Blues' losses get as much attention as their wins

News-DemocratDecember 4, 2013 

— It may say how far the St. Louis Blues have come as a franchise when a two-game losing streak draws plenty of attention.

Slow starts in back-to-back road losses to San Jose and Los Angeles exposed some things not previously seen in the Blues this season.

The Sharks pounded out a 4-0 lead on their way to a 6-3 win, while the Kings led 3-0 before holding on for a 3-2 victory. The Blues fought back both times, but were done in by sluggish first periods.

"That's something we haven't experienced this year," Blues defenseman Barret Jackman said of back-to-back losses. "We've got to come out and work hard, turn that two game (streak) into a lot of wins.

"If a two-game losing streak is our worst of the year, then we were definitely learning from it."

How well the learning process has been assimilated will be on display at Scottrade Center on Thursday when the Blues (18-5-3) play the New York Islanders (8-15-5).

Among the list of items being cleaned up at practice Wednesday were better breakouts from their own end and more physical, aggressive play.

Both those elements were lacking against the Kings and Sharks, even though the Blues have lost only five games in regulation this season.

"I think it's understanding what the opposition did more than anything," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. "They popped us right in the schnozz, gave us a good one right in the nose. One (the Kings) came out with real physicality and nastiness and the other (the Sharks) came out with speed and numbers.

"Both times we were a little overwhelmed by some of the checking that went on and weren't ready for it. It was the highest level of checking we've had against us all year."

If Hitchcock was hoping his players got the message, they did.

"It shows when you don't show up," Blues winger Chris Stewart said. "We got our butt handed to us back-to-back and it's definitely worth reflecting on. We came in here and saw some video, we'll put it behind us and get ready for New York.

"I think we showed some resiliency sticking with it and the ability to come back."

Playing from behind is tough enough at home, but doing it on the road makes it a beast.

The Blues are 15-1-2 when scoring first this season, something they didn't do against the Sharks or the Kings.

"We regrouped in both games, but it was 20 minutes before we regrouped again and that's too late," Hitchcock said. "On the road you're down 2-0, you're down 3-0, it's too late. Hopefully we learn that lesson and move forward."

One problem in particular that showed up, especially against a big, physical Kings team, was how relentless forechecking helped force Blues turnovers.

"Teams are coming two and three at us," Jackman said when asked about some rare lapses in the Blues' ability to make that quick, strong first outlet pass.

"It might not be that pretty tape-to-tape pass that gets it out of the zone, it might be a hard-rim or a battle at the blue line with our forward and their defenseman," he said. "It can't always be pretty and we've got to have that in our mindset going into the game."

Another was the Sharks and Kings pressuring the Blues in the corners and around the net, cycling plays until coming up with a good scoring opportunity.

"Both teams were really big teams and we struggled with some of the size down low," Hitchcock said. "We weren't ready to dig in until halfway through the game."

Jackman and other Blues all spoke in positive, upbeat terms about dealing with what they feel was an aberration rather than a trend.

"We've come a long way if two games in the loss column means media attention," Jackman said. "We're very capable of turning things around in here."

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

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