The Ottumwa Courier

AP Sports

February 26, 2014

Blues in strong position coming out of break

ST. LOUIS (AP) — The secret is out on T.J. Oshie, who showed the world at the Sochi Olympics he's perfected the art of the shootout.

He's among nine Olympians who've rejoined a top contender that doesn't overly rely on razzle-dazzle.

The St. Louis Blues are in prime position for the NHL stretch drive. They lack star power, with no one among the top 25 scorers, but are second overall in the Western Conference and atop the Central Division entering the re-start Wednesday at Vancouver.

"We've played awfully well. We've been really resilient all year, we've responded to challenges all year," coach Ken Hitchcock said before the break. "But it's going to really get dialed up when we get back and our players recognize that.

"I think some guys are really looking forward to it."

So far, they've done the franchise proud.

The next few months, they'll be working on solidifying their position and proving they belong against other powers in the conference. They're 3-0 against the defending Stanley Cup champion Blackhawks, but 1-2 against the Kings, 0-3 against the Sharks and 0-2 against the Ducks. The Sharks have outscored them 16-7, the Ducks 8-4.

"I told the players when we come back in March and April, it's for them," Hitchcock said. "They have to really grab it coming back."

The blueprint for success is a defense that's allowed the second-fewest goals. Jaroslav Halak and Brian Elliott have combined for seven shutouts aided by strong support and willing shot blockers throughout the defensive rotation.

Oshie and Alexander Steen are tied for the team scoring lead at 46 points, Steen's total coming in 46 games due to a lengthy concussion-related absence. There's plenty of depth with six players scoring at least 14 goals and Alex Pietrangelo is the first defenseman in franchise history and first in the NHL since Dion Phaneuf (2005-08) to record 40 or more points in each of his first three seasons.

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