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."

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