ST. LOUIS - As the Blues prepare to host the Florida Panthers at 7 p.m. tonight at Scottrade Center (FSMW, KMOX), something that is becoming more apparent is the “team-first” camaraderie that seems to be building in the locker room.
Blues Head Coach Ken Hitchcock pointed it out after Saturday’s 3-1 win vs. Columbus.
“I would say the best way to describe it is the players are genuinely happy for each other,” Hitchcock said. “There’s a camaraderie that creates the chemistry that’s been going on, really since (Scott) Gomez and (Scottie) Upshall came here. They’re veteran players who have really good spirit, good team spirit. When you see veteran players who are unselfish like those two are, it rubs off on guys the right way.
"There’s a genuine excitement for somebody else having success other than yourself… it goes a long ways to why we’ve got the points we do right now.”
Upshall is one of those guys that is contributing when he gets in the lineup, which lately has been quite a bit. But he’s also sat out several games, and knows the importance of remaining positive and still being an asset in the locker room.
“We know we're a group built together with 25 guys,” Upshall said. “The coaching staff wants us to play a physical in-your-face game, and that’s demanding physically, so you need everyone to be going. When guys sit out, they know they’re going to be back in there in a game or two, and it pushes everybody and makes everyone accountable and better.”
“The depth we have on this team, it’s just natural that there are going to be some good players out of the lineup,” said forward Ryan Reaves. “You look at the guys not playing today, they’re really good players. You want the team to be successful, you want them to go as far as you can. You can only do that with a tight-knit group and that’s what we’re trying to build here.”
Prior to coming to St. Louis, Upshall spent four seasons with the Florida Panthers, who come to Scottrade Center in search of a three-game win streak. Most recently, Florida beat Detroit 2-1 on Sunday.
“It’s always fun playing against your old team,” Upshall said. “It doesn’t seem like it was more than a couple days ago that I was over there with those guys: a good bunch of young kids who I helped mentor and watched them grow up into good NHL players, and a bunch of good veteran guys who have done good things in their careers. It was a fun time in my life.”
The Panthers are led by 43-year-old Jaromir Jagr, who doesn’t appear to be slowing down. Jagr ranks first on the team in goals (eight) and points (18) and is just one goal short of tying Marcel Dionne for fourth on the NHL’s all-time goals list.
Roberto Luongo is expected to make his 11th consecutive start tonight and ranks eighth in the NHL with 409 career wins.
“You watch them play against Detroit and see how well they played, they get your attention right away,” Hitchcock said. “They bring a game of big skill, and you have to make sure you’re ready for the big skill.”
The Blues won 69.8 percent of the face-offs on Saturday vs. Columbus, which tied San Jose for the best single-game team performance in the face-off dot this season.
Hitchcock had an answer for the team's overwhelming success, and it might surprise you:
“They were turning and cheating, and we called them on it,” Hitchcock said. “They had to square up and couldn’t win. That’s why our percentage was so high. They had to go about it with fair play and couldn’t beat us.”
Paul Stastny led all players in the dot, winning 13 of 16 draws (81 percent).
“I went perfect in the one game. I don’t know if anyone saw that on the stat sheet,” Upshall added with a smile. “We’re finding ways to win games, and that’s a big test for our group to be good every night. It starts in the face-off circle.”
With an assist Saturday vs. Columbus, Blues defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk extended his point streak to eight games (two goals, eight assists). With a point tonight, he could tie his previous career high of nine, which was set with Colorado from Nov. 17 - Dec. 4, 2010, just two months before he was traded to St. Louis.
“More than anything, I’m back to skating and making the right plays. I’m not a step behind anymore,” said Shattenkirk, who missed 10 games earlier this season with a lower-body injury. “The power play is working, and that’s a big part of it. And (Vladimir) Tarasenko is scoring, so I just give him the puck.”
Ottawa’s Erik Karlsson has the longest point streak by a defenseman this season, which is active at nine games.
Steen - Stastny - Tarasenko
Fabbri - Backes - Upshall
Paajarvi - Lehtera - Brouwer
Ott - Brodziak - Reaves
Bouwmeester - Pietrangelo
Edmundson - Shattenkirk
Gunnarsson - Parayko
The Blues play 16 games in the month of December, 11 of which will be at home at Scottrade Center. The Blues are 7-2-2 at home this season.
The Blues have won six straight games against the Panthers, including three in a row at Scottrade Center.
Tonight will be the first time Jake Allen has faced off the Panthers. Other teams he has yet to face are the Toronto Maple Leafs, Philadelphia Flyers and Washington Capitals.