For as positive as Blues coach Ken Hitchcock was Monday afternoon, one would have figured that his team swept the recent two-game road trip — not lost both games and been outscored 11-5.
The Blues fell 3-1 in Nashville on Thursday and 8-4 in Columbus on Saturday, and then had the day off Sunday. They were back at practice Monday, and to a neutral observer it was an uptempo, down-to-business, chatter-filled hour-long session.
To Hitchcock, it was all that and more.
"Best one we've had in a long time," he said. "It was really good, really good. I knew it was going to be good when we were getting on the plane in Columbus (to return to St. Louis on Saturday night). I knew we were going to make some headway. There's building times and this is it. We've got a real opportunity. We're in the quagmire with everybody else, and it is an opportunity that starting today the players really took advantage of.
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"I told the coaches that it's the best one I've had here in almost two years. The focus, the energy, the communication, disposition, compete level ... it was really good."
One wouldn't have guessed that the Blues blew a lead late in the second period in Nashville and gave up two third-period goals, or that they fell behind 7-1 in Columbus before picking up a few late power-play goals to make the score somewhat more respectable.
Hitchcock was all about accentuating the positive Monday, pointing out that the Blues just came out of a stretch of five games in eight days with a record of 2-2-1. He almost used the word unscathed.
"I don't want to say unscathed, but going to 2-2-1 in the last five games in eight days, getting through that, today was a really good day," he said.
Well, it was that as other players attested, but where it goes will be decided moving forward, beginning Tuesday against the Buffalo Sabres at Scottrade Center.
"For me, it's going out there and doing what needs to be done," Blues defenseman Alex Pietrangelo said. "The focus for me and the other leaders today was to go out there today and have a good practice. Get back to what we've been good at at the start of the season and the last few years. Raise our work ethic and play good (defense). That's the reality of the situation. I thought we went out there today, we battled each other and we played each other honest. We need to get that competitive nature back."
I will have more on Pietrangelo and how he's dealing with the Blues' struggles in his first year as the club's captain in Tuesday's Post-Dispatch and on STLtoday.com
TODAY'S PRACTICE LINEUP
Jaden Schwartz-Paul Stastny-Alexander Steen
Robby Fabbri-Jori Lehtera-Vladimir Tarasenko
David Perron-Patrik Berglund-Dmitrij Jaskin/Nail Yakupov
Scottie Upshall-Kyle Brodziak-Ryan Reaves/Ty Rattie
Jay Bouwmeester-Alex Pietrangelo
Carl Gunnarsson-Kevin Shattenkirk
Petteri Lindbohm-Colton Parayko
Robert Bortuzzo was on the ice with the Blues on Monday for the first time since suffering a lower-body injury against Detroit on Oct. 27.
Bortuzzo, who has missed the last eight games, could be back in the lineup this week. The Blues host Buffalo on Tuesday, San Jose on Thursday and Nashville on Saturday.
"Bortuzzo will be a player this week," Hitchcock said. "When, I don't know, but he'll be a player. He skated on his own for two days and then this morning early. He joined us at practice, got through it fine. We'll evaluate 'Borts' tomorrow and then give you a better clue tomorrow."
Meanwhile, defenseman Joel Edmundson, who has missed the last four games with an upper-body injury, skated on his own Monday.
"But he won't join us for a few days yet," Hitchcock said.
Edmundson was injured Nov. 6 against Colorado and the Blues originally said that he would be re-evaluated in three weeks, which would keep him out until the end of the month.
Nail Yakupov didn't see the ice for the second half of Saturday's loss to Columbus.
Yakupov played just 7 minutes 28 seconds in the game for a total of 11 shifts. That included just 2:27 in the second period, on three shifts, and none in the third period.
"Yak got out of sorts positionally, and we needed to grab it back," Hitchcock said. "That's the best way to describe it."
Yakupov, who was recently a healthy scratch for three straight games, was one of four players today practicing on one line. The others were David Perron, Patrik Berglund and Dmitrij Jaskin.
Could Yakupov be the odd-man out again when the Blues host the Sabres?
"I don't know yet," Hitchcock said. "We'll decide that."
Ty Rattie was back with the Blues after a week-long conditioning assignment with the Chicago Wolves. He had no goals and one assist in three games.
Rattie, who's played in just one of the Blues' 16 games this season, isn't expected to be back in uniform with the Blues soon, however.
"It doesn't hurt to play, but he's going to have to wait his turn, and then when it's his turn he's going to have to jump all over it," Hitchcock said. "There's a line at the door to play, and he's going to have to join the line, and then when it's his turn to play, go like hell."