Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Stars score three in third to beat Blues

Coach Ken Hitchcock will be the first to say a scoring Patrik Berglund will make the Blues a better hockey team in 2014-15.

Berglund, who signed a three-year contract days before the NHL Draft this past summer, came to training camp determined to make himself an offensive force.

It's one preseason game, but it's evident Berglund looks stronger, leaner and is skating with a purpose.

Berglund had a goal and an assist but the Dallas Stars rallied from a one-goal deficit in the third period by scoring three goals in a 4-3 victory against the Blues on Monday night at American Airlines Center.

Berglund played 20:46, which is among the top ice times he's received in a Blues uniform. There was a reason, and he passed a solid test.

"We played him a lot; he played in a lot of situations," Hitchcock said. "... He's an offensive threat because he had energy. If we would have played him 20 minutes last year, he would have struggled. He didn't lose his energy in the end."

"It's the first game; you for sure want to have a good game," Berglund said. "I just kind of want to get the feel for it."

The 6-foot-3, 217-pound Berglund is coming off a 14-goal, 32-point regular season a year ago, his sixth NHL season. When Hitchcock saw Berglund return from his summer offseason in Sweden, he noticed a different physical specimen after the team and Berglund talked about a change of course for an off-season conditioning program.

"A little leaner? He's a lot leaner,"Hitchcock insisted.

"At the end of the year, we had some defined goals that we wanted him to obtain and he wanted to obtain," Hitchcock added. "The visual alone is ... impressive. He looks like a guy that's put in a tremendous amount of work to make himself quicker and lighter, stronger. ... Just from a visual standpoint, it's pretty impressive.

"A chip on your shoulder's one thing, but the team made a pretty big commitment. They signed him to a three-year deal. So he's made a commitment to the team, the team's made a commitment to him. Now it's what type of player do you want to be. You're always curious when a guy first shows up. Bergie's a player that we need to have a really good year from him. First impressions mean a lot. When you show up physically looking like this, it's an awfully big first step. This is a guy that is not going to allow fitness to get in the way of anything. It's pretty dramatic when you look at it."

Berglund's breakaway goal Monday with 2:18 left in the second period, a shot in which he fired a wrister from between the hash marks, beat Anders Lindback to give the Blues a 2-1 lead.

Ryan Whitney earlier in the period tied the game 1-1 with a power play goal after getting the puck from Berglund at the blueline and throwing a wrist shot past Stars starting goalie Kari Lehtonen. Whitney, in St. Louis for the second straight training camp on a professional tryout, used Steve Ott in the slot as a screen and scored 5:06 into the period.

"We need to get him back to being a scoring player," Hitchcock said of Berglund. "We need him at the net, around the net, heavy on the forecheck. We need that back again. We need him to be a scoring player again. He's got the ability ... on his worst season, he gets 20 goals. We need that dynamic from him again.

"I think he felt at the end of the year that he had to bring way more quickness and agility into the game. He's obviously lightened up. He's got way more quickness and mobility back from everything he did, (including) diet. This is an all-encompassing thing that he's done during the offseason. This is not just training. This is fitness, this is nutrition, this is basically a lifestyle. Pretty impressive."

Vernon Fiddler netted the first goal of the game, taking a cross-ice shot-pass from Jyrki Lokipakka and sliding the puck into an open side by starting goalie Brian Elliott 7:16 into the first period.

The Blues generated a few scoring chances, with Dmitrij Jaskin making a strong power move to the net but sliding a quick shot wide of the net. Jaskin had a strong opening 20 minutes.

Niklas Lundstrom replaced Elliott, who stopped 11 shots, for the third period and Lundstrom didn't fare well. He allowed three goals to Curtis McKenzie, Jordie Benn and Jason Dickinson on the first six shots he faced.

Ian Cole's blast from inside the blue line at the left point beat Linda with 1:29 remaining but the Blues, who out shot the Stars 33-25, couldn't come up with the equalizer. But not without some tense moments after pulling Lundstrom with a sixth attacker.

Among the younger players, Hitchcock was most impressed with Jaskin and 2014 first round pick Robby Fabbri, who made his NHL debut.

"I thought Jaskin played really hard," Hitchcock said. "He's a really competitive guy, hard on the puck. He's a heavy player.

"I thought Robby was really an effective player. Based on tonight's performance, he probably deserves a little bit longer stay. He's got speed, he's got hockey sense, he's got strength on the puck. For a small guy, he's really strong on the puck."

The Blues play their preseason home opener Thursday at 7 p.m. against the Columbus Blue Jackets. Alexander Steen, Paul Stastny, David Backes, T.J Oshie, Alex Pietrangelo and Jay Bouwmeester will all make their preseason debuts, according to Hitchcock. Jake Allen gets the start in goal.

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