Sunday, September 29, 2013

Cracknell grateful, relieved to make Blues' squad out of camp

Forward does so at expense of teammate,
friend; Porter clears waivers, sent to AHL Chicago

ST. LOUIS -- As Adam Cracknell sat at his locker after Sunday's practice, the Blues' forward could crack a few mild smiles.

Mild is all Cracknell could muster up after some tense days and hours leading up to the Blues' decision of who would be the odd-man out of a cluttered mix of forwards.

The Blues had to make a decision by today to get down and be compliant with the 23-man NHL roster limit, and when they placed fellow fourth-liner and 'CPR Line' member Chris Porter on waivers Saturday, it spelled Cracknell was safe -- for now.

(Getty Images)
The 'CPR Line' consisting of Chris Porter (32), Adam Cracknell (79) and
Ryan Reaves (right) will be minus Porter at the start of this season.
But it comes at the expense of a good teammate and friend as Cracknell and Porter were the two candidates the Blues were deciding to expose on waivers.

"Me and Chris, we've played together going on our fifth year now," Cracknell said. "We know what kind of hard work we've put in to get here.

"You never know what their decision was, maybe it was a different plan than they thought. … That's what makes this team so good, tough to make. In the summer you didn't see this happening, but it gets closer to camp, and still out there in free agency, it works like that. That's part of the game and unfortunately, some guys, that happens. Thankfully (I'm) still here, but at the same time, I've got to prove that they made the right decision. It's just going to be a day by day process and keep working hard."

And when the Blues open the regular season Thursday when they host the Nashville Predators, the 28-year-old Cracknell will be on an opening night roster for the first time in his career.

And even though Cracknell has 46 games of NHL experience, it marks the first time in what will be his fourth season in the NHL that the Prince Albert, Saskatchewan native won't have to fight his way onto a roster.

"I'll tell you when I get there. It's huge," Cracknell said. "Eight years and kind of an up and down last few years. Very exciting, being part of the playoffs last year gave me a lot of drive to come back here this year. Very exciting but at the same time we know that expectations are high and everyone is going to compete. We are all friends in here, but at the same time we're all trying to make a career for ourselves. The more we push each other, the better we're going to be as a team."

Cracknell, who said he found out what the team's plans were on Twitter Saturday while at the Cardinals-Cubs game at Busch Stadium, has been through it all. From the Kootenay Ice of the Western Hockey League to the Omaha Ak-Sar-Ben Knights of the American Hockey League to the Las Vegas Wranglers of the ECHL to to the Quad City Flames (AHL), back to the Wranglers, back to the Flames, then signed as a free agent with the Blues and shuttling back and forth between St. Louis and Peoria which earned Cracknell five two-way contracts, the 2004 ninth round pick of the Calgary Flames has seen everything from bus rides to planes, trains and automobiles.

"The road here keeps me pretty humble," Cracknell said. "You never forget where you came from.

"To be in the minors, the East Coast, missed pretty much a full year my first year pro (season) with a broken ankle, so that was pretty discouraging. Playing in the East Coast, it is a grind, the bus rides and then the American League … being a free agent and then St. Louis gave me a chance … five one-year deals. Very happy where I came from, but I'll never forget where I came from as well. I think that's why guys like me, Reaver (Ryan Reaves) and Ports, we've all done it together and I think that's what makes us hard workers and at the same time appreciate what it took to get here."

Porter, who cleared waivers Sunday and was assigned to the Blues' AHL team in Chicago, signed a two-year, one-way contract last spring and seemingly earned a permanent spot on the Blues through hard work and relentless determination. But he got caught up in a numbers game on left wing with the trade for Magnus Paajarvi and most recently, the addition of Brenden Morrow as a free agent. Add in Alexander Steen, Jaden Schwartz and Vladimir Sobotka, it became a crowded cabin. Also, the Blues likely had a better chance of passing Porter through waivers without a team taking on a two-year contract as opposed to Cracknell's one-year deal and only $600,000.

Blues coach Ken Hitchcock, who multiple times raved about Porter's play last season, said it's just the way these things work out sometimes.

"I saw 10 teams let go of NHL players (Sunday)," Hitchcock said. "It's just the depth of the league. This whole thing is what happens when younger players are ahead of the curve. Every team's got five, six, seven younger guys under 25 who are good players who eat up minutes. So it exposes that 26- to 32-year-old group.

"I'm looking at 10 names that I like as players who are on waivers. That's just the way the business is right now when you get so many good young players who are ready to play at an early age. Before, you didn't even look at a guy until he was 23. Now this guy is three years in the league at 23."

It just proves the depth for the Blues up front is loaded with middle-of-the-pack players that they can bring up at any time in case of injury and exposes someone with NHL experience.

"You look at who was on the roster yesterday going there's 24 great hockey players, great people that we'd love to have in this room, but unfortunately there's only 23 spots on a roster, so there was going to be one guy that wasn't going to be very happy about a change and 23 other guys who are going to help us moving forward," said captain David Backes. "That being said, Ports is a guy … I think he'll still be a valuable part to this team this season. It's just right now, it’s a packed house. Yeah it says a lot, but we only get to dress 20 and those guys have to make due and put the work in on the ice and we've got a great group of guys in here committed to do that."

Right wing T.J. Oshie, a close friend of Porter's and teammate when the two were at the University of North Dakota, spoke to Porter.

"He's doing OK, as good as somebody can be doing after that situation," Oshie said. "It's hard for him. He had plans here, a place here and wife is on her way here. It's just tough losing him. To work so hard so long to get a one-way and go back down … but he's a team guy in the end and right now he's probably pretty frustrated. But he's going to be up here, he's going to be up somewhere, he's going to keep working until he is."

(Getty Images)
Adam Cracknell (left) will be on an NHL opening day roster for the first
time in his career for the Blues Thursday.
"Ports is a guy that's one of the best guys in this locker room." Reaves said. "He deserves to be here just as much as anybody else, but that's the nature of the beast. It's tough to see a guy like that leave, but we've got a lot of good players here fighting for spots.

"It's fun when you have that competition fighting for spots. I think it motivates you more. When you're in a position of a fourth line, you're always wondering if your spot's safe. It just pushes you harder. Ports will go down there, be the top scorer on that team, he'll be the hardest worker there. Coaches and management will notice that here ... he'll be back up."

So for now, a line that captivated a fan base late last season and into the playoffs, the 'CPR Line' is currently on hold, not dead.

"Without those guys, I was nothing," Cracknell said fellow linemates Porter and Reaves. "They helped me get a deal here. We made each other successful. I know Chris, down in Chicago, he'll do well and he'll be back here in no time.

"... You do feel bad for Chris. He signed a two-year deal and unfortunately that's how it happened. But he's a guy that's never going to quit, never will and never has. You expect him to be back here soon. He's a guy that can stick around and play in this league. Unfortunately it was a numbers game."

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Blues would bring Whitney back under right circumstances

No room for veteran d-man, let go from professional tryout; Cole earns
seventh spot, gaining trust from coaches, management; Porter on waivers
ST. LOUIS -- In a perfect world, the Blues would have kept Ryan Whitney for depth purposes and given them the option of going to eight NHL-ready defensemen.

But the Blues had to make a choice sooner or later, and on Friday, they chose to cut loose the veteran Whitney from his professional tryout.

Whitney, who did not register a point in three preseason games, was invited into Blues camp after getting no free agent offers during the summer after completing a six-year, $24-million contract originally signed with Anaheim. The Blues liked Whitney's ability from the left side and would have liked to add him to fortify the depth but chose to keep Ian Cole, a 2007 first round pick, as their seventh defenseman. Cole signed a two-year contract over the summer.

(Getty Images)
The Blues released Ryan Whitney on Friday from his
professional tryout and kept Ian Cole (pictured) as the
team's seventh defenseman.
"I thought 'Whits' had a good training camp," Blues general manager Doug Armstrong said of Whitney, who played the last four seasons with Edmonton. "I thought Ian played really good in the last game, too (in Minnesota Wednesday). We had to get down to our group of seven and we decided we'll stick with Ian and that was really the competition.

"'Whit' came in here and did a really good job, but we're going to go with the seven guys that we have."

Whitney was not interested in a two-way deal, as he indicated early in camp. It was obviously an option on the table that the 30-year-old decided was not in his best interests.

If the Blues could have signed Whitney to a two-way contract, they could have sent him to the American Hockey League's Chicago Wolves and not be in danger of going over the salary cap. But Armstrong said the decision whether to keep Whitney or not never was about money.

"It was never about dollars," Armstrong said. "We're only going to carry seven defensemen. There had to be a marketable difference. To me, I thought Ian came in, he saw the challenge there and I thought he competed at a high level and he made sure he kept that space and that job, which was what we wanted to see.

"I think when Ian plays the game, gets the puck, moves it quickly, supports the play with his feet, that's when he's at his best. I think we saw that in Minny the other night. I think right now where Ian is, he can watch (Barret) Jackman, he can watch (Roman) Polak and that simple, quick puck play is going to be his friend. He's got experience now and we're a team that is looking to have a good regular season. You want to have experience and now I look at our seven defensemen, I know they all have experience. They've all played different amounts in the league. When we need Ian to go in there, that's a coach's decision when he goes in, we're very comfortable."

Armstrong talked to Whitney after Friday's practice.

"We had a good chat today," Armstrong said. "That's always the hard part of the job and making hard decisions, but that's what we have to do. We just wanted to stay true to our word that he was going to come in here and get an opportunity. We think he was given that. he played with good players who played a number of games. I thought he handled himself very well and showed very well. He's certainly an NHL player. I said that to him and his agent. He's a good enough player to be in this league, no question. Just on our team, we went with the seven we had to go with."

Cole, 24, who has 67 games of NHL experience spanning three seasons, is glad to be sticking around but is not content.

"Obviously they wanted to check out 'Whit' and he's a great player, a top 4 d-man in Edmonton last year," Cole said. "I don't know what became of that, or what was offered or anything like that. I only know that for me personally, I love this team, I love the guys on this team, so I'm really quite thankful that I still have a spot on this team.

"I'm definitely not content being a seventh d-man, not content playing some of the games. It's not what I'm looking for. It's one of those things where you try to at least put that doubt in the coach's mind. Like, 'He really did have a good camp and he can have an everyday role ... he showed an improved focus, improved attention to detail through the entirety of the games and all the practices.' I'm just trying to make as good of an impression as possible and be able to show that I can play every game, every night in a top-six role. That's what the goal is. The goal is not to be out of the lineup for two-and-a-half months like I was at the end of last year."

Blues coach Ken Hitchcock echoed Armstrong's comments regarding the seven the Blues have but would love to have Whitney back if possible.

"The seven guys we have here, they're good players and continuity's going to be important," Hitchcock said. "We looked more in sync with the rotations we played (Friday). But 'Whit' was a good player for us. His best game was his game in Minnesota. ... If things don't work out (with another NHL team), I think we're all hopeful that he comes back to the organization and gives us more depth. I just don't think you can have enough defensemen. I think if you're looking at your team, you've got to play nine guys. We've got to find another two to play, so if he's a part of the organization, that would be nice if he can't get work. But we're happy with our seven. Cole has improved to where there's a lot of trust to where he can play pretty much high-teens minutes, which is a good sign. So we're comfortable with our seven right now."

(St. Louis Blues photo)
Defenseman Ryan Whitney came to the Blues on a professional tryout
but was released by the team Friday.

The Blues will move look to some inexperienced players should anyone need to be called up from the Wolves in case of any injuries here.

"You have (Taylor) Chorney that's played games, (Jani) Hakanpaa's played in the men's league (in Finland) before and (Joel) Edmundson ... we're not deep as maybe some teams may be through eight or 10 and 11," Armstrong said, "but we're a lot deeper one through seven."
The Blues also placed fourth-line winger/center Chris Porter on waivers, reducing their roster down the NHL maximum of 23 players.
Teams have 24 hours to claim the 29-year-old Porter, who signed a two-year, $1.35 million contract last spring that's a one-way deal.
The roster deadline is set for Monday, which now makes the Blues compliant.
It's believed that the Blues, who needed to make a roster move after they signed veteram Brenden Morrow Monday, were deciding between Porter and perhaps Adam Cracknell, but by placing Porter on waivers, it removed a glutton of left wingers the team currently has with Morrow's addition as well as give teams something more to think about if Porter is claimed.
If Porter gets claimed, teams would be responsible for the entire length of Porter's contract, whereas Cracknell is on a one-way deal as well but for only one year and $600,000, which is more affordable and more likely to get picked up.
Porter was originally drafted by the Chicago Blackhawks in the ninth round of the 2003 NHL Draft but was signed by the Blues as a free agent in 2007. He has 10 goals and 24 points in 127 career NHL games spanning four seasons.


Friday, September 27, 2013

Blues end preseason with impressive 4-1 win over Wild

Four-goal outburst in the third period was final tune-up
for regular season, which begins Thursday here against Nashville

ST. LOUIS -- Even after a 4-1 win over the Minnesota Wild to finish off the preseason, Blues coach Ken Hitchcock conceded more days are needed in preparation of the regular season.

The Blues (3-2-1) played arguably their most thorough game of the preseason after scoring all four goals in the third period after trailing by a goal through 40 minutes despite imposing their will with an aggressive forecheck and relentless puck pursuit with the team's most complete lineup.

(St. Louis Blues photo)
Jaden Schwartz has been one of the best players for the Blues thus far
during training camp.
"No. We need days," Hitchcock said. "We're going to take (Saturday) off and then we're going to double the day on Sunday, so we're really going to have two practices on Sunday, but we need sessions. We need more continuity, and I don't think there's necessarily one thing other than we just need to have more north-south in our game.

"We've got more skill in our group than we've ever had, but we need to play the game the right way offensively and we need to have way more shots on goal, we need to have way more second scoring chances, we need to have the puck way more so we can wear down teams. The only way you can do that is get into a north-south attitude. We showed flashes of it for about 30 minutes, but we're going to have to play about 60 the right way."

The Blues played the right way Friday with third-period goals from T.J. Oshie, Patrik Berglund, David Backes and Chris Stewart. They chipped pucks, they skated and forechecked the Wild (4-2-0) and forced them to make tired mistakes. It's how this Blues team rolls when it's at its best.

"We're a team that's going to wear the other team down," said defenseman Alex Pietrangelo, who picked up a pair of assists. "We're going to keep going no matter what the score is. I thought we wore them down there in the third period. Their 'D' were tired of going back there and chasing pucks and we took advantage of it.

"We play four lines and six 'D' for a reason. That's our game. We're going to wear teams down, we're going to play a hard, tough game, we're going to get in your face and create a lot of energy. There was a lot of energy out there tonight. It's going to be exciting the home opener, the energy that we're going to bring."

The Blues played as close to a regular lineup all preseason on Friday, with the exception of Vladimir Sobotka, who is a certain lock to not only be among the final 23 but in the final 20 that will suit up and play. Also not playing Friday were forwards Chris Porter and Ryan Reaves as well as defenseman Ian Cole.

And according to defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk, they needed the time together.

"Even just playing tonight, playing that extra game, for me, felt good," said Shattenkirk, who was partnered with Jordan Leopold. "It seemed like a lot of guys needed that one more game to get everything going again, and I think it was good that we played against their top guys for the most part because it raises everyone's level of play and forces you to buckle down and play it like a regular season game.

"In the third, we stuck to our game plan, we came out hard. Our physicality allowed us to capitalize on some turnovers. ... We saw it in the third. It seemed like something just clicked in the third and we were able to after Osh's goal, it just seemed like everything started to work again."

And even though Hitchcock wants to get in some more time with his players, he felt like this was more his team's style here Friday.

"I thought from start to end, this really was more our game," Hitchcock said. "We looked organized on the ice, we had good spacing. We built a lot of momentum in the second period and I think if we would have stayed 5-on-5, we could have really done some damage. They got a breather when we took the six minutes in penalties. But we still stayed with it in the third and we played a very strong game."

But the Blues trailed 1-0 on Jared Spurgeon's power play goal in the first.

(St. Louis Blues photo)
David Backes (left) scored one of the Blues' four third-period goals Friday
night in a 4-1 win over the Minnesota Wild.
"At this time of year, I cared more (about) are we playing the right way," Hitchcock said. "To me, playing the right way is more important than scoring.

"I think we almost led the National Hockey League in scoring (in the preseason). We scored 20 goals in six games or something like that, so we're three-and-a-half goals a game, which is a lot. You're not going to get that number in the NHL in the regular season, so I wasn't worried about that. But I wanted to see us at least play the right way and not have this period of time where we just threw our sticks on the ice and played. I didn't want to see that again. Playing the right way was important. We did for pretty much 50-60 minutes, which was a good sign. Now we've got something to build on."

And the players agree that building over the five days starting Sunday leading into Thursday's opener against Nashville will be beneficial.

"I think a couple more practices will be good for us, maybe a couple more game situations, practice situations that we can get to compete against each other a little more," Shattenkirk said. "Just work on making our decisions quicker and getting back to full season form."

But for a final tune-up, the Blues looked sharp, including Jaroslav Halak's 18-save effort in goal.

"We balanced the lineups so everybody got good preparation, a couple games each," Pietrangelo said. "We played with pretty much the full lineup. It was a pretty impressive win. I thought we looked pretty good. Obviously we had to work some kinks out there in the start, but definitely a good way to finish the preseason going into next week."

(9-27-13) Wild-Blues Preseason Gameday Lineup

ST. LOUIS -- Tonight will be the final dress rehearsal for the Blues, when they host the Minnesota Wild at Scottrade Center.

But for some Blues players considered on the bubble, it's one final opportunity to showcase whether they belong among the final group of 23 that will start the season Thursday vs. Nashville.

Adam Cracknell, part of the 'CPR Line' with Chris Porter and Ryan Reaves that played really well down the stretch of last season and into the first round of the playoffs against Los Angeles, is one of those that will take one last opportunity to prove he belongs.

The Blues (2-2-1) will have a decision to make and will reduce the roster by one player by Monday's 23-man cutoff after 30-year-old defenseman Ryan Whitney was released Friday morning from his professional tryout. The final cut will come from a group of forwards on the back-end.

Cracknell will play right wing with Maxim Lapierre centering the line with Magnus Paajarvi on the left wing looking to make one lasting impression after signing a one-year, $600,000 contract over the summer.

"I've always been in this situation personally," Cracknell said. "Every day's training camp for me and coming into prove that I can stay around and be part of this organization. We know it's a numbers game. It always has been, always will be. I think our job here is to come give them a good effort every day in and day out. If it's not morning skates or practice, it's definitely games. At the end of the day, you have to give them your best. They're going to decide what they want in the lineup, what they're going to go forward with. You can only control your own effort, you give them your best and can't leave any excuses out there.

"I'm going to come out, give it my best effort. It's definitely the last time to showcase and just show them we do want to be here and make their job tougher up there. That's all they want. They don't want any easy decisions."

But according to coach Ken Hitchcock, who gave a surprising answer when asked if the players are making these decisions along the back-end difficult.

"No," Hitchcock said. "It's been easier than I thought would be the best way to describe it. I would have liked it to be more difficult, but it's not been there."

The consensus going into the season was that the 'CPR Line' would be locks to begin the season as the fourth unit. But with signings of Lapierre for two years and the addition of Derek Roy up front as well as the recent addition of Brenden Morrow, it's pushing players -- like Vladimir Sobotka and now Magnus Paajarvi -- to the back.

"We know we had a good playoff, but that was last year and we still didn't make it past the first round. It wasn't good enough as a team. ... I think it helped us build in the right direction, but at the same time, we can't live off the past.

- - -

The Blues began the season with playing preseason games and just throwing line combinations on the ice for the purpose of his playing trios.

But Hitchcock was asked when do the preseason games become regular season daily routines for players and coaches.

"We started a little bit the last game, but it's hard because you're just arriving," Hitchcock said. "We did a little bit more today, but I've looked at the last game of the preseason and as much as you want to be prepared for it, you can't control whether guys are two days ahead.

"What I'm looking for is execution, I want our execution to be consistent for 60 minutes. I'm not concerned about the score, but I am concerned about the execution. I don't want us to do what we did the last game, which was kind of just have a free-for-all in the last 30 minutes (of Wednesday's 3-1 loss to the Wild in Minnesota). We were very good for 30 minutes. We limited their chances, we had a ton ourselves, but then when we went down 2-0, we just started throwing our sticks on the ice and just started to play kind of shinny (hockey). I don't want to do that."

- - -

Tonight's lineup:

Alexander Steen-David Backes-T.J. Oshie

Brenden Morrow-Derek Roy-Chris Stewart

Jaden Schwartz-Patrik Berglund-Vladimir Tarasenko

Magnus Paajarvi-Maxim Lapierre-Adam Cracknell

extras: Vladimir Sobotka, Chris Porter and Ryan Reaves

Jay Bouwmeester-Alex Pietrangelo

Jordan Leopold-Kevin Shattenkirk

Barret Jackman-Roman Polak

extra: Ian Cole

Jaroslav Halak will start and play the entire game; Brian Elliott is the backup.

Thursday, September 26, 2013


Blues trim roster by seven; Paajarvi slips down;
Morrow to debut Friday; d-pairings still undecided

ST. LOUIS -- The Blues trimmed their roster by seven on Thursday, a day after Wednesday's 3-1 preseason loss at Minnesota and none of the players being sent to the Chicago Wolves is a shock.

The biggest name is goalie Jake Allen, who signed a two-year contract over the summer but this season's deal is a two-way contract which allowed the Blues to send him to the American Hockey League and start the season with Jaroslav Halak and Brian Elliott as the goaltending tandem.

"He's had a helluva camp, he's played very well, but we've got two guys here who we want to get started with and see where it goes," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said of Allen, who was 2-0-0 in his two preseason starts. "Our feeling here was if he's not going to play games here and he's got three exhibition games to play there, why not keep playing? Why not keep playing the exhibition games there and let our guys get started and see how our guys do and hopefully our guys are going to continue to play well here and keep going. We just feel like the more guys play, the better it's going to be for them."

Also going to Chicago are forwards Dmitrij Jaskin, Ty Rattie, Sergey Sndronov and veteran Keith Aucoin along with defensemen Jani Hakanpaa and Joel Edmundson.

Jaskin was the only one of the seven that played with the Blues in Minnesota, and after evaluation with general manager Doug Armstrong, the Blues felt it was best to get this down to the final cuts.

"One of the things it did after the game when Doug and I talked about it was we were going to wait and continually carry (32) bodies, but when we saw yesterday, we felt like we needed to get down to 25 and get going on finishing the final evaluation on the last game," Hitchcock said. "That's what we did."

But Jaskin, who had two goals and three points in three preseason games, would be on the list of call-ups should the Blues be in a bind. Hitchcock wouldn't hesitate bringing him back.

"Not one bit," Hitchcock said. "He's a good player. He's going to be like (Vladimir) Tarasenko was last year, you know there's going to be some ups and downs.

"We're in a unique situation where we've got some younger players who are on the improve ... (Jaskin), Andronov, Rattie, Hakanpaa, Edmunson, obviously Jake's right there. And then we've got a lot of good, older players."

* Paajarvi demoted? -- In the two weeks since training camp started, left wing Magnus Paajarvi has gone from playing alongside Patrik Berglund and Tarasenko to being one of the extra forwards at Thursday's practice at Scottrade Center.

Paajarvi, who was acquired over the summer from Edmonton that shipped David Perron to the Oilers, has no points in three preseason games. He's been a non-factor in the games he's played in thus far.
"I don't take too much out of it," Paajarvi said. "Of course, I want to be playing with the top guys but I mean it's up to the coach. There's really not too much to say about it.

"The competition is there and you have to perform and you really have to embrace the challenge when you get it. Yeah, it's tough."

Paajarvi, who started on the Berglund-Tarasenko line Wednesday, was wearing the extra green jersey along with Adam Cracknell.

"He's played opposite of what we thought, and today at practice was the first time we saw the player that we traded for," Hitchcock said of Paajarvi, 22. "What I mean by that is his ability to make plays on the rush, his abilities to make plays on the cycle, his offensive instincts were way better than what we thought they were.

"What we saw in the last 20 games in Edmonton was a high level of tenacity and something you can build on. He hasn't shown that here. He's shown at times like he's overwhelmed, but he's showing more offensive ability than we thought ... ever. We thought, 'Man, there's some really good stuff to work with.' Today when it got down to crunch time and he could see numbers, there's 15 forwards here, (Vladimir Sobotka) would have been his center today ... he went at it. He was the guy we thought we traded for today."

"If the way he practiced today is the level he can play at, he's going to be an effective player for us because he was on the puck, hard on the puck, to the puck, using his speed as a checking mechanism, which is what we saw in Edmonton," Hitchcock said of Paajarvi. "If that's what he is, then that's really good stuff."
Paajarvi seems to have a handle on what's necessary of him here.

"Yeah, that's one of the first things they said," he said. "With my speed, use it to catch players off-guard and try to stress to get the puck for myself or my teammates. That's one of the first things, and that's what I'm trying to do, with my speed.

"I know I can do it. I've done it a little bit and I know I can do it better for sure. ... Mentally you kind of have to be consistent and mentally you have to be in the right spot. Because if you get too high and too low, it's not going to end up well. I think that consistency is very important."

* Morrow to debut -- Veteran left wing Brenden Morrow, signed to a one-year, $1.5-million contract Monday, is expected to make his Blues debut Friday when they play host to the Wild in the final preseason game.

Morrow, 34, has been skating with Derek Roy and Chris Stewart since he began skating with the team Tuesday but his role is yet to be defined.

"To me, the last thing that will come with Brenden will be his hands," Hitchcock said. "I don't see an issue with his legs at all. I think he's obviously worked his tail off and he's in really good shape. He's got quickness, he's got all the things that you like, but we've got to be realistic ... it's going to take a while for his hands.

"The more he practices and the more he plays in game situations, the better he's going to be. I'm going to put him in and play him quite a bit tomorrow and get him up to speed."

Morrow's not taking anything for granted.

"It's one thing to do it in practice, it's another thing to do it in a game," Morrow said. "So we'll see. There's been some glimpses where you feel comfortable and you know where each other is and you can make some plays. Maybe they don't finish in practice or sometimes you make something out of nothing. It's not until you get into a game to see if it really pays off or not."

Stewart, who had been playing with Roy and Jaden Schwartz prior to Morrow's arrival, feels like it can be a good trio.

"Right now they've got us on a line together," Stewart said. "I think we've got the components to definitely be a difference-maker. ... I think between the three of us, we've got a little bit of everything. We've got the size, we've got the speed, we've got the grit. We're not at that young age where we're scared to make plays. We've got that veteran component on the line where we think we can hang onto it in the O-zone and we can make some plays."

* Sobotka sits -- It's been a tough camp for Sobotka, who was injured for the second time this preseason.

Sobotka took a shoulder check to the head last week against the Tampa Bay Lightning from Adam Erne that drew a three-game suspension. Sobotka dodged serious injury there, and then Wednesday night, he slid hard into the post and Hitchcock said he's wait and see how Sobotka felt in the morning after sustaining a stiff neck in the second period.

Sobotka did return and finished the game.

"I've got to wait and see how (No.) 17 is," Hitchcock said of Sobotka. "I've got to wait and see how he feels tomorrow. If he feels fine, then he might move up (into the top nine) and somebody might move down. If he feels fine, we're going to play him tomorrow for sure."

* Whitney, Cole still up in the air -- Both defensemen Ian Cole and Ryan Whitney played Wednesday in Minnesota as well, and there was no feeling one way or another what the Blues' plans are for the veteran Whitney, who's in camp on a professional tryout.

"He's still on the team," Hitchcock said matter-of-factly of Whitney.

When asked who's had a better camp, Cole or Whitney, Hitchcock said: "Cole's best game was yesterday."

Whitney, 30, is sitting on pins and needles right now but hope to make the cut.

"I'm definitely anxious because you don't know where you're going to be for the season, but I really like it here," said Whitney, the fifth pick in the 2002 NHL Draft. "It's a great bunch of guys. I figure I can help the team. Maybe I'd start off as the seventh 'D' but you never know. You never root for injuries but they happen. I just like it here. I don't really know what's going to happen.

"I don't know what's going to happen. I'm hoping I'm one of them."

Whitney, who has no points in three games, feels like he's made a good impression.

"It's gone good," he said of camp. "I think I played real well in Orlando, it was kind of so-so here Friday night against Tampa here and then I thought I played well last night.

"I haven't talked to the coaches. I don't expect them to really be giving me any feedback either. I've worked as hard as I can in the gym and on the ice and tried to make a good impression."

* 'D' pairs yet to be determined -- For those that thought Alex Pietrangelo and Jay Bouwmeester were a lock as one of the defensive pairings heading into the season, Hitchcock threw everyone for a loop Thursday.

"Don't go to the bank on anything other than there's four left defensemen and three right defensemen," the coach said after practice. "Don't go to the bank that this is cast in stone.

"We are looking and we're not just looking at one or two pairs, we're looking at all three pairs. Don't go to the bank on anything cast in stone on that back line right now because quite frankly, the two guys that have played the best so far of any of the defensemen ... Petro's been at a level above everybody, way above everybody. But the best two guys that have played really good hockey have been (Jordan) Leopold and (Roman) Polak."

After stating Polak and Jackman together to end the season last year, along with Leopold and Kevin Shattenkirk, Hitchcock was using Jackman and Shattenkirk and Leopold and Polak together, using that rationalization that the team wants someone to transition the puck on each unit and saying the days of a shutdown pair don't exist in today's game anymore.

But on Thursday, Leopold and Shattenkirk were back together, as were Jackman and Polak -- the shutdown unit.

"Don't go to the bank on it's going to be Bouw and Petro and this and that," Hitchcock said. "Don't go to the bank on that yet."

* Fourth line mystery -- For the first time since camp opened, Hitchcock was pleased with the play of the fourth line unit.

Maxim Lapierre, Ryan Reaves and Chris Porter accounted for the group Wednesday in Minnesota and carried the type of energy the coach looks for.

Throw in Sobotka in the mix, as well as Adam Cracknell, who is expected to play Friday, who begins the season there is up for grabs.

"I don't know where that fourth line's going to go right now," Hitchcock said. "Yesterday was the first time we've seen energy from that line that we've needed and wanted. ... I think we might give some other guys a chance to play there tomorrow to see how they look, too."

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Blues fall to Minnesota 3-1

Preseason mark drops to 2-2-1; Schwartz
nets shorthanded goal, team-leading third

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- The Blues played as close to their opening night roster Wednesday as they will see. They also saw a similar roster from the Minnesota Wild.

But the 3-1 loss to the Wild at Xcel Energy Center saw a mixed bag of results.

"We were strong, and then I thought in the second half or the game, we faded," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. "I thought we lost our energy and I thought Minnesota took over in the second half of the game."
(St. Louis Blues photo)
The Blues' Jaden Schwartz (9) scored the team's lone goal Wednesday in a
3-1 loss at Minnesota.

Jaden Schwartz scored a third-period shorthanded goal, and Jaroslav Halak and Brian Elliott split time in goal, combining to make 20 saves in a game the Blues' coach was searching for certain elements.

"I wanted to see the tempo," Hitchcock said. "There were flashes of it early, but then there were times we had people who were too far behind the tempo.

"(Minnesota) came with a veteran hockey club. We were good early, and then I thought as the tempo went up, we had guys who weren't up to the pace, so we're going to have to continue to work to get better."

Matt Cooke, Charlie Coyle and Torrey Mitchell scored goals for the Wild, who improved to 4-1-0 on the preseason.

Cooke gave the Wild a 1-0 lead when his slap shot from the high slot was initially stopped by Halak, but the puck popped high into the air and in an effort to locate the puck, Halak inadvertently backed the puck into the net with his skate as Torrey Mitchell was crashing the net at 12:27 of the opening period. It gave the Wild a 1-0 lead.

The Blues, who outshot Minnesota 14-8 in the first 20 minutes, had some good chances themselves, with Max Lapierre having a couple good scoring chances as he, Chris Porter and Ryan Reaves had a good shift midway through the period but they couldn't solve Niklas Backstrom.

Halak, who stopped 12 shots and played the first period and 13:33 of the second period, also made some good early-game saves on Zach Parise (twice) right in front and Dany Heatley on a redirection from the slot on the power play. He made a couple dandy stops on Parise and Coyle early in the second to keep it a 1-0 game.

Elliott entered the game and got into it early, making a nice save in the low slot on Jason Pominville after Parise set him up on a power play chance.

But Coyle was able to give the Wild a 2-0 lead when he converted a breakaway 38 seconds into the third period off a stretch pass from Ryan Suter, beating Elliott -- who stopped 10 shots -- with a deke to his left and pulling to the forehand before scoring.

Mitchell converted a shorthanded goal for Minnesota to make it 3-0 before Schwartz was able to skate into the Wild zone and rip a shot past Backstrom, who was screened by Suter on the play midway through the period.

"I think I just got on, so I had pretty good speed," Schwartz said. "I think Sobe might have chipped that to me in the middle at full speed going 1-on-2 and they were kind of standing still. It was through a screen and I saw the goalie couldn't see much. I took a shot and went in.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
The Blues' T.J. Oshie (right) and Minnesota's Zach Parise battle for
position during Wednesday's preseason game at Xcel Energy Center.

"It's preseason, but next week we'll see when the real thing starts. It's definitely nice to be playing real well right now and get a positive feel going into the season. I think I've been playing well for the most part and burying my chances. Last year I had chances and they weren't going in. It's nice to see them go in."

Hitchcock called Schwartz the team's best player again.

"He was by far our best player today," Hitchcock said. "His competitive level, speed and energy is contagious."

The Blues will close out the preseason when they host the Wild Friday at Scottrade Center and should have a clearer picture of what the opening night roster will look like.

"I think this game gave us some indications on some people," said Hitchcock, who was mixing up line combinations in this game. "I think we'll get down to a team pretty quick here."

Tuesday, September 24, 2013


Morrow arrives, practices for first time with new
teammates; Wednesday lineup; goalie situation unclear

ST. LOUIS -- Brenden Morrow stood in front of the assembled media following Tuesday's practice -- his first since signing with the Blues Monday -- sweat dropping off his face and feeling the affects of another Ken Hitchcock practice session.

Morrow, 34, last played for Hitchcock 11 years ago when the two were together in Dallas but many of the same aspects still remain in tact.

"It's tailor made for the way I play," said Morrow, who finished the season last year in Pittsburgh after nearly 13 seasons with the Stars. "I've worked extremely hard this summer to make sure I was prepared and ready for the season. It was a little bit delayed but I still feel like I set myself up for a good year. The body feels good and I'm looking forward to this first game -- whenever that is.

"The pace was a step up probably from what I was used to just skating on my own back in Dallas. There's a lot of energy out there. It's good to get in and meet the teammates and get this first day out of the way."

Morrow, who finished with 14 points in 15 games with the Penguins after only tallying 11 points in 29 games with the Stars a season ago, was playing out the final year of a six-year, $24.6-million contract for the only team he had known. Then came the trade to the Penguins, one he had to approve with a no-trade clause, then went into a summer of free agency with no contract in hand until Monday.

"About six months ago, I probably felt like I was never going to leave Dallas, and here I am making my way around the league. That's interesting," Morrow said jokingly. "It's a different feeling, but coming here and seeing so many familiar faces again, it kind of feels like it's got a bit of Dallas to it. That had a lot to do with the decision. I wanted to be comfortable, feel comfortable.

"This is a great team. For one, it's got great fan support, they have stability in ownership now, but I wanted to be comfortable with who was putting the team together and who was throwing the lines out there. It didn't get any farther than St. Louis because it had all the answers I needed."

And the first day of practice was everything Morrow expected.

"Somebody's barking at him already," Hitchcock joked about Morrow. "He's a good player. We had a good relationship together. He did a lot of the hard work. We had some good runs. He was there for a lot of good runs. The player that he was in Pittsburgh when he went there and until he hurt his knee in the Ottawa series, that's what in a couple weeks we're anticipating we're getting, and that's an awfully good player. That's a good sign."

Morrow, who will not play Wednesday in the preseason road game at Minnesota, was paired with Derek Roy and Chris Stewart in practice, doesn't expect anything to be handed to him. The veteran of 850 career games (249 goals and 542 points) will work anywhere the Blues' coach plays him.

"I knew coming in there would be a lot of juggling until you find chemistry," Morrow said. "There's going to be some matches that he was going to try. I didn't know where in the lineup I was going to fit and that didn't bother me. I feel like I'm going to compete and find my way into the lineup.

"Growing up all my life, I was never given anything and I don't expect it here. I wasn't scared of the challenge to try and compete and earn my ice."

Morrow, who as recently as 2011 scored a career-high 33 goals for the Stars, has dealt with back, neck and knee issues in recent seasons, most recently with the Penguins in the playoffs last season where he suffered a bad kneecap injury but played through it, trained in Dallas this summer in anticipation of signing a contract.

"I feel extra healthy," said Morrow, who was Stars captain from 2006 until his trade last season. "The last few years I've been banged up and going to the summer, you're rehabbing something. You feel like you're slowed down by some injury and so you prepare differently.

"I just went into this year saying, 'Let's pretend I'm 17-18, let's beat me up like you do everyone else.' So when I go into the season, I'm not feeling like I'm handicapped going in. I feel like I'm strong."

* Wednesday lineup -- The Blues, 2-1-1 in the preseason, will play their final two games with a home-and-home with the Minnesota Wild. They play in Minnesota Wednesday night (7 p.m. on KMOX 1120-AM), then host the Wild Friday at 7 p.m. before opening against Nashville Oct. 3.

The Blues' lineup Wednesday night:

Alexander Steen-David Backes-T.J. Oshie

Jaden Schwartz-Vladimir Sobotka-Dmitrij Jaskin

Magnus Paajarvi-Patrik Berglund-Vladimir Tarasenko

Chris Porter-Maxim Lapierre-Ryan Reaves

Jay Bouwmeester-Alex Pietrangelo

Barret Jackman-Kevin Shattenkirk

Ryan Whitney-Ian Cole

Jaroslav Halak gets the start in goal; Brian Elliott will be the backup. Both will split time in nets.

* Schwartz demoted? -- All the buzz around Blues practice was the arrival of Morrow playing with Roy and Stewart, since Jaden Schwartz had been playing with that duo throughout camp thus far.

Schwartz, who suited up with Vladimir Sobotka and Dmitrij Jaskin in Tuesday's practice, will not be getting a dimished role. In fact, according to Hitchcock, it will most certainly be an increased one.

"He's been our best player," Hitchcock said of Schwartz. "I can put him anywhere he wants. Whoever he plays with, he makes better.

"He's not one of those guys you question. We'll find a significant role for him because we're going to need him on the ice a lot. We'll find a really significant role for him."

* Morrow debut Friday? -- Initially, Hitchcock indicated the plan would be for Morrow to not play Wednesday in Minnesota but play on Friday. Hitchcock backed off that notion Tuesday and will leave it up to the veteran left wing.

"The plan is to talk to him after his hard skate on Thursday and see how he feels," Hitchcock said of Morrow. "I think a veteran player ... it's a little bit different if it's a traded for or a young player, he needs to feel used to things. But I think Brenden having played for me before and then played in the Olympics with the same terminology, he's going to pick up things.

"I'm going to pretty much let him make the decision on Thursday. I would like to play him on Friday just to get him into the rhythm and the routine, but it's going to be his call for me. I want to see how he feels after Thursday's practice."

* Goalie situation unclear -- Jaroslav Halak and Brian Elliott will split the game against the Wild on Wednesday, but with Jake Allen playing sharp in a 3-2 overtime win over Dallas Saturday night, Hitchcock was asked if the goaltending battle has gained any separation.

"If you're talking all three, no," he said. "It's a nice problem to have, but it's a problem.

"Jake Allen made a great account of himself the last game. I think the next two games will tell us a lot where Brian and Jaro are at. We're hoping they're trending forward. They've had great practices and we think they're both getting ready, but we want to see that, too. ... Jake's not going away quietly."


Monday, September 23, 2013

Blues sign veteran Brenden Morrow to one-year contract

Veteran free agent motivated by lack of interest during summer,
chose St. Louis because of familiarity with Hitchcock, Armstrong, Hull

ST. LOUIS -- As days turned to months for veteran power forward Brenden Morrow, whoever won the bidding for his services in the end was going to get a motivated player.

The 34-year-old Morrow, who chose the Blues on Monday when he agreed to a one-year, $1.5-million contract, was a victim of the lowered salary cap as teams bypassed the Carlyle, Saskatchewan native. He comes to St. Louis with a chip on his shoulders.

"I've got something to prove," said Morrow, who has 249 goals and 542 points in 850 career games to his resume. "I'm a motivated player right now."

(Getty Images)
Brenden Morrow tallied 14 points in 15 games after being traded
to Pittsburgh late last season.
Those words are music to Doug Armstrong's ears after the general manager initiated talks with Morrow in July and again when the Blues played the Dallas Stars in their preseason opener.

"This was a difficult summer for Brenden," Armstrong said. "I think we're going to be the benefactors of that.

"The most dangerous animals are wounded animals, and he's a little bit wounded right now in the sense that he felt that he would demand a longer contract at a higher dollar value. I just think he was a product of the system this year with the cap coming down and money already being spent by teams. We have a very motivated person and a great competitor."

Blues coach Ken Hitchcock has experience with players that have had prominent roles during their respective careers but are asked to play a different, maybe a slightly diminished role as veterans.

So it was up to Hitchcock and Armstrong to convince Morrow, who has played in a prominent role throughout his 13-year career with the Stars and then the Pittsburgh Penguins down the stretch last season, that the Blues will utilize Morrow in areas he can thrive in. It just won't be the 20 minutes per night Morrow was accustomed to throughout the majority of his career.

Morrow, who played for Hitchcock when he first joined the Stars in 1999 after Dallas made the Carlyle, Saskatchewan native the 25th pick in the 1997 NHL Draft.

"I've had a lot of experience dealing with players like Brenden, where they're elite players and finding a little bit of a different role for them," Hitchcock said Monday. "I told Brenden that I look at his role the same way as we did with Kirk Muller when he was in Dallas and Kirk was a great player for us in Dallas, played really well. Johnny MacLean came and played really well.

"It's understanding the balance between the work and rest. When you've played as many minutes as he's played and the style that he's played, you have to put your focus on the hockey games themselves rather than everything around it. We're going to manage his game really well, we're going to put him in positions where he can have success during the games and I think we got ourselves a good player."

Morrow, who had interest from multiple suitors, said the familiarity with Hitchcock and Armstrong from his days also in Dallas as well as Brett Hull, the Blues' executive vice president, made this a good fit.

"We were honest with him," Armstrong said of Morrow. "We showed him where our lineup was. We said that we expect players like (Vladimir) Tarasenko and (Jaden) Schwartz to take a big role on our team, but we're a four-line team. We've always been a four-line team. We're always going to be a four-line team.

"Now is he going to be able to go find a spot with (David) Backes, (Patrik) Berglund and (Derek) Roy, I don't know. That's the coach's decision. One of the things that attracts us to someone like Brenden, you lay it all out and he said, 'Don't worry about the competition. I'll take care of that.' That's what you like to hear. He said, 'I'll take care of my spot on the roster as long as you give me a fair shake,' and he's going to get a fair shake."

Morrow met with Hitchcock, Armstrong and members of the Blues' leadership group, including captain David Backes, and was convinced the Blues were the right choice.

"There were a few factors," said Morrow, who has 249 goals and 542 points in 850 career games. "I wanted to be on a contender for sure and family, I wanted them to be comfortable and myself comfortable knowing Army was there and Hitch and having success with those guys. They knew what to expect from me and I knew what to expect from them. I think the Blues have been a team that's been knocking on the door the last few years and I think they can be a team that can push through it. I wanted to be a part of that.

"I don't think I'm the 20-minute guy I was five, six years ago but I still feel I can contribute, play some hard minutes, be a net-front guy and add some value to the locker room. I'm still going to compete every night and play those hard battles and put the puck in the net at times when the opportunity arises. The last few years I've had some injury issues. Those are all past and the body feels good."

Said Backes, who has had many wars over the years with Morrow: "He's a guy that wants to win. He's not sitting there looking for the biggest contract. He wants to go to a team that's got a great chance at winning. He's got some history with the coaching staff and management here. He knows the guys, he's played against the guys and he knows it's a hard-working team to play against.

"I've played against him and he's not a fun guy to play against. To have him in a Blues jersey, it's a welcomed sight and he'll be another asset on our team."

Morrow also worked out with fellow Blues teammate Barret Jackman over the summer and the Blues' defenseman helped make his pitch.

"Ever since July 5th, I've talked to him," Jackman said of Morrow. "Obviously we had a lot to sort out with our team before Brenden was part of the mix. I always talked up St. Louis. There were no bones about whether he'd be a good fit with our team. It finally came to be. A lot of guys are really excited about it.

"We had great conversations all summer about it. But there's 29 other teams. He's definitely a guy that brings a lot to the table and there's a lot of teams that were after him. It's our good fortune that he was still around at this point. He's willing to sacrifice some money to come to a team that he knows he can contribute to and he sees us as a real contender."

When Morrow went to Pittsburgh at the trade deadline last season, he tallied 14 points in 15 games playing on a line with Evgeni Malkin and James Neal. The Penguins, known more for their open-ice style of play, got the gritty guy that can do the plumber's work in the "dirty areas."

But Morrow, who took a pay cut from the $4.1-million he made last season in the final year of a six-year, $24.6-million contract, could not find any suitors as free agency opened July 5.

Armstrong initiated talks with Morrow in July and the interest was there from both sides, but Morrow wanted to see the Blues' financial situation play out with prominent restricted free agents, including Alex Pietrangelo and Chris Stewart. The sides reconnected when the Blues were in Dallas for a preseason game, and Armstrong and Morrow talked again over a cup of coffee.

"He was understanding that our main focus at that point was to get Alex signed and I felt that if he signed (elsewhere) before us getting Alex signed, I understood," Armstrong said. "When we got Alex finished, then I knew exactly where our roster was and where our finances are at. We engaged again.

"... He had a chance to sit with Ken and I, he had a chance to sit with a couple guys on our leadership group. He watched a couple practices with us, got a feel for the team, and it just picked up steam. "I think he just makes us a better team."

Added Morrow: "We didn't know what to expect, but as the weeks went on from July 5th, we knew we would probably have to ride it out a little bit. In speaking with Doug prior, we knew that Petro and Stewy were big parts of the equation so we had to let those deals ride out and then we were able to speak more and know more of the situation in St. Louis."

And as much as Morrow enjoyed his brief time in Pittsburgh playing with the high-flying Penguins and Sidney Crosby, playing in Hitchcock's defensive, shutdown system is more suited for his style.

"I enjoyed sitting there watching those guys do their thing, but I started in the league with Hitch and our system in Dallas was kind of tailored to a lot of the success the Stars had in the late '90's and early 2000's," said Morrow, whose father-in-law Guy Carbonneau played with the Blues in 1994-95. "Hitch was running the ship and that's what I've grown up with. That's what I knew as a player.

(Getty Images)
Brenden Morrow, who signed a one-year contract with the Blues Monday,
spent nearly 13 seasons playing for the Dallas Stars.
"I think I was brought to the Penguins for a reason, to keep playing that same way and I wasn't going to try to do something I wasn't and play a certain way and I'm not used to. It was enjoyable to watch them compete and play the way they played, but this is more, I guess, tailored to the way I play."

Hitchcock said Morrow, who has been part of Team Canada seven times -- most notably winning the gold medal in the Olympics of 2010, will not play Wednesday in Minnesota against the Wild but will play in a rematch between the teams here Friday. He wants to see Morrow, who flew into St. Louis Monday night and will be on the ice Tuesday, get into a couple practices first.

Hitchcock said he views Morrow as a third-line player but is someone that can play anywhere.

"He's in tremendous shape," Hitchcock said of Morrow. "We saw him here for a day. He's healthy, but he's going to take a couple practices to get up to speed. the nice thing for Brenden is he knows the exact terminology, he knows the way we play. This is not a lot different than, say, the way the Olympic team played or the way we played in 2010. I think from that part of the adjustment, it's not going to be difficult for him, but he's still going to have to get up to tempo and up to speed. He's worked his tail off, but he hasn't practiced with 10 other people. He's going to have to learn to play hockey with other people on the ice rather than just with a skating instructor.

"He's got game left. He's got game left because he's got good hands around the net, he's willing to go into the dirty areas to score, especially on the power play and I think we can play him up and down the lineup depending on the score, depending on the game, depending on how many minutes he plays the night before."

The Blues will carry 14 forwards when the season opens Oct. 3. They have 15 under NHL contracts now. What it means is that there will be a subtraction at some point, via trade or waivers. If a player is waived and goes unclaimed, they would go to Chicago in the American Hockey League. And according to Hitchcock, nobody's on the leading edge of being shipped out.

"I don't think you can have enough good players," Hitchcock said. "I think everybody is going to do some number counting. That's what you've got training camp for. It's no real difference if you've got an emerging player.

"To me, the way (Dmitrij) Jaskin's played the last week, I'd be nervous if I was anybody. He's getting better by the moment. that's just competition. That's the way it goes. If a veteran can't cut the grade in training camp, then that gives you options, or if there's other positions and Doug decides to move a guy out, that's the way it goes. You're here to make an impression now. We haven't closed the door on anybody, but the competition has dictated where guys are going to be at. We've got lots of time before the first game of the season to decide what we're going to do here and guys are going to get hard looks. That's why we practiced the way we practiced today. We'll do the same tomorrow. ... By Sunday morning, we're going to get a real good evaluation."