Thursday, March 21, 2019

Barbashev's first NHL hat trick fuels Blues to 5-2 win over Red Wings

Center was playing in front of parents, brother visiting from Russia; fourth line 
accounts for seven points; Maroon scores in career-best fourth straight game

By LOU KORAC
ST. LOUIS -- Perhaps Dmitry and Marina Barbashev could stay in St. Louis a bit longer.

The parents of Ivan Barbashev made the long trek from Moscow, along with Barbashev's younger brother Max, to visit the Blues center iceman for the first time. They arrived on Monday to see the 23-year-old live and in person.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Ivan Barbashev pumps his fist after scoring Thursday against Detroit. It was
the first NHL hat trick for Barbashev in a 5-2 win at Enterprise Center.

They couldn't have picked a better time since Barbashev gave each of them a treat, a goal for every family member to equal out to his first NHL hat trick in a 5-2 win against the Detroit Red Wings before 18,272 at Enterprise Center on Thursday.

Barbashev's parents arrived in time to see the Blues throttle the Edmonton Oilers, 7-2, on Tuesday to get accustomed to life in America. They'll be here until April 2, prompting Barbashev to joke, "Yeah, I'll let tired of it, don't worry."

But he gave them something to cheer about in a game the Blues (39-27-8) didn't play their best but found a way to grind out two points.

"It feels great," said Barbashev, who became the 11th player to reach double digits in goals with 12. "It's their second game here to watch me and it was unbelievable. It was a good feeling."

It marked the second straight game that the Blues, who moved four points ahead of the Dallas Stars for third place in the Central Division after the Stars lost 3-1 to Colorado and within four points of Nashville for second after the Predators lost 2-1 in a shootout to Pittsburgh, got production from a newly-formed line that came together after a couple injured players came back to give interim coach Craig Berube options.

Barbashev, Alexander Steen and Zach Sanford, the anointed fourth line, accounted for seven points (three goals, four assists) a game after Jaden Schwartz, Oskar Sundqvist and David Perron accounted for nine points (four goals, five assists).

They were needed in a game the Blues weren't necessarily at their best but found a way to grind out goals and grind the Red Wings (26-38-10) in their zone when Detroit came at them with speed and tenacity.

"I thought our first period wasn't really good, but the second and third, we just started playing better," Barbashev said. "We played physical. It was a lot of fun to be out there."

Pat Maroon scored in his fourth straight game, a career-best streak, and Sundqvist also scored. Jordan Binnington made 20 saves to improve to 11-0-1 against the Eastern Conference.

"I thought it was a grind the whole game, pretty much," Berube said. "Not a clean game. Fourth line, excellent game, they're doing a real good job for us."

Steen had three assists, his first multi-point game since Dec. 27 against Buffalo (29 games) and first points in 12 games. Steen’s assist on Barbashev’s second goal was his 600th point in the NHL. He and his father Thomas Steen (817) became the fourth father-son duo to each have at least 600 points in the NHL, joining Gordie (1,850) and Mark Howe (742), Bobby (1,170) and Brett Hull (1,391), and Peter (1,239) and Paul Stastny (678).

"Something to look back on later," Steen said. "Cool names to be in there with and especially to be in there with the Stastnys is a little extra special."

The line was the epitome of what was needed to win on Thursday with its grinding, forechecking, hitting style that created net-front goals and allowed the Blues to establish a lead after falling behind 1-0 just two minutes into the game,

"In the second period, we stopped making turnovers and we just put it deep and we went there and just play physical," Barbashev said. "I think everybody had a helluva game."

"They've been playing extremely well," Steen said of Barbashev and Sanford. "I thought last game we had a lot of chances and could have buried some more. Both guys worked extremely hard, 'Sanny' is very physical and supported the puck. The one goal 'Barby' scored, he was physical but 'Sanny' was the one that the puck stuck. They're playing great right now, 'Barby' to get three tonight was awesome. He's got family in town. It's a good touch."

Thomas Vanek, who scored twice, gave Detroit a 1-0 lead at 2:05 of the first period on a rebound after the Blues were backing in on a 3-on-2. Binnington left a dangerous rebound in the slot and the puck go to the net where Vanek was able to get two whacks at it. But Sundqvist tied it 1-1 at 11:46 when David Perron, chipped a puck in and defenseman Michael Del Zotto, who has an assist in three straight games, read the play and went in and fed Sundqvist a pass off the backhand before he was able to beat Jonathan Bernier high glove side.

Perron had the secondary assist to extend his point streak to 17 games (nine goals, 13 assists). It's the fourth time in Blues history a player has had at least one point in 17 consecutive appearances, joining Brett Hull (25 games in 1991-92, 20 in 1989-90) and Blake Dunlop (19 games in 1981-82).

"The first period was a little slow start, but I thought the second and third, we came on, we played our game," Maroon said.

Barbashev gave the Blues a 2-1 lead at 3:22 of the second period after getting to a loose puck in front and poked it high into the net. Steen hit the post off a 2-on-1 with Sanford initially, but the Blues kept at it. Barbashev made it 3-1 at 8:16 on his own rebound when Sanford's forecheck initially helped make the play and Barbashev made a big hit on Detroit's Michael Rasmussen before getting to the net.

"When I talked to 'Barby' or our coaching staff, we talked about 'Barby' being a power forward more, banging and crashing and getting to the net and scoring dirty goals around there," Berube said. "He's capable of that stuff."

Detroit wouldn't go away when Vanek cut it to 3-2 at 8:48 of the third period on a slap shot from the top of the left circle that the Blues thought about challenging for goalie interference when Tyler Bertuzzi went tumbling over Binnington. But the coaches left it alone since Alex Pietrangelo shoved Bertuzzi in there. But Maroon's goal made it 4-2 at 10:19 to eliminate any Detroit momentum.

He scooped a backhand in when the Blues sent traffic to the net again and converted Robert Thomas' soccer-style kick pass to the right of Bernier.

"I think that's what we've been talking about all year," Maroon said. "Especially on that stretch we had where it's just when someone scores you've got to find a way to bounce back, get the next one. Our line went out there, got back to our game, grinding them down low. Getting high-to-low, screens in front and found a way to get the rebound. [Robert] Thomas made a heck of a play with his skate, making that pass. So we found way to get it done tonight.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Pat Maroon (7) celebrates after scoring Thursday with Detroit's Brian 
Lashoff in the background of the Blues' 5-2 win over the Red Wings.

"... We found ways to go to the net and get some ugly goals tonight. Barby did a heck of a job on his first two goals tonight and got rewarded. They're a hard team over there. They play fast. They're hard to play against. And I thought we did a good job." 

Barbashev completed the hat trick with an empty-net goal to extend the lead to 5-2 at 19:11.

"I actually was trying to put it low in the net but somehow it just went up," Barbashev said. "I just probably got a little nervous."

The Blues, 2-0-0 on this four-game homestand, now will be tested greatly with visits from the league's best team, Tampa Bay, on Saturday and red-hot Vegas on Monday.

"Play hockey. Consistency," Berube said. "We've got the best team in the league coming in here Saturday. We're going to have to play well."

(3-21-19) Red Wings-Blues Gameday Lineup

By LOU KORAC
ST. LOUIS -- Last game, it was Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl. Before that, it was Jack Eichel, and before that Sidney Crosby

What do they all have in common? Well, two things. They were kept off the scoresheet against the Blues, and chances are they were on the ice getting sealed off against Jay Bouwmeester and Colton Parayko.

When the Blues (38-27-8) host the Detroit Red Wings (26-37-10) at 7 p.m. today (FS-MW, KMOX 1120-AM) looking to get closer to second place in the Central Division and gain separation from the Dallas Stars, chances are that Bouwmeester and Parayko will see a lot of Detroit's top players, including Andreas Athanasiou and Dylan Larkin.

Crosby is fourth in the NHL with 93 points -- zero against the Blues. Eichel leads the Sabres with 73 points -- zero against the Blues. And McDavid, second in the NHL with 105 points and Draisaitl is sixth with 91 -- both held off the scoresheet for the first time since Jan. 19, a span of 24 straight games where either one or the other tallied at least a point for the Oilers.

It's not an easy thing to do, but boy, lining up 6-foot-6, 230-pounds [Parayko] and 6-4, 206 [Bouwmeester] can disrupt an awful lot on the ice.

"They've been great for I don't know how many months now playing together," Blues interim coach Craig Berube said. "We put them out there against a top line almost every night and they do a good job shutting them down.

"They're both really good skaters and they've got big reaches, good sticks. That's a big part of it right there. They're both big guys, with long reaches and they both can skate really well. They have good chemistry together and work well together."

Ask Bouwmeester, who earlier in his Blues career mentored Alex Pietrangelo and was his playing partner, and he said it's inevitable that you will see those players on the ice at some point.

"We don't necessarily match lines like a lot of teams, but you're playing top four minutes, you're going to get those lines," Bouwmeester said. "That's essentially your No. 1 job is to keep those guys' chances to a minimum. You're going to have nights ... those guys are good players, they're going to get their chances. It's more just trying to keep them limited and that sort of thing. It's been going pretty well now for a while. 

"For me, my focus has never changed. I've played against a lot of good players for a long time, and that's kind of been the role. When Eddy's healthy, it's four big guys that can move. Essentially, it's our six. It doesn't really matter; we've got six capable guys. It's not like we have just four guys playing all the minutes. Other guys fill them in. You're killing penalties against top players. It's kind of a group effort. Just the way it's lined up, we've played against some top guys, but on the road, you don't get the matches like you do at home. There's lots that goes into it. I think our group as a team, I think we've identified what our game looks like and when we're playing good, it's easier to play defense because you don't give up as many odd-man rushes. Essentially you're not playing as much in your own end. That's probably a bigger revelation than anything since the start of the year, that we're playing better as a team.

"We've had a string of pretty decent games. It's one of those things you don't really want to jinx it or anything like that. [Parayko] skates so good and he's such a big guy that he can play against those guys with speed like McDavid, the Nathan MacKinnons and, Crosbys and those guys. I think that's our game, just have a good gap and use your size and your reach to kind of try to force things by the blue line and not give up things once they get into the zone. It's essential they're going to get chances because they're good players. It's more of you can keep everything to the outside and not give those chances on the inside, that's where those goals are going to come from."

Parayko said it's a matter of getting help on the ice, and with the forwards back-checking the way they do, they get good reads on when to close those gaps.

"It's a five-man unit out there and the goalie," Parayko said. "Especially the forwards do a good job of tracking for us. They made it a lot easier. I can count a couple times in my head just forwards that are intercepting a pass on the backcheck, it's impressive and when you have that, it allows us to keep a tight gap and that just makes it hard on their forwards to generate speed and generate opportunities. Just a good job by our forwards and obviously 'Bouw' is an unbelievable skater and makes it easy on me.

"Obviously when you watch 'Bouw', he's so simple and it makes him so good, as weird as that sounds. The way that he plays makes it so easy on not only me but the forwards. He plays a direct game, he plays a simple game. That's just almost the best game is a game that makes it tough on other teams too to play against and he's been doing it for years. It's fun to watch and it's been fun to play by his size."

Bouwmeester, who has battled a tough hip injury that required surgery last off-season and saw him struggle at the beginning before finally getting healthy and arguably playing the best hockey of his career, sort of laughed at the notion that they can pick up the stat sheet and see zeroes for the opposition's top players.

"Yeah, we can have zeroes next to our names too," Bouwmeester said. "Everybody has their role and takes pride in it and I think everyone in the room recognizes that. Sometimes those jobs with those matchups and killing penalties and that sort of thing is recognized and they're appreciated. Essentially, you know who you're mostly playing against most nights. You don't want them ever to score, but it happens.

"I think that's why me and Petro played together for a long time. It worked right away just because we both skated and both played with a similar mindset. With Colton, it's no different. He's a very similar player. With Petro, he can skate, he can move the puck, defensively. It's just with his size defensively, he can take so much away. He just takes up a lot of space, he's got a really good stick too. He has a knack for knocking down pucks and just getting in lanes and that sort of thing, obviously stops a lot of things before they start. For me, it's fun because I like him. He's a young kid, we're from the same area, there's a lot in common right from the first day he was here. We had things to talk about. That helps too and it helps with the communication. We do communicate well. We'll talk about things that happened on the ice when we get to the bench. He's a smart kid and he's good at parking things if they go bad and just move on. It makes it easy for me."

Parayko averages 22 minutes 42 seconds per game of ice time, while Bouwmeester comes in at 20:33, which is well below his career average of 24:16, but it's made him a much more effective skater, especially down the stretch of a long season.

- - -

Even the best of friends will drop the gloves.

That's what happened Tuesday when former teammates and still friends Pat Maroon of the Blues and Zack Kassian of the Oilers had a heavyweight tilt in the second period of the Blues' 7-2 win.

The Blues were ahead 4-0 at the time, and it smelled of one of those opportunities where the veteran Kassian could pick a time to try and light a fire under his struggling team, particularly after Oilers coach Ken Hitchcock had already made a goalie change.

It was a spirited battle, one in which both threw their share of shots in.

"I talked to him after the game," Maroon said. "We're obviously good friends. We talk every day. We hang out, we hung out a lot in Edmonton. We see each other every summer, we go on vacation with our wives. It is what is. Sometimes, you need to find a way to get the guys going.

"I didn't expect it, but it is what it is. It's over now. No one got hurt, you never want to see your friends get hurt. I'm just glad we won. He's really tough. It's hard to fight lefties. I kind of have to figure out what his strategy is. Obviously he threw heavy. I was just trying to wear him down and see if he can throw and I can throw some. He's a tough guy that fights some heavy boys. I'm just glad no one got hurt. He's a good friend of mine. I'm just glad everyone's OK."

The two had dinner together Monday night, and Kassian said he would reach out to Maroon after the game, which he did.

"Patty's being Patty, stirring the pot out there," Kassian said. "I had dinner with him [Monday] night. It's kind of the way we play. If we're playing against each other, sometimes we're going to butt heads. Trying to get a spark. I know he's a gamer, he's a willing combatant, he's been around for a long time and I respect the hell out of him. It's just the way the game goes sometimes." 

- - -

The Blues are going with the same lineup as the one used Tuesday, and that includes Oskar Sundqvist, who left the game with around 6:30 to play after taking a cross-check from behind from Milan Lucic that netted the Edmonton forward a five-minute major and game misconduct.

It also means Mackenzie MacEachern will be a healthy scratch for the second game, and with players returning from injury, there will be players needing to come out of the lineup, and right now, Berube is choosing to play Zach Sanford over MacEachern.

When asked if MacEachern's game has leveled off a bit, Berube said, "A little bit. He's got to get that bite back in his game, forechecking, hitting, being hard on people. He can hunt people down with his skating. So he needs to get back to that."

As for Sanford, it's been an up-and-down adventure, but Berube is keeping a close eye on him.

"He's a smart player," Berube said. "He has very good defensive awareness out there. And he's got a real good stick. He's a good player. He's got a lot of upside to his game. Really good hands. 

"I think there's been times when his puck decisions aren't very good. Or he wants to make a play all the time. We need him to just go north a little bit more and make harder plays. I liked that line [Tuesday] night of [Ivan] Barbashev, [Alexander] Steen and Sanford. I thought they were very effective. Did things right. Forechecked hard. And that's what we want 'Sanny' to do, we want him to be a hard forechecking guy, get in there, bang bodies and then use his hands in the offensive zone."

Defensemen Joel Edmundson (lower body) and Carl Gunnarsson (upper body) along with forward Sammy Blais (lower body) all took part in the morning skate but are not ready to play.

- - -

The Blues signed goalie Joel Hofer to a three-year, entry-level contract.

Hofer was drafted in the fourth round of the 2018 NHL Draft.

Hofer, 18, has split this season between the Western Hockey League’s Swift Current Broncos and Portland Winterhawks. In 30 games with the Broncos, Hofer was 6-21-1 with a .904 save percentage. With the Winterhawks, was 9-8-0 with a 3.18 GAA and a .911 save percentage in 18 games.

Hofer began his junior career with Swift Current in 2017-18 and was 8-3-1 record, a 2.61 GAA and a .914 save percentage while helping the Broncos capture the WHL Championship.

- - -

The Blues' projected lineup:

Brayden Schenn-Ryan O'Reilly-Vladimir Tarasenko

Jaden Schwartz-Oskar Sundqvist-David Perron

Pat Maroon-Tyler Bozak-Robert Thomas

Alexander Steen-Ivan Barbashev-Zach Sanford

Vince Dunn-Alex Pietrangelo

Jay Bouwmeester-Colton Parayko

Michael Del Zotto-Robert Bortuzzo

Jordan Binnington will start in goal; Jake Allen will be the backup.

Healthy scratches include Robby Fabbri and Mackenzie MacEachern. Joel Edmundson (lower body), Carl Gunnarsson (upper body) and Sammy Blais (lower body) are out.

- - -

The Red Wings' projected lineup:

Darren Helm-Dylan Larkin-Anthony Mantha

Tyler Bertuzzi-Andreas Athanasiou-Luke Glendening

Thomas Vanek-Frans Nielsen-Taro Hirose

Christoffer Ehn-Michael Rasmussen-Ryan Kuffner

Danny DeKeyser-Filip Hronek

Niklas Kronwall-Madison Bowey

Brian Lashoff-Luke Witkowski

Jonathan Bernier will start in goal; Jimmy Howard will be the backup.

Libor Sulak (illness) will be scratched after being recalled Wednesday. Trevor Daley (back), Jonathan Ericsson (lower body), Justin Abdelkader (leg), Mike Green (virus) and Jacob de la Rose (accelerated heartbeat) are all out.

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Perron's latest bout with concussion has him thinking big picture

Forward is having banner season in third stint with Blues; recent head 
injury can't be overlooked with family to think about despite love of hockey

By LOU KORAC
ST. LOUIS -- David Perron couldn't contain himself.

Not even a seasoned veteran of 770 NHL games. 

But there are certain things that are precious to people in life. For the 30-year-old Perron, it's his family, including two kids first and foremost, but it's also his love and passion for hockey, and it makes those thoughts of life after hard to imagine in the prime of one's career.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues forward David Perron (57) has been locked in and playing arguably
one of his best seasons in the NHL, but another concussion has him thinking
big picture. He's hoping the latest was the last. 

But when concussion issues become a problem, it tends to help those rethink priorities, and for Perron, the rope is getting smaller to pull on. As much as he loves the game, as much as the craft of playing consumes his livelihood, there comes a time when the bigger pictures of life come into play.

And as he stepped onto the ice at PPG Paints Arena in Pittsburgh on Saturday after missing 24 games following the latest bout with a concussion, Perron said there were tears of joy. It's understandable when one feels the emotions take over, especially for something one loves.

"Because it's harder and harder every time," Perron said. "It's so hard on the mental side of it to go through. Basically you have some situations that heal up quicker, and some that linger and there's no reason why, and that's why it gets harder on you, it gets harder on your family, you start to wonder about other things and you get in your head a lot. It's just good to be back. I think when you play, you think less and everything kind of settles. It's awesome to be back with the guys."

Concussions are hard to predict and how they'll affect someone, as Perron can attest, and this latest one came at quite an inopportune time with Perron, who is on a personal career-high 16-game point streak (nine goals, 12 assists) and arguably playing the best hockey of his NHL career in his third stint with the team that drafted him in the first round (26th overall pick) of the 2007 NHL Draft.

The first one came in the 2009-10 season when Perron was rocked by an open ice hit from San Jose's Joe Thornton as the Sharks center came out of the penalty box and caught Perron's blind side that sidelined him for the remainder of that season and 97 games in all.

There have been relatively milder ones (there's never a small or large type of concussion) where the symptoms aren't as often or frequent, such as one he had last season that forced him to miss just 10 days, but this latest one has Perron rethinking the bigger and more important things in life.

"I don't think you ever get to that situation where you're like that mostly when they linger," Perron said. "Last year I had one and I was out 10 days. It's pretty good, because you start feeling pretty good right away. Other situations like this year ... at the end of the day, a lot of things have changed over the years where you can skate, you can activate and it's good for your mental side of things to keep doing what you're doing and you're not going to distance yourself from everything and obviously you don't feel a part of the team. There's so many things that are hard mentally. You feel different as a person almost. It's not good. It's never fun to go through and I really, really hope -- knock on wood -- that it never happens again just because I don't know how many more times I can go through this."

The Blues resigned Perron last offseason to a four-year, $16 million contract to return to the Blues for a third stint after setting career-highs in points (66) and assists (50) with Vegas last season and making a trip to his first Stanley Cup Final before losing to Washington in six games.

Perron reached the 20-goal mark for the fourth time in his career and first since a career-high 28 goals with Edmonton in 2013-14 on Tuesday in a 7-2 win against the Oilers. His 40 points (20 goals, 20 assists) in 48 games would equate to a career-high 34 goals and 68 points.

It is arguably Perron's best season that got derailed when he departed the lineup on Jan. 17.

"No, his work ethic is top notch," said Blues captain and teammate Alex Pietrangelo when asked if he's surprised by Perron's production. "He's going to make sure he comes back when he's ready. He hasn't missed a beat, he's been pretty impressive. As much skill as he has too, you're not going to miss a beat.

"... He's gotten better obviously throughout his career. Last year was a career year for him. He's gotten better every single year. He continues to work on his game and when you put him with linemates, he was with O'Ry [Ryan O'Reilly] before, and now he's with 'Schwartzy' [Jaden Schwartz] and 'Sunny' [Oskar Sundqvist], when you put him with linemates like that, you see what he did last year, when you have high-end skill like he does and work ethic, you're going to get rewarded and that's what's happened."

A coaching change from Mike Yeo to Craig Berube hasn't influenced Perron's game all that much, although there was a time when Berube, known for his tough love and straight-to-the-point style, had one of those tough love conversations with Perron after making him a healthy scratch on Dec. 9 against Vancouver.

At the time, Berube wanted Perron to play more disciplined and reduce the penalties taken and make more of an impact all around. It never sits well with a veteran player, but Perron took it -- albeit upset -- and used it as motivation and has improved ever since. The responsibilities have grown ever since.


"If that's what made it happen, I don't know," Berube said. "But at that point in time, I think there were some things that we just needed to talk about. And it's worked out and here we are."

"It started with the scratch, quite honestly," Perron admitted. "We had a good conversation, I brought it up before, and he's been awesome. I feel like he's been my biggest supporter, through the injury, through a lot of things."

And being supportive through the concussion issue was vital for Perron and Berube's relationship. When Berube made a comment that came across as calling him out when he said when Perron is ready to play, the Blues have a spot for him in the lineup, there was no misnomer taken by the veteran forward.

"I know there was a quote out there, it didn't sound good at the time and I told (the media) I'd address it at the right time, and just had a conversation the next day with Chief and what's going on with this," Perron said. "Obviously, the way he talks, he's pretty honest, I don't think he meant it, the way he supported me, and that's kind of where I'll leave it."

But Perron, who has 484 points (195 goals, 289 assists) in 770 regular-season games, wasn't sure when or if he would get back, just because of the uncertainties he's faced in the past and with this latest bout with concussion symptoms whether he would be able to play again this season, even though all signs appeared to be positive with him skating for several weeks. Symptoms can come and go.

He was skating with the team at home, and when on the road, former Blues defenseman and Synergy Hockey owner Jamie Rivers was putting Perron through the gamut of drills and helping him keep a positive mind and focus on playing again, remaining physically and mentally sharp.

"Physically, yeah. I think so," Perron said. "The first game, the first period, I felt pretty good right away and my lungs were a little tired. And then it kind of settled. The rest of the game, I felt like ... I mean my game's never going to be about speed. So if you guys are looking for that out there, you're probably mistaken (laughs). So it's about poise, about patience, making little plays, being strong on the puck. I felt like I was doing that. The next game was a little bit tougher, first back-to-back. I think I made some plays. I had a good amount of shots against Buffalo. But you'd like to have a couple of those back and maybe put one more in the net when you lose a game. But I felt like, even practicing the  power play [Tuesday] morning, that's huge for me. I haven't played power play in 24 games and now I'm right into the mix against top PK-er's on the other side. I made some good plays. I also made two or three that I was like _ 'Wow, I can't be doing that right now.' Hopefully it's over with, and  just by practicing this morning. But I'm guessing it's gonna take another three, four games or maybe a week. Hopefully, that just seems like it'd be normal. But like this morning, I felt a lot sharper. I made sure that on the power play this morning I was crisp and making plays."

Perron played with Schwartz and Sundqvist and offered up a dynamic line that had nine points (five goals, four assists) in its debut. Nobody can predict what's going to happen down the stretch and into the playoffs, but if Perron and Schwartz particularly can offer up the dangerous threats the Blues can supply offensively and take some of the pressure off the top line of Brayden Schenn, O'Reilly and Vladimir Tarasenko, the Blues will be a hard out come playoff time.

"I gained a lot of confidence playing that (offensive) spot last year in Vegas," Perron said. "I didn't score too many goals on the power play but I had a lot of assists, created a lot of chances for the other guys and it's interesting because you don't think of that spot for me right away. This is the situation we were in last year gave me that opportunity and I'm glad that I can do this again this year. I'm trying to be sharp every [puck touch, I need to keep doing that whether it's practice or in a game as we keep going and obviously in playoffs power plays are huge."

Things have come full circle for Perron three times in St. Louis, where he hopes it's his last, the Sherbrooke, Quebec native's second home. As long as he can stay healthy.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues forward David Perron (57) had two goals and an assist against the
Oilers on Tuesday, giving him three goals and two assists in three games
since returning from a concussion.

"... I think the biggest turnaround for me and my career, who knows where it's going to go from here, when I played in Pittsburgh and didn't really go well for me, I had to dig really deep because it was hard," Perron said. "You almost think you're going to be out of the league and then I get a chance to play with [Ryan] Getzlaf in Anaheim, I brought that up before. I honestly felt like two years ago for the role I had here and the ice time was pretty good and I took it up another level last year with Vegas and I'm trying to bring it up again, same thing. I want to prove to people I can do this. Again, having roles like those spots on the power play will give you a lot of puck touches that whoever I'm passing to is a high-level player so they can score, you generate points, you generate confidence that way. It's all about the roles.

"... I'm trying to make plays. People can look at different years for me and say, he had a good year last year or not. Whatever. To me, I've always played the same way. I've always tried to play the same way. Sometimes you have different roles on teams, and that can impact some of the production you can have. I do feel (more) comfortable this year. Since 'Chief' took over, I've had more consistent linemates, consistent roles, and I think that's affected me positively for sure."

Schwartz, Perron lead the way offensively for Blues in 7-2 win over Oilers

Schwartz nets fourth NHL hat trick, assist; Perron 
continues strong return from concussion with two goals, assist

By LOU KORAC
ST. LOUIS -- It's no secret that the Blues have had tons off offensive success and a lot of it's been driven by top-line forwards Vladimir Tarasenko, Ryan O'Reilly and Brayden Schenn.

That trio has done the bulk of the work, but it had to carry a great workload, including when Schenn and Tarasenko missed games, and most importantly, David Perron out 24 games with a concussion.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues left wing Jaden Schwartz (17) gets off a shot in front of the Oilers'
Leon Draisaitl on St. Louis' 7-2 win on Tuesday.

It affected many in the lineup when the Blues needed balanced scoring among their forwards. But on Tuesday, Tarasenko was back, Perron has been back for three games, and the balance was put to work, and the visual was impressive.

Having those key guys back seemed to light a fire under Jaden Schwartz, who has been in a goal-scoring funk all season but not on Tuesday.

Schwartz broke out with his fourth NHL hat trick and third four-point game, and Perron continued his impressive run with two goals and an assist to help the Blues blitz the Edmonton Oilers, 7-2, at Enterprise Center.

The Blues (38-27-8) remained two points ahead of the Dallas Stars for third place in the Central Division and five behind Nashville for second place, but this was an impressive display of balanced scoring, and with a plethora of forwards at interim coach Craig Berube's disposal, a newly formulated line of Schwartz, Oskar Sundqvist and Perron accounted for nine points (five goals, four assists) against the Oilers (32-34-7).

Schwartz played arguably one of his more dominant games of the season and thrived off playing with the aforementioned linemates.

"It's a nice feeling," Schwartz said. "Maybe you grip the stick a little bit less when you see a couple going in and see a little bit more of the net. Obviously the linemates and the other players made great plays on those goals and some nights, they just seem to find a way and others they don't.

"Today was the first game we were together. I thought it was a good start for us. Both guys were strong on the puck, find open areas to make plays, both responsible defensively. It's just one game, it's our first game together but I think it's something to build off of."

Indeed.

Schwartz was his usual dogged self puck hunting, and he was also puck sniping, foreign words much of the season when his stick is concerned and the puck on it.

But Perron, who extended his personal point streak to 16 games (nine goals, 12 assists), including five (three goals, two assists) in three games since returning, and he actually felt things would work out with Schwartz, but to this degree?

"Yeah, why not," Perron said. "He actually brings it up a lot that when I play with him I get hat tricks because I got two against Calgary in the last two years and he was on the line. So I'm glad to turn it around on him a little bit. We both had two there, it was nice for one of us to get one."

Schwartz's four-point game is the third of his career and first since getting four (one goal, three assists) against the Oilers on Nov. 21, 2017.

"Obviously it's going to give him confidence," Berube said of Schwartz. "When a player like that, that hasn't produced the way he wants to and we expect him to, it's tough. Again the hat trick tonight will give him confidence for sure."

The Blues put in the kind of performance needed against a team lower than then in the standings, something that has been a season-long issue.

"We touched on it before the game and know we haven't had the best starts against some teams and that's something we wanted to prove to ourselves that we could do that and we wanted to be more responsible and more disciplined that way and just be ready to play all around," Schwartz said.

After passing up a Grade-A chance in the slot earlier in the game, Schwartz gave the Blues a 1-0 lead at 11:41 of the first period when he cycled a pass from Perron and going against the grain, snapped a shot from the left circle top shelf over Mikko Koskinen.

"I think he was leaning a little bit and opened up a little bit of room," Schwartz said. "I think I was looking to pass at first but then had a little bit more time to walk on so I was a little bit surprised by that and then I just tried getting it off quick."

Alex Pietrangelo made it 2-0 27 seconds into the second period on a breakaway after getting a saucer pass from Schwartz and darted in alone, deked and going top shelf backhand on Koskinen.

"No, no. That's only in like game speed," Pietrangelo said when asked if he should he considered for shootouts. "Shootouts, no-no. Too much time to think."

Schwartz made it 3-0 at 5:42, and the Oilers pulled Koskinen after allowing three goals on 20 shots and replaced him with Anthony Stolarz. Perron scored from below the goal line, a bank shot on Stolarz's second shot against, to make it 4-0 at 7:14.

"Great play by Bouw," Perron said. "He sees I'm coming around the net. He's being patient, it's kind of a [Sidney] Crosby tip that we call, like on the side of the net. I missed it, but I'm glad I stayed with it. The second one, I don't know if I could re-do that one. It worked out."

Edmonton came back late in the second when Nugent-Hopkins cut the lead to 4-1 at 18:28, and Kassian made it 4-2 at 19:23.

Both were goals that Jordan Binnington, who made 15 saves, overplayed and was beat on backside goals, including a wraparound by Kassian, but the Blues didn't sit on their heels in the third, poured it on and finished the Oilers off.

Perron scored on the power play 6:00 into the third period for a 5-2 lead, and Pat Maroon's third goal in as many games at 13:22 made it 6-2 on a wraparound goal of a Robert Thomas shot.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues forward David Perron (57) smiles after scoring one of two goals on
Tuesday against the Edmonton Oilers on Tuesday.

Schwartz completed the hat trick at 18:48 for the 7-2 final with another quick snap shot far side from the right circle.

"We were clicking on all cylinders," Pietrangelo said. "We hit a few posts. [Sundqvist] hit the post there late. We had a lot of chances to maybe even get a couple more. 

"When we have four lines that can score like we do, it's tough to play against."

As for Sundqvist, he took a shove and cross-check from behind by Milan Lucic that resulted in a five-minute major and game-misconduct. After the game, Berube said he expected Sundqvist to be fine.

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

(3-19-19) Oilers-Blues Gameday Lineup

By LOU KORAC
ST. LOUIS -- The Blues are getting healthier, and just in the right time.

Two games after getting David Perron (concussion) back after missing 24 games, the Blues (37-27-8), who begin a four-game homestand against the Edmonton Oilers (32-33-7) at 7 p.m. today (FS-MW, KMOX 1120-AM), welcome Vladimir Tarasenko back after their leading goal scorer missed five games with an upper-body injury.

The Blues, who went 1-2-2 without Tarasenko in the lineup, are getting their weapons back with 10 games remaining and fighting to keep hold of third place in the Central Division (two points ahead of Dallas) and still trying to hunt down Nashville (five back with a game in hand), getting 58 points (28 goals, 30 assists) is a shot in the arm.

"Great news, he'll be in tonight," Blues interim coach Craig Berube said of Tarasenko. "That's great news for us. He's fine. He obviously never had a lot of practice time. He looks fine. He'll be alright.

"We're getting to where we got a full lineup, getting close anyhow. Not quite there yet, but it's nice to get these guys back from injury for sure."

The only guys missing from the lineup are defensemen Joel Edmundson (lower body) and Carl Gunnarsson (upper body) and forward Sammy Blais (lower body), who is still wearing a walking boot on his left foot.

"They're all making progress," Berube said. "I thought Gunnarsson had a good day today and so did Edmundson. They're coming along nice, which is good.

"[Edmundson] skated yesterday and today, rehab skates."

Tarasenko will rejoin Ryan O'Reilly and Brayden Schenn, one of the hottest lines going in the game.

When the three have played together the past 13 games, they have combined for 56 points (21 goals, 35 assists), an average of 4.3 points per game.

Tarasenko leads the way with 24 points (11 goals, 13 assists), Schenn comes in at 17 points (three goals, 14 assists) and O'Reilly has 15 points (seven goals, eight assists).

"It's very exciting," O'Reilly said. "Obviously we've had some good success together. We know when we play the right way how effective we can be. To get healthy, to get Vladi back, that gives us a big spark. When we're doing things the right way, we're leading the charge and we're hoping every line follows. That's big, that's big for our team. We want to go out there and play a hard, heavy game."

Berube had no issues reuniting them.

"They were so good before," he said. "Injuries happened to both of those guys, so we're hoping that continues. They were a dynamic line, I'll tell you that. They've put up a lot of good numbers and all-around play was excellent. It's great for us that they're back together here playing. Hopefully they can continue where they left off."

What it did was slide Perron, who is on a personal career-best 15-game point streak (seven goals, 11 assists), to a line with Jaden Schwartz and Oskar Sundqvist.

"Good offensive zone time for sure," Berube said of the newly-formed line. "I think that's three guys that can hang onto the puck in the offensive zone. Sunny's proven this year that he's capable of producing offense. He's got pretty good stats and obviously very good defensively too. It's a very good all-around line that you can use anywhere.

"It's been a pleasant surprise coming in this year and [Sundqvist] elevating his game and providing that offensive side of things. We all knew he was a good checker and a good penalty killer and things like that, smart player and good stick, but the offensive stuff was new for sure and he's proven this year that he can provide it."

Berube didn't want to mess with the chemistry of Tyler Bozak centering Pat Maroon and Robert Thomas.

"They've been playing really well," Berube said. "They've given us good games throughout the season. We moved them around a little bit and stuff, but every time we put them back together, they seem to produce. They've got good chemistry together. I thought they played well in Pitt and Buffalo, both games."

Maroon has goals in back-to-back games and three of the past five. He looks refreshed and like that back injury and whatever lingered from past off-season is a thing of the past.

"Just being harder around the net, taking the puck to the net more, things like that," Berube said of Maroon's game. "That's where he scores his goals and produces around the net. I just think he's doing a better job of being in front of the goalie and staying there, being more patient and also bringing the puck to the net himself a little bit more."

To walk into the room and see the board and the names on it spread out and to see it on the ice had to be a sight for sore eyes.

"Looking at the board this morning, it's good," O'Reilly said. "It's a dangerous board. We've got a lot of firepower and that's what it's going to take. Obviously we want to go far, we want to get into the playoffs and be in a good spot. We need everyone going right now. We've got the depth. We show up and work hard, we're going to be in a good place.

"I think it's huge. We have some key games coming down the stretch here and if we can get healthy, it's good. It obviously helps our team dramatically being healthy and having these guys back in our lineup. We need these points; we need them bad. ... These are key games coming down. Teams are nipping at our heels. These are big points we need. To get healthy is a huge advantage. We've got a great team, got a lot of depth. The more consistent we can be with our game, it's going to be huge for us."

- - -

Perron returned against Pittsburgh and had an assist before scoring the Blues' second goal, a big goal in the second period, Sunday to help the Blues get a point in a 4-3 shootout loss against the Sabres.

"The first period, I felt pretty good right away, but my lungs were a little tired," Perron said. "Then I kind of settled in there. My game's going to never be about speed, so if you guys are looking for that, you're probably mistaken. It's about poise, it's about patience, it's about making plays. and being strong on the puck. I felt like I was doing that. The next day was a little bit tougher. The first back-to-back, I think I made some plays. I had a good amount of shots against Buffalo, but you'd like to have a couple more of those back and maybe put one more in the net when you lose a game. But I felt like even practicing the power play this morning, that's huge for me. I haven't played power play in 24 games. ... This morning, I felt a lot sharper."

"I think there's improvement still for sure," Berube said of Perron. "You can ask him that and he'll tell you the same thing. That's not easy to come back, but he's a good player. He finds ways to get open in the offensive zone and get that shot off. He hangs onto the puck very well down there. He's going to get to another level yet."

-- (I'll have more on Perron and battling another concussion in another piece) -- 

- - -

The Blues are playing two more games (tonight against the Oilers and Thursday against Detroit) against teams that are on the outside looking in. When asked what does he need to see from his team when preparing for those opponents, Berube wasn't messing around.

"Wins," he said. 

"I'm not inside every guy's head, but you've got to prepare for every game," Berube added. "This league is so good and every team is so good. I know teams that aren't in the playoffs, but they're dangerous and they're good teams. We're playing one tonight. They've got two of the best players in the National Hockey League on their team. When you're playing a team, you've got to prepare the same way. It doesn't matter who you're playing, and that's just preparation."

The Blues seem to get revved up playing the upper echelon teams.

"Probably, but you've got to find ways to get yourself motivated top play every team," Berube said. "You want to be a real good team in this league, that's what you need to do."

The Blues will close with a stretch of seven of 10 at home, and it's been better of late (7-2-0 the past nine), but the Blues need to make Enterprise Center a tough building to play in.

"We don't want to get too ahead of ourselves," O'Reilly said. "It's taking it one game at a time, but it's getting back. Obviously Buffalo, we didn't play a great game. We're disappointed with that, but coming back home, it's a great opportunity for us to get back up and gain some ground again. This is a building we struggled with in the beginning of the year but have found our way, but now it's time to prove our point that we're a legit team and we have to make this a tough building to play in."

- - -

The Blues' projected lineup:

Brayden Schenn-Ryan O'Reilly-Vladimir Tarasenko

Jaden Schwartz-Oskar Sundqvist-David Perron

Pat Maroon-Tyler Bozak-Robert Thomas 

Zach Sanford-Ivan Barbashev-Alexander Steen 

Vince Dunn-Alex Pietrangelo

Jay Bouwmeester-Colton Parayko

Michael Del Zotto-Robert Bortuzzo

Jordan Binnington will start in goal; Jake Allen will be the backup.

Healthy scratches include Robby Fabbri and Mackenzie MacEachern. Carl Gunnarsson (upper body), Joel Edmundson (lower body) and Sammy Blais (lower body) are out.

- - -

The Oilers' projected lineup:

Leon Draisaitl-Connor McDavid-Zack Kassian

Jujhar Khaira-Ryan Nugent-Hopkins-Sam Gagner

Joseph Gambardella-Colby Cave-Alex Chiasson

Milan Lucic-Kyle Brodziak-Ty Rattie

Oscar Klefbom-Adam Larsson

Darnell Nurse-Kris Russell

Andrej Sekera-Matt Benning

Mikko Koskinen will start in goal; Anthony Stolarz will be the backup.

Healthy scratches include Josh Currie, Alexander Petrovic, Kevin Gravel, Brad Malone and Tobias Rieder. Jesse Puljujarvi (lower body) is out.

Saturday, March 16, 2019

Return to Buffalo for first time since trade has O'Reilly playing meaningful games

Center was traded to Blues on July 1, facing Sabres for first time 
in place he called home for three years with playoff points on the line

By LOU KORAC
HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- It was the end of another losing year and no playoffs, the third straight for Ryan O'Reilly and the Buffalo Sabres, at the conclusion of the 2017-18 season, and O'Reilly had some things to get off his chest.

It wasn't anything terribly bad, but just a guy whose frustrations had hit a climax.

Speaking to reporters in Buffalo for what amounted to be a locker cleanout day, O'Reilly talked about the persistent losing and how Sabres players seemed to be OK with it, and that continuity made him lose the love of the game he actually loves so dearly.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues' Ryan O'Reilly (90) takes a shot against his former team, the Buffalo 
Sabres, on Dec. 27. O'Reilly returns to Buffalo for the first time on Sunday.

The comments raised some eyebrows at the time, nothing real serious that TMZ would deem newsworthy, but looking back, it amounted to be the beginning of the end of O'Reilly's tenure with the Sabres after three uneventful seasons as a team but numbers-wise, good for him.

O'Reilly would eventually be traded to the Blues on July 1, ending his tenure in western New York.

On Sunday, O'Reilly returns to KeyBank Center for the first time since the trade when the Blues (37-27-7) take on the Sabres (30-32-9) in a 4 p.m. puck drop.

O'Reilly, who has had a terrific first season with the Blues, leading them with a career-high in assists (42) and points (68) while being two off of tying a career-high in goals (28) has the Blues in a position where they thought they'd be at the start of the season following a rocky beginning, while the Sabres, who had a 10-game winning streak early, were the talk of the league for the first couple months and first overall at one time to now being under .500 and missing the playoffs yet again.

"It was frustrating from the start of the year. It was tough," O'Reilly said. "I remember talking to my dad quite a bit and being frustrated with the expectations we had here to come in and be a force right from the start and being reminded it's going to take time with so many new faces. Be patient with it. It was definitely worrying are we going to stick around long enough to get back in this race."

Not only have the Blues, who went on a franchise-record 11-game winning streak that started Jan. 23 and ended on Feb. 21, gotten back in the race, they control their own destiny after rebounding in a big way Saturday with an impressive 5-1 win at Pittsburgh on the heels of one of the most demoralizing losses, 2-0 at lowly Ottawa on Thursday.

But O'Reilly didn't have long to reminisce or get together with former teammates/friends with the Sabres after the Blues got in Saturday evening and Buffalo playing at Carolina on Saturday evening.

"It would be nice to see the guys a little longer, be able to have dinner with some of them," O'Reilly said. "Yeah, I don't really pay attention to too much of that, but I'm looking forward to it. I think it will be an exciting game."

The trade that rocked the NHL world saw the Sabres send O'Reilly to the Blues for forwards Patrik Berglund, Vladmimir Sobotka and Tage Thompson, a 2019 first-round pick and a second-round pick in 2021.

It was a heavy price for the Blues to pay at the time, but one they deemed worthy. They were looking to change the landscape of their team.

And O'Reilly hasn't failed; he's putting up career numbers, including a turnaround of plus-22 this season after being a career-worst minus-23 last season while Berglund is now out of the NHL after he left the Sabres following 23 games and two goals before returning home to Sweden, voiding the final four years of his contract. Sobotka has five goals and 12 points and is a minus-16 in 64 games this season and Thompson, a first-round pick of the Blues in 2016, has seven goals and 12 points and minus-19. And to make matters worse now for Buffalo, the first-round pick could end up in Anaheim after the Sabres traded a pick away to Anaheim to acquire defenseman Brandon Montour at the trade deadline.

"The year is so long," O'Reilly said. "Like us, at one point we were in last place in the league pretty much and managed to fight back. It's so long. They were playing great hockey. You can see bad bounces and injuries. It's tough to stay in that position all year.

"... It definitely makes it a lot easier when we're winning and playing a lot better. It makes the inevitable trade stuff feel much better."

O'Reilly already faced the Sabres this season in St. Louis and scored in the 4-1 win at Enterprise Center on Dec. 27. So the first-time feel won't be there facing ex-teammates on Sunday, but it will be being in the building for the first time.

At the time they first played, the Sabres had 15 points more than the Blues, but since then, the Blues are 23-11-3; Buffalo is 9-21-4.

"I'm comfortable, I've got confidence in this team, I'm with this team," O'Reilly said. "Having that definitely helps. It's nice to not be in the same division and see them all the time. You see them twice a year and even like the first time we played them, in December, it's still weird, I have so many good friends out there.

"That (goal) sure felt nice. That was a great win for us, too. It sure felt nice to beat them and hope we can do it again."

There could be a tribute video prepared for O'Reilly's return, but that's not a given despite 176 points and 65 goals in 224 regular-season games.

"I have no idea," O'Reilly said on what kind of reception he expects. "I don't know what to really expect. It's going to be nice. I'll have a lot of family coming down from Toronto, a lot of friends that I made there that I'll get to see. I don't really know what to expect. I've been traded before, it helps a lot knowing it's going to be weird to be in that building but at the end of the day, it's two points that we need and just focus on my game that way. 

"It's nice to experience that before. I think I was a little more nervous when I was traded to Buffalo and going back to Denver and kind of not sure. It's another game, and another game that will be important for points."

O'Reilly has fit like a glove for the Blues in every facet from scoring to defensive responsibilities to winning faceoffs (among the league leaders at 57 percent and a league-high 950 draws win), playing a ton of minutes (20:55 average per game) and dragging linemates into the battle, whether it be Vladimir Tarasenko, David Perron, Brayden Schenn, even Zach Sanford for a stretch.

The Blues were willing to pick up O'Reilly's $7.5 million signing bonus when they made the trade, an amount that goes to $5 million in each of the remaining four years and $7.5 million cap hit left on his contract he signed with the Sabres (seven years, $52.5 million) in 2015. But so far, it's been worth every penny for St. Louis and has O'Reilly playing meaningful games in March and April.

For the Sabres, some have called it one of the worst trades in franchise history.

"The beginning of the year how tough it was, we just kept fighting and working at it and there was never a doubt in my mind that we would be in this hunt and be right here and you can see it from everyone," O'Reilly said. "There's that belief that we can beat any team in this league. We've found the confidence, we've found the chemistry that puts us in that realm of an elite team.

"I don't watch a ton of hockey, I watch a few games here and there, and try to not watch the standings as much and just try to play. It was obviously discouraging with where we were and wondering how to change. I was told to be patient and keep working and eventually we won 11 in a row. There were times in the season where we didn't think we'd win three in a row. It's just amazing, another year for myself, being more mature, you have to stick with it. And I think having a more veteran group you can see how that turned around and we just kept with it. We still have a long way to go. There's still another gear to get to and our main focus is to win this next game."
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Ryan O'Reilly (left), who will play in Buffalo Sunday for the first time since
traded to St. Louis on July 1, scored against the Sabres earlier this season. 

But looking beyond the numbers, it's the leadership qualities that are second-to-none, and perhaps that's what's impressed the Blues more than anything. From going on the ice early to remaining on late and working with younger players, the positive energy and vibes have rubbed off.

"He's done a real good job obviously of playing well on the ice and first and foremost, he's been a very consistent player from Day 1 to now," Blues interim coach Craig Berube said. "Not been a lot of dropoff in his game. Very consistent. In saying that, that's how he leads by example. People see that and see the work ethic he puts in day in and day out, not only in games but in practice, off the ice. First one at the rink, last one off the ice. I mean, that's leadership."

Makes some of those first words of "Let's go win a Cup" O'Reilly said in his first conversation with Blues general manager Doug Armstrong have more meaning today than in October, November or December.