Blues hope to remain focused before Olympic break

News-DemocratFebruary 3, 2014 

— With nine players, their head coach and their general manager all headed to Russia for the upcoming Winter Olympics, the St. Louis Blues could easy find distractions in the week leading up to the break.

But with three home games this week and an intense Central Division race with Chicago and hard-charging Colorado, the Blues hope to remained focused and energized.

"You're hoping, but you don't know," said Blues coach Ken Hitchcock, an assistant coach for Team Canada. "I can tell you one thing, it's going to take a lot of focus. There's a lot of elements tugging at you that are non-hockey related, non-team related.

"You're going to have to park some of them or get help from other people or put them in the right place so you can focus on competing and playing."

Beginning Tuesday, the Blues will entertain Ottawa before taking on Boston on Thursday and Winnipeg on Saturday.

That's six available points available that could go a long way toward pushing the Blues closer to their goal of a division title.

"We can still play a lot better, we're not at our peak yet," Blues winger T.J. Oshie said. "We want to be on top. That's the only spot we want to be and anything less than that we're not going our job."

The first five games involving the Blues' next three opponents were all decided by one goal. While the Blues won all five, two were in shootouts and another went to overtime.

"Ottawa was very physical against us," Hitchcock said. "We all know what Boston's going to be like, it's going to be a whale of a hockey game, then Winnipeg's on top of their game right now.

"We've got three big challenges. I'm really looking forward to getting the read on guys."

One thing the Blues aren't looking forward to is going four weeks without injured do-everything forward Vladimir Sobotka. Sobotka is out with a left leg injury and on injured reserve, forcing him to miss out on the thrill of playing for his native Czech Republic in the Olympics.

Because of the Olympic break, Sobotka won't miss as many NHL games.

"We caught a break because there's a three-week window that he's going to get healthy and hopefully be ready when we get back up and running," Hitchcock said. "But we miss a lot of the details that he can put in place and other guys are going to have to take on some of that.

"When you're playing in every situation and you're playing as many minutes as him, it's got to get divvied up through the group.

Sobotka has seven goals and 25 points in 46 games, but his value to the club runs far deeper than scoring.

"Everyone wants more ice time and when guys go down, that's other guys' opportunity to show what they've got and show they can play big minutes," Oshie said. "It's tough losing guys, it was tough losing (David) Backes and (Alexander) Steen and it's going to be really tough losing Sobie, but we've got guys that are ready to step in there."

Hitchcock believes that losing Sobotka is like losing more than one player because of his contributions on offense, defense and special teams.

"You can always replace skill, but you can't replace what he does in winning hockey games," Hitchcock said. "I thought it was really evident how much we missed him in the game against Nashville. We lost a lot of key faceoffs, we were making mistakes down low that we normally don't make.

"That's why we worked on the things we worked on today (at practice), because all the little things that he has that are part of his fabric and his demeanor are going to be missed here."

Oshie said the Blues need to develop more consistency and put three solid periods together every time out.

"We're playing pretty good, I think we've still got another level we can go to," Oshie said. "We've got to sharpen up a couple things, kind of stop the sways in momentum from being so drastic."

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

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