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Road stretch could help Blues find ways to end home woes

ST. LOUIS - The St. Louis Blues' abysmal home record got coach Andy Murray fired last week. Now they hit the road, where they've played very well, for three straight under interim coach Davis Payne.

The Blues have been a confounding team. They're an NHL-worst 6-14-3 at home after losing 6-3 in Payne's first game Saturday only hours after Murray was fired, but they're one of the league's better teams on enemy ice at 11-4-3.

They'll play at San Jose on Wednesday, at Anaheim on Thursday and at Los Angeles this weekend. That'll give them time to adjust to the new guy, and perhaps find a solution to their schizophrenic season.

In 23 home games, the Blues have been outscored 76-55. In 18 road games, they've outscored the opposition 53-44. The power play is 10th on the road, 28th at home.

"It seems like it's more of a mental thing than anything else," team president John Davidson said. "How that happens, people that have never really played sports probably don't have that understanding.

"We have to find a way to get our players to believe in playing better on home ice and believe in themselves at home."

The 39-year-old Payne had been coaching at the Blues' AHL affiliate in Peoria, Ill., and was confident the team could get rid of the home-ice disadvantage.

"We'll deal with what's here and now and take steps to make progress," Payne said after the Blues' fifth straight loss at home. "We'll win again in this building, there's no question about that. I think we have to make sure we understand a road record like that doesn't get accomplished by mistake, either."

Players already have a rapport with Payne from training camp.

"Right now it's not about Xs and Os," defenceman Barret Jackman said. "It's about the commitment on the ice, and getting guys ready to play and playing a full 60 minutes."

Players weren't using a new system as an excuse on their failures during Payne's NHL debut. Many blamed themselves for Murray's firing and for the unfavourable first impression they gave the new coach.

"He doesn't have a magic wand to wave, we've still got to have 20 guys on the ice doing their job and executing their game plan," forward David Backes said. "He didn't come in and change the forecheck, the breakouts.

"It wasn't like he came in here and tried to build Rome in one day."

At the midway point of the season, the Blues were 12th in the Western Conference at 17-18-6 and with 40 points - 11 points out of a playoff spot. They're near the bottom of the league in scoring, getting inconsistent production from young talent that includes forwards David Perron, Patrik Berglund and T.J Oshie, and defenceman Erik Johnson.

Murray was criticized for treating some of the young players, particularly Perron and Berglund, with "tough love."

"It'll be up to Davis to figure out if a kid is not practising hard or making redundant mistakes, then maybe he deserves to sit on his butt," Davidson said. "But if the kid's making the mistake out of passion and he's worked his butt off in practice, stick him back on the ice and let him play."

Before the current five-game skid, the Blues won three in a row on the road with impressive outings at Vancouver, Edmonton and Calgary. The day before Murray was fired, Backes and Johnson were named to the U.S. Olympic team.

"We've shown that with the talent in this room and the work ethic, when it's there, we can play with anyone," Backes said. "I think that's what's so frustrating, you see the potential but also the letdowns."


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