Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Elliott returns triumphantly to help Flames douse Blues 4-1

Former St. Louis goalie makes 23 saves; Brouwer adds 
assist upon return, Tkachuk plays in front of hometown for first time

ST. LOUIS -- It's no surprise as soon as Brian Elliott hit the ice, 'Moose' chants would soon reverberate throughout Scottrade Center.

Elliott was beloved by Blues fans for the past five seasons he spent here, the ones who rattled the roof of this building every time Elliott came through for them.

But this time, Elliott was at the opposite end, and he wanted to give the fans another rousing performance and did so with a 23-save performance in a 4-1 Calgary Flames victory against the Blues before 17,337 on Tuesday.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Former Blues goalie Brian Elliott makes a save in front of Blues forwards
Nail Yakupov (middle) and Dmitrij Jaskin (23).

Elliott, who won for the second time in as many nights after beating the Chicago Blackhawks 3-2 in a shootout on Monday, could have pitched a tent the first two periods considering how bad the listless Blues (4-2-1) were.

But he had to come through in the third despite allowing a Kevin Shattenkirk two-man advantage goal with 12 of his 23 saves. 

"I don't know if I was surprised because I knew how much the fans kind of loved that," Elliott said of his nickname. "It was special for me, hearing that, and really kind of got me into the game. I'm sure they don't like the result now, but it meant a lot and that video tribute meant a lot too." 

The Blues said they simply made life too easy on Elliott.

"He was great tonight," Blues defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk said of his former teammate. "We didn't make it too hard on him either. He's too good of a goalie to not have traffic in front of him, not have Grade A scoring chances. He made a couple big saves but for the most part, we know how sound he is and how sound he can be and we didn't really do anything to make him uncomfortable."

Said captain Alex Pietrangelo: "Every goalie, we've got to make sure we find ways to get in front of the net. 

"... We had some lazy plays and communication wasn't there like it usually is. Mentally we weren't as sharp as we needed to be. It showed."

Sam Bennett and Johnny Gaudreau had a goal and assist and the Flames (3-4-1) avenged a 6-4 loss to the Blues on Saturday.

It was a triumphant return for Elliott, was traded to the Flames June 24. He won for the second time after starting 0-3-0. 

And there was no doubt Elliott wanted this game.

"I saw that on the schedule in the summer," Elliott said." You want to come back here, I had so much fun playing in front of these fans in this building, I wanted to do it again, even though it's another team. The guys did a heck of a job in front of me to get that win for me." 

Blues goalie Carter Hutton made 26 saves. 

But let's make no mistake about this: the Blues were sloppy, slow, careless with the puck and Alexander Steen put it best.

"No brains," he said. "I think we were too slow in our actions. They made us look sloppy on a team that was on a back-to-back.

"We thought it was going to be a cookie cutter and it wasn't. We had to play with our brains and we didn't." 

The Flames scored their third power-play goal in as many games on Dennis Wideman's wrist shot from the slot. He was all alone after the Blues got caught with four skaters on the same side of the ice and he took a pass from Troy Brouwer and beat Hutton 3:54 into the game for a 1-0 lead.

"We were trying to pressure and that stuff happens," Steen said. "There's a scrum on the wall, so we want to try and pressure them as much as we can to create turnovers. It squeaked out the wrong way."

An odd-man rush led to Deryk Engelland converting on a backhand at 10:30 of the first after he took a pass from Kris Versteeg. 

Bennett scored 2:16 into the second for a 3-0 lead after he was open in the left circle and shot through traffic on the near side. 

Shattenkirk cut the deficit to 3-1 with a two-man advantage at 5:49 of the third. 

Gaudreau scored an empty-net goal with 1:11 remaining. 

Coach Ken Hitchcock warned of the Blues returning from a week-long road trip and having a lack of energy. It was quite evident Tuesday in arguably the worst effort of the season.

"I don't know. I think it's what caused the energy," Hitchcock said. "I think we turned the puck over a lot, through the neutral zone and that causes a real drop in energy. We didn't manage it very well. We played almost completely different to the way we played on the road. I think that ends up being frustrating. You're constantly going back and getting the puck. When you're not winning a lot of puck battles early in the game, you're constantly chasing it. That was a major factor. I don't think we put the work that we have put in until now, I don't think we put in tonight. I think we just ... we played sideways when we should have played with speed and gone north, and we played light on the boards when we could have really won some puck battles and really played with a higher level of determination."

Hutton, who made a number of key saves that prevented the score from being a wider margin, had to fend off some break-in chances that Hitchcock was asked about the amount that the Blues have allowed this season.

"I'm alarmed by the way we're playing at home," Hitchcock said. "I'm alarmed by that. I'm alarmed that we're playing much better on the road than we are at home. We're not doing the things at home that we need to to win hockey games. We're playing a different game at home and on the road. I'm concerned about the collective effort and focus that we're putting in at home, and that's what we'll talk about tomorrow."
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues center Patrik Berglund (21) is being hounded by former teammate 
Troy Brouwer during Calgary's 4-1 win Tuesday.

The Blues are 2-1-0 at home, but this lack of home dominance goes back to last season, and it needs to change.

"I think it's a sense of cooperation from the players to the coaches," Hitchcock said. "The players have to feel the same urgency that we do. They're not happy either. I wouldn't imagine anybody in there is very happy with the way we played today. There was a sense of frustration at times. It's why the frustration comes in. Sometimes you want it to be different than it is, but you've got to fight through things. We're in that area where we've got to deal with adversity in a better way and we've got to have a game plan that's collective and everybody is on that page and proud to be on that page. We weren't like that today. We constantly turned the puck over and we did not do the hard things that you need to do to win games that we were more than prepared to do on the road. We're not doing them in the last two games at home and that's now our team. So we've got to get that out of the way."

* NOTES -- Flames right wing Troy Brouwer also returned to St. Louis for the first time since leaving the Blues after one season to sign a free-agent contract with Calgary on July 1. ... St. Louis native Matthew Tkachuk, son of former Blues great Keith Tkachuk, was in the lineup after being a healthy scratch the past two games; he had an assist on Bennett's goal. "It was really kind of an eye-opening experience, to play in the rink you kind of grew up in. It's great to get the win and I had a lot of people here watching, so I'm sure they're pretty happy. ... It was crazy. There were some friends and family on the runway just as I went outside for warm-ups. I heard a big roar when I started to go out for warm-ups so it was cool."

(10-25-16) Flames-Blues Gameday Lineup

ST. LOUIS -- Carter Hutton wants to pick up where he left off.

Maybe not the volume of shots he faced or the fact that the Blues were playing three players short before holding off a furious New York Rangers push in the third period of a 3-2 Blues victory, but Hutton, who will get the start today when the Blues get a rematch with the Calgary Flames (7 p.m.; FSN, KMOX 1120-AM), hopes to build off a 33-save performance and a solid outing.

"Yeah definitely. Just hope to turn that period into every period," Hutton said. "Just like I've said before, when I get a chance to play, just go out and compete and battle. I've got a good team in front of me to help me out."

Hutton last played 10 days ago, but coach Ken Hitchcock wants to keep the player he called one of the stories of training camp involved for the Blues, who are off to a solid 4-1-1 start after winning 6-4 in Calgary.

"I think it's like any other goalie that's playing a third of the games or a quarter of the games," Hitchcock said. "You've got to get them in a rhythm and you've got to get them in a consistent rhythm and that's what we want to do. We don't want to go too long without having him play, and he helps us win. 

"If he's going to play like he did the last game, that's outstanding. It gives us a chance to win every night. He just needs to know from a training standpoint to get in a consistent rhythm throughout the year. We've promised him that we're going to continue to follow that."

Hutton, who signed a two-year, $2.25 million contract to be Jake Allen's backup, knows his role.

"I knew what I was getting myself into and that was a big reason why I came here and I think we're showing it all the time," Hutton said. "Practice, just working hard in practice. Stay fresh, see a lot of pucks. I like to do a lot of one-timers. I think that's like something where jumping off guys' sticks, it keeps your eyes really tracking the puck well. Fitness-wise in the gym, just doing things to stay strong and stay ready."

But the fact that Hutton can pick up where perhaps Brian Elliott, who will start for the Flames tonight, left off to where he can push Allen and vice versa makes for good, healthy competition.

"We're really good friends," Hutton said. "We established that right away that we get along and we've had fun and that's important, but at the same time, we need to push each other. It's a position where you need guys ... everyone wants to play. At the same time, you've got to push each other to be better and keep each other honest. I think we both do a good job of that. I think that will just generate more team success through individual success."

- - -

After a 32-save performance and picking up his first win in a Calgary uniform, Flames coach Glen Gulutzan will turn back to 'Moose.' 

Elliott, who didn't get the start when the Blues were in Calgary on Saturday, was a perfect 7-for-7 in the shootout and helped the Flames down the Chicago Blackhawks 3-2.

Also, right wing Troy Brouwer, who spent one season with the Blues after being acquired in a trade with the Washington Capitals for T.J. Oshie, will make his return to Scottrade Center tonight for the first time. 

Brouwer did play Saturday and had an assist for the Flames.

- - -

One player who didn't face his childhood team growing up will get the chance tonight in his hometown is Matthew Tkachuk, son of former Blues great Keith Tkachuk.

Matthew Tkachuk, the sixth pick in the 2016 NHL Draft, will be on the opposite bench and suit up for the Flames against the team he spent many childhood days running around the home locker room with younger brother Brady.

"It means a lot," Tkachuk said. "I looked at the schedule before the year and I really, really wanted to play (in this game). The fact that I'm here and being able to play at this level and play in this game is special.

"I've got a lot of friends and family, my parents and sister (Taryn) and all that. It's going to be a fun game for them I know for sure. For me, it's to just go out there and try to put on a good show for everybody that's coming, but most importantly, just help out the team.

"I've skated on this ice a lot more than a lot of people have. To be back here, it's definitely cool."

Tkachuk, who will have many in attendance, including his mother Chantal and former AAA Blues coach Jordan Janes in attendance, is trying to downplay his return to his hometown, but it will be tough.

"I'm just not trying to think about it too much," he said. "I think it'll be pretty cool for my parents and my family to kind of see that. For me, it's just kind of take it as it comes out there and I'll just try to enjoy that.

"It's crazy. I remember watching warmups here whenever my dad played at home. Just itching to watch some NHL hockey and the fact that I'm here and there's kids that are watching me and stuff like that is pretty cool.

"I'm going to be honest, I never really envisioned myself on the other side of the rink. I think tonight will be something I haven't really thought of in depth recently. I just wanted to get to this point and if I got to this point, try to do everything I can to be successful."

Tkachuk, a healthy scratch the past two games, will soak it all in at gametime.

"It's going to be crazy," he said. "I think it's going to have to take a couple minutes to start, maybe the warmups, just to settle in that this is happening. I have a feeling that I'm going to catch myself throughout the game being like, 'Wow, this is really happening right now.'

"... I'm trying to not look at my phone too much today."

- - -

The Blues begin a three-game homestand trying to stay atop the Central Division standings. They enter the night two points ahead of Minnesota and Chicago.

And playing the Flames three days after facing them already, Hitchcock wants to see the Blues build off some of the positives from the Western Canada trip.

"There's lots of familiar ground," Hitchcock said. "Played well in Calgary, made mistakes late in the game, clean that up, and hopefully get the same type of energy and the same type of disposition in the game. Keep building our game. There's a lot of good positives in our game right now. We want to just keep building it.

"... The points are the same but we want to be able to play 60 minutes. We've found ways to win, want to be a little better than we were the last home game. We can play better than that. First game back off a road trip, you want to see your energy come back early in the game. It's not your skill energy, it's your checking energy. That's what we want to see. We had a good session yesterday. It put us in a good spot mentally and hopefully we can carry it into the start today. It's just establishing our game earlier so the other team doesn't get to dictate. When we do that we're effective but when the other team gets to dictate, then you're chasing it, and that's what we want to do, not chase the game."

- - -

Forward Alexander Steen will play in his 500th game with the Blues tonight.

Steen has 362 of his 488 career points since joining the franchise when he was acquired along with Carlo Colaiacovo from the Toronto Maple Leafs Nov. 24, 2008 for Lee Stempniak.

"He's a good pro. He's a pro," Hitchcock said of Steen. "He's consistent in his approach to the game, he's consistent in his focus, even when he's not scoring he's as dependable as heck. He's always doing the little things that are contagious throughout the group and when you have a player like that on your team, it feeds right through the lineup, so his attention to detail forces other people to play attention also. It really helps us win hockey games because he's not going to be one of these guys that's going to lead the National Hockey League in points, but he really leads you in winning areas of the game that really mater, whether it's killing a penalty at the right time or scoring a big power play goal, or clearing the zone when the game is on the line, he does all the things that help you win at the end of the night."

- - -

Dmitrij Jaskin, who sat out Monday's practice with a lower-body injury, will stay in the lineup tonight, and center Jori Lehtera, who is on injured-reserve with an upper-body injury, skated for a second day in a row on his own and could rejoin practice Wednesday.

"He skated full today, 50 mintues, and if everything goes well, he's looking to join us tomorrow," Hitchcock said of Lehtera.

- - -

The Blues' projected lineup:

Robby Fabbri-Paul Stastny-Alexander Steen

David Perron-Jaden Schwartz-Vladimir Tarasenko

Dmitrij Jaskin-Patrik Berglund-Nail Yakupov

Scottie Upshall-Kyle Brodziak-Ryan Reaves

Jay Bouwmeester-Alex Pietrangelo

Carl Gunnarsson-Kevin Shattenkirk

Joel Edmundson-Colton Parayko

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

The healthy scratches are Robert Bortuzzo, Ty Rattie and Magnus Paajarvi. Jori Lehtera (upper body) is day to day. 

- - -

The Flames' projected lineup:

Johnny Gaudreau-Sean Monahan-Alex Chiasson

Kris Versteeg-Sam Bennett-Troy Brouwer

Lance Bouma-Mikael Backlund-Michael Frolik

Micheal Ferland-Matt Stajan-Matthew Tkachuk

Mark Giordano-Dennis Wideman

TJ Brodie-Deryk Engelland

Nicklas Grossman-Dougie Hamilton

Brian Elliott will get the start in goal after making 32 saves and going 7-for-7 in the shootout against Chicago on Monday. Chad Johnson will be the backup. 

Healthy scratches include Freddie Hamilton, Jyrki Jokipakka and Brett Kulak. Ladislav Smid (neck) is out.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Perron maturing quickly for Blues

Former 2007 first-round pick coming off hat trick, 
more well-rounded player in second stint with St. Louis

HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- David Perron and David Backes have been close friends for years.

Ever since Perron was drafted by the Blues in the first round of the 2007 NHL Draft, Perron and Backes grew a bond that remained strong when Perron was traded to the Edmonton Oilers, Pittsburgh Penguins and last season, Anaheim Ducks; it continues to remain strong.

They talk when given the chance, had dinners together when Perron visited St. Louis or vice versa, Backes and the Blues were on the road to face Perron wherever his home was.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
David Perron (second from left) celebrates with teammates Robby
Fabbri (15) and Colton Parayko after scoring Saturday.

Now that Perron is back with the Blues and Backes and fellow veteran Troy Brouwer are gone, the Blues (4-1-1) have a bit of a different makeup to them. But Perron, fresh off his third career hat trick (second with the Blues) and second-career four-point game in a 6-4 win Saturday against the Calgary Flames (the Blues' opponent today at Scottrade Center), he was asked about pressure and filling some shoes vacated by the aforementioned duo.

With no disrespect, he's had enough.

"I can't believe we're still talking about those two guys," Perron said after practice Monday. "They're gone. We've got to move on. Vladi (Tarasenko's) got four goals already and could maybe have eight goals the way he's playing. They're good players, but it's game six; we've got to stop talking about those guys. We're going to get goals differently than they were maybe getting their goals, but it's not negative. Look how many tips we got last game. I scored one, 'Stas' (Paul Stastny) scored one and then there were other opportunities like that. We might not get the clean shot with the screen maybe as much as when David or maybe when Troy was in front, but I hope that's the last time I talk about those guys."

Perron is right. Backes and Brouwer, who will return with Brian Elliott tonight for the first time since leaving St. Louis this past offseason, are gone. They are not coming back, and it was a strong statement that the Blues are able to move on without them. There are capable players in the locker room that can fill the void and are more than capable of getting results. Maybe not the way those players got them but in a different capacity.

Perron, who signed a two-year, $7.5 million contract to return to St. Louis, is one of those players needed to fill some of the voids left by the departed veterans. And although Perron produced no points through the first five games, the hat trick Saturday was a culmination of what Perron and coach Ken Hitchcock feel was a reward for being a responsible player and doing the other necessary things in regards to the team game that make the Blues successful.

"I felt just as good the other games as I felt the last game," Perron said. "That's what hockey does sometimes to you. It's kind of crazy, but I'm pretty satisfied the way I was playing before that. I think Vancouver might be my best game of the year and I didn't get any points there. It's the way it went, but that's why you stick with the process, you stick with everything. Going the right way and it finally came for me in Calgary, but there's other times in my career I had goals or points sometimes and it wasn't the same feeling. Then the first six games here when I wasn't scoring, I've got to keep up with the good stuff and keep improving."

Perron mentioned puck retrievals, getting on the forecheck, doing "all the little things that will create scoring chances and then not giving up anything." He's more mature (obviously being 28) than when he was first here and a more responsible player.

"I saw it coming to this, both Doug (Armstrong) and I did," Hitchcock said. "We could see some of the evolution in his game when he was playing in Anaheim. So when we watched him play with the Ducks, we could see some of this maturity in his game and we thought we could be a good fit for us.

"To me, for David, it's just a reward for the the hard work. He's played awfully well. On the road trip in two of the three games, he was arguably our best player. He's had a number of great scoring opportunities. Nice to see him get rewarded, but I just think he's working at a high level and competing at a high level and then he's letting his skill take him from there and it's been impressive. It's been good to see. Wherever we play him, he adds to the line. That line obviously had some great chemistry for the first time. Jaden hasn't played center ice for a little while. That's the first time that line was together and they showed great chemistry great cohesion on the ice. It was great to see."

Perron, who will likely skate with Tarasenko and Jaden Schwartz again tonight, wasn't looking for any sort of reward offensively. He felt as long as he was doing the right things, everything else would fall into place. Now he'd like to sustain it consistently.

"I was just playing, quite honestly," Perron said. "I was just happy to play well. For sure, you want to contribute, but there's other times I thought about it way more and it wasn't going the right way, so this time, I just kind of kept playing, stayed in the moment, played hard, made sure I took care of myself off the ice and all the things that you're supposed to do as a pro. It came through (Saturday). It's just one game. You've got to keep going and keep playing well."

Perron never got any penalty killing time in his first stint with the Blues, but now Hitchcock trusts him more and uses him on a penalty kill that's now 19 for its last 19.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
David Perron (57) celebrates after scoring one of three goals in a 6-4
victory Saturday against the Calgary Flames. Perron had four points.

"There's nothing different for next game," Perron said. "I want to keep doing the same things. I think playing PK is a great thing, too, because it keeps you in the game even more, it keeps your legs going. A lot of times, they're shorter shifts, like 15-, 20-second shifts, so it's actually better. You're almost gaining energy from that and obviously the focus to play defense on those shifts kind of carries on over to the 5-on-5 game. I've played well in that regard, too.

"... I never really got the chance to play PK back then. I don't know how it would have went, but I'd like to think that I could have done it, too, back then. It's a different scenario now. I think when it's 10 years on the league, you learn a lot through all those years and through the different teams that you go to and organizations, sometimes winning, sometimes losing. You can learn from that."

And so far, Perron has learned the team concept, and if it continues, it will bode well moving forward.

"I don't know if you like killing penalties. I think it's a necessary part of the game, but I don't know many people that really like doing it because you're making sacrifices, but I think from a team standpoint, he's really filled a void for us," Hitchcock said of Perron. "He's won faceoffs for us on that side of the ice, he's competed on pucks, he's got pucks all the way down the ice, he's a smart guy to put pressure on people. I just think it shows the maturity in his game from where he was when he left here to where he is now. You trust him in every situation; it's a good sign."


Hitchcock's World Series pick; Lehtera, Jaskin miss 
practice; Yakupov fitting in; Scottrade Center to have new name

HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- Ken Hitchcock won't be a popular person in this city with his choice for a World Series winner, but the Blues' coach is sticking to his guns.

"I really want the (Chicago) Cubs to win," Hitchcock said Monday after practice. "Nothing against Cleveland, I like it, I've been there before, but we've met Joe; all of us have met (Cubs manager) Joe Maddon and I'm personally hoping that the Cubs win."

The Cubs and Cleveland Indians begin the Fall Classic on Tuesday at Progressive Field in Cleveland, but Hitchcock was introduced to Maddon last spring when the Blues were in Chicago for their First Round series in the Stanley Cup Playoffs against the Chicago Blackhawks.

"He actually stayed near the same hotel that we were at," Hitchcock said of Maddon. "We happened to have breakfast there and Doug (Armstrong) introduced me to him, so we had a couple breakfasts together during the playoffs."

And what interests Hitchcock about the Cubs manager?

"He never talks about a player's skill level," Hitchcock said. "He talks about the character and the personality of the player. I find that amazing. We've sat down and had breakfast twice and he never once mentioned a player's skill level, and I thought that's pretty impressive."

Hitchcock was asked if he'd try to adopt that philosophy.

"We're not going to go that far," he joked. "Maybe he can learn something from me, I don't know. 

"It was interesting. He talked about what type of person he was and what type of competitor (he was). He never talked about his skill set. Even the second baseman, all he talked about was what a good person he was and the high level of character he had. It's interesting watching that team play now."

If there's one aspect that draws St. Louis and Chicago together, it's that both organizations are trying to end long title droughts. The Blues have never won since entering the NHL in 1967; the Cubs last won in 1908, and Hitchcock can draw on what Maddon is trying to do.

"You don't think like that because you're not part of the history," Hitchcock said. "You're just trying to win games, you're trying to get to the next level. To me, it's all about getting to the next level. It's so much different in hockey because everybody's the same. We're all ... 90 percent of us are cap teams, so there's so many other factors that go into it. A lot of them are luck, luck of health, luck of the draw and luck of winning in overtime. You need a lot of things to go right in order to win in the National Hockey League, and even in saying that, you might not get there at the end. It's interesting in baseball that when we talked to him last year, he knew how good his team was and he knew how good it was going to be and he knew for how long it was going to be good. He predicted this way back when we were in the playoffs against the Hawks that they were going to be good for an extended period of time because all their best players were young."

* Lehtera, Jaskin not at practice -- Blues center Jori Lehtera (upper-body injury) was not on the ice for practice with the rest of his teammates.

Lehtera, who was placed on injured-reserve last week after leaving in the second period of the 3-2 victory against the New York Rangers on Oct. 15 after being checked in the corner boards by Jimmy Vesey, did skate on his own.

Lehtera is still considered day-to-day.

"He skated today. We'll give you a further update tomorrow, but he skated on his own for an extended period of time," Hitchcock said. "We'll have an evaluation and report sometime tomorrow.

"Yeah, he's obviously back skating, but we'll see tomorrow."

Also, forward Dmitrij Jaskin missed practice Monday with what Hitchcock called a lower-body injury but could play Tuesday to begin a three-game homestand against the Calgary Flames.

"He has a lower-body injury that's day-to-day and we opted to keep him out of practice for that reason," Hitchcock said. "(But) yeah, he could play tomorrow."

* Aftermath of Western Canada -- The Blues' 1-1-1 trip through Vancouver, Edmonton and Calgary felt better than the record indicated to Hitchcock and players, but they did get plenty out of it and come home to open a three-game homestand with the Flames, who the Blues beat 6-4 Saturday, first on the ledger.

"We played way better than the record was," Hitchcock said. "We played awfully well. Probably could have gone 3-0; 1-1-1 was the record we probably didn't deserve, but it's what we got. But I really liked the way we played. I liked the way we put the work boots on and had our skill take over from work and I liked our ability to create scoring chances. We still have some elements to our game that need to get cleaned up, but I liked our energy, our enthusiasm to compete. I liked our resilience, I liked a lot about our game. If this is the building block that we're going to start with, I like where we're at right now and I hope we can build on it."

Said right wing Vladimir Tarasenko: "It was a couple good games. Some stuff was good, some stuff was not really good. We still have a lot of time to figure out what's going on. This year, we have a really close group of guys and I feel like we can reach our goal. All we need to do is just stay more closer to each other, stay together as a family and play every game like our last game."

It's not a given that the Blues will see former teammate Brian Elliott in goal for the Flames after Elliott did not play in the game Saturday. Elliott started and played for the Flames Monday night in Chicago and on back-to-back nights, Chad Johnson, who stopped 34 of 39 shots against the Blues, could play.

The Flames know it will be Carter Hutton making his second start of the season for the Blues.

Hutton stopped 33 of 35 shots in the Blues' win against the Rangers and Hitchcock said it was "his turn" after Allen allowed four goals on 27 shots Saturday.

"I think the danger for us is the travel part," Hitchcock said of playing Calgary in back-to-back games. "We got back at four, five in the morning (Sunday). That's why we went really short today. We were all as a group only 30 minutes on the ice. Even at 30 minutes, our energy dropped right at that mark almost. That's what you're concerned about. Are you going to be travel-weary? We're hoping that we're not. I think the opponent isn't as big a concern as making sure that we monitor the right amount of rest and work that we need to put in. That's why we just cut everything off today so have all the energy for tomorrow."

* Nailing it -- The Blues have maintained that when they traded for 2012 first overall pick Nail Yakupov, they would bring the fifth-year right wing along slowly to get acclimated with the systems of his new team.

But after Yakupov collected his fourth point, an assist in a Patrik Berglund goal, in six games, Hitchcock said the plan won't be alleviated.

"No, I've been through this before and I know if you don't build a foundation, it comes back and cracks wide open and you've got problems," Hitchcock said. "We're trying to build that. You can only focus on so many things at once. We need him to focus 5-on-5 and be a real good 5-on-5 player and let the rest take care of itself."

But Yakupov is slowly starting to get some shifts on the power play, as evidenced by his usage against the Canucks and Oilers.

"We've got another seven, eight days before we start bleeding 'Yak' into it, so we're another seven or eight days before we can make a change and put 'Yak' in there," Hitchcock said. "We just want to keep building his foundation 5-on-5. 

"From the red line in, it's really trending in the right direction. From the red line back, we just like a little bit more composure, and he's getting that. We prefer him hanging on the puck and moving his feet a little bit more and he's starting to learn to do that, too. We're really happy with his development. He's really developed fast here. He's come on very quickly here in some of the things that we want to see in place."

On the meantime, Jaden Schwartz has been inserted into the top power play group with Paul Stastny, Alexander Steen, Kevin Shattenkirk and Tarasenko.

Alex Pietrangelo, who was working the point with Shattenkirk, has been moved to the second unit with Colton Parayko on the point and Robby Fabbri, Berglund and David Perron.

"He's in there now," Hitchcock said of Schwartz, who returned from a hyperextended left elbow against the Oilers. "We'll keep that unit. We like them both. We look like we've got some definition."

* New name for Blues' home coming soon -- Scottrade Center is on its last leg.

The name for the Blues' current home will in the not-too-distant could be changed to TD Ameritrade Center after the brokerage firm TD Ameritrade announced Monday morning that it was buying rival Scottrade for $4 billion.

With the announcement, it will become inevitable that Scottrade Center, which bought the naming rights through 2021, will no longer be feasible.

Scottrade Center has been the name on the building since 2006, taking over for Savvis Center and before that, Kiel Center, which was the building's original name.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Lehtera placed on IR, Schwartz close

Center was injured Saturday against Rangers; 
left wing has missed four games with elbow injury

The Blues have placed Jori Lehtera on injured-reserve after the center sustained an upper-body injury Saturday against the New York Rangers.

Jori Lehtera
Lehtera, 28, was injured midway through the second period retrieving a puck in his defensive zone corner when he was checked into the boards by Rangers forward Jimmy Vesey; he finished his shift and never returned.

Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said Monday that there was a chance Lehtera would join the team in the latter portion of the three-game trip but would not join them initially.

The Blues are home next week for three games.

The move to put Lehtera on IR is a good indication the Blues are about to activate left wing Jaden Schwartz, who's missed the first four games with a hyperextended left elbow sustained in practice on Sept. 29.

Schwartz accompanied the Blues on their three-game Western Canada swing and is likely to return Thursday against the Edmonton Oilers.

Center Kyle Brodziak and defenseman Carl Gunnarsson, who also left Saturday's 3-2 victory with upper-body injuries, accompanied the team and continue to be day-to-day. Both missed Tuesday's 2-1 overtime loss to the Vancouver Canucks.

Monday, October 17, 2016


Schwartz close; Brodziak, Gunnarsson on trip, Lehtera 
could join later; all three day to day; Reaves left hanging

HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- The Blues are on the cusp of getting left wing Jaden Schwartz back in their lineup sooner than expected, and centers Jori Lehtera and Kyle Brodziak and defenseman Carl Gunnarsson, who all departed last Saturday  with upper-body injuries, are all considered day-to-day.

That was the news that came after practice Monday before the Blues, 3-0-0 for only the fourth time in franchise history, departed for a three-game Western Canada road trip that will take them to face the Vancouver Canucks on Tuesday, Edmonton Oilers on Thursday and Calgary Flames on Saturday.

On Schwartz, who sustained a hyperextended left elbow during practice Sept. 29, was expected to miss a minimum four weeks. But Schwartz, who missed 49 games last season with a fractured left ankle, has been skating on his own for days. On Monday, he practiced with the team in full for the first time and was part of all drills.

Schwartz hasn't been ruled out for Tuesday against the Canucks but has a very strong chance of returning Thursday in Edmonton.

"I don't know, it feels better," Schwartz said. "We don't have a game circled yet, so just trying to get the timing and feel more comfortable, but it's feeling better.

"Just (want) to feel more comfortable, feel the strength out and be able to get the timing down, just feel confident making plays and in the dirty areas. Going from practice to games is different obviously. I've got to realize that and make sure that it's ready to go. It was good having everyone out there. That was the first time I practiced with the full team and was able to do all the drills. That's obviously a good step in the right direction."

As for Lehtera, Gunnarsson and Brodziak, each are listed as day to day; Gunnarsson and Brodziak accompanied the team on the trip, but Lehtera did not and could join up later on in Alberta. 

"Two are on the trip; Gunnarsson and Brodziak are on the trip. Lehtera isn't going to join us," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. "We'll see when he joins us, what period of time, but he's not going to go on the first leg of the trip to Vancouver, so he'll stay away. The other two guys are on the trip with us, so we'll see how they are. All three guys are day to day, but we don't think that Lehtera's in a position to play right now."

As for call-ups from Chicago of the American Hockey League, Hitchcock said there is no need, which lends to believe that most will play at some point.

"No, we've got (21) guys here. Schwartz is skating full time, so he's available in the next few games hopefully," Hitchcock said. "I'm not sure; we'll talk to him after [Tuesday] and then these guys by obviously making the trip, they've obviously got a chance to play on the trip. We've got lots of bodies.

"I'm not ruling out [anything]. None of these guys we're ruling out anything. They're on the trip. It means if you're on the trip, you have a chance to play whether in Vancouver, Edmonton or Calgary or all of the above. We'll see."

Getting Schwartz, who had eight goals and 14 assists in 33 games last season and was originally expected to miss the first nine games, would be a big boost for the Blues, especially their top six.

"He's an important player," Hitchcock said. "Even at 80 percent last year, he was a good player. Close to 100 percent, he's going to be a real help for us. He's exactly what we need. We saw it at practice today his ability on the rush and his tempo, his compete level is very impressive. When he's back and he's ready to go, it's going to be a big help.

"We knew this ahead of time. We knew this three or four days ago that this was the practice he was going to join us. ... From a conditioning level, when we tested him on the weekend, he was fine and he was up to speed. This is a whole different thing than the ankle injury. That was something where he wasn't able to skate for an extended period of time. So by being able to skate, his conditioning level is right up to speed and he'll be able to hit the ground running."

Schwartz was able to keep up his skating and not miss a beat. That, he felt, was important.

"I think an injury like this, everyone's different," Schwartz said. "There wasn't an exact time frame, but just tried seeing how it feels day to day and working on it. When it feels like it's good to go, then I'm going to go, whether it's before or after the time line they said. ... I'm happy with how the rehab and process is going."

Schwartz was skating on the left wing on a line with Alexander Steen in the middle and Vladimir Tarasenko on the right.

Here's how the lines looked today at practice:

Robby Fabbri-Paul Stastny-Ty Rattie

Jaden Schwartz-Alexander Steen-Vladimir Tarasenko

David Perron-Patrik Berglund-Nail Yakupov

Scottie Upshall/Magnus Paajarvi-Dmitrij Jaskin-Ryan Reaves

"What you saw today, I would throw it in the blender and throw it out if I was you, but this just gave us a look at some other things," Hitchcock said. "I would definitely throw all these lines out. We'll definitely be in a different format tomorrow."

* Western Canada calling -- In recent seasons, the Blues have departed St. Louis for trips to Vancouver, Edmonton and Calgary and come away with plenty of points.

Last season part of a season-long six-game trip, the Blues went on the three cities and came away 3-0 before winning one of two in March. But in recent history, they've been good stops.

"It's great for us to all get out on the road and just be together for an extended period of time," Shattenkirk said. "A lot of guys have been here since almost August and we haven't had any road trips. No one's really left and spent time away from home and we haven't done it together. It just help keep guys around each other a lot and in that sense, you get to know the team better."

"Sometimes it can be good, and sometimes it can be revealing," Hitchcock said. "I think it can be both. I think we're going to get some good play and I think it's going to be revealing for us, too. We're a different team because we know each other so well. I just think it leads to quiet time where the leaders can lead. I think this is a great opportunity where the leaders can have the team, make it their own. That's what we're looking for, too, is to make it where the leaders grab it. They grabbed it at the meeting today, they grabbed it on the ice at practice today. It's real good to see. I think that's going to be a real focus for us. This is the leaders' time. This is the time for the players to follow the appropriate direction that we need to go on and off the ice and I think we're going to do that."

The Blues will have the opportunity Tuesday to start a season with four straight wins for only the second time in franchise history; they started 4-0-0 in 2013-14.

* Reaves left hanging -- For those that didn't see the clip, Blues right wing Ryan Reaves had a playful close to the Salomon family as they came off the ice Saturday.

Carol Salomon, wife of the late Sid Salomon III, who along with his father Sid Jr. were poineer owners of the Blues from 1966-77, along with her three children, dropped the ceremonial first puck prior to the Blues' 3-2 win against the New York Rangers.

As the Salomon's left the ice, Reaves was on the bench offering a hand of thanks for the Salomon family as they were coming off, and when there was no return, Reaves playfully shook his own hand.

"I thought I was there," Reaves joked. "I guess maybe I was just there in spirit, but usually when those guys come across and they drop the puck, they give everybody a fist bump or handshake. I figured a couple girls walking by, figured thank you and stick the hand out, but no dice. I guess they didn't want it.

"I don't know what I did, but I was left hanging. I'm glad 'Shatty' jumped in because my feelings were hurt for a couple seconds."

Shattenkirk was next to Reaves and offered a handshake instead.

"You know what, they left my boy hanging, and that wasn't right, so I had to fill up that hand for him," Shattenkirk said smiling. "I was standing right there. I was watching the whole thing and I knew he needed some love."

To which Reaves responded: "I think he saw there was a single tear drop coming down the right eye and he didn't want that to keep coming so he threw the hand out and all smiles after that."

For the record, this writer shook Reaves' hand in the locker room today, because ... you know ... you can never get enough nice gestures in a day.

* Quick hitters -- Hitchcock said after the Rangers game that the coaching staff would be able to get enough information to get a better outlook on the early stages of the season, and came away with a glaring thought.

"Our 5-on-5 play has to be way better," he said. "We've gotten points because of goaltending and special teams. Our 5-on-5 play has to improve a lot. I think the players recognize that. They were right on board with it. We had a meeting before the practice today. They were really good with the communication on what they felt like they needed. They were right on the same page as us. We have to get better 5-on-5, our checking has to get better, puck support has to get better. Every aspect of our 5-on-5 game has to improve."

Hitchcock didn't disclose a starting goalie but when asked if it would be Jake Allen, he said he didn't know but was leaning that way for the game against the Canucks.

Carter Hutton was fabulous in his Blues debut Saturday, stopping 33 of 35 shots, including all 15 in the third period.

If Shattenkirk plays with Robert Bortuzzo tomorrow, like they were today in practice and like they opened the season last Wednesday in Chicago, Shattenkirk is on board.

"When we played in Chicago together, we never played a second together before, both in practice or in a game," Shattenkirk said. "I thought we handled that really well. We played very well in Chicago, especially him playing on the offside. I've had experience playing there. It's a tough transition, but he did it very well. Even today in practice, it felt like we just knew each other that much better. I think that's the key is to get more and more reps."

Stastny off to good start, would like to keep points coming

Top Blues center will have to pick up some 
of the offensive slac Backes, Brouwer vacated

ST. LOUIS -- Taking both David Backes and Troy Brouwer out of the Blues lineup heading into a new season meant there would be a void in the lineup unless someone else helped pick up the slack.

From an offensive standpoint, the Blues would need not just one person but multiple people to each increase their numbers a little bit to make the 45 points and 39 points Backes and Brouwer, respectively, brought to the table, a seamless transition.

Paul Stastny has been down this road before; he jumped out of the gates quickly his first season in St. Louis in 2014-15 when he started off with four points in two games before a shoulder injury sidelined him eight games that saw the 30-year-old get one goal in 10 games.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Through three games this season, Blues center Paul Stastny leads the
team with six points (two goals, four assists) is tied for the league-lead in
points and assists.

It's a small sample size, yes, but Stastny is at it again. His six points (two goals, four assists) through three games after a goal and assist in a 3-2 victory against the New York Rangers on Saturday puts him on a pace for 164 points, which is ridiculously good in a Gretzky/Lemieux-like way and will all but never happen (never say never).

But seeing as Stastny, in the third year of a four-year, $28 million contract he signed in 2014 to "come home," is anchoring the top line with Robby Fabbri on left wing and Alexander Steen on the right side, the Blues are going to need a larger influx of points from Stastny and others.

But it's not just the points Stastny is supplying; he's also important on both sides of special teams, wins a high percentage of faceoffs and play's Ken Hitchcock's 200-foot game.

"Everyone's chipping in," Stastny said. "There's nights when I'll chip in more than others, and then there will be nights when other guys are chipping in more. 

"Everyone's kind of creating chances. We're getting touches on the power play. We're all feeling it. We're moving the puck well. When we play as a unit of five, especially on the power play, and everyone is moving around, it makes it a lot easier on everybody."

Nothing was easy on Stastny and Co. on Saturday.

After losing two forwards and one defenseman for the entire third period, the Blues still managed a way to win a game (thanks to Carter Hutton in goal) despite being outshot 15-0.

But it was Stastny and Steen, who played defenseman-like minutes at 23:30 and and 23:31, respectively, that picked up a bulk of the load to help the Blues win their third game in as many nights in four days.

And that doesn't even account for the historically solid faceoff numbers Stastny, who has 188 career goals and 559 points in 679 NHL games, possesses; he's at 53 percent for his career.

"Him and Steen, they're doing everything for us right now," Hitchcock said. "They're killing all the penalties, they're on the power play, they're out against the top line, they're doing everything for us. They're playing huge minutes. 

"Both guys for me are carrying the day for us. I think for us, what we need is more participants up front. We need more people giving us better minutes up front because we can't just keep relying on the same two or three guys all the time."

Stastny scored the game-winner in the third period against the Chicago Blackhawks on opening night, then set up Alex Pietrangelo for the eventual game-winner Saturday.

"He's our go-to guy right now," Pietrangelo said of Stastny. "He's obviously putting big numbers up now; he has since the end of last season. 

"He's great. He's playing the way we need him to be. He's playing in all situations. Him, 'Steener,' 'Vladi' (Tarasenko), all our forwards are playing great right now, but obviously Paul's leading the charge and he's on top of his game."

Stastny had lots of success playing with Fabbri and Brouwer late last season and into the Stanley Cup Playoffs; he finished last regular season with 19 points in 15 games and a carryover effect of playing with at least one linemate of beneficial.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Paul Stastny has been a key contributor in the Blues'
3-0-0 start to the season this year.

"I played with 'Fabs' all second half of the season last year, played with 'Steener,' and then played in playoffs, it was either me, 'Fabs' and 'Brouws,' and then it me, 'Brouws' and 'Steener,'" Stastny said. "We haven't played together, but now we're getting more and more comfortable playing together because we only had two preseason games together. As individuals, they're easy to play with, but now as a line, I think every game it gets a little more and more comfortable when we're starting to support each other from the D-zone all the way to the O-zone.

"Looking at the schedule to start the season, there's no easy games anymore. Division games are all tough, and then you almost want to take your foot off the gas when you play an Eastern Conference team, but then you're playing a team like the Rangers, who have been one of the top Eastern Conference teams four, five, six years in a row now, They're all tough games. For us to come out with three wins, that was big, especially in four nights."