Friday, September 20, 2013

Blues drop preseason home opener

Lightning takes 4-3 decision; Backes, Halak,
Steen, Oshie, Pietrangelo all make debuts

ST. LOUIS -- Through three preseason games for the Blues, the jury is still out on a number of players.

The Blues dropped their second in three days to the Tampa Bay Lightning, this time a 4-3 loss in the preseason home opener Friday at Scottrade Center with mixed results.

A number of players made their preseason debuts, including Alex Pietrangelo, Barret Jackman, David Backes, Alexander Steen, T.J. Oshie and Jaroslav Halak, who played in his first live game since suffering a groin injury April 1 at Minnesota.

(Photo by Mark Buckner/St. Louis Blues)
Jaroslav Halak returned to action for the Blues Friday for the first time
since April 1.

Halak stopped 19 shots and played the entire game and was the victim of some bad luck, including one goal that deflected in off a defenseman's skate (Joel Edmundson) and another than was shot on off his backside after making a save. Another goal was scored in a tip-in in front and another off a screened shot from the point off a faceoff win.

"I felt OK. I felt like ... everything went in," Halak said. "Some weird bounces tonight. ... It's good to get the first one under the belt. It's not how I imagined the game is going to be, but it is what it is. It's exhibition and I just need to get better. Bottom line.

"It doesn't matter really if I play tomorrow or the next game. But it's good to get some games in before the season starts. I just need to get better. That's all it is."

Hitchcock said he wasn't going to evaluate Halak after just one preseason game.

"He hasn't played for a long time," Hitchcock said. "We'll evaluate him next week.

"He's got to play. He's got to compete. He's got to get back into the rhythm. He's going to have to work at it. It's not going to come just naturally. He's got to work at it. He's going to have to get some games and get grinding and see where we go."

The Blues got two goals from the Backes line, one from Steen and another from Oshie. Corey Locke, a non-roster invitee, also added a goal and an assist in his preseason debut for the Blues.

"I think it's varying stages," Hitchcock said of his team, which dropped to 1-1-1 in preseason play. "Some of it is compete in some guys and some of it is conditioning in others. I don't think we're up to speed where we're at. We've got some flashes of stuff.

"We saw some good things at times from Backes' line for a first game, we saw some good things from (Patrik) Berglund's line from the first game, but we have a lot of work to do. We need to get down to numbers after tomorrow and we've got a lot of work to do."

The Blues, who host the Dallas Stars Saturday at 7 p.m., will trim their roster down to 30 players by day's end Saturday, and Hitchcock said some of the players left need to "get out of summer hockey. We need some more guys to wake up a little bit and we'll be fine."

Backes' line was fine, and it showed. He delivered a sharp pass to Steen in stride in the first period, and Steen did the rest, beating former Blue netminder Ben Bishop in the first period. Oshie also scored in the third period to trim Tampa Bay's lead to 4-3.

(Photo by Mark Buckner/St. Louis Blues)
The Blues' Magnus Paajarvi (right) sets up in front of the Tampa Bay
goal and netminder Ben Bishop (30).
"It's preseason game number one," Backes said. "We'll take it for what it's worth. October 3rd, we've got to be in full gear. It's a step, but it's not where we need to be. We've got work to do and we all know that.

"It's time to get into the game situation and get that adrenaline flowing and go after someone in a different-colored jersey."

Pietrangelo, who recently signed a seven-year contract, saw his first game action and played a game-high 26:46.

"I thought he was good," Hitchcock said of Pietrangelo, who played with Jay Bouwmeester. "We wanted to play those guys a lot towards the end and that's what we did, so I thought he was really good."

But for a third preseason game, Backes said: "It was just sloppy all-around. I think we were not very crisp, not very cohesive, not very close. There wasn't a lot of talk and when you've got that, it's a pinball match and that's what we saw out there."

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