Blues have no time to relish grand opening

2013-01-21T12:05:00Z 2013-02-02T20:33:44Z Blues have no time to relish grand openingBy Jeremy Rutherford 314-444-7135

As far as opening acts go, the Blues’ 6-0 win over Detroit in the team’s season opener Saturday was near perfect.

“Pretty close,” defenseman Alex Pietrangelo acknowledged. “But anybody can always get better. It’s just one night. We’ve got a big week coming up.”

In 2011-12, one of the Blues’ top traits, the trait most responsible for them playing into the second round of the postseason, was the knack of never getting too high or too low.

Only one game into the Blues’ new season, it’s already apparent how important having that ability will be in 2013. After dismantling the Red Wings with two goals apiece from Vladimir Tarasenko and Chris Stewart, the club heads on the road for back-to-back games against Nashville and Chicago, respectively.

The puck drops at 5 tonight against the Predators at Bridgestone Arena.

“Ideally, that’s what you’d like to happen every game, especially against (Detroit),” Blues defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk said. “But we won’t get a game like we got (Saturday). We won’t get a game like that probably the rest of the year.

“But I think we look forward to raising our level even more. It’s just going to force us to play better and clean things up even more. Now we go on the road against two divisional opponents. It’s going to be a tough test.”

Just a few days ago, the Blues’ offense was being questioned about its lack of production during training camp. But that was a distant memory by the second period Saturday, when they led the Red Wings 4-0.

“People were getting a little nervous when our intrasquad games were so low-scoring,” Stewart said. “We’re obviously not going to expect to score six goals every night, but ... as you can see, the power play is clicking, which is a bonus.”

Four of the Blues’ six goals Saturday came on the man advantage, including both of Stewart’s goals. That’s quite a start for a unit that ranked 19th in the NHL last season (16.7 percent).

Blues coach Ken Hitchcock emphasized special teams in training camp. Not only was the power play successful Saturday, but the club’s penalty-killing unit kept the Red Wings off the board on four chances and picked up a short-handed goal from T.J. Oshie.

“We worked really hard on that,” Hitchcock said. “It’s a little bit unnerving with the penalties that get called right now. Four or five penalties that got called wouldn’t have been penalties last year, but they are going to be this year. You’re going to need your special teams.”

The Blues weren’t special all night Saturday. Although they racked up 36 shots on net, they had 29 others that either missed or were blocked. The team was also charged with seven giveaways.

“It came together real quick, but there’s still some areas that we’ve got to clean up,” Oshie said. “Guys started getting a little too fancy, trying to make a couple too many plays. So we’ve got a ways to go, but it’s a good first one and a good start for us.”

In an 82-game regular season, NHL coaches often say, it takes 20 games to evaluate their teams. In a lockout-shortened 48-game season, Hitchcock naturally says it takes less time before making judgment.

“I just think you throw out the first 10 games,” he said. “You try to find out who can play and who can’t play. Then, after 10 games, you’re going to know what you’ve got. We looked like a real good team, but who knows in two or three games when we’ve got to go play tired or in road games?

“I watched Chicago play. They’re really good. I know what Nashville is like in Nashville. That’s not fun. So we’ve got tough games ahead. ... But this is a grounded team. This is one game.”

Stewart added: “We’re not going to worry about anyone else. We’re worried about the St. Louis Blues. When we play 60 minutes of hockey, it’s going to be hard to compete against us. It’s such a short season, you’ve got to use every game to get better. You can’t dwell on beating a team 6-0 because we’ve got Nashville coming up on Monday and Chicago on Tuesday. We’ll take it and come (back) with a fresh attitude.”

“We’re obviously not going to expect to score six goals every night, but ... as you can see, the power play is clicking, which is a bonus.” — Chris Stewart

Jeremy is a reporter at the Post-Dispatch. Follow him on Twitter at @jprutherford.

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