Saturday, April 20, 2013

Blues are winning again, doing do much like last season

Shutdown defense, timely goaltending key in 9-2-0 run
in April; expect lineup tweaks for Sunday's game at Colorado

ST. LOUIS -- Chris Stewart summed it up best when describing how the Blues have success.

"They're greasy, ugly hockey games," Stewart said. "It's going to be a different hero every night."

They may be ugly, they may be greasy. But the bottom line for the 26-16-2 Blues, who play their final regular season road game at Colorado Sunday at 7 p.m. (NBCSN, Y-98 FM), they're winning.

(St. Louis Blues photo)
Chris Stewart (left) scored his team-leading 17th goal Friday vs. Dallas.
The month of April has seen the Blues go 9-2-0 and allowing only 14 goals in 11 games. It's the sort of reminder of how this team was winning hockey games last season: low scoring, shutdown defensively and timely goaltending.

"I think chemistry's showing in our lineup," said Stewart, who leads the Blues with 17 goals after scoring in Friday's 2-1 win over Dallas. "... We're not going to be a team that scores five or six goals every night. We're comfortable with the way we play, confident with our goaltending. It's obviously nice to get three or four goals every night, but I think we'll be happy to take the two (points)."

The Blues have been taking the two lately, grabbing 18 of a possible 22 points in April. They've thrust themselves firmly into the playoff chase and can clinch a berth with one point Sunday night or 1) if San Jose defeats Columbus (regulation, overtime or shootout) and 2) if Los Angeles defeats Dallas in regulation. But without all the calculated math, win and the Blues are in.

There were certainly peaks and valleys in this abbreviated season, but the Blues seem to be catching on at the right time ... with the playoffs right around the corner.

"I think a few teams peaked a little early," said Ryan Reaves, who scored his third career game-winner Friday. "I think we kind of went through that rough period every team goes through. Now we're kind of gettng our groove, kind of peaking and realizing what it takes to play and be a playoff team."

"We're not easy to play against in our own end, so you're not going to get any free looks and not very many quality chances," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said.

Earlier in the season when the Blues had obvious holes on the backend and in goal, it was the kind of detriment that was a threat of pushing the Blues right out of the playoff race.

That ship's been righted because, "I think we've done a great job stopping around our net," defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk

"The goals are going to come. We're doing the right things to create goals. I think you're more happy with offensive worries going into this time of year than you are defensively. I think we're happy with letting up one goal a game, maybe two. We know we can put some pucks in the net as well."

The Blues have played 11 games in 19 days this month, and according to Hitchcock, they'll need to make a couple lineup changes just to get some fresh bodies in. Look for a couple to be inserted into the lineup Sunday night.

"I think the last two days our forwards have looked really tired," Hitchcock said. "We've had no spacing, no real jump to get open. We've got people in the third period taking 15-second shifts. We've got a week to keep winning hockey games and find a way to re-energize ourselves, especially up front.

"I think it would be really smart if we brought some new energy into the team in Colorado. We've got fresh legs and hungry guys and I think it would be really smart if we brought some of those guys in the lineup and got them playing."

Dmitrij Jaskin, who made his National Hockey League debut Tuesday, will slip into the lineup Sunday. Also, Hitchcock was looking at perhaps putting Kris Russell to as well, but Jaskin for Adam Cracknell will be the only lineup change Sunday night.

"I'm talking one or two guys for a couple of games here just to re-energize this thing," Hitchcock said. "We'll figure it out and see if we can come up with some ideas to give us a little bit better jump.

"... We've got a couple of great players to add into that. Russell can more than do this job, too, so to me he's got to come in and play a little here and help us."

The Blues will play a home-and-home set with the Avalanche, with a return game Tuesday at Scottrade Center. They wrap up with home games Thursday against Calgary and next Saturday against Chicago.

(St. Louis Blues photo)
Alexander Steen (20) snaps a shot past the Stars' Alex Goligoski in
Friday's 2-1 win at Scottrade Center.
"I think we've got to find new energy," Hitchcock said. "Some other people have got to get in and contribute for us here. We've got some guys with real foot speed, some guys that are really hungry to play. I think if we just keep trotting this out we're going to go sideways or backwards.

"We've run the well dry, the guys have done a really good job, but some guys are going to need a rest. A couple of guys are going to need a little bit of a break here. Take a game off, get some new energy in there and see if we can re-energize up front. We've got to find a way to create more, win more dots to board battles in the offensive zone. When you see a guy like (Jaden) Schwartz being able to do it, he's been tremendous the last two games, we need more of them like that, we need more compete."

"You've got to keep going, you can't pick and choose which games you want to be in, or else you'll create bad habits," defenseman Barret Jackman said. "We want to keep going."

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