(HockeyStL) -- While Chris Stewart and Jake Allen have continued to attract the spotlight with their recent play, Kris Russell has been impressing the St. Louis Blues coaching staff.
Russell was called upon to fill a major void when Alex Pietrangelo (flu) was unable to play Saturday night. It wasn’t an easy void to fill considering Pietrangelo leads the team with an average ice time of 25:43 per game; Russell averaged 15:24 per game in his previous 23 games played.
In a crucial 2-1 overtime win over the Pacific Division-leading Anaheim Ducks, Russell scored a game-tying power play goal in the second period and logged a season-high 22:21.
On the stat sheet, Russell doesn’t have a point production similar to Pietrangelo or Kevin Shattenkirk, but after a rough start to the season he has taken himself out of the revolving door at the left side of the defense with his strong play.
“I’m feeling good about my game again,” Russell said after Saturday’s game. “At the start (of the season), I just wasn’t playing to my strengths. I was reacting instead of going after things -- pushing the pace, using my speed. I’m simplifying little things and found that groove back together. It’s been good.”
Ken Hitchcock would agree.
“He’s back playing the way that he’s capable of,” Hitchcock said of Russell after the game. “I think we’re honoring that by playing him more minutes, but also he’s found a niche with him and Roman (Polak) taking on responsibility either secondary checking or certainly against heavy-weighted lineups.”
Russell’s goal was his first of the year and came on a familiar play Hitchcock has seen him use throughout his career at the junior level and with the Columbus Blue Jackets prior to coming to St. Louis. It’s just another sign he has shaken off the early season cobwebs.
Russell has not finished with a minus rating in 12 of the last 13 games played, including a current streak of nine games. During the nine-game stretch, Russell has posted a plus-six rating along with three of his four points this season.