in the corner instead of losing those battles. It all relates to each other. When we need to make the save, make the save. It's a collective effort."

* Allen to Peoria -- In a somewhat surprising move and one that all but keeps Brian Elliott in a Blues uniform through the remainder of this season, the team assigned Jake Allen to Peoria.

The Blues needed to make room on the 23-man roster with the addition of defenseman Jordan Leopold, who was acquired from the Buffalo Sabres Saturday afternoon.

Elliott, who was sent to Peoria Thursday on a two-game conditioning assignment, will return following Saturday's start against Lake Erie. He stopped 26 shots in a 4-2 loss to Oklahoma City Friday, allowing three goals on the first 10 shots but stopping the final 19, according to Hitchcock.

"Jake's done very well in his time up here," Blues general manager Doug Armstrong said of Allen, who was 8-3-0 with a 2.45 goals-against average and .906 save percentage. "But we have a 23-man roster now and this is it. Jake was told to go down there and continue to play well. ... Right now, I see Jaro and Ells as our two goalies (for the remainder of the season)."

* Oshie questionable -- Blues forward T.J. Oshie, who did not practice Saturday at St. Louis Outlet Mall, is listed as day to day, according to Hitchcock.

Oshie sustained a bruised foot blocking a shot in the loss to the Kings. He is listed as questionable for Monday's game in Minnesota.

"Oshie has a lower-body bruise. He's day-to-day," Hitchcock said. "I would say he would be questionable for Monday. Up in the air right now.

"(He) blocked a shot. He is day-to-day but we don't want to sit and wait and hope he shows up. We'll move on without him for that one game, and then if he comes in, he comes in."

The Blues won't play again until Thursday in Chicago.

The Blues' line combinations at Saturday's practice had David Backes skating between Andy McDonald and Jaden Schwartz, while Patrik Berglund was flanked by Alexander Steen and Chris Stewart. But Hitchcock said he wants to get Steen back with Backes and will play McDonald there if Oshie can't go and have Schwartz play with Berglund and Stewart. Steen would play on the right.

Blues acquire defenseman Jordan Leopold from Sabres

Team gives up pair of 2013 draft picks for left-handed veteran

ST. LOUIS -- The Blues have been falling down the Western Conference standings. It was not a matter of if but when would the Blues shake up their roster.

Of course something had to make sense, and
with the NHL trade deadline just four days away, general manager Doug Armstrong isn't waiting around for asking prices to escalate.

The Blues have acquired defenseman Jordan Leopold from the Buffalo Sabres in exchange for a second-round and a conditional fifth-round pick in the 2013 NHL Draft that can become a fourth-round pick if the Blues win one playoff round.

Jordan Leopold - Buffalo Sabres v Ottawa Senators
(Buffalo Sabres photo)
Jordan Leopold will join his sixth NHL team after
being acquired by the Blues Saturday.
Leopold has eight points (two goals) and is a minus-6 in 24 games for the Sabres this season. The Blues will be his sixth team in a career that began in 2002-03.

With Douglas Murray already being dealt from San Jose to Pittsburgh for a pair of draft picks earlier in the week, Armstrong felt like the barometer was set and he was ready to strengthened the left side of his defensive unit as a result.

"The first couple deals set the market," Armstrong said via conference call Saturday afternoon. "Pittsburgh set the market for defensemen when Murray went for a second and I think a third that goes to a second based on a certain number of things. Pittsburgh was willing to pay for a premium because they saw that specific player in the style that they needed, but it showed that NHL players are what they're values are going to be for draft picks. So the market was set and we had an understanding of what we were willing to pay.

"[Sabres GM] Darcy [Regier] might have been able to hold and see if the market goes up, but with that you're always in the risk of an injury and getting nothing for the player. Everybody has to weigh the proper time for their team and I know it was the proper time for us."

The 32-year-old Leopold has played the past three seasons for Buffalo. St. Louis' next game is Monday at the Minnesota Wild.

The Blues, who entered Saturday holding the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference, have made it known that they have been in the market for a left-handed defenseman since last summer. Calgary's Jay Bouwmeester has been a name linked with the Blues for months, but with the Blues holding a plethora of draft picks acquired through various trades, Leopold is a player that they were willing to pay for at this time.

"He provides us with stability and experience back there," Armstrong said of Leopold. "Robby DiMaio [the Blues' director of pro scouting] works in the Toronto area and has seen quite a bit of him over the last couple years. He's touched every aspect of Buffalo's game. He's second on their team in ice time per game for defense. I think he's third in penalty killing for defense and second in power play for defense. He's a guy that's going to come in here and give us a good, steadying influence on our back end."

Armstrong said the Blues will carry eight defensemen for the remainder of the season, which means it could be limited minutes for veteran Wade Redden and 2008 first-round pick Ian Cole.

"I think our goal is first and foremost, we have to get into the playoffs," Armstrong said of the Blues, who are 17-14-2, good for 36 points. "We've put ourselves in a position now where we're going to have to work hard to maintain our position and improve it. But if you want to get in there and have a potentially long playoff run, you have to have eight or nine quality defensemen. Right now we have eight guys that we know can play and a very good NHL depth player with experience in [Jeff] Woywitka. I think our depth on defense now is much stronger than it was before."

Leopold is a Golden Valley, Minn., native who was drafted by the Anaheim Ducks in the second round (No. 44) of the 1999 NHL Draft who will be an unrestricted free agent after this season. He will join the Blues in time for their flight to Minneapolis Sunday and could very well make his debut Monday night.

With the strong pairing of Kris Russell and Roman Polak and Barret Jackman playing strongly with Alex Pietrangelo, Leopold looks like he would slide into the left side along with Kevin Shattenkirk.

"The one thing that this season is showing is that Jax has good chemistry with Alex or with Shattenkirk or (with) Roman for that matter," Armstrong said. "Recently, I really liked the pair of Russell and Roman. I think the coaches like that also. I think that Jordan's going to get an opportunity to play with one of those other two guys off the start. Obviously Ken and Brad will make that decision, but it gives us a bit of flexibility. We'll find out where the proper chemistry is."
Jordan Leopold - Ottawa Senators v Buffalo Sabres
(Buffalo Sabres photo)
New Blues defenseman Jordan Leopold (3) battles Ottawa's Chris Neil in
a game in 2011.

Does this mean the Blues are done? Perhaps, but Armstrong said they'll continue to shop for the right deal if one is there to be had.

"I think you're always looking," Armstrong said. "The phones aren't going to stop ringing until Wednesday at 2 o'clock central time. We're always going to be listening, but we feel a lot stronger. We feel our depth is much more improved as of 3 o'clock today than it was at 3 o'clock yesterday."

Leopold is in the final year of a three-year, $9-million contract. There are no guarantees he resigns with the Blues, so call this an audition of sorts.

"The beauty of it is we're going to get a good look at him, he's going to get a good look at us and see if there's a fit," Armstrong said of Leopold. "We're hoping that he comes in and plays well, finds chemistry. He's a 1980 birthday, so he's certainly got some miles left on the tires. If it's a good fit and we have success, then it's something we can certainly look at."

Friday, March 29, 2013

Blues to hit home stretch clinging to playoff berth

Team sit in eighth place in west; college defenseman
picks Detroit; AHL's Rivermen appear to be leaving

ST. LOUIS -- The month of March was promising for the Blues, as they won six of their first nine and seemed to begin to cure what ailed them.

But the end of the month came and now has the Blues in desperate times after losing for the fourth time in five games to end March at .500 (7-7-0) and put them right back where they were when it all began.

And a lot of the same sore spots have surfaced in the team concept of winning hockey, and it has the Blues at 17-14-2 and only two points ahead of those chasing them for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference.
(St. Louis Blues/Mark Buckner)
The Blues' T.J. Oshie (74) and David Backes (42) will have to put their
best efforts forward in April with 15 games remaining and St. Louis in 8th
place in the Western Conference.

Yes, the Blues are now the hunted for those on the outside looking in, and if things don't change for the better in the month of April when the Blues' schedule will be as difficult as any in this shortened season, they'll find themselves on the outside quickly with little time to recover.

"We've been in worse situations here where we're 13, 14 (in the standings) and need help," Blues captain David Backes said after Thursday's 4-2 home loss to the Los Angeles Kings, losing the game in the final three minutes after the game was tied 2-2. "Now it's take care of business yourself and you like where you're at. Stumble and fall, and it's a coin flip at best whether we're playing into May. Here we go."

The Blues don't play again until Monday, when the gauntlet of their schedule takes them to surging Minnesota, which begins a stretch of six in seven away from Scottrade Center before finishing with seven of eight at home.

In case you need a calculator, that's 15 games in 30 days that includes three sets of back-to-backs and seven of those games against teams ahead of them in the standings.

"Tons of games in a short amount of time," Backes said. "We play 15 games in April and down the stretch run, a lot of three in four (nights), so rest is going to be at a premium.

"We can't be looking back on any of these games anymore saying we could have had two points here. We've used our allotment of those games where we had two points sitting there. Now it's time to grab those two points, whether it's pretty, ugly or whatever. Put them in the bank and move forward and keep a ball rolling, build something here."

It was a week of missed opportunities for the Blues. Just like they did on March 19 in Vancouver, they outplayed Calgary but fell 3-2 to the Flames, who are a longshot at best at pushing for a playoff berth. Then came a 3-0 thud at home against Edmonton Tuesday, the very same Oilers team the Blues throttled at home just three days earlier. Then it all culminated with Thursday's loss to the Kings, the eighth straight time (including a four-game sweep in last spring's playoffs) Los Angeles has downed the Blues.

"I think they've got a full group of 20 guys that are nose to the grindstone and willing to run through the wall for each other," Backes said. "We're working on it ... believe me, we're working on it, but we're not at that level yet and we need to get there sooner than later."

The Blues, who began the season 6-1-0, were sketchy at times but were finding ways to win. Then came an inconsistent February in which coach Ken Hitchcock's "buy-in" was losing its touch. But they were always able to maintain that fourth through sixth spot in the conference.

The inconsistency stems from not getting all 20 players at once to be on the same page, from not getting the timely save one game to sloppy turnovers that lead to odd-man rushes/breakaway scoring chances the next time and to not finishing scoring chances in the offensive zone in another game.

They all seem to add up to what the Blues have been since the end of January, hovering around the .500 mark (11-13-2).

"We've just got to get our game in order, all 20 guys," Backes said. "You've seen it in stretches when we've got 20 guys going, it's a beautiful thing out there. And then you've seen when we've got not everyone going, it's an uphill battle.

"We've taken strides and we've had long meetings internally the last few days to sort some of that out. I do think we've made progress, but it's not where it needs to be yet."

By the time they play at Minnesota Monday, the Blues, who took Friday of but will be back on the practice ice Saturday morning, could easily be on the outside having to fight their way back in.

"We've just got to look at ourselves right now," forward Alexander Steen said after Thursday's loss. "We've got to do whatever it takes to win the games. Right now, we're not doing that. We've lost a couple big ones here at home. Now we need to take our stuff on the road and make sure we start playing better on the road (and) getting points.That's what it's all about. We've got to start getting points."

"We've got the month of April now to go to put up or shut up and go home early, and that's really where we're at right now. Here we go," Backes said.

* DeKeyser to Detroit -- It was announced Friday afternoon that Western Michigan defenseman Dan DeKeyser, a free agent who drew interest from the Blues among others, chose to sign with the Detroit Red Wings.

DeKeyser, who played for former Blues coach Andy Murray with the Broncos, was this year's Justin Schultz, the free agent defenseman last year who chose the Edmonton Oilers.

DeKeyser, 23, is a Macomb, Mich. native, chose the Red Wings after not being drafted and becoming an unrestricted free agent when the Broncos' season concluded.

Among the teams believed to be interested in the 6-foot-3, 198-pound blue liner included the Blues, Red Wings, Nashville, Toronto, Anaheim, Edmonton, Philadelphia and Ottawa. DeKeyser finished with two goals and 13 assists in 35 games for the Broncos and began to draw heavy interest in the last year after being named a first-team All-CCHA member.

* Rivermen gone? -- The Peoria Journal Star is reporting that the Blues have notified the Peoria Civic Center in an email that the team will cease operations following the 2012-13 season.

It's not official until the proper paperwork is submitted, but the paper is reporting that the Blues, who acquired the American Hockey League affiliate as part of Tom Stillman and his group's acquisition of the Blues franchise, will pay a $90,000 penalty as part of an opt-out clause. The Blues still had two years remaining on a lease with the Civic Center.

Reports surfaced recently that the Blues are looking for an AHL affiliate that would not be owned by them. A franchise trying to stabilize its finances has seen the Blues make cost-cutting moves since new ownership purchased the team nearly a year ago.

There have been some reports that suggested that the Vancouver Canucks, who have an affiliate with the Chicago Wolves, would purchase the Rivermen franchise and relocate it closer in proximity to British Columbia and the Blues would be interested in affiliating with the Wolves but those reports have not been confirmed.

Once the Rivermen and Blues sever ties officially, Rivermen players/prospects would join the new affiliate and remain Blues property.

The Rivermen have been part of the Peoria community for 31 years.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Richards' late goal lifts Kings over slumping Blues

Goal with 2:43 left comes amid review; St. Louis
has dropped four of five, slips into eighth in West

ST. LOUIS -- A game for the taking was within their grasp. But as often been the case in the last handful of games, the Blues are finding the shorter end of the stick.

If something doesn't change really fast, they will be on the outside looking in, and there's not many games left to try and salvage what's left of a shortened season.

The Los Angeles Kings have gone into two tough buildings in a row and come up with key goals late in regulation to leave with two points.

On Monday, it was Dustin Brown scoring with less than two minutes to give L.A. a victory at Chicago. Three nights later, it was Mike Richards' turn to be the hero -- he stuffed a puck past Jaroslav Halak with 2:43 remaining to break a tie as the Kings beat the Blues 4-2 at Scottrade Center.
(St. Louis Blues/Mark Buckner)
The Blues' Jaden Schwartz (9) checks the Kings' Jarret Stoll during Los
Angeles' 4-2 win Thursday night.

The play went to review, as Halak had his skate up against the post. Jeff Carter did lift the goal from behind before the puck got stuffed in but it was determined to be a good goal, as Richards outworked the Blues' Andy McDonald on the play.

"I'm not even sure what happened," Richards said of his eighth of the season. "I got a little lucky, and jammed it in.

"You just look at the puck and poke, poke, poke."

Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said officials Stephen Walkom and Graham Skilliter got the information from Toronto. It was Walkom from behind the net that called it a good goal.

"He said it was a good goal," Hitchcock said of his explanation from Walkom. "Carter pushed the back of the net, pushed Jaro's foot off the post. Richards jammed it (inside) the post.

"I don't know. They'll have to explain that to you at the NHL level. Carter's motion on the back of the net forced Jaro's foot off the post ... it went in."

The Blues could have had an opportunity late, but Justin Williams, who added an empty-netter with 1:16 remaining to seal the win for the Kings (19-12-2), got away with a high stick on David Backes with 1:57 remaining.

It used to be that the Blues had the Kings' number, but the tide has turned heavily in favor of the Kings in recent meetings.

Brown and Trevor Lewis also scored for the Kings, who won for the fourth time in six games while beating the Blues for the eighth straight time -- including four wins in a second-round playoff sweep last spring. They've outscored the Blues 29-13 in that stretch.

"Every time we play them, it's a physical game," Kings center Anze Kopitar said. "We just focus on the very next game against them. It's not like we're looking back. Maybe we just catch them at the right time."

The Kings grabbed the two crucial points in the standings, giving them 40 on the season.

"Every game now is a playoff game," Lewis said. "Points are so crucial. This had a playoff feel. We've been in all kinds of situations and we know what it takes. Now we've just got to build on this."

Vladimir Tarasenko scored both goals for the Blues (17-14-2) and Halak stopped 36 shots -- the 39 shots he faced were the most he's seen in any of his 15 appearances this season.

"It was not good because (the) team (lost)," Tarasenko said of his first two-goal game since opening night. "It doesn't matter how many goals we score and how many games you make, it's all about the win. We don't have selfish players on our team. We're just thinking about wins."

The loss was the Blues' fourth in five games and since they don't play again until Monday, could likely see them outside of the top eight in the Western Conference looking in. They came into the game in seventh place and pending San Jose's game late Thursday with Detroit, they could be in the last playoff spot but not for very long.

"We're trying, and right now, we've had some pucks that haven't gone our way," the Blues' Alexander Steen said. "Myself, I've got to start putting some pucks in the net. I've had God knows how many shots the last couple games. Tonight I have one that goes off the shaft of the goalie's stick and one that goes off the bar. They've got to start going in.

"It was a heavy game. Both teams checked well and played hard. For us right now, it's tough to get that break at the end, especially so late in the game. There's not much really to say. We've got to get back to work. There's no point in feeling sorry for ourselves. We have 15 games to go, and we just have go to win the next one now."

"I think we upped our level from past games," captain David Backes said. "We put a lot of effort into tonight. But again, tough to swallow. Tonight was one of the nights where we needed two points ... beg, borrow, steal, scratch and claw. It's starting to be a broken record of we've got to put more in to get more out.

"You win and you hold your spot in the standings; you lose and you start to slide. We've been too much of the latter."

The Blues had to chase most of this game but were able to get a pair of Tarasenko equalizers.

Brown gave the Kings a 1-0 lead when he was able to convert a rebound of a Kopitar chance 4:42 into the second period. Halak made stops on Rob Scuderi and Kopitar on the doorstep, but the puck got to Brown on the opposite side of the net.

The Blues tied it at 10:55, with Tarasenko scoring his first in 10 games when he connected for a power-play goal -- the Blues' first man advantage goal in five games. The Russian rookie followed up his own rebound after getting a feed in the slot from David Perron. Jonathan Quick, who stopped 20 shots, made the initial save but left a rebound in the slot.

The goal broke a 106:07 scoring drought for the Blues dating back to Saturday at Edmonton.

(St. Louis Blues/Mark Buckner)
The Blues' T.J. Oshie (74) battles for position in front of the Kings' Rob
Scuderi Thursday night.
But the Kings reestablished the lead when Lewis was able to outwork Wade Redden at the side of the Blues goal after a dump-in by Stoll and beat Halak with a near-side backhand just 1:53 after the Blues tied it.

Tarasenko equalized the game again for the Blues, as he followed up Alex Pietrangelo's one-timer and stuffed the puck past Quick from just off the goal line. Tarasenko, coming off the right half-wall, beat Scuderi to the position and finished it off 6:44 into the third.

But when push came to shove late with two points on the line, the Blues came up empty-handed. And time's running out. April looms with a heavy schedule and tough opponents.

"We had some good stuff," Hitchcock said. "We don't have enough yet, but we had a lot of people who poured a lot into it tonight. ... Not enough yet."
"No, we still lost it," Tarasenko said when asked if the Blues were good enough to win. "If we win tonight, that means we played good. But we lost."

* NOTES -- Before getting assists in Tarasenko's goal in the third, Pietrangelo (six games) and Kevin Shattenkirk (eight games) were without a point. ... Chris Stewart, after getting 24 points (10 goals, 14 assists) in 18 games, now has one goal in the last five games. ... McDonald was minus-4 on the night. Along with linemates Stewart and Patrik Berglund, the trio was minus-10.

(3-28-13) Kings-Blues Gameday Lineup

ST. LOUIS -- Jaroslav Halak will be the first to admit that the lockout-shortened season has been a challenge, and unusually different for him.

Halak, who will get the nod tonight when the Blues (17-13-2) host the Los Angeles Kings (18-12-2) at 7 p.m. (FSN, KMOX 1120-AM), came into the season as the team's No. 1 netminder after he and Brian Elliott were the backbones to the team's 109-point season a year ago.

Life was good for Halak, but some adversity came back once the season began in mid-January.

"This season has been a weird season for everybody so far," Halak said after Wednesday's optional skate for the Blues, who have dropped three of four games.

Halak, who is 6-4-1 with a 2.12 goals-against average, a .893 save percentage and three shutouts, has been feast or famine throughout his 14 appearances this season, which includes the first time coming in relief, which he did Tuesday night in stopping all 12 shots he faced.

But he will get the keys to the car again tonight, and an opportunity for him to solidify himself as the team's go-to guy in the net will be on display once again. And he's not looking past the Kings.

"We've got to go game by game," Halak said. "There's a game (tonight) and we'll see what happens. ... But we've still got 16 games left. Plenty of points out there for us. We just need to go out there and grab them. We just need to get a streak going, not win one or two games and lose two. We need it. Everybody in the locker room knows it.

"It's not like we're not trying. We're trying to do our best. Some nights it doesn't go our way, but I'm sure everybody's trying their hardest."

Halak, who got off to a horrendous 1-6 start with a 3.37 GAA and .856 save percentage a season ago, rebounded to finish
26-12-7 with a 1.97 GAA, a .926 save percentage and six shutouts after finishing 25-6-7 and a 1.73 GAA and .936 save percentage in his last 39 appearances.

But Halak shared the net with Elliott, and the twosome seemed to mesh well splitting time in goal, culminating with winning the William Jennings Trophy.

This season, the numbers aren't particularly poor -- the save percentage can certainly improve -- but it's been an adjustment.

Halak wasn't able to train during the summer as he was rehabbing the high ankle sprain suffered in the second game of the playoff series against San Jose. He played one game in Germany during the lockout and once the season started, it was up and down at the beginning, and Elliott has fallen off with his game as well. Halak suffered a groin injury in Detroit Feb. 1 and missed roughly three weeks of time and brought up Jake Allen from Peoria to back up Elliott. When Elliott's play began to plummet, and Halak getting pulled from a game against the Kings in the last meeting, general manager Doug Armstrong summoned Allen one hour after that game and the three-headed goalie carousel has been in place since.

Allen has gone 8-3-0, and for the better part of the last six weeks, it's been a three-goalie rotation for the Blues. It's something that's uncommon and with little ice time in between games, Halak has not seen more than 23 shots in any of his 14 appearances this season. Combined with another competitor for ice time between the pipes, it's made the challenge even tougher.

"It's never easy for a goalie to play a game ... six or seven shots after the second period," Halak said. "You never get into a rhythm in a game or in a practice with three goalies out there. It's not the way it's supposed to be. I know this season is short and we're not going to get too much time for practices. Every time you do, it's such an important time for every player and for every goalie to try to do his best and work out there for the little things. It hasn't been easy for anybody so far. Everybody's trying to do the best out of the time we have.

"We've got three goalies in practice, I lost three weeks to my injury. It's not easy for anybody to get into a rhythm and try to do your best. Any time you have a chance to practice hard and work on the little details, they make a big difference at the end of the season."

But asking the players in front of him to compromise is a little difficult when the Blues are playing a solid shutdown game.

"You don't look at the shot clock and go, 'Oh, he hasn't had a shot in a while and let one go by,'" defenseman Barret Jackman said. "You compete every play like you always do. You have to limit the chances and keep it to the outside. Obviously the more games he plays, the more comfortable he's going to be and the more groove he's going to get in. But you don't compromise the way that you play to give him more shots. I've never heard of that in the game of hockey.

"The more pressure there is, the better he is. He's a competitive guy and he loves to win. He wants to be the go-to guy. He's going to get back to that stature and that game. We don't expect him to be that far off. He's been good the last couple outings and we just have to be a more complete team in front of him and it'll all take care of itself."

Teammate Kris Russell, however, can sympathize to a certain degree.

"I think it's a feel thing. I think any goalie wants to feel the puck early," Russell said. "I know if I was in that situation, it would be tough just sitting there watching the play and all of the sudden, have three or four chances on you. But he's a good goalie. We're fortunate we've got three of them. Those guys seem to be good in every situation and we're fortunate for that.

"Our job is to limit their chances and the shots. I think the thing that's been evident is when we do give up an opportunity, it's a big one. We can't do that for our goalies regardless of the situation we're in. As defensemen, as a whole team, we've got to limit those 2-on-1s, those breakaway kind of chances because we are doing a good job of shutting down, we can't let them have an explosive outburst."

Halak had been solid in recent outings, but Jarome Iginla's third-period goal in Calgary that broke a 2-2 tie and ultimately saw the Blues go down 3-2 was one that was seen as a goal that reminded fans of early last season. It was a play in which teammate Wade Redden's sliding attempt saw the veteran slide by Halak, grazing his pad and stick and Iginla score on a sharp angle. Fans were once again calling for Allen.

"Giving up the winning goal in Calgary ... I don't think I made a bad play," Halak said. "Reds, he kind of scooted on my stick so I couldn't really put it out there. When I did, it was too late. Those are the little things. They add up as the games go on, but I have to look ahead, go out, have fun and try to win a game. That's as simple as it is."

Blues coach Ken Hitchcock will go back to Halak tonight against the Kings, and he's comfortable with his play.

"Compete, he's fine. Other than the goal in Calgary, he's played pretty well," Hitchcock said. "That's a goal that probably all of us would like to have back, including the defenseman who had his stick stuck in the pads or whatever, but other than that, he's played pretty well. He played good in Edmonton, came in a relief situation and didn't allow a goal. I think overall, he's been fine."

Some goalies have had little trouble finding their groove in this shortened season. Most of them played regularly overseas and kept sharp. For those that didn't, the adjustment is coming on the fly, something Halak is adapting to, especially when he sees little to no work in the game and practices are limited.

"It's everybody. It's not only me," Halak said. "You ask any goalie out there ... three, four shots a period, that's not the way the game's supposed to be played. You don't get the work in the practice, you don't get the work in the game, then I missed (three) weeks and then I play back-to-back. But I'm here to stop the puck. it's not like I'm not trying or anything, but some nights, it doesn't go our way or my way. If you look around the league, it's not only me or whoever.

"It's not easy always to have eight months away from the game. Everybody was practicing and working out in the gym, but it's not the same. Usually you have three, four months off in the summer and then you're back at it, back playing games, skating with guys. This time, we were just waiting around and trying to catch up after we got back. It was a short training camp. There wasn't much time to work on many things. But this is the way it is. I'm not the only one. We've got 60 goalies in the league, 60-plus. Everybody's in the same group, everybody's trying to do their best and trying to get better."

The situation is what it is, and Halak is focused on looking at tonight and not too far ahead. As long as he focuses on the task at hand, he feels like things will fall back into place.

"You just have to worry about the things you can control," Halak said. "We have a game (tonight). I'll be playing and I'll just try and do my best. We'll see at the end of the night how the result is and we can go from there."

- - -

The Blues announced Thursday afternoon they were sending Elliott to Peoria for a two-game conditioning assignment. Elliott will play games for the Rivermen Friday and Saturday before returning to the parent club.

Elliott last played on March 5 in a reserve role at Los Angeles. His last start was a 4-1 loss at Dallas March 3 when he stopped 23 shots.

Elliott, 27, who is 3-6-1 with a 3.65 goals-against average and .851 save percentage, did not need to clear waivers for a conditioning assignment but the Blues did need his consent.

- - -

The Blues' probable lineup:

Alexander Steen-David Backes-T.J. Oshie

Andy McDonald-Patrik Berglund-Chris Stewart

David Perron-Vladimir Sobotka-Vladimir Tarasenko

Chris Porter/Scott Nichol-Jaden Schwartz-Ryan Reaves

Barret Jackman-Alex Pietrangelo

Wade Redden-Kevin Shattenkirk

Kris Russell-Roman Polak

Jaroslav Halak gets the start in goal; Jake Allen is the backup.

Healthy scratches include defenseman Ian Cole and either Porter or Nichol. Jamie Langenbrunner (hip) is out for the season.

- - -

The Kings' probable lineup:

Justin Williams-Anze Kopitar-Dustin Brown

Mike Richards-Tyler Toffoli-Jeff Carter

Dwight King-Jarret Stoll-Trevor Lewis

Kyle Clifford-Colin Fraser-Jordan Nolan

Jake Muzzin-Drew Doughty

Rob Scuderi-Slava Voynov

Alec Martinez-Keaton Ellerby

Jonathan Quick will get the start; Jonathan Bernier, who has been away from the team for personal reasons, will be back in time to be the backup.

Heathy scratches include winger Dustin Penner, center Brad Richardson and defenseman Davis Drewiske. Defensemen Matt Greene (lower-body) and Willie Mitchell (lower-body) are on injured reserve.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Getting Hitchcock's buy-in message on the docket for Blues again

Season winding down, team feels it understands
what's needed, needs to take action on ice

HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- The day after closed door meetings, delays in speaking with the media that centered around a subtle phrase, the Blues were back in a familiar area: trying to balance out a game that has had its share of peaks and valleys.

And once again, that subtle phrase was at the forefront of discussion: buy-in.

Coach Ken Hitchcock always seems to use it when talking about the overall complexion of it's going to take to make the Blues successful. But what exactly is the buy-in for this team that has now lost three of four and is one game under .500 (11-12-2) since beginning the season 6-1-0?

I think it's doing the right thing at the right time during critical stages," Hitchcock said after an optional skate that saw 14 players on the ice at St. Louis Outlet Mall's Ice Zone. "It's the small details that ... the buy-in is details. It's the details that at the end of the day, in 2 1/2 hours of competition add up to good play. I think it's the reaction to getting checked hard. There are critical areas on the ice that have to be managed properly for your team to win. And then the buy-in is all the hard things that you have to go into to be competitive offensively and defensively."
(St. Louis Blues/Mark Buckner)
The Blues' Vladimir Tarasenko (right) and his teammates seemed to be
chasing Edmonton and goalie Nikolai Khabibulin (35) all night Tuesday.

That would explain why the Blues were blanked 3-0 on home ice by Edmonton. There was no buy-in.

"So you look at us (Tuesday), lots of shots on goal (a season-high 43), lots of scoring chances, but a lot of the (opposing) goalie being able to look at things," Hitchcock said. "Not enough traffic, not enough activity at the goal, and I think the bigger area for us is the turnovers in the critical ice. If we manage the game properly and do a better job of that and we have more activity at the net, clean up some areas, we're doing a lot of good things. But we are not managing the puck in the proper areas and that's why we're giving up 2-on-1s and breakaways. We might give up eight or nine scoring chances a game but they are doozies. I've said that for a month now. You're not going to win games -- no matter if you give up five scoring chances -- if all of them are odd-man rushes or breakaways or 2-on-1s ... you're not going to win hockey games. You're opening yourself up and that's what happened yesterday. We gave up a 2-on-1 for the first goal, a breakaway for the third goal. You're not going to win games that way."

With 16 games remaining for the Blues (17-13-2), who entered Tuesday clinging to the seventh spot in the Western Conference, why hasn't this buy-in that never seemed to be an issue for the majority of last season's 109-point run, so inconsistent in this abbreviated schedule?

Everyone seems to always have the right answers when asked. But putting the finished product on the ice seems to be a different story.

"It's not concerning because we've done it before and we know what it takes, but I think in that respect, it's nothing new to us, it's nothing that we haven't found, nothing that we haven't experienced before," defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk said. "So I think when it comes down to it, we know what we need to do. We're just not happy with ourselves right now as a team. It's unacceptable. We know we have a lot more in us. It's time that we get to it and we start playing the way that we're supposed to."

Added veteran center Scott Nichol, who's seen his share of ebbs and flows: "It's getting down to the nitty-gritty. It's all about the wins right now. We've just got to do the little things. It looks good that we shoot the puck a lot, but it's hard areas, going to the net, getting all that kind of stuff. Maybe a little bit of the buy-in that (Hitchcock's) talking about is away from the puck, creating offense by not having the puck and breaking the seams and going to the net that way.

"We'll just keep harping on it and harping on it. It'll sink in. We'll get a couple ugly goals and then we'll be out of it, but that's hockey. You've got to keep every shift, every battle ... it's so important. It starts from the faceoff and right down. Those are the good habits to kind of get into."

With the Blues, who host the Los Angeles Kings Thursday night, getting into the gauntlet of their schedule now in survival mode, leaves one to question how can they -- as Hitchcock said Tuesday night -- one game be in and one game be out? He said it's a process.

"It's not going to happen overnight. It's not going to change," Hitchcock said. "Every team other than two or three teams go through this stuff, and sometimes you get away with it. We're not getting away with it this year, and sometimes you don't get away with it. We're one team that's not getting away with it. We make a mistake, it's usually an odd-man rush, it's usually in our net. We have to do a better job of the details of managing the game and the proper manner have to be done.

"I really believe in some ways it's a competitive area where we just have to compete harder that we make sure the other team does't get transition easily. If you don't allow the other team transition easily, you have a really good chance of winning the hockey game. What we gave up yesterday was easy transition. We did the same thing in (Sunday) Calgary."

(St. Louis Blues/Mark Buckner)
Andy McDonald (pictured) was one of the leaders involved in closed-door
team meetings after Tuesday's 3-0 shutout loss to Edmonton.
It once again, though, brings into play if there is a trust issue going on with any five particular guys on the ice if they're trying to do too much.

"I think it's just believing in that what we have in place works," Shattenkirk said. "When things go wrong, you don't have to feel like you need to take it on yourself and correct everything. Everyone here wants to be the hero. Everyone wants to be the guy to help the team out and get the big goal, whatever it may be. That's when you really need to start trusting the system and trust that what we have works.

"When we play together, that's when we get those big goals. It doesn't matter if it's David Backes, it doesn't matter if it's Jaden Schwartz. It's whoever gets it, gets it."

It may be one of the issues the team leaders addressed following the game Tuesday night.

"It was a team meeting that we needed to have," Shattenkirk said. "We all said what we needed to say. I think it'll be beneficial for us going forward."

Hitchcock hopes so.

It's not the conversation I have. It's the conversation they have," he said. "Those are the critical conversations. The coach is coaching. It's what's embraced after the conversation.

"The proof will be in the game tomorrow. How we play tomorrow will answer how much information is being absorbed. You can have all these conversations, but it's the conversation after the conversation ... because we don't live in the locker room, we're not in the locker room all the time. The buy-in has to take place throughout the lineupI think every team reaches a critical stage. I think we're in that stage now, and it'll be really interesting in the next week or 10 days whether the buy-in is being absorbed. But it has to be that way if you expect to win in the league right now."

Blues have closed-door meetings following dismal loss to Oilers

3-0 setback sees locker room doors closed 22 minutes;
Hitchcock doesn't address media for for over an hour after meeting with leaders

ST. LOUIS -- Looking at the stats and not the end result, one would think the Blues were on a roll.

But reality set in and an all-too-familiar result was on the board following a disheartening 3-0 home loss to the Edmonton Oilers, another team languishing near the bottom of the Western Conference standings.

It was the third loss on four games for the Blues (17-13-2) who remain stuck in neutral in the Western Conference playoff race but will soon find themselves on the outside looking in if things don't change -- and drastically -- in a hurry.
(St. Louis Blues/Mark Buckner)
The Blues' T.J. Oshie (left) looks to maneuver around Edmonton's
Ladislav Smid during Tuesday night's game at Scottrade Center.
Maybe that's why the players weren't available for the media until 22 minutes after the end of the game because of a players-only meeting, and coach Ken Hitchcock did not address the media group that waited him out until one hour, 17 minutes after the conclusion of the game as Hitchcock and general manager Doug Armstrong met with team leaders after players addressed the media.

"We're not talking about that," assistant captain Alexander Steen said when asked what issues were addressed without being specific. "What happens in here, stays in here."

But the Blues, who have lost 3-2 at Vancouver, 3-2 at Calgary and now 3-0 Tuesday despite outshooting the opponents by a collective 115-55 in those games but outscored 9-4, were on the end of another lopsided shot total Tuesday.

They outshot the Oilers 43-19 but 40-year-old fossil Nikolai Khabibulin blanked the Blues for the first time in his career (47th career start vs. St. Louis). He did stop Steen, David Perron and David Backes on breakaway attempts but for the most part, it was another night in which a less-than-stellar netminder turns in a Vezina-type performance following Miikka Kiprusoff's 36-save effort Sunday.

"I thought he had an easy night," Hitchcock said of Khabibulin. "I really did. I thought in this game, in this league, you need to have way more traffic. You really need to have more second and third opportunities. I think good goalies make saves when it's just the shooter and the goalie. He made all the saves when it was just the shooter and the goalie.

"I think it's the same scenario with us. We give up another breakaway, 2 on 1 early in the game, just poor decisions in the critical areas in the offensive zone that lead to odd-man rushes. This is typical of a lot of our losses. This is the same scenario of Calgary, a little bit the same of Vancouver. Just far too many easy opportunities. You're controlling the hockey game, but you make mistakes and they end up in your net."

Jordan Eberle scored twice, Taylor Hall also scored and Khabibulin did the rest.

And at the end of the night, players talked behind closed doors, management talked to leaders behind closed doors in an effort to try and salvage a ship that seems to have too many peaks and valleys.

"I think it's going to require a deeper buy-in from the group, which is what we talked about here with our leaders," Hitchcock said. "That was why we met. We met with our leaders postgame. It's going to take a deeper buy-in by the group for us to be successful. I think that's going to be a partnership by management, coaches and players. It's going to have to be deeper. It's not deep enough.

"I think it's the accumulation of the creeping in of going backwards again. Look, I know we had a lot of shots on goal ... I know that. It's not a good feeling when you don't have everybody ... in order to win in the National Hockey League on a consistent basis, you need to have everybody on the same page all of the time.That's the sense of pride you need to have. That's what we're trying to get to, and it's a challenge to get there, but once you're there, then it becomes matter-of-fact on a nightly basis. We're not there."

When asked if it's a leadership problem, Hitchcock shot back: "No."

"It's a collective buy-in across the board of playing the game the right way all the time so that you give yourself, at the end of the night, a chance to win," Hitchcock said. "We're in and then we're out and then we're in and then we're out. ... The issue for us is the way we manage the game. We're at our best when we manage the game across the board well, and we're not managing the game. So we're opening ourselves up. A good goalie can come in and beat us.

"Since our 6-1 start, we're one game under .500. That's reality. ... We want to be better. So we're trying to get better."

The Blues' mistakes were magnified in this contest once again. There was a lost-puck turnover by Perron that led to Eberle's first goal, then Eberle is alone in the right circle and beats Jake Allen high on the near side before veteran Barret Jackman's shot/pass towards the goal gets blocked with two players directly in front of him that leads to a 2-on-0, and Hall converts after Allen makes the initial save.

"Mistakes are part of the game," Steen said. "It's a fast game and things are going to happen. I think the biggest part of it is how you regroup and how you pick up your teammates and you pick yourself up as a group collectively to turn the game around. Tonight we didn't do that."

Allen was pulled after allowing three goals on seven shots in favor of Jaroslav Halak, who was the sacrificial lamb for Blues fans after allowing the sub-par goal decisive goal Sunday in Calgary.

"We needed some type of energy change somewhere," Hitchcock said when asked on his decision to pull Allen, who is now 8-3-0 on the season.

The enigmatic Blues never seem to be in the middle. It's either they're really good, or they're really bad. And Tuesday, there was too much bad against a team they had just handled with ease (3-0) on Saturday night in their barn.
(St. Louis Blues/Mark Buckner)
Blues captain David Backes (right) checks Edmonton's Jeff Petry into the
boards during Tuesday night's game.

"We had the buy-in last year. We've changed since then," Hitchcock said. "That's the challenge for every coach. You can have the same people, they just want different pieces of the pie. That's the constant ... that's coaching. The first time through, it was easy and then you have success.

"It's a very hard way to play. I told you guys that at the start of the year. The way you need to play to win on a consistent basis in the National Hockey League is extremely difficult. The teams that have it, it's like gold. And then the teams that have had it and then lost it, you can see them getting it back. Chicago, Pittsburgh, they want to win -- now. And they're changed. They changed the way they played last year to this year. We want that buy-in back again. And so do our leaders. We're going to find a way to get it, but we're not there yet. Not close.

The Blues will face the defending Cup champs Los Angeles Kings Thursday in another test against a team that is in the middle of a playoff push that seems to have found their game.

"We've got to turn this thing around and get back on track," Backes said. "There's no question about it, there's no secrets."