Sunday, September 15, 2013

Needing their own

In order to take next step, Blues need home grown players to rise to occasion

DALLAS -- After digesting how and why his team was eliminated sooner than expected from the postseason against the Los Angeles Kings, Blues coach Ken Hitchcock came to a number of conclusions but one obvious one that stood out.

"The people that we count on that we've grown have to play better for us to get to the next level quite frankly," Hitchcock said then. "We need more from the people that are home-grown.

"We need the home-grown guys, the guys that we've built around to get to the next level."

(Getty Images)
T.J. Oshie is one of the Blues' first round draft choices that
will be asked to elevate his game this season.

That means David Backes, T.J. Oshie, Patrik Berglund, Alex Pietrangelo, Alexander Steen, Roman Polak, Barret Jackman ... guys that have been drafted or been with the hockey club now for multiple years and have grown in the system.

The Blues' ownership and management have plugged in the necessary pieces from the outside (acquiring Jay Bouwmeester, Kevin Shattenkirk, Chris Stewart, Jordan Leopold, Derek Roy, Maxim Lapierre, Magnus Paajarvi, Jaroslav Halak and Brian Elliott) to solidify the unit, but the guys that were groomed from the start and those guys that were brought in following the 2004-05 lockout need to help make that next push.

"Yeah, I think so," Oshie said. "Last year we had depth. This year we have more depth. With that depth comes kind of more of a shared responsibility. Even last year, there were still some guys that were looked to put up most of the points. I think now through four lines, the scoring's going to be pretty well distributed.

"For those key guys that have been here a while like you said, myself, Steener, Bergy, Backes ... we've got to take a little bit of a leadership role and make sure that every line's going."

And as the Blues entered camp Wednesday, Hitchcock believes the message was delivered clearly in the off-season and those players have a full understanding.

"They know. We're all treating it like, 'Hey, we belong here,'" Hitchcock said. "This isn't a fluke that we've made the playoffs two years in a row. This isn't a fluke that people are saying that this is a legit Stanley Cup-contending team. We've earned this. We've earned to get to this.

"This isn't like you just pick names and numbers out of a hat. We've earned this reputation, but we have to really believe it ourselves, too. We can't not believe where we're at. We've earned the right to get where we're at right now. We want to take it to the next level. And the next level is not scoring goals. That's just so small thinking for what we need. The next level is being better in a lot of areas. We need to be better at killing penalties, we need to be better killing penalties out of the gate, not wait 10 games until we really start to dig in; our power play needs to be better, more consistent; we've got to be able to finish more, that's a part we need to do better, but we also need to check better. There's little things that we can do, but I like the potential in our attitude, in our ability to be able to do that stuff. To me, all those things add up to more wins. If we expect to be an elite team, we've got to win more hockey games during the season and then obviously hopefully in the playoffs."

But to do it, the Blues need that collective 20-man unit night in, night out. Without the so-called "superstar" in the Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin or Alexander Ovechkin in their lineup, the Blues can't afford to have anyone take nights off.

"I think if we have anything but 20 guys going full-speed and to the best of their ability, it's a letdown for us and it's a loss for us," Oshie said. "We need all 20 guys going, we're going to catch some teams and be able to not necessarily roll over them but play real well against them and get our W's and get our points. We need everyone going and we need everyone to step up and be a little more proud of our work ethic and our physicality on the ice."

The feeling in the locker room is the Blues feel like they're close, and they know it.

(St. Louis Blues photo)
Patrik Berglund was drafted in the first round in

I think we've been really, really close the last couple years taking that huge step," said Steen, acquired in 2008 from Toronto. "It's up to everybody. This is our time now. We have a great team. We know it. We've just got be ready for the season and get off to a good start. It's up to us."

The motivating factor: the somber feeling after being eliminated.

"There's nothing worse than sitting at home or sitting wherever you're at watching the team you had a chance to beat go on and play after you," Oshie said. "The end goal's the Stanley Cup, but we've got a ways to get there. We know how to do it, but it just comes down to doing it."

Added Steen: "That's a feeling you never should forget. You don't want to experience that one. You get knocked out of the playoffs no matter how it happens. The feeling's (bad). You don't want to experience that feeling. That's something you should always have in the back of your mind. If we don't do what we have to do in order to prepare ourselves, then that's the feeling we're going to sit with."

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