Saturday, February 15, 2020

Slumping Blues honor Bouwmeester pregame, start slow in 4-3 loss to Predators

Defenseman missed second game after cardiac episode Tuesday; Nashville 
comes out hot against Blues, who level game, fall to 2-6-3 past 11 games

By LOU KORAC
ST. LOUIS -- The emotions were high for the Blues for a second straight game, but this was the first home game since the near-tragic cardiac episode for defenseman Jay Bouwmeester.


(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues defenseman Jay Bouwmeester's jersey hangs in his locker stall
before Saturday's game against the Nashville Predators.
There was a tribute for 'JayBo,' whose life was saved when he collapsed on the Blues bench with 7 minutes 50 seconds remaining in the first period at Anaheim on Tuesday. Bouwmeester had an implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD) procedure to restore his heart's normal rhythm on Friday and was placed in injured-reserve, so the Blues know they will be without one of their more reliable d-men for the foreseeable future, if not being career-ending. It still meant some raw emotions were there to start a home-and-home set against the Nashville Predators.

It certainly showed in the first period when the Predators dictated play, took a pair of two-goal leads before settling for a 4-3 win when Mikael Granlund scored a power-play goal 3:59 into the third period.

But this game, even though the Blues (32-16-10) pulled even 3-3 with a strong second period, for all intents and purposes, lost in the first period.

The Predators (28-22-7), for the second straight game in this building this season, were all over the Blues early, outshot them 15-7 and outscored them 2-0 on goals by Viktor Arvidsson, who gained some measure of retribution when he was cross-checked by Robert Bortuzzo here on Nov. 23 and forced him to miss six weeks, and Matt Duchene.

The Predators led the Blues 3-1 here in that game Nov. 23, a 4-2 Nashville win, and outshot the Blues that game 22-7, but this was a highly different circumstance.

The Blues were once again not connected. They were chasing pucks in their zone, hemmed in by Nashville's forecheck, and when they possessed pucks, passes weren't crisp, few passes were tape-to-tape, and when passes were hard, the Blues were icing it. 

The natives, all 18,096 of them, were getting restless, and not giving the Blues the benefit of the doubt that they're still trying to shake off the emotions of nearly losing a teammate and friend. 

"We’re a sensitive team right now and obviously we feel for him and for each other and for his family," Blues defenseman Vince Dunn said of Bouwmeester. "The support has been really great and it’s hard to get over something like that but when we’re on the ice, we’re playing for him and that should give us more pride to do the right thing so I guess it’s a little shame on us. 

"We need to step up for him. We know when he’s in the lineup he’s definitely a big presence so we’re not just going to fill his roll. We know that but everyone needs to step it up and focus on making sure they’re doing their job out there."

The opposition won't feel sorry for the Blues. They sympathize, which many, if not all, NHL teams and their fan bases have done in support of Bouwmeester, but when the puck is dropped, it's battle time, and there are too many opponents the Blues are facing that are fighting for their playoff lives.

The Blues ought to know, they were that team a year ago.

"I think pretty emotional with everything going on before the game and stuff," Blues coach Craig Berube said. "Obviously that had an affect on our group, but we recovered from it. I thought we outplayed them the second and third periods. For the most part, I thought we were the better team, but we ended up short."

Berube may be right, and the not just on the shot counter, which was 19-12 Blues the final two periods, but the Predators had already set the tempo against a Blues squad that, maybe, was too jacked up with emotion again?

"It could be. I think the emotions were really high before the game," Berube said. "Sometimes that can have a negative effect too. They were better than us the first 10 minutes."

So what was up with the slow start?

"Slow start," Brayden said shrugging his head.

"They’re tight. This time of year you’re going to get tight hockey no doubt," Schenn said. "We had her there for a little bit, finally started trending towards our game. Obviously the first period wasn’t as good as we needed to be. Battled hard, played hard ... last two periods anyway, and weren’t able to (finish)."

"No excuses," Dunn said. "I mean we had a day off yesterday so I think it just comes down to focus and getting ready for the start. It’s not always going to be a pretty game for us as long as we’re playing the right way and unfortunately we were playing a little bit catch up from the first period so that’s just not good enough."

The Blues fought back, and it started with Zach Sanford, goal scoring machine with his fifth in two games and ninth in nine games, getting it started, followed by Jaden Schwartz on the power play and Jordan Kyrou to tie the game 3-3.

The game, like Thursday's 6-5 overtime loss at Vegas, was there for the taking, but a Carl Gunnarsson holding penalty in the third period led to Granlund's power-play goal, and Nashville locked things down the rest of the way.

The loss was the Blues' fourth straight (0-2-2) and their ninth in 11 games (2-6-3), and you can say emotions are running high all you want. The Blues deserved that the first few days after Bouwmeester's unfortunate incident, but now that they know he's going to be OK and be able to live his life, they have to find a way to get back to being their dominating self earlier in the season.

"We will. We’re not worried," Schenn said. "We’ll get back on track. We’re a confident group in here and we’re gonna find a way.

"When things aren’t going your way, you can either roll over and quit or battle. And we were able to battle back, we just weren’t able to tie it up late."
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Zach Sanford (middle) battles for a loose puck with Nashville's Mikael
Granlund. Sanford scored his fifth goal in two games.

The numbers, though, are alarming since Dec. 27. The Blues are just 8-8-4 since then, and .500 hockey won't cut it, but what stands out is their goals-against (3.55) is the worst in the league. And Jordan Binnington is 7-4-3 with a 3.42 GAA and an .883 save percentage, while Jake Allen, who made 23 saves in the loss Saturday, is 1-4-1 with a 2.66 GAA and .901 save percentage in that stretch. 

They've allowed three or more goals in 11 straight games.

"We've just got to keep working," Berube said. "We were competitive tonight. We worked hard, we did a lot of good things tonight. I liked a lot of things tonight. We've just got to keep building. You go through stretches like this. Every team does. Got to climb through it. You've got to be mentally tough and you've got to go through adversity at times."

The teams will battle again on Sunday at 5 p.m. (NBCSN, ESPN 101.1-FM).

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Bouwmeester doing better after cardiac episode

Blues defenseman collapsed on bench Tuesday in Anaheim, needed 
defibrillator to resuscitate him on bench; game with Ducks was postponed

By LOU KORAC
Defenseman Jay Bouwmeester is doing well a day after collapsing and suffering a cardial episode on the Blues' bench during the first period of Tuesday's game against the Anaheim Ducks at Honda Center, according to general manager Doug Armstrong.


Jay Bouwmeester
With 7 minutes 50 seconds remaining in the first period of a 1-1 game, video showed Bouwmeester on the Blues bench and collapsing in front of frantic players, including fellow defensemen Alex Pietrangelo and Vince Dunn, who immediately were calling for medical personnel to arrive on the scene.

Armstrong addressed Bouwmeester's situation after the team arrived in Las Vegas for their game against the Vegas Golden Knights on Thursday and said Bouwmeester is doing well.

"Jay Bouwmeester is doing very well at the UC Irvine Medical Center in Anaheim," Armstrong said. "Jay is currently undergoing a battery of tests to determine the how and why of what happened last night, but things are looking very positive.

"We would like to thank Ray Barile and his staff plus the Ducks medical staff, including both the trainers and physicians for the quick response. There is never a good time for something like this to take place, but there could not have been a better location than the Honda Center. Thanks again to everyone involved at the Honda Center and the Ducks organization for their life-saving efforts."

Bouwmeester, 36, one of the fittest athletes on the Blues' roster, needed life-saving efforts and instruments to save his life.

"At 12:10 of the first period, Jay suffered a cardiac episode on our players' bench," Armstrong said. "Jay became unresponsive and the medical personnel used a defibrillator to revive him. Jay regained consciousness immediately and was transported immediately to the UC Irvine Medical Center."

The game was immediately postponed with agreement of the league, the Blues and Ducks. No immediate makeup date has been announced yet, but Armstrong said they're working on that and some dates already in place may need to be reconfigured to make a Blues-Ducks makeup date work. 

The game will be played in its entirety and start as a 1-1 score, with all statistics from the first 7:50 played Tuesday counting moving forward.

The Blues were to fly out after Tuesday's game but remained behind until they were reassured their fallen teammate was doing well. They FaceTimed with Bouwmeester from his hospital bed.

Bouwmeester's father, Dan Bouwmeester, who is on the trip as part of the Blues' annual Dad's Trip, was with his son at the hospital.

"Last night after the game, I went over there (to the hospital)," Pietrangelo said. "Me and my dad [Joe Pietrangelo] went over there to see Dan and Jay with Ray. I think it was important, one, for me, just to see him and everybody else to see him. We FaceTimed. 'Bouw' had his opportunity to kind of see everybody, sent him their wishes and I think, I'm not going to speak for everybody, but I'm sure it made everybody feel a lot better knowing he was in good hands. He was in good spirits last night with us and typical Jay. I think it certainly made all of us feel a lot better today knowing we had the opportunity to talk to him.

"A typical Jay is a very good Jay."

Armstrong said Bouwmeester's wife, Devon, was not watching the game at the time and he briefed her on the situation to make her feel as comfortable as possible that Bouwmeester was receiving the best of medical care.

"I reached out to Devon immediately," said Armstrong, who had just landed in St. Louis after a scouting trip to Prague, Czech Republic. "Fortunately, she wasn't watching the game so I was able to explain to her what was happening. Made her as comfortable as possible that he was getting the best medical care. Our father's trip is going on, as some of you may know, so having Jay's father there was difficult for Dan, but very good, I think, for Devon to be able to have someone to talk to. And then you just sort of go through the process. You talk to the appropriate people. I was able to contact [Blues coach Craig Berube] and talk to him. His leadership was outstanding from the get-go making sure everything was organized and the right things were being done. When you get to 12:31 at night, it sort of sinks in on what happened and you become more of a father or friend at that point."

For the players, who had to react quickly as swiftly much like the medical personnel to get help, the experience was surreal. It sent shockwaves throughout the league, which had similar incidents with Detroit Red Wings forward Jiri Fischer in 2005 and Dallas Stars forward Rich Peverley in 2014.

"It's hard to explain," Pietrangelo said. "It happened so fast. It felt like an eternity for us, but we just really reacted as fast as we could. Everybody seemed like they wanted to help and do something, but once we handed it over to Ray and the doctors and the EMT, they were impressive to see, them going into action and what they were doing. It's not the easiest to see anybody go through it, but let alone your close friend and teammate that you spend every day with. 

"We're a tight group in our locker room. If you've been around us, you know how close we are. We're lucky to have each other any time you're going through something like this." 

The Blues received as much support from Ducks players, staff and personnel as well.

"They wanted to see us after the game too," Pietrangelo said. "Hockey gets pushed aside really quickly when you're talking about something like this. You're playing against each other and you're battling these guys, but we all have enough respect for each other. A lot of those guys have played with 'Bouw' and have been around 'Bouw.' A lot of them are friends. I know [Ryan] Getzlaf obviously. I've played with him, he knows 'Bouw' a lot just from playing (together internationally for Canada) over the years, international tournaments. He reached out right away. The hockey community, like Doug said, if anything like this happens, a lot of people start reaching out. It's just how the hockey community is. It's a really tight group."   

The Blues' scheduled game against the Golden Knights will go on, Armstrong said.

"It's obviously going to be difficult, but we talked to Jay and he's in good spirits and when you see how he's doing, it certainly makes us feel a lot better," Pietrangelo said. "We stayed last night. We didn't want to leave without knowing what he was doing. One, knowing that he has his dad there, and two, Devon's at home and our wives are all reaching out. I know [Alex Steen's] wife went by last night. That's just how our group is. We take care of each other and when JayBo is being JayBo, I think it makes everybody feel a lot better."

Armstrong said he reached out to Stars GM Jim Nill, who went through the situation with Peverley and he spoke with Vegas president of hockey operations George McPhee, who had support counselors on hand when the Blues got in just in case anyone needed support.

"The NHL community comes together very quickly with something like this," Armstrong said. "... We are part of a very special fraternity."

Monday, February 10, 2020

Blues hit the road with dads in tow

Fifth time in six years Blues fathers accompany sons on trip; they're 7-1-0 
when the parents make the trip, looking for good karma to get back on track

By LOU KORAC
MARYLAND HEIGHTS, Mo. -- The Blues can only hope their dads can sprinkle some good juju on them as they headed west for a pair of road games.

The Blues (32-15-8) have stubbed their toes as of late, winning just two of their past nine games (2-5-2) but remain first overall in the Western Conference and the Central Division at 73 points. But that margin continues to dwindle with the Colorado Avalanche breathing down the Blues' necks with 70 points and two games in hand and the Dallas Stars, who overcame a 2-0 deficit to defeat the Blues 3-2 in overtime at Enterprise Center . 
Bjorn Gunnarsson (left) watched his son and Blues defenseman Carl
Gunnarsson score a game-winning goal in Buffalo in 2018. 

It's understandable that the Blues are in the dog days of the season and playing some tired hockey right now. After all, they've played more games than anyone since the calendar turned to 2019, including 26 Stanley Cup Playoff games en route to winning it all in June.

A little boost from the dads, who are 7-1-0 accompanying their sons on the road, can hopefully bring back some stability when the Blues face Anaheim on Tuesday and Vegas on Thursday.

The Blues could use some good dad karma on the road, where they've really had a tough go of it, going 1-6-1 in their past eight.

"It's fun. They love it," said Blues defenseman Carl Gunnarsson, whose dad Bjorn Gunnarsson will have made each of the five trips. "It's fun having them around, especially now with the core group of guys we have now. The dads know each other and they seem to get along real well too."

The dads, and in some cases, billet dads (Troy Brouwer/Joseph Saliger) and Zach Sanford, who brings college friends, and in this case, Brett Glendye, along because Sanford's father, Michael, passed away in 2018.

The dads hop on the team's chartered flight, stay at the same hotel, sit in on the team player meetings with the coaches and get to spend as much quality time off the ice as possible before each game. During games, they cheer on their sons from suites.

It's been a good recipe in years past.

"The fathers, the dads, whoever's here in the stands for us, it makes you want to put in a solid effort for them," said Blues forward Brayden Schenn, who will be accompanied by his father Jeff Schenn. "We're lucky to have them here. The Blues take very good care of them and obviously love being around us. There's obviously a little bit of side stuff that you do with the dads, but when you come to the rink, you worry about two points and in past years, we've been able to get some wins for them."

Do they have a curfew? After all, there is no clock in Vegas!

"I think when they get away from the wives, the moms and whoever, they let 'er go," Schenn said. "They like having fun together drinking some beers and enjoying watching their sons play."

It should be quite an experience for Sammy Blais and his French-Canadian father Sebastien Blais, who will be on a trip for the first time.

"It's nice for him to be coming and see what I'm doing a living," Blais said. "He doesn't speak very good English, so he's going to have to learn it a little bit, but he's really excited and he's a big fan of hockey. It's going to be a nice week for him."

Sebastien Blais won't be the lone non-English-speaking French Canadian along for the ride, so it's not all bad

"[David] Perron's dad [Francois Perron] doesn't speak any English either," Blais said smiling. "They're going to be together all the time, but if he needs help (with translation), I'll be there to help him for sure." 

Here is the list of dads/billet dads accompanying the trip with sons:
Joe Pietrangelo (right) has accompanied his son, Blues captain Alex
Pietrangelo on each dad's trip. 

Kurt Allen (Jake Allen), Sebastien Blais (Sammy Blais), John Binnington (Jordan Binnington), Joseph Saliger (Troy Brouwer), Oscar Bortuzzo (Robert Bortuzzo), Dan Bouwmeester (Jay Bouwmeester), Mitch Bozak (Tyler Bozak), Anders de la Rose (Jacob de la Rose), John Dunn (Vince Dunn), David Faulk (Justin Faulk), Bjorn Gunnarsson (Carl Gunnarsson), Ron MacEachern (Mackenzie MacEachern), Brian O'Reilly (Ryan O'Reilly), Tom Parayko (Colton Parayko), Francois Perron (David Perron), Joe Pietrangelo (Alex Pietrangelo), Brett Glendye (Zach Sanford), Jeff Schenn (Brayden Schenn), Rick Schwartz (Jaden Schwartz), Thomas Steen (Alexander Steen) and Scott Thomas (Robert Thomas).

"It's a different mindset with the dads on the trip," Blues coach Craig Berube said. "It's always fun to bring your dads both ways. The dads love it, they love being around the team. We keep them involved in everything, meetings and all that stuff. The players love it too. They love their dads around. They love performing in front of them too. It's good. We need a good road trip here. I think it's good that we're getting away with the dads and heading out to Anaheim and Vegas. It'll be two good games and just need to get back on the winning track."

Saturday, February 8, 2020

Parayko shooting more pucks bodes well for Blues

Defenseman has four goals the past three games, 
including two more on Saturday, in 3-2 overtime loss to Stars

By LOU KORAC
ST. LOUIS -- When Colton Parayko is shooting the puck like this, it bodes well for the Blues.

Even though they lost 3-2 to the Dallas Stars in overtime on Saturday, seeing No. 55 cocked, locked and loaded ready to unwind those heavy howitzers of his can be an added element the Blues can definitely use.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues defenseman Colton Parayko (right) is congratulated by teammate
Vince Dunn after scoring against the Dallas Stars on Saturday.

Parayko scored both Blues goals, giving him four in the past three games after two in his first 46 games.

Often times those that cover the Blues wonder how Parayko has few goals. He came into the game with 33 goals in 370 career games. With that heavy of a shot, one that's been compared to Al MacInnis because of the heaviness of a shot that can knock any skater off their feet.

Ask Ben Bishop.

"Just got to keep shooting," Blues defenseman Alex Pietrangelo said of Parayko. "It's hard to stop if he's going to. ... When Pary's shooting, it's not easy to set a screen. When he's shooting the puck, good things are going to happen."

Parayko has been accused of not shooting enough, taking too long to fire pucks, being hesitant, you name it. But in scoring in an NHL career-high third straight game, it's evident Parayko has found himself instinctively letting it rip, and in such a case, blockers beware.

"A little bit in some spots, I think," Parayko said modestly. 

He had eight shot attempts on Saturday, seven against Winnipeg Thursday and five against Carolina the previous game.

Parayko beat Anton Khudobin with a one-timer from the top of the left circle at 7:18 of the first for a 1-0 lead, then walked into another slapper from the high slot and rifled one past Khudobin at 10:49 for a 2-0 lead. 

"First one was just a good pass by Dunner," Parayko said of Vince Dunn. "We've just been talking whenever he gets at the top there just to slide it over. Second one was just a good pass by DP [David Perron]. I was kind of all alone and just wanted to step into it. I had enough time to let it rip. 

"Overall, I'm just trying to get pucks towards the net. Our forwards are doing a really good job of getting to the net and creating second opportunities. Just keep getting it there for them."

Pietrangelo has been handling the bulk of the Blues' scoring from defensemen the majority of the season with 13 goals and 31 assists in 56 games. The other eight defenseman that have at least played one game, including Parayko, Dunn, Justin Faulk, Jay Bouwmeester, Carl Gunnarsson, Robert Bortuzzo, Niko Mikkola and Jake Walman, have a combined 67 points (21 goals, 46 assists), which now include Parayko at 18 points (six goals, 12 assists).

There needs to be more balance offensively there from the defenseman aside from Pietrangelo, and if Parayko can become that bonafide weapon, that bodes well.

"He’s shooting it and he’s shooting it quicker," Blues coach Craig Berube said of Parayko. "That’s his whole mindset, is when he gets it he’s going to blast it. It’s paying off. With his shot, he can beat a goalie."

Berube was asked if that's something Parayko's worked on more so here lately.

"They work on it all the time," Berube said. "Everybody. It’s just a mindset."

It's become more of a mindset with Parayko, and at 6-foot-6, 230 pounds stepping into that hard rubber, imagine it hitting you flush. Imagine how that would hurt. Which makes it more amazing that this is Parayko's first set of games scoring consecutively, and just his third multigoal game.

He gave himself a chance at a hat trick, which would have been his first in the NHL, but he swooped a puck wide of an open target after Robert Thomas found him in the slot.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Ryan O'Reilly (right) offers congratulations to teammate Colton Parayko
after Parayko scored Saturday night against the Dallas Stars.

"I mean, yeah, it's a tough one, but great look by 'Tommer,'" Parayko said. "I just kind of caught it at the last second. He kind of passed it through a couple guys, great look, obviously a great passer so I was ready, but I just kind of caught it at the last second. Just tried to throw it at the net even though I didn't put it in, I tried to hit a stick or something."

There will be a simple message for Parayko moving forward, one he's often heard: keep shooting it.

"Everyone always is kind of talking about shooting and you need to shoot more and stuff like that," Parayko said. "I don't know, it's kind of funny because you don't really change anything. It's the same thing, you just keep shooting and sometimes they go in and sometimes they don't. That's the way the game goes. Obviously kind of where we're at."

(2-8-20) Stars-Blues Gameday Lineup

By LOU KORAC
ST. LOUIS -- The Blues will make two lineup changes when they close out a three-game homestand today against the Dallas Stars (7 p.m.; FS-MW, ESPN 101.1-FM).

Mackenzie MacEachern will replace Jordan Kyrou and play for just the second time in the past seven games, and Jacob de la Rose, a healthy scratch the past three games, will replace Troy Brouwer to give the Blues' fourth line a different look tonight.

De la Rose has nine points (two goals, seven assists) in 47 games this season, including five points (one goal, four assists) in 31 games with the Blues after being acquired from the Detroit Red Wings for Robby Fabbri on Nov. 6.

"He's been out for a bit and I'm hoping he can come in and give us some good energy and use his big body tonight," Blues coach Craig Berube said. This is a physical team over there, a good-sized team. He's going to be an important player for us tonight."

MacEachern, who sustained a lower-body injury Nov. 19 against the Colorado Avalanche when someone awkwardly fell on his leg, will also add a bigger, more physical element against a bigger Stars group.

"It's exciting," MacEachern said. "Definitely a big game against a big division team, so Saturday night, St. Louis, can't beat that for sure. It'll be a tight-checking game, probably 3-2, 2-1 type game. It'll be fun, a playoff-type of game.

"That kind of bodes well for me, kind of my style. I think Dallas kind of plays similar to the style that I like to play. It'll be a fun game for sure."

- - -

The Blues (32-15-8) are 2-0-0 against the Stars (30-19-5) this season but haven't played them since a 3-1 win in Dallas on Nov. 29. They defeated the Stars 3-2 here on Oct. 5.

"Same team. They're a good team," Berube said. "They're strong from the goaltender, back end out. That's how they're built. Solid goaltending, both of them. Their defensive corps is solid with [John] Klingberg and [Miro] Heiskanen back there. They're as good as anybody at transporting the puck up the ice and getting up the rush. They've got a good group of forwards that have good size and they're fast."

Defending as a five-man unit will be imperative.

"Yes, and getting on the forecheck eliminating them, getting on top of them, slowing them down," Berube said. "Being physical on them is going to be really important."

The Stars are playing the second of back-to-back with travel after blowing a 2-0 lead in a 3-2 loss on home ice against the Minnesota Wild, who scored with 25.8 seconds remaining in regulation to get the win.

The Blues hope to get off to a good start.

"A good start. We always want to be off to a good start though," Berube said. "They traveled and played last night. It's just about getting to our game as early as possible here tonight. That's going to be important."

- - -

Injured forward Oskar Sundqvist took the ice and participated in an optional skate Saturday morning and participated in all drills.

Sundqvist has missed the past five games.

It's good," Berube said of Sundqvist skating. 

As far as being close to returning, the news didn't sound encouraging.

"No, not really. He's a ways away yet," Berube said.

The Blues are 27-9-8 with Sundqvist in the lineup, 5-6-0 without him, so pretty telling missing a key defensive forward with a flare for some offensive pop.

- - -

The Blues' projected lineup:

Jaden Schwartz-Brayden Schenn-Robert Thomas

Zach Sanford-Ryan O'Reilly-David Perron

Sammy Blais-Tyler Bozak-Alexander Steen 

Mackenzie MacEachern-Jacob de la Rose-Ivan Barbashev 

Carl Gunnarsson-Alex Pietrangelo

Jay Bouwmeester-Colton Parayko

Vince Dunn-Justin Faulk

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

Healthy scratches include Robert Bortuzzo, Jordan Kyrou and Troy Brouwer. Vladimir Tarasenko (shoulder) and Oskar Sundqvist (lower body) are out.

- - -

The Stars' projected lineup:

Jamie Benn-Roope Hintz-Tyler Seguin

Denis Gurianov-Jason Dickinson-Corey Perry

Mattias Janmark-Joe Pavelski-Joel Kiviranta

Andrew Cogliano-Radek Faksa-Blake Comeau

Esa Lindell-John Klingberg

Miro Heiskanen-Roman Polak

Jamie Oleksiak-Stephen Johns

Anton Khudobin will start in goal; Ben Bishop will be the backup.

Healthy scratches include Andrej Sekera and Taylor FedunAlexander Radulov (upper body) and Justin Dowling (lower body) are out.

Friday, February 7, 2020

Time for Blues to get in playoff mode

They were the desperate team chasing playoffs last season; it's the flip side 
this year, coach wants players to show desperation, like they did last season

By LOU KORAC
MARYLAND HEIGHTS, Mo. -- Last season on this date, the Blues were among a glutton of teams fighting to remain in the playoff race.

It was a feeling for survival each and every time they took to the ice, and the Blues were fighting for every point.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues defenseman Colton Parayko (right) moves the puck past Jets center
Mark Scheifele during action Thursday at Enterprise Center. 

The Blues were able to ascend up the standings in large part to their ability to accrue points, and against those opponents ahead of them in the standings that were in a good position at the time.

There's a similar feel to a year later, only it's the Blues (32-15-8) that are in a rather solid position facing those desperate opponents.

They're still first in the Western Conference with 72 points, but the Blues have hit a speed bump here of late, going 2-5-1, including a 4-2 loss to Winnipeg on Thursday, a very winnable game.

And when they showed up to the rink Friday morning for practice, the players got a bit of a refresher of just how they need to approach these remaining 27 regular-season games, including Saturday night against the Dallas Stars, who are trying to chase down the Blues for first in the Central Division.

"Our mindset this time last year, it was a little different than I think it is now, I think," Blues coach Craig Berube said. "We've got to get that mindset back. I talked to the team about it this morning. We can't be chasing games. Since the break, we're chasing too many games. We've got to reverse that. It's on everybody, everybody that dresses.

"Last year, we were playing desperate hockey right now for sure, and this year right now, maybe we need to bring in a little more urgency to our game. I think on the defensive side more than on the offensive side, but at the same time, offensively, not playing such a cute game maybe at times, turnovers and things like that that cost us. 

"I go back to the stats last year, we were the No. 1 team in the NHL for not turning the puck over. No. 1. So, we've got to get that back. We've got to get pucks deep, go to work, play that game, wear teams down."

When the Blues play that style, they're so effective, not only in wearing teams down, but it resonates to their structured, defensive game, and when called upon the goaltending is scintillating.

There have been leaks in recent games in all facets, but that comes with the territory of an 82-game season, and teams now ramping it up for the stretch run.

"Everyone's still battling for playoff spots," defenseman Vince Dunn said. "Obviously we're in a pretty comfortable position, but we want to maintain that and give ourselves the best chance going into the first round. Right now is obviously the time to dial things in. The little things that were hurting us at the start of last season are sometimes creeping into our game right now and we just need to find a way to get those out of our game and stick to ours structure. Sometimes we're just making it a little too hard on ourselves in certain plays. When things go wrong, it can't always lead to a Grade A chance.

"We know how hungry everyone is and we know the mentality that these other teams have. Should be no different than the mentality that we have right now. We need to be hungry and we need to play just as desperate as every other team right now. ... It's just about focus and staying in the moment and not looking too far ahead and being too comfortable with where we are."

The sense of urgency can slip when you know you're in a comfort zone, and the Blues remain there. But the gap's closed here recently.

"Last year, we were at the bottom climbing to the top," goalie Jake Allen said. "Now we're at the top trying to stay at the top. Sometimes that urgency slips because you're sort of comfortable. Even though you're in first place and that type of thing. Last year every game was crucial for us and I think that's what he's trying to say is we need to have that same mindset. It doesn't matter what position we're in going forward. If we do that, we'll have a helluva hockey team and even last night, 90 percent of the game we played really well and we just need that little bit more urgency. If we have that urgency, it could be the difference in a lot of games. The other teams are all clawing for their spots. They're clawing and fighting to win. They are us last year, so we know that feeling. So we need to know that every single game is going to be tough, tight. If we get that urgency back, I think it'll just complete our game.

"I think it's just having that killer instinct. We've always talked about that in the past. Sometimes we have, sometimes we don't. Right now, it's just the time to have some confidence and swagger. I think we deserved to have that. We've played well in the 2020 calendar year and deserve to be in the top of the league. If we can get that swagger, that confidence and urgency will come with that, and just playing our game consistently. Most cases, we should come out with wins."

The Blues were on the right side of games earlier in the season when statistical data may have suggested that they shouldn't have. Lately, there have been games where they are on the right side of all the stats but on the wrong side of the score.

Things have, for better or worse, evened out.

"It's not like there's a ton of defensive breakdowns," Berube said. "That's not the situation or the case. We out-chanced that team by quite a margin last night, but at the same time, trading chances or playing that type of game's not our game. Our game is getting pucks deep, wearing teams down, staying with it, keeping it tight and being comfortable in close games. And that hockey this time of year is what you've got to play. You've got to be prepared.

"... A lot of good stuff's going on, but not the No. 1 thing: wins. That's what we care about. So as coaches and players, you've got to find ways to win games, so we're going to probably nitpick a little bit here and there about certain things. That's what we do. That's the way it goes."

And don't dare use fatigue as an excuse. The players aren't.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues forward Troy Brouwer (left) plays a puck past Jets defenseman Luca
Sbisa on Thursday night. 

"Everyone's in the same boat," Allen said. "I know we played 'til June last year, but we had our rest and it's a hard season for everyone. There's no excuses there. We have a lot of gas left in the tank. We'll get a rest when we need it. Chief's smart about that. He knows when guys need a break or the team needs a break, even a mental refresher sometimes is almost just as good as a physical one. 

"It's crazy how quick it flies by, but yeah, we need to get in that playoff mindset, that mentality that every game's crucial. We want to roll into the playoffs with that mindset. We don't want to have to turn it on in the playoffs. We want to have that mindset coming into the playoffs and just carry it over."

* NOTES -- Forward Mackenzie MacEachern will return to the lineup after playing just one of the past six games. He sustained a lower-body injury in a loss at Colorado Jan. 19 right before the All-Star break/bye week, returned to play at Winnipeg Feb. 1 but has been working his way back since.

"It was just kind of an awkward play," MacEachern said. "I was just trying to get out of the zone and made a play to Petro and just kind of a tangle and someone just kind of fell on me awkwardly. It was just kind of a weird play.

"I feel good. It's been a handful of weeks. I guess if you're going to get an injury at least, it happened going into the break, so I had eight or nine days there to recuperate, but I feel good, feel good going into the weekend."

MacEachern will replace Jordan Kyrou, who played just 6:11 Thursday.

"He's got to understand that this is the NHL and there's a certain way you play up here," Berube said. "That's as simple as I can put it."

As for MacEachern, Berube said, "His game was good. I thought he added an element to our team with his speed and forechecking and tenaciousness and physicality. It's unfortunate he got hurt and put him in Winnipeg, he was just OK so hopefully he's more ready tomorrow.

I think that when he got injured, other people came in and that's how it goes. He was probably healthy and ready to go, but I didn't use him right away. That's just the way it goes sometimes."

Blues' home point streak ends with 4-2 loss to Jets

Blues battle back, lose game in third period to fall to 2-5-1 in past eight 
games; Binnington allows three or more goals for sixth straight game 

By LOU KORAC
ST. LOUIS -- It would have to end some time, right?

Well, the way it ended for the Blues, their 11-game home point streak went poof! into the night with a 4-2 loss to the Winnipeg Jets, was not exactly one of those games where the Jets, desperate in the chase for a Western Conference wild card berth, came in and won a road game by being the better team.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Sammy Blais (9) fires one of 37 shots on Jets goalie Connor Hellebuyck on
Thursday in a 4-2 loss at Enterprise Center.

The better team lost. The better goalie won, and right now, the better goalie between these teams is Winnipeg's Connor Hellebuyck, who for the second time in six days bested Jordan Binnington.

The Blues (32-15-8) pumped 37 shots at Hellebuyck, and he spurned 35 of them, much like in the Jets' 5-2 win last Saturday when Hellebuyck turned aside 38 of 40 shots.

"We haven't solved Hellebuyck good enough yet last two games," Blues coach Craig Berube said.

There were more than ample quality scoring chances. There was more than ample zone time for the Blues to create, funnel and filter towards the net. 

"There's a lot of quality scoring chances for sure," Berube said. "I'll look at it. Maybe we can be at the net a little bit better, but there was traffic there."

"He’s just a big guy, I think," Blues defenseman Colton Parayko said of Hellebuyck. "He’s a good goalie. Just being big, covers a lot of the net. I’m not sure about goaltending too much. He’s good I guess. He’s just big I guess, that’s my big thing."

And on the flip side, it wasn't a good game for Binnington, who allowed a questionable first goal from a sharp angle, high on the short side where he wasn't square to Jansen Harkins, who scored his first NHL goal in a period Berube didn't like by the Blues, and then on Winnipeg's go-ahead goal in the third period after the Blues fought back to tie the game 2-2 in the second, Binnington gave up a whopper of a rebound on a long-range shot by Harkins that the Blues netminder coughed up, ultimately being banged in by Andrew Copp. 

"I haven’t rewatched it, but the initial thought there is control your rebounds," Binnington said. "I’ve got to be there and got to keep working and it will come back around."

Binnington has been rock-solid since he burst onto the scene Jan. 7, 2019, and we know what the end result was last season when he put the Blues on his back to help them win the Stanley Cup, and earn himself a contract extension in the summer for $4.4 million AAV. But let's face it, there have been some leaks in Binnington's game as of late.

Since the Christmas break, Binnington is 7-4-1, but his numbers are alarming, to say the least. 

Since Dec. 27, he has a 3.26 goals-against average and .880 save percentage. And in the past six games, Binnington has allowed three or more goals in each game, going 2-3-1 with a 3.68 GAA and .860 save percentage.

When asked about Binnington's game Thursday, Berube wouldn't go as far as to single his netminder out, but did throw him into the group in general.

"It's partially ... it's everybody. It's on everybody," Berube said. "That's the bottom line. It's on everybody. Three going in our net's not good enough."

And not all of the goals allowed recently are on Binnington, but he has allowed goals that normally he would stop. These have been some of the same issues that Jake Allen faced in recent seasons. 

Since Dec. 27, Allen has made five starts and allowed three or more goals in two of them, and in his past 12 starts, he's allowed three or more goals three times and has a 2.00 GAA and .937 save percentage.

It's not being suggested that there should be a goalie controversy, but perhaps Allen deserves more games, and if he runs with those starts, then maybe the job should be split until the Blues can figure out who's playing more consistently heading into the playoffs.

The Blues are not ones to throw anyone under the bus and single people out. They'll always take the high road and put the onus on everyone, which is what Berube said.

"It's my job to make them urgent, and it's their job too," Berube said. "It's everybody's job."

These games from now to the end are playoff-type games. The teams beneath the Blues are fighting for their playoff lives. The Blues were those teams last season. Now they're on the flip side of things.

"There's a lot of desperate teams around the league right now, trying to find their way, playoff spots, things like that," Berube said. "Hockey's tight right now. It's tough. We've got to dig in more. We have to have a better mindset going into games, being harder to play against. It's a lot of playoff hockey going on right now. I'd like to see us get more of that mindset right now."
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues goalie Jordan Binnington made 21 saves in a 4-2 loss to Winnipeg on
Thursday but allowed three or more goals for the sixth straight game.

"I think this time of the year, I feel like a lot of it is opportunities and mistakes and that’s just the kind of hockey it is at this time of year," said Blues defenseman Colton Parayko, whose giveaway led to Winnipeg's second goal but scored a power-play goal. "Everybody’s battling for a playoff spot. Everybody needs two points. It’s kind of a game of mistakes right now and got to clean up a couple of things and we’ll be fine.

"It’s frustrating giving up two points. That’s obviously disappointing. You obviously want to take care of home ice and continue to get points but it’s over, time to flip the page, come to practice ready tomorrow. It’s obviously another big game on Saturday, so you can’t really sit back and look at this game. I think we’ve got to make sure we move forward. This is another huge game Saturday against a really good team. That’s our focus right now and just go get two points."