Blues’ Olympians getting back to normal, back to winning ways
ST. LOUIS — Blues coach Ken Hitchcock issued a warning, of sorts, following his team’s morning skate Tuesday.
Immediately after lauding the recent play of three of his team’s Olympians — forward Patrik Berglund and defensemen Jay Bouwmeester and Alex Pietrangelo — the veteran coach cautioned that the Blues’ other Olympians still weren’t quite back to normal and we might have to wait a little longer to assess them.
"I don’t think you can get a good read on the other guys until their energy comes back," Hitchcock said. "I think in the next 48 hours you get a better read on some of the other guys that played there because they are over the jet lag and the tiredness that went on with what they did."
It didn’t take 48 hours.
It took less than 10.
It was those other Olympians who stepped forward and made a difference in the Blues’ impressive 4-2 come-from-behind victory against the visiting Tampa Bay Lightning on Tuesday night.
All four goals came from the St. Louis Olympians — Patrik Berglund, T.J. Oshie, Alexander Steen and Vladimir Tarasenko. David Backes chipped in with two assists and Tarasenko, Steen, Pietrangelo and Oshie each added helpers as well.
The only non-Olympian to make the score sheet was Jaden Schwartz, who had two assists and now has 46 points in 59 games.
"I think these Olympians deserve a lot of credit," Hitchcock said after his team’s second straight comeback victory. "We’ve had the most difficult schedule of any franchise coming back from the Olympics. Between travel with road games and everything and our guys have really sucked it up and played, especially in the four games since the Olympic break. Our guys deserve a lot of credit. We still need a lot of rest and we’re going to get it. We’re not practicing tomorrow with these guys."
This hasn’t been the easiest of adjustments for the nine Blues who participated in the Winter Games in Russia.
Tarasenko returned a few days earlier than the rest, but the eight other Blues — including new goalie Ryan Miller — who participated in the Olympics all made it to the medal round and were on the last flights back from Russia.
Those players (minus Miller) returned to St. Louis last Monday but stayed in the Gateway City for less than 24 hours before then getting on a plane to begin the road trip in Vancouver.
Then came another flight and a game in Anaheim.
Then a trip to Phoenix.
Then finally back to St. Louis.
Oshie and Backes both said following Tuesday’s game that they aren’t quite back to normal, but are getting there slowly.
"I don’t think I feel as, just me personally, don’t feel as fresh as I was before but we’re getting there," Oshie said. "We’re kind of getting back in the routine now. We get to sleep in our own beds for a couple nights at least, so it’s been going better."
"I’m not sure it’s fully over, but those aren’t excuses," Backes said. "They’ve got guys who were over there. We’ve got guys that were over there. But the sleep schedule seems to be about back on par. The energy level? Still working on it. But we’ve got plenty of guys to help shoulder that load and some great performances by a lot of individuals tonight. The Olympics are behind us. We’re worried about the next task at hand and that’s these last 20 games and making a great playoff run."
This final stretch of games won’t be easy, but the Blues have played well so far despite the circumstances.
St. Louis lost back-to-back 1-0 games in Vancouver and Anaheim — the first two times the team has been shut out all season — but played well. The Blues followed that up by overcoming two-goal deficits to beat Phoenix and now Tampa Bay.
The Blues improved to 41-14-6 and now have 88 points in 61 games, the second-best mark in the National Hockey League behind only the Ducks (91 points in 62 games), and lead the Blackhawks by two points for the top spot in the Central Division.
There’s still plenty of room for improvement, and the team would be wise to not fall behind by two goals every night, but Hitchcock’s club is showing signs of a strong finish to the regular season.
That is encouraging as St. Louis heads back on the road for games at Nashville, Colorado and Minnesota. There are 21 games left, with 11 away from Scottrade.
The Blues’ Olympians will be counted on to step up and produce. Before long, they’ll be back to normal and feeling good again. The rest of the NHL is on notice.
"I think just being at home has helped all those guys and I think we’ll even get a better game from them in Nashville once they feel a little bit more comfortable," Hitchcock said. "Another night in bed. Another night at home. Another night away from the Coach. I think it will be a good thing."
You can follow Nate Latsch on Twitter (@natelatsch) or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.