Saturday, March 25, 2017

Flames score late in OT to top Blues 3-2

Monahan goal with 2.5 seconds remaining halts St. Louis' 
winning streak at four; all three Calgary goals go in off Blues skates, stick

By LOU KORAC
ST. LOUIS -- Jake Allen made all the saves that were cleanly thrown his way by the Calgary Flames on Saturday night.

Unfortunately for the Blues' goalie, he was the recipient of some bad-luck bounces off his own teammates' skates and stick, including one too many skates in overtime.

Sean Monahan's centering pass off center Kyle Brodziak's skate got past Allen with 2.5 seconds left in overtime to give the Flames a 3-2 victory over the Blues before 19,516 at Scottrde Center in a game packed with playoff-like intensity.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues defenseman Colton Parayko (55) looks to move the puck past
Flames center Sam Bennett Saturday night at Scottrade Center.

With the Blues (40-28-6) practically scrambling most of the overtime period, Monahan, who nearly won it seconds earlier but missed the net from the slot and was robbed by Allen with 1 minute, 45 seconds to play in the OT, was trying to feed a backdoor pass to Michael Frolik. Instead, the puck caromed off Brodziak and into the net before the Blues could get it to a shootout.

"There were 15 seconds there and (Mark) Giordano made a great play in the slot and I missed that one and I tried to feed it back door and it bounced in off Jake for a great win," Monahan said. "You never know when you throw pucks at the net, anything can happen. That's a good bounce, a lucky bounce and we'll take it." 

"It's hockey. Unlucky bounces," Allen said. "... We got a point, moved ahead. Positive. Didn't go backwards."

Former Blue Troy Brouwer and Matt Bartkowski each scored, and former Blues goalie Brian Elliott made 29 saves for the Flames (42-29-4), who went 1-2-0 on a three-game road trip.

Elliott, who spent the past five seasons with the Blues, improved to 13-1-1 in his past 15 starts with a 1.84 goals-against average and .938 save percentage in his first head-to-head matchup against Allen.

Ivan Barbashev and Jaden Schwartz scored for St. Louis (40-28-6), who lost for the first time in five games. Allen made 28 saves for St. Louis, which fell one point behind the Nashville Predators for third in the Central Division after the Predators defeated the San Jose Sharks 7-2.

The Blues were nine points ahead of the Los Angeles Kings, who were playing the New York Rangers late on Saturday, for the second wild card in the Western Conference. 

The Blues lamented that they played too defensive in overtime, didn't take care of the puck when they had it and had three goals go off them past Allen.

"They had the puck a lot (in overtime)," Blues defenseman Alex Pietrangelo said. "It's tough when all three goals go in off your own guys. You feel bad for Jake, who played the way he did. If you're going to give up three goals off your own guys, it means probably for the most part you're doing a good job defensively."

"We didn't really have the puck a whole lot obviously," said Blues coach Mike Yeo, whose team was outshot 6-1 in the extra period. "It's tough when you don't start with the puck. They were smart with how they played it, they were patient, they didn't take wasteful shots and obviously they've got some skill over there where they can work it around. They made it tough for us to get the puck back."

Pietrangelo, whose delay of game penalty with 2:04 remaining could have cost the Blues a point had the Flames scored late in regulation, had the Blues' best chance in the overtime when he had a 2-on-1 with Schwartz but never got a shot off and instead tried to stop on a dime and make a pass back.

"Puck just stopped moving," Pietrangelo said. "It's no different than my penalty at the end. That was a tough sheet to play on. You could see a lot of pucks, it was not a pretty game in terms of the puck moving out there. A lot of guys were losing the puck.

"I've got to find a way to make that play, but it is what it is."

Brouwer, who played for the Blues last season, put the Flames ahead 1-0 on a shot from the right faceoff circle that appeared to hit defenseman Jay Bouwmeester's stick and go over Allen at 17:11 of the first period.

But that's not what upset the Blues most. It was what the Blues felt was an egregious penalty called by referee Brian Pochmara, who whistled Scottie Upshall for slashing that ended with a scrum in front of Elliott and led to the Flames' power play.

Replays showed there was no slash by Upshall, but the whole scrum started when Upshall was facewashed by Flames defenseman TJ Brodie, who escaped unscathed without any infraction.

Yeo obviously voiced his displeasure, and costing the Blues a goal in the process made it even worse.

"Yeah, I thought so," Yeo said. "Tough call there, but I also felt that we deserved more than one power play tonight, but we're not going to sit here and complain about breaks or bounces.

"There were some things we could have done a little better in the game and so here we are."

The Blues had one power play in the game; the Flames had three.

The Blues tied it 1-1 when Barbashev stayed with his own rebound and scored from the slot at 8:08 of the second period. Barbashev's goal came as a result of a solid centering pass from defenseman Colton Parayko off the rush following Nail Yakupov's pass and the ability to stay patient and persistent after Barbashev's initial shot was blocked. Barbashev stayed with it and beat Elliott high with a wrist shot.

"At first, 'Yak' made a hell of a play on the blue line, and passed it to Colton, it was a better pass from Colton to be honest," Barbashev said. "After the first shot, the legs of the 'D' or someone, I saw the puck was going back, I was 100 percent sure someone was going to be there but I got lucky. There was no one and I just had to put the puck in an empty net."

"That was a beauty," Parayko said. "He's been playing really well right now. It's a lot of fun to see for a guy like him to come up and play like that and be an impact every night."

Schwartz said recently that once he starts to score, they'll go in in weird ways.

Chalk up another one when Schwartz put the Blues on top 2-1 at 7:16 of the third period after following up a point shot.

Bouwmeester's shot was redirected by Brodziak on goal that Elliott stopped, but Schwartz came from the other side and the puck caromed in off his skate as he was trying to settle it.

The officials looked at it and deemed it a goal.

Elliott didn't agree.

"I thought it was a blatant kicking motion by 'Schwartzy,'" Elliott said.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues defenseman Colton Parayko (right) celebrates with teammate Ivan
Barbashev after Barbashev scored in the second period Saturday night.

But Bartkowski tied it 2-2 when his shot from the left circle went in off Bouwmeester's skate at 10:53 on a delayed penalty.

"That's a tough one," Parayko said. "Obviously the way that they went in, but it's hockey. Throw pucks towards the net, you never know what's going to happen. That's just the way the game goes sometimes. It's one of those things we've got to take in, come back Monday and win another hockey game."

Flames defenseman Deryk Engelland prevented Barbashev's first two-goal game in the NHL when he blocked a rebound attempt with 15:07 to play.

"It felt like a playoff game today," Barbashev said. "Both teams played a helluva game today. It's kind of a tough loss."

The Loss was the Blues' first wearing their Winter Classic uniforms; they fell to 4-0-1 with them and will wear them the final two home games of the regular season.

(3-25-17) Flames-Blues Gameday Lineup

By LOU KORAC
ST. LOUIS -- It's been the anticipated matchup since the Blues traded Brian Elliott to the Calgary Flames at the NHL Draft last summer.

Neither Jake Allen or Elliott were in goal together on the same night when the Blues (40-28-5) and Flames (41-29-4) played in a home-and-home set way back in October, but they will finally class today when the two Western Conference playoff hopefuls meet at Scottrade Center at 6 p.m. (FS-MW, KMOX 1120-AM).

Allen was in goal for the Blues' 6-4 win at Calgary on Oct. 22 and faced the Flames' Chad Johnson, and when the Flames won 4-1 on Oct. 25, Elliott went against the Blues' Carter Hutton.

"It will be fun to play 'Ells,'" Allen said of his close friend. "He's a great goalie, but points are crucial for both teams right now. Hopefully it'll be a good game."

Allen and Elliott teamed up to lead the Blues to the Western Conference Final last season, but with both wanting the cage more often instead of the traditional split of the past two seasons, the Blues traded Elliott for a pair of draft picks, a second-round pick in 2016 one being a conditional third-round pick in 2018 if the Flames resign Elliott to an extension.

"It's pretty cool to be able to play against your friends, but this time of year, it's not so friendly anymore," Elliott said Friday.

Both goalies are on a tear.

Allen is 7-1-0 his past eight starts with two shutouts and allowing only 10 goals. Elliott is 12-1-1 with to shutouts and has allowed only 25 goals in that stretch.

It's no surprise to the Blues, who have seen this before.

"Not at all," left wing Jaden Schwartz said. "They're both great goalies and they've proven that for a long time. They work extremely hard. We're happy for 'Ells' in here. He's a battler. Obviously (tonight), we'll try to turn the table on him a little bit, but definitely happy for him and how well he's doing. He's a big reason why that team's sitting in a playoff spot right now. Jake just does his thing.

"There's been some storylines. I think they won 10 in a row or something like that. That's something that you notice. Obviously he's a big part of that."

"They're both competitors," defenseman Alex Pietrangelo said. "They've always been like that. I'm sure they're going to have a little friendly head-to-head there and it's exciting. You've got (Troy) Brouwer there, too, who's certainly going to make life miserable for me, too. It' always fun playing against guys you have a relationship with. It kind of brings out the best in you a lot of time and those guys will be ready to go tomorrow.

"Look at what they did last year. They both played outstanding. None of us are surprised. It's good to see them both have success. I know we're playing against him (tonight), but when you know you have a friend on the other side, you want to see him play well as well. It's a good thing that both of them are doing what they're doing."

- - -

The Blues, who are in third place in the Central Division by virtue of being even in points with Nashville (85-85) but hold the tie-breaker based on more regulation/overtime wins (39-35), also trail the Flames by one point for the first wild card in the Western Conference, so lots ride on tonight's game.

The Blues, who have won four in a row and nine of 10, have been as stingy as anyone in the league. They have allowed 14 total goals, or 1.4 per game the past 10 games.

Why?

"I would say goaltending is obviously first and foremost," Blues coach Mike Yeo said. "It gives you confidence to find your game. For me, it's the group of defensemen, but our forwards are playing a game that helps the group as well. If we're playing well defensively, I think that we're going to look tight in our structure and be sort of an in-your-face, pressure team, but we're going to have layers to our defense. Any team that's out there and is is as good defensively as you can be, eventually if you keep defending, then you're going to give up something. I think we've been doing a good job getting on the attacks and more time in the offensive zone and possessing the puck and that's helped our defensive game as well."

"Our goaltending's been great," Schwartz said. "'Hutts' and Jake have been making big saves, whether it's timely saves early in the game to keep us in it or when we've got a lead, they're doing their job, so they're really kicking. That allows our PK to be good and I think most games we're eliminating odd-man rushes against. There's always the odd one, but I think we've done a good job of eliminating those as much as we can."

Blues defenseman Jay Bouwmeester was surprised as anyone to hear the numbers.

"I didn't even know that was kind of the number, but that's pretty good," Bouwmeester said. "Obviously goaltending's No. 1. They've been playing great. Even (Thursday) night at the start of the game, (Allen) kind of made some big saves and kept us in it for a little bit. We were a little slow-starting, but I think there's been a focus for the past 20-25 games just to tighten that part up. Early in the year, we were just giving up so much. People were blaming the goalies or whatever, but we were giving up a lot of pretty quality chances. It makes their life pretty difficult. For whatever reason, we've just had more of a focus and we've been able to just do a better job. Penalty kill's been pretty good the last 10 games or so. That obviously helps, too."

Yeo said the Blues have made small, subtle detail changes with the forwards to make them more mindful defensively since he took over but nothing major.

"I would just say that there's points of emphasis, things that have been in our game that we just kind of wanted to reestablish and wanted to make sure that we got back on top of," Yeo said. "There's been some real focal points that we're trying to concentrate on to make sure that certain elements of our game just as far as how quickly we counter from offense to defense in terms of how we track and how we reload and how we work to get on top of the puck and I think that allows our defense to have a little better gap in the neutral zone and make it a little bit more difficult for them to get through with some clean speed."

Since Yeo took over Feb. 1, the Blues have allowed an average of 38 goals in 23 games, or 1.65 goals per game.

"Not really tactical, I just think we're executing better," Schwartz said. "Maybe a couple things positionally but I just think we're executing better as a team and realizing the situaton of the season."

"Some little things, but everyone pretty much plays the same now," Bouwmeester said of any changes. "If anything, I think it's just be more patient down there, realize where the real dangerous areas are. If you can give up shots from the outside, that's the thing. Our goalies can handle that. It's just more being stronger around our net."

- - -

Schwartz's first non-empty net goal in 26 games on Tuesday against Colorado helped him breathe a sign of relief.

After he scored, Schwartz more or less looked up to the heavens and exhale.

"It felt good," Schwartz said. "It was definitely nice to see it go in rather than hitting a post or hitting shoulders, hitting something.

"I was just upset it took so long. Of all the chances, you get one like that go in, so it's kind of weird how that works out sometimes. Just good to see it go in."

Schwartz has 15 goals and 31 assists in 69 games this season, but his all-around game hasn't been affected by the goal-scoring drought.

"It's just part of the business," he said. "Sometimes in sports, you have ups and downs, sometimes you're hot, sometimes you're cold. You've just got to stick with it and learn from it. I'm still playing well, getting a lot of chances, creating for others. I don't really think about that to be honest. I'm worrying about how I'm playing, how the team's playing. When us individuals are doing our jobs, better chance you're going to win games, so that's all I'm focused on."

- - -

The Flames, who have lost two in a row for the first time since Jan. 23-24, will get hometown boy Matthew Tkachuk back in the lineup tonight.

Tkachuk, son of former Blue Keith Tkachuk, was suspended the past two games for elbowing Los Angeles Kings defenseman Drew Doughty last Sunday.

"It's a fine line," Tkachuk said. "It's tough when you're just watching your team, especially when we didn't get the outcome we wanted the past two games. I'm moving forward, I'm back in now and I'm just going to try and make a difference." 

Tkachuk, who has 13 goals and 33 assists in 68 games, will rejoin linemates Mikael Backlund and Michael Frolik

"It's a good addition for us," Flames coach Glen Gulutzan said. "To get those guys back, they play so well together. They have great chemistry. They play against the top lines nightly. It's good to have them back. I think everyone's happy that they're back together."

- - -

The Blues' projected lineup:

Jaden Schwartz-Alexander Steen-Vladimir Tarasenko

Magnus Paajarvi-Patrik Berglund-David Perron

Zach Sanford-Ivan Barbashev-Nail Yakupov

Scottie Upshall-Kyle Brodziak-Ryan Reaves

Jay Bouwmeester-Alex Pietrangelo

Joel Edmundson-Colton Parayko

Carl Gunnarsson-Robert Bortuzzo

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

The healthy scratch is Jordan Schmaltz. Paul Stastny (lower body), Robby Fabbri (knee), Jori Lehtera (upper body) and Dmitrij Jaskin (upper body) are out.

- - -

The Flames' projected lineup:

Johnny Gaudreau-Sean Monahan-Micheal Ferland

Matthew Tkachuk-Mikael Backlund-Michael Frolik

Lance Bouma-Sam Bennett-Alex Chiasson

Kris Versteeg-Matt Stajan-Troy Brouwer

Mark Giordano-Dougie Hamilton

TJ Brodie-Michael Stone

Matt Bartkowski-Deryk Engelland

Brian Elliott will start in goal; Chad Johnson will be the backup.

Healthy scratches include Freddie Hamilton, Rasmus Andersson, Curtis Lazar and Dennis Wideman. Ladislav Smid (neck) is out for the season.

Through patience and persistence, Paajarvi earning his keep with Blues

Forward has had share of tough times since being acquired in 2013, 
now thriving under new coach after successful stint with staff in AHL

By LOU KORAC
ST. LOUIS -- Sitting at his locker after a morning skate Thursday, Blues forward Magnus Paajarvi was asked about offering words of encouragement to a teammate that is trying to crack the lineup, someone who's been in and out of it and could very well be dealing with levels of frustration.

Paajarvi was asked about teammate Nail Yakupov, who played just his sixth game in the past 21 when the Blues defeated the Vancouver Canucks 4-1 and helping keep the former No. 1 overall pick thinking positively. The question was natural for Paajarvi, who knows a thing or two about what Yakupov must be feeling.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Magnus Paajarvi making strides under new coaching staff, giving the 
Blues what they were expecting when they traded for him in 2013. 

"Oh yeah, I've been there," Paajarvi said with a grin. "Oh yeah, oh yeah, I've been there."

That he has.

Since the Blues acquired Paajarvi, a former first-round pick (10th overall) of the Edmonton Oilers in 2009, on July 10, 2013 along with a 2014 second-round pick (used to take Ivan Barbashev) for David Perron, it's been a bit of a tumultuous relationship between team and player.

Paajarvi, 25, played 55 games in his first season with the Blues in 2013-14, but playing for Ken Hitchcock, particularly being a younger player, can be demanding, and the pressures of being a first-round pick affected him in not only Edmonton but St. Louis as well.

The Blues were getting a project, a player the Oilers had moved on from, and the Blues, much like they did when they acquired Yakupov prior to this season, thought a change of scenery would jumpstart a young player and first-round pick's career.

St. Louis signed Paajarvi to a two-year, $2.4 million contract in 2013 and the process was underway.

But though a slew of injuries and not being able to produce in Hitchcock's system, the Blues placed Paajarvi on waivers on Dec. 29, 2014 for the purpose of assigning him to the American Hockey League's Chicago Wolves if gone unclaimed. And when he went unclaimed, it began a run of assignments to the AHL four times from 2014-2017.

But through it all, Paajarvi signed consecutive one-year, one-way contracts in 2015 and 2016 worth $700,000 and never wavered in his dedication of working back to the NHL and staying dedicated to the Blues.

The Blues hadn't given up, and neither had he.

In 116 games to start his Blues career, Paajarvi produced just nine goals and 13 assists. He's always been touted as a player with an immense amount of speed who never could quite elevate his game to the level the Blues wanted and needed. 

But perhaps Paajarvi, who will play in his 300th NHL game Saturday, wasn't being used properly.

And when the Blues placed Paajarvi on waivers on Oct. 27, 2016, he didn't go down pouting about it when he easily could have. This time, it would be different. It was a chance to go work with an entirely new coaching staff with the Wolves, one led by former Philadelphia Flyers head coach and Wolves coach Craig Berube and assistants Darryl Sydor and Daniel Tkaczuk.

They didn't get Paajarvi simply to help make the Wolves competitive and better, which they were and continue to be this season, but it was with the purpose of elevating Paajarvi to finally understand he has a place in the NHL.

"I grew down there for sure. They helped me a lot," Paajarvi said. "The new coaching staff, they were great with me. Obviously coming up, it gives you a boost, too. I think I got a goal the first game I was up, so that's always nice to get that boost. I've just been kind of pushing since.

"That's what (Berube) told me, and the other coaches as well, Sydor and Daniel Tkaczuk, they work with you daily and they try to stay on you in a positive and good way. It worked out good for me."

Paajarvi was recalled on Feb. 5 along with Kenny Agostino when Robby Fabbri was lost for the remainder of the season. Other than an obvious assignment to the Wolves during the Blues' CBA bye week off to stay skating, Paajarvi has played as advertised -- finally -- when the Blues first acquired him, including his second two-goal game during Thursday's victory, which was also his second career two-goal game (Feb. 5, 2011 being the other).

"He's been flying ever since he's got back up here," center Kyle Brodziak said of Paajarvi. "You can tell, when he's skating, he's a step ahead of everyone else. It creates a lot. It backs their 'D' off. He's able to get in first on the forecheck and create space for everyone out there. He's been great for us.

"He's always been so fast and so good at getting (in) on the forecheck, creating havoc like that. I think maybe just the confidence level. When he's getting his scoring chances, he's burying them. You saw his second goal, he absolutely buried that one. It was a great shot, a really hard shot and he made a nice one."

"You see guys like 'Maggy' playing with tons of confidence," goalie Jake Allen said.

Confidence seems to be the operative word for Paajarvi, who after scoring just nine goals in 116 games to start his Blues career, has seven goals and 10 points in 20 games since with a whopping 20.5 shooting percentage, up from his career number of 8.1 percent.

Three of his seven goals are game-winners.

"Confidence and I'm attacking more," Paajarvi said. "That's my mindset. It's been working out very good since I have gotten up for sure.

"My main thing is the confidence for me. I try to do things and drive the net with or without the puck. Things happen. I got a couple goals here and there and that's always nice for the confidence as well. I play with great guys as well now, so it's nice."

Since Hitchcock was fired on Feb. 1, if there's one player that's benefited more from the coaching change to Mike Yeo is Paajarvi, who talks regularly with Yeo, and the coach keeps feeding him more and more responsibilities on the process.

"I think you saw a couple shifts last night. Units go out there, they have a great shift and they're bringing momentum and they come back quickly after that," Yeo said. "I think that's our job as coaches. If somebody's going, then we have to make sure that we give them a chance to keep going and keep adding what they are to the group. 

"I had one of those meetings (Thursday). That's our job as coaches. You can talk about game plans and X's and O's but the most important part of our job is the interaction with the players, making sure that mentally that they're in the right place to perform. They're the ones that have to do the job. I had a conversation with him (Thursday). I felt like he's played unbelievably for us this year, but I felt like there was a couple games where he started to slip back a bit, so it was just a conversation of the things that he's been doing when he's at his best. It's great to see him get rewarded offensively. It's a huge part for our team obviously if we can have a guy like Magnus capitalizing and creating offense for us. But when you see him going out and doing a certain way, when you see certain things in his game, he's a real effective player for our team."

Paajarvi did score after being recalled in his first game with the Blues on Feb. 6 in a 6-0 win at Ottawa. And on March 1 when the Blues announced that Paajarvi was staying in the NHL the remainder of the season, it was a decision made by Paajarvi based on his play. He's earned spots playing on lines with Paul Stastny and Alexander Steen, to going with Yakupov and Barbashev Thursday before being moved to a line with Perron and Berglund based off his solid play.

Paajarvi, who will be a restricted free agent again this summer, understands windows of opportunity don't last long. So he's taking advantage of the one given to him now and running with it showing that patience and persistence pays off.

"You get a window, you've got to try and take it," Paajarvi said. "There's not a whole lot of them. So far it's been good for me since I've been up. There's not a lot of windows, but once the window comes, you've got to embrace it and take that challenge. Even for guys like me, I might play power play now or get one or two more minutes, we still have to embrace and take that roll because nobody else is going to do it. We have to do it within this team that are healthy right now.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues forward Magnus Paajarvi (middle) cuts through two Vancouver
skaters during a 4-1 victory Thursday in which Paajarvi scored twice.

"... That's how everybody's looking at it. We have to. Guys that don't have as big a role get a bigger role now. We've got to embrace that."

And Paajarvi has, and his teammates notice.

"When a coach shows trust in you like that, it really builds you as a player," said captain Alex Pietrangelo.

"Maggy's having a great year since he's called back up. It's probably the best he's ever played," defenseman Jay Bouwmeester said.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Blues continue to soar with 4-1 win over Canucks

Paajarvi scores twice, Allen strong again for fourth straight win, ninth in 10

By LOU KORAC
ST. LOUIS -- Blues left wing Magnus Paajarvi is like the big fish in the pond that continues to feed off what's thrown his way.

The more Paajarvi gets, the more he chomps, and the more he produces.

Paajarvi scored twice, his sixth and seven goals in 20 games since recalled Feb. 5 the day Robby Fabbri was done for the season with a torn ACL, and the Blues won their fourth in a row and ninth in 10 games with a 4-1 victory over the Vancouver Canucks on Thursday before 19,356 at Scottrade Center.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues left wing Magnus Paajarvi pumps his fist after scoring in the first
period of a 4-1 win against the Vancouver Canucks on Thursday.

The two-goal game was the second of Paajarvi's career and first since his rookie season, Feb. 5, 2011 with the Edmonton Oilers against the Columbus Blue Jackets.

Both came at critical times, and playing the way he has, Paajarvi is one player that's taken the most advantage since Mike Yeo took over Feb. 1.

The Blues (40-28-5) kept pace in the Central Division and Western Conference playoff races . They're tied with the Nashville Predators for third place in the division and trail the Calgary Flames by one point for the first conference wild card after Nashville defeated Calgary 3-1. 

"We'll figure out what happens after 82 (games) and go from there," Blues goalie Jake Allen said. "We've got a good thing going and hopefully we can keep it going. ... Once 82 is done April 9, we'll see where we are."

Alex Pietrangelo had a goal and an assist, and Kyle Brodziak scored. Allen made 27 saves and is 7-1-0 in his past eight starts after losing four in a row.

"We need a lot of guys to step up and obviously we got that from Jake, we got that from some of our top guys and then you look at what (Paajarvi) did and other guys did as far as raising their game and getting the goals is part of it," Blues coach Mike Yeo said. "... I thought we had a collective group effort and guys were ready to step up tonight."

Henrik Sedin scored for the Canucks (29-35-9), who played the third of a five-game road trip. Ryan Miller made 30 saves. Vancouver trails St. Louis and Nashville by 18 points.

The Canucks took a 1-0 lead when Sedin scored 13:38 into the first period. Allen looked like he was reaching for Alexander Edler's shot from the left point, but it caromed off Alexander Steen and fell in the slot. Sedin was there to bang the puck home.

"Tough bounce," Allen said. "Not a big deal."

And that's a reason why Allen's been so good lately. The ability to shake off a bad break. 

Paajarvi tied it 1-1, following his own shot after a Miller save at 17:32.  

The goal took all three members of Paajarvi's line to perfect it. 

Ivan Barbashev did a solid job keeping Edler's clearing attempt in at the blue line, then Nail Yakupov was able to kick the puck to Barbashev, who slotted Paajarvi down low from distance. Miller made the first save, but Paajarvi knocked in the rebound. 

"Great play by them," Paajarvi said. "(Yakupov) kicked it out of the air and 'Barby' made a great play to me. Took two shots to beat (Miller), but yeah."

Brodziak gave the Blues a 2-1 lead with a wrist shot high-blocker-side from the high slot at 17:13 of the second period. 

Pietrangelo picked off Christopher Tanev's stretch pass, carried it into the Canucks zone, dropped it off to Brodziak, who beat Miller with a pinpoint shot in the top lefthand corner.

"Any one feels good," Brodziak said of scoring. "It was a good play. ... Petro made a good play. He dished it off and drove through the net and opened up the lane."

Pietrangelo stepped onto the ice as Robert Bortuzzo was coming off and was able to intercept the Tanev pass.

"It was weird; I told 'Bobbo' he should have got the assist," Pietrangelo said. "It was either going to be a breakaway and the puck just kind of landed on my stick. I didn't do much. I just passed it to 'Brody.' That was a good shot.

"Good thing I passed it because I wouldn't have done that."

Paajarvi's second put the Blues up 3-1 at 9:41 of the third period, his eighth of the season off a nice no-look pass from Patrik Berglund from behind the Vancouver goal. The Canucks challenged for offside but the goal was upheld, much to the surprise the of the Canucks because as Berglund carried the puck into the zone, Paajarvi was the skater in question.

"I knew it was close. I didn't want to watch the replay," Paajarvi said. "They said it was good, so it was good."

Canucks coach Willie Desjardins obviously disagreed.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues right wing Vladimir Tarasenko (left) gets a shot off past the Canucks'
Daniel Sedin on Thursday at Scottrade Center.

"The ref said he didn't see it. It wasn't his call and the linesman cut in after and he said they couldn't see the puck," Desjardins said. "I think you could see his skates were off ice and you could see the puck wasn't across the blue line. Even if you can't see the puck, you can tell it's not in the zone so that has to make you believe it's offside. But there's another angle and I don't know if they have that angle. I can't tell. It's a small pad over there, so otherwise it was a tough call."

Pietrangelo made it 4-1 with an empty-net goal at 17:25 to seal it.

"We’re finding ways to win," Pietrangelo said. "We’re going to need more of that this time of year. We’re not really looking at the streaks that we’re on. We’re just kind of playing every game taking it day by day."

(3-23-17) Canucks-Blues Gameday Lineup

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

That's the mentality for the Blues, and has been any time someone goes down with an injury.

It's no different now that No. 1 center Paul Stastny is sidelined week to week with a lower-body injury, his right ankle/foot, after being struck with a Vladimir Tarasenko wrist shot in the first period of a 4-2 win over the Colorado Avalanche on Tuesday.

After the game, the Blues felt the injury was not related to the blocked shot, but after having an x-ray Wednesday, found out there is something of substance there.

"Surprised yesterday for sure," coach Mike Yeo said. "It was interesting. He blocked a shot in the game obviously, left the game, and we assumed he left the game because of something else, so we didn't really think it would be a big deal. But obviously yesterday we get some news that he's going to be out and we'll just have to deal with it now.

"We'll deal with it the same way when we traded 'Shatty' and when we lost Robby (Fabbri) and 'Lehts' and 'Jask,' so we've gone down ... and part what's that done especially since we've lost some of these forwards is other guys have come in and have got an opportunity. They've got experience and they've shown that they can do the job. So as a group, we've had the mentality that it's just the next man up. We know that we still have a good enough group in here, we know that our goals will not change. We have to get out there and find a way to get it done and you do that by our top guys, they need to step up. They need to make sure that they bring their 'A' game night after night."

Again, it's next man up, and that will come today when the Blues (39-28-5) host the Vancouver Canucks (29-34-9) to begin a three-game homestand.

"That's been the thought process all year," Blues captain Alex Pietrangelo said. "You never want to see a guy like that, you don't want to see anybody get hurt, but Paul's such an important part in every aspect of our game. He plays in every situation, plays big minutes. Next man up is kind of the mindset you have to have at this time of the year." 

What you do lose in Stastny, who has 18 goals and 22 assists in 66 games this season, is not only his playmaking abilities but you lose the top faceoff player on the lineup.

"It's obviously tough," said forward Alexander Steen, who will step in between Jaden Schwartz and Tarasenko on the top line. "Collectively again, we're going to have to dig deep and make up for the loss of 'Stas.' Obviously faceoffs is a huge part, his hockey sense, his presence in the room. It's a big loss for us."

- - -

The loss of Stastny for the foreseeable future not only means moving Steen up, but it also means Zach Sanford will move up and play with Patrik Berglund and David Perron on the second line, a spot in which Sanford thrived in Tuesday with two assists.

"We had some good shifts last game and we ended up with a goal," said Sanford, who will make his home debut tonight. "They're both great players. They've been around for a long time and they know what they're doing. Hopefully I can just learn some more from them.

"The biggest thing is communication. ... Talking a lot and learning what they like and doing what I like. You eventually get that chemistry."

Baed on what Yeo saw Tuesday, he liked it.

"He deserves that and at different points, different guys have played well," Yeo said. "It doesn't mean that we're going to stay like that, but he certainly deserves the opportunity today. Magnus (Paajarvi) has also done a really good job for us at certain times, and especially if we go heavy with a matchup line and a defensive matchup line situation, Magnus has a lot of responsibility in his game as far as how he plays without the puck, but 'Sandy' definitely deserves this opportunity tonight. We want that line to go against top lines, the opposing teams' top lines, but we don't want to just saw off matchups, we'd like to win them and in order to do that, you have to create some offense.

"They're going to come into our lineup, or a guy like 'Yak,' or other guys are going to get more opportunity whether it's Sanford or 'Barby' and these guys need to recognize that opportunity and take advantage of it."

Nail Yakupov will play for just the fifth time in 21 games and gets the chance to make the most of another opportunity.

"There's not a lot of windows, but once the window comes, you've got to embrace it and take that challenge," said Paajarvi, who knows a thing or two about being patient and sticking with the process. "... We have to embrace everything we get and take that role. I've been there. Oh yeah, I've been there. If we play together tonight, I'll definitely talk to him a lot and try to not over-think anything with him and just try to keep him to think on a couple things. That's what I do and it's been working out pretty good."

And for Paajarvi, he will play on the power play, with Berglund taking Stastny's spot on the top PP unit.

"You always want to play power play," Paajarvi said. "So sure, it's nice. We've got a lot of injuries, so other guys gotta step up. ... That's how everybody's looking at it, I think. We have to. Guys get a bigger role now. We've got to embrace that." 

- - -

The Blues have won eight of nine and are tied with the Nashville Predators for third in the Central Division, but based on having 38 regulation/overtime wins to Nashville's 34, the Blues hold the top tie-breaker if both teams finish with the same number of points.

Most importantly, the Blues and Predators lead the Los Angeles Kings by eight points for the last remaining playoff spot in the Western Conference with 10 games to play.

- - -

Jake Allen, who has a 1.72 goals-against average and .942 save percentage since Yeo took over on Feb. 1, will be the starting goaltender. Allen is 6-1-0 with two shutouts in his past seven starts.

Forward Dmitrij Jaskin (upper body) skated for a third time this week but is not ready to play. Yeo said he is getting closer but will miss a fourth straight game.

Center Jori Lehtera (upper body) has been riding the bike, according to Yeo, but there is no timetable for returning. He will miss a seventh consecutive game.

- - -

The Blues' projected lineup:

Jaden Schwartz-Alexander Steen-Vladimir Tarasenko

Zach Sanford-Patrik Berglund-David Perron

Magnus Paajarvi-Ivan Barbashev-Nail Yakupov

Scottie Upshall-Kyle Brodziak-Ryan Reaves

Jay Bouwmeester-Alex Pietrangelo

Joel Edmundson-Colton Parayko

Carl Gunnarsson-Robert Bortuzzo

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

Jordan Schmaltz will be the healthy scratch. Paul Stastny (lower body), Robby Fabbri (knee), Jori Lehtera (upper body) and Dmitrij Jaskin (upper body) are out.

- - -

The Canucks' projected lineup:

Daniel Sedin-Henrik Sedin-Michael Chaput

Sven Baertschi-Bo Horvat-Reid Boucher

Jack Skille-Brandon Sutter-Nokilay Goldobin

Joe Labate-Drew Shore-Alex Biega

Alexander Edler-Troy Stecher

Luca Sbisa-Christopher Tanev

Ben Hutton-Nikita Tryamkin

Ryan Miller will start in goal; Richard Bachman will be the backup.

Healthy scratches include Philip Larsen and Joseph Cramarossa. The Canucks are without Markus Granlund (wrist), Jacob Markstrom (illness), Derek Dorsett (back), Erik Gudbranson (wrist), Anton Rodin (knee), Loui Eriksson (knee), Jayson Megna (upper body) and Brendan Gaunce (hand).

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

With Stastny sidelined, Blues to rely even more on younger players

Top-line center iceman injured Tuesday at Colorado, will miss at least a week; 
Barbashev, Sanford, Paajarvi, others will be pressed into more prominent roles

By LOU KORAC
ST. LOUIS -- During their hot stretch of wins of late, the Blues have relied plenty on a younger core of players, who have certainly made an impact in helping St. Louis win eight of the past nine.

Those younger kids will get even more so now after the team announced on Wednesday that top-line center Paul Stastny will miss at least a week, if not more, with a lower-body injury sustained in a 4-2 win at the Colorado Avalanche on Tuesday.

Stastny, who has 18 goals and 22 assists on the season, was hit on the back/side of the right foot/ankle by a Vladimir Tarasenko wrist shot with roughly seven and a half minutes left in the first period; he left the game shortly thereafter.

Stastny has already missed four games this season with a lower-body injury sustained Feb. 2 at Toronto.

Coach Mike Yeo said after the game this latest injury was not related to being hit with the shot but rather a "tweak" of a previous injury unrelated to the shot and that he expected Stastny to be ready for Thursday's start to a three-game homestand against the Vancouver Canucks.

The Blues have only one healthy forward (Nail Yakupov), and the status of both Dmitrij Jaskin (upper body) and Jori Lehtera (upper body) remain unknown.

Jaskin has been skating, but Lehtera did not accompny the team on its five-game trip.

But with Stastny out of the lineup for the foreseeable future, the likes of Ivan Barbashev, Zach Sanford and even a seasoned pro like Magnus Paajarvi, players who weren't even on the radar earlier in the season, will have to continue to play prominent roles, especially Barbashev down the middle.

"These guys are coming in and they're trying to make a difference," Yeo said. "They're not trying to play safe, they're not trying to just get through the game. They're coming in here with the purpose of showing that they belong in the NHL. Regardless of the opponent or where we're playing, they're impacting games and so that's a great culture thing that we have here where these young players can come in and really try to show what they have."

Paajarvi scored a goal to put the Blues ahead in the third on Tuesday, Sanford had a strong all-around game with two assists and Barbashev helped create the go-ahead goal that put the Blues up 2-1 in the third.

"They're getting an opportunity," Blues captain Alex Pietrangelo said of the younger players. "Any time you give someone an opportunity, they're going to try and make an impact, and they know that right now. They're going to want to play as much ad they can, too, to stay in the lineup and a lot of times, that drives guys. We're going to need them moving forward because injuries happen and you need that depth. We're lucky to have guys like that because it brings a little extra energy. Anytime you see some of the young guys come in, it gives you a little extra boost and gets you excited."

Sanford played arguably his best game in a Blues uniform since being acquired on Feb. 27 from the Washington Capitals for defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk.

"It's always good to be able to contribute a little bit," said Sanford, who has a goal and two assists in four games with the Blues. "It helps with the confidence. But more importantly, to get a win like this on the road to finish out the road trip, it's huge for us."

Yeo was so impressed with Sanford's game Tuesday, he had him on the ice in a late-game situation of a one-goal game and Colorado playing with a sixth attacker.

"He had a really strong game," Yeo said. "Not unlike all the young players and what they've been doing every game, he's gaining confidence from us as a coaching staff and you see him out there with the goalie pulled at the end of the game and he's showing that he's a responsible player, he's showing he's got some poise when the heat's on and obviously he's got good skill-set to go along with all those things."

And now with Stastny going to miss time, it's imperative that the young guns and recalls continue to fill voids.

"We're taking advantage of the situation and trying to help the team win," Paajarvi said. "Having depth on this team has bee a huge plus for us, and when we're able to contribute, it only helps raise the confidence level. 

"I know I've been confident and comfortable with my game and we can all hope that we can continue to contribute to victories as move forward here."

Blues double up Avalanche 4-2, win four of five on trip

Allen strong, Berglund scores twice, Sanford, Perron each add two assists, 
Schwartz finally tallies goal as St. Louis moves into third in Central Division

By LOU KORAC
DENVER -- At the end of a 10-day road trip that spanned five games and the Blues seeing the route back to St. Louis off in the distance, a trap game was all set up for them against the team with the worst record in the NHL.

But through all the adversity of losing center Paul Stastny to injury early and not playing well against the Colorado Avalanche, who are playing spoilers at this point in the season, the Blues found their game and gutted out a crucial 4-2 victory Tuesday at Pepsi Center.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Defenseman Joel Edmundson congratulates Jake Allen after the Blues 
finished a five-game road trip 4-1-0 with a 4-2 win at Colorado.

The win for the Blues (39-28-5) moved them back into third place in the Central Division, tied points-wise with the Nashville Predators (83 points each) but by virtue of the regulation/overtime wins (38-34 for the Blues), they hold third place. But more importantly, the Blues separate themselves from ninth-place Los Angeles by two more points and lead the Kings by eight with 10 games remaining for each.

Jake Allen was terrific stopping 26 shots and did his part when the Blues looked sloppy and sluggish early in the game and to start the second period, Patrik Berglund scored twice, Jaden Schwartz scored his first non empty-net goal in 26 games, 21-year-old Zach Sanford, acquired in the Kevin Shattenkirk trade with the Washington Capitals, played arguably his best game as a Blue with two assists, and David Perron also had two assists in one of his finer efforts of the season.

It wasn't the Blues' best, but they were able to pot two more points and headed home to St. Louis to start a three-game homestand.

"You can definitely chalk that one up to that reason, but we came on stronger as the game went on obviously," Allen said. "That's why we won. They came out with a huge push in the first, huge push in the second and then it was huge for us to get a goal in the third. 

"I think we were all a little tired from this whole trip. It's been a long trip, we're all ready to go home, but to find a way just to get two points was huge."

The Blues started sloppy and fell behind 1-0 when John Mitchell cut inside Colton Parayko and fired off a wrist shot past Allen 5 minutes, 32 seconds into the game for a 1-0 Avalanche lead. 

Ryan Reaves was going to get called for a delayed penalty and the Avalanche was able to get an extra skater on the ice.

The Blues were spending too much time in their zone and not moving pucks until the ladder stages of the period and nearly tied it late but somehow the puck with a number of bodies crashing the net didn't go in.

But for the most part, it was a period to forget.

"I don't think it was the start that we wanted, but far more important, what we talked about after the first period is there's nothing we could do about the start now and we were looking for a response and certainly got it," Blues coach Mike Yeo said. "... It's been a great road trip at a crucial time, the guys delivered. Even tonight, it was not perfect but they played very hard, they played very well. There's a lot of skill. We were looking at their lineup before the game and they're four lines deep and they can hurt you in a number of different ways. They showed that tonight. We lose 'Stas,' we don't have a good start. At the end of a road trip, I think that was a great road trip for us."

Stastny's last shift was with 7:24 remaining in the first period, and he apparently was hit by a teammate's shot and didn't return. 

Yeo said Stastny tweaked something but wasn't expected to miss any time.

"I don't think it'll be anything serious at all," Yeo said. "It was not the shot that hurt; it was not that. It was a tweak of something and I would expect him to be ready for next game."

The Blues started the second period equally as poor, and if not for a series of saves by Allen on one particular sequence when the Avalanche seemed like they wired 10 shots towards the Blues' goalie, somehow Allen was able to keep them out.

"Just battle and then eventually, someone shoved one of their guys on me and he was on my arm and I couldn't move," Allen said. "The ref was saying it would have been no goal anyway. I didn't really move much, but they didn't hit the net. I could hear the ref. He was saying it was going to be no goal, so I actually wasn't even that worried about it.

"Give them an honest chance to win and I thought I did that. I thought I played well and guys got the job done."

Allen gave the Blues a fighting chance and kept it 1-0, and that's all his teammates could ask.

"He really was. He was playing great," Berglund said. "It was just a real tough start for us. We got pucks in deep, but the forecheck didn't work. Their goalie played a lot of pucks and we were just chasing the puck around. I think after we got the first goal, we started to figure out that it was for sure a really, really tough first half of the game."

Yeo agreed.

"He did, yeah, absolutely," Yeo said of Allen. "When we're not on top of our game and ... they deserve a little bit of credit, too. I think in a lot of ways we thought we were ready for the game and then they surprised us with their pace and the energy and the execution they had right off the hop and put us on our heels right from the start. I think we came in probably expecting a better start and they smacked us in the face pretty good with their game and it took us a while to regroup, but while we were taking that time, Jake was unreal and gave us a chance."

The Blues were finally able to break through with a goal by Berglund, his first 20-goal season since the 2010-11 season when he scored from the slot after Zach Sanford chipped the puck deep, then he and Perron got in on the forecheck.

Sanford was able to flip a little pass to Berglund, who made no mistake depositing it past Avs goalie Calvin Pickard with 3:10 left in the period to tie the game 1-1.

"Really good play by both of them," Berglund said. "I just came straight from the bench into the slot. They did all the dirty work there."

"I had a similar play earlier in the game, I didn't get it in and they came back the other way and they had a good chance," Sanford said. "I just wanted to make sure I got it in and a big part for us was getting in on that forecheck and we did there and it paid off.

"I think in the first and beginning of the second, we weren't playing as hard as we should have. They were in our zone and around our net a lot more than we wanted. A couple big saves by Jake there and a goal from us turns the whole thing around and we just took off from there."

Moments later, snake-bitten Schwartz had a shorthanded breakaway attempt that Pickard stopped. However, he would not be denied in the third.

The Blues jumped on the Avs for two goals in the third, including Paajarvi's tip of Ivan Barbashev's shot 5:05 into the period to make it 2-1, then Schwartz scored off his own rebound, his first goal in 15 games and first non empty-net goal in 26 at 8:44 to make it 3-1.

Sanford made the play again, finding Barbashev in a crowd on the inside of the left circle, and Paajarvi got a piece of the shot past Pickard.

"We didn't play that well in the second," Paajarvi said. "We needed something there and it was a huge goal, 2-1 and then we got 3-1 and Bergy, so it was a character win today. We battled through and we found a way. That's what you've got to do at the end of the season."

Schwartz, who took an errant stick to the nose late in the game, tried to make a seam pass through the paint, but got the loose puck before slamming it home.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Alex Pietrangelo (right) congratulates teammate Jaden Schwartz after
Schwartz scored in the third period of the Blues' 4-2 win over Colorado.

"We're all happy for him," Yeo said of Schwartz. "It's almost impossible to play as well as he has and to not score goals. We told him that that first one was probably going to come around that blue paint, so that's good to get that monkey off the back. But his competitive level tonight is what he's been doing for us. He's so strong on the puck, the way that he comes up with loose pucks. The energy that he brings to our group, we're all real happy for him that he scored."

Colorado pushed back late when Mark Barberio scored with 5:10 to play on a play off the back boards of a Tyson Barrie shot that he one-timed past Allen to make it 3-2.

Berglund's empty-netter with 48 seconds to play sealed the Blues' win. The goal tied Berglund with Doug Gilmour for 14th on the all-time franchise list for goals scored with 149.

"I really think this was a character win," Berglund said. "We had a really tough start, but we had to find a way to bounce back and win this game. We had a great road trip, so we're going to take all these points back home and regroup."