Blues hoping to transition quickly from Olympics back to the NHL

News-DemocratFebruary 24, 2014 

— With nine players, their head coach and general manager finally back home from the Winter Olympics in Russia, the St. Louis Blues may need some time to transition back to the NHL grind.

Unfortunately, the NHL schedule makers have not cooperated.

The Blues left Monday for a three-game road trip that begins Wednesday in Vancouver and includes a game Friday against Western Conference leader Anaheim.

That western swing kicks off a rough stretch that has the Blues playing their final 25 regular-season games in 47 days. Fourteen of those 25 will be on the road.

"It's going to be a busy time, especially with the standings so tight and especially in our division," said Blues winger Chris Stewart whose 39-12-6 club is tied with Chicago atop the Central Division with 84 points. "Every game's gonna count and we can't look at the big picture. You just have to go one city at a time and just take it two points at a time."

How long will it take for the Blues to regain the chemistry that helped them compile one of the NHL's best records before the Olympics?

"Thirty seconds," Stewart said. "I think we're a close-knit group here and as soon as we get together, the jokes will start coming out. When you don't see these guys for a couple weeks you definitely miss them."

Blues associate head coach Brad Shaw has been running practices since last Wednesday in Ken Hitchcock's absence.

"One thing that benefits us is that we get our success through the team game," Shaw said. "We don't rely on one or two key guys. We obviously have some fantastic pieces, but I really think it's our discipline to stick with the team game that gives us the chance to win night-in and night-out.

"We expect to hit the ground running."

But after seeing Olympians Vladimir Tarasenko and Jaroslav Halak return with a bit of a post-Olympic hangover thanks to the 10-hour time difference, the Blues aren't rushing the others back quickly.

The remaining seven Olympians are expected to get another day off Tuesday, then participate in Wednesday's morning skate.

"Even talking to Tarasenko, who's been back since I think Friday, he'll still feeling a litle bit of fatigue," Shaw said. "We expect these guys to come back and really be having a tough time as far as getting their sleep patterns back and all the things they need to get the proper rest."

Halak practiced Sunday and Monday, but admitted not being back to full capacity because of the travel.

"I'm better, but still a little bit off," Halak said Monday. "I'm working on getting back to this time zone. It was tough, it took me like a week and by the time I got used to it (in Sochi), then we're back.

"It's not fun. I wasn't getting a whole lot of sleep at night."

Halak lost both of his Olympics starts for Slovakia, then served as the team's backup for the remainder of the tourney. He allowed eight goals and had a 5.13 goals-against average.

"When you play against the best, you have to play your best and I dont think we did," Halak said. "We could have played better, but hockey's a game of mistakes and we made more."

Shaw said it's important for Halak and all the Blues' Olympians to park those memories and get back to NHL hockey in a hurry.

"I think we all have to put it behind, us, whether it was good or bad over there," Shaw said. "For the guys that won gold or any other medal and had a good experience, that's great. It's a feather in their cap and it's an experience that they'll treasusre their whole lives.

"For the guys that maybe didn't have as good of an experience as they would have liked, I think it's just as important to put it behind them and realize we're on a different track here than what they had there."

* Still dealing with a knee injury, Blues forward Vladimir Sobotka has been around the team and could be ready to push forward with his rehab program.

"He's starting to get active again," Shaw said. "I believe he can try skating at some point this week, but that would be fairly light."

When asked about a timetable for Sobotka's return, Shaw said "Quite a ways away, he's still down the road."

The Blues on Monday recalled forward Dmitrij Jaskin from the minor-league Chicago Wolves. The 20-year-old Jaskin has 14 goals and 28 points in 38 games with the Wolves this season.

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

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