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St. Louis Blues mean business this season with an improved record

Sidney Crosby is getting all the hype ahead of the Pittsburgh star's first-ever trip to Western Canada this week. Perhaps just what the white-hot St. Louis Blues want as they also stroll into Calgary and Edmonton.

"We'll fly under the radar here for sure," Blues head coach Andy Murray said Monday after arriving in Calgary.

The Blues, who play the Flames on Tuesday and the Oilers on Friday, are 8-1-1 in their last 10 games and playing some of the best hockey in the league right now.

"We, as a team, feel we can play with anybody," Blues president John Davidson told The Canadian Press on Monday. "And we should feel that way. Last year we were just hoping to survive and stay in the hunt as long as we could. This year it's different."

The 15-8-1 Blues sit fourth in the tightly contested Western Conference, making a major statement two months into the season after missing the playoffs two straight years.

"And we're going to be around for a long time," said Davidson. "We've got eight players 24 and younger. So we're going in the right direction. We feel good about the way we play the game, we feel good about the way we're committed. Our team is well prepared."

That's because the well respected Murray is behind the bench. It should surprise no one that the Blues have given up the fewest goals in the Western Conference.

"We've played to our strengths," said Davidson. "And our strength is keeping the puck out of the net. We have eight defencemen who can play in the NHL. And our goaltending (Manny Legace and Hannu Toivonen) has been real good. If you keep the puck out of the net, you have a chance to do a lot of good things."

Murray downplayed his team's play of late.

"We haven't had any games where one would deem it an easy game," said Murray. "Every game is tooth and nail. In this league you can lose seven or eight in a row just as easily as win the number of games we've won lately. We're cognizant of that."

Paul Kariya, Brad Boyes and Keith Tkachuk have led the way offensively. After that the secondary scoring drops off fairly significantly. The Blues rank 21st in the league with 2.54 goals per game while the power play is ranked only 26th.

"We think we've got potential to score more than we have," said Murray. "We're still trying to get our power play going."

The Blues are a gritty bunch and have been a hard team to play against, which is about the nicest thing an NHL coach can hear about his team.

"We take pride in that," said Murray. "We're a group that has to work pretty hard for anything we get. We realize the consequences if we don't. It's a credit to the players that they've recognized that. They put the work boots on most nights and play pretty hard."

Davidson likes his team's toughness.

"We have no problems playing a tough game with anybody in the game," said Davidson. "We've got D.J. King, who as far as I'm concerned is as tough as anybody in the game. If you want to scrap, good luck. Then we have good team toughness on top of that.

"Nobody is going to say they can come in and bang the Blues out of the box. It's just not going to happen to us, period."

All of which amounts to a more exciting product this year. And it shows in the stands where they're averaging 17,560 per home game, 12th in the NHL. Last year? They were dead last in the league at 12,520.

"Six sellouts so far," said Davidson. "Last year we had two - and one of them was free food night."



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