Blues coach Ken Hitchcock normally is not one to accept uneven play from his team. The Blues generally have played quite well thus far. But there has been periods, or half-periods, of uncharacteristic informality.
That said, this is not your normal season. Under regular circumstances, a team would show up for three weeks of training camp, open the season and then find its groove some two or three weeks in. But there were no exhibition games this time and “training camp” lasted less than a week in the lockout-delayed season.
In some cities, such as Minneapolis, there were enough players in the area during the lockout for a group to skate in game-like scrimmage sessions. In St. Louis, there were not enough NHL players to conduct those kinds of workouts. Some Blues were playing during the lockout, but most either didn’t play at all, or played a limited amount.
In short, a coach has to be realistic about where his team is condition-wise before you can judge effort and execution too harshly.
“We’re all on trial and error early,” Hitchcock said. “But I think you have to be realistic that the score on the scorecard matters more than the way you play the game. Because there’s going to be games you have to win where the picture isn’t perfect. You just have to find a way to get points.”
For the most part, the Blues have done just that. For instance, after beating Detroit 6-0 at home, the Blues began poorly in their first road game — on Jan. 21 in Nashville. They battled back, tied the score late and won in a shootout. The team started even more loosely the next night in Chicago and wasn’t quite able to recover.
But the effort was there. The Blues outplayed the Blackhawks during much of the latter part of the game and nearly forced overtime in the waning moments. A 4-3 win in Dallas on Saturday night was another example. The Blues fell behind 2-1 in the first period, had a spectacular 3-0 second period, then had good, bad and ugly moments in the third while hanging on to win. Then on Sunday they squandered an early lead, falling behind 3-1 before clawing back for a 4-3 lead. They gave up a late goal to send the game into overtime but fought back to win on a goal by Vladimir Sobotka.
At this point, the coaching staff is pulling the bad segments to the trash on the desktop and emptying the basket. Game-planning is much more about your team than the other, much more about finding and maintaining energy than X’s and O’s.
“I think the way you deal with people, I think you’re just throwing fuel to the fire if you get all revved up about where guys are at, or where their games are at,” Hitchcock said. “We’re trying not to overreact to some of the bizarre stuff.”
BACKES' LINE HEATS UP
David Perron’s two goals and assist got the attention in the Blues’ 4-3 win Saturday in Dallas. But also worth noting was the increased presence of the line he plays on, i.e. center David Backes, T.J. Oshie and Perron. The three-point night increased Perron’s total to four points, and he added two assists Sunday. Meanwhile, Oshie has three goals and two assists — most of them on the power play — and Backes has three assists, one of them Sunday.
“That line is just getting up to speed now,” Hitchcock said. “None of them played (during the lockout) and they were a little bit behind at the start. But they’ve all caught up now. They’ve started to get their second wind, play physical, started to grind and now they’re starting to be very effective getting scoring chances because of it.
“Perron is really starting to get engaged, Backes is starting to play with speed, it’s nice to see.”
Hitchcock thought Perron had a visible transformation after scoring his first goal of the season, which included a whirlwind stick-handling tour of the Dallas zone.
“When he scored and got the monkey off his back he was a different player, a different person, too,” Hitchcock said. “He’s starting to feel like, ‘My hands are catching up with my feet.’ ”