McDonald Escapes Injury Scare As Blues Continue to Roll
It appears nothing could disrupt the St. Louis Blues right now, except for injury.
The Blues are a healthy club but escaped a scare Sunday night. Andy McDonald left the game in the second period to have his knee examined after being clipped from behind and crashing awkwardly into the boards.
McDonald, arguably the Blues best forward, was cleared by Doctors to return and assisted on Vladimir Sobotka’s overtime winning goal.
Sobotka, by the way, might have been the Blues best player against Minnesota.
McDonald, playing with a sewn up chin thanks to a puck to the face last week against Nashville, had the cut open up on him and was leaking blood after the game.
The McDonald knee injury led to Head Coach Ken Hitchcock using multiple line combinations. Several minutes went by in the second period without Vladimir Tarasenko seeing a shift. Tarasenko played only three-plus minutes in the middle period.
The Blues were scoreless on five power play chances but penalties still disrupted Minnesota who had scored three straight goals to take a 3-1 lead. Three third period penalties by the Wild, including a too many men on the ice and a delay of game for shooting the puck over the glass, led to Minnesota being on their heels.
The Blues are as confident as any team in the league and when you have this much scoring ability you feel like you’re never out of a game.
The Blues are still experiencing stretches in games when they get careless. You respect their ability to battle back but they’d prefer not to put themselves in this situation. Still Captain David Backes told me “It’s a feeling we’d like to have less but we have great character.”
Ken Hitchcock has the luxury of rolling four lines but on Sunday he relied heavily on his top guys. Backes, Oshie, Perron, each saw north of 20 minutes of ice. That’s a lot of hockey especially when you consider this was the Blues sixth game in nine nights. Each of these guys stayed home during the lockout and didn’t play a game until the season opener.
There’s been a lot of focus on these three coming out of the gate slow, but defensively they’ve been stellar. They matchup against the opposing top line every night and have yet to allow a 5-on-5 goal against. They usually draw the top D-pair from the other team as well.
They’re heating up offensively with Perron recording five points the last two games. Backes had a nice assist on the Blues first goal scored by Wade Redden.
The Parise, heatley, Koivu line might be the best trio this line has faced so far.
The story this season will be the Blues ability to have different guys step up every game. They don’t rely on just one line offensively and on Sunday got goals from five different players. This includes D-men Redden and Barret Jackman. One thing forgotten during Redden’s sabbatical in the AHL was how well this guy shoots the puck. He’s scored goals in consecutive games and both have been bombs.
This was by far the most physical game of the season for St. Louis. There was little room out there and Minnesota certainly plays a hard game. Forward Devin Setoguchi was in the face of the Blues all night and finished with eight hits.
The Blues looked relatively fresh considering the congested schedule. Hitchcock and assistant coach Brad Shaw do a masterful job of managing ice time. Alex Pietrangelo is going to play heavy minutes each night but with six D-men who play regular minutes he’s not being over extended.
I spoke with Ken Hitchcock Sunday morning about how his expectations need to change for individual players during a shortened season. He still expects effort and attention to detail but you can’t jump on a guy maybe as often as you normally would. It’s important not to overreact to every situation during the course of a game.
Hitchcock says he’s placing a greater emphasis on “energy and spirit over precision and exactness.”
Hitchcock says weathering the storm and consistently finding the tempo the first six weeks of the season is crucial. It usually takes a three week training camp plus the first few weeks of the season to fully get up to speed.
You can’t over-emphasize how big of a win Saturday in Dallas was. You rarely call the 5th game of the season a big victory but winning that game was huge for this hockey club. The Blues didn’t play great but still found a way to win an important road game. This is what good teams do regularly and the Blues are quickly proving what happened last season wasn’t a fluke.
This isn’t the season to critique victories.
The more wins you can put up early this season the better you’ll be when things really get heated. Hitchcock says he’s constantly hitting the reset button.
Rams Defensive Coordinator took in the game with his brother and nephew.
Blues owner Tom Stillman was personally invited by Wayne Gretzky to attend his fantasy camp this week in Las Vegas.
The Blues gave some of the autographed Stan Musial jerseys worn during pre-game to the Cardinals while the others will be auctioned of beginning Wednesday on www.stlblues.com. A few were sold Sunday night which raised about $14,000.
In the past it wasn’t uncommon to hear the coaching staff critique Perron’s game. He has the tendency to over handle the puck but Ken Hitchcock says “I don’t care, that’s who he is. You have to let him play his game.”
The bigger issue for Hitchcock regarding Perron has always been to push him engage. You can’t play trying to avoid the physical side of the game.
Patrik Berglund has never scored a shootout goal in his career yet has scored on three penalty shots. That ties Brett Hull for the franchise lead.
David Backes won 60% of his face-offs Sunday night, many were clean wins.
Former Blues forward Jason Arnott failed his physical with the New York Rangers. His one-year, $1.6 million contract has been voided. No official word has come from the Rangers as to why he failed. I was told back in August he had fully recovered from off-season knee surgery. He also dealt with shoulder issues last season.
More to come,
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