Wednesday, November 26, 2014

(11-27-14) BLUES NOTEBOOK

Practice gets heated; USA, Sweden lines play out 
Wednesday; Allen's demeanor; Binnington's stay could be short-lived

By LOU KORAC
ST. LOUIS -- The Blues' practice Wednesday at Scottrade Center had a little bit of everything.

An eventful practice full of pace and intensity had its share of light-hearted moments, like when Jaden Schwartz  beat Barret Jackman in a 1-on-1 drill, scored and Jackman playfully tripped up Schwartz to the ice as the rest of the team roared with approval of Schwartz's skill and finishing ability; like when coach Ken Hitchcock accidentally threw up a wall along the boards and Joakim Lindstrom skated into his coach and went down, which even got the coach to laugh, and when the fire detectors at Scottrade accidentally went off and the players mocked as if they were leaving the ice when Hitchcock was talking at his whiteboard.

But things got a little intense during a small-ice drill that culminated with captain David Backes and Vladimir Tarasenko needing to be separated on the ice as the heat of the drill got all those involved, and Backes and Tarasenko happened to be the guys that barked, with Backes doing most of the barking and needing to be separated by teammates, including Barret Jackman.

Cooler heads prevailed in a moment that happens to all teams but not often.

Hitchcock made light of it afterwards.

"It didn't matter who it was with Backes," Hitchcock joked. "He was just ready to practice and Tarasenko was one of seven players who got in his way today. 

"It was exactly what you want your captain to do. He elevated the level of practice and away he went. Vladi just happened to be one of many who got in his way."

As media members watched in surprise, Blues fans quickly were curious just what went on.

"It's a battle practice," winger T.J. Oshie said. "It's something that was building up that maybe should have come out a little sooner. It wasn't necessarily the two guys that it had to be, but when your captain says something, whether you have 18 goals or you have a slumping one goal, you listen. You listen to Backs. 

"As far as emotions and work ethic, Jax and Backs are two leaders that have been our leaders a long time who have been playing their best hockey as far as the way we want to play, the way the coaches preach. You listen to them and when they step up, if you don't listen, that's what happens."

Hitchcock agreed.

"That's hopefully what we expected to happen with that drill," he said. "That's a very good offensive-defensive drill. You would hope that you would have a lot of that. We had some battles that were close to it in the other part of practice that was down low and you're hoping you get to see that type of energy and when you get in those drills that are that close-quartered, scoring drills, hard scoring drills, you're going to get battling because those guys that are defending, they don't want to get scored on. A forward doesn't want to get beat down low, get beat to the net. A guy wants to try and score goals. Those are things that happen every time you put those drills in. I haven't seen it any other time that it hasn't. 

"David had a burr today because he felt like we let a point slip away yesterday and he was not happy. Did what a captain did, raised the level."

Were punches ready to be thrown?

"There was not going to be that happening," Hitchcock said. "Between them two looking at each other and about 12 guys jumping in, there was never going to be anything happening. (Backes) ran over about six guys today. Vladi was just the last guy in his way."

* Line em up by the country -- Hitchcock had an Olympic-themed flavor as far as line combinations at practice Wednesday, as he used an American line, a Swedish line and what he called a Euro line ... and a dog-themed line.

The American line consisted of Backes, Oshie and Paul Stastny, the Swedish line had Patrik Berglund centering Alexander Steen and Joakim Lindstrom and Magnus Paajarvi, the Euro line had Jori Lehtera, Tarasenko and Schwartz -- or better known as the STL Line -- and the fourth line (or as Hitchcock called them the hound dog line) remained the same with Steve Ott, Maxim Lapierre and Ryan Reaves with Chris Porter.

"We didn't play together over there (in Sochi, Russia)," Oshie said. "We were told we were going to, but we didn't play together. 

"It was good. It was a hard practice, a lot of battle drills, but I feel like from the Olympics, 'Stas' and I have a lot of really good chemistry and obviously 'Backs' and I for the majority of each season for the past five years, we've been playing together. There could be some chemistry on that line. We'll see. We'll see what's on the board when we come in on Friday."

Hitchcock, in typical fashion, downplayed the changes with a broader picture in  mind.

"I wanted to look at it at practice," he said. "I put a Swedish line out there; I had four guys from Sweden in one line. That's an American line, I got a Euro line because Schwartzy plays like a Euro. I'm not sure ... then I got a hound dog line. I'm not sure what I got going, but I wanted to look at it today. Today was a good day.

"... I wanted to see it ahead of time. Today was a day I afforded myself to look at it, but it's all with the thought process that we need to spend way more time in the offensive zone. We're not in the offensive zone near enough for extended time. Our offense comes from extended time. We're not a quick-strike team like some other teams are. We are one of the best teams in the league with extended time in the o-zone and we just don't have enough extended time (during a 3-2 shootout loss to Ottawa on Tuesday). We've got to find combinations that get on the grind, stay on the grind and that's what makes us so effective. It's what makes our power play so effective. We've scored so many goals late on power plays because we stay with it. That's the same way our 5-on-5 game is. We've not done that as much as we'd like to this year and we'd like to get back to that element."

The Blues will be looking to get the details back into their game that saw them win twice on the tail end of a four-game trip that culminated with a strong 4-2 win at Winnipeg on Sunday.

The details seemed to lose themselves Tuesday against the Senators, when the Blues blew a 2-0 third-period lead.

"Tired legs make tired minds," Hitchcock said. "Our legs were tired and you want to be sharp in the mind. We had tired legs and then what happened, we managed the game really well. We had a 2-0 lead going into the third period and then we started managing the puck very poorly. We took a couple penalties because of it and we started turning it over in the gray zones and started complicating our offense and it got to where we allowed the other team to come back. It's not the way you want to play."

* Calm, cool Allen -- With Jake Allen taking the reigns in light of Brian Elliott's lower-body injury (believed to be a knee sprain), Allen will be thrust into the spotlight as the go-to guy in goal for the Blues.

And despite the team announcing on Wednesday that they are bringing in future Hall of Famer Martin Brodeur for a tryout to potentially team up with Allen while Elliott is sidelined, no matter what the news or challenge thrown Allen's way, he seems to keep an open and even-keeled mind.

"What Jake has is this calm demeanor," goalie coach Jim Corsi said. "That calm demeanor allows him to focus on his game as opposed to the meaning of the game. 

"The nirvana of what we're trying to do with our goaltenders is if the game is in September, it's an exhibition or it's Game 7 in June, we want to reach a level where it's consistent so there's no pressure because pressure is really trying to do something that you're not prepared to do. That's what I feel is pressure. What we're trying to do is have our guys trust the work that they've done. It prepares them for the game.

"(Allen's) a pretty relaxed guy as far as his skill-set. Jake and Ells are high-end goaltenders. There's no peaks and valleys. Both guys have this calm demeanor. It's quite nice. I'm the guy that's more skittish. That's being the way I am, but it's not with regard to their play; it's my nature. You have to have that kind of calm in the storm.

Allen has been in this position before, when he was called up from the team's then-American Hockey League affiliate, the Peoria Rivermen, back in 2012-13 when Jaroslav Halak was injured. Hitchcock at the time said Allen saved the team's season during the lockout-shortened campaign that enabled them to make the playoffs.

"It seems like he never panics in there," Oshie said of Allen. "He never panics in the locker room, he never gets frustrated it seems like. Maybe underneath the mask he does, but he definitely doesn't show it. He did a pretty good job back then (in 2012-13). I think every goaltender always wants to be No. 1, a guy you can count on. Jake's stepping up to the plate right now."

With a heavy, compressed schedule the Blues are staring at in December with four games in six days to begin the month, Allen feels he's capable of playing most or all of the games. He did so last year with the Chicago Wolves of the AHL.

"I played a lot last year. I'm used to it," Allen said. 'I've done a lot of it in my career. I'm not too worried about it. You've just got to focus on your energy a little bit."

"The really good part for me is that he took this load big time mentally and physically last year, so he's used to this," Hitchcock said of Allen, who is 6-2-1 with a 2.12 goals-against average and .920 save percentage. "He played a ton last year. He played some three-in-three nighters, three in two-and-a-half days a couple times. He's more than capable handling this load mentally. ... We trust him. He's done a great job all year.

"I've never seen a guy so even-keeled for me. It looks like not much bothers him. ... I'm not sure quite frankly some days if he even knows who we're playing. He just comes and plays and gets ready. He's got a really good attitude towards being a goalie. He's very unique."

One thing is for certain. With Allen in goal, there is no shortage of confidence among Blues players.

"I think this is a good opportunity for him, too, to kind of step up and assume that No. 1 role for a little bit," defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk said of Allen. "This is only going to be better in the future for him going forward. He's shown it, and he's shown that he can do it. 

"You see the guys that do it in the league, they do it night in, night out. It's going to be a good way for him to kind of learn and become a mature goalie."

* Binnington's stay short-lived? -- Before the Blues decided to invite the 42-year-old Brodeur into camp for a tryout, they recalled Jordan Binnington, a 2011 third-round pick under emergency conditions.

Binnington, 21, was at practice Wednesday after making the trek down Interstate-55 from Chicago. He spent the night Tuesday in Bloomington, Ill. before making the final three-plus hours into St. Louis Wednesday morning and is ready to do whatever's necessary.

"I feel confident with myself," said Binnington, who was 6-2-1 with a 1.89 GAA and .925 save percentage with the Wolves this season, his first in the AHL. "... Whatever happens, happens. Work hard and wait for any opportunities that come about.

"It's not my call. My job is to just work hard and make it difficult for these guys to score in practice, stick with it and just push myself every day to get better."

Hitchcock has noticed Binnington's numbers get better by the day.

"What's interesting for us is he had an average training camp and then played great in exhibition," Hitchcock said. "He went to Chicago and his play at the end of the exhibition has elevated where he's a top-three goalie in the American Hockey League. He's got a goals-against average of like 1.90, save percentage almost .930, so his numbers are excellent. The only thing he lacks is experience. It's unfortunate for him he's not going to get a lot of playing time here, but man, he's had a great start to his American League career. It feels similar to where (Allen) was at three years ago. He's got a high profile reputation coming out of junior. Had a learning curve that he's gone through already. Now he's starting to emerge as a top goalie in the American Hockey League. Now he's got to come and be a little bit of a backup here. Hopefully it isn't for long, but he's really had a great start to his season."

Binnington carried his play in 2013-14 with the Kalamazoo Wings of the East Coast  Hockey League, where he was 23-13-3 with a 2.35 GAA and .922 save percentage, to this season.

"It was definitely a bit of a change, but there's good players out there," Binnington said. "There's competition everywhere. It's really a good test every night. Any given team can win, any goalie can play and steal a win for a team. It's a lot of fun and I've enjoyed it so far.

"I think I've been working on my foot speed quite a bit. I was talking to Jim (Corsi) about that. At this level, the puck moves really quick, so you've got to keep up and shots are harder. You've got to read the play and stop the puck."

Elliott sidelined week to week; Brodeur invited to try out

Blues' goalie injured Tuesday against Senators; 
future Hall of Famer will work out with team

By LOU KORAC
ST. LOUIS -- There's typically not good news associated with the injury of a player, but for the St. Louis Blues there was a cautious collective breath of relief knowing goalie Brian Elliott will not need surgery.

Elliott, who departed the Blues game against the Ottawa Senators on Tuesday with 6:02 remaining in the second period with a lower-body injury (believed to be a knee sprain), has been termed out week-to-week by the team.

And with an unknown time frame, the team announced Wednesday that they are bringing in veteran goalie Martin Brodeur on a tryout basis.
(Getty Images)
Martin Brodeur has been brought in by the Blues on a tryout basis. He will
join the team Friday at practice.

Brudeur, 42, will join the Blues on Friday for a morning skate prior to facing the Edmonton Oilers at Scottrade Center and continue to practice for at least a week before the team decides whether to offer him a contract. 

Elliott had stopped all 16 shots and left with the Blues leading 2-0, a game they eventually lost 3-2 in a shootout. Elliott was involved in a scramble for the puck in the Blues crease when Senators forward Erik Condra tumbled over Elliott, whose leg buckled underneath him. He skated off on his own power after trying to convince head athletic trainer Ray Barile that he could continue, and did not return.

The Blues will turn the reins over to Jake Allen, who is 6-2-1 with a 2.12 goals-against average and .920 save percentage, and they recalled Jordan Binnington from the Chicago Wolves of the American Hockey League under emergency conditions.

Brudeur, who has spent the past 21 seasons with the New Jersey Devils and is a future Hall of Famer, was not offered a contract by the Devils this past summer and has been out of work since.

"I think we looked at our schedule and we're playing four games a week," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. "We have a young guy in the American Hockey League (Binnington) who's just getting his career started. We've got a young guy in the East Coast Hockey League (Niklas Lundstrom with the Alaska Aces) who's just getting his career started, and we've got a young guy in the NHL (Allen) who's getting his career started. In fairness to all three goalies, they need to have some support. Marty offers, depending on how he looks, he offers organizational support. I have a background with him, so we know each other."

Brodeur is the NHL's all-time leader for wins by a goalie, shutouts, losses and games played. His background with Hitchcock comes from being on the same team at three Winter Olympics with Canada and the 2004 World Cup of Hockey. Brodeur, who has a 668-394-105 record with a 2.24 GAA and .912 save percentage, has been working out on his own and awaiting the right opportunity to join another team.

"It's an opportunity for him to practice and be around an NHL team and it's an opportunity for us to take a look at him," Hitchcock said of Brodeur. "In fairness to Jake, it gives him some stable support behind him if it works out with Marty.

"... (Brodeur's) a real pro. He's the most normal goalie I've ever met in my life. Normal as in ... you can't believe how he acts as if he's a forward or defenseman. That part I know. I know how good he is in the locker room, and I know how good he is and has been for everybody else."

As for Elliott, the Blues are looking at an insurance policy in case Elliott is sidelined for a lengthy period of time.

"He's week-to-week and we'll kind of address it every Sunday and see how he is," Hitchcock said of Elliott, who is 8-4-1 with an NHL-leading 1.82 GAA and a .931 save percentage that ranks third. "About as close as I can give you now. We've got 'Binny' in here and we'll just kind of look at it every seven days and see how it is. It could be literally week-to-week. 

"[Elliott's] had this type of injury before and it's recovered quickly and nicely. … But we don't want to be saying it's five or six days and then it's 14 or whatever. So we'll leave it at week-to-week and see where we go."

Elliott, who was re-signed this past summer to three-year, $7.5 million contract to be the No. 1 goalie moving forward and form a tandem with Allen, was frustrated at the thought of leaving the game Tuesday. He threw his stick in disgust as he departed the ice going through the tunnel to the locker room.

"Adrenaline's flowing, but we've got to make sure," Hitchcock said. "If it was a skater, this would be moment-to-moment. But he's a goalie and you need your knees, especially if you're a butterfly goalie. 

"We're not taking any risks here. We want him back at 100 (percent). Jake can cover the load for a little while here."

Allen, who was the AHL goalie of the year last season, assumes the role of No. 1 moving forward. He's been in this position before when he was thrust into action two seasons ago after an injury that sidelined Jaroslav Halak.

"It's another game," Allen said. "It's unfortunate what happened to Ells. He's played so great this year. It's just a tough break, a weird play. It doesn't matter which one of us is really in the net. We're going to give the guys a chance every night. Looking forward to it to play a few more games, but hopefully Ells is back quick.

"I don't feel any different than if Ells was here. To me personally, it's just another game; same group of guys in front of me. I'm looking forward to it. The only bone for me is I get to play a couple more games. That's the positive, and the negative obviously is unfortunate that Ells is out, and he's a big part of our team. Hopefully he gets back soon."

Elliott's teammates feel bad for a guy they consider one of the hardest workers the Blues have.

"A guy who's worked so hard to get to this position and then something like this happens," defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk said. "Fortunately it wasn't something too major, but it stinks and that's another test for him to kind of stay with it, and we know he's going to take care of himself and work to get back as soon as he can. For a goalie, just take your time and be confident in the rehab and all that and I think he'll be back. Fortunately he won't be missing the end of the season. He'll be back for the meat of it and we're going to need him then."

The Blues have had arguably the best 1-2 tandem in the League thus far with Elliott and Allen, who have been ranked at or near the top in all goalie statistical categories. Confidence will not be shaken now that Allen assumes the temporary role of No. 1.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Brian Elliott was injured Tuesday against Ottawa and is listed
as week to week with a lower-body injury.

"We do have a lot of faith in 'Snake,'" forward T.J. Oshie said of Allen. "He's been great as well all year. He's got a lot of responsibility on his hand to go night in, night out until Ells gets back. But we're definitely confident in front of him."

Hitchcock has relied on a 1-2 combo for his tenure as coach of the Blues. It's a little different challenge until Elliott returns, with Binnington's lack of NHL experience. Binnington is 6-2-1 with a 1.89 GAA and .925 save percentage with the Wolves, but only had limited minutes playing preseason games in the NHL.

"I look at it as opportunity," Hitchcock said. "Jake's earned the right. I think the challenge is that we fly a little bit solo now. This is something that other organizations, other teams have gone through. Some have gone through this year, a lot went through last year. We've just got to get focused on one guy being the goalie and see how we do from there. There's that comfort zone with the tandem. The tandem's been excellent, arguably the best tandem in the League. Now Jake's got to grab the ball and run a little bit solo with it."

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Blues fail to hold lead, drop shootout to Senators

Team blows 2-0 third period lead, lose Elliott to injury

By LOU KORAC
ST. LOUIS -- If there had been anything as a sure bet in the past, it was the Blues and third period leads in the past.

The Blues had been one of the best teams at locking down third period leads, and they were 9-0-0 this season with a lead heading into the third period.

But there had been a few blips in the radar this season and the Blues were able to escape with the necessary two points when they lost a lead but prevailed in the end.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Vladimir Tarasenko (right) and Senators goalie Robin Lehner pursue a
puck during action Tuesday night at Scottrade Center. 

And to make matters worse, the Blues lost  starting goalie Brian Elliott to a lower-body injury that coach Ken Hitchcock didn't sound very optimistic about afterwards.

The Ottawa Senators overcame a two-goal deficit in the third and prevailed on Bobby Ryan's shootout goal to win 3-2 at Scottrade Center.

The Senators got a pair of third-period goals from Erik Condra and Alex Chiasson, and Ryan scored the lone goal in the shootout (in the third and final round). 

Robin Lehner stopped all three St. Louis shooters and made 27 saves in regulation and overtime to allow Ottawa (10-7-4) to cap a comeback from a 2-0 third-period deficit with a win.

The Senators, in the second of a five-game trip, got a goal from Chiasson with 40.4 seconds remaining to tie the game after pulling Lehner.

Ian Cole and Alexander Steen scored for the Blues (14-6-2), who lost Elliott to a lower-body injury in the second period.

With the Blues holding a 2-0 lead, Condra tumbled over Elliott, whose right leg appeared to buckle under him during a scramble for the puck in the Blues crease. After trying to skate it off under head athletic trainer Ray Barile's watchful eye, Elliott left the ice and threw his goalie stick while he was going down the tunnel.

"Yeah, it's real tough," defenseman Barret Jackman, who passed Brett Hull into third place on the franchise list for most games played (745), said of Elliott. "I'm sure he'll get evaluated tomorrow and see how bad it is. He's been playing unbelievable for us. Jake did a good job coming in, too. It's tough to see a guy like Ells, who works so hard, go down."

Cole agreed.

"It's definitely hard to see a teammate get hurt and not be able to finish the game, especially when you're Brian Elliott, who cares so much about playing well, cares so much about winning, especially against one of his former teams," Cole said. "... You know how hard it must be for him not to be able to finish the game, with the lead, having played so well early with a shutout going. It’s definitely tough but being able to kind of put that to the side and continue to play and continue to play well is something we have to get better at. Obviously didn’t do that."

Elliott, who stopped 16 shots, was replaced by Jake Allen with 6:02 left in the second. Allen and Elliott combined to stop 31 shots. 

"We'll let you know tomorrow," Hitchcock said. "Injuries are part of it. We'll see how long he's off for."

Ryan scored after Allen stopped Kyle Turris and Mike Hoffman. 

"Low glove side," Ryan said, describing his shootout goal. "I really tried to feather it in, didn’t get as much on it as I would have liked but maybe that was a benefit."

Lehner was able to deny T.J. Oshie, Steen and Vladimir Tarasenko.

"They have fantastic players, they are very good," Lehner said of the Blues. "You just have to be patient. It was nice."

Ottawa's Chris Neil scored during the battle in the crease, but after video review, it was deemed no goal because Condra made incidental contact with Elliott prior to the puck going into the net. 

The Blues seemed to rest on their laurels and weren't able to finish the game. They were 1-for-6 on the power play, including two chances in the third period to ice the game.

"They picked up the pace and we went back and stopped playing," Steen said. "... We were just sloppy in general. Second half of the game, we just weren't good enough in any areas."

"Tonight's really disappointing," Hitchcock said. "The loss is one thing, but the way we played at times is disappointing. Attention to detail and focus. Coming back, we took a day off, get re-energized. I thought our focus was really inconsistent. Poor at times execution, not close to what we played on the road.

"We played really poor. We didn't play well at all. ... Our attention to detail has to change. You come back off the road, that's the risk you play with, but we really lacked detail in our game today and that's what losing hockey is. When you don't have detail in your game, eventually you crack. Both goals, we didn't block shots, we didn't get in lanes. Both goals, we gave up easy entries ... you don't do that stuff if you're paying attention to detail. We had a chance to clear it in the last minute and we're fishing for it. You don't do that stuff."

Condra redirected Eric Gryba's wrist shot from the blue line top shelf past Allen with 12:05 remaining in the third period to cut the Blues' lead in half at 2-1. 

Chiasson poked a puck past Allen to tie the game 2-2 after Mike Hoffman's shot from the blue line squirted through the Blues goalie's legs. The Senators had pulled Lehner for a sixth attacker.

"It's all the things you need to do: blocking shots, getting in lanes, clearing pucks, hitting the net off the rush from the outside, all the things that you need to do to really hammer a game down, we didn't do," Hitchcock said. "We left the game out there. Had a chance on the power play at the end and didn't bear down. We used it as a rest period again instead of burying it."

It took three pucks in the net for one to count Tuesday; two goals were waved off in the first period. 

Cole gave the Blues a 1-0 lead with 5:37 remaining in the first period on his first goal since March 6 (30 games). His shot from the point got past Lehner after it hit off defenseman Erik Karlsson.

"Yeah, it is nice," Cole said of his first goal. "I tried shooting hard in the first part of the year and it didn't go in, so I figured I'd try the change up and it went in."

Jaden Schwartz's power-play bid was waved off after officials ruled Blues center Jori Lehtera had made contact with Lehner with 12:16 remaining in the first period. 

Moments later, Condra thought he scored a shorthanded goal with 10:34 left in the first, but officials whistled the play dead because they felt Elliott had the puck covered. Replays showed the puck had squirted behind Elliott, but it was out of sight for the referees. 

The Blues added to their lead on Steen's power-play goal with 7:55 remaining in the second period. Paul Stastny's cross-ice feed enabled Steen to step into a wrist shot from the edge of the right circle that beat Lehner short side. 
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues defenseman Chris Butler (25) is being hounded by Ottawa's Mark
Stone during the Senators' 3-2 shootout victory Tuesday night.

Ryan had a chance to win it in overtime, but his shot hit the far post on a one-timer from the left circle. 

Lehner stopped Lehtera's attempt on a wraparound moments after Ryan's shot.

With the way the game is played these days, third-period leads are typically as good as gold. The Blues can't be happy to only gain a point out of this.

"It was definitely disappointing," Cole said. "We pride ourselves on being able to lock it down in the third and not allow a team to come back. Obviously we pride ourselves on being good in shootouts, too. In both those instances we failed tonight, for sure."

Now they have to hope for the best case scenario when it comes to Elliott.

"Goalies have been the heart and soul of our team," Steen said. "Biggest reason why we've been winning, so it's tough to see a guy like 'Moose' go down."

(11-25-14) Senators-Blues Gameday Lineup

By LOU KORAC
ST. LOUIS -- Game on.

That's the message from the Blues and their players, who want a sense of normalcy to return to the ice in light of the unrest following the grand jury decision in the case involving Ferguson and police officer Darren Wilson.


The day after unrest was the main focus in the community of Ferguson and areas in and around St. Louis on Monday, the Blues and Senators will go on as scheduled with a game on Tuesday (7 p.m. on FSMW, KYKY 98-FM).

The Blues (14-6-1) were home after a four-game trip and were among those that watched with sharp interest the decision of the grand jury involving officer Wilson.

But the organization, feeling that it's in the best interests of all involved, will move on with a hockey game at Scottrade Center, feeling that it's part of the healing process.

"We can't let outsiders or people with demonstrations or whatever it may be ... their voices need to be heard in a peaceful way but to disrupt the course of an everyday life and other happenings, I don't think that's necessarily their intentions and I also don't think it's necessarily something we need to do," Blues captain David Backes said. "We keep playing. Our fans and people that watch us have that escape and root for one team together as a 'Team STL,' that's something that we need to grab and hopefully can build relationships around the community rather than what's going on right now, which is not building at all. It's just tearing them down."

Blues coach Ken Hitchcock was asked if preparations were deemed difficult in light of the happenings Monday.

"No," he said. "It's sad to see, but it's something hopefully we can get through quickly. We've got to focus on what our job is and do the best thing we can and let things progress as they do. We all were here for it in August and we hope we don't have to go through it again."

For many Blues players not originally from the area, St. Louis has been a second home for many years.

This is home for me. I've been here for nine years," Backes said. "It kind of gave me a sick feeling in my stomach to think that in my hometown, it's not on just the local news, it's on the national news and probably international news of what's going on. To know what an awesome area St. Louis is, a great place to raise a family and to now have these scars, stereotypes or whatever it may be with the city that's a place of unrest and not safe, we've got a lot of healing to do ... locally at Ferguson obviously with relationships but patching back together of what a great town this can be and what it really is at heart."

The Senators didn't arrive in St. Louis from Detroit until the early hours of the morning Tuesday, and are willing and able participants after falling 4-3 to the Detroit Red Wings on Monday night.

Senators Coach Paul MacLean, who played one game for the Blues in 1980-81 and 115 games between 1989 and 1991, was saddened by the events Monday.

"You hate to see that happen anywhere, let alone in places that you used to be," said MacLean, whose team and city of Ottawa recently had to deal with a tragic loss of life in their city. "It's something that you have to let the authorities and the process follow its course and hope that people and calmer minds take things over and things will be safe.

"... These are unfortunate times that the world has come to this to have victims of circumstance a little bit. But at the same time, we feel for everyone that's involved in it. We'll do anything the NHL deems is the right thing to do."

For the Blues, any help with the healing is what they want, and if playing a game helps, then they're all for it.

"It's got to be the mindset around here," Backes said. "Whatever protests, hopefully they stay peaceful and voices are heard, but the violence and the looting and the riots, no one's got a ton of (tolerance) for that. Hear the voices, let's come together as 'Team STL,' cheer for the Blues and show that when we get on the same page and everyone's together trying to get something accomplished, we can do something great. In the midst of unrest, we need to have that feeling of coming together rather than spending part of it being divisive. Sports through history has been able to do that and hopefully we can provide that leading to holiday time hoping for peace and talk rather than destruction and anarchy."

- - -

Blues defenseman Barret Jackman will move into third place on the franchise list for most games played with No. 745. He is currently tied with Brett Hull. Bernie Federko (927) and Brian Sutter (779) are first and second respectively.

"Brett is a good friend and obviously an idol in the city and an icon," Jackman said. "He's made hockey what it is in the city. Just to pass him, it's a pretty special feeling and to do it with the Bluenote on is even better."

Jackman, who was drafted by the Blues 17th overall in the 1999 NHL Draft, has 26 goals and 170 points in his career and will be 34 games away from catching Sutter.

"It's another character guy," Jackman said of Sutter. "I've first gotta worry about that game tonight and passing Brett. But the list I'm on the board with is beyond a dream when I started playing here. The character and the history on that list is a lot of fun to be a part of."

- - -

Blues defenseman Jay Bouwmeester (lower body) will miss a second straight game tonight after an Ironman Streak of 737 consecutive games was snapped Sunday in Winnipeg.

Bouwmeester, who was injured late in the Blues' 3-2 victory against the Senators in Ottawa, is expected to return to the lineup when the Blues play back-to-back games Friday and Saturday.

"He's not going to play," Hitchcock said of Bouwmeester. "He's close, but with us having two more days off, this allows him to prepare to be ready to play Friday at full speed. If this was a playoff game, he'd be playing today. He's already lost the streak right now and we'd like to get him close to 100 percent so he could play again."

As for the streak, Hitchcock said the Blues gave him the chance to keep it alive.

"We offered him if he could step on the ice and go hot chocolate skate one round, that keeps the streak alive," Hitchcock said. "He said, 'No. I can't finish the game, so I'm not going to start the game.' He took one for the team."

Jackman is impressed even as he reaches a milestone of his own.

"I look at (mine) as a lot of games and then you see a streak like Bouw's 737, and I guess it's not that many," Jackman joked. "One team for that long, a lot of games in the stands with injuries and a couple lockouts, but it's been a journey that's been fun and trying at times, but we've always had an unbelievable group in the dressing room to make the ups and downs still a lot of fun to come to the rink.

"For that streak to end, it's amazing, but he'll have another one going here pretty quick. He might be a guy that plays 1,800 games or 2,000 and do it with ease."

- - -

The Blues' line of Steve Ott, Maxim Lapierre and Ryan Reaves is drawing rave reviews from Hitchcock. 

On the trip that the Blues went 2-2-0, the trio combined for two goals and two assists and according to Hitchcock, they can't be considered a fourth line anymore.

"Our fourth line's playing like a third line," Hitchcock said. "They're not a fourth line anymore. Can't call them that. They're our third line. They're a third line and the coach chooses to play them fourth. But they're not a fourth line anymore, not when they're playing as well as they are right now. 

"I don't want it to go to their head, but they play exactly like you need a third line. They put pressure on the puck, they score, they create offense, they defense by occupying the offensive zone, and when they do get in the zone, they've got great puck support. They play exactly like a third line should play. We don't match them anymore against the other team's fourth line. We know they can negate certainly the other team's third line and in most cases, the other team's second line and that's the focus we're going to stay with."

- - -

The Blues are getting contributions from the players they need to step up. The "STL Line" of Jaden Schwartz, Vladimir Tarasenko and Jori Lehtera has certainly pulled its weight in scoring, but Hitchcock has called for more contributions from top veteran players.

The Blues are getting it from Backes and Alexander Steen, in particular.

"He's pretty comfortable playing on the right side for 60-70 percent of the game, which is really good for us," Hitchcock said of Backes. "I think the difference in our game right now is some of our veteran guys are really starting to catch stride. It's got us to another level, which is helpful. He's very comfortable being the hunter. 

Hopefully he can continue down this path because he's creating offense because of it. He's hard to play because of it. There's some veteran guys like him, Steen and a couple other guys that are really starting to hit stride now."

- - -

With a win tonight, Hitchcock can tie Mike Keenan for most career coaching victories (672) and be tied for 6th all-time. Pat Quinn, who passed away on Monday, is 5th at 684.

- - -

The Blues' probable lineup:

Joakim Lindstrom-Paul Stastny-David Backes

Alexander Steen-Patrik Berglund-T.J. Oshie

Jaden Schwartz-Jori Lehtera-Vladimir Tarasenko

Steve Ott-Maxim Lapierre-Ryan Reaves

Barret Jackman-Alex Pietrangelo

Carl Gunnarsson-Kevin Shattenkirk

Chris Butler-Ian Cole

Brian Elliott gets the start in goal. Jake Allen will be the backup.

Healthy scraches include Chris Porter and Magnus Paajarvi. Jay Bouwmeester (lower body) is out and will miss his second straight game.

- - -

The Senators' projected lineup:

Clarke MacArthur-Kyle Turris-Alex Chiasson

Erik Condra-David Legwand-Chris Neil

Mike Hoffman-Zack Smith-Bobby Ryan

Colin Greening-Curtis Lazar-Mark Stone

Mark Borowiecki-Erik Karlsson

Jared Cowen-Cody Ceci

Patrick Wiercioch-Eric Gryba

Robin Lehner will get the start in goal. Craig Anderson will be the backup.

Milan Michalek and Mika Zibanejad were the healthy scratches. Chris Phillips (undisclosed) and Marc Methot (back/hip) are out with injuries.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Bouwmeester consecutive games streak comes to an end

Defenseman missed game against Winnipeg with 
lower-body injury, ending streak at 737 regular season games

By LOU KORAC
It wasn't because of a crushing hit, getting tangled up with another player or getting hit with a 100 mile-per-hour slap shot trying to block a puck.

It was a crack in the ice, and because of it, Jay Bouwmeester will miss a National Hockey League regular season game for the first time since the 2003-04 season.

Bouwmeester was not in the lineup Sunday during the Blues' 4-2 victory against the Winnipeg Jets, and thus ended the longest current 'Ironman Streak' in professional sports at 737 straight regular season games.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues defenseman Jay Bouwmeester (19) saw his 'Ironman Streak' come
to an end at 737 consecutive regular season games Sunday.

Bouwmeester sustained a lower-body injury late in the third period of the Blues' 3-2 victory Saturday against the Ottawa Senators.

Including the playoffs, Bouwmeester played in 749 straight games but only the regular season streak of games count towards the record.

Blues coach Ken Hitchcock told reporters after the win Saturday that Bouwmeester stepped on a crack in the ice and was to be evaluated Sunday morning, where Bouwmeester received treatment to no avail. Replays showed it happened near the offensive zone blue line.

Kirkwood native Chris Butler stepped into the lineup and made his Blues debut.

Bouwmeester, 31, last missed a game on March 3, 2004 when he blocked a shot playing for the Florida Panthers and has appeared in all 82 games of a season ever since. Bouwmeester played in 47 games during the lockout-shortened season in 2012-13 because when he was traded to the Blues, the Blues' game that night had already started and it occurred prior to the Calgary Flames' game that night against the Edmonton Oilers.

Bouwmeester, who has 346 points in 866 career games, has averaged 25 minutes, 5 seconds of ice time in his career.

Anaheim's Andrew Cogliano took the reigns as the new leader that now stands at 562 games after playing against Arizona on Sunday night.

Monday, November 17, 2014

(11-18-14) BLUES NOTEBOOK

Lehtera feeling good after winning star of the week; 
Butler's patience paid off; Blues begin four-game trip even-keeled 

By LOU KORAC
HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- The early-season -- and career -- success for Blues center Jori Lehtera continues to shine.

After fellow "STL Line" mate Vladimir Tarasenko was selected as the NHL First Star of the Week two weeks ago, Lehtera was picked as the First Star of the Week, announced on Monday.

Lehtera tied for the league lead in goals (four) and points (six) and posted a plus-5 rating as the Blues (12-4-1, 25 points) went 3-0-0 last week and moved into first place in the Central Division. 

Lehtera began the week by recording his first career hat trick in a 6-1 win against the Buffalo Sabres. He recorded two assists in a 4-3 victory over the Nashville Predators and closed the week by scoring one goal in a 4-1 win against the Washington Capitals, the Blues' 10 win in 11 games. 

Lehtera extended his point streak to seven games (five goals and six assists) and the "STL Line" of Lehtera, Jaden Schwartz and Vladimir Tarasenko has combined for 33 points in its past eight contests. Tarasenko won the Third Star of the Week last week.

"I have to thank my linemates about it and my team," Lehtera said. "They give me unbelievable passes and I think we played well this week.

"It went well. We won the games. It feels good."

Lehtera, 26, is in his first season in the NHL and third on the team in scoring with 17 points (behind Tarasenko's 21 and Schwartz's 18). He's second on the team in plus/minus at plus-12 (behind Tarasenko's plus-15) and is making believers out of the Blues and their fans that his two-year, $5.5 million contract is more than a worthy investment.

"I always knew I could play here, but now I can play with real good guys, which makes it easier," Lehtera said. "... It feels better every game. I'm getting used to the style," Lehtera said. "I still have a lot of things to learn.

"Everything's still new. I'm still learning."

Lehtera has quickly adapted to the "200-foot game" coach Ken Hitchcock craves from his players. The evolution has transformed Lehtera into a complete player thus far.

"When I played in Finland, I just played offense," Lehtera said, "but then when I went to Russia, I started to learn more to play in (the) d-zone."

When asked if it's helped him, Lehtera said, "A lot."

Now that two-thirds of the "STL Line" won a first star award, it's up to Schwartz to complete the trifecta, or hat trick.

"I hope so," Lehtera said with a smile.

* The Butler did it -- Kirkwood native and Blues defenseman Chris Butler was back on the ice and now is firmly entrenched as the team's seventh defenseman after  being recalled from the American Hockey League's Chicago Wolves on Saturday.

Butler, who led the Wolves' defensemen with nine points (eight assists) in 14 games after spending his first six seasons (three each) with the Buffalo Sabres and most recently, the Calgary Flames, 

"It was a great," Butler said of his stint with the Wolves. "We have a really good team there. We were really deep. I got a chance to go down and play a ton, play in all situations trying to help some younger guys as much as I could. It was a lot of fun. It's a first class organization, a very NHL-like organization.

Butler, who has 10 goals and 75 points in 349 NHL games, hasn't been in the AHL since playing 27 games for the Portland Pirates in the 2008-09 season.

"Maybe it was a little humbling at first," Butler said. "I'd been in the NHL six years in a row there, to kind of go back to where you started. It was a chance to work on my game and try to work on the offensive side of things, make sure I was playing well defensively, just a chance to kind of maybe get a little bit of confidence back and feel good about myself again. It was fun. I'm happy to be back."

Now that he's with his hometown team, the goal is for Butler to remain here. 

"It's nice to be here, nice to be part of a team that's got a good thing going right now," Butler said. "My goal is to just come in and blend in and then go from there.

"... Your job is to stay ready and stay focused, make sure you're game-sharp when you're called upon. It's a long year. A lot of strange things can happen during the course of the year. I've been fortunate to stay healthy for a while. You just (have to) be ready when called upon."

Butler, 28, knew what situation he was getting himself into when he signed a two-way contract this past summer. He knew there was the chance he'd not make the team out of camp but would have to work his way into the lineup if he remained patient.

"That was kind of something that we talked about in the summer time and that part of the decision to come here and knowing there maybe was this opportunity," Butler said. "You would have to be a little patient. Sometimes it seems like it's Groundhog Day a little bit when you're kind of hoping and wanting to get back here, but now that I'm here, I'm going to continue to work hard and keep working on my game."

Blues defenseman Barret Jackman said adding an experienced veteran only helps.

"I really like the way he plays," Jackman said of Butler. "... He's got experience. He's played very well in this league and he deserves to be in the NHL and he's got the opportunity again."

* Taking the act on the road -- The Blues, who have played the fewest road games this season along with the New York Rangers (six), begin a four-game swing beginning Tuesday night in Boston against the Bruins (11-8-0), where they haven't lost since 2000-01 and are riding a six-game winning streak at TD Garden.

But winning 10 of 11 and being on the hottest streak in the NHL currently, the Blues aren't jumping through hoops at the recent surge in success and keeping an even-keeled attitude.

"Seems like it," said associate coach Brad Shaw, who was speaking on behalf of coach Ken  Hitchcock, who has not spoken to the media the past couple days dealing with a family matter. "Even the guys that have gotten individual awards like Lehtera and Tarasenko, guys that have really contributed offensively, they seem well-grounded. You can probably point to the leadership in the room for that, keeping guys in check and making sure that everything's about the team and everything is about the long journey that we're on here. It's not a sprint. We realize there's a lot more big games on the horizon, so we're trying to sort of keep things in perspective."

The trip will take the Blues through Eastern Conference teams in Boston, Montreal (Thursday) and Ottawa (Saturday) before a Sunday afternoon Central Division clash with Winnipeg. As far as Shaw is concerned, the Blues shouldn't alter anything.

"I think just sticking to the game plan," Shaw said. "I think we've got a lot clearer identity as to how we have to play. You get that luxury in playing at home, getting the matchup that you want. I don't think much of that changes as we head out on the road and lose the matchup availability. I still think we have to stick to what gives us success, which is a real good checking game, which opens up ice for our offense.

"... We're not sneaking up on anybody anymore. We're aware of how good we are, so are other teams. I think it's made us a better team. I think we're adjusting to it still. I think there's some growth there obviously. I think that adversity of having to play through a little better competition night after night should help us at the end of the year as well."

Hitchcock accompanied the Blues on the trip to Boston but there was the chance that Shaw and assistant coach Kirk Muller, who both have experience as head coaches in the league, could coach the team.

* Allen, Elliott impressing -- Part of the even-keeled mentality comes from the Blues goalies, where Brian Elliott and Jake Allen are posting some impressive numbers among the league stats.

Allen (1.67) and Elliott (1.87) are Nos. 1 and 2, respectively, in the NHL in goals-against average, while Allen (.933) is third in save percentage and Elliott is fourth (.930).

"We take pride it in a little bit, but there's still a long way to go," Allen said. "Great start is key, but guys have helped us so much. We play great as a team. 

"For me personally, to be around the guys, they make me feel at home and comfortable, which helps a lot. It's a team effort. We're off to a good start, but we still have a ways to go. ... Our job is to make the key saves. We need to make that save. That's our job. We're doing an alright job so far."


Sunday, November 16, 2014

Leopold was locker room favorite

Blues move on after trade, Butler next in line to add to defensive depth

By LOU KORAC
ST. LOUIS -- Jordan Leopold wasn't just any teammate. He was a teammate well-liked in the Blues' locker room.

So after the most complete victory Saturday night, a 4-1 victory against the Washington Capitals, there were enough well-wishers offering up kind things to say about the 34-year-old Leopold, who was traded to the Columbus Blue Jackets Saturday morning for a 2016 fifth-round pick.

By day, Leopold, who has 66 goals and 210 points in 660 NHL games including one goal and eight points in 49 games with the Blues, was a Blue at the morning skate Saturday. By night, he was a Blue Jacket that helped his new team defeat the San Jose Sharks 2-1 by playing 17 minutes, 11 seconds.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Jordan Leopold (33) spent parts of three seasons with the Blues before
he was traded to the Columbus Blue Jackets on Saturday.

"Hopefully, Leo gets some playing time there," Blues left wing Jaden Schwartz said. "We're going to miss him. He was a great guy for us. Hopefully, he does well there."

It's never easy losing a teammate, especially one so well-liked, but Leopold was a healthy scratch seven straight games and would have been for an eighth consecutive one Saturday night had he been with the Blues.

"Really tough," Blues defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk said. "He's a guy who brings a lot of experience to the locker room. More than anything, he brings a likeness to the locker room. He comes in with a smile on his face every day and gets everyone cheered up. 

"It's tough. That's the worst part of this. This whole business is seeing guys go. Obviously you only wish the best for him and now it seems like he'll have an opportunity to play. That's great for him. ... A guy that's been around it a while, it's tough (to sit out). Everyone wants to play. When you were younger, in the lineup and a big part of it. He comes in this year and he kind of gets put in a seventh role. He took it like a real veteran and a real professional."

"Awesome teammate," Blues captain David Backes said of Leopold. "A guy who was here for three years. Very good character guy. I just think he wasn't playing much and a guy that's 34 and wanting to show that he's still got game left. Columbus has had a lot of injuries and he'll be able to go there and play." 

It was just a case where the Blues had no room for Leopold, who was acquired from the Buffalo Sabres for 2013 second- and fifth-round picks. The emergence of Ian  Cole, plus the steady play of Barret Jackman, who Blues GM Doug Armstrong said is playing better than he has in the most recent past few seasons, made Leopold expendable. And the fact that it gives the Blues some flexibility with the salary cap doesn't hurt either.

"Ian's showed us that he wants the job," said Blues associate coach Brad Shaw, who works with the defensemen. "He's done enough good things. Still lots of learning to do for him, but he's really come a long way since he's been with us. He's a real functional piece for us right now. We've tinkered with him on the power play, I know he can kill penalties in a pinch if we need him. We've played him in a lot of different roles already this year. He's been successful at most of them. He's where we'd like him to be. He's a guy that looks like he's got a real good future going forward, and he's helping us win games right now as well."

Chris Butler, a Kirkwood native who the Blues signed to a two-way contract from the Calgary Flames, was recalled from the Chicago Wolves and will join the Blues at practice Monday and be the seventh defenseman moving forward.

"He brings pace," Shaw said of Butler, who had nine points in 14 games in the American Hockey League. "He brings a guy with a lot of games under his belt in that seven-role that he's going to have when he gets here. It's tough when it's a guy who's only got a handful of games. He's played a bunch of years at this level. With that comes a little bit of wisdom that there's not a lot of surprises on the ice. 
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Chris Butler (right) and Ryan Reaves were opponents last season. They
will be teammates moving forward after Butler was recalled from the AHL.

"I talked to (Wolves assistant coach) Mark Hardy in Chicago who said he's playing night and day from when he got there at the end of training camp to now. He's said he's by far their best defenseman on their team, playing in a bunch of situations down there, which builds your confidence and allows you to sort of get back to the 'A' game that you'd like to have."

The emergence of Petteri Lindbohm also gives the Blues flexibility. Lindbohm could find his way to the NHL sooner than expected after strong training camp, the most surprising of any player.

"We'll have Chris Butler, Lindbohm, whoever it is ... 'Buts' for now that are very capable players," Backes said. "We've got great depth. The next man's got to step up and fill that role. We feel that 'Buts' is a heck of a guy, heck of a player and great to have him here."