Blues believe they have all the right ingredients this season

News-DemocratOctober 2, 2013 

— When it comes time to define a Stanley Cup champion, there is usually a long list of ingredients that led to the title.

Consider the St. Louis Blues master chefs as they search for just the right culinary mixture that will help provide a little postseason nourishment for a team -- and a fan base -- starving for a long playoff run.

"We know that last year was an opportunity that we let get away from us," said Blues defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk, whose team won the first two games of a first-round series against the Kings before losing the next four on the way to another early exit.

That came on the heels of the Kings' four-game sweep over the Blues in the second round of the 2012 playoffs on their way to a Stanley Cup title.

"We have to learn," said Shattenkirk,whose team opens the season at 7:30 p.m. Thursday at home against Nashville. "If you don't try to draw from those experiences you'll never make it to the summit. Watching the way that L.A. responded last year, they showed that they were a Stanley Cup-experienced team by not giving up once they went down 2-0.

"They just stuck with their game plan and were confident if they played the right way they would win."

According to new Blues center Maxim Lapierre, sometimes losing is the best way to discover the winning formula.

"It stinks, but it's part of the process," Lapierre said. "The good teams lose tough ones before they go all the way and that's the only way to learn. This is why we feel as a group that this year is our year.

"They went through a a lot emotionally and physically throughout the playoffs --and now they know exactly what it takes to win."

No less of an authority than the Hockey News picked the Blues to win the Stanley Cup this season. But this team isn't worried about predictions or even the playoffs right now.

Looking for reasons that dream scenario could happen for Blues fans?

*A full training camp under coach Ken Hitchcock, whose system relies on tight checking and speed through the neutral zone to produce offensive opportunities.

* Versatile players like Alexander Steen, Vladimir Sobotka. T.J. Oshie and Jaden Schwartz that can be used on nearly any line and fill any role.

* What should be a bounce-back season by captain David Backes, who had only six goals a year ago.

* Imported veteran grit in the form of center Derek Roy, winger Brenden Morrow and Lapierre that should supply a bit more sandpaper to an already gritty roster.

*One of the deepest defense corps in the the NHL led by Alex Pietrangelo, Jay Bouwmeester and Kevin Shattenkirk.

* Two veteran goaltenders with something to prove in free agent- to-be Jaroslav Halak and Brian Elliott.

"You only get so many opportunities to play on a team that believes they can win --and I believe we have that now," said Blues General Manager Doug Armstrong, whose belief in the roster convinced ownership to lock up some of the team's top players with long contract extensions.

In addition to bringing in Roy and Lapierre as free agents, the Blues gave major extensions to Pietrangelo (seven years, $45.5 million), Bouwmeester (five years, $27 million), Shattenkirk (four years), Chris Stewart (two years, $8.3 million), Ian Cole (two years, $1.65 million) and Patrik Berglund (one year, $3.25 million).

Besides taking the Blues to the edge of the NHL salary cap, those numbers send a clear message this team wants to win.

Now.

"I don't want to even think about playoffs to be honest with you," Hitchcock said. "I just know we've got a chance to be a good team because we want to be a good team. I think we're willing to look in the mirror a lot to try to get to the next level."

The Blues open the season with five games at home, an early opportunity to build a solid foundation.

"The team has very high expectations from within," Steen said. "A goal of our is to come out of the gates fast and hard and after that to try to continue to grow as a group throughout the year."

With Hitchcock, each game is about the next shift, the next hit, the next opportunity to shut down the opposition.

"For me, playoffs seem like 10 years from now," Hitchcock said. "I'm just focused on us being a good team and letting the process take care of itself."

Contact reporter Norm Sanders at 239-2454, nsanders@bnd.com or on Twitter @NormSanders

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