Blues used early season road trip for bonding, and banking some wins

Blues used early season road trip for bonding, and banking some wins

Main pic: St. Louis Blues center David Backes (42) wraps up Minnesota Wild defenseman Matt Dumba, left, as Wild goalie Devan Dubnyk (40) covers the net during the third period of an NHL hockey game in St. Paul, Minn., Saturday, Oct. 10, 2015. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP/Ann Heisenfelt.

MONTREAL — David Backes is looking forward to going home, even while his St. Louis Blues have been tearing it up on the road.

“Getting in my own bed, seeing my little daughter again, that’s two great things that are going to happen,” Backes said Tuesday as the Blues prepared to face the Montreal Canadiens at the Bell Centre.

The Blues opened the season at home with a 3-1 win over the Edmonton Oilers, but since then have been on a six-game, 11-day trip that saw them soar to the top of the NHL’s Western Conference.

It started with a 3-2 loss in Minnesota, but then they posted wins in Calgary, Edmonton, Vancouver and a 4-2 victory at Winnipeg in their last outing on Sunday. The trip finished against the only team with a better record, the 6-0-0 Canadiens.

“You look at the trip in the pre-season and think it’s a daunting task and it may be tiring, but the way we’ve played and the success we’ve had has been energizing for this group,” said Backes. “We’ve been able to bond a bit off the ice and have some success on the ice.

“That just feeds the fire. If the results were flipped and we were 1-5-0, we’d be cursing the trip, but we’ve played well.”

The Blues have a handful of new faces, including veterans Troy Brouwer, Scott Gomez and Scottie Upshall, as well as forward Kyle Brodziak and impressive young defenceman Colton Parayko.

Some are playing because of injuries to Kevin Shattenkirk, Paul Stastny and Patrick Berglund, and the long road trip has helped speed the bonding process that coach Ken Hitchcock said started in training camp.

“We took a different approach to team building,” said Hitchcock. “We (the coaching staff) stayed out of their way.

“We didn’t get involved in any team-building activities. We let the players do it themselves. I think it’s helped camaraderie-wise. I think that’s why we’ve played so well in the second half of the games.”

Hitchcock said his squad started finding itself in the first game of the road trip, when they played well in the last two periods in Minnesota. It gave the players confidence that changes made during camp will work in regular season games.

“The players gained confidence with that balance between risk and safety,” he said. “We started to amp up the risk a bit and the reckless play.

“We’ve gone back to the past where we’re more in-your-face. We’re harder to play against. We’ve got better gaps. We needed to get back to that.”

The Blues are on a mission this season. The last three campaigns, they’ve been dynamite in the regular season, only to be ousted in the first round of the playoffs. Last spring, they fell in six games to Minnesota.

They are in the league’s toughest division with the Wild, defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago, Dallas, Nashville, Winnipeg and Colorado. Only the top three are guaranteed a playoff spot.

But they got the strong start they wanted and, after the game in Montreal, they return home for five straight games at home. Then they go on a four-game road trip.

“For me, it’s part of being back in the west, where you have a couple of longer road trips,” said Brouwer, a former Blackhawk who joined the Blues from the Washington Capitals. “It’s something you just have to get used to.

“We wanted to start the season with a good feeling in here and get things going and feeling good about ourselves. And to go into our homestand with some wins.”

Bill Beacon, The Canadian Press

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