Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Blues blanked for third time in four games by Kings 2-0

St. Louis' fourth loss in five games costs Mike 
Yeo coaching job, Craig Berube named interim coach

By LOU KORAC
ST. LOUIS -- A 2-0 loss to the lowly Los Angeles Kings, the only team below them in the NHL standings, seemed to be the lowest point for the Blues at the end of the day on Monday.

But then news came quickly, approximately 30 minutes, after what turned out to be his last press conference that Mike Yeo was fired as coach of the Blues (see related story): http://bit.ly/2KgtFSk
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues center Tyler Bozak (21) chases after Kings defenseman Drew Doughty
for a puck along the wall Monday night at Enterprise Center. 

But the Blues (7-9-3), mired in 30th place in the NHL (two points ahead of the Kings), were shut out for the third time in four games and have a goalless drought of 242 minutes 48 seconds since their last goal, which came last Friday in Vegas.

The Blues, 1-4-0 their past five games, came out of the gates scoring goals at a high rate, in the top five in the league at the outset, but were allowing goals at an alarming rate.

They finally fixed the defense but suddenly, in light of a rash of injuries to key forwards Alexander Steen (upper body), Jaden Schwartz (upper body) and Pat Maroon (upper body) and defensemen Carl Gunnarsson (upper body) and Robert Bortuzzo (lower body), the Blues have stopped scoring goals, and losing to the lowly Kings, who recently made  coaching change of their own from John Stevens to Willie Desjardins, was the final straw.

But it was not surprising considering it was a game in which the Blues looked uninspired for long stretches, couldn't put one pass -- let alone two -- together, were outmuscled by the bulkier Kings (7-12-1), made little to no commitment to pay the price of getting to the dirty areas to score goals and have become predictable to play against.

These are the Blues of today, not near the reflection of what was expected when the season began with such high hopes.

"Yeah, it's frustrating," captain Alex Pietrangelo said. "We had some good looks, especially there at the end. But gotta find ways to score. You can't win hockey games without scoring goals.

"... I don't think there's a lot of rhythm in general. I don't think they had a whole lot of rhythm either. Those are the games again, you gotta find a way to score goals. We had 30 shots, we had chances. You can't win without scoring."

Obviously.

And in light of goalie Jake Allen getting his game together -- he's stopped 75 of 78 shots and allowed one goal in each of his last three games, including 26 of 26 shots Monday -- the offense has gone totally stagnant.

"It's weird. At the start of the year we scoring a ton of goals and giving up way too many and now we're not scoring but we're not giving up as much either," center Tyler Bozak said. "It's kind of weird how it goes like that but we've got to get back to work tomorrow. We've got a big stretch of games here against some really good hockey teams so it's going to be important for us to focus on some good things we did and build off that and be ready to go to Nashville."

Nashville. Nashville. Winnipeg.

That's what awaits interim coach Craig Berube and the Blues, who are nearly at the quarter mark of the season and laboring at the bottom.

"We've said that. Every team has injuries throughout the year, I don't think you can use that as an excuse," Bozak said. "We're not using that as an excuse. We've got a lot of depth here and we've got guys who can step in and play different roles and obviously you're not going to fill the shoes of those guys with one guy. It's going to be a team effort and everybody's going to have to step up a little bit and we haven't gotten the job done yet but we've got Nashville twice and Winnipeg. It's a great opportunity for us to turn things around against really good hockey teams in our division so these are a big stretch of games here."

Included in these three shutouts in the past four games is a 1-0 loss to the Chicago Blackhawks, a team that also fired its coach, three-time Stanley Cup winner Joel Quenneville and hired young 33-year-old Jeremy Colliton as his replacement. 

"Yeah, I think so. Myself included," Pietrangelo said when asked if players are thinking about it too much right now. "We just gotta simplify. Get pucks there and we'll get some bounces if we start going to the net."

But that's been a huge issue, they're unwillingness to get to the net and the interior when the heat is turned up. 

"As a player, you think you need the puck to score," Yeo said before being fired. "If you want the puck, it's easy to go to the ice that's available. Teams are going to protect the middle. The league's become tighter, we've said this that it's harder to score goals right now because teams are better on he inside of the ice. I still think that we're forcing plays in the offensive zone, which leads to too much one-and-done. I think that we're taking the easy ice, which leads to not being a threat or if we do get pucks to the net, not making things challenging enough for the goalie. We've got to fix that."
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues goalie Jake Allen (34) makes one of his 25 saves on Monday against
the Los Angeles Kings. Allen and the Blues lost 2-0.

It'll be someone else's problem to fix now.

The Blues were shut out by a fourth string goalie (Calvin Peterson) making his third NHL start in four days and Matt Luff scored his first NHL goal at 8:18 of the second period in his sixth NHL game.

Anze Kopitar added an empty-netter with 29.5 seconds remaining to seal the win for L.A. and send the Blues into a new direction.

"I don't know. We just couldn't score," Bozak said when asked what the problem is. "We knew it was going to be a tight-checking game. Whenever you play LA it's low scoring. They check hard. We had a few chances. I had a few myself. The goalie made some good saves, but we have to start burying those at the right times if we're going to want to win these close games."

Monday, November 19, 2018

Blues fire Yeo after shutout loss to last-place Kings

Coming into 2018-19 with high expectations, 
Blues are 30th in NHL with 17 points

By LOU KORAC
ST. LOUIS -- The Blues hit rock bottom on Monday, at least it felt like it, and 19 games in, management and ownership finally felt the need to make a change, and after a disheartening 2-0 loss to the cellar-dwelling Los Angeles Kings, Mike Yeo was fired as head coach. He was replaced in an interim basis by associate coach Craig Berube.

Nobody from the organization was available for comment Monday night. General manager Doug Armstrong will address the media at 10 a.m. Tuesday at the St. Louis Mills.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
The Blues fired coach Mike Yeo (standing, right) after parts of three seasons
with the organization on Monday after a 2-0 loss to Los Angeles.

After an offseason that saw Armstrong stockpile the Blues roster with free agent signees Tyler Bozak, David Perron, Pat Maroon and Chad Johnson, along with trading three forwards and two draft picks to acquire center Ryan O'Reilly, making the Blues a cap ceiling team, the team's 7-9-3 start, being in 30th place in the NHL overall through Nov. 19 and a payroll of $79 million was nowhere near what the franchise had in mind.

On June 13, 2016, Yeo was named as the eventual successor to Ken Hitchcock and served as associate coach for the 2016-17 season and was to assume the head coaching position beginning in 2017-18.

Yeo signed a four-year contract and was in the third of the four-year contract; he has this year and next year remaining on it.

Yeo, 45, was 73-49-11 as Blues coach after he replaced Hitchcock on Feb. 1, 2017, when Hitchcock was fired. The Blues went 44-32-6 last season and failed to qualify for the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time in seven seasons.

It's the second NHL head coaching job Yeo has been fired from. He was relieved of his duties as coach of the Minnesota Wild on Feb. 13, 2016.

"Heck, my job should be in question right now," Yeo said after a 7-4 loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets on Oct. 25. "That comes with the trade, but I'm not going to coach to save my job. I'm going to coach to try and win a Stanley Cup. I believe in this group, so whatever we need, every single day, I'm going to try and do that. If I believe that that's the right thing, then I'm going to try and do that. But I really think that what we need right now is ... there's been lots of trying to give them heck, trying to motivate in different ways, but whatever the case is, right now what we need to do is come together."

But the Blues were shut out for the third time in four games and have been blanked in back-to-back games and have a shutout drought of 142 minutes 48 seconds.

"We've just got to find a way," Yeo said after the loss before he was fired. "That's what we've got to do. It's frustrating. It's maddening because we can't seem to put it all together at the same time right now. We do the odd game now and in the beginning of the year, we were scoring goals. The defensive game wasn't there and we've cleaned up the defensive game and now we're not scoring goals. Now we've got to put it all together."

Yeo will never get the chance to help put it together and now, at least for the time being, the job belongs to Berube.

Berube, 52, first joined the Blues as associate coach on June 15, 2017. Prior to joining the Blues, he spent one season as the coach of the American Hockey League’s Chicago Wolves in 2016-17, leading the Wolves to a 44-19-13 regular-season record and a first-place finish in the Central Division. Berube also guided the Wolves to the second round of the 2017 Calder Cup Playoffs.

It will be Berube's second NHL job. He spent 11 seasons in different coaching roles in the Philadelphia Flyers organization, including that of the head coach in parts of two seasons from 2013-15 and went 75-58-28.

Before that, Berube spent six years as an assistant coach, helping the Flyers reach the postseason five times, including a trip to the Stanley Cup Final in 2009-10. Berube also spent four seasons with the AHL’s Philadelphia Phantoms, including parts of two campaigns as head coach.

As a player, Berube played in 17 seasons with Philadelphia, Toronto, Calgary, Washington, and the New York Islanders.

(11-19-18) Kings-Blues Gameday Lineup

By LOU KORAC
ST. LOUIS -- Next man up.

That's the message from the Blues locker room on Monday.

For the second straight game, the Blues (7-8-3) will be without four key players when they return home to host the Los Angeles Kings (6-12-1) at 7 p.m. (FS-MW, KMOX 1120-AM)

Forward Jaden Schwartz and defenseman Carl Gunnarsson are expected to be out through the weekend after sustaining upper-body injuries in a 4-1 win against the Vegas Golden Knights last Friday. 

It's unknown at what point Gunnarsson was hurt Friday but never returned after the first period, but Schwartz was seen holding his hand/wrist after getting hit with a Vladimir Tarasenko shot on the power-play with 17 minutes 56 seconds remaining in the third period. Schwartz played two more shifts after finishing that lengthy 2:39 shift out but left with just under 10 minutes to play.

Forwards Alexander Steen and Pat Maroon are out with an upper-body injuries and have missed two games. Both played in Chicago to begin the road trip.

The Blues are already without defenseman Robert Bortuzzo, who has resumed skating. He has missed 11 games with a lower-body injury.

"Guys are going to have to play some more minutes obviously up front, but next man up," Pietrangelo said. "Opportunity for guys like 'Thomer' [Robert Thomas], Sammy [Blais], guys that can really make their mark and try and make a difference."

Blues coach Mike Yeo went with this lineup in a 4-0 loss to the San Jose Sharks last Saturday to cap off a 1-2-0 road trip and will have to do so again.

"Steen is day-to-day, upper-body," Yeo said. "Pat skated this morning. He felt good out there, so he's coming along. I'd say hopeful for the weekend but we'll see. 'Schwartzy' and 'Gunny', I would expect both guys to be out through the weekend and then we'll see how they're doing next weekend.

"'Bortz', he has been on the ice a couple times now. Wasn't out with us obviously, but it's a good sign and he's progressing."

What Yeo will do is mix up some of his pairings for tonight against a Kings team that has lost four of five and playing their third game in four nights with a rookie goalie [Calvin Peterson]. 

Yeo is moving Robby Fabbri up to the top line with Ryan O'Reilly and Tarasenko, moving David Perron up to left wing with Tyler Bozak and Brayden Schenn will stay on the right wing, and Nikita Soshnikov and and Sammy Blais will skate with Robert Thomas.

"We need to find somebody to start making plays to Vladi as well," Yeo said, "and Robby Fabbri has that ability. He is tenacious. I think that's one important quality of anybody that plays with skilled players and someone like Vladi. You need somebody who's tenacious. Somebody who's gonna help dig out pucks, create turnovers, get the puck on our stick. And just equally important, get the puck on his stick.

"We're happy with the group that we have. It's always challenging, but every team faces this. Every team has guys that are out of the lineup and you have to step up. When we're approaching a game like tonight you've got to look at the O'Reilly's, the Tarasenko's, the Schenn's, the Bozak's, the Perron's, those veteran guys. Those guys that have experience scoring and contributing. Being effective both ends of the ice. We need those guys to be on top of their game, first and foremost. And then on top of that, we've got guys that are getting the extra opportunity, whether it's getting into the lineup, whether it's getting extra ice time. Come into the game and don't just blend in. Make sure you find a way to impact the game. To have an effect, a positive effect, on the outcome."

- - -

Blais has skated in 10 games this season now and has added a new dimension to his game: hits.

Blais is sixth in the NHL (minimum of 10 games) averaging 3.7 hits per game, but he led the team with five on Saturday and had six, four more than anyone else, on Friday against Vegas.

Blais is the team leader in the category and never would have imagined being so.

"No, but I think I've been playing pretty good when I was physical and good on the forecheck," Blais said. "I just try to bring that every game and I have been successful with that and I'll just try to keep doing that again."

Known more for his offensive prowess coming up through the ranks of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, Blais has adapted to a more well-rounded game despite no points yet this season.

"When I was in junior, I was a pretty small player," Blais said. "I was like 5-foot-10 and now I'm almost 6-foot-3. I like doing it and I think it gives energy to the team when I do it, so I just got to keep doing it.

"When I use my body, I get the puck back and start playing in the o-zone. That's what I need to do. Tonight I'm playing with 'Thomer' and Soshnikov and we've got to play in the o-zone. I think if we do that, we'll be good."

- - -

O’Reilly has 19 points (10 goals, nine assists) the past 13 games and has points in 11 of 13. He'll try to keep his streak going.

Tarasenko has 10 points (four goals, six assists) the past 10 games.

Jake Allen will get the start in goal tonight. Allen has stopped 50 of 52 shots his past two starts and has a 1.01 goals-against average in those games, a 1-0 loss to Chicago last Wednesday and a 4-1 win at Vegas.

"He's been quietly looking very confident and I think that confidence translates into his play," Yeo said of Allen. "Very aggressive, that's what I've seen from him. He seems to be reading the play well and then he's out and he's challenging and he's on top of the blue (crease). And obviously making athletic saves but I think that it's his reads and his aggressiveness leading up to the shot that put him in a good position."

- - -

The Blues' projected lineup:

Robby Fabbri-Ryan O'Reilly-Vladimir Tarasenko

David Perron-Tyler Bozak-Brayden Schenn 

Nikita Soshnikov-Robert Thomas-Sammy Blais

Zach Sanford-Ivan Barbashev-Oskar Sundqvist

Vince Dunn-Alex Pietrangelo

Joel Edmundson-Colton Parayko

Jay Bouwmeester-Jordan Schmaltz

Jake Allen will start in goal; Chad Johnson will be the backup.

The Blues have no healthy scratches. Jaden Schwartz (upper body), Robert Bortuzzo (lower body), Alexander Steen (upper body), Pat Maroon (upper body) and Carl Gunnarsson (upper body) are all out.

- - -

The Kings' projected lineup:

Alex Iafallo-Anze Kopitar-Dustin Brown

Ilya Kovalchuk-Jeff Carter-Tyler Toffoli

Carl Hagelin-Adrian Kempe-Matt Luff

Kyle Clifford-Nate Thompson-Austin Wagner

Derek Forbort-Drew Doughty

Jake Muzzin-Alec Martinez

Dion Phaneuf-Oscar Fantenberg

Calvin Petersen will start in goal; Peter Budaj will be the backup.  

Healthy scratches include Paul LaDue and Michael Amadio. Jonathan Quick (knee), Jack Campbell (knee), Jonny Brodzinski (shoulder) and Trevor Lewis (foot) are all out.

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Blues end homestand in disappointing fashion with 3-2 loss

Granlund third-period goal difference despite St. Louis outshooting 
Minnesota 31-18; Blues end seven-game homestand 4-3-0

By LOU KORAC
ST. LOUIS -- The Blues and coach Mike Yeo were rightfully pleased with their shutout victory on Friday night against a tough opponent in San Jose, but the signs that things were really in the rails in a good way was to see if they could follow it up with another solid effort against another worthy opponent.

There were decent spurts against the Minnesota Wild, but once again, not enough of them. And in the end, the Blues were left wondering why they weren't banking two points.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues forward Nikita Soshnikov (86) races after a loose puck with the Wild's
Matt Dumba in Minnesota's 3-2 win on Sunday.

Mikael Granlund scored for the Wild 12:17 remaining, and the Wild hung on for dear life in the waning moments when the Blues had goalie Chad Johnson pulled and escaped with a 3-2 win before 16,735 at Enterprise Center, ending the Blues' season-long seven-game homestand with a thud.

The Blues (6-6-3) played with assertiveness and confidence in a 4-0 win against the Sharks and put together two wins in a row and wanting to put a stamp on a homestand that would have been 5-2-0 and worthy of moving forward with some positive vibes and feeling like their game was getting in order.

But it ends a disappointing 4-3-0, and on Sunday, after a start that showed some vigor and moxie early on but without a goal or two to set the tone, two big gaffes and a lack puzzling lack of a push early in the third period of a tie game raised more questions than provided answers.

"It stings. I think we're all pissed off. It's unacceptable," said Blues center Ryan O'Reilly, who did extent his NHL career-best point streak to 10 games with an assist (eight goals, nine assists). "We've got to start making a push, we've got to start climbing, and especially against a team like that. We were there. We could have taken those two (points).

"... It's still very disappointing. It's a frustrating one. A little lapse in the second and responded, but in the third, they're just a more veteran team that stuck with it and waited for us to make a little mistake. It's disappointing. We easily could have got that into OT and we didn't."

And by not going so, the Blues fell back to the .500 mark at the 15-game mark, which is not anywhere near where they thought they'd be, but prior to Sunday, had won four of five and were building the right way.

Allowing games to slip away, at home and within the division, is not a recipe that will bode well as the season moves along.

"That's what was disappointing. I thought it was a winnable game," Blues coach Mike Yeo said. "Just made the wrong mistakes at the wrong times. And the mistakes we're making obviously are big ones. But it's not just the mistakes. A mistake is not being firm enough with your play.

"There were some things that were pretty good, but we're not in the business of saying that. I think we limited their chances. But it's chances that we give up that are unnecessary. Goals where our gap's not strong enough, are we're just not strong enough. Or we're not making a hard enough play, strong enough play, and it ends up in the back of our net. That's what you gotta do to win hockey games."

Making a play in the third period is not what Colton Parayko did. His turnover, by not assertively clearing a puck from the slot despite some resistance from Minnesota's Jason Zucker that resulted in a turnover, Granlund beat a surprised Chad Johnson for what turned out to be the game-winner.

"You've got to recognize you've got the puck in a dangerous area, just slap it out, just do whatever you can," Yeo said. "Hammer it, and if somebody happens to be in your way, then it should hurt. You've got to get it out of there as hard as you can.

"It's not just him. I think we had our puck on our stick probably about four times there (Zach Sanford twice). We've got to be better than that."

Arguably more puzzling at the outset of that third period was the Blues' unwillingness to push the initiative and dictate on home ice in a 2-2 game. Against San Jose Friday, they didn't allow the Sharks to breathe. Of course, a 3-0 lead helps in that matter, but instead of sitting back, the Blues were on their toes and dictating. Sunday, they weren't, and they needed one.

"I think so," said Blues defenseman Alex Pietrangelo, whose second-period goal at 9:37 tied the game 2-2. "I think both teams were playing a bit cautious there, started the third getting a feel, but I think we could have gone out there and dictated the pace a little bit better."

Despite the missed chances in the first period when Wild goalie Devan Dubnyk bailed Minnesota's bacon early when the Blues had a power play, Oskar Sundqvist gave the Blues a 1-0 lead with 52.8 seconds left in the period on a won puck battle by Sanford and Sundqvist. Sundqvist and Ivan Barbashev worked in on a mini 2-on-1 before Barbashev feathered a pass in the slot to Sundqvist for the goal.

But that missed power-play early was a chance to perhaps get an early lead, build on it and dictate against a team playing its third game in three and a half days and ending a seven-game road trip.

"We need to capitalize on the power play, especially in a game like that against that team that doesn't give up a lot," O'Reilly said. "They clutch, they grab a lot and when you do get those PP's, it's really important to convert on them because it's tough to generate against those guys."

Not being able to build on that lead cost the Blues early in the second when they were lethargic at the outset and it cost them two goals in 25 seconds.

Zach Parise was on the end of a fortuitous bounce when Nino Niederreiter's shot deflected off a Blues stick, off the cross bar behind Johnson and he couldn't locate the puck before Parise's spin-o-rama backhand into the net at 1:19 to tie the game 1-1.

Then another turnover, this time by Robby Fabbri in the neutral zone when his pass was off the skate and behind David Perron, the puck caromed back to the Blues' blue lone and Minnesota was on the hunt and scored when Joel Eriksson Ek put home a rebound at 1:44.

"A couple mistakes, but no one would score in the league if people didn't make mistakes, right," Pietrangelo said. "Mistakes are going to happen, teams are going to score. It's just how we respond. I thought in the second period we did a good job of responding in the second half."

Pietrangelo's goal was proof that they did, but until a late flurry when the Blues did everything but score at the end, there wasn't much of a push with the game on the line.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues winger David Perron (57) gets checked off the puck by Wild 
defenseman Ryan Suter on Sunday night.

"You have to know also that they're playing that way, and they're waiting for you to make mistakes," Yeo said. "So I just didn't think that No. 1, for us to grab the lead, I didn't think that we were strong enough on the puck in the offensive zone. I didn't think our forecheck was quite hard enough. We were missing a second guy a lot of the times. And again, just talking about the firmness of our game. The way that they were playing and protecting the middle, you've gotta get to the net. As a coaching staff, we didn't feel that we had the desperation around the net until the goalie was out. So obviously you need more of that."

"A lot of pretty good chances. A couple back doors," Pietrangelo said. "I don't know what mine hit. I think he saved mine. Vladi [Tarasenko] walking down the pipe with 10 seconds left, I'll take that that any day of the week. So just one of those games where it didn't go in but hopefully next time they do."

Minnesota's win was its second here since Nov. 11. The Wild won that game 5-1 and outshot the Blues 45-16. The Wild were outshot 31-18 in this one.

(11-11-18) Wild-Blues Gameday Lineup

By LOU KORAC
ST. LOUIS -- The good news was that Brayden Schenn was back in a full practice on Saturday. The bad news is it'll be at least another game on the sidelines for the Blues center.

Schenn is doubtful for Sunday's afternoon matchup against the Minnesota Wild (2 p.m.; FS-MW, KMOX 1120-AM) to cap off a season-long seven-game homestand with an oblique strain.

Schenn, who has missed the past two games, was injured when the Wild (10-4-2) visited Enterprise Center eight days ago, a 5-1 Minnesota win.

Schenn called himself questionable for the game, but Blues coach Mike Yeo confirmed that it will probably be better to keep Schenn, who has nine points (three goals, six assists) in 12 games, out at least another game.

"I would say that he's doubtful for tomorrow, but encouraging that he's getting closer," Yeo said after practice Saturday. "He looked good at practice today. I talked to him afterwards. We just have to make sure we're smart."

The Blues (6-5-3) put forth arguably their best effort and outing of the season Friday, blanking the San Jose Sharks 4-0, and keeping that lineup in tact might be the wise move.

"Obviously 'Schenner's a big part of our group and if he's healthy, then I think you're going to find a place for him in the lineup," Yeo said. "But it certainly helps that you don't have to rush somebody. Obviously in the point of the season where we're at, we've got to win hockey games, but you've got to have an eye coming up on what's ahead as well. He's getting closer, but we've got to make sure we're not putting him a position where he's going to come in and hurt himself further or slow down the recovery process here."

- - -

Although Yeo didn't disclose who his starting goalie would be, one would expect that it will be Chad Johnson for a third straight game. (*UPDATE -- Johnson will start).

Johnson has helped the Blues win two straight and done so by allowing just one goal on 72 shots in wins over Carolina (4-1) and San Jose (4-0), which was Johnson's eighth NHL shutout and first in nearly two years.

"We'll announce that tomorrow," Yeo said Saturday. 

Even coming off a shutout?

"It's typically been my rule, but we'll wait til tomorrow," Yeo said.

Johnson (2-2-0) has a 0.50 goals-against average and .986 save percentage the past two starts and lowered his season numbers to 1.83 GAA and .941 on the season.

"I don't think it's really complicated," Yeo said of Johnson's success. "The team's played well in front of him. He stopped the puck. It's not really my job to break down or analyze the goaltending position. Obviously we've got a goaltending coach, they work on the technical parts for me. He looks calm, he looks quiet in the net. He's in position and he's making the saves we need him to make and obviously you're going to have to have your goalie rise to the occasion when you're going to give up some scoring chances. Ultimately every team does. He's been ready for those moments. When teams have been slinging pucks and trying to create off rebounds and whatnot, I think he's controlled those rebounds well."

- - -

With the Wild finishing up its franchise-long seven-game road trip here today, the Blues are wanting to put a halt to Minnesota's hot run. The Wild is 4-2-0 on the trip and has won nine of its past 11.

The Blues on the other hand, are 4-2-0 on the homestand (with one of the losses coming to Minnesota) and winners of four of their past five.

"We don't have a lot of time to sit around and think about what we did well last game," Yeo said. "We've got to make sure that we're geared up for tomorrow."

Should the Blues think about how crummy they were against Minnesota last week, getting outshot 45-16 on home ice and booed off the ice? 

"Absolutely. That was very frustrating," center Ryan O'Reilly said. "A divisional opponent and ... I was with Colorado playing against them and now here, I don't like them. It's a team that I really don't like. I want to beat them and it's going to take us all. We're going to have to bring our best games and our highest energy, our best performance in order to beat that team that's been playing really well right now."

Yeo said whatever motivates the Blues.

"That's always a factor," he said. "You always search for whatever you need to get motivated. I think as competitors, that's going to come into play. We've got a chance to finish off this homestand the right way. We've got a chance, like last night, to beat two really good teams in a row. We'll have to see if we're up to that task.

"I'd rather that they remember it. The day after that one, we kind of want to wipe it clean, but for sure, why wouldn't you? It's a rivalry and so, I think that's what competitors do."

- - -

When Joel Edmundson entered the San Jose zone with 7 minutes 21 seconds remaining in the second period Friday, little did the Sharks know they were about to go into a minute-plus of backpedaling and getting their ears pinned back and a back-breaking third goal by Jaden Schwartz.

When Edmundson gained the zone along the left wall, he flipped it towards the corner and picked up by Robert Thomas with 7:17 left. Thomas backhanded it around the net with Robby Fabbri hunting down San Jose's Rourke Chartier with 7:13 left. Chartier played the puck up the wall and Melker Karlsson, with his back to the ice, backhanded it up the wall looking to clear but David Perron was there to intercept at the blue line and he kept it in to Alex Pietrangelo, who gave the puck back to Perron along the wall. Perron skated the puck back in and fed Fabbri with 7:08 left down low. Fabbri spun towards the net and tried to jam a shot past Aaron Dell but it was saved. Perron followed the rebound and fought for the puck behind the net. He was able to collect the puck and send it back to the left point to Carl Gunnarsson. Gunnarsson played it to the right to Pietrangelo before getting it back. Now the clock's at 6:58, and Gunnarsson's shot was tipped by Fabbri in the slot but not through to the net. Thomas, though, collected the rebound, and threw the puck into the right corner. Sharks d-man Marc-Edouard Vlasic whacked it up the boards to Karlsson, but his clearing attempt again was intercepted at the blue line by Thomas at the 6:46 mark. Thomas punched it to Fabbri, who backhanded a pass to Perron near the top of the right circle. Perron quick-passed to his right to Pietrangelo and he found a streaking Thomas in the high slot for a quick wrist shot off Dell's left shoulder with 6:42 left. The puck laid in the crease and Fabbri was there fighting with four Sharks (Karlsson, Justin Braun, Vlasic and Chartier) but the puck caromed into the left corner, where Gunnarsson retrieved it again for the Blues. He fought off Chartier's check and slid it up the wall to Fabbri, who moved it to Thomas at the left point. Thomas moved the puck to Pietrangelo at the right point, he waited and moved it back to the left point to Fabbri with 6:29 remaining. Fabbri's slap shot was stopped by Dell before Braun finally retrieved the puck along the right left wall and fired the puck down the ice for icing with 6:20 left.

The puck never left the Sharks zone, the players on the ice were absolutely gassed, and it set up for the Blues to send fresh players out for the faceoff. It was critical for the Sharks, down 2-0 at the time, to win a draw, move the puck up the ice and try to get fresh bodies on the ice.

No dice, as Yeo sent Tyler Bozak, Alexander Steen and Schwartz onto the ice (Schwartz went on the line in place of Nikita Soshnikov) and Bozak won the draw back to Colton Parayko, and he gave it to Vince Dunn, who pushed the puck into the left corner. But Bozak checked Braun's clearing attempt, and Vlasic's backhand clearing attempt was knocked down and kept in by Dunn before Schwartz was able to keep it in the zone to the right. Steen somehow got it down to Bozak in the right corner, and he sees Schwartz breaking towards the net after lifting the stick of Braun to get the puck before sending a pinpoint pass with Karlsson draped all over Schwartz. Karlsson knew he was cooked; he had been on the ice this whole time and even tried to saw of Schwartz's stick but instead broke his in half. All the while, Schwartz was finally able to beat Dell, and it was 3-0. All Karlsson could do was drop his stick and throw up the white flag at that point.

It was textbook puck hunting, puck retrieval and good old-fashioned hard work.

"We were just hunting the puck well and playing off each other," Fabbri said. "Every battle we got into, there was another guy there cleaning up and grabbing that puck. Once they got tired, as forwards, you realize that and you keep going even harder. It was a great shift and 'Schwartzy' followed it up nice with a goal.

"It was one of those shifts where we were hunting, we were getting in on the play and we were in on the hunt again. It wasn't like we were just controlling it. We were just working all over the ice."

No kidding.

"That's our identity," Yeo said. "When we're on top of our game, we're reloading, we're re-attacking, we're hounding pucks, we're hemming teams into their own zone. You might spend 30-40 seconds in the offensive zone, sometimes it doesn't necessarily lead to a goal that specific shift, but what you do is you set the next line up. That's what they did. They had a couple of those shifts, that line for me, is they set the next line up to come out and to be successful. I think we've been doing more of that. We have to make sure we're on top of that."

When the icing was called, there was a shot of a gassed Thomas, too. Being a part of that onslaught was good for the rookie, who played a career-high 15:41 in the game.

"That was his best game this year," Yeo said of Thomas. "He earned the extra ice time, we put him in some extra situations. His work ethic for me, that was where it was most noticeable. Every game, he's finding a way to make some plays, he's got great vision, protects it really well, really digging in on the defensive side of things last night and his work ethic with and without the puck, that was at a new level. I'm anxious to see if he can do it again tomorrow."

- - -

Over the course of the first 12 games, there had been a lot of criticism thrown Pietrangelo's way, and the Blues' minutes leader didn't absolve himself of blame for needing to be better.

Pietrangelo was had one goal and three assists but was an eye-popping minus-9. Some of it was his own doing, but a lot of it wasn't.

The past two games, playing with Gunnarsson as his partner, Pietrangelo seems to have found his game again. He has a goal and an assist and is a plus-4, and playing with a partner he feels he trusts has made all the difference.

"I know that he played very well when he played with him last year," Yeo said of Pietrangelo and Gunnarsson. "I think 'Gunny' is playing a real strong, solid game right now. But I would agree that Petro's last game was his best game of the season. I thought he was very aggressive, he was more physical than he has been in a lot of games. He's getting rewarded offensively right now, but he's not taking any risks. He's on the right side of everything and he's defending, killing penalties. He's doing all the things that you think of in Petro's best game and all the things that we need from him."

In the four games he's returned from after offseason knee and hip surgeries, Gunnarsson's minutes have gone from 13:52 to 16:54 to 18:58 and most recently, 18:41.

"He trusts 'Gunny's game," Yeo said of Pietrangelo. "He knows 'Gunny's not jumping up the ice. He's going to activate and get involved. We saw him get a scoring chance last night in the offensve zone. He'll do those things, but he's always going to do those on the right side of the puck and I think Petro has that confidence that he knows he'll be there and then he can just focus on himself."

The Blues' projected lineup:

Jaden Schwartz-Ryan O'Reilly-Vladimir Tarasenko

Robby Fabbri-Robert Thomas-David Perron

Alexander Steen-Tyler Bozak-Nikita Soshnikov

Zach Sanford-Ivan Barbashev-Oskar Sundqvist

Carl Gunnarsson-Alex Pietrangelo

Vince Dunn-Colton Parayko

Joel Edmundson-Jordan Schmaltz

Chad Johnson will start in goal; Jake Allen will be the backup. 

Healthy scratches are expected to be Jay Bouwmeester and Pat Maroon. Brayden Schenn (upper body) and Robert Bortuzzo (lower body) are out.

- - -

The Wild's projected lineup:

Zach Parise-Mikko Koivu-Nino Niederreiter

Jason Zucker-Eric Staal-Mikael Granlund

Jordan Greenway-Joel Eriksson Ek-Charlie Coyle

Marcus Foligno-Eric Fehr-J.T. Brown

Ryan Suter-Matt Dumba

Jonas Brodin-Jared Spurgeon

Nick Seeler-Greg Pateryn

Devan Dubnyk is expected to start in goal; Alex Stalock would be the backup.

Healthy scratches expected to be Nate Prosser, Matt Read and Matt Hendricks. The Wild report no injuries.

Friday, November 9, 2018

Johnson, Blues throttle Sharks 4-0 in complete-game victory

Schwartz, Steen each get goal, assist; O'Reilly extends point 
streak to career-best nine games for St. Louis, which has won four of five

By LOU KORAC
ST. LOUIS -- Is this it? Was Friday night what the Blues are or what they can be?

If so, where have they been for the first five weeks? Where has this been?

Well, there was a concept that this would take some figuring out, that there would be this feeling-out process implementing new players into the lineup. 
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues goalie Chad Johnson (right) makes one of his 33 saves on San Jose's
Joe Pavelski (8) on Friday in St. Louis' 4-0 win at Enterprise Center.

Well, it all came together in a 4-0 blitzing of the San Jose Sharks behind another sterling performance from Chad Johnson with a 33-save shutout, one goal and one assist each from Jaden Schwartz and Alexander Steen and an all-around effort in front of 17,032 appreciative fans at Enterprise Center that applauded the Blues' efforts on this night.

The Blues (6-5-3), who have won four of five, wanted to get to a style of play that's been inconsistent in the early part of the season, one in which coach Mike Yeo said the players have to get back to a tighter checking game where they're not just in position but tighter in position and harder in position.

Yeo said the Blues had been a little too easy to get through, especially gaining entry into the Blues' defensive zone and the Blues had to eliminate some of the time spent in their zone.

It wasn't a Picasso, although it's as close to one as can be, one of the finer Blues' all-around efforts of the season, and every part of the game went hand-in-hand on this night, much like the 4-1 win at Toronto on Oct. 20 and much of the 5-3 win against Calgary on Oct. 11.

"Well we’ve seen it in glimpses," Yeo said. "I’ve been kind of harping on it that it’s been coming along. We want it to come quicker, but definitely one of our better 60-minute performances. But obviously now we have to build off that."

The Blues built it from start to finish against the Sharks (8-6-3), playing the second of a back-to-back but nonetheless with plenty of firepower and star power.

"We've been building pretty good," said defenseman Alex Pietrangelo, who got the Blues on the board. "We've done a lot of things, d-zone work the last couple days in practice. You know the old saying: practice makes perfect, but we've done a lot of things and it showed tonight."

Johnson showed it also for the second straight game. He's allowed one goal on 72 shots -- made 58 straight saves -- and has a 0.50 goals-against average and .986 save percentage.

"I don't really think about being locked in or on," said Johnson, whose last shutout was Nov. 30, 2016 as a member of the Calgary Flames against the Toronto Maple Leafs. "People ask how you're feeling. I don't know. I don't think about how I feel. You kind of go out there. You prepare. I prepare the same way every day. I just try to feel the same way or just not feel at all. You go out there, you work hard, you're focused in the moment, and what happens at the end of the day is the result you get from your preparation. I've been ready to go here and felt good with my preparations throughout the game and I'm just happy to get the two points."

"He's a true pro," Steen said of Johnson. "He's always ready to go and he's a very calm netminder. He goes from post to post. He's always big, he always tries to get a piece. He's been terrific for us."

Tyler Bozak got two assists, giving him eight points (two goals, six assists) the past six games after starting the season with a goal and an assist in eight games, and Vladimir Tarasenko put in a workmanlike effort in helping create two goals.

Ryan O'Reilly extended his point streak to a career-high nine games (eight goals, eight assists) after scoring. He became the first Blue since Doug Weight did it Oct. 4-25, 2001 to get a nine-game point streak in his first season with the Blues, and Tarasenko extended his point streak to six games (four goals, four assists).

"I thought it was definitely a step in the right direction," Steen said. "I think 'Johnny' made some big stops for us, timely stops. I know he makes it seem easy but there are some big saves he made tonight."

Playing 4-on-4, Pietrangelo sniped a shot from the slot after Tarasenko worked to get the puck back behind the net. He initially tried to center it, but had to work it back to his stick, found Pietrangelo in the slot before waiting out Sharks goalie Aaron Dell and picked his spot top shelf at 14:50 of the first period.

"Sometimes when you have too much time, you over-think it," Pietrangelo said. "I think all the guys kind of shifted to one side and they got the goalie ... I think their own guys were kind of screening him. You don't get that much time very often, but I'll take it."

The Blues kept pushing the pace in the second, working in the San Jose zone and being able to work pucks out of the defensive end when Johnson wasn't called upon to keep the puck out of the net.

O'Reilly made it 2-0 at 5:28 when Schwartz stick-checked Logan Couture behind the San Jose net, Tarasenko slid the puck to Schwartz in the low slot, and Schwartz pushed the puck to O'Reilly to the left of Dell before putting it off the San Jose goalie and plunging into the top half of the net.

Schwartz's goal at 13:57 was a work of perfection and made it 3-0.

The Blues gained the zone with 7:21 remaining in the period, and the line of Robby Fabbri, Robert Thomas and David Perron did most of the heavy lifting keeping the puck in the zone, forcing two failed clearing attempts before San Jose iced the puck with 6:20 left, and when the Blues won the faceoff and Vince Dunn kept the puck in the zone, 17 seconds after the faceoff, Bozak was feeding Schwartz in tight.

"Even my goal, Vladi won the puck battle behind the net. Schwartzy's goal, it's just hard work," Pietrangelo said. "When you're using everybody in every situation, you're going to have a little more jump like we did tonight. We're going to score goals and win games based on our work and we've won four of five here, whatever it is, and a lot of that's coming from our work."

San Jose pushed in the third, but Steen scored on a busted play at 12:21 making it 4-0.

Johnson had to make a flurry of saves in the waning seconds to preserve his eighth NHL shutout.

"I think when you get wins you build confidence and confidence in the structure and the way that you play and there's definitely areas we can improve on but again, you have to find ways to win even if you're not playing your best," Steen said. "We've done that lately here, the last five games, and again, finding ways to winning, whether it's guys stepping up or a team effort or finding ways I think you build confidence and I think we're doing that and getting more a little bit more flow with our team. It's an ongoing thing, I think, being able to deal with the highs and lows. Teams that can get through that are usually the better ones."

Instead of harping about a statement win, Yeo wants to see this type of play followed up.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Jaden Schwartz (17) celebrates as Tyler Bozak skates in after Schwartz's
goal gave the Blues a 3-0 lead en route to a 4-0 win over San Jose Friday.

"This has been as long of a homestand that I can remember and got a chance to finish it in a good way Sunday," Yeo said. "So it’s important for us to play well at home. Obviously for the success of the team and the organization you need that, but obviously you want to put a good product on the ice for our supportive fans. So yeah, let’s make sure we bring it on Sunday now.

"I think it’s maybe a game we can build some confidence off of. I think we have to be careful. They played last night. I think that we did a nice job … as far as the game plan, using that to our advantage, making it hard on them to go back to retrieve pucks, making them come 200 feet. I think that we played a smart game because of that and I think that helped us a lot. There was a lot of good in the game, (but) I think the next one would be a little bit more of a statement for me, to be honest with you. If we can beat two good teams in a row, now you’re talking. Tonight was a good game, I’m really happy with it. Obviously we worked to get the win and I’m proud of the guys for that. But if we can get the next one and beat two good teams in a row, then that’s saying something."

And for those fans, who showed their appreciation, well, Pietrangelo put it eloquently.

"We know we've got good fans," he said. "We can hear them. It's great. What is it, Friday night? Friday night in St. Louis. Everyone's a little fired up, huh? Get the day off tomorrow.

"Well they like the play, too. I guess it's a combo, right? A little AB [Anheuser-Busch] on Friday night in St. Louis and there you go."

* NOTES -- Center Brayden Schenn missed his second straight game with an oblique strain. He is expected to practice Saturday and a determination will be made whether he can play in the final of a season-long seven-game homestand Sunday against Minnesota. ... With his two points, Steen passed David Backes for sixth in franchise history in points with 462.

(11-9-18) Sharks-Blues Gameday Lineup

By LOU KORAC
ST. LOUIS -- Robert Thomas had an idea. The Blues' 2017 first-round puck just didn't want to disclose anything until he was assured by the team.

Thomas will play in his 10th NHL game today against the San Jose Sharks (7 p.m.; FS-MW, KMOX 1120-AM), and this kick in the first year of his entry-level contract, which means it will not slide to the 2019-20 season.

The Blues (5-5-3) can still send Thomas to the Ontario Hockey League (the American Hockey League is not an option) if they so choose to do so, but with his entry-level contract kicking in full now, the chances of that happening are unlikely, which means he can unpack fully now and make a temporary permanent spot in Keith and Chantal Tkachuk's basement.

"It's pretty exciting for me," Thomas, who has four assists in nine games, said. "It's a great opportunity for me tonight to keep developing and keep developing my game. I think I've taken a lot of good steps and this will just be another one. ... I had a bit of an idea. I didn't want to say anything until it's for sure. I knew I had a chance to play today so that's an answer for me.

"I'm going to stay in the basement. It's a great setup there, a great mentor in Keith. ... I'd say the only thing (needed) is getting a U.S. phone because my phone's not working anymore. I'd say that would be the one thing."

Thomas will get his first full-time crack at the power play with Brayden Schenn, who will miss a second straight game with an upper-body injury, out of the lineup.

"It's something I've always wanted to be a part of," Thomas said. "It's a process. It's a good step forward to get a chance here tonight and hopefully make a good impression and stay on there."

Blues coach Mike Yeo cautioned that Thomas could still get assigned to the OHL, but that the subject of any sort of trial never was brought up.

"For us, I don't think that eight games, nine games, 10 games, whatever, there hasn't really been a big difference," Yeo said. "If you ever want to ask 'Army' [Doug Armstrong], I'm sure he'd want to talk about the different scenarios. I don't think that there's necessarily a guarantee that he's going to stay here all year long still just because he's playing in this game. What we have to decide and what we have to continue to evaluate is A) is he getting better, and B) is he helping us win hockey games or do we see him having the potential to really help us later in the year. I'm just moving forward the same way that we have. When I've talked to him, I said, 'I don't care about the nine-game mark, the 10-game mark. Don't worry, nothing's changing here.' I've seen improvement. I've seen growth in his game and I've seen him helping contribute us winning hockey games, so that all that matters for us."

In the meantime, Thomas, who flew in his parents for the game tonight and Sunday afternoon against Minnesota, can now unwind and just play.

"The main thing is focusing on the team," Thomas said. "We're not where we want to be right now. I feel like we've come a long way lately, but we've still got a way to go."

- - -

Speaking of Schenn, Yeo said he skated on his own this morning before the morning skate but after seeing him limit his work yesterday in practice, Yeo felt Schenn would not be available for today.

"He went out and skated earlier," Yeo said. "He didn't skate with our team but skated beforehand. In talking to Ray [Barile], he should be available to practice tomorrow, so we'll see. Obviously we want to be smart here.

"He tried it in practice yesterday, couldn't continue on with any of the contact drills, so obviously that ruled him out for today, but obviously he's pushing. He wants to get in the lineup. We want him in the lineup, we want him in the lineup when he's healthy, but we also want to be smart where we don't have something that lingers for too long or puts him out for longer than needed."

- - -

Chad Johnson will get a second straight start in goal tonight after putting up a 38-save effort in a 4-1 win against the Carolina Hurricanes on Tuesday.

"He played a really strong game [Tuesday]," Yeo said of Johnson. "I just think he deserves another opportunity to get back in there."

Johnson is 3-1-1 with a 2.18 goals-against average and .925 save percentage in five career games against the Sharks and is 1-2-0 with a 2.47 GAA and .919 save percentage this season in two starts (four appearances).

"I've always tried to prepare as if I'm playing every night," Johnson said. "It's a different mindset when you know and don't know. When you know, it's a lot better. I'm excited to get back in here tonight and I'm prepared for it."

Johnson was solid against the Hurricanes, who outshot the Blues 39-20 in the game, but Johnson felt like he was locked in and his rebound control was a telling difference.

"Sometimes it's based on opportunities," Johnson said. "Pucks hit you funny or they're just making different shots, pucks elevated a couple inches off your pad and it doesn't really go where you want it to. I feel like when things are on your side in some senses, pucks are going where you want them to. For the most part, I try to be consistent with that, it just doesn't always happen. It's such a quick game. When things are on, you can kind of tell this is going to be a good night. Pucks are going where you want them to. They're sticking to you. You're getting those fortunate bounces and hitting posts. It's nice to be able to have that."

- - -

Defenseman Robert Bortuzzo, out for the past two weeks with a lower-body injury, still hasn't skated.

The Blues originally said Bortuzzo would be reevaluated in two weeks but it's obviously going to be longer before he can play.

"He's not skating right now. It'd be hard to figure that he's going to factor in or get in the lineup here in the next couple games for sure," Yeo said. "I just need to see him get on the ice and obviously he's got to get to feeling better before he steps on the ice, but once he does, then we'll get a better gauge for when he's ready to return."

- - -

Defenseman Colton Parayko will play after missing Thursday's practice for personal reasons.

Center Ryan O'Reilly will put his eight-game point streak (seven goals, eight assists) on the line tonight. With a point tonight, O'Reilly will set a personal NHL-best point streak of nine games.

Right wing Vladimir Tarasenko has a five-game point streak (four goals, three assists).

The Sharks, who did not skate Friday morning, are playing the second of back-to-back games after a 4-3 loss at Dallas Thursday. San Jose is expected to start Aaron Dell in goal.

- - -

The Blues' projected lineup:

Jaden Schwartz-Ryan O'Reilly-Vladimir Tarasenko

Robby Fabbri-Robert Thomas-David Perron

Alexander Steen-Tyler Bozak-Nikita Soshnikov

Zach Sanford-Ivan Barbashev-Oskar Sundqvist

Carl Gunnarsson-Alex Pietrangelo

Vince Dunn-Colton Parayko

Joel Edmundson-Jordan Schmaltz

Chad Johnson will start in goal; Jake Allen will be the backup.

Healthy scratches will be Jay Bouwmeester and Pat Maroon. Brayden Schenn (upper body) and Robert Bortuzzo (lower body) are out.

- - -

The Sharks' projected lineup:

Evander Kane-Joe Pavelski-Joonas Donskoi

Timo Meier-Logan Couture-Kevin Labanc

Barclay Goodrow-Joe Thornton-Marcus Sorensen

Melker Karlsson-Antti Suomela-Rourke Chartier

Joakim Ryan-Brent Burns

Brenden Dillon-Erik Karlsson

Marc-Edouard Vlasic-Justin Braun

Aaron Dell is expected to get the start in goal; Martin Jones would be the backup.

Healthy scratches are expected to be Radim Simek and Tim Heed. Tomas Hertl (concussion) has missed the past three games.