Monday, February 20, 2017

Panthers stun Blues 2-1 with late goal in third

Trocheck goal with 4.6 seconds remaining sends 
St. Louis into bye week with bitter taste, two-game losing streak

By LOU KORAC
ST. LOUIS -- The Blues spoke of going "all-in" one final time before they get their turn at a five-day break.

The schedule has been tough, no question. But after getting practically the past two days without being on the ice and wanted to "empty the tank," according to left wing Alexander Steen.

But instead of going into the bye week with a good feeling and a four- or five-point lead in the Nashville Predators for third place in the Central Division, the Blues get to stew on the worst possible way to lose.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues goalie Jake Allen (down, left) made a number of saves during a
sequence in the third period during a 2-1 loss to Florida on Monday.

Vincent Trocheck scored with 4.6 remaining in regulation as the Florida Panthers stunned the Blues, 2-1, on Monday before 19,239 shocked fans at Scottrade Center.

The Blues (31-24-5) should have had at least one point in the bag with a chance at grabbing two in a game they weren't at their best, but Trocheck's shot from the high slot through a maze of players, including goalie Jake Allen, who never saw the shot, beat Allen over the shoulder and the Panthers (28-20-10) swept a five-game road trip for the first time in franchise history.

"It's terrible. Terrible finish," Allen said. "... We needed a win tonight just to have positive momentum into the break. We had a chance. Came short."

According to Elias Sports Bureau, it's the latest the Panthers scored a goal in regulation to win in franchise history.

"It was just a strong cycling down low by Jussi (Jokinen) and (Reilly Smith)," Trocheck said. "They tried to get the puck out but (Mark) Pysyk made a great play keeping the puck in going down the wall. He threw it up top to me. I took one shot, they blocked it. Got it back. I had a lane. Jussi was in front and I don't think Allen even saw it. I just kind of did the easy work."

There was a faceoff in the Blues' zone with 41.3 seconds remaining, and from the moment Trocheck won it from Kyle Brodziak, the Panthers controlled it in one form or another from the moment the faceoff was won until Trocheck scored. From cycling the puck to winning pucks along the walls to funneling shots at the net, the Panthers looked like a team playing with a sixth attacker. Instead, it was 5-on-5 and the Blues were caught running around.

Allen lamented that the Blues failed to control the puck once that sequence.

"You've got to battle. You've got to get pucks put, pucks in," Allen said. "We had 30 seconds left to salvage a point in a game that we played not good. Those are huge points right now. Couldn't end up with two points and it slipped away."

Jonathan Marchessault also scored for the Panthers, and James Reimer made 26 saves. 

Brodziak scored, and Allen made 31 saves for the Blues, who lost back-to-back games and are 7-3-0 under coach Mike Yeo.

But this one will be tough to have to stew over for the rest of the week.

"Hopefully," Yeo said. "I think we put ourselves in a position where we should have a bad taste in our mouth for a couple of days. We've got this break now and what I hope happens is we take a little time to think about our situation, what we've got as far as finishing off the season and the situation we're in, and a pretty good idea in my eyes of what our best game looks like the last 10 games, the things that we're doing and we need to make sure we have the recognition and the understanding that it has to be every night now."

Yeo also lamented the fact the Blues didn't play with any desperation at the end.

"Well, for me, it's a matter of desperation, it's a matter of the little things, and so I see loose pucks, I see 1-on-1 battles that they were a little bit more determined in that area and that obviously can't happen," Yeo said. "There (were) opportunities to jump on loose pucks, there (were) opportunities to kill the play and that didn't happen."

The Blues had Brodziak, David Perron, Patrik Berglund, Colton Parayko and Alex Pietrangelo on the ice as a five-man group trying to protect the lead after Steen, Paul Stastny and Vladimir Tarasenko had just come off after their shift.

"We have to find a way to get that to overtime, no matter what," Brodziak said. "In that situation, that stage of the game, it's got to be do or die to get to the 3-on-3.

"... It's very disappointing. To lose a game with four seconds left, everybody worked so hard in the third to come back and find a way to tie it, we just couldn't get the job done. We all wanted to have a good feeling going into the break. Unfortunately we didn't get it. We'll have to find a way to get that back on Sunday night."

Marchessault put the Panthers ahead 1-0 at 1:40 of the first period after Kevin Shattenkirk turned the puck over behind the Blues net. 

Marchessault put a quick shot short side past Allen after Shattenkirk tried a quick reverse pass behind the net but didn't get much on it. Nick Bjugstad picked it off and quickly found his teammate in the low slot.

This on the heels of the Blues coming out with zip in their game and peppering the offensive zone with pucks and shots on Reimer.

"I think to start, the first few shifts out of the gate, I thought we were going," Yeo said. "It looked like a good sign. We made a mistake, they scored a goal and we just got pushed out of the game."

The Blues' puck management looked disjointed, particularly on two power plays. Pucks were bouncing all over the place and their transition of pucks just didn't look crisp.

"It seemed both teams were struggling with the puck a little bit," left wing Scottie Upshall said. "The ice wasn't the best. But that plays into both teams hands, our building, we definitely didn't come out the way we wanted to. They've had a long trip and played some tough games and we definitely should have been able to get at them harder tonight. We let off the gas, we turned pucks over, it's a tough one to swallow but we have to come back after this break ready to go."

"The ice wasn't very good out there tonight," Allen said. "It was pretty tough to play on."

The worst Allen can remember? "Yeah, I think so," he said.

The Blues' best chance came in the second period with 12 minutes, 16 seconds remaining when somehow, Jori Lehtera couldn't redirect Perron's pass past Reimer to tie the game. 

But the Blues' grind line of Brodziak, Upshall and Reaves got the life back into the team and the building when Brodziak tied the game 2:54 into the third period when his shot from the slot was deflected in front after good initial work from Reaves, who threw the first backhand on goal to Upshall tipping the loose puck to Brodziak in the slot before the finish.

"We had a good shift and created a couple chances and found a way to bury one," Brodziak said. "We thought we were going to have a chance to get another one."

Allen did his part.

He was making quality saves throughout, including a barrage of stops as the Panthers sent the kitchen sink at the net midway through the third to keep it a 1-1 game.

Allen faced 17 shots in the third before the bitter final one got past him.

"Yeah, he was great, he gave us every opportunity," Yeo said of Allen. "I think even when we scored that tying goal, that's where you'd like to grab that opportunity and go for the throat. I thought that they did a much better job than us of grabbing that moment. You saw the three, four shifts that they had after that, how they just generated the momentum, and they grabbed the game back from us and we've got to be stronger in that area. We've got to recognize what's at stake at that point and how to go about it. It's kind of a disappointing night, I know it's a good team over there, I know that they've got skill. It's an underrated group of defensemen, how they execute, how they move the puck, how they skate, and I think we let that group play that type of game. That group of defensemen, I don't think we were hard enough on them and that was the result that we saw."

And now it's time to rest up and heal up for guys that are battered and bruised but having to think about this will be hard.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues players from left Kyle Brodziak, Ryan Reaves, Colton Parayko and
Joel Edmundson celebrate Brodziak's goal Monday night.

"Well, we'll get the rest that we need and part of the rest is mental, but we have to understand that we've got a great challenge coming up and I hope that we get excited for that," Yeo said. 'I still think that we're in a position where if we can take care of what we need to take care of then we'll be where we need to be. That's my focus. We have a group that's good enough, there's no question. I know that this is a group that hasn't really been in this situation before, so it's a good experience. We're going to have be mentally tough, we're going to have to make sure that we bounce back from losses in the right way and make sure that we handle the wins the right way as well. For me, I'm very frustrated and disappointed about this game tonight. But once the clock turns to midnight, I will start looking forward and get excited about the opportunity towards the end of the season here."

"Yeah, it's tough but you shut your mind off, you prepare for a good long stretch to close the season," Upshall said. "We're in a big fight for a playoff spot right now. We all realize what's at stake now and we're going to come back after the break with our best foot forward."

* NOTES -- Steen played in his 800th game. ... The Blues announced that their April 2 game against the Nashville Predators has been changed from a 5 p.m. puck drop to 3 p.m. as part of 'St. Louis Fan's Ultimate Sports Day,' as the Blues and Cardinals continue to collaborate as One Nation. The Cardinals will open their 2017 season against the Chicago Cubs at Busch Stadium at 7:30 p.m. later that night. 

(2-20-17) Panthers-Blues Gameday Lineup

By LOU KORAC
ST. LOUIS -- Paul Stastny was officially activated from injured-reserve and will return to the lineup for the Blues, who host the Florida Panthers today at 7 p.m. (FS-MW, KMOX 1120-AM) before hitting the bye week.

Stastny missed the past four games with a lower-body injury.

"I think we've sort of felt his lack of presence on the power play, I think we've felt it on the faceoff circle," Blues coach Mike Yeo said of Stastny. "He's obviously a guy that can help you contribute and help you create offense. He's also very solid defensively as far as the matchups, playing against top lines. What that does, when he's there, everybody else gets slotted down a little bit in a different spot and gets some different matchups. We like the depth of our group and when he's in the lineup we feel that we're strong enough to compete with teams like tonight that have a lot of depth in the team."

Stastny will be reunited on the top line with Alexander Steen and Vladimir Tarasenko.

"Yeah, that wasn't a tough decision, based on the last full game that they played together," Yeo said. "That was what we were hoping to see from them, that's what we were hoping it could be and now we're looking to see if they can pick up where they left."

Stastny will jump back in on the Blues' top power play unit, be a key cog on the penalty kill and help with percentages in the faceoff circle.

"We've obviously missed Paul," said Steen, who will play in his 800th NHL game tonight, "especially in the faceoff circle. His complete game, his defensive awareness along with his passing skill. He's certainly been missed. I'm happy to get him back and so is the rest of the group.

"For me who plays with him all the time, yeah (Stastny's missed). We've built a trust and chemistry between the two of us where it's just easy to play. You know where the other guy is all the time."

As for 800 games, Steen is not much on milestones, at least not in the moment.

"Right now, it's another game," Steen said. "We've got one more here before the break going for us. Eight-hundred, I think things like that is something you look back on later."

- - -

As for the game tonight, the Blues (31-23-5), who had their season-high six-game winning streak snapped with a 3-2 loss at Buffalo, will face the red-hot Panthers (27-20-10). Florida is riding a four-game winning streak (all on the road) and has won seven of eight to thrust itself right into the thick of the Eastern Conference playoff race.

But the Blues, 7-2-0 under Yeo, are three points ahead of the Nashville Predators for third in the Central Division and want to go into the break with all the momentum.

"The good thing is we've kind of had that mentality now for about seven or eight games," Blues defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk said. "I think we have a lot left in us to come into this game and a lot at stake obviously. We'd like to go onto this little bye week with some good momentum, some good karma. We know we have a good team over there that we're playing against. They're a lot like us probably in the last eight, 10 games. They've been on quite a streak and we know it's not going to be easy."

- - -

With four healthy centers back in the fold, the Blues will move natural center Ivan Barbashev to left wing on Monday.

But the good news for Barbashev, who has played 11 games and has two goals and one assist, is that he's playing ... in the NHL. And that's fine with him.

"For sure," Barbashev said. "I played last year (on left wing with the Chicago Wolves) a lot, maybe half the season. I was like literally switching a lot. I play here this training camp, I play a couple games on the wing. (Former coach Ken Hitchcock) was kind of switching me from center to the left. It just looks like I've been playing both sides a lot in the last couple years. Nothing much is going to change.

"... I'm pretty proud of myself, to be honest, the way I've been playing right now. I've been playing hard every game, which was a big problem this year in the AHL because I was usually playing two games pretty good and then the next one's going to be really bad. I'm trying to keep up my game and just it looks like I've been doing pretty good so far."

And obviously, Yeo has been pleased.

"When a player is doing a good job," Yeo said, "you find a reason to keep him in the lineup. Obviously we want the players to have success individually, but our focus has to be on the group and when that happens, it's a matter of looking and evaluating what the player is bringing to the group. And on a nightly basis, he's found ways to contribute to us winning hockey games, to be effective, to generate momentum and bring us key shifts in hockey games."

- - -

The Blues will keep their theme for a seventh straight game by alternating Robert Bortuzzo and Carl Gunnarsson, with Bortuzzo getting in tonight to play with Shattenkirk.

It's a bit of an adjustment for Shattenkirk playing with a lefty one game and a righty the next, but he's adapted and adjusted accordingly.

"Fortunately it's been happening more often," Shattenkirk said. "It's every other game so in that sense, it's not too strange to see those guys out there. I've kind of grown accustomed to how each of them play. But there are times in the game where you go to make a pass and your partner's a lefty and not a righty that night. But I think the three of us have done a really good job with it. We've been playing really well and those two have done a great job of coming in the lineup and having it be a seamless transition. We're fortunate that both of them are veteran guys. They know how to prepare themselves. It's not like you're throwing a young guy in there. And they know that they're playing well. That's the key."

- - -

The Jaromir Jagr show hits St. Louis for its annual visit tonight.

The ageless wonder, at a robust 45, is still playing the game at a high level and is fourth on the Panthers in goals (11) and tied for second in assists (23) and points (34).

"I love the lifestyle and everything that comes with it and with the game," Jagr said. "I want to keep it as long as I can."

Jagr has faced the Blues just 31 times of his 1,686 regular-season games and has eight goals and 19 assists.

His fondest memory coming here?

"I don't think I score many goals here," Jagr said with a smile. "It was always tough building for me to play in. They always have good teams with Brett Hull in that era and Chris Pronger and on and on. It was always tough to come here and beat them. Not very good memories."

Consider Yeo is the Blues coach and he's two years younger than Jagr says something and not often a coach faces a player who's older.

"It's not very often," Yeo said. "He doesn't show the signs of it. It's pretty amazing to be honest with you. Generally, once a player gets over a certain age, you can see the signs. The first thing you always look for is the quickness and that's not happening. The strength is still there, but what's most impressing to me is his hands. That's sometimes the first thing that goes. He's not showing any signs of that. 

"It's a good challenge. I'm looking forward to it. He's obviously a dynamic player and has been for his entire career and he's also well-surrounded right now. It's not one player, it's the entire group we have to be ready for."

Consider Shattenkirk was only one when Jagr, who has 760 goals and 1,142 assists, made his NHL debut in 1990.

"I don't even know if my brothers were playing hockey by then to be honest," Shattenkirk said. "Hockey wasn't even really a part of our family at that time.

"The first time I played against (Jagr), I remembered it being a pretty big moment for me, pretty special. He got to play on the Rangers, so I got to grow up watching him quite a bit. He's just one of those guys when the time comes when he does hang 'em up, he's an instant Hall of Famer, an instant legend and one of those guys who you're fortunate to say you got to skate on the same ice as him and play against him and battle with him a little bit. It's been a very cool experience to play against him all these years."  

- - -

Shattenkirk has seven assists the past seven games.

Tarasenko has five goals, one assist the past six games.

Steen has 14 points (seven goals, seven assists) the past 15 games.

- - -

The Blues' projected lineup:

Alexander Steen-Paul Stastny-Vladimir Tarasenko

Jaden Schwartz-Patrik Berglund-Magnus Paajarvi

Ivan Barbashev-Jori Lehtera-David Perron

Scottie Upshall-Kyle Brodziak-Ryan Reaves

Jay Bouwmeester-Alex Pietrangelo

Robert Bortuzzo-Kevin Shattenkirk

Joel Edmundson-Colton Parayko

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

Healthy scratches include Nail Yakupov, Carl Gunnarsson and Dmitrij Jaskin. Robby Fabbri (knee) is out for the season.

- - -

The Panthers' projected lineup:

Jonathan Huberdeau-Aleksander Barkov-Jaromir Jagr

Jussi Jokinen-Vincent Trocheck-Reilly Smith

Michael Sgarbossa-Nick Bjugstad-Jonathan Marchessault

Shawn Thornton-Derek MacKenzie-Colton Sceviour

Keith Yandle-Aaron Ekblad

Mark Pysyk-Alex Petrovic

Michael Matheson-Jason Demers

James Reimer will start in goal. Roberto Luongo will be the backup.

Healthy scratches include Greg McKegg and Jakub Kindl. The Panthers report no injuries.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

(2-20-17) BLUES NOTEBOOK

Stastny likely back Monday; Agostino impressive in time here; 
Barbashev deserving to stay; Blues looking to finish strong heading to bye week

By LOU KORAC
HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- It was another good day for Paul Stastny on the ice Sunday, and by all counts, the Blues center is likely to return to the lineup against the Florida Panthers on Monday.

Stastny, who has missed the past four games with a lower-body injury sustained Feb. 8 at Toronto, made it through Sunday's optional session with no issues but will go through the day and through Sunday night and skate Monday morning. If all goes well, there will be nothing to keep him from playing Monday's final game for the Blues (31-23-5) before the bye week.

"The last couple days I've been pushing it pretty good," Stastny said. "Every day's been better and better, no setbacks. That's the important thing. I don't want to come back until I'm 100 percent comfortable with it. We'll see how it reacts tonight, skate tomorrow morning and we'll make a decision."

Blues coach Mike Yeo was certainly encouraged.

"Another good skate for him today and provided things," Yeo said. "(If Stastny) continues to go well in the morning and after the morning skate, then I'd say there's a good chance we could see him in the lineup."

Stastny was injured on what looked like an innocent play with the Maple Leafs' Nazem Kadri in the early seconds of the second period. 

"Just kind of a tweak kind of thing," Stastny said. "It's something that's happened before and was bugging me and I knew something. It looked harmless because it wasn't foul play on any guy. It seems like you get hurt these days is on the most random plays. ... It feels frustrating, but it's been nice. The team's playing well since then. Kind of got lucky with the schedule where we had a couple days off and we've got the break coming up. If something was going was to happen, this was a good for it."

Look for Stastny to reclaim his spot between Alexander Steen and Vladimir Tarasenko on the top line, where they started to develop good chemistry together. Stastny was playing arguably his best hockey of the season before going down.

"That's always tough, but the positive was the boys kept winning and guys kept stepping up," Stastny said. "Right now, points are so important for us and it almost seems like, not a must-win, but every game is so important for us, especially now with 'Yeozy' behind the bench, you're trying to create something new and kind of keep building on it."

Yeo liked what the trio was bringing to the ice and offered no indication that he would separate them.

"It was going real well," Yeo said. "The first game, it took a little bit of time in Philadelphia and then the Ottawa game, it gave us a taste of what it could look like and then obviously we didn't get through the Toronto game. I have no reason to think that they can't pick right up where they left off. Three talented hockey players and three intelligent hockey players that should be able to read off each other."

With only one game until the bye week, there was some consideration shutting Stastny down through the bye week to be on the safe side, but from a player's perspective, the longer one sits out, the longer it takes to get back into a flow, so if Stastny is ready, get back in.

"I thought about it, but at the same time, if I could have played against Buffalo (Saturday) ... maybe I could have played against Buffalo, but at the same time, if I don't feel 100 percent, then I don't want to do it," Stastny said. "If I know the injury's fine and mentally I'm fine, then I'd rather play. The longer you miss, if I don't play, then I'd be gone for 2.5 weeks, three weeks. Every week you're gone, it almost takes a game to kind of catch up to the game speed or the mental side of things. Form me, it's all about getting back as soon as I can to try and help the team win."

Yeo said the Blues have played it safe in regards to Stastny and didn't risk making the injury worse.

"I think we've been sort of playing it on the safe side as it is. At any point in any game, regardless of what you're dealing with, there's always a risk, or some sort of risk. But we have reason for it to be pretty confident that it shouldn't be an issue and he feels good. He's been skating and the player's confident in it and we get word that he's in a good spot, then obviously we're glad to have him back."

* Agostino made his mark -- Winger Kenny Agostino, who was assigned back to the Chicago Wolves after the Blues' 3-2 loss against the Sabres that snapped a six-game winning streak, left a favorable impression with the coaching staff.

Agostino, who had a goal and two assists in seven games since his recall, goes back to play with the Wolves, where he was the leading scorer in the American Hockey League with 60 points (18 goals, 42 assists) in 48 games. But he definitely made an impression with Yeo.

"For me, he's shown us an awful lot," Yeo said of the 24-year-old Agostino. "He had a good training camp, but realistically speaking, I don't think that we considered him a guy that we would be looking to and a guy that we would be counting on midway through the season. What he's done through his play with Chicago and what he's done with his play while he was up here has really given us a strong idea of what kind of player he is and what he can add to our group. We do feel he can add to our group. 

"The situation is that he goes down today because we're getting a healthy player back (Stastny), but he helped his case. He helped his case an awful lot. What I like about him is his hockey sense, his puck strength and his stick strength. I like that he helps you get to the offensive zone and he's strong on the puck in the offensive zone. He has the ability and the knack and the hockey sense to find himself in situations to get scoring chances and he's shown me that he's a pretty reliable player. He's going to keep building on those things and there's a couple areas that we have talked about that he knows that he's going to have to continue to build on in his game."

* Barbashev stays -- Center Ivan Barbashev will remain, for the time being, with the Blues and based on his play, he deserves to stay.

Barbashev, a second-round pick in 2014 which was the pick obtained in a trade that sent David Perron to Edmonton in 2013, has played in 11 games and has two goals an one assist, but most of that was centering the fourth line.

Barbashev, 21, has shown a true ability to be a two-way hockey player and will get the chance to keep growing his game here.

"I like his competitiveness, I like his play both in our own zone, not only without the puck and his positioning there, but his ability to separate, his ability to create turnovers and help us relieve pressure and get out of our own zone," Yeo said. "I just like that he's a pretty darn complete player right now. 

"I feel like the more that he plays and the more that he continues to be with our group, he's continuing to develop some offensive confidence and to get a little bit more zone time, to get more puck touches and a little bit more creativity with that. His game is coming along nicely and obviously we know that we want to win right now and he's an important player for us, not only today but down the road. If we didn't feel that he was progressing or if his time here was hurting him, then he'd be down, but he's showing that he's developing and his game is growing and I hope that continues."

* Rattie reclaimed -- The Blues went back to a familiar avenue to replenish the cupboard with the Wolves by claiming former second-round pick Ty Rattie off waivers from the Carolina Hurricanes.

Rattie, who was first claimed off waivers by the Hurricanes on Jan. 4, played in five games for Carolina and posted two assists.

Rattie, 24, was originally drafted by the Blues in 2011 and has four goals and six assists in 35 NHL games.

* Pouring it all in -- The Blues' loss to the Sabres came as a result of playing their third game in roughly 3.5 days. Even with the 39 shots thrown at Robin Lehner, who was the difference for Buffalo, Yeo said he saw some tendencies of what tired players would do and hopes with the two-plus full days between games and the bye week looming, Yeo expects an all-in mentality Monday against the red-hot Panthers, who have won four in a row (all on the road) and conclude a five-game trip here.

"I think a lot of the things showed up, to be honest with you, in our game (Saturday)," Yeo said. "I think that there were some areas where we were good, but there were some areas where we didn't have that same push, that same fight to get to the inside, to win our 1-on-1 battles, to win loose pucks and that's why I think there should be no excuse for that now. It was a late day on the ice for the guys that skated and for the guys that didn't skate, that gives them almost 1.5 days off to make sure that we have lots of energy heading into that game tomorrow."

The Blues' projected lineup Monday:

Alexander Steen-Paul Stastny-Vladimir Tarasenko

Jaden Schwartz-Patrik Berglund-Magnus Paajarvi

Ivan Barbashev-Jori Lehtera-David Perron

Scottie Upshall-Kyle Brodziak-Ryan Reaves

Jay Bouwmeester-Alex Pietrangelo

Robert Bortuzzo-Kevin Shattenkirk

Joel Edmundson-Colton Parayko

Jake Allen in goal

Friday, February 17, 2017

(2-18-16) BLUES BOTEBOOK

Brodziak activated, Megan assigned to Wolves; no 
update on Stastny; Blues look to keep rolling in Buffalo

By LOU KORAC
ST. LOUIS -- The Blues on Friday activated center Kyle Brodziak from injured-reserve and assigned center Wade Megan to the American Hockey League's Chicago Wolves.

The news comes as a bit of surprise since when Brodziak sustained a right foot injury Jan. 24 blocking a shot against the Pittsburgh Penguins, it was announced that he would be reevaluated in five weeks, which would have roughly put his timeline around March 1.

Brodziak missed 10 games and will return to his customary position of centering the fourth line between Scottie Upshall and Ryan Reaves; the Blues (31-22-5), who are currently on a season-high six-game winning streak, went 7-3-0 in Brodziak's absence.

Brodziak, who likely returns Saturday against the Buffalo Sabres, has 10 points (six goals and four assists) in 47 games this season.

Megan, who centered the fourth line in victories Wednesday over Detroit and Thursday over Vancouver, has played in three games and scored his first NHL goal in his first game Dec. 22 at Tampa Bay.

The Blues departed for Buffalo Friday afternoon and there was no word on whether Paul Stastny, who has missed three games with a lower-body injury, will rejoin the lineup.

* A perfect six-pack (of wins) -- The Blues will look for a lucky seven when they go back on the road for a quick trip Saturday to face the Sabres (25-23-10) at noon (FS-MW, KMOX 1120-AM).

And in this six-game winning streak, their longest since winning six straight from Feb. 28-March 12, 2016 in search of their first seven-game winning streak since Jan. 17-Feb. 5, 2015, they've been able to win in different ways.

Besides the goaltending, which has been fantastic since Yeo took over for Ken Hitchcock on Feb. 1, the Blues have stiffened up defensively and outscored the opposition 20-6 in this 6-0-0 run.

And they continue to take each and every opponent with respect and of the utmost importance.

"Yeah, you don't win six games in a row without that happening," Yeo said. "What's really important for me is I know that that's going to be another hard game. The way that I've seen Buffalo play lately, it's going to be a challenge for us. The biggest part of that challenge is that we don't start feeling too good about ourselves about what we've done and that we recognize all the little things, whether it's the blocked shots, the little plays and the little things and the sacrifice and the committment to the game that we're playing, and that's why we're having success."

* Shot blocking experts -- The Blues blocked 20 or more shots in the first four of six games under Yeo. The past two, they went for 16 in Detroit Wednesday and 19 against Vancouver on Thursday.

It still averages out to be 18.5 blocks per game and included a season-high 24 against Montreal on Feb. 11.

"Desperation," Yeo said. "I think recognizing that every play could be the difference in the hockey game and that's what we continue to try and build. It could be a blocked shot one shift, it could be the mentality and the focus that you go in with a faceoff at a certain time of the game, too. 

"Every play matters and every play ... all those little plays ad up to be the difference in the game. What I like about it right now is we keep talking about it night after night and it's a different guy. Every night, it's been somebody different. (Thursday night), Bergy and Parayko, two guys sacrifice their bodies and we can kkeep going back over the games and it's somebody every night. That's what happens. I've said this before, if you see somebody doing that for you, you feel like you owe it to them."

"We're just so much more compact, it's making it easier to block shots than it was before," sid goalie Jake Allen, who is 4-0-0 his past four starts and 5-1-0 in February after going 1-4-0 in January. "I think before we were spread out a lot more and it was tougher to get in lanes. Now we're right there. We have big bodies in the backend and a lot of times pucks just hit our big guys there."

And for Yeo who is off to the best start in franchise history for a coaching career, he won't take any of the credit.

"It's the players," he said. "Their focus, their commitment. For me, I've always been a big believer in you can't just flip a switch once the game starts. I think that the mentality that we've had day in and day out ... we come to the rink, we try to get better. Whatever the result was the day before, if we win, we lose, whatever, we want to come back the next day and we want to start preparing. We want to start getting ready for the next one and when you do that, the puck drops, more often than not you're ready to go."

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Blues win sixth straight, 4-3 over Canucks

Steen, Tarasenko provide third-period 
power-play goals; Shattenkirk has three assists

By LOU KORAC
ST. LOUIS -- Nobody said every game was going to be perfect.

It certainly wasn't for the road-weary Blues on Thursday, who came home after a lengthy five-game trip a perfect 5-for-5, which established a franchise best.

But even in the test of time when things aren't always going to be picture-perfect, and one night after the power play didn't come through, it was beneficial in a big way against the Vancouver Canucks when Vladimir Tarasenko and Alexander Steen scored man-advantage goals in a 4-3 victory before 19,291 at Scottrade Center.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues forward Magnus Paajarvi (56) looks for the puck in front of Canucks
goalie Jacob Markstrom. Paajarvi scored in a 4-3 Blues victory.

The win extended the Blues' season best winning streak at six games and gives them an overall mark of 31-22-5, good for 67 points and move them five ahead of the Nashville Predators for third place in the Central Division.

In a game that saw the Canucks (25-27-6), who concluded a six-game trip 2-4-0, come out with much jump and zip to their game, the Blues had a game hanging in the balance in the third period and found a way, something that may have not happened last month.

"We came out in the game and we were a little sloppy to be honest in the first and second," said Blues defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk, who had three assists. "Once we got back in between the second and third, we really just told ourselves we needed to create momentum more than anything. That's important when you're starting a period on the power play.

"... (Blues coach Mike Yeo) makes sure that we're always in check. Even tonight, he comes in in between the second period and just says, 'It hasn't been our best, but we have an opportunity to win this game.' I think we all knew that if we won this one, it was going to be kind of the sweetest one we've had in the last few weeks because it wasn't pretty and it wasn't one that we were just handed; we had to work for it."

Magnus Paajarvi and Jori Lehtera also scored for the Blues (31-22-5). Jake Allen made 18 saves and St. Louis improved to 7-1-0 since Yeo took over for Ken Hitchcock on Feb. 1.

"I think as coaches, we were a little bit nervous about this game coming back off a five-game road trip," Yeo said. "It's always a challenge in itself, but then you're faced with the fact that you played the night before with travel and you're playing against a team that's sitting here waiting for you.

"We were expecting a playoff game from them, a playoff mentality. They're fighting for their lives right now. We knew it was going to be a challenge with that. ... What really impressed me was our response in the third period."

The win moved the Blues five points ahead of the Nashville Predators for third place in the Central Division.

"We were tired. There's no question. A long road trip," said Allen, who has won four straight starts and is 5-1-0 in February after going 1-4-0 in January. "We've been battling hard, we've been finding ways to win games. Laid it all on the line. 

"We didn't have much juice to be honest in the third period, but we came out, we got two goals, they got a quick one back and we hung on there. It was really impressive. A great win streak we got going on here."

Bo Horvat, Henrik Sedin and Brandon Sutter scored for the Canucks (25-27-6), who ended a six-game road trip 2-4-0. Jacob Markstrom made 17 saves.

"The players on this team played an unreal road game and I was awful," Markstrom said. "Bad luck or good luck or whatever, it just can't happen. We can't afford that right now. We played a great game, scored three goals and coming into the third and then two quick goals like that, that can't happen. I was awful today."

Tarasenko's 27th of the season 58 seconds into the third period made it 3-2 after he whipped a shot from the right circle through Lehtera's screen.

"Good job by all guys," Tarasenko said. "Every goal is not totally the guy who scored. It's all five guys on ice. They create a good chance for me and good screen by Jori. Just put it in an almost empty net.

"... We have pretty tough schedule right now. It's almost like we play three games in not even four days. Next game is at noon. We know it's going to be a hard one today and it's really important win for us."

Steen scored at 5:00 to give the Blues a 4-2 lead when he looked off Canucks defenseman Nikita Tryamkin, got Markstrom to slightly cheat off his post and bank the puck in.

"I knew before I got the pass that 'Vladi' was coming in the back side and the d-man kind of laid down so it’s tough for me to get the pass over so just make it look like I was passing and maybe get him to cheat a little bit," Steen said. "I was extremely lucky to get it in the post.

"Make it look like you’re going on the back side and hopefully he bites a little bit and gives you a little room."

The Blues' power play was 2-for-4 tonight after being held scoreless in four tries Wednesday at Detroit. And the penalty kill continues to be perfect since Yeo took over, killing off two more Thursday to remain perfect at 21-for-21 in eight games under Yeo.

Sutter got the Canucks within one when he redirected Alexander Edler's point shot from the slot at 6:49 of the third to make it 4-3.

But it was moments before that when Allen had to play without his mask and actually made a save without it on because of an equipment failure, a play the referees said they didn't see.

"I did it in the minors a couple times," Allen said. "It's a weird rule. There's some times where some refs call it and some refs don't. Sometimes it's dangerous. I made a couple saves before without a mask on. The buckle completely snapped off there, so I couldn't see out of my right eye. I just sort of pulled it off and I don't think they saw it.

"... It was a weird game on both sides. Lots of weird, bouncy pucks, bounces everywhere, the ice was tough tonight. We just found ways to grind it out."

The Blues took the lead 1-0, scoring the first goal of the game for the sixth straight time on Paajarvi's third goal in eight games at 4:30 of the first period when he backhanded Shattenkirk's shot off the back wall. The puck caromed off Markstrom's right leg and in.

"They’re playing great," Steen said. "They’re battling, working hard. Their attention to detail, they’re playing a very mature game and its absolutely helped us. They’ve played fantastic, every single one."

Horvat tied it 1-1 after intercepting a pass by Jay Bouwmeester at 10:15 of the first, but the Blues went back up 2-1 at 17:17 on Lehtera's goal. The Canucks challenged for offside but the goal was upheld after video review.

Henrik Sedin scored at 8:27 of the second period off a feed from Daniel Sedin in the slot to tie it 2-2, and it came seconds after the Blues thought they went ahead 3-1 when officials blew a play dead when Shattenkirk's shot from the point along the boards was squeezed by Markstrom but trickled into the net late.

"That puck, he swallows it up and I mean it's a good second or two when (referee Dan O'Halloran) blows the whistle," Shattenkirk said. "I think any ref would have blown that whistle there. That was just a crazy trickle that goes in. Even if it's trickling and he doesn't blow the whistle, Markstrom probably finds that before it goes in the net."

The Blues have two more games before their bye week, Saturday afternoon at Buffalo and Monday at home against Florida, but in finding different ways to win, it's a good feeling around the locker room now.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues defenseman Robert Bortuzzo (left) checks Canucks left wing Loui
Eriksson Thursday during the Blues' 4-3 victory.

"We're playing a lot of different styles of opponents," Shattenkirk said. "We've been able to find ways to win on back-to-backs, find ways to win in tough environments. The deal now is we have to make sure we're ready for this game on Saturday. That's a team that can really hurt us and then obviously on Monday, so we can't really look past those two teams. Coach Yeo does a good job of making sure that we have our focus on the right areas."

"It's a tired feeling right now, actually yeah, you're right, it's always nice when team wins," Tarasenko said. "It's always nice mood in the locker room and we try to keep it rolling."

Steen said: "I like our attitude, our vibe. I think today obviously it was back and forth. They played hard, they’ve been sitting here in St. Louis waiting for us. They were prepared and played hard, played well. 'Jakey' made some big saves for us and the power play came through for us in the third period and that was the difference."

* NOTES -- Yeo said before the game that center Paul Stastny, who's missed three games with a lower-body injury, was hopeful of skating on Friday before the team departed for Buffalo, and if all goes well, Stastny could be back in the lineup.

"He's doing well," Yeo said. "Hoping he's going to skate tomorrow and we'll see how it goes from there. If the skate goes well, then that's something that we would try and shoot for. We're not going to put him in a bad position, but obviously, we're anxious to get him back in the lineup and if there's no risk and he feels good, we definitely have a spot for him.

"He's been working out. We by design have tried to keep him off the ice. He could skate right now, but we wanted to keep him off the ice to try and give him time to heal and hopefully after tomorrow, we'll be in a place where we feel comfortable and he feels comfortable that we can put him in the lineup."

(2-16-17) Canucks-Blues Gameday Lineup

By LOU KORAC
ST. LOUIS -- The Blues (30-22-5) will look to make it six straight wins when they they host the Vancouver Canucks (25-26-6) today at Scottrade Center (7 p.m.; FS-MW, KMOX 1120-AM).

The Blues are coming off a sweep of a five-game road trip, which is the first time in franchise history they've ever done that after a 2-0 win against the Detroit Red Wings off a game-winning goal from Ivan Barbashev and 25-save shutout for Carter Hutton, his second in as many starts and fourth in the past six road starts. Hutton had four career shutouts coming into this season.

"We've got a tough game," Blues coach Mike Yeo said after the game Wednesday. 

Yeo matched Leo Boivin in 1976 for the best start in franchise history as head coach at 6-1-0 since replacing Ken Hitchcock on Feb. 1. 

"They're sitting there waiting for us," Yeo said of the Canucks. "They're back in St. Louis right now. They're playing for their lives right now, so that will be a tough game (Thursday), but for us, we'll do what we've been doing, and that's we learn from this game, what we did well, what we need to do better and take it into (Thursday)." 

- - -

Despite the shutout for Hutton, Jake Allen will start in goal. 

Allen is coming off a week in which he was named the NHL Second Star of the Week Monday after going 3-0-0 with a 1.00 goals-against average and .967 save percentage. 

"Jake will start (tonight)," Yeo said after the game. "That was the plan and we'll stay with that plan."

The Blues lead the Nashville Predators, who are on their bye week, by three points for third place in the Central Division.

- - -

The Blues, who could once again incorporate a quartet of players recalled from the Chicago Wolves (Barbashev, Magnus Paajarvi, Kenny Agostino and Wade Megan), are utilizing those players more and more, particularly Barbashev, Agostino and Paajarvi, who were on a line together Wednesday.

They all played important minutes, and Yeo did not hesitate to utilize them in late-game situatons on defensive zone faceoffs and key moments down the stretch.

"It's easy for me to trust them right now because they're doing the job," Yeo said. "That's on them. It's awesome that they scored the goal; I love it, but what I also love is the fact that I can trust these guys in critical moments against top lines. I'm not trying to hide them, and they;re rewarding us."

Barbashev, who will play in his 10th NHL game tonight, said the confidence shown by the coaching staff certainly doesn't go unnoticed.

"When Mike put us with like five minutes to go, it's really awesome," Barbashev said. "It looks like he trusts us and we're getting some confidence with that. It makes us better players."

- - -

With his fourth road shutout last night, Hutton has equaled the team record for the most in a single season (Allen in 2015-16 and Ty Conklin in 2009-10).

The Blues penalty kill has gone 19-for-19 under Yeo in seven games.

- - -

The Blues' projected lineup:

Alexander Steen-Jori Lehtera-Vladimir Tarasenko

Jaden Schwartz-Patrik Berglund-David Perron

Kenny Agostino-Ivan Barbashev-Magnus Paajarvi

Nail Yakupov-Wade Megan-Ryan Reaves

Jay Bouwmeester-Alex Pietrangelo

Robert Bortuzzo-Kevin Shattenkirk

Joel Edmundson-Colton Parayko

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

Healthy scratches will include Carl Gunnarsson, Scottie Upshall and Dmitrij JaskinPaul Stastny (lower body), Robby Fabbri (knee) and Kyle Brodziak (foot) are out.

- - -

The Canucks' projected lineup:

Daniel Sedin-Henrik Sedin-Markus Granlund

Loui Eriksson-Brandon Sutter-Jayson Megna

Alexandre Burrows-Bo Horvat-Jannik Hansen

Reid Boucher-Michael Chaput-Jack Skille

Alexander Edler-Troy Stecher

Luca Sbisa-Christopher Tanev

Ben Hutton-Nikita Tryamkin

Jacob Markstrom will start in goal; Ryan Miller will be the backup.

Healthy scratches could include Alex Biega, Philip Larsen and Brendan GaunceSven Baertschi (concussion), Erik Gudbranson (wrist), Anton Rodin (knee) and Derek Dorsett (neck) are out.

Blues keep rolling with 2-0 shutout win over Detroit

Five straight wins is season-high; Hutton continues to 
shine on road with fourth shutout in six games away from home

By LOU KORAC
DETROIT -- Five and counting for the road-warrior Blues.

When the trip began, it would be split up into four games, come home, then close out Joe Louis Arena one final time.

Who could have imagined the Blues would go 5-for-5 after a 2-0 victory against the Detroit Red Wings Wednesday night to win their season-best fifth in a row and eighth road game in the past 10 after starting 5-11-1 away from Scottrade Center and have outscored the opposition 25-4 in those eight wins. 
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Ivan Barbashev reacts after scoring to give the Blues a 1-0
in Detroit during a 2-0 victory against the Red Wings. 

And the Blues have won six of seven games since coach Mike Yeo replaced Ken Hitchcock on Feb. 1 and swept a five-game trip for the first time in franchise history.

Carter Hutton continued his mastery away from home, earning his second straight shutout, his fourth in six road starts after having four career shutouts coming into this season. Hutton now is 5-1-0 his past six road starts with a 1.05 goals-against average and .963 save percentage.

"I don't know; I just stick by my guns like I've been saying all year," Hutton said. "I've been feeling good and I'm just trying to compete. 

"A big credit to our team. They do a great job. I'm not sure how many shots they ended up with, but we didn't really give up a ton of rebounds or any high-quality chances. We shut them down, our PK was good again. ... All-around team game is paying it's dues."

"It's funny, I heard (Hutton) had three (road shutouts) in five, and I said, 'Four in six sounds a lot better not expecting it,'" Yeo said laughing. "I guess what I'll say it five in seven is way better than that. We'll see. But an unbelievable job by him. 

"I think that our guys defended really well, but they threw a lot of pucks at the net from all angles and there was a lot of scrums around the net and I thought he stood realy strong in there."

Hutton stopped 25 shots, including a massive flurry at the end when the Red Wings were pushing for the tying goal before Jaden Schwartz iced it with an empty-netter with 10.3 seconds remaining.

"We kind of expected that," Hutton said. "In between periods, me and Marty (Brodeur) talked about that. It's kind of one of those with a lead on the road and you're trying to have fun. You know they're going to come, they've got a fast team. They're making their push, they need points, but we held on and Schwartzy iced her there with 10 seconds left."

The win for the Blues (30-22-5), who got the game-winner from Ivan Barbashev, pushed them three points ahead of Nashville for third in the Central Division.

So the Blues conclude their visits to the arena they helped the Red Wings open on Dec. 27, 1979 by earning points in six straight visits (5-0-1).

"It felt like there was 12 guys in the crease there," Blues defenseman Joel Edmundson said of the Red Wings' frantic last-minute scramble. "You see the puck bounce out once in a while, but I was just trying to hit it into 'Hutty' to he could cover it up or at least get it to the corner or something.

"... 'Yeosie' kind of switched the system a little bit to kind of support our d-partner a little bit more. That's making us exit the puck a bit easier. So far it's working and hope that things continue."

The Blues scored the first goal of the game for the fifth straight game -- all on this road trip -- when Barbashev's second NHL goal gave them a 1-0 lead 2 minutes, 6 seconds into the game.

Barbashev got a puck from Kenny Agostino, who won a battle behind the Detroit goal from Niklas Kronwall, then Barbashev skated around the corner into the left faceoff circle, uncontested, and snapped a shot past Mrazek short side for his second goal in four games.

"I remembet the forecheck, and Kenny Agostino did a great job to get the puck on my side," Barbashev said. "The first couple seconds, I was kind of protecting the puck. I just kind of looked around and as soon as I saw no one, I was just like, 'Wow, I'm just going to take a shot.'"

The Blues peppered Mrazek with 16 shots in the second period, outshooting Detroit 16-4, but the Red Wings netminder was up to the task, including thwarting Barbashev with a glove save from in tight.

And in the third period when the Blues needed to tighten the screws again, they did so with another zero.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues goalie Carter Hutton (left) watches the play with Red Wings forward
Justin Abdelkader in front. Hutton made 25 saves in a 2-0 victory.

"The goalies are obviously playing outstanding and us defensemen, we're just trying to make sure they can see the puck and keep their forwards out of their way," Edmundson said. "If they can see it, they're going to stop it. Our forwards are coming back into the house and we're closing it down pretty tight. Now we're playing some good hockey and let's keep it rolling tomorrow."

Yeo said this game would be a tough one Wednesday morning, and considering the Wings (22-25-10) were playing off the emotion of their first home game since the death of team owner Mike Ilitch last Friday.

"Right down to the wire, but I think one of our toughest shifts was the last shift," Yeo said. "I love the way that the guys competed and dug in. It wasn't perfect at the end of the night, but there were a lot of things tonight that were really good. There were some moments in the game, some chances on the power plays that we had (0-for-4) where we could have extended the lead that would have made things a little less tense in the end, but all in all, still a good road win." 

The Blues will host the Vancouver Canucks at home Thursday night, and Jake Allen will get the start. Yeo said that was already the plan regardless of Hutton's shutout.