Wednesday, December 13, 2017

(12-14-17) BLUES NOTEBOOK

Bouwmeester, Pietrangelo progressing; Hutton close to returning; Schmaltz 
season debut goes well; Binnington recalled, Husso returns to San Antonio 

By LOU KORAC
ST. LOUIS -- The Blues played Tuesday without three of their top-minute players in a 3-0 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning in a battle of top teams in the NHL and could be getting at least one of them back as early as Thursday.

Defenseman Jay Bouwmeester (undisclosed injury not related to the fractured left ankle sustained early in training camp) told coach Mike Yeo he was feeling better and the team is expected to make a decision in the morning, likely after the gameday skate prior to facing the Anaheim Ducks.

"I talked to him today. He's feeling better," Yeo said of Bouwmeester. "We'll see what happens there tomorrow."

Bouwmeester, who missed the first 21 games with that fractured left ankle, is dealing what an injury Yeo said was "nagging."

Stay tuned in the morning of Bouwmeester's availability.

As for captain Alex Pietrangelo, who is on injured reserve and is eligible to come off for Sunday's game at Winnipeg, the second leg of the back-to-back with the Jets (they play Saturday here), he's coming along.

"He's going to wait a couple days (before skating), but talked to him today and he's feeling better," Yeo said. "I know he hopped on the bike there. We'll keep him moving and obviously interested to get him back."

The Blues are obviously playing without Jaden Schwartz, who along with Pietrangelo missed his second straight game after both were injured blocking shots last Saturday in Detroit. Schwartz is out and will be re-evaluated in six weeks with a right ankle injury.

* Hutton ready to return -- Also on the injured front is goalie Carter Hutton, who was placed on injured reserve retroactive to last Thursday after he sustained a foot injury taking a puck off the skate of teammate Scottie Upshall during the morning skate before the Blues' game against the Dallas Stars.

Hutton, who skated in an optional practice on Wednesday, was on the ice for a second day in a row and can come off IR on Friday ahead of the home-and-home series with the Jets.

"I'm feeling better," said Hutton, who called it a freak play. "Now it's just a pain thing and we can deal with that. That's the part of playing hockey. You're never really too healthy. You're always kind of too banged up in some sort of way, but it's good to be back out there. A couple days off, it always kind of sucks. It's one of those things where when it happens, you're like, 'Oh OK, there's lots of hockey,' but then you miss the first game and you like really hate it, feel guilty. You want to play, you want to help out. That's kind of my mindset the way I was raised. But we're back and we'll look back in a couple months from now and we won't even remember this little couple days off.

"I'm good to go. I'll be ready to rock, granted I don't take any more slap shots to the feet."

Yeo was also hopeful.

"Today was a good step and obviously every day he gets on the ice right now, he's certainly getting closer," he said.

* Schmaltz debut good -- Blues defenseman Jordan Schmaltz, who played in just his 10th NHL regular-season game Tuesday playing alongside fellow rookie Vince Dunn, played 14 minutes, 13 seconds in his season debut.

The stat line doesn't jump out, but the pairing of Schmaltz and Dunn were not on the ice for any goals against and handled themselves well against the Lightning firepower.

"Being my first (NHL) game in a while, it kind of almost felt like my first game again," said Schmaltz, who is tied for the team lead in points in San Antonio with 19 (five goals, 14 assists) in 24 games. "I thought I was solid defensively and I think I can build off it for sure.

"You try not to think about it. I think you've just got to approach every shift like it's your last one out there, do your job, play simple, play hard and get after them."

Blues coach Mike Yeo had no qualms about playing the two rookies together despite what kind of offensive weapons the Lightning brought. Felt confident in their abilities and trusted they'd get the job done.

"There was some thought, but we wanted to see how they went out and how they played," Yeo said. "Given how the other team's lines were shaped up, we felt that we could put them in some situations to give them a chance. You start the game, you don't really know how it's going to end necessarily. Obviously you hope it's going to end the way you started it. They showed us pretty quickly they were up to the task.

"I thought [Schmaltz] played well. To me, he's playing with more pace than he did in training camp. He looks quicker, he's making decisions quickly and that goes with the puck but that also goes without the puck. I thought he closed on people quickly, I thought his gaps were good. A little bit more aggressive and confident than what we saw in training camp."

The familiarity of Schmaltz and Dunn playing together with the Chicago Wolves helped matters.

"We read each other pretty well," Dunn said. "We were comfortable that we hadn't played with each other from the previous years. I think we're pretty good together and obviously we're both rookies. We need to be energetic and do the right things over again. I was comfortable playing with him and I think he was, too. I think we handled them well and were ready whoever we were out against."

* Binnington recalled, Husso sent to Rampage -- The Blues swapped goalie prospects and recalled Jordan Binnington, who is on loan to the Providence Bruins, and assigned Ville Husso to the Rampage.

With Hutton's return imminent, it was important to get Husso back playing games with San Antonio while the Blues need a backup one more time Thursday, which will be Binnington.

"It's just important for young guys to play," Yeo said. "'Huss' has been here. He's back and up right now. He's not going to play in the game tomorrow, so both guys have been doing a good job this year. Binnington's been playing really well from the reports that we've been getting Husso's been playing really well, just coming off the injury and it's important that he gets playing and we'll bring 'Binner' up now."

Binnington is 6-1-0 and ranks second in the AHL with a 1.84 goals-against average and a .933 save percentage in eight games with the Bruins this season.

* Win streak ends -- The Blues' loss to the Lightning for the second time this season stopped a four-game winning streak but didn't come with many ill effects.

Other than converting on some solid scoring opportunities and beating goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy, who stopped all 32 shots faced, the Blues probably were the better team on the ice but didn't win the most important category: the scoreboard.

"We played a pretty good game," Yeo said. "You look at every game and there's always some things that you can do a little bit differently, a little bit better in some situations. But their goalie played well. We checked hard, we defended well against a team that's not easy to defend against. We generated the opportunities. We had breakaways, we had 2-on-1's, we had opportunities in the offensive zone, but our execution in those situations weren't quite as sharp as we would have liked. Obviously we didn't find a way to score that dirty goal or that goal around the blue paint.

"We feel that if we can go out there and execute that game for the better part of 60 minutes, because it's never going to be perfect; don't matter who you're playing against. The opponent always has a say in it, but if for the better part of the game, if you're getting to your game, if it's got the picture of what your best game looks like, then yeah, more often than not, you're going to get the win. We didn't last night, so we'll have to find a way to come back and be a little bit better tomorrow.

It was a one-shot game until Nikita Kucherov scored to make it 2-0 with 6:23 remaining. That goal came moments before the Blues' Vladimir Sobotka missed on a wide open net that would have tied the game.

"I think we were in it right until the very end," Dunn said. "We definitely had our chances to put them in the back of the net. I think just looking at the positives, we can't shoot ourselves in the foot over that one. It's two top teams in the whole league coming together. We have guys missing, but definitely not an excuse. It wasn't a bad game, we weren't sloppy. I just think we need to capitalize when we have the opportunities. We've got to fight for those dirty goals."

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Shorthanded Blues miss scoring chances, fall 3-0 to Lightning

Battle of NHL's two top teams goes to Eastern Conference leaders; 
Vasilevskiy strong with 32-save shutout; St. Louis laments missed opportunities

By LOU KORAC
ST. LOUIS -- It's hard to imagine pulling positives in a shutout loss. But if the Blues can take that effort against that team and drag it into any night against most opponents, they will more times than not come out on the winning side of things.

In a battle of the top two teams in the NHL, the Tampa Bay Lightning beat the Blues 3-0 on Tuesday before 18,290 at Scottrade Center playing without three key injured players (Jaden Schwartz, Alex Pietrangelo and Jay Bouwmeeser) but probably played the better all-around game except one key area: finishing.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues defenseman Colton Parayko (55) looks to win a puck battle with the
Lightning's Vladislav Namestnikov on Tuesday at Scottrade Center.

The Blues (21-9-2), who saw their four-game winning streak end, failed to finish and the Lightning (22-6-2), the top scoring team in the NHL with 113 goals who have won five in a row, were able to finish on some opportunistic plays, including a couple turnovers that led to goals.

But the bottom line is the Blues, who outshot Tampa Bay 32-25, couldn't solve Andrei Vasilevskiy.

"I think guys competed hard tonight," Blues coach Mike Yeo said. "I thought for the most part we limited them to not a lot of quality scoring chances, I thought the PK was really good (3-for-3). We knew we were going to have to play tight, and I thought we created turnovers, we generated some opportunities and obviously there are some nights the goalie deserves credit and that guy's pretty good.

"Obviously the game is made up of a bunch of little plays and we had some opportunities there that we wish we had back, but he made some saves, too. It's a good hockey team that we played tonight and I thought we gave ourselves a good chance, we just didn't finish, we didn't capitalize, but if we keep playing like that, we'll get good results."

The Blues, playing rookies Vince Dunn and Jordan Schmaltz, who was recalled earlier in the day when the Blues put Pietrangelo on injured-reserve retroactive to Saturday, played structured defensively and limited the high-powered Lightning. 

But missing out on multiple scoring opportunities, including a trio of 2-on-1's in the second period and Vladimir Sobotka missing a wide open net in the third period that would have tied the game 1-1 really typified the night.

"I think we had our fair share of chances," Blues left wing Alexander Steen said. "I think they capitalized on a couple of theirs and they won the game on it.

"I'd say it was our finish tonight. I also think we were a little bit too much on the outside. I think when we had some chances, the goalie had good look at the pucks. We were a little too perimeter tonight to generate or to force one of those to go in."

Vasilevskiy made 32 saves, and Nikita Kucherov, Brayden Point and Tyler Johnson scored for the Lightning.

It was Vasilevskiy's third shutout of the season; he leads the NHL with 20 wins. He became the sixth goaltender in NHL history to reach the 20-win mark within his first 25 appearances of a season.

Vasilevskiy was pulled here in a 5-4 Blues victory on Dec. 1, 2016 after allowing four goals on 16 shots.

"It's a pretty good feeling especially after last year I played half a game and gave up four goals," Vasilevskiy said. "It wasn't my best game. But as I say, the guys played pretty well and we all deserved the shutout.

"They're definitely the best team in the West. It was a tough challenge for us but the guys played pretty well in front of me. Overall, I thought we played well. I played my game too."

Jake Allen made 22 saves.

It's the third time the Blues were shut out on home ice in 17 games, but there wasn't much discouragement.

"Just look how tight the game was all the way through," said Blues defenseman Colton Parayko, who played a game-high 27 minutes, 44 seconds. "We definitely had our chances. Great saves by their goalie. I think that they do a great job of protecting their net, helping out with the second opportunities. But I obviously thought we did have our chances. We played well, we had some (offensive) zone time and things like that. I think it was just a good hockey game." 

The Blues missed a chance to tie the game when Sobotka took a pass from Vladimir Tarasenko and missed a wide-open net at 12:07 of the third period. Sobotka shot through the crease with Vasilevskiy out of position.

"I missed the empty-net. It is what it is," Sobotka said. "... It happens. I missed the net and it could be 1-1. They score next shift. Just slid off. It just hit the front of the stick, not the back of it. Kind of landed on my stick, but I missed it."

And in most cases, when one team misses, the other capitalizes, and Kucherov made it 2-0 with his 21st goal of the season on a shot from the high slot high over Allen's stick side at 13:37. Kucherov tied Alex Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals for the NHL lead.

Point gave the Lightning a 1-0 lead with 45 seconds left in the first period after a Blues offensive-zone turnover by Dmitrij Jaskin led to an odd-man rush for the Lightning. Point's shot from the slot hit the crossbar but he followed up his rebound.

"I don’t really think I could pinpoint one thing," Parayko said for the lack of offense. "I just think that’s just the way it goes. That’s human nature. We all can’t score every single game. But at the same time, yeah, I don’t know, I just think it was a good game, it was tough, they play a good defensive game and their goalie made some really good saves. Obviously Jake did too, he kept us in the whole game. Like I said earlier, it was just a good hockey game."

Allen had a simple answer.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues goalie Jake Allen makes one of his 22 saves in a 3-0 loss to the
Tampa Bay Lightning on Tuesday.

"I just didn't think we made it hard enough on Vasilevskiy," he said. "He's the best goalie in the league this year, and it's not even close. We put pucks on net but pretty easy for him."

And it makes the Blues feel like they had every chance to win.

"I think tonight we were disappointed that we didn't get the win," Steen said. "Big parts of our game, I thought out d-core played solid. I would have liked to earn one of those bounces. We were just a little too much on the outside."

(12-12-17) Lightning-Blues Gameday Lineup

By LOU KORAC
ST. LOUIS -- More injury news trickled down for the Western Conference-leading Blues, who host the Eastern Conference-leading Tampa Bay Lightning today at 7 p.m. (NBCSN, KMOX 1120-AM).

Already without left wing Jaden Schwartz for six weeks with a right ankle injury, defenseman Alex Pietrangelo was placed on injured reserve with a lower-body injury retroactive to Saturday after he blocked a shot against the Detroit Red Wings, and now defenseman Jay Bouwmeester will miss tonight's game with an undisclosed injury.

Pietrangelo came in Monday and received treatment and the Blues knew then he wouldn't be an option, so they opted for a healthy body the rest of the week considering the condensed schedule.

So the Blues will be without three of their top players against the NHL's top scoring team at 110 goals.

"He's still day to day for us, but looking at this week and the schedule we have, we didn't think he was going to get in these next couple games," Blues coach Mike Yeo said of Pietrangelo. "It gives us a chance to call in a healthy player without making a roster move. It puts him out for a week but we're still considering him day to day. We don't expect it to be long term. It's obviously frustrating for him to be out today but no point in putting him in a bad position too.

"'Bouw's going to be out tonight, too. Another day to day injury, going to be a good challenge for the guys we have in the lineup."

Recalled from the San Antonio Rampage, defenseman Jordan Schmaltz will jump right into the lineup and play alongside Vince Dunn

"Last year getting my feet wet or whatever, I haven't played a game at this level in a while, so obviously there's a little bit of an adjustment period," said Schmaltz, who has nine games of NHL experience in the regular season and one in the playoffs. "But I think you just get in there, do what you can and be confident."

So the Blues (21-8-2) will charge out Colton Parayko, Joel Edmundson, Carl Gunnarsson, Robert Bortuzzo, Schmaltz and Dunn against the explosive Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov and the rest of the high-flying Lightning, who are 21-6-2.

Stamkos (12 goals, 30 assists) and Kucherov (20 goals, 21 assists) are Nos. 1-2 in the NHL in points.

"I thought last game, Colton and Eddie did a real nice job along with 'Gunny' and 'Borts,'" Yeo said. "They played like veteran players, going to need them to tonight, both 'Dunner' and 'Schmaltzy,' young players, but we don't expect them to play young. We expect them to come in and be ready to contribute and be ready to be solid and find a way to help us get to our game."

The Blues won't back down from the challenge.

"The young guys have got to step up," the ever-so-young 24-year-old Edmundson said, who logged a career-high 25 minutes, 49 seconds on Sunday against Buffalo. "It's why they in the AHL. If there's chances like this, it's going to be exciting to see how they come up, especially against Tampa tonight, which is going to be a challenge. It'll be fun.

"Everyone wants to beat the best team in the league, and we've got a chance to do that tonight."

Parayko, who played a season-high 27:32 on Sunday, will be the one that draws the majority of Pietrangelo's minutes and Edmundson will be up in the 20's likely again.

"I'm looking forward to taking it on, taking on the roll, but you just realize how important of a piece 'Petro' is," Parayko said. "He obviously puts up a lot of minutes each night, obviously over 26 (minutes) I would say each night. Not only even-strength, but he plays on both penalty kill and power play. But at the same time, it's kind of the nature of our job. I think we've got to make sure we come together as a group collectively and get it done. It's going to be huge.

"We had this at the beginning of the year, too (with Bouwmeester and Alexander Steen out with injuries). I think the beauty is we continue to come together as a group and continue to find ways to get points and get wins. We are always finding ways to win. That's the beauty of our group."

- - -

Both teams are in search of their fifth straight win tonight, and if you think the Lightning will take the Blues lightly, think again.

"If you ever looked at it that way, I think you'd be in trouble," Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. "... The second you take anybody lightly in this League, you're in trouble. There's a reason why they're number one in the West., because they have a good team and they've got depth, and any time you've got a good goaltender back there, it's tough."

Yeo embraces the challenge the Lightning, who beat the Blues 2-1 in Tampa on Oct. 14, pose.

"It's a team that has the ability to score but more than that they're hungry to score," Yeo said. "They're dangerous off the rush, dangerous in the offensive zone, they can score making plays, and finding seams and creating movement and they can also score at the net. It's a great challenge for us to see how we defend against that tonight."

- - -

It was quite the whirlwind weekend for Blues forward Ivan Barbashev.

After being recalled Sunday from the Chicago Wolves to replace Schwartz, Barbashev was thrown right into the lineup against the Sabres in a 3-2 overtime victory.

Barbashev played Friday and Saturday with the Wolves against the Cleveland Monsters and pulled a trifecta of games in three days with the Blues on Sunday.

"It was pretty busy," Barbashev said. "... It doesn't matter. I was really happy to be here. They told me right away. It's nice.

"I was really happy to be back here just to play a game with the Blues again. It felt great. I thought the game (Sunday) was pretty good for me as well."

- - -

- Blues center Brayden Schenn, who was named the NHL First Star of the Week on Monday, has a four-game point streak (six goals, one assist).

- Blues goalie Jake Allen, the NHL Third Star of the Week last week, is 4-0-0 with a 1.50 goals-against average and .944 save percentage his past 4 starts.

- Blues right wing Vladimir Tarasenko has a three-game point streak (two goals, two assists) and has 11 points (four goals, seven assists) the past 10 games.

- Blues goalie Carter Hutton skated this morning and is eligible to come off IR on Thursday. He took a puck off the skate during the morning skate last Thursday before the Blues faced the Dallas Stars.

- The Blues announced late Tuesday afternoon they've assigned forward Sammy Blais to San Antonio. Blais has one goal and two assists in nine games with the Blues. It's the third time Blais has been assigned back to the AHL.

- - -

The Blues' projected lineup:

Vladimir Sobotka-Paul Stastny-Vladimir Tarasenko

Alexander Steen-Brayden Schenn-Dmitrij Jaskin

Ivan Barbashev-Patrik Berglund-Magnus Paajarvi 

Scottie Upshall-Oskar Sundqvist-Kyle Brodziak

Joel Edmundson-Colton Parayko

Carl Gunnarsson-Robert Bortuzzo

Vince Dunn-Jordan Schmaltz

Jake Allen will start in goal; Ville Husso will be the backup. 

Healthy scratches include Chris Thorburn and Sammy Blais. Jaden Schwartz (ankle), Alex Pietrangelo (lower body), Jay Bouwmeester (undisclosed), Carter Hutton (lower body) and Zach Sanford (shoulder) are all out. Robby Fabbri (knee) is out for the season.

- - -

The Lightning's projected lineup:

Vladislav Namestnikov-Steven Stamkos-Tyler Johnson

Ondrej Palat-Brayden Point-Nikita Kucherov

Alex Killorn-Yanni Gourde-Cory Conacher

Chris Kunitz-Cedric Paquette-Ryan Callahan

Victor Hedman-Andrej Sustr

Mikhail Sergachev-Anton Stralman

Slater Koekkoek-Dan Girardi

Andrei Vasilevskiy will start in goal; Peter Budaj will be the backup. 

The healthy scratch will be J.T. Brown. Jake Dotchin (undisclosed) and Braydon Coburn (lower body) are out.

Without Schwartz, numbers say Blues' offense will slip

What will the team do without arguably their top two-way forward for the next 
six weeks; St. Louis loses nearly 3/4 goals per game when left wing is sidelined 

By LOU KORAC
ST. LOUIS -- It's a simple question but one that needs to be asked.

Now what?

Sounds simple enough. On many occasions, there is a simple answer. But in the case of the Blues, the answer could be simple; it also could be a difficult one to answer.

Only time will tell.

Losing Jaden Schwartz, who injured his right ankle blocking a shot in the first period of a 6-1 win against the Detroit Red Wings for at least six weeks, is a big blow, especially when this is the best all-around season thus far of his NHL career spanning six-plus seasons. 
(St. Louis Blues photo)
The Blues will miss the 200-foot game and career year of left wing Jaden
Schwartz (17), who will miss at least six weeks with a right ankle injury.

Schwartz, arguably the Blues' best 200-foot forward, was putting up career-year offensive numbers with 35 points (14 goals, 21 assists) in 30 games that means so much more than just goals and assists.

Let's crunch some simple numbers but ones that bear mentioning (non-shootout goals for and against):

Going back to the 2014-15 season, which is three full seasons and 31 games this season, the Blues have played a total of 277 regular-season games. They've scored 793 goals for an average of 2.86 per game and allowed 688 goals for an average of 2.48 per game. 

Schwartz has played 216 of those 277 games. With him in the lineup, the Blues have scored 652 goals, an average of 3.02 per game. In the 61 games without him, they've scored 141 goals, an average of 2.31 per game.

In the scoring against department, the Blues are actually a tad bit better. With Schwartz in the lineup, they've allowed 548 goals, or an average of 2.53 per game. Without him, they've allowed 143 goals, an average of 2.34. But the bottom line is the Blues have scored 652 goals to 548 against with him playing, 141 scored for and 143 against without him.

The 3.02 average goals for with him and 2.31 without is a difference of 0.71 goals less per game, so the noticeable difference is the offensive numbers slip.

What does it equate to as far as wins and losses? Well, the Blues' record with Schwartz in the lineup is 137-65-14, 30-20-11 without him.

The Blues went 1-5-1 without Schwartz in 2014-15 when be missed seven games with a broken foot, scoring 17 goals and allowing 24 while scoring 222 and allowing 176 without him; they went 25-15-9 in 2015-16 when Schwartz missed 49 games with a fractured left ankle, scoring 109 goals and allowing 109 and scoring 110 and allowing 88 with him, and 3-0-1 last season when Schwartz missed four games with an elbow injury, scoring 12 goals and allowing eight while scoring 221 and allowing 208 with him in the lineup. They won 3-2 in overtime Sunday in their first game without Schwartz this season.

"It's a tough break," Blues coach Mike Yeo said. "I feel really bad for 'Schwartzy,' just the year he's having, the way he's put himself on the map in our league, the recognition he's getting has been so well deserved, so I feel bad for him and obviously it's a loss for our group."

Added teammate Brayden Schenn, who benefited from having Schwartz as a linemate: "You never want to see anyone go down, you feel terrible for him. He's having a career year. You can tell how confident, how good he's playing out there. It's one of those freak little plays where it's a snap shot, a wrist shot from two feet away where you think, it's not going to do any damage, and it just hits you in the right spot. 

"It sucks for the team, sucks for me," added Schenn, who assisted on six of Schwartz's 14 goals and Schwartz assisted on eight of Schenn's team-leading 16 goals. "I was enjoying playing with him, having a great time doing it. At the end of the day, I guess he'll be fresh and ready for the rest of the season when we're really going to need him."

Schwartz has been called the engine that fuels this forward group. And now, as they've done in the past, including missing Schwartz due to injury for 61 games the past three-plus seasons, the Blues will have to move on without a key player.

But how?

With Schwartz out six weeks at a minimum, he'll miss 19 games unless he can somehow come back sooner than expected, which isn't an unreasonable thought to keep in mind. Or it could be longer than six weeks. But at a minimum, 19 games would equate to six weeks, and the Blues could use the option of putting Schwartz on long term injured-reserve, which can be done when players are expected to miss a minimum of 10 NHL games and 24 days in the season. LTIR can be used to exceed the salary cap and provide relief if the average club salary/payroll exceeded the upper limit.

That's one thought in mind.

Would general manager Doug Armstrong sniff around in search of a top-six forward? The likelihood right now would be remote, although it's something that could be a distinct possibility closer to the trade deadline. 

So for the time being, as the Blues (21-8-2) welcome the Tampa Bay Lightning (21-6-2) tonight in a battle for the overall top spot in the League, there will have to be a committee value to take on Schwartz's responsibilities, including taking on Schwartz's 19 minutes, 12 seconds of average ice time per game this season and 17:20 for his career.

"We've got character players, we've got depth and so, nobody's going to sit around here and feel sorry for us, and we're not going to feel sorry for ourselves," Yeo said. "We'll get back to work and obviously the focus on our team game is going to be extra important right now and we talk about it all the time, we need guys to step up. Guys that are in the lineup, we need them to step up and bring their 'A' game and guys that come into the lineup, we need them to be ready to deliver."

Hello Ivan Barbashev, recalled from the Chicago Wolves on Sunday and who played a solid game in a 3-2 overtime win over Buffalo on Sunday night. 

Hello Dmitrij Jaskin, who has matched his season total in points (11) through 28 games that took him 57 games to accomplish last season. Jaskin moved into a top six role Sunday.

The veterans like Schenn, Vladimir Tarasenko, Paul Stastny, Alexander Steen, Vladimir Sobotka and Patrik Berglund will have to all pick up the slack. The onus will for the time being falls on everyone.

"You can't change something right now, so you can't complain about it, just try to play not only for ourselves but those guys too," Tarasenko said.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues left wing Jaden Schwartz (17) had 35 points (14 goals, 21 assists) in
30 games this season but is now sidelined with a right ankle injury.

"I think the way we play, obviously our top guys and our role (players), they all have a big impact on our team because we do rely on 12 forwards and 6 'D'" Stastny said. "We don’t really just rely on two lines and top four D. So I think when one guy does get hurt, I think the other lines seem to step up a little more. 

"... It's a long season, you’re going to have injuries. Whether it’s early in the season, middle or late season, you can't use it as an excuse. 'Yeozy' has done a good job of not letting us worry about it. Whoever is in the lineup, focus on what we have to do."

And that's why it'll be a work-by-committee mindset.

"I think everybody gets an opportunity," Yeo said. "I don't think we're going to point at one person and say this is the guy that's going to make up for the loss. I think collectively as a group, when you look at the offense we're going to be missing from 'Schwartzy,' we need everybody to step up and find a way to contribute and be a factor and be a threat. More importantly now is the way we band together and play in our defensive game and the structure and the mentality that we approach the game with as a group."

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Tarasenko's OT goal salvages 3-2 victory over Sabres

Sharthanded Blues, minus Schwartz, Pietrangelo, 
blow two-goal lead in third, win despite top players missing

By LOU KORAC
ST. LOUIS -- It had to be a hard time from the midset for Blues players heading to work on Sunday.

It was their third game in four days -- four short days -- which makes it tough as it is. But to come in and learn two of your top players -- if not their best players -- will not dress Sunday against the Buffalo Sabres, including one of them for an extended period of time, the Blues did what they do best.

Next man up.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Vladimir Tarasenko celebrates after scoring in overtime of a 3-2 win over
the Buffalo Sabres on Sunday night.

The Blues learned they would lose left wing Jaden Schwartz for a minimum of six weeks with a right ankle injury sustained in a 6-1 win at Detroit on Saturday, and then top defenseman Alex Pietrangelo was also ruled out and is day-to-day with a lower-body injury, also from a blocked shot Saturday, for at least Sunday's game against the Buffalo Sabres, the Blues had to throw together a patchwork lineup to face the league's worst team.

Despite blowing a two-goal lead, the end result is what matters, and Vladimir Tarasenko sent the 17,310 at Scottrade Center hope happy campers when he scored with 35.2 seconds to play in overtime of a 3-2 victory, the Blues' fourth win in a row.

Tarasenko had a different idea on his overtime goal.

The execution wasn't what he had in mind, but the end result was.

Tarasenko got the puck inside his defensive zone, and once he hit the center ice, he drove into the Sabres zone past Sabres center Jack Eichel and as he was trying to pull the puck to his forehand, Sabres goalie Robin Lehner's poke-check inadvertently pushed the puck inside the near side for the game-winner.

"Just tried to drive the net and I think when you have so many chances (and) puck doesn't go in, you just need to play more simple," Tarasenko said of his 14th of the season. "It's kind of (a) lucky bounce, but I think overall, our line playing better every game. I think we have more and more chances all the time, so I think we just need to score goals in the game and don't make it all the way to overtime."

Lehner went with the poke check because he didn't want Tarasenko to pick and choose the shot he wanted.

"I didn't want him to get a shot off so I did a poke check and it was a second too early and it went in," Lehner said. "He's a helluva player with a helluva shot so I just wanted to take that away. 

"I felt like I had him most of the game and it's tough. I wanted to make that save and go into the shootout."

The Blues, who improved to 17-0-0 when leading after two periods, called up Ivan Barbashev from the Chicago Wolves to play 12 minutes, 36 seconds; they moved Dmitrij Jaskin into a top-six role in the absence of Schwartz; they inserted Robert Bortuzzo into the lineup to play on the top defensive pairing with Jay Bouwmeester.

And even though they were playing the bottom feeders of the Eastern Conference, it still was an adjustment both mentally and physically to play without both Schwartz and Pietrangelo.

"I think especially playing back-to-back, Eastern Conference team, sometimes those are a little tougher to get up compared to division games," said Blues center Paul Stastny, whose goal gave the Blues a 2-0 lead in the second period. "But I thought we came in here with the right mindset, played well for most the game. We had a couple of lapses, but kind of just rolled our forwards, rolled our d-men and we kind of played that ‘Next man up’ mentality. We have enough chemistry that we’re confidence with any lines out there, so when we’re missing two big guys like that, we don’t use it as an excuse, we just keep playing."

Bortuzzo said its something the Blues are used to.

"Of course, those are two massive parts of our lineup, but we had this 'Next man up' mentality for it almost seems like a couple years now," Bortuzzo said. "Guys did a great job stepping in. I thought Barbashev was phenomenal tonight and Petro plays big minutes so we're all just trying to chew up a couple throughout the six of us, I thought we did a nice job of chewing that up.

"A lot of guys stepped up. Those two create a lot of offense for us and we might have to generate offense a little different ways. I thought guys did a good job of plaing down low in the offensive zone. I think overall we were happy ywith the effort and just need to build on it now. ... You relish opportunities like that to play against the other team's top line and PK, [Bouwmeester's] a great guy to play with, communicates a lot, excellent skater, great structure, it was a fun challenge tonight, felt pretty good stepping up."

"It's tough in the morning," said defenseman Joel Edmundson, who was paired with usual partner Colton Parayko. "At the rink, it's kind of quiet, just because we lost two of our top guys. We had younger guys step up. We brought 'Barbs' in and I thought he had a good game tonight. Overall, I thought we had different guys step up and we just kept it simple there. We had our ups and downs throughout the game, but overall, we've got to take the two points and be happy with it."

Evan Rodrigues scored two goals in the third period for the Sabres (7-17-6), including the tying goal with 1:27 remaining. Lehner made 42 saves.

Rodrigues made it 2-1 at 1:42 of the third after Evander Kane's pass through the crease deflected off Sam Reinhart.

Rodrigues tied it after the Sabres pulled Lehner. Marco Scandella's shot hit Ryan O'Reilly and went to directly to Rodrigues in the left circle.

The Blues (21-8-2), who are first in the Western Conference with 44 points, got goals from Brayden Schenn and Stastny. The Blues are 10-1-1 against the Sabres at home in the past 11 games, including winners of six in a row. Jake Allen made 22 saves.

The Blues are 5-0-1 this season in the second game of a back-to-back, 13-0-1 the past 14 and 20-2-1 the past 22 games in that setup.

"On the outside looking in, you look and see that we gave up two in the third period and had to win it in overtime, but we had a number of quality chances we could have put that game away," Blues coach Mike Yeo said. "It's not like we sat back. In the third period, we had a number of great chances. Their goalie played real well. 

"Considering we played back-to-back games missing a couple of guys, overworking some players, I thought that it was a pretty gutsy win tonight."
  
Schenn gave the Blues a 1-0 lead 40 seconds into the first period. He went to the net after Joel Edmundson's shot from the left circle caromed off Scandella in the slot. Schenn leads St. Louis with 16 goals. 
 
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues forward Alexander Steen (20) gets a shot off on Sabres goalie
Robin Lehner Sunday night during a 3-2 victory in overtime.

Stastny's seventh goal of the season at 16:17 of the second period made it 2-0. He punched in a shot from the side of the goal after Tarasenko's shot from the slot whistled wide of the net and off the end boards.

All things considered, with the way the day started, the Blues can take comfort in knowing they can still find ways to bag points without their top players.

"I think everybody was going pretty good," Yeo said. "Obviously it was a little bit more balance, but I thought our defense played a real strong game for us. Not just in the defending part of the game but a lot of heavy forecheck from them. Obviously, you play a team like that, they're sitting here last night watching us play. They understand that obviously fatigue can be a factor in the game, and part of their game plan was to get every puck in behind our defensemen and forecheck them and I thought that our D did a nice job of breaking their forecheck."

(12-10-17) Sabres-Blues Gameday Lineup

By LOU KORAC
ST. LOUIS -- The Blues (20-8-2) got the news they weren't looking for Sunday before facing the Buffalo Sabres (7-17-5) on home ice Sunday evening (6 p.m.; FS-MW, KMOX 1120-AM).

An MRI confirmed to the Blues Jaden Schwartz's right ankle injury is more severe than they initially anticipated and placed the left wing on injured-reserve.

Schwartz will be re-evaluated in six weeks.

Schwartz was injured blocking a shot by defenseman Mike Green and was helped off the ice with 2:51 left in the first period of the Blues' 6-1 victory at the Detroit Red Wings on Saturday. He is scheduled to be re-evaluated in six weeks.

"It sucks," Blues center Brayden Schenn said. "He’s having a great year, doing it all for us at both ends of the ice and making stuff happen. He can definitely be in the conversation, (in) my opinion, our MVP thus far this season."

"That's a tough one," Blues defenseman Jay Bouwmeester said. "Especially he's been off to such a good start. He's been a real key player for us. Personally, I know it's hard for him, too, because he's dealt with things like this before a couple of times. But we've had injuries throughout the year, even in past years where we've been able as a group to kind of come together. It's an opportunity for other guys and all that stuff. Yeah, right now it sucks but the train doesn't stop moving. You've just gotta kinda pick each other up and keep going. . . .It's tough right now, but life goes on."

Schwartz, 25, has 35 points (14 goals, 21 assists), second on the Blues behind Schenn (15-21-36) and is tied for ninth in the NHL with Edmonton Oilers center Connor McDavid (11-24-35). He's averaging 19:12 of ice time per game and has 247 points (103 goals, 144 assists) and 81 penalty minutes in 348 NHL regular-season games.

Schwartz missed 49 games during the 2015-16 season with a fractured left ankle, four games last season with an elbow injury and six games in the 2014-15 season with a broken bone in his foot blocking a shot against the Los Angeles Kings.

Blues coach Mike Yeo said after the game Saturday initial X-rays were negative but the team wanted to conduct further tests, including an MRI, after swelling went down and found more than what they initially thought. 

"That's why we got the MRI," Yeo said. "We were hopeful but talking to [Schwartz], there was enough concern that we get back here and get the MRI. Obviously some bad news.

"It's a tough break. I feel really bad for [Schwartz], just the year he's having, the way he's put himself on the map in our League, the recognition he's getting has been so well deserved, so I feel bad for him and obviously it's a loss for our group."

Forward Ivan Barbashev was recalled from Chicago of the American Hockey League. Barbashev, 21, has eight points (four goals, four assists) in 17 AHL games this season. Has 12 points (five goals, seven assists) in 36 NHL regular-season games, including six this season.

"I heard he's been playing real well," Yeo said of Barbashev. "I'm excited to get him back in. The purpose of us sending down Barbie was not a matter of us not believing in him or trying to punish him, it was for him to find his game and all reports are that he's been much closer to that, much closer to the player he was when he got called up last year and when he played so well for us, so we're excited to see what he can bring for us."

- - -

The Blues will also be without captain Alex Pietrangelo on their blue line tonight with a lower-body injury after he also blocked a shot moments before Schwartz during Saturday's win.

Yeo considers Pietrangelo day-to-day.

"Petro's going to be out tonight, too," Yeo said. "We'll call that day-to-day. He's going to try to skate tomorrow, go to the rink and see how that goes. But we'll call him day to day right now."

With Schwartz and Pietrangelo out, Chris Thurburn and Robert Bortuzzo will slot into the lineup.

"Every time a guy comes out of the lineup it's an opportunity for somebody else," Yeo said. "We'll have somebody ready to step up tonight and we'll dial it in with our team game."

The Blues didn't hold a morning skate, and Yeo said the line combinations and defensive pairings will be rounded out during the pregame warmups.

- - -

- Blues goalie Jake Allen will make a back-to-back starts for the first time this season after stopping 28 of 29 shots on Saturday.

- Schenn has scored five goals the past three games and has six points during the streak after going five games without a point.

- The Blues are 4-0-1 this season in the second game of a back-to-back, 12-0-1 the past 13 and 19-2-1 the past 22 games in that setup.

- The Blues have point in 10 of the past 11 home games (9-1-1) against the Sabres, including a five-game winning streak.

- The Sabres are 31st in the NHL in offense (62 goals scored) and 30th in defense (99 goals allowed).

- - -

The Blues' projected lineup:

Vladimir Sobotka-Paul Stastny-Vladimir Tarasenko

Dmitrij Jaskin-Brayden Schenn-Alexander Steen

Magnus Paajarvi-Patrik Berglund-Sammy Blais

Scottie Upshall-Kyle Brodziak-Chris Thorburn

Joel Edmundson-Colton Parayko

Jay Bouwmeester-Carl Gunnarsson

Vince Dunn-Robert Bortuzzo 

Jake Allen will start in goal; Ville Husso will be the backup.

Healthy scratches include Oskar Sundqvist and Ivan Barbashev. Jaden Schwartz (ankle), Alex Pietrangelo (lower body), Carter Hutton (lower body), Zach Sanford (shoulder) and Robby Fabbri (knee) are out.

- - -

The Sabres' projected lineup:

Evander Kane-Jack Eichel-Jason Pominville

Benoit Pouliot-Ryan O'Reilly-Kyle Okposo

Scott Wilson-Evan Rodrigues-Sam Reinhart 

Zemgus Girgensons-Johan Larsson-Hudson Fasching

Marco Scandella-Rasmus Ristolainen

Jake McCabe-Zach Bogosian

Justin Falk-Victor Antipin

Robin Lehner will start in goal; Chad Johnson will be the backup. 

Healthy scratches include Josh Gorges and Jordan Nolan. Nathan Beaulieu (illness), Taylor Fedun (lower body) and Jacob Josefson (ankle) are out.

Friday, December 8, 2017

(12-9-17) BLUES NOTEBOOK

Whirlwind day for Husso; Hutton to IR; Blais recalled, 
will play Saturday; Allen likely to get both weekend games

By LOU KORAC
HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- It turned out to be quite a day Thursday for Blues goalie Ville Husso.

Husso, who was in San Antonio just going about business as usual on an off-day in the American Hockey League, said he just fixed himself lunch when the phone rang around 1 p.m. 

The basic message was: time to hustle, get your gear and get on a plane to St. Louis!

Husso was recalled on an emergency basis after Blues backup goalie Carter Hutton sustained a lower-body injury during the morning skate prior to the Blues facing the Dallas Stars.

The Blues had a backup contingency in place, having local amateur goalie Tyler Stewart sign an amateur tryout agreement to serve as Jake Allen's backup until Husso arrived at the rink, which became quite the chore when his 4:40 p.m. flight out of San Antonio was 20 minutes late.

"I got a call (at) like 1 p.m. Then the flight was like 4:40, but it was like 20 minutes late so I got here (at) like 6:59 or something," Husso said Friday after practice. "It was a little bit different day than usual.

"I've been a couple times late, but like never like that."

The Blues got Husso to the rink as soon as possible and he was on the bench and ready to back up Allen with 5 minutes, 9 seconds remaining in the first period. He had no idea why he was going to St. Louis at the time.

"Just get here and be ready like always," Husso said. "They didn't say anything." 

Husso, the Blues' 22-year-old fourth round pick in 2014 out of Helsinki, Finland, will be sticking around for at least a week after the Blues placed Hutton on injured-reserve and recalled right wing Sammy Blais from the Rampage.

The Blues play back-to-back games this weekend, Saturday at noon at the Detroit Red Wings before hosting the Buffalo Sabres on Sunday at 6 p.m.

"It's nice to be here and be in all these kinds of practice and stuff," Husso said. "It's good experience for me. I take that. You never know. Hopefully I get one game, that would be nice."

Hutton going on IR means he will miss at least the next next four games. Blues coach Mike Yeo didn't seem concerned it would be much more time but felt that the move was necessary since Hutton wouldn't be ready for either game this weekend and the desire to put Blais in the lineup against the Red Wings.

"Obviously IR means be could be available to us in a week here, but we felt he wasn't going to be ready to play this weekend and we wanted to get 'Blazer' back in next game, so that's the move that we were kind of forced to make in order for that to happen," Yeo said.

* Allen to get games -- Allen, who is coming off a 29-save, 3-0 shutout victory over the Stars, will start against the Red Wings and could very well get the nod against the Sabres.

In back-to-back situations, it's common for both goalies to split the games, but with one being on a Saturday afternoon and the Blues being home close to a full 24 hours before the next scheduled game, changes the thinking a bit.

"The one thing we do have going for us is I think the afternoon game to the later in the evening game the next day is a little bit of a help here if we wanted to go Jake for all the games, so we'll see what happens," Yeo said. "I think it changes things a little bit. It's a little different situation. Today is a light (practice) day. Jake played really well last game, but he didn't have a huge workload as far as a large amount of shots, having to battle through traffic and what not. ... He did play great and earned that shutout, but at the same time, I don't think that it was a real taxing game for him and then obviously a pretty light day today and then given that it's an afternoon game tomorrow, there will be no morning skate. I think we can manage it here a little bit so that the possibility of him playing both the games this weekend is there for us."

Husso, who is coming off a lower-body injury of his own that forced him to miss roughly two weeks (he was in St. Louis at the time receiving treatment), played for San Antonio this past Tuesday, a 5-1 loss.

"I know the result of the game wasn't really good, but from what I heard, he played pretty well," Yeo said. "I know in talking with Marty, he felt pretty comfortable that he was ready to be here. He'll be fine."

"I play last Tuesday for first time since I was injured, but I felt pretty good out there," Husso said. "I'm 100 percent right now and I'm ready to go."

* Blais back in the fold -- With no morning skate and the Blues not holding line rushes Friday, it won't be known until pregame warmups who Blais will replace in the lineup Saturday, but with the Red Wings, coming off a 5-1 win over Winnipeg to snap a seven-game losing streak, adding Blais' speed and skill will be a necessary ingredient.

"Last game we talked about as going to be a different game," Yeo said. "We want to give him another shot to see what he can do and we've talked about a couple things that we'd like to see a little bit of progress with. He's a great kid and he's willing to learn and it's just a matter of how quickly he grabs it.

"We're seeing some improvement, but it's not there yet. It takes time with habits like this. It's just a matter of how quick it comes to him. Offensively, we like a lot of things that he's doing. It's just a matter with us as a coaching staff to continue working with him. He's had a fantastic attitude about it and if he continues to do that, then he'll get there."

* Scouting the Red Wings -- Detroit (11-12-5) was 0-4-3 before defeating Winnipeg.

It will be the Blues' first visit to the Red Wings' new home, Little Caesars Arena, and only visit this season.

Reports from Detroit indicate the Red Wings will start Jimmy Howard in goal.

"Speed right now," Yeo said describing Detroit's game. "Obviously, they had a couple tough ones there in a row and a real tough one. Certainly when you're faced with something like that, the players in this league, there's an awful lot of pride. I think that they responded real well, handed it to Winnipeg and we're going to have to be ready for that challenge. Creating a lot of chances with their speed, putting a lot of pucks to the net, bodies around the net, generating off that and they get on you quickly with good sticks."