ST. LOUIS — Monday's St. Louis Blues practice seemed as if the coaches put their fingers on the "fast forward" button and never let up.
With a rare break in the lockout-condensed schedule and three days off before facing Chicago on Thursday, Blues coach Ken Hitchcock presided over a high-intensity, high-tempo workout that lasted more than an hour.
Hitchcock said only 12 non-game day practice remaining this season, so each one takes on greater significance.
"Everything we're practicing are game-like situations, but they're done at a really high tempo," Hitchcock said. "We're trying to really get as much as we can from every drill. We're trying to make guys play with proper precision while being tired, and that's the big challenge."
The Blues (10-6-2) are 4-1-1 in their previous six games and coming off a 2-1 home victory over Columbus on Saturday that ended a five-game home losing streak.
Hitchcock is hoping to improve his team's overall fitness level while also fine-tuning mistakes that had crept into recent games. Monday's focus was transition and tempo.
"Every drill we did today was extended, so you still have to perform at a high level even though you're tired and trying to catch your breath," Hitchcock said. "If we do that for three days, I think by the time we get ready to play on Thursday we'll be a better team because of it."
The practice included scrimmaging, one-on-one battle drills and an extra-large order of skating.
"It's about getting better," Blues winger Andy McDonald said. "Normally you have that time where you can work on different types of drills. It's a little bit more physical, a little bit more tiresome, but with the schedule it's just been impossible to do.
"It came at a good time for us. Guys expected it and it was a good day."
Hitchcock said teams around the league are noticing a difference between players who played during the lockout and others who worked out on their own.
The Blues' top players in terms of ice time are defenseman Alex Pietrangelo (averaging 25 minutes, 48 seconds), defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk (22:12) and defenseman Barret Jackman (19:44).
Among the forwards, T.J. Oshie, David Backes, David Perron and Alex Steen all average more than 18 minutes.
"If you look around the league right now ... probably 85 or 90 percent of the time, the players that didn't play have hit the wall and they're struggling," he said. "We've got to punch through with that. You can't just rest them up and think that's going to work.
"We're trying to get through that and this is a great opportunity for us."
Blues winger Vladimir Tarasenko, who suffered a concussion last Wednesday after being blindsided by Colorado's Mark Olver, remains out of action.
"He's not able to practice, he doesn't feel good enough to participate physically," Hitchcock said. "He's feeling better, but not at the level where he can come on the ice. When he starts being able to come around and practice and perform, then that s a big step for him. But he's not there yet."
Attention to detail
Hitchcock is becoming upset with the Blues' continued penalties for too many men on the ice.
"We're too impatient," he said. "We got caught three times this year already where we've been coming out of a power play and we've had a forward change for the D-man and the D-man's gone on too quickly."
* Blues goalie Jaroslav Halak is 16-1-1 in his last 18 home starts. He has allowed only nine goals in his previous 11 home games with six shutouts during that span.
* Former Blues goalie Ben Bishop was named the NHL's Third Star of the Week. The Ottawa Senators netminder was 3-0 last week with a 2.03 goals-against average and .931 save percentage, winning twice in shootouts.
* Former Blues captain and NHL Most Valuable Player Chris Pronger stopped by the team's practice facility on Monday.