ST. LOUIS --
Before they headed west to face a pair of familiar foes that had given them issues in the past, particularly the Los Angeles Kings
, life was good for the St. Louis Blues
The Blues (18-5-3) had not lost consecutive games in regulation all season before coming away empty handed in road losses to the San Jose Sharks and Kings.
The Blues have earned points in 21 of 26 games this season, but for the first time this season there is some adversity to deal with. How this team handles it is the big question moving forward.
"You can't dwell on it. We have a good team here," defenseman Jay Bouwmeester said. "If we play the way we can, more often than not we're going to get results. That's just the focus. You don't need to drag things along and make it too painful on yourselves."
Which is why when the Blues host the New York Islanders on Thursday, they'll do what they've always done: Move on and tackle the next challenge.
"We have to realize that it has been 26 games since we've been through our first test, so this is it," defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk said. "This is our first time going through adversity of this magnitude. How we handle it is going to be important. It's going to be the team we are at the end of the year, so it's more of now just rallying together, trusting what we have in here and trusting the game plan and everything is what's going to work at the end of the day."
Particular areas the team tackled the past two days: Checking, particularly in the defensive zone corners, as well as clean exits out of the defensive zone.
"I think that's just understanding what the opposition did more than anything," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. "They popped us right in the schnozz ... they gave us a good one right in the nose.
"Both teams came out in different ways. One came out with physicality and nastiness and the other one came out with speed and numbers. Both times we were a little bit overwhelmed by some of the checking that went on and weren't ready for it. It was the highest level of checking we had against us all year. It's, "Learn your lesson.'" We regrouped in both games but it was 20 minutes before we regrouped again and it's too late. On the road you're down 2-0, 3-0 ... it's too late. I think our team learned the lesson of the other level out there, especially when you get out to the West Coast. Hopefully we learned that lesson and move forward."
The troubling aspect of both losses is that the Blues know both teams and know how they want to attack them. Yet the Sharks and Kings both built early leads before the Blues were able to rally and make a game of it.
"You always have to learn from it. Those are two good teams," Bouwmeester said. "We knew going into the games what they were going to be and we didn't respond. We beat ourselves the first period of both games. You learn from that, but the good thing about this year is you have a lot of games in a short amount of time. That helps. You just kind of move onto the next one. Yesterday was a write-off, you get home late, then today you practice and tomorrow you're back at it.
"The third period in both games was a lot better, more of the way we can play. It's just a matter of doing it right from the start."
In the Blues' five regulation losses they've been outscored 17-5 in the first two periods and 10-1 in the opening period. It's safe to say when the Blues play a team even or have a lead they tend to get stronger as the game goes on.
"These are lessons to be learned. I think we started poorly [in both games]," Hitchcock said. "We were on our heels and that's not the way we play. Credit to both teams, they dug in and put us on our heels. In both games we mounted comebacks, but I think when you're on your heels it's not a good way for our team to play. We talked about we take pride in being ready to go and I thought we were tentative at the start of both games and our play reflected it. We tried to play around their checking rather than through it and I think that's a lesson learned and I hope we take advantage of it."
The Islanders (8-15-5), who have dropped seven straight on the road, will keep the same lineup after back-to-back 3-2 overtime losses against the Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins.
Goalie Evgeni Nabokov (groin strain) and defenseman Brian Strait (upper-body injury) are on the five-game trip but neither will play Thursday.
"We've had the last six periods and they've been pretty solid with our team with the exception of a few areas," Islanders coach Jack Capuano said. "... Just really going through the protocol with [Nabokov and Strait]. Obviously neither one of them have been cleared. But the fact that they're around the guys and we have ice on the road, we'll just continue to work with them and do the certain drills that we need to do with them."
Here are the probable lineups for the Islanders and Blues:
Thomas Vanek - John Tavares - Kyle Okposo
Michael Grabner - Frans Nielsen - Josh Bailey
Pierre-Marc Bouchard - Peter Regin - Cal Clutterbuck
Matt Martin - Casey Cizikas - Colin McDonald
Andrew MacDonald - Travis Hamonic
Thomas Hickey - Calvin de Haan
Aaron Ness - Matt Carkner
Scratched: Brock Nelson, Radek Martinek, Eric Boulton
Injured: Evgeni Nabokov (groin strain), Lubomir Visnovsky (concussion), Brian Strait (upper body)
Alexander Steen - David Backes - T.J. Oshie
Jaden Schwartz - Vladimir Sobotka - Vladimir Tarasenko
Brenden Morrow - Patrik Berglund - Chris Stewart
Magnus Paajarvi - Derek Roy - Maxim Lapierre
Jay Bouwmeester - Alex Pietrangelo
Barret Jackman - Kevin Shattenkirk
Ian Cole - Roman Polak
Scratched: Carlo Colaiacovo, Adam Cracknell
Injured: Jordan Leopold (hand), Ryan Reaves (hand)