Blues are seeing benefits of deeper roster, commitment to detail

News-DemocratOctober 6, 2013 

— Throughout the summer and training camp, two of the words mentioned over and over with the St. Louis Blues were depth and experience.

Through two games, the Blues have gotten goals from 10 different players while using that superior depth to kill off 11 straight penalties.

In addition, this is the first Blues team and first NHL team since the 1991-92 Calgary Flames to have 10 different scorers through the first two games of a season.

After a slow start Saturday night, the Blues quickly came to a boil during a four-goal second period as they burned the Florida Panthers 7-0.

Through two games, they have outscored the opposition 11-2 with Wednesday's nationally televised showdown against defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago on the horizon.

"I thought it was a really good team effort," said Blues winger Jaden Schwartz, who had a Gordie Howe hat trick with a goal, a fight and two assists. "All four lines were playing well, the defense ... Jaro's kicking. ... it's a fun locker room to come in after a game like that.

"We stuck to the systems and everyone is energized and working hard."

That hard work has emanated from the team's lockdown penalty kill. Through two games the Blues haven't just killed 11 straight penalties, they've allowed only five shots while doing it.

The penalty kill streak is 21 straight dating back to last season.

Blues coach Ken Hitchcock and his staff are using a wide variety of forwards on the penalty kill, again taking advantage of the team's depth.

Blues players are doing their part by getting into the shot lanes, taking away direct shots, blocking shots and also getting sticks on pucks to disrupt passes.

"It's good players committed to the details," Hitchcock said. "Committed to the work, but really committed to the details. Rather than work with a big group (in camp), we worked with the same dozen guys. That's allowed us to have a good head start.

"Two years in a row we've had a really bad start killing penalties and we needed a better start. We've got it so far."

Veteran defenseman Jay Bouwmeester said there is nothing overly intricate about being successful on the penalty kill.

"Penalty killing's just hard work," Bouwmeester said. "If you put the work in, everyone's jumping in at the right time. The way everyone tries to kill penalties now, you try to pressure teams on the entry (pass) and not give them time to set up. You just try to create some chaos."

Through two games, there's also been a lot of time on the penalty kill. And for the opponents, a lot of chaos.

"I think it's one of those things where you can gain momentum from it," Bouwmeester said. "We were good the last game and we got a lot of practice (in Saturday's game). We had a couple pretty early and then from that, you gain confidence. When you get the other team back on their heels, that makes it tough."

Florida coach Kevin Dineen praised the Blues' determined effort.

"There were no surprises," Dineen said. "We knew how they played and how the game was going to play out. It was going to be a man's game out there and we didn't rise to the occasion tonight."

Hungry around the net

The Blues have emphasized getting to more loose pucks and rebounds around the net and creating traffic near the goaltender.

Eleven goals in two games --many on second chances or rebounds -- suggest that strategy is paying off.

"You want to throw pucks at the net," Blues winger Brenden Morrow said. "The days of tic-tac-toe plays are (back) in the Oilers' '80s years. It's a grind-it-out type game, throwing pucks at the net and crashing.

"The goalies are too athletic and good. They save what they can see and you have to get there for second and third opportunities."

The Blues also have stressed more aggressive forechecking and speed through the neutral zone.

"There's no secret to it," Morrow said. "It's just competing and battling and winning one-on-ones."

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

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