Finishing around the net a high priority for the Blues

News-DemocratOctober 1, 2013 

— When the Blues were eliminated by the Los Angeles Kings in Game 6 of their first-round playoff series, missed opportunities played a major role in a 2-1 defeat.

The Blues were credited with 21 missed shots that night, making Kings goalie Jonathan Quick's job that much easier. They also missed 24 shots in Game 1 and 101 shots overall during the six-game series.

It was an ugly trend that also showed up at times during the regular season for a Blues team that wasn't exactly overflowing with elite-level scorers.

As a result, Blues coach Ken Hitchcock doesn't like hearing the word "creative" mentioned when discussing the potential of his team's offense this season.

"To me, that's a bad word to use in our league because it just means you can play on the outside and stay on the outside," Hitchcock said Tuesday. "What we need to do is finish, and finishing has a lot of difficult tasks in it. It means you don't go by the goalie, it means you stop in uncomfortable spaces, it means you're going to get whacked in areas ...

"But those are the areas we need to get better in. We need to be more aggressive in the scoring areas."

Hitchcock said being hungrier around the net is another example of how the Blues can find more goals in 2013-14. Their 129 goals ranked 14th in the NHL last season.

"We need to hold our ground a little bit longer and at times outwork the goaltender," he said. "Rather than slap it back at his pads and hope it goes through, we need to pay the price to ...have confidence, we can pull it back off the pads and put it under the bar. All those things are things we've been working on since day one."

Doing it in the preseason won't get high marks for Hitchcock, who for the first time had a full training camp to implement his system with the Blues.

"It's not creativity, it's the finish," he reiterated. "Finish has a lot of elements in it and if we do that stuff, then we're going to be hard to play against because we have the size and grit to do those things."

Blues change time for opener

Faced with starting their season opener against Nashville at 7 p.m. Thursday -- and with the Cardinals set to open the playoffs that day with a 4:07 p.m. game -- the Blues moved the start time to 7:30 p.m.

Trending up

Hitchcock always hopes for more improvement, but on Tuesday he admitted being somewhat happy with the way the team is coming together just days before the season opener.

"They're rested, they took two of the last three days off so the guys really had a lot of jump today," he said. "The first half of practice was about as good as it gets for us right now; we liked the energy and liked the enthusiasm. We seem to be really in sync with each other and want to get playing (some) games."

In what looked to be the opening-night line, the Blues' forward lines Thursday at practice looked like this:

Alexander Steen-David Backes-T.J. Oshie; Brenden Morrow-Derek Roy-Chris Stewart; Jaden Schwartz-Patrik Berglund-Vladimir Tarasenko and Vladimir Sobotka-Maxim Lapierre-Ryan Reaves.

Defense pairings had Jay Bouwmeester with Alex Pietrangelo, Jordan Leopold with Kevin Shattenkirk and Barret Jackman with Roman Polak.

Extra forwards were Magnus Paajarvi and Adam Cracknell and the extra defensemen was Ian Cole.

"I like the way we're trending," said Hitchcock, who offered words of encouragement often during the workout. "We're managing the puck better. We still don't have enough speed through the neutral zone, but it's getting better and better every day."

Contact reporter Norm Sanders at 239-2454, or on Twitter @NormSanders

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