Blues looking to build on solid start

2013-12-28T00:10:00Z 2013-12-28T00:37:08Z Blues looking to build on solid startBy Jeremy Rutherford

The Blues were not thrilled with the way the pre-Christmas portion of their schedule ended Monday night, blowing a two-goal lead with under nine minutes to play and falling 4-3 to Calgary in a shootout.

But as the club returned to practice Friday afternoon, four days after falling to the Flames, at least one player wondered aloud, “Are we still talking about that?”

The Blues have a record of 24-7-5 for 53 points, which represents the second-best points-percentage in franchise history through Dec. 25. The .736 mark ranks only behind the pace of .804 set at the start of the 2000-01 season.

“We’ve played very good hockey so far and the scary thing is that we can be even more consistent and probably be even better,” defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk said. “I think we know that and it’s a comforting feeling, knowing that we have better hockey ahead of us and we will get there.”

The Blues know they gave away a point to Calgary on Monday, but the team is still sitting in second place behind Chicago in the Central Division and was fourth in the Western

Conference before Friday’s games. And the club has four games in hand on the Blackhawks, who visit Scottrade Center at 7 tonight.

“We’re proud of a lot,” defenseman Barret Jackman said. “The points are obviously nice. A lot of great team play, but we still look at it like we can get better. Coming into Christmas, to be winning games and know that you have things to work on, it’s probably a good thing.”

The Blues returned to the rink refreshed Friday, with many players using the extra day off this year to make a quick trip home. The rest was as much mental as it was physical, even for those who are banged up going into the holiday.

“It was a well-timed break, I think,” Blues captain David Backes said. “We were going pretty hard in December and it was a chance to spend a little time with family, get away. But right back to a spirited practice today, and it’s going to be a real spirited game (Saturday) night.”

Chicago is in town, and the Blues are 2-0 against the Blackhawks this season, but both games took place back in October.

The Note edged the ’Hawks 3-2 on a goal by Alexander Steen in the final minute of regulation Oct. 9 in St. Louis and then won 3-2 in a shootout Oct. 17 in Chicago.

“It’s been a while,” defenseman Alex Pietrangelo said. “We know that they’ve been playing some extremely good hockey and obviously they’re ahead of us in the standings for a reason. It’s a good test for us to see where we’re at compared to the first-place team. With the holidays and everything it’s going to be a great game to be a part of.”

Tonight’s game is the Blues’ first following the Christmas break, but it will be the second for Chicago, which hosted Colorado on Friday night. That gives the Blackhawks a slight advantage, according to Blues coach Ken Hitchcock.

“Their on-ice disposition is revved up already,” Hitchcock said. “Everybody is fully rested and when you get a game under your belts, ahead of other teams, it’s a big advantage. We needed to have a very spirited practice, which we did, with a lot of stuff that is relevant for (Saturday), so we can get up to the pace right away.”

The Blues were hoping to get two of their veteran forwards back following the break, but they may have to settle for just one.

Vladimir Sobotka was on the ice for Friday’s practice and will be a game-time decision tonight, but Steen wasn’t in uniform and won’t play.

Steen is out with an “upper-body” injury that is believed to be concussion-related. He left last Saturday’s game against Edmonton in the second period, sat out against Calgary and after three more days off wasn’t healthy enough Friday to return.

“Anybody that didn’t skate today is out,” Hitchcock said. “He’s out — upper body.”

Asked if it was a bad sign that Steen wasn’t available after the break, Hitchcock answered: “Not really. I wouldn’t assume anything with him. ... We’re not going to do any ‘testing skates’ out here. Either you can go full practice or you can’t. We decided that with anybody that’s not a full participant, we’ll leave them off the ice today.”

Sobotka, who has missed the last five games with an upper-body injury, could come off the team’s injured-reserve list and play tonight.

“He made it through practice fine,” Hitchcock said. “He stayed the distance. If he’s able to come back (Saturday) and feel good, then we’ll put him as a player.”

The Blues clearly have some obstacles coming out of the break, and while they’ve put themselves in position to withstand tripping up occasionally, the club can’t overlook many situations like the one that unfolded in Calgary.

“You always want to end on a positive note, especially when you have a three-day break, thinking about ‘What just happened?’” Pietrangelo said. “We’ve accomplished a lot to this point, but we’re still trying to get better, and obviously with the injured guys, trying to find guys to fill spots. But I think we used the break to our advantage.”

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