Monday, November 10, 2014


Oshie ascending status; military veteran pays 
team visit; Tarasenko a star; Reaves leaves practice

HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- When Blues coach Ken Hitchcock led the media to believe that T.J. Oshie was a "way's away" from a return to the lineup, the presumption led one to believe it to be weeks.

Judging by Oshie's wheeling and whipping around the ice like a kid on a playground, it could be merely days before the right wing marks his return to the ice.

Oshie, who has missed the past six games since his injury sustained Oct. 28 against the Dallas Stars, was on the ice before his teammates took to it for a 10:30 a.m. practice and stayed on for the duration, which lasted roughly an hour.

Oshie, who has one assist on the season, took part in all drills, was involved in some mild contact but nothing that would be considered, bone- or helmet-crunching.

"I was shocked that he stayed there the whole time," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said of Oshie after practice at the Ice Zone. "I knew he was coming out for the first part. He had a long day today. He was here at 8 o'clock in the morning and he's still here now. To go through what he went through, he was out there for everything.

"It's pretty impressive. I don't know how he's feeling. I didn't get into what the trainers talked about. They told us he was going to stay for whatever he could and then he ended up staying right to the bitter end, which is a good sign."

Oshie did not speak to reporters afterwards, but there was an air of excitement on his face that leads those that watched him believe that he's closer to a return than further away.

"He's got that youthful exuberance for the game of hockey, which is something that's a special part of a person when you see a guy that is that excited to go on the ice every day," Hitchcock said of Oshie. "He just loves the game, loves being part of a team. I think that's contagious in a very positive way."

* Honored presence -- The Blues received a special visitor inside the locker room at the Ice Zone on Monday.

Mr. Charles Rohde, Technical Sergeant in the 267th AAA AW Battalion and native St. Louisan, visited the players after practice and presented Blues goalie Brian Elliott with the Veteran's Day-themed goalie mask that Elliott will wear Tuesday night against the Buffalo Sabres.

Rohde, 92, battled on D-Day, Normandy, Northern France, the Rhineland, Ardennes (Battle of the Bulge) and Central Europe.
Blues goalie Brian Elliott (right) receives the veterans-themed mask that
he will wear Tuesday from WWII veteran Charles Rohde on Monday.

"I just hope there's an understanding of why, what, where," Hitchcock, who takes pride and has great interest in history, said of the meaning of Veteran's Day. "I think it's really important that we understand what happened, why it happened, what sacrifices were there. That's what we talked about today with the players. Sometimes we get to just shake somebody's hand and get on with our day, but there's a lot to this and there's a lot of reasons that it happened and I think we can really learn some lessons of why it happened and what happened and hopefully we had a little bit of an education today."

The Blues will honor Mr. Rohde and other military veterans Tuesday at the 'Salute to Military Night' at Scottrade Center. Players will wear special camouflage jerseys during warmups and volunteers will collect care package donations for the troops. Fans that donate will receive raffle tickets for a chance to win one of the camouflage jerseys.

* Reaves leaves practice -- Right wing Ryan Reaves left practice early Monday after he was hit on the ankle by a Barret Jackman shot during a practice.

Reaves came off the ice with a noticeable limp as he departed.

"Quite frankly, I didn't even know he left," Hitchcock said of Reaves. "I knew he got whacked in the ankle with a shot, but I don't know from there what happened. I was too busy watching the power play to even know that he left the ice, to be honest with you. If there's anything that happens, we'll let you know."

* Back on the saddle -- After the Blues had their seven-game winning streak snapped with a 2-1 loss Saturday at the expense of the Nashville Predators, it concluded a stretch of five games in eight nights.

Players and Hitchcock acknowledged that they were a step behind in the play against a Predators team that was opportunistic much of the night with their speed, pressure and forecheck.

After a day off Sunday, it was back on the horse for three home games this week, beginning with preparation for Tuesday against the Sabres.

"Yeah, it was good today," Hitchcock said of practice. "It was a day off, a day away from the rink ... five (games) in eight days, that's a lot of hockey and with travel, some of those games went into OT, shootouts, so there's an added energy that you have to bring forward. So getting the day off, we had real good energy at practice, real good focus and you know build her back, now we get playing again."

And what does a coach do on his day off?

"You know what, family came in ... so you just ... you get away," Hitchcock said, before joking. "I did something really different. I watched hockey last night. But anyway, it was good. 

"Sometimes when you're with each other so much, players get tired of the coaches, the coaches get tired of the players, it's good for a break. Knowing when to take the break, knowing when to back off is managing the monthly clock. I think with how hard this season is from a competitive standpoint, getting breaks and energy is a smart thing to do. We'll take as many breaks as we can. The practices are important, but having to practice all the time, when you're with each other so much, after a while, I think players little things start to bother people and I think just taking a break brings you back to the rink excited to go at it again."

Monday was back to work, and back to school for players and coaches ... sort of.

"Today was a teaching (moment)," Hitchcock said. "We need to get on the same page on a more regular basis and when you get a chance to practice like this, you don't get it very often. We get one of these every week or 10 days and this is an opportunity to teach and get better."

* Leave it alone -- Hitchcock has been known in the past to break up lines that are riding hot to balance out a lineup.

With Jaden Schwartz, Jori Lehtera and Vladimir Tarasenko totalling 17 points in the past five games, it's the hottest line going in the NHL these days. Especially Tarasenko, who had a pair of highlight-reel goals worthy of a flipbook on one of them.

After the game Saturday, Hitchcock expressed his desire to get more from players other than the Lehtera line.

But as practice unfolded Monday, all lines remained in tact other than flipping left wings Steve Ott and Chris Porter. Hitchcock was looking at a broader picture.

"For us, we're a team built on depth and it's our depth that has to win games for us," Hitchcock said. "I think we just need more production across the board. We need better defense, better checking, more offense. We need just better play across the board.

"It's not the scoring that you're talking about. That's just one little aspect of it. That's a small part of it. It's also the structural discipline, it's not getting scored on. Those are things that need to take place. It's just playing better.

"We give up too many scoring chances off the rush right now and that's a recipe for disaster. It's giving up less, knowing that if you give up less, you're going to get more. That's what I want to see us do. I know if we do that, we're going to get a whole bunch more offense."

* Up next, the Sabres -- On paper, the Blues (9-4-1) should have an easy time of it against the team with the fewest wins (three) and fewest points (eight) in the NHL.

Judging by the start to their season, the Sabres (3-11-2) are laying it on the line that they will be right there at the end for the Connor McDavid Sweepstakes.

Even though they went out and spent some money this past off-season on the likes of Matt Moulson, Josh Gorges and Brian Gionta, Buffalo has scored a league-low 18 goals in 16 games (1.12 goals per game) and has two goals or fewer in an astounding 15 of 16 games and one or fewer goals in an even more eye-popping 10 of 16 games.

Don't look for the Blues to take the Sabres, who have already been shut out five times, lightly by any stretch.

"I think there's lots a stake for some of the players on our team," Hitchcock said. "Steve (Ott) was their captain and you've got (goalie coach) Jim Corsi who was part of the (Sabres) organization (for 16 years), I think there's an excitement to come back and play your old organization. 

"But I think right now it doesn't matter who the opponent is, it's all about us. It's so early in the season, you know, like I was talking about first-place battle with Nashville and it was like, 'C'mon,' it's pretty early for that stuff. So I think the players are more focused on themselves and I think that's got to be that internal focus that we want, not the opposition."

Elliott will get the start in goal Tuesday and Hitchcock said, "we'll just see from there," where they go with the goalie rotation with Jake Allen.

* Tarasenko a star (again) -- For the second week in a row, Tarasenko has been acknowledged by the NHL.

After being picked as the NHL First Star of the Week last week, Tarasenko was named the NHL's Third Star of the Week on Monday, behind Calgary Flames defenseman Mark Giordano and Ottawa Senators goalie Craig Anderson.

Tarasenko tied for second in the league with six points (three goals, three assists) to lead the Blues to three victories in four games. Tarasenko extended his points streak to a career-high tying five games (five goals, three assists). Overall, Tarasenko leads the Blues with nine goals and 17 points in 14 games this season.

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