Wednesday, November 22, 2017

One of NHL's top lines not satisfied, helping fuel drive for more

Schwartz, Schenn, Tarasenko "play for each other without the jealous part"

By LOU KORAC
ST. LOUIS -- Forgive Jay Bouwmeester for not seeing it up close and personal before.

Well, in a way, the Blues veteran defenseman has; he's played with Vladimir Tarasenko and Jaden Schwartz the past five years, but never in a combination with Brayden Schenn.

Injury forced the 34-year-old Bouwmeester to enjoy a line that is terrorizing the National Hockey League these days, but he got a front row seat of the show on Tuesday.

He got a firsthand look at just how much damage that line is doing to the opposition; they had 12 points in a bludgeoning of the Edmonton Oilers, 8-3, at Scottrade Center.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Brayden Schenn (10) and Jaden Schwartz (17) are all smiles and rightfully
so. With teammate Vladimir Tarasenko, it's been a top line in the NHL.

"I had a good seat tonight. It was pretty special," Bouwmeester said after the game. "There's something to be said with just that chemistry where the little plays around the net, they always seem to find each other. Nobody else really sees them, but all of the sudden, the puck's on the stick. It's fun to watch."

Indeed it is.

And that part about nobody sees them, well, believe it or not, they see each other quite well. Perhaps the only players on the ice they seem to see are each other, because nothing else really matters. Everyone else is invisible.

Schenn and Tarasenko each had two goals and two assists, while Schwartz added a goal and three assists. 

Through 22 games, Schenn is ripping to shreds the comparison of value in the trade that sent Jori Lehtera, who has two assists in 14 games, and two first-round picks to the Philadelphia Flyers. Schenn has 30 points (10 goals, 20 assists) and his teammates (Schwartz has 11 goals and 19 assists while Tarasenko has 12 goals and 14 assists) are tearing it up also.

They're fourth-sixth in the points scoring race in the league and they lead the NHL in plus-minus (Schenn and Schwartz tied for first at plus-19 and Tarasenko third at plus-18).

Over a full 82-game schedule, consider the following and what the trio would accomplish:

Schenn -- 37 goals, 75 assists = 112 points

Schwartz -- 41 goals, 71 assists = 112 points

Tarasenko -- 45 goals, 52 assists = 97 points

Some would argue that those numbers are unrealistic. Perhaps they are, but what makes this group fun to watch and appreciate what they are accomplishing is that they're not content, not satisfied with what they are doing.

"We definitely just want to keep getting better," Schwartz said after the win Tuesday. "We enjoyed tonight. We'll have fun, but I think we're doing a good job of hitting the reset button every game and getting ready. 

"You've got to respect every team in this league. They're all good. We want to make sure that we're continuing to get better. We're going to watch film on us, win or lose, and see what we can do better."

Get better.

How is that even possible right now?

But that's a primary reason why the Blues are where they are heading into Thanksgiving, at the top of the NHL standings with 33 points and a 16-5-1 mark. They're looking to get better and that line is leading the way striving for more.

Coach Mike Yeo has run out of superlatives.

"I think we've said it. I think we've said it," Yeo said before joking. "Oh, now they fight too."

That came courtesy of Tarasenko's fighting major with Matt Benning in the second period, sticking up for Schenn, of course.

There's no animosity, no jealousy among this trio. Success comes in all shapes and forms for this trio. They support each other and by doing so are having balanced success, and success breeds confidence, and confidence is breeding one of the most potent lines in the league today.

"I felt like I had some pretty good chemistry with guys in Philly, but here it’s just clicking," said Schenn, who is on a career-high eight-game point streak (seven goals, 12 assists). "We’re working for one another, we’re able to control the puck a little bit down low and just kind of find each other on the ice. We kind of know where each other are right now and playing a give-and-go type game and able to create opportunities from it.”

"... You never can be satisfied or happy. I think you just want to come to the rink each day and get better and improve. Don’t sit back just because you’re having success right now. You want to keep pushing and keep working and just try to get better."

Schwartz and Schenn's chemistry began with the Canadian world junior squad in 2011-12. They didn't get a ton of time together, but it's evident that there is some positive residue left over from those days and carrying over to today, but could Schwartz ever imagined this kind of play from Schenn?

"It's tough to say," Schwartz said. "I didn't even know if I was going to play with him or now. I haven't played with him in a while. It's been quite a few years, but I've seen him play growing up too here and in the world junior camps. I knew how good of a player he was. We know all the little things he does. He's getting rewarded for all the work that he's doing."

And then there's Schwartz and Tarasenko, who came into the league together as No. 1 picks by the Blues in 2011, Nos. 14 and 16, respectively. It's only fitting that they've become close teammates, growing together in the only organization that they've known, and that chemistry seems to grow by the second despite at times, both Ken Hitchcock and Yeo (more Hitchcock) splitting them up.

"Me and 'Schwartzy' played like for five years now, sixth year (this year)," Tarasenko said. "I know where he is; I don't need to think. Now we know where 'Schenner' is too. It makes our game easier and when you play like this, you have more emotions and you get pumped up all the time. Good thing we win the games too."

When the Blues brought Schenn in, it was with the plan of playing him at center, and once he, Tarasenko and Schwartz were grouped together, communication was the trigger to set the plans in motion, and now, things are happening instantaneously.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Brayden Schenn has helped form one of the top
lines in the NHL with Jaden Schwartz and Vladimir 
Tarasenko.

"I think we're talking about it and working on it and we're starting to play with each other more and getting used to it," Schwartz said. "'Vladi,' I've played with him for a long time, so I know what he likes to do and 'Schenner,' he's just easy to play with. He works hard, he's smart, he can make plays in tight and they're both a lot of fun to play with."

"It don't come from the first game, but we needed time to figure it out and talk with each other," Tarasenko said. "Now we just enjoy our time together on the ice and play for each other without the jealous part and try to create the chances for each other too."

There's a line in Tampa Bay (Steven Stamkos, Nikita Kucherov and Vladislav Namestnikov) that would argue as being the best in the league with 88 points, and rightfully so, as Stamkos and Kucherov are Nos. 1-2 in the league in points, but Schwartz, Schenn and Tarasenko, who have combined for 84, can make their case, but that's not their goal.

"We’re only 22 games in, so we’ve got 82 and playoffs to try and prove that," Schenn said. "So like I said, you can’t be satisfied just because you’ve had a good start to the year. You’ve got to keep on building as a line and continue to improve and, like I said, we’re going to get tough matchups along the way here, good teams, so we’ve got to be able to involve our game and keep on getting better."  

Behind Schenn, Tarasenko, Schwartz, Blues blast Oilers 8-3

Line combined for 12 points including four each; Tarasenko 
bags Gordie Howe hat trick in Bouwmeester season debut

By LOU KORAC
ST. LOUIS -- Those who showed up to Scottrade Center to watch an ice hockey game perhaps didn't intend on seeing a track meet.

Under normal circumstances, the Blues wouldn't want to engage in such activities with the high-flying Edmonton Oilers. But when you've got a working line trio of Vladimir Tarasenko, Jaden Schwartz and Brayden Schenn piling up points by the bushel, it doesn't matter what type of pace the Blues would prefer. Just jump on that unit's back and follow suit.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues right wing Vladimir Tarasenko (right) fights Edmonton's Matt Benning
during the second period of an 8-3 victory on Tuesday.

And that's exactly what the Blues got in an 8-3 bludgeoning of the hapless Edmonton Oilers before 18,819 boisterous fans that witnessed that line produce 12 points (four for each) and the second Gordie Howe hat trick of Tarasenko's NHL career.

The Blues (16-5-1), winners of three in a row and 10 of 13 (10-3-0), outworked, out-hustled, out-goaltended, out-defensed, out-played ... you name it, they did it. And as Oilers coach Todd McLellan said after the game, "In every facet of the game we were second. It wasn't even close."

No coach, it wasn't.

The eight goals were the most the Blues scored since March 30, 2011 in a 10-3 victory against the Detroit Red Wings, and Schenn extended his NHL career-high point streak to eight games with two goals and two assists, giving him seven goals and 19 assists in that stretch. Tarasenko had two goals and two assists, and Schwartz added a goal and three assists.

In the words of the late Jackie Gleason in 'The Honeymooners,' the Blues sent the Oilers to the moon. "Bang! Zoom!"

Oh, and to top it off, defenseman Jay Bouwmeester returned after missing the first 21 games with a fractured left ankle.

"No, but it was pretty nice," Bouwmeester said if he expected that kind of return. "For a game to get adjusted, that was pretty nice. You never expect to score that many goals. It's fun when you're part of it."

Indeed.

The Blues scored twice in the first, two more times in the second and four times in a seven-goal third period when the game got really crazy.

"Getting a win. That's about it," Blues coach Mike Yeo said when asked what he liked most about this game. "Obviously the score is exciting, we scored lots of goals. ... There was lots of good things that got to that point. A little bit disappointed we gave up a few at the end. I would like to tighten the ship a little more and play a bit better for Jake (Allen) in that instance; I hate to say it, but sometimes it's human nature too."

Dmitrij Jaskin, Scottie Upshall and Paul Stastny scored, and Allen made 26 saves for the Blues, who head for a day off on Wednesday before skating on Thanksgiving ahead of two huge division home games Friday against Nashville and Saturday against Minnesota at home.

But there was plenty to go around as far as credit is concerned with the Blues, who got scoring from all four lines.

"Obviously, we got offense from everybody tonight, that's a nice thing when everyone shows up on the score sheet," Yeo said. "It was a team effort, no question. I wish we could have stayed tighter at the end and not given up a couple because Jake made some saves that gave us a chance to get to the point where we were. I wish we would have finished a little bit harder there, but all in all, a pretty complete game tonight."

Schenn, Schwartz and Tarasenko led the cavalry, and they didn't just do it with their skills, they did it by sticking up for each other, as Tarasenko did in the second period when he took exception to Matt Benning's near knee-to-knee hit on Schenn at 6 minutes, 55 seconds of the second period.

The Blues had already built a 3-0 lead by then and Tarasenko went right after the Oilers defenseman, and the crowd erupted. It was the final piece to Tarasenko's Gordie Howe hat trick after scoring in the first and setting up Schwartz in the second.

"I don't fight really often, you know this, but I think it was on purpose, like knee on knee and this kind of stuff, I don't like in hockey," Tarasenko said. "It's emotions too, you know. I don't want to look like a good fighter, but it just happens sometimes."

Does it earn the respect of teammates?

"We'll see tomorrow. I don't know today," Tarasenko said with a laugh. "Maybe after tomorrow, tomorrow's day off, but it's part of the game and I don't feel like nothing wrong with it."

It indeed does get the respect of teammates and coaches.

"That was my fault, coming through the middle with my head down, kind of picked it up last second and maybe I’m lucky it wasn’t a bigger defenseman trying to hit me there," Schenn said. "Obviously hats off to [Tarasenko]. We don’t need that guy fighting, but I guess he decided to drop the mitts and I think you look at that from a team perspective and guys are willing to stick up for one another and that goes a long way. When you see one of our better players, our best player, doing that, it makes everyone want to do it.

"I turned around and I didn’t even know he was asking that guy to fight. Like I said, it’s obviously a team thing to do, him sticking up for me. That goes a very long way throughout the year when you see Vladi dropping his gloves and sticking up for a teammate."

Tarasenko had some blood on his finger, visible in the penalty box, but it goes to show the lengths that this Blues team will go and the lengths they will play for one another.

"Obviously we don't want 'Vladi' to get into fights, but he certainly sent a message to his teammates that he's got their back there," Yeo said. "I'd say so (it earns respect). If you saw the way the bench got up, I was behind the players so I could hear what they were saying, so I'd say so. What it is, you don't want someone like him fighting and then he breaks his hand, but by same token, that stuff's contagious. We've seen a lot of that where guys are sacrificing, whether it's, blocking a shot or jumping in there for each other, guys have been doing a lot of that."

The Blues took a 1-0 lead on Tarasenko's shot that double-deflected off Connor McDavid's stick, then off Adam Larsson's stick at 3:13 of the first period.

Jaskin made it 2-0 after outworking Ryan Strome off the wall with the puck. His wrist shot from inside the right circle beat Talbot high, short side on the Blues' third shot.

Schwartz's 100th NHL goal came at 3:52 of the second period to make it 3-0 on a rebound, and Schenn scored with 30 seconds remaining to make it 4-0.

"Good to hit it," Schwartz said of his 100th goal. "Obviously I want to get a lot more. It's exciting and I never really imagined doing that as a kid, so it's pretty cool."

Lucic scored at 6:09 of the third period off a McDavid feed to make it 4-1 and break Allen's shutout bid. Upshall made it 5-1 at 7:39 on a pretty tic-tac-toe play with linemates Kyle Brodziak and Chris Thorburn.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues defenseman Robert Bortuzzo (41) and teammates celebrate with
Dmitrij Jaskin after Jaskin scored in the first period Tuesday.

Tarasenko's second made it 6-1 at 12:21; Schenn's 10th of the season made it 7-1 at 14:37; Draisaitl scored at 15:11 to make it 7-2; Stastny made it 8-2 at 16:58, and Nurse finished the scoring with his first of the season at 18:49 for the 8-3 final.

Milan Lucic, Leon Draisaitl and Darnell Nurse scored third-period goals for the Oilers (7-12-2), who lost for the fifth time in six games. Laurent Brossoit allowed six goals on 37 shots after replacing Cam Talbot after he allowed two goals on three shots.

"Yeah, we're playing for each other," Schwartz said. "Everyone's contributing in their own way. We're all doing the little things, playing a great team game right now. I think we're making it hard on other teams, we're checking hard and we're getting lots of chances because of that. Just rolling over the lines and the 'D' are doing a good job of jumping in and making plays as well."

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

(11-21-17) Oilers-Blues Gameday Lineup

By LOU KORAC
ST. LOUIS -- There were happy teammates and a happy coach to announce that defenseman Jay Bouwmeester will make his season debut for the Blues, who host the Edmonton Oilers today (7 p.m.; NBCSN, KMOX 1120-AM) for the start of a five-game homestand.

The Blues (15-5-1), going for their third straight win, will welcome Bouwmeester back for the first time this season after the veteran sustained a fractured left ankle on Sept. 17.

"I'm happy to have him back," Blues coach Mike Yeo said. "A veteran presence, defender, skating ability, definitely have missed him on the penalty kill, looking forward to getting him back."

Bouwmeester will play alongside Colton Parayko.

"Awesome. Obviously took a lot longer than expected," Blues captain Alex Pietrangelo said. "Frustrating on everybody's part, but a veteran guy, a calming influence. The list goes on and on about the affect that that he'll have."

With Bouwmeester returning, it removes someone from the blue line that's been playing well, and keeping the left-right combos in tact, Carl Gunnarsson becomes a healthy scratch for the second time this season.

Gunnarsson, who is fourth on the team in plus-minus at plus-10, missed a game on Oct. 25 against Calgary for the birth of his daughter. 

It keeps both Robert Bortuzzo and Vince Dunn in the lineup as the third defensive pair.

"It's the decision we made today," Yeo said. "It's not an easy decision. He's a quality player and quality person. You know what, it's been a tough decision. Everyone's played well for us. 'Dunner's played really well, 'Borts' has played really well. I think the other guys have sort of established themselves as top four guys. We've got some competition now.

"I think (Dunn and Bortuzzo have) defended hard. What I like is for a third pairing, we have not sheltered them, we have not tried to hide them. They can play against any line. They can be effective in their defensive game and be effective in executing and helping our team get to our game. I think it's a difficult pairing to play against. Again, they've given us consistent hockey."

Dunn, who has played some strong hockey in his rookie season, has five points two goals, three assists); he said he feels well in his first NHL season but starting to feel some of the physical toll and adding Bouwmeester strengthens the blue line.

"It's getting beat up a little more than I thought, but at the same time, I'm feeling great," Dunn said. "Obviously we have the training staff here to take care of us. I think that's just kind of a big change for me. I'm just listening to my body a lot more than I'm used to, taking my rest when I need it. It's been a pretty good adjustment so far. I think playing in the American [Hockey] League, you're playing a lot of games too and a lot of three-in-three's and stuff like that, so your body can kind of prepare for this level.

"... Anybody that's going to be thrown in to the lineup on the back end, it's a good feeling. I don't see any weak links, and I don't think anybody else does either. Obviously 'Bouw' is a veteran guy. ... It' a big confidence-booster for us. Obviously, a big piece that was missing."

Getting Bouwmeester back pleases the starting goalie, especially.

"Solid play, consistent play, penalty kill, eats up big minutes against opposing teams, which is tough to do," Blues goalie Jake Allen said.

Where Bouwmeester will help most for the Blues is in their penalty kill, which is tied for 22nd in the league at 78.3 percent.

"First and foremost, when he can skate, when you have reach and range like he does, I believe guys like that have the ability to break plays us," Yeo said. "When that happens, you spend less time killing. But he's an outstanding shot blocker. I think it's his play around the net. I think that's going to be a real big difference. We gave up a goal against [Edmonton] last time we played these guys, a flank shot, he would be coming out and he would be blocking in that situation. Some of the goals we've given up around the net, he's a guy that's real strong in those areas. 

"I just want to make sure we all know, again, we're not going to be expecting him to be at the top of his game right away. We're going to have to give him some time here. He's obviously missed a lot of hockey, he's missed training camp. He's going to come in, he's going to be effective, and he's going to help us get to our game, he's not going to be completely there yet."

- - -

The Blues and Oilers met just five days ago with the Blues winning 4-1 in Edmonton.

In that game, Brayden Schenn had two goals and an assist as part of his career-high seven-game point streak (five goals, 10 assists).

"I don't know that we should dwell on the last game we played them," Yeo said. "I know there were areas they weren't pleased with. So I think if we're sitting around thinking things are going to unfold the same way, that would be a bad mistake on our part. The way that they came out and played against us in that game, the way that they came out and played against Dallas to start the game, I know this is a desperate team, I know they're going to come out and play physical and obviously very aggressive. You mix in some of the skill players they have over there, it's going to be a good test."

- - -

Oilers captain Connor McDavid will be in the lineup tonight after missing practice Monday with the flu.

"Connor's been sick for a week to 10 days now and hasn't practiced at all," Oilers coach Todd McLellan said. "He is getting better and he'll play tonight. If we need to give him some rest over the next few days we'll give him some rest. He's been giving us everything he has energy wise; his minutes have come down a little bit but he'll be fine."

McDavid, who leads the Oilers in goals (10), assists (15) and points (25), has six points the past three games (three goals, three assists) but was shut out against the Blues when the teams met last Thursday.

"He likes that neutral zone speed coming in on the rush," Pietrangelo said of McDavid. "If we can kind of slow the game down, keep him from gaining that speed in the middle, that's how we're going to get our chances to stop him. He's obviously still going to do some dangerous things out there. We're just going to try and eliminate the amount that he can do."

- - -

Count McLellan as an opposing coach who's impressed with the Blues.

McLellan, who has coached against the Blues a number of times going back to his days with the San Jose Sharks, feels the Western Conference-leading Blues are as balanced as anyone.

"They're deep from position one, that being the goaltender out all the way to the forward lines," McLellan said. "Their 'D' has been well-documented how active they are on the rush and how much they've scored. Their forwards do a tremendous job in supporting them coming back defensively. They're a tough out. They're a test for every team that plays them in the league right now and another test for us."

- - -

St. Louis native Patrick Maroon has spent the past spent the past three nights in his hometown after the Oilers arrived from their Saturday afternoon road game against the Dallas Stars on Saturday night.

Maroon, whose son Anthony, fiancee Francesca and parents Philip and Patricia will be in attendance, was glad to spend pre-Thanksgiving time with his family.

"For me, coming home to see Anthony, mom, dad, family obviously, but Anthony's the most important time," Maroon, an Oakville graduate in 2005, said. "We got an extra three days here and I got to spend some time with them. Just seeing family's the most important thing. It's always exciting for that. It's certainly exciting to play in front of your mom and dad. They really don't get to watch you much live, so it's kind of cool coming back home and playing in front of your hometown and playing in front in front of the team where you had season tickets to growing up. It's one of those things where I get up for it every time I play the Blues."

Maroon, a pending unrestricted free agent, has five goals and seven assists in 20 games this season.  

- - -

The Blues' projected lineup:

Vladimir Sobotka-Paul Stastny-Alexander Steen

Jaden Schwartz-Brayden Schenn-Vladimir Tarasenko

Magnus Paajarvi-Oskar Sundqvist-Dmitrij Jaskin

Scottie Upshall-Kyle Brodziak-Chris Thorburn

Joel Edmundson-Alex Pietrangelo

Jay Bouwmeester-Colton Parayko

Vince Dunn-Robert Bortuzzo

Jake Allen will start in goal; Carter Hutton will be the backup.

Healthy scratches include Carl Gunnarsson and Nate Prosser. Patrik Berglund (shoulder) is getting close to returning after skating again Tuesday morning. Zach Sanford (shoulder) is out long-term, and Robby Fabbri (knee) is out for the season. 

- - -

The Oilers' projected lineup:

Patrick Maroon-Connor McDavid-Drake Caggiula 

Milan Lucic-Ryan Nugent-Hopkins-Leon Draisaitl

Michael Cammalleri-Ryan Strome-Jesse Puljujarvi

Jujhar Khaira-Mark Letestu-Zack Kassian

Oscar Klefbom-Matt Benning

Darnell Nurse-Adam Larsson

Kris Russell-Eric Gryba

Cam Talbot will start in goal; Laurent Brossoit will be the backup. 

Healthy scratches include Iiro Pakarinen, Brad Malone and Yohann Auvitu. Andrej Sekera (knee) and Anton Slepyshev (groin) are out.

Monday, November 20, 2017

Bouwmeester expected to return Tuesday against Edmonton

Defenseman sidelined since Sept 17 with fractured 
left ankle; Berglund "inching closer" according to Yeo

By LOU KORAC
HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- Barring any unforeseen circumstances, defenseman Jay Bouwmeester is expected to return to the lineup for Blues on Tuesday against the Edmonton Oilers after missing more than two months with a fractured left ankle.

Bouwmeester, who was injured on Sept. 17 on the third day of training camp during a team scrimmage blocking a shot, has missed the first 21 games for the Blues (15-5-1), who lead the Western Conference with 31 points. He was paired with Colton Parayko during practice on Monday after accompanying the team on its recent three-game western Canada trip.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Defenseman Jay Bouwmeester is expected to return to
the lineup Tuesday after missing 21 games.

"It was good to get on that road trip and skate and practice and get that stuff going," Bouwmeester said. "It's been a long time, especially at the start of the year when you miss training camp and stuff. I'm excited and hopefully just jump in and not interfere with what's going on here.

"Throughout the week, it's gotten a lot better just skating to the point where I've been in a few full practices and you can do everything and it's not holding you back any. It feels good and ready to go. ... You did some progression, you start skating, starting and stopping, that sort of thing and the little battles. It's reacted pretty well all the way along. It's all good."

Blues coach Mike Yeo was more cautious Monday about Bouwmeester's return but is more than happy to insert the 15-year veteran back into the lineup after Bouwmeester was activated off injured-reserve Monday afternoon.

"Obviously, if he's able to go tomorrow, we'll see how he is in the morning, but right now, it's looking that way," Yeo said after practice. "He can do a lot for us. A veteran guy, skating ability, defensive game. I don't expect him to step in and his game to be exactly where it's going to be 5-10 games from now. You have to understand that he's missed a lot of time, but I think the fact that his experience will make the transition. It'll come along quickly. 

"I would expect later on [Monday] we'll take him off the IR, but it's looking pretty good."

With Bouwmeester skating with Parayko on Monday, all signs point to Carl Gunnarsson being on the outside looking in, at least initially, with eight healthy defensemen, which includes seven veterans and rookie Vince Dunn, who's done more than pull his weight and deserves to remain in the lineup.

"He's going to have to keep playing," Yeo said of Dunn. "Obviously we've got eight quality defensemen, not to leave out 'Pross' [Nate Prosser], because I know it's been tough keeping him out. He can do a good job for us, but now we've got six guys that have been playing basically every game of the year for us and we're going to have to take one of them out. I think that that internal pressure and competitiveness ill be good for our group, but guys are going to have to make sure they do their job. We have confidence in all of them.

"... It's a good problem to have. We'll make the decision there in the morning tomorrow. So far, all signs are pointing to [Bouwmeester] playing tomorrow."

Bouwmeester has played in 1,071 regular-season games in the NHL with the Blues, Florida Panthers and Calgary Flames. He has 391 points (82 goals, 309 assists) and is in his sixth season with St. Louis.

"He's a player that we've been missing and he's obviously a big part of our team," Parayko said of Bouwmeester. "To have a guy that knows the game so well, been around for so long, skates like that, it's only an added bonus for sure.

"Everything. He plays defense well obviously. He reads the play extremely well. Just moves the puck well. ... He's just steady and that's exactly what we need."

Bouwmeester, who has averaged 24 minutes, 8 seconds of ice time per game through the first 14 seasons of his career including 23:05 in five seasons with the Blues, will most definitely help bolster a penalty kill that has in recent history been in the top 10 in the NHL but has started slow this season tied for 22nd at 78.3 percent.

"Obviously we've missed him in that area," Yeo said, who will not ease Bouwmeester into the lineup.

"No, especially a quality player like 'Bouw' and a veteran and an important piece to our game," Yeo added. "He's a guy who's skating ability, his defensive game ... he does so many little things to win you hockey games. We have to get him back and get him up to speed here quickly."

For a player used to playing 23-24 minutes a night, simulation is one thing, but for Bouwmeester, live game action will take a moment to get used to, even for veterans.

"That's natural," Bouwmeester said. "I've missed the whole year so far, or even if you miss a couple games, there's always little adjustments. I've played long enough. I think you know to try and keep it real simple early and get up to speed. But that's the fun part. That's why everybody plays, to play the games. I'm looking forward to it."

With the Blues off to such a good start, Bouwmeester is anxious to get back at it.

"With the way the season's started, it probably makes it a little bit easier," he said. "The team's been doing real well, but at the same time, you want to be a part of it. It's not much fun when you're not a part of it and you're kind of separated from things. This last road trip was good. You get to go and kind of hang around with the guys. ... We've got a few at home here and hopefully keep the ball rolling."

* NOTES -- Blues center Patrik Berglund continues to make progress in his bid to return to the lineup after off-season surgery to repair a dislocated left shoulder.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues center Patrik Berglund (21) defends against Nashville's Viktor
Arvidsson last season during the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Berglund, injured while training in Sweden, was originally projected for a re-evaluation as early as mid-December, or six months, but has been skating for weeks and participated in full on Monday, which included contact drills.

"He's coming along; he's good," Yeo said of Berglund. "I don't expect him to play tomorrow. I haven't gotten an update on him today, but I would say that we're inching closer here."

A projected target is Dec. 1 but could be pushed up depending on how Berglund feels following days of taking contact.

* Parayko finally got a monkey off his back during Saturday's 4-3 overtime win in Vancouver when he scored an even-strength goal. 

It was Parayko's first since his rookie season two years ago, the last coming April 3, 2016 in a 5-1 win at Colorado.

Parayko went 105 games without one.

"It's not really a monkey for me," Parayko said. "It's not really my role to score a lot of goals, but it feels good obviously to get one for the team and to contribute."

Monday, November 13, 2017

Blues hit the road looking for rebound results

After 5-2 loss to Islanders Saturday, Western 
Canada swing at Calgary, Edmonton, Vancouver on tap

By LOU KORAC
HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- The drills were intense, sharp, crisp. The pace was brisk.

Sunday's are supposed to be a day of rest, but for the Blues, it was back to work.

Back to work because of one of their least inspiring results of the season during a 5-2 home loss to the New York Islanders on Saturday night.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues center Paul Stastny (26) battles for puck possession with the Islanders'
Calvin de Haan (44) and Johnny Boychuk on Saturday.

The Blues, ho rightfully admitted from players to coach Mike Yeo that they've got to tighten up their starts here a bit after three straight first periods that were less than desired.

"Yeah, obviously you have to respond right away to games like that," right wing Alexander Steen said. "In saying that, I think we've been a little soft at the start of the game the last couple. Last night it bit us and it's tough to come back after a hole like that."

Soft in what ways?

"Just not as aggressive as we've been in the past and I think a couple games ago, we got away with it a little bit," Steen said. "Good goaltending obviously and then last night, we put ourselves in a hole."

The Blues headed north of the border to Western Canada for a three-game trip that will take up the entire week ahead. First, a Monday game against the Calgary Flames, followed by a Thursday game against the Edmonton Oilers before wrapping the trip up Saturday against the Vancouver Canucks.

"It's a long season and it happens sometimes," said center Paul Stastny, who along with Steen were each a minus-4 on Saturday. "A practice like this you can refocus and get ready for Calgary tomorrow."

The Blues wrapped up a stretch of six of seven games on home ice, going 4-2-0 in those games with a road win sprinkled in New Jersey. It's a chance to head out on the road and play what defenseman Colton Parayko called on Saturday night, a more simple game.

"Obviously we stumbled a little the last game, but if we were home or we were away, we'd be looking to bounce back," Yeo said. "As it happens, we're headed on the road here.

"Just get refocused (Sunday). We've been playing some games here in a stretch and we chose to have a couple optionals along the way. We felt it was important to get back on the ice before we headed out on the road."

Yeo acknowledged that they need to get back to the things that had the Blues playing so well in first periods. Before Saturday, the Blues had allowed six goals in the first 20 minutes of games through the first 17; they allowed half that many on Saturday.

"I don't think we can sit here and assume we're going to go out and grab a 3-0 lead in the first five minutes of the game," Yeo said. "That's not what it's about. It's about starting the game with urgency and focus to get to your game and that's been lacking. We've been able to find our game, but you're playing with fire when you do that in the NHL. Too many good teams and when you're digging a hole for yourself, it makes it tough to climb back in your game."

But in an NHL season, these are the ebbs and flows players must endure. The response, which the Blues have historically been good at, is the telltale sign of a good team.

"Yeah, you look at the end of the season, you look at the top teams in the league, you still have 25, 30 losses," Stastny said. "It's not the Golden State Warriors like in the NBA. That's just how it is. You've been around long enough, there's highs and lows. The highs expecting too much and the lows, you forget as quick as you can."
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues right wing Alexander Steen (20) said the Blues have been "a little
soft" at the start the past few games and need to fix those.

According to Steen, the Blues are not complacent.

"No, I don't think so," he said. "It's 82 games. You're going to see things happen throughout the course of the year and the main thing is you keep that steady, upwards curve and try to keep evolving and moving forward as a group and I think we've done a great job of doing that. Whatever the reasons are, it's not complacency. I just think that it's an 82-game schedule and teams are going to come at you some nights. Some nights you're going to have extra jump. If you have that extra jump more than not, you're going to have a successful club. I think we've done a good job throughout the course of the year. That one was obviously we're going to learn from but move on from."

(11-13-17) BLUES NOTEBOOK

Blues played with heavy hearts Saturday in light of Ari's death; Bouwmeester 
skates, joins Blues along with Berglund on Canadian trip; Yeo shuffles lines

By LOU KORAC
HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- News came fast to the Blues, and it wasn't good.

When they received word that 11-year-old Arianna Dougan has passed away Saturday morning, succumbing to neuroblastoma, a form of nerve cancer, players were faced with having to play against the New York Islanders with heavy hearts.

Ari inspired players last season when 'Ari' accompanied them on a two-game trip late in March through Arizona and Colorado and touched those that got to experience her courage and wisdom.

The Blues fell to the Islanders 5-2, a game in which the team paid tribute to 'Ari' with a moment of silence, and there were two ways to go: play inspired for 'Ari' or be distracted by the news.

"Obviously it was terrible news," said goalie Carter Hutton, who hosted a 'zero to 60' segment with 'Ari,' and Ryan Reaves in Denver. "She was a big part of our team. We got to share a lot of memories with her and stuff like that, but I think for the most part, I can say everyone in this room are professionals. We come to play and there's no excuse for that effort yesterday.

"Me and 'Reavo' obviously had a lot of fun when we did those 'zero to 60's and having her on there was such a unique thing. We always had the guys and for her, us getting to meet her in a different light like that, seeing her personality shine through and just how strong she was for what she was going through and what she's dealt with her life."

Hutton, who just recently became a father, said it puts life in perspective.

"Yeah, without a doubt," he said. "Now obviously as a new father and just seeing my little guy at home and just seeing what [Ari] went through, what her family went through and just how strong she was during the process of what she went through, it's pretty amazing. She's definitely inspiring for us. We're fortunate as athletes to get to do what we do. We have a very fortunate career and life we get to live, so being able to see that definitely keeps things in perspective for us."

It's pretty evident that 'Ari' touched the lives of not only the players but coaches and management alike.

"Very much," right wing Alexander Steen said. "She was part of our family here. It was tough to get the news yesterday.

"Everybody that's felt a loss before knows the feelings, the emotions that you go through. It was difficult."

* Bouwmeester skating, to join team in Canada along with Berglund -- Blues defenseman Jay Bouwmeester was a surprise participant at Sunday's practice.

Bouwmeester, who sustained a fractured left ankle blocking a shot during a team scrimmage on Sept. 17, hasn't played in a game this season and has done little on the ice.

Each time he's skated on his own, there haven't been any positive updates regarding his progress after initially the Blues claiming that Bouwmeester would be re-evaluated in three weeks after the injury.

But eight weeks to the day, Bouwmeester was skating well during drills but not participating in any contact drills yet, but the fact he joined the team to the trip to Canada means progress is being made, albeit a first step.

"Totally," Bouwmeester said of the process. "Frustrating is probably the big thing. At first, you don't know. We thought it would be a four-week thing, usually you're back practicing, at least on your way back at that point, (but) it wasn't the case. It's just, nothing you can do about it. (It's) the way it is. It's starting to come around now. I wouldn't say I fully practiced today. It was more of a lack of ice, but it was good to get out there, good to pass the puck, be out there with other teammates and just get a sense of, more than anything, playing hockey a bit.

"It's just been slow. Just kind of slow. One thing's kind of led to another. We're kind of over the hope now and a matter of I'll probably take more time, but now skating, moving things along that way, at least makes you feel more part of things, that's for sure. You're around the rink, but it's different when you can go out there and skate with guys."

Berglund has been skating for a couple weeks with the team now after sustaining a dislocated left shoulder during a training session during the off-season in his native Sweden.

Both accompanied the team on the trip, and Blues coach Mike Yeo actually sounded encouraged by both being there.

"Both guys will come. You see them out there with the group, we're gone for seven days here, that's some quality time they can get with the team, hopefully push them a little bit closer to being returning players," Yeo said. "[Berglund's] at the point now ... let's say he's not going to be ready for this trip and we'll re-evaluate when we get back."

Berglund was not likely to return until at the very least, mid-December, and he still needs to take on contact, which is the most important sign a player is on the cusp of returning, but the fact he's now traveling, along with Bouwmeester, is encouraging news.

"It doesn't mean [Bouwmeester's] necessarily right around the corner," Yeo said. "It's a step to helping him get ready and he looked good and 'Bergy' looked really good. 'Bergy's coming along real well. It's good."

The Blues were allowed to take their time regarding Bouwmeester considering the way the defensemen have played thus far.

"I'm not playing on this road trip for sure. It's a progression," Bouwmeester said. "I practiced today. Ideally, if we had ice, I wouldn't have practiced. I would have been skating on my own or with other guys. There's steps you have to take. Morning skates, certain things you can't do. Hopefully way things are going, that's progressing, that will turn pretty quick and I'll get back out.

"It's awesome [the Blues' 13-4-1 start]. I think it's a testament to our depth from the start of the year. You look back at camp, we had a number of guys get hurt with 'Fabs' [Robby Fabbri] being done for the year. There's a lot of people questioning a lot of things. I don't think anyone in here doubted what we had. We're a team last year that made the playoffs, won a round in the playoffs, that was supposed to be kind of a down year. It's always exciting. I went 10 years without making the playoffs, so anytime you're part of a good team, you want to enjoy it and make the most of it and not take it for granted. I think this year so far has been real good. It's got a long way to go, but anytime you start good, you have to start good now because all the points add up and it's hard if you get to Christmas and you're playing catch-up. You end up playing your division all the time and it's hard to catch up, so the start of the year is very important in getting those points and we've done a really good job."

The next step for Bouwmeester is to push it more and more each day so as long as there are no setbacks.

"You go out there and do what you can," Bouwmeester said. "You're not going to jump in the deep end right away. There's a bit of a progression but as long as one thing's not bugging you, you can move on to the next thing. Hopefully we move along pretty quick, get over this hump. Because I've missed training camp and a lot of time, there's still an element of timing and skating and conditioning you have to get in there too. Hopefully we'll move that along on this trip and see where we're at."

* Line tweaks -- Yeo moved some pieces around Sunday during practice. Some of it made sense, some of it (playing Scottie Upshall, Chris Thurburn and Magnus Paajarvi during some shifts as a fourth line) did not.

But from most of the matchups, here's what the Blues rolled out:

Alexander Steen-Paul Stastny-Vladimir Tarasenko

Jaden Schwartz-Brayden Schenn-Beau Bennett

Vladimir Sobotka-Oskar Sundqvist-Dmitrij Jaskin

Scottie Upshall-Kyle Brodziak-Magnus Paajarvi 

The defensive six remained the same with Carl Gunnarsson with Alex Pietrangelo, Joel Edmundson and Colton Parayko and Vince Dunn and Robert Bortuzzo.

"Just tyring to spark something," Yeo said. 

Could these be used Monday?

"I think so," Yeo said. "We'll think more about it tomorrow. We wanted to give it a look here in practice. Felt like the last couple of games things were getting a little stale, see what we come up with tomorrow."

As for goalie Jake Allen, who is likely to start against the Flames and pulled from his first game Saturday after allowing the fourth goal early in the second, Yeo likes the fact that his goalie brushes aside -- good or bad -- the previous performance and moves on.

Allen stopped 14 of 18 shots against the Islanders.

"I think that's one of the most important qualities of a starting goalie, and the elite starting goalies, is that reset button," Yeo said. "But at the same time, you hit the reset button with the idea, it's sort of a mentality of let's get it back here. I think he looked focused today. That's what he's done in the past. I wouldn't expect any less."

Saturday, November 11, 2017

We lost a beautiful ray of sunshine ... goodbye Ari

By LOU KORAC

I didn't know Arianna Dougan all that well. Just three days as a matter of fact, I got to spend with this ray of sunshine, frail as she seemed but so full of positive energy, so full of life, such a breath of fresh air.

I remember seeing Ari for the first time at the morning skate inside Gila River Arena in Glendale, Ariz. before the Blues took on the Arizona Coyotes that night in March. She was standing by the tunnel's runway waiting for the Blues to come onto the ice, high-fiving each of them as they came out of the locker room. That was my first sight of her.
Ari and Tarasenko

Ari's smile was rambunctious. She was having the time of her life, and when her favorite Blue (Vladimir Tarasenko) came out, a smile so bright got even brighter.

Tarasenko and his wife Yana are the ones who arranged for Ari and her mother Lori Zucker to accompany the Blues on a two-game road trip to Arizona and Colorado after winning the bid for a trip package at the Blues' fundraiser Casino Night. She turned 11 on Feb. 11 but her best present came six weeks later, but the fulfilled her heart that night when they surprised her with her gift.

Forget any kind of sickness, Ari was counting down the seconds for this trip. That's all that mattered.

I remember sitting there knowing I had a job to do, watching the Blues' lines and who was going to play to report back to Blues fans, as I normally do every gameday. But it was hard to take my eyes off Ari, knowing how much this meant to her.

We all take for granted the smallest things in life, but for Ari, this was larger than life. This meant the world to her, spending time with her favorite sports team and the athletes that welcomed her with open arms. 

Forget the job. I was enamored by this child. Work didn't matter. Because Ari, whose innocent world was rocked by neuroblastoma when she was 3, was all that mattered. I couldn't take my eyes off her. Ari made sure to set a fine example for all those around her to take each precious second of life and make the most of it.

She didn't want anyone feeling sorry for her. She wanted to be treated as any other child would. 

My heart was full when I watched Ari mingle with the players on the bus ride over to the morning skate in Denver, watching her tell jokes to Ivan Barbashev and Jordan Schmaltz, keeping the young Blues guessing; watching Ari sit in with Carter Hutton and Ryan Reaves for a segment of 'zero to 60;' seeing Ari on the video board at each venue getting love and support from the Coyotes and Avalanche alike. That's all that mattered to Ari, not the cruel circumstances placed upon her young and innocent life.

Every time I saw Ari throughout the trip, she would smile and give me a high-five. Who am I to feel sorry for her going through what she was going through? That kid was so strong-willed. So naturally, I felt obligated to make her feel as normal and comfortable as possible.

Ari got to see her beloved Blues play in person, on the road; she was one of them and will continue to be one of them, in their hearts. 

Ari returned from that trip with the Blues with the greatest thank you to the organization for fulfilling her dream. She made up a giant emoji thanking Tarasenko for making this a reality for her.
No Ari, thank you

Today, Ari didn't fail life. Life failed her. She succumbed to her illness, far too young. Life isn't fair. She deserved to have her first crush, her first kiss, falling in love, having children of her own and most importantly, a normal childhood to have friends and play. But it was taken away from her. I can't begin to understand why. She didn't deserve this outcome. 

But I'm glad I got to meet this incredible young lady, because just looking at her helped me remember what's so great about life, what's so great about living. 

Goodbye Ari. Your wings await you in heaven, you beautiful little angel.