Blues At Canucks Game Day Preview: Play The Game, Not To The Score

Rich Lam

The Blues are taking on the Northwest Division leading Vancouver Canucks tonight. Will the Blues be able to exploit their weaknesses like the Dallas Stars did Friday night/

ESPN.com hockey writer Scott Burnside has been travelling with the Blues during their three game road trip. He's been bringing insight into the locker room dynamics of the team as well as the coaching technique of Ken Hitchcock. From the latest installment of the series, Burnside brings up a players only meeting with the coach:

"Players, stay on the bus," head coach Ken Hitchcock instructed as the team bus rolled into the charter terminal late Friday night.

Coaches and other staff departed the bus, leaving the coach with his players.

The coach explained to his players that they had produced their finest period of hockey on the road this season.

"But I told them the next step we've got to take to take our own engine forward is to play their own game, not to play the score," Hitchcock said.

He explained that they wasted too much energy getting away from the game plan in the final 40 minutes, turning the puck over in the neutral zone and allowing the Flames to get back in the game with three consecutive power plays and an early third-period goal.

That, right there, has been the source of nearly every problem that we've been seeing with the Blues this season. They get going great guns, and then build a comfortable lead. They lean back, and just wait for the game to be over -- which causes issues like the two goals allowed in Calgary. If they lean back, they have problems. And you absolutely cannot lean back with the Vancouver Canucks.

Luckily for the Blues, the Canucks have a similar issue when it comes to maintaining pressure. Vancouver was leading the Dallas Stars 3-1 in the second period on Friday night, and then they held back. They figured that Kari Lehtonen had to leave the game, so they didn't have to pressure as hard. What happened? The Canucks lost, 4-3.

If Vancouver is playing in their division, the admittedly weak Northwest, they're fine. If they're not, issues rear their ugly heads. The Blues play teams outside of the Central a little better than they do teams within their own division. They will have to deal with Roberto Luongo tonight, who is easing into his role as back-up quite well. He's undefeated in regulation this season and is leading the NHL's netminders with a teeny 1.45 GAA.

Keep your eyes on David Perron and Alex Steen. Perron scored two power play goals Friday night against the Calgary Flames, and Alex Steen is riding a five-game point streak and is currently leading the Blues with 15 points (four goals, 11 assists).

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