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Hitchcock hopes to build on Monday's practice

by Chris Pinkert / St. Louis Blues

ST. LOUIS - After a disappointing defeat Saturday against the Columbus Blue Jackets, the Blues returned home and had what Blues Head Coach Ken Hitchcock called their best practice in two years.

"Today was a really good day," Hitchcock said Monday. "I told the coaches it was the best one I've had in almost two years. The focus, the energy, the communication, the disposition, the compete level… it was really good.

"There are building times and this is it," Hitchcock added. "We've got a real opportunity right now."

That opportunity Hitchcock talks about is a chance to find the team's identity. The Blues coach insists that when you make as many changes as his club did this summer (losing David Backes, Troy Brouwer, Steve Ott and Brian Elliott, while also naming a new captain in Alex Pietrangelo and several new assistants), it takes time for a new leadership group to establish itself and the team's identity.

"You can't win in the League unless you have an identity. You can't just throw your sticks on the ice and play ice hockey," Hitchcock said. "You've got to forge an identity. When you make changes on the leadership side of things, there is a time-frame that you go through. You go through that phase where there's a transition of power. There's different voices, there's different leadership styles, there's a lot that's different."

Video: Hitchcock after practice on Nov. 14

Hitchcock says he's optimistic things are coming together. Saturday's loss to Columbus gave the team's new leaders a chance to solidify their roles, be vocal and help guide things back on track.

"It's going to grow. There are a lot of great character people in here, and a lot of winning has been going on here," Hitchcock said. "It's going to grow, but you've got to let it grow, you can't speed it up… Now I see some things in place that I'm pretty excited about."

"The best part about this business is there's always another game," captain Alex Pietrangelo said. "It'll be a good test for myself and everybody else to see how we're going to bounce back. Things don't get much worse than we had the other night, so it's a good opportunity to build."

 

POWER PLAY HEATS UP

While the Blues want to forget about some of the negative stuff from Saturday, one positive they insist they can build on is the power play, which went 4-for-5 against the Blue Jackets. It was the first time since Oct. 19, 2014 that the Blues scored four power-play goals in one game.

"We were very detailed with our whole power play," Blues defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk said. "We were making forehand-to-forehand passes, and when you do that, you look quicker. It played into them sitting back with a big lead and we took advantage of it. We were a shooting power play and it opened everything up for us."

Video: Blues on red-hot power play

"New groups, new guys working together. Just try new things and just moving the puck," said Robby Fabbri, who scored two power-play goals Saturday. "It was more just us working as a five-man unit."

Overall, the Blues rank 10th overall in power-play percentage this season, scoring 20.7 percent of the time. On the road, the Blues have the best power-play in the League at 33.3 percent.

 

FACING BUFFALO

If there's a team that could help the Blues get back on track, it's probably the Sabres. The Blues have won eight straight games against Buffalo and 18 of the last 20. In fact, the last Sabres win against the Blues was Dec. 27, 2009.

But the Blues won't be able to bank on recent success against the Sabres (5-6-4, 14 points).

"They've got a lot of talent on the backend and the front, so they're going to play quick and they're going to play hard," Pietrangelo said. "We're not too familiar with them, but we watched the video, came up with a game plan and got ready for tonight."

The Blues could see their 2013 second-round pick William Carrier in the lineup for Buffalo. Carrier was dealt to Buffalo in the deal that brought Ryan Miller and Steve Ott to St. Louis in 2014. Carrier has played in five games with the Sabres and spent time on the club's first line with Sam Reinhart and Kyle Okposo.

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