Monday, December 9, 2013

Blues hold rigorous practice, looking to get back on track

 By Andrew Allsman| Posted: December 9, 2013| Contact  |

The St. Louis Blues have been trending downward over their last few games. They have dropped three of their last four matchups, putting them in fifth place in the Western Conference, and just two points away from being on the outside looking in. The quest for improvement continued on Monday when the Blues hit the ice for an intense practice.

The practice, which was a little over one hour in length, focused on a better checking game, which is an aspect head coach Ken Hitchcock said has been missing from the club’s game.

“Today was (focused on) checking,” said Hitchcock. “A lot of checking drills. It’s an element of our game that has to get better so we are going to work on it. We did a lot of game-like situations, as well.”

The Blues participated in several high-paced drills, which included: line rushes and similar drills focused on forechecking. Aside from the full-ice drills, the team also worked on its tight-spaced one-on-one play in the corners.

“Everything was tailored towards battling and working together and how we go from one end of the ice to the other,” said defenseman Barret Jackman. “That’s some of the stuff that we've kind of gotten away from and that we need to get back to.”

The players didn't start practice at the pace that the coaching staff would have liked, which is similar to their recent games. The onus has been put on quicker starts to games, which is one reason why the tempo at the start of practice was so high.

“I expected a little bit more at the start with a day off and everything,” said Hitchcock. “From the 20-minute mark on we got a lot more engaged. The first 20 minutes were really slow for me and then once players recognized that practice was going to run that way, they really amped up their competitiveness.”

The Blues left for Winnipeg after the practice concluded. Though they currently sit two points from being in last place in the Central Division, the Jets were able to one-up the Blues in one of the two previous meetings this year. The Blues’ focus for that game is getting engaged early. Despite having just one practice separating them from their last loss and Tuesday’s game, the Blues are expecting to have things cleaned up.

“You’re going to work on things all year,” said Alexander Steen. “The way our schedule is set up, you don’t have as much time to work on things as you do in a training camp. You mostly discuss it, acknowledge it, and get rid of it. The next opportunity we have to do that is in Winnipeg and we look forward to a good start.”

The Blues’ recent slide has been labeled as rough water by head coach Ken Hitchcock. The team looks to stay floating while they fight through the hard times, which they hope end before it’s too late.

“This is the hard time. This is really difficult time for the players because you have to work harder to stay focused because you are in the holiday season, because your energy isn't what it was or you are banged up. This time is what builds teams. You don’t build your team at the start of the season.”