Thursday, February 20, 2014

Schedule gets hectic for Blues after break

Team will play final 25 games in 47 days; Sobotka expected to begin skating

HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- When the Blues finally get their players back from the Sochi Olympics and the team returns to action to play out the final stretch of the regular season, it'll do so in a compressed number of days.

The Blues, whose non-Olympic players skated for a second consecutive day at the Ice Zone inside St. Louis Outlet Mall, open Wednesday in Vancouver. It begins a stretch of six games away from home in the first seven. But more importantly, it begins the final 25-game push that the Blues will jam into 47 days.

There won't be much down time between games. They'll feel like games are being played in consecutive days. So to prepare for this grueling stretch, the Blues (39-12-6), who are tied for the Central Division lead with the Chicago Blackhawks with 84 points, will do what  they can to help prepare for what should be a frenetic finish to the season.
(St. Louis Blues/Mark Buckner)
Derek Roy (left) said the Blues want to get their competitive edge back as
they prepare for the final 25 games of the season.

"Get back the competitive edge again," center Derek Roy said. "You try to get that back in practice. It's tough with only 10 guys here, but we're just trying to battle and goalies are trying to make saves when we're trying to score goals. It's just a matter of competing in all areas.

"We have a lot of games in a short amount of days. We want to take care of our bodies and make sure we focus on hockey. The other thing we have to think about is finish off the season strong and not look towards the playoffs."

It'll be a little tougher with the Blues, who will not see seven of their teammates (David Backes, T.J. Oshie, Kevin Shattenkirk, Alex Pietrangelo, Jay Bouwmeester, Alexander Steen and Patrik Berglund) since they are still competing for their respective countries. 

So for the 12 skaters, which includes goalie Brian Elliott, who are here now, they have to move on for the rest of the team. The Blues will get back forward Vladimir Tarasenko and goalie Jaroslav Halak for practice Sunday. The two returned from their Olympic experiences Thursday evening.

"We've got to stay sharp," center Maxim Lapierre said. "Whatever guys, 12 or whatever we have on the ice, we've got to work on being focused on the ice. We have to work hard. 

"It's not like a training camp. Yesterday's practice was really hard for every guy, but today you can see a big difference right away. I think we're expecting the guys to get back at it tomorrow and the next day and feel like we were feeling 10 days ago."

Some of the rust and residue left over from being off for 10 days was evident at practice Wednesday. It had a more crisp feel to it Thursday, with some good, hard skating mixed in as well.

"We saw a little more rust (Wednesday) than we saw today," associate coach Brad Shaw said. "Hopefully tomorrow it looks a little better again. ... We're just trying to get our guys focused again on all the stuff that makes us good as a hockey team.
(St. Louis Blues/Mark Buckner)
Maxim Lapierre (40) feels like the Blues can get back to where they were
pre-Olympics. They resume the season Wednesday at Vancouver.

"We've tried not to get too crazy with how hard we push them, but we also like to sort of keep raising the bar every day."

And by raising the bar now, the Blues feel like they can reach it when games begin to pile on top of each other.

"I don't think so," Roy said. "We've got a bunch of leaders, we've got a bunch of guys that can lead in all areas of the game. We've got to get back to it right away. 

"Every team has to do it. It's not like we're the only team that's played a lot of games in a short amount of days or have to come back from a break. Every team's got to do it. Every team's going to be rusty. We want to be the least rustiest team coming out of the gates."

* NOTES -- Shaw did not want to address any of the injured players, but a source said that Vladimir Sobotka, who is recovering from knee cap injury, is expected to begin skating by the weekend. However, there is no timetable for his return. Sobotka was injured late in the third period on Jan. 31 at Carolina. Also, defenseman Jordan Leopold, who suffered a lower-body injury against the Winnipeg Jets, was at the practice facility Thursday and walking without any restraints. His status has not been updated either.

. . . With a USA-Canada rematch Friday at 11 a.m., the Blues will have a heavy interest in the goings on in the men's hockey semifinal matchup. 

Canada won the gold medal game in 2010 in overtime, and the winner of Friday's game will be playing for a berth in the gold medal game on Sunday.

"It's going to be a good one," said forward Ryan Reaves, a Winnipeg native. "I'm sure there's going to be some chirping, maybe some dinners put on the line, a couple pennies here and there. It'll be a fun game. Bragging rights are on the line."

Shaw, a Cambridge, Ontario native, said the U.S. has had the best results thus far.

"Team USA to me has been the best team over there so far," Shaw said. "They've looked the best. It looks like they're playing closest to their potential. It's going to be a real good game Friday. Tough challenge for Canada."

In the other semifinal is another grudge match between Sweden and Finland. Both are Scandinavian countries and have a dislike for one another.

"Sweden-Finland is like US-Canada," said Sweden native Magnus Paajarvi. "We really don't like each other the way we play each other. It's a lot of hitting and a lot of battling. They're really more of a North American team than us for sure. We're more on the skilled side, but we have to match their battle level to get the win. It should be fun."

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