ST. LOUIS - Taking the ice Monday for the first time in a week, St. Louis Blues head coach Ken Hitchcock pushed his skaters through a double practice lasting about 90 minutes and included checking drills as the team attempts to shake off the remnants of their All-Star break.
After all, most of the team spent the week completely away from hockey. David Backes and his wife spent the break up in Minnesota. Steve Ott braved the elements to go ice fishing without a heater and Barret Jackman played golf in the sun. But reality will soon knock the Blues back into their playoff run when they begin the second half of the season on Thursday against division rival Nashville. The Blues trail the Predators by three points for first place in the Central. They will also play nine games in 15 days.
"It was good to refresh the batteries," Ott said Monday, "I feel like the first five to ten minutes of practice got the rust out of guys and we started clicking after that. You could see the pace of practice started to pick up."
"Having that much time off, the feet hurt a little bit from not being in skates," Jackman added, "We're excited coming out [of the break]. It's going to be a grind. You look at any team in the Western Conference right now, it's going to be a tough game. There's not much space in between first [place] and 14th."
In order to stay competitive in the tight Western Conference playoff race, St. Louis will have to capture the momentum they built prior to the break. Through the month of January, the Note went 7-2 while out-scoring opponents 40-17. And Hitchcock believes his team can keep their foot on the gas pedal if they continue to play focused.
"Good play before the break came from great focus, great energy and really strong leadership. We expect that to stay the same," Hitchcock explained, "We've got to take advantage of the time we've got. I thought we had really good focus today. We lasted 40 minutes which wasn't bad. Hopefully [Tuesday] we'll get the full 50."
The Blues will get a couple of extra days of practice to find their chemistry as the rest of the NHL begins play Tuesday with 22 of 30 teams taking the ice. Hitchcock did say that all players were healthy, but the coaching staff limited T.J. Oshie to only one practice session Monday. Oshie blocked a shot back on January 13th against Edmonton. In addition, the three All-Stars were not in attendance Monday, but are expected to be on the ice Tuesday.