In this age of end-zone dances, home-run bows and slam-dunk poses, it’s a hard to imagine, hard to fathom professional athletes would opt for substance over spectacle.
But the Blues are doing just that.
Perhaps you noticed during the last two games, wins over Nashville and Winnipeg. When the line of David Backes, Alexander Steen and T.J Oshie have been on the ice for Blues’ goals — and that has been the case on six occasions — there has been no skate to the bench for a Conga line of high-fives.
There has been the traditional raised arms, the traditional hugs and smiles among those involved. And there has been a return to positions for the drop of the puck. In short, the Blues act like they’ve been there before, and aspire to be there again.
“That came from a few gentlemen who used to play here,” Backes said. “They felt like the going through the line thing was a high school, college type of play.
“It’s one of those things where you didn’t really think about it. It’s just the way it was when we got here, the way it was in college, what we did in high school. I think this is a unique thing that maybe we can change the trend a little bit — score the goal, congratulate each other and let’s go do it again.”
The idea was born at a fantasy camp last summer, a gathering attended by former Blues players like Kelly Chase and Hall of Famer Brett Hull, as well as Blues broadcaster and former NHL goalie Darren Pang.
Also at the camp was Hall of Fame defenseman Paul Coffey, who currently coaches one of the top junior teams in Toronto. Coffey’s team has adopted the same traditional behavior, dispensing with the high-five trips.
In conversations, the Blues personnel decided to approach the current Blues players about embracing the decorum. The idea got lost in the shuffle at the start of the season, but Chase re-visited the concept with some players during a recent road flight.
“As Hullie says, act like you’ve been there before,” Chase explained. “I couldn’t stand the fact that my kids were emulating that. I just think you might have done it high school, or done it in college but this is the NHL.
“Players come over to the bench and do that high-five stuff in a 2-1 game, as if the game is over, as if they just won the Cup. That’s not the way the sport is. Get back out there, line up and play the game.”
There are some practical aspects to foregoing the “Harry High School” routine. If the scoring players simply line back up, it doesn’t give the opponent time to make changes. It also defuses hostilities, which might be especially appropriate on the junior level.
Every time a team does the congratulatory spin by the bench, they also skate by the opponent’s bench, essentially rubbing it in, essentially inviting some kind of contentious response. Is it possible the Blues could be starting a new trend, a return to sportsmanship and decorum.
“I love it,” coach Ken Hitchcock said.
There have been a few relapses, old habits are hard to break. But the Blues are on fully on board with the new approach. “I don’t think I did it in high school and when I got to college they were doing it,” Oshie said. “When I got here I figured it wouldn’t be happening, but it was.
“But I think (not going to the bench) shows confidence, shows we’ve been there before. It’s kind of a business-like attitude. When we score a goal, we want to line up and get the next one.”
Backes referenced Steen’s 11 goals to suggest an additional benefit. “Steener might be exhausted after skating through the line that many times,” he said.
PAAJARVI ON IR
The Blues have placed Magnus Paajarvi on injured reserve, which could mean they will call someone up for Friday’s game at Florida. Paajarvi was hurt during the first period of the game in Nashville on Saturday, to which his placement on IR is retroactive.
He could return on Saturday, but it creates a roster spot for Friday’s game. As of Wednesday, the Blues were uncertain about Brenden Morrow’s status. Morrow was the recipient of a Mark Stuart cross-check five minutes into the third period on Tuesday. Morrow did not play after that and he is considered day-to-day with an upper-body injury.
During an optional skate on Wednesday, coach Ken Hitchcock said the team would know more about Morrow’s availability today. That puts two roster spots up in the air for Friday’s game. One will be filled by forward Maxim Lapierre, who has completed his five-game suspension for the hit on San Jose’s Dan Boyle.
“I’ve been training hard since Day 1, I can’t wait to play,” Lapierre said. “Whatever you do, it’s not like a game situation. But I’ll just have to be sharp mentally, be good in my positioning and I’ll be fine right away.”
If Morrow can’t play, the Paajarvi move clears room to summon help from the affiliate in Chicago.
MORE ON STEEN
Blues left winger Steen is leading the NHL with 11 goals. Two of those have won games with less than a minute to play, against Chicago on Oct. 9 and against Winnipeg last night. Steen has a five-game goal-scoring streak, the longest of his career.
He is only the third player in the last 20 NHL seasons to have 11 goals in the first 10 games. In 1990-91, when Brett Hull scored 86 goals, he had a hat trick in his 10th game to get to 13 goals.