Payne Thrilled with Blues' Fast Start
Blues Head Coach expects contributions from more than just top players
Thursday, 11.04.2010 / 11:24 AM / St Louis Blues - Features
By Dan Rosen - NHL.com
"It may render the one guy lighting it up as not necessary," Payne told NHL.com. "If you need one guy to score 50 (goals) to have success -- that may not be our hockey club. But we feel we have lots of guys who can score 25 and that means it'll be a different guy each night and come from different spots in our lineup and that plays into the depth we use.
"We're OK with that."
Of course they are.
The Blues enter Thursday's home game against San Jose with six wins in their first nine games, including five out of five at Scottrade Center, despite not having a player with more than 4 goals or 9 points.
T.J. Oshie leads with 9 points -- on 1 goal and 8 assists. Matt D'Agostini, Patrik Berglund and David Perron each have 4 goals.
St. Louis' 26 goals are tied for 14th in the Western Conference (their nine games played is the fewest among any team in the West), but that doesn't matter because its plus-9 goal differential is tied for first in the West with Los Angeles.
"We don't need one guy to score 50 or 60 goals," Payne said. "If we're defining success by how many goals a guy scores than we're getting the business end of the equation very backwards."
No, the Blues have the equation just right -- and their fans have noticed.
Their October TV ratings on Fox Sports Midwest rose approximately 34 percent from last October, and St. Louis now has the fourth-best ratings for U.S. markets, behind Pittsburgh, Buffalo and Detroit.
"The fans in the building and watching on TV, they're excited about this team," Blues GM Doug Armstrong told NHL.com. "The players have earned that right and hopefully we can keep it going."
The viewers have witnessed a fantastic start from goaltender Jaroslav Halak, who is positioning himself as a Vezina Trophy contender. They've seen the vast improvement from young defenseman Alex Pietrangelo, who has helped St. Louis fill out a blue-line corps that now ranks as one of the best in the NHL.
The Blues, though, will be tested in that area with Carlo Colaiacovo (concussion) joining Roman Polak (wrist surgery) on injured reserve. Erik Johnson was dinged up in practice Wednesday, but Payne said "we still feel he'll be available to us" for Thursday's game against the Sharks.
Tyson Strachan already was filling in for Polak, and Wednesday the Blues called up Nathan Oystrick from AHL Peoria.
"Obviously we're losing two good players, players that have been a part of our group here the last while, but injuries are part of the game and good teams find a way to adapt and work through this," Armstrong said. "I don't think we'll be any different. Strachan has the ability and Oystrick has experience now. We hope those players (Colaiacovo and Polak) get back quickly but until that time I really believe we'll find a way to continue on the path that we're on. It's a great opportunity for players like (Erik) Johnson and Pietrangelo to get outside their comfort zone and increase the work load in some other areas."
The injuries are also all the more reason for Halak to continue his stellar play.
Payne said Halak (6-1-1, .932 save percentage, 1.71 GAA) has been perfect for the Blues because his attitude and philosophy as a goalie fits perfectly with the overall attitude and philosophy the coach has for his team.
"He plays into a lot of the things we talked about right from Day 1 in training camp -- how we're going to show up and work every day, how we're going to prepare, how we're going to play and how we're not going to allow one day to affect the next," Payne said. "We're just going to get back at it and he plays goal with that mindset. It's one play to the next and away we go. Very few highs and lows, just steady performances, and that's what we want out of our hockey team. We tailor things to opponents, but when we talk about our game we want it to be steady, consistent and at a high level and he plays right into that."
St. Louis is facing a challenge this month. Starting Thursday, the Blues play three games in four nights and follow that with seven in 10 nights. They play 14 games in November after playing just nine in October.
"It can be (a test) and it might be, but we don't look at numbers of games, months or segments," Payne said. "We just know we play Thursday at home against San Jose and then we're playing Saturday and Sunday on the road (against the Bruins and Rangers). We'll line them back up in Columbus the following week (Wednesday). We weren't very busy last month and for teams that practice as much as we do, you know our guys are, quite frankly, ready for some heavier game action. Any way it slices up we know by April we're going to play 82."
If the next 73 are as good as the first nine, 82 won't be the Blues' limit this season.