Blues revving up for sprint of a season -

Blues revving up for sprint of a season

(HockeyStL) -- More Blues players are making their way to St. Louis following the news of a new CBA being reached (pending a ratification vote by players on Friday/Saturday) to end the 113-day NHL lockout.

Matt D’Agostini, Chris Porter, Chris Stewart, and Kris Russell joined the Blues at practice Tuesday, and more are expected to arrive in the coming days. Patrik Berglund tweeted that he arrived in St. Louis on Wednesday, and Kevin Shattenkirk was added to the mix on Wednesday as well.

The highly anticipated arrival of the newest Blue, Vladimir Tarasenko, is expected by the end of the week, and the remaining players should be in St. Louis by Sunday when training camp is expected to start.

Chris Stewart, Kris Russell, Alex Steen, and Tarasenko all played in at least 15 games, with Tarasenko leading the pack; Participating in 31 games thus far. While those players are expected to be in game shape already, head coach Ken Hitchcock is not so sure the positives outweigh the negatives.

“I don’t think (it’s a great thing),” said Hitchcock in an interview posted on the Blues’ website. “When we start up this weekend, there will be players that have played close to 40 hockey games already, so it will be an interesting challenge.”

“They are in game shape, and they are ready to go,” said veteran forward Jamie Langenbrunner. “Hopefully we will be able to lean on those guys a bit more coming out of the gate.”

Hitchcock was coaching in the IHL during the 1994-95 lockout that condensed the schedule down to 48 games, but had to deal with the repercussions of the 2004-05 lockout that killed the entire season. He’s been in contact with fellow coaches, as well as NBA personnel to discuss the difficulties of a shortened season, and says he is prepared for what is to come.

“Having gone through it in 2004-05 was a big help,” he said. “Finding things to do that had value, pacing yourself, not getting too revved up was really important. I talked to some coaches that are really beside themselves, and having gone through it once already has really helped me.” 

Hitchcock was with the Philadelphia Flyers in 04-05, his team bounced back the next season and went 45-25-11. Currently Hitchcock and members of the coaching staff are doing reviews of last year, and are finding that the team probably isn’t where it needs to be to start the season. But the always-fascinating head coach is not too worried.

“We have time (to prepare),” he said. “My job is to, after five or six days, get everything as automatic as possible. I’ve got to get the team to where it is zero thinking and all reading and reacting.”

The Blues are coming off of a 109-point season, in which they were crowned Central Division Champions. With Tarasenko being the only new player on the roster, the chemistry is expected to once again be there, though Hitchcock said the momentum gained from last year has now vanished.

“One thing we’ve got going for us is we haven’t made a lot of changes, but regardless, assuming that guys will come back and we will pick up where we left off is unrealistic,”he said. “We are just going to have to adjust everyday and figure it out. It will be an interesting challenge. As I told the players: it is going to be quality over quantity.”

A 48-game schedule is expected to be announced by the weekend. The short season will mean every point will be precious.

The Blues’ average age is 27 years old, and keeping emotions contained will be a challenge this season for such a young group of players. It will be even more important for team leaders to help with keeping players focused in the shortened season said Hitchcock.

“(The teams that will excel in a shortened season) are the ones that move on quickly. It is going to be an emotional roller coaster. The team that can keep it rounded, and keep the train on the tracks is going to do well because it is a huge challenge.”

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