(HockeySTL) -- The Blues have one final test before they head into the lengthy All-Star break, but their focus is not on the days ahead, but rather their Monday night opponents, the Colorado Avalanche.
The Blues have already played the Avalanche four times this season, taking two points in three of those matchups. But the one loss was a brutal 5-0 devastation, and it was in a similar situation as it was the team’s last game before the holiday stoppage in December.
“We’ve got one task to finish and that’s Colorado. We have seen that they can lay it on us when we don’t bring our game,” said Blues captain David Backes. “So, maybe you guys could stop talking about the break and talk about the game tonight.”
Still, the six-day break – featuring nine days in between games –is coming whether the club is talking about it or not. The Blues have won six of their last seven games, grabbing 13 of a possible 14 points. As the club is red-hot, it seems like an inopportune time for the stoppage to arrive.
“It doesn’t matter if it is a good time or bad time,” said Backes. “It’s coming.”
This year’s break will be substantially shortened from last year’s month-long league-wide Olympic shutdown, but it’s still makes some nervous, especially during a stretch where the Blues seem to be re-discovering their game.
“It’s how you take care of yourself during the break,” said Hitchcock. “Getting the mental and physical rest is going to be important. You don’t want to get too far away from it. I’ll do the worrying when we get back to practice. The break will do us good as long as we stay in the moment.
“I don’t worry about it. I worry about it when they come back. That’s my job. I’m going to need a break from them; they’re going to need a break from me. It will be good for everybody.”
Most players will leave town while the Blues’ two representatives, Vladimir Tarasenko and Kevin Shattenkirk will head to Columbus for the All-Star weekend.
Backes will depart for a nine-hour journey to Minnesota on Tuesday, while other players will travel together to other various destinations. Hitchcock joked that he would enjoy the break from having talk to the media.
The break is longer for the Blues than most NHL teams. Some clubs play later into the week. Earlier in the year, the coaching and management staff agreed that they would allot the extra time for players to leave, rather than use it for more practicing or team-based activities, as long as they felt the players were meeting expectations.
“We opted to not keep the players here,” Hitchcock said. “A lot of teams don’t get their break until Thursday. Some teams are playing Wednesday. We got these extra two days and decided to take advantage of it and let’s give the players a longer break and work harder when they come back.”
Time away from the rink is something players have seen little of in the past month. After Monday’s game, the Blues will have played nine games in the past 17 days, six games in 11 days since the lengthy homestand started on Jan. 8. Since beginning the homestand, the Blues have surpassed Chicago in the standings and have gained points on first-place Nashville. They would love to enter the break gaining two more.
“I think this is a good time to break for us,” Shattenkirk said. “It gives a chance to recharge and get used to, what looks like, a tough February and March. We have been fortunate that we have been playing a lot of teams at home, which we try to take advantage of.
“It would be a great accomplishment (to enter the break with a win) because we knew we had a chance to catch some teams coming into this homestand. Everyone is going to have their little dips in the season and it’s a matter of managing that and making sure they don’t last too long. We were able to turn things around quickly and come home and still play some great hockey. When we look back at it in a month or two it’s going to be really important.”
Backes added: “It’s been pretty good. We have taken steps every game. Regardless of who the opponent is, we bring our game. It hasn’t been perfect but we are making progress and that’s what we have said we need to do every game. This homestand has been a big stretch.”
No matter the result of Monday’s game, the Blues will break on pace to accumulate well over 100 points by the end of the season. They will also have double the amount of wins as losses. As long as they maintain the current pace, the team is primed for another postseason appearance.
Players will return to St. Louis on Jan. 26 to resume practices. They will finish off the seven-game homestand on Jan. 29. Hitchcock cautioned that even six days is a lot of time off mid-season.
“It’s kind of a six-day break,” he said. “We have three hockey practices when we return. Once they are back practicing, you have a little control. But even six days is a lot.”