Friday, January 17, 2014

Angry Blues turn attentions to hottest team in NHL

Ducks come calling on Scottrade Center Saturday; 
no scheduled hearing on Muzzin hit to Sobotka

HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- The mark of a good team is signified by how one responds after being humbled the previous game.

After being humbled by the Los Angeles Kings Thursday night in a 4-1 defeat, the Blues quickly turned their attentions towards the hottest team in the NHL, the Anaheim Ducks, who had won 18 of 19 games prior to facing the Chicago Blackhawks Friday night, were sitting atop of the NHL standings with 77 points.

The Blues (32-9-5) were outplayed by L.A. in the first period but turned the tides in the second and were at 1-1 heading into the third. But the Kings outscored the Blues 3-0 in the third, getting two quick goals from Trevor Lewis, including a shorthanded goal when Jaroslav Halak misplayed a puck going towards the corner to retrieve a clearing play. And in a flash, the Blues were in chase mode and against a good Kings squad, the mission was a mountain of a climb.

"We move on. We get an even tougher game tomorrow, so that'll be a big challenge," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. "... The game was right there for us. Going into the third period, it's 1-1, you want to push through and we made a couple of errors. 

"These are steep learning curves, is what we use them for. That yesterday was a steep learning curve. We popped them right in the jaw and they popped us in the third period. They won the first period, we won the second period ... we made our own mistakes (in the third). These weren't mistakes they forced us into. These are cracks that we didn't like to see in our game. We made a mistake at the end of the second period (a Ryan Reaves roughing penalty) by allowing them on the power play. They got easy ice to open the third period. That upset all of us. And then we gave up a late goal at the end of the power play which we had perfect coverage on, and then Jaro made a mistake. Made a puck-handling mistake and all of the sudden, now you're chasing against a team that knows how to check. You're chasing 3-1, so we were angry yesterday. We're angry ... not at L.A., not because the game's important. Every game we play is important. It doesn't matter if it's Anaheim, whether it's in New York, in New Jersey, Detroit, they're all important. But you want to play your best hockey, especially against significant opponents, and we didn't play our best hockey in the third period, which is what really angered a lot of us."

The Blues held an optional skate Friday, with half the team on the ice and prepping for another mammoth opponent. 

"With a game like (Thursday), you're not happy with it," said winger Jaden Schwartz, who had a rare night in the plus/minus category at minus-three. "It doesn't sit right inside of you. You want to respond in the right way. I think you're hungry to do more. We won't have any problem getting up for tomorrow's game. We're not happy with how (Thursday) finished. We're definitely motivated for tomorrow, that's for sure."

Center Patrik Berglund agreed.

"Every time you lose, you get really pissed off and you want to regroup and get the focus going the next day and move forward to get the next win," Berglund said. "It sharpens you and also puts you in place that you have to work even harder.

"We know all the teams we're playing are bringing their 'A' game now. We have a really good record and people obviously recognize that and we're a tough team to play against. It's getting harder and harder now. People are desperate for points."

The Blues will have to try once again to overcome the 'Curse of California.' After Thursday's loss, the Blues are a combined 1-6-0 against the Kings, Ducks and San Jose Sharks.

"They're significant opponents," said winger Alexander Steen, who returns to the lineup Saturday after missing 11 games with a concussion. "They've obviously played very well in their division. I think thus far in the season, we haven't played up to par when we've played against those California teams. Obviously last night wasn't what we wanted. We let that go. We've got a big game tomorrow.

"We've got another team that's playing really hot right now (in Anaheim). It's up to us to play the way that we play and to dictate the game and play with that solid team game that we've been so good at this year."

After a string of four straight games in which they scored five or more goals, the Blues have hit a bit of a funk, scoring only four goals in three games but winning one of those, 2-1 Tuesday against Phoenix. 

But Hitchcock is just looking for better all-around play from his team. He's searching for more consistency from the entire group.

"I just want our team to play really well," Hitchcock said. "I don't care what way we use or how we go at it. I just want us to play really well, and I want to see our principles out there. I want to see a semblence of our team game and what I didn't see in the third period (Thursday) was a semblence of our team game. I didn't like that. ... What good teams do is they check really well, so can you maintain your competitive focus when you're being checked well, hard, physical somewhat, positionally strong, great sticks, all that stuff. We wanted to see a better response at fighting through their checking. What we did was we got off the page and paid for it."

* NOTES -- With Steen's return, the Blues returned forward Dmitrij Jaskin to the Chicago Wolves of the American Hockey League. Jaskin has a goal in six appearances with the Blues this season.

. . . Defenseman Ian Cole will return to the lineup after sitting out Thursday's loss. Cole will replace Jordan Leopold, who was a healthy scratch Tuesday when Cole was in the lineup. For the time being, it appears the Blues will alternate Cole and Leopold in the lineup.

. . . As of Friday night, there was no scheduled hearing by the NHL Department of Player Safety on Kings defenseman Jake Muzzin, whose forearm to the head on the Blues' Vladimir Sobotka only drew a two-minute roughing penalty

The related video ( clearly shows Muzzin launched himself at Sobotka's head, with the principle contact being to the head. Vladimir Tarasenko came to Sobotka's defense and cancelled out the minor on Muzzin, but referees Brad Watson and Francis Charron did not issue any more penalties on the play and the NHL -- as of Friday night -- did not plan on a review of the play.

Sobotka went after Muzzin towards the end of the game and Chris Stewart also received a slashing and 10-minute misconduct penalty with six seconds left. As he was leaving the ice, there was question whether Muzzin spit into the crowd at Scottrade Center (see retated video:

Stay tuned if these teams happen to meet in the playoffs for a third straight season, but it wouldn't likely happen unless it was the Western Conference final.

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