ST. LOUIS -- It's been more than three months since Ken Hitchcock took over the reigns of the St. Louis Blues, but winger T.J. Oshie remembers a specific point of emphasis.
"When Hitch came in, step one was getting pucks to the net and funneling pucks to the net," Oshie said. "That's the very first thing he said, 'We're shooting pucks every chance we get.' And we've gotten away from that. I think that's the biggest part, getting back to that ... then after that, guys are going to be getting more scoring opportunities."
Following a disturbing 2-1 loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets, owners of the worst record in the NHL, on Tuesday night, the Blues (34-15-7), who entertain the rising New York Islanders (24-24-8) tonight, have gotten back to it the last couple days. And the message is funnel pucks to the net, specifically off the goalie's pads.
"It was nothing that was too technical out there," defenseman Barret Jackman said of practice. "It was a lot of straightforward 3-on-2 rushes, 5-on-5 play, getting the pucks on net, battling in front of the net. That's the way our team should play ... very simple, very direct. Getting that work ethic back mentally is a good sign."
And why did things need to be reiterated?
"I think we were trying to move a lot of pucks sideways (Tuesday) instead of just putting the puck on net and letting those guys drive the net and getting rebounds and getting the dirty goals," Jackman said. "I think we were trying to maybe make plays above the d-men where they can get sticks on it or their trackers could come back and be effective. I think it's tough for a d-man when a shot goes in behind you off the pads, you've got to turn around, find it and box a guy out. That's what you need to do.
"Collectively, I think it's the worst game we've played all year. I don't think we played a strong team game, I don't think we won many battles and won clean draws that turned into scoring chances. Our defensive play was not there."
The loss Tuesday thwarted the the Blues' fifth chance at a five-game winning streak this season. They've had a handful of four-game winning streaks and been good at nipping prolonged losing skids in the bud.
The Blues have a neighbor roughly 300 miles north in Chicago that is currently living a nightmarish 0-8-1 skid. Things can snowball on you quickly, and the Blues have gone no more than three straight games with a loss (only once, when they were 0-2-1).
"I think they realize that good teams can go through bad stretches, and you have to recognize it right away," Hitchcock said. "First, know that there's a problem and you're willing to look at the problem right square in the eye and then deal with it.
"I was impressed with the way guys dealt with it (Wednesday). The response at practice was good. It was competitive, guys had fun competing against each other, it was a lot like game-like situations. A lot of competitive scoring and guys really dug in and did a good job. I'm impressed by that. Now it's all about the response. We want to get back on the bike (tonight) and start to play well again."
Added Oshie: "It's been tough on (Chicago) and we talked about that. That's not where we want to be. This could be a step in that direction but hopefully we save it, hopefully everyone bears down. ... (Tonight) is a huge game for us ... character-wise as a team, if we can bounce back from a tough loss."