Thursday, April 13, 2017


Blues know they must be better; Sobotka factors again; special teams' play 

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- Yes, the Blues lead their best-of-7 Western Conference First Round series against the Minnesota Wild. Yes, Jake Allen was more than outstanding, and it's a good omen that goaltending has started off in top form.

But despite getting the 2-1 overtime win and on the road in Game 1, and with Game 2 slated for Friday at 7 p.m. (FS-MW, KYKY 98.1-FM), the Blues understand that in order to get the necessary results moving forward, they have to be better.

Way better.

"Yeah, I think we'll be the first to admit we can play better," Blues captain Alex Pietrangelo said. "We'll have a discussion in here about what we can change in terms of limiting their shots. Fifty shots is a lot to give up, I know. It went into overtime, but they seemed like they wanted to be aggressive. We can be more aggressive as well."

"For sure, we need to be way better," said forward Vladimir Sobotka, who opened the scoring and gave the Blues a 1-0 lead. "I think we all know that. We just need to take it another step and be better in the next game."

"A lot more," added right wing David Perron. "I don't know how much better they can get but that was a pretty solid game by them. We know we need to make adjustments and get better.

"... Just personal feeling, play more in the O-zone. Our line had a lot of defensive zone things to take care of, but if we can provide more offense, and have maybe more poise thoughout the neutral zone to get in there and get more zone time."

The Blues, who got a scintillating performance from Allen and made a career-best 51 saves and the most saves against the Wild in Stanley Cup Playoff history,  was on the wrong end of shots on goal (52-26) and faceoff percentage (41 percent) that led to a large territorial edge in puck possession and offensive zone ice time.

With many of the regulars, except for center Jori Lehtera, not taking the ice Thursday afternoon, it was on the coaching staff to provide the teaching tutorials with video sessions.

There was no work on the ice, so video it was.

"We talked about a couple things, we look at a couple things on video this morning," Blues coach Mike Yeo said. "We'll watch some more things in video. It's a good team, so we're not surprised. When you have a game where you don't feel like you're at your best and you come away with the win, that's a pretty good feeling. But that said, we know it's going to be a tough challenge [Friday]. Our focus is going to be continuing every game. We'll look at what we did right, we'll look at what we did not well enough and we find a way to get a little bit better and that's what we're on right now."

The Blues simply can't continue to start plays by chasing the puck, they have to do a better job of dealing with the Wild's forecheck that leads to transitioning pucks out of the defensive zone and through the neutral zone, and they need more sustained offensive zone time. 

The numbers Wednesday defied the end result, and the Blues know they can be better in a number of areas, and if they can improve their overall play, they can be more of a factor in this series.

"They're throwing pucks, a lot of pucks at the net from all angles," Pietrangelo said of the Wild. "Obviously harder to react when you're the defending team and that situation happens. I think we just need to be a little more aggressive.

"You're going to need to win those games. I feel like we've been on the wrong side of those a lot throughout the years. Jake was unbelievable; I think everybody knows that. Get away with a win there. I thought we played well through spurts. I feel like we need to be better."

* Sobotka factor -- The Blues did get another boost from the addition of forward Vladimir Sobotka, who has two goals in two games since mutually agreeing to terminate the remainder of his contract with the Kontinental Hockey League that was set to expire on April 30; he signed a three-year extension for $10.5 million and after scoring in the regular-season finale last Sunday against the Colorado Avalanche, opened the scoring in Game 1.

"I thought it was going to be a little harder for me to get on smaller ice," Sobotka said. "I thought it was going to be hard winning battles and stuff like that. I'm really happy for that.

"... It was a hard game. We are really happy that we win that first game. It was really important."

With center Paul Stastny out with a foot injury since March 21, adding Sobotka has helped alleviate some things the Blues lost by losing their top center icemen.

"Yeah, obviously Paul plays the same way," Pietrangelo said. "He's a tough guy to play against; 'Sobe,' too. I think when we get him back in the lineup, we're going to have some forwards that are going to be really hard to play against."

Sobotka, who played left wing on a line with Lehtera and Alexander Steen, played 21:16 on Wednesday after playing under 17 minutes in his first game in nearly three years.

"It's fun," Sobotka said. "I'm really happy to be here and helping the team. I'm really excited.

"I'm trying to get my game back a little bit more, physicality and all around the game. ... Getting used to the smaller ice, I would say, get that speed back again and work on it."

Yeo understands that the process can be difficult, especially since Sobotka is virtually beginning his NHL season instead of playing at the end of it but can appreciate the results thus far.

"It's obviously a very difficult thing to do, but you can tell he's a veteran player, a player who has played in different systems," Yeo said. "He's adjusting very quickly to what we're asking. You can see he's played at the highest levels. You don't do those things without having the skill level to do it, but also the recognition of dangerous plays in dangerous areas. And you see how he's factoring in on our penalty kill and our defensive game right now, he's obviously been a big addition for us."

* Special teams -- The Blues were 0-for-4 on the power play, that's the bad news. The good news is that they shut down the second-ranked home power play three times.

"It's obviously something that we're talking about and looking at today, to find a way to create a bit more offense," Pietrangelo said. "They didn't score either on the power play. I think this time of the year, special teams is important. We've got to find a way to create a little bit more."

The Blues had just three shots in 7:55 of power play time.

"I don't know. I'd like to think it's in our hands once we're on the power play," Perron said. "I don't know if they were doing anything special that we weren't ready for. I think we were ready but we didn't have any sustained pressure. I think, speaking for our group (which is the second group, by the way) anyway, that's how I see it.

"For us, we get the last part of it, sometimes it's 20, 30 seconds, so it's hard to create stuff, but having said that, we have to be assertive once we go out there and make sure if we have one opportunity at the net, we're shooting the puck and ready to make plays."

* Allen good -- Allen was standing tall a day after facing 52 shots and said he was feeling fine.

Allen, whose 51 saves are the most in his NHL career for a game, said he's good.

"I feel pretty good," Allen said. "It was a late night last night and got some sleep and I’ll get some more rest tonight and be ready to go tomorrow.

"It’s just a win. You can’t get too high, you can’t get too low. I’m not getting too excited over the saves I made or anything like that. It’s just a win. We still have a long way to go and we can’t get too far ahead of ourselves. Yeah, you can enjoy it for a few minutes, but it’s on to tomorrow."

A performance like the one Allen put forth in the opener could only boost his confidence; he was outplayed by Wild goalie Devan Dubnyk in the series between the teams in 2015. 

"He's been fantastic," Pietrangelo said of Allen's play. "We've got nothing but faith in both of our guys and we can really count on. I think the big thing for us is limiting those second chances. I think we did a good job throughout the game clearing the rebounds and all that protecting the front of the net, so we're going to need more of that."

* Thursday notes -- The Blues held a limited optional skate at Xcel Energy Center on Thursday, and defenseman Robert Bortuzzo (upper-body injury) was one of them along with Lehtera, Dmitrij Jaskin, Zach Sanford, Jordan Schmaltz and goalies Carter Hutton and Luke Opilka.

Schmaltz made his NHL playoff debut Wednesday and played just 9:18 as the Blues went with a five-man defensive unit for much of the game. 

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