SAN JOSE - With only nine games remaining on the regular season schedule, there are plenty of opportunities presenting themselves to the St. Louis Blues:
The opportunity to get healthy. The Blues are still missing forward Alexander Steen (upper-body) and Steve Ott (hamstring), but both players have been traveling with the club on the five-game road trip and are skating with the team daily.
The opportunity to win the division. Despite injury after injury, the Blues are just two points behind the division-leading Dallas Stars and two points ahead of the third-place Chicago Blackhawks. All three teams have nine games remaining. If the Blues can collect some more wins down the stretch, they have a real shot to win the Central and play a Wild Card team in the first round. Avoiding Chicago and Dallas in the quarterfinals could be beneficial.
The opportunity to see how you measure up.
The Blues’ final nine games will feature seven dates with teams currently in the playoff picture: San Jose, Washington (twice), Colorado (twice), Boston and Chicago.
While those might be three things the average spectator could idenitfy as key opportunities down the stretch, Blues Head Coach Ken Hitchcock says he's looking at the final nine games as an opportunity to:
- Develop more continuity with the puck.
- Gain more continuity without the puck.
- Improve special teams.
“Where we end up (in the standings), we end up,” Hitchcock said. “Our record will take care of itself, but we need a focus. To me, it’s better continuity with the puck, better continuity without it, and getting back to positive on our special teams. We’ve got to be much better on execution with the puck, and we’ve got to be better positioned without it. And special teams have to have a positive impact every night.
“That’s our goal.”
Scottie Upshall agreed with Hitchcock and explained what his coach meant by “more continuity.”
“We’ve got to find a way to do the simple things and do them right,” Upshall said. “That means simply getting pucks in, being on the right side of the play. That’s ultimately how we take our game to the next level.”
As for special teams, half of that equation seems to be doing OK: The power play has scored in three consecutive games. The PK unit, on the other hand, had given up five power-play goals to the opposition in two games before turning in a perfect 3-for-3 effort Saturday in Vancouver. So, as far as special teams go, things are looking up.
“I’m determined, as are our players, that we put these aspects of our game back in place,” Hitchcock said. “That’s why we practiced the way we did today.”