Blues non-Olympians can rest a bit but must maintain their edge

Brian Elliott says the non-Olympians must be ready to step it up if the Olympians are dragging.

Jasen Vinlove/Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

ST. LOUIS — As nine St. Louis Blues traveled to the winter wonderland that is Sochi for the Olympics, some of their teammates headed for some fun in the sun during the break.

The Central Division-leading Blues have certainly earned some time off. They finished off the final weeks before the Olympic break on a positive note by going 7-2-1 in their last 10 games and now are 39-12-6 with 84 points in 57 games.

The 14 Blues who are not competing in the Olympics will return to St. Louis early next week to resume practicing. Until then, it’s rest and relaxation.

"You want to get some rest, but at the same time you want to make sure you’re keeping up with your workouts and things like that so you are ready and energized when the games start up," Jaden Schwartz said before the Olympic break. "We’re all looking forward to the break and kind of getting our minds off of it a little bit."

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Schwartz said he was going to go enjoy the sun a little bit.

Derek Roy was planning to get some rest.

"Just try to rest the body and try to get back in physical form before everything gets said and done and the break’s over," he said. "So you have to stay on your body and make sure you take care of yourself."

Vladimir Sobotka, whose broken kneecap prevented him from representing the Czech Republic in Russia, posted a photo on Instagram on Tuesday morning of an undisclosed sun-splashed beach.

That certainly beats the temperatures in the teens in St. Louis on Tuesday.

The Blues won’t be relaxing too much. They know they need to get back to work soon enough and will have a difficult 25 games left, beginning with a Feb. 26 game in Vancouver.

"Early on in the break you rest yourself, but later on in the break and when you get back you have to make sure the guys that around here are working together," Roy said. "We’re going to have to work hard and try to push each other so when these guys come back from the Olympics if they are tired or whatnot, the guys that didn’t play in the Olympics have to step up."

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The Blues’ 57 games played so far is tied with the Bruins, Sabres and Hurricanes for the fewest in the NHL. Seven teams, including the Ducks and Blackhawks, have already played a league-high 60 games.

St. Louis will have two more games in February, then 15 games in March and eight in April before the start of the playoffs.

"I think we’re one of the busiest teams, if not the busiest team when we come back," Brenden Morrow said. "We’ve got to take advantage of our opportunity."

Barret Jackman compared coming back from the Olympic break to returning from the lockout last year.

"It’s really going to be like coming out of the lockout, where everybody is full tilt and every point means something down the stretch," he said. "It’s really going to be about the mental focus coming back and being the team that doesn’t crack in those one-goal games."

Brian Elliott said sometimes the players want breaks like this and sometimes they don’t.

"But I think we’re going to try to take advantage of it, keep on top of our fitness level a little bit and then come back really hungry," the goalie said. "We have a tough March. We play a lot of games — I think the most in the NHL — and it’s going to be a battle, so we have to be ready for it and have all guys going hard. And guys coming back from the Olympics are going to be a little tired and everybody has to pick it up for them until they get their legs underneath them again."

Blues coach Ken Hitchcock has expressed concerns about the players not competing in the Olympics because they will have to push themselves and each other in practice before the rest of the team returns from Russia.

"The problem is the non-Olympians are going to get so far away from competition," he said. "They are going to practice with half a hockey club. How engaged are they going to be? That’s a big challenge. …

"These guys that are here, there are going to be six or seven hockey practices before we get back, hopefully. Any team that plays in the final two games, you’re not coming back until the last possible day. And man, the guys that are here, they are going to have to find the energy to get up to speed. Because the guys that are coming back, once they get over jet lag, they are going to be at a whole other level. For me, we have to make sure these 13 or 14 guys that were here are going to be really working and grinding and doing things the right way."

You can follow Nate Latsch on Twitter (@natelatsch) or email him at natelatsch@gmail.com.