Friday, March 16, 2018

A day later, Blues know they squandered good opportunity

Despite outplaying Avalanche, 4-1 loss puts Blues in tough spot fighting for 
wildcard, have to move on with big weekend of games with meaningful points

HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- The mood around the Blues on Friday was a somber one.

Especially a day after feeling like they dominated a hockey game, yet came out on the wrong end on the scoreboard and on the wrong side of two valuable points.

For the Blues, who lost a big, big game 4-1 to the Colorado Avalanche despite a decided advantage in territorial possession, a decided edge in shots on goal (45-23), a decided edge in shot attempts (82-42) and a decided edge in Grade A scoring chances that was more than a 2-1 edge and still came out on the wrong end is not good news for a team hanging on in the race for the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

"It's easy to sit here and say, 'Oh, poor us, we've had a lot of these games and there goes another one,'" Blues coach Mike Yeo said. "But feeling sorry for ourselves, that's not going to do anything right now. I'm not going to get caught up in that. It's frustrating, it's disappointing. Quite frankly, I think we're all a little bit pissed off that we didn't get the win last night, but those feelings, they're not going to do us any good. It's up to me and the coaches, players to get re-energized, get refocused and make sure we're ready to go tomorrow."

And as far as those scoring chances are concerned?

"I know that we had more than we scored the seven in," Yeo said, referring to the Blues' 7-2 win at Los Angeles last Saturday. "It's one of those games where you watch the tape ... and you saw the chances last night and you watch the game again and then you start to see the things that you're doing to generate those chances. It's one of those games that we played really well and we didn't get the win. It was tough, it was a tough morning to come in here and see the guys. Everyone's down and disappointed to put a lot into that game to come out empty-handed and understanding the importance of the game. With that said, we have to move on and that's the purpose of today. We have to turn our attention to the New York Rangers and to that game tomorrow."

Normally after a loss, there's talk of change. At times, drastic change. But other than the fact the Blues couldn't put a puck into the ocean on Thursday, the effort was there from most and the execution within the game was really sound.

"Do you have to change them or do you have to stay with it? That's what we have to juggle," Yeo said. "There's some things that maybe we can do better. A couple times I think we could have stopped at the net a little bit better. Obviously we could have finished better in the game or the puck could have went in for us. When you're generating that number of chances, when you're outshooting a team 2-1 and out-possessing a team the way that we did, more often than not, you're going to come away with the win and so that's got to be our mindset looking at the things that we did well and making sure that we bring it tomorrow. For me, it's an attitude, it's a character game tomorrow how we bounce back and how we're ready for a team that we know is going to be ready for us.

"You generate that number of scoring chances, you're going to score goals more often than not. We're not handing out participation ribbons here by any means, but the philosophy's always been and always will be that we have a game that we have to play and an identity that we have as a team. When you do those things, then more often than not, you're going to win the hockey game. We've played three really good games in a row, we've got two out of our last three wins and we have to make sure we play the game a similar way because when you do that, you give yourself a chance to win every single night."

The Blues came in on Friday for treatments and off-ice meetings and video. Only eight skaters participated in on-ice drills, but the loss really puts the Blues in a bind with 12 games remaining. 

They came into Friday four points behind Dallas, which was in Ottawa Friday night, for the second wildcard spot in the Western Conference and five in back of Colorado, which hosted Nashville Friday and was five points ahead of the Blues for the first wildcard. Throw in the fact that Anaheim (three points) and Calgary (one point) -- both of which also played Friday -- are ahead of the Blues, makes this a daunting task.

"I don't know what the math is to be honest with you," Yeo said. "I just know that we have to be ready for tomorrow and that's the mindset that we have to have here.

"We have to make sure that we put that one behind us. It's not an easy one to put behind you. You can see it on the players' faces when they came to the rink. That's why this game tomorrow is a character game for me. Our ability to bounce back from this one and get re-energized and get excited about the game tomorrow, go out there and play at our highest level. That's the challenge."

* NOTES -- Goalie Carter Hutton is considered day-to-day with a neck injury that he sustained during the morning skate on March 9 in San Jose.

Hutton had an MRI done Wednesday afternoon to get some results as to any further complications, but Yeo said nothing indicated there was anything that would lead to believe it was a day-to-day injury.

"He's day-to-day right now. Same thing, nothing has changed there," Yeo said. "It's just a matter of when he feels better and ready to get back on the ice. ... It's a comfort thing for him right now and when he feels ready to go and healthy enough to go, then we'll get him back in."

Meanwhile, Ville Husso, one of the eight skaters practicing Friday, could see action in his first NHL game this weekend, perhaps Sunday night in Chicago, but Yeo wouldn't rule out Jake Allen playing both games. He's also confident in using Husso if the situation arose. 

"He's looked good in practice and watched him play down in Ontario with San Antonio there," Yeo said of Husso. "He looks like a good goalie, and I'm confident in Jake too. We'll see how the game goes tomorrow but certainly won't be opposed to playing Jake in both games, so we'll see. I don't have a plan. I've got a plan for tomorrow and that's about it."

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Plenty of shots, little offense for Blues in 4-1 loss to Avalanche

St. Louis attempts 82 shots at Colorado goal, miss net 22 times 
in frustrating loss, fall four points out of wildcard spot, five behind Avs

ST. LOUIS -- It turned into a bad omen just 3 minutes, 5 seconds into the game. Then with 16:38 remaining, it was the most of painful reminders.

The Blues' season in a nutshell when it comes to the majority of their losses, creating all sorts of scoring opportunities but to come up empty, and when Brayden Schenn was robbed on the doorstep by Colorado goalie Semyon Varlamov early in the game, and when Vladimir Tarasenko inexplicably missed a wide open net early in the third period, it summed up a painful 4-1 loss to the Avalanche on Thursday at Scottrade Center.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Defenseman Joel Edmundson (6) scored the lone goal for the Blues in a 4-1
loss to Colorado Thursday. 

Despite a shot-attempt advantage of 82-42, the Blues (37-28-5) peppered Varlamov for 45 shots but missed the net 22 times and had another 15 blocked. It was a game very similar to the ones the Blues won in California over Los Angeles and Anaheim except for the finish. 

"Before we were talking how we couldn't score, I don't think we were generating a whole lot of chances," Schenn said. "Tonight, I don't know how many we had. We did whatever we could, we threw them at the net, we got second chances, third chances, hit posts, just one of those nights it wasn't able to go in."

Wasn't able to go in. How often have those words been uttered?

Far too often, unfortunately.

And for the Blues, who now sit four points behind Dallas for the second wildcard in the Western Conference and five behind the Avalanche (38-24-8), who are 6-0-3 in their past nine games, time is of essence. 

Time for moral victories is over. These were two points in a season where many have been frittered away that were lost.

"From a coaching standpoint, I think you have to appreciate that we continue to push and continue to find a way to get to the offensive zone, generate chances," Blues coach Mike Yeo said. "It didn't go in unfortunately, but still I'd say looking at this game that we've continued where we were playing some good hockey, generating chances, controlling the play. If we continue to do that and find a way to get a little bit better in a few little areas, then we'll get a lot of wins."

Better as in actually putting the puck in the net? Like Colorado's top guns did? Like Nathan MacKinnon, who extended his point streak to 10 games (10 goals, 10 assists) did twice? Like Mikko Rantanen, who had a four-point night with two goals and two assists and Gabriel Landeskog with his three assists did?

"We threw 45 pucks at the net, our (offensive) zone time, I didn't even know," Schenn said. "It felt like we dominated lots of the game, wore them down. At the end of the day, their big line scored four for them, that was the difference in the hockey game."

"Yeah, that was our game plan, fire as many shots as we can," said Blues defenseman Joel Edmundson, who returned after missing 13 games with a fractured right forearm and scored the only goal. "I think we got 45 shots and probably missed the net 10-15 times. We were shooting everything and just ran into a hot goalie."

The Blues, who had beaten Colorado three previous times this season, four straight going back to last season and had at least a point in 12 straight against the Avalanche (9-0-3), came out of the first period down 2-0 on two MacKinnon goals despite having the better of the play.

MacKinnon scored at 10:11 of the first to give the Avalanche a 1-0 lead. After Kyle Brodziak's pass got past Alex Pietrangelo, Colorado's Tyson Barrie sent the puck back into the neutral zone, where MacKinnon picked it up. He could have been checked off the puck by Patrik Berglund, who failed before getting another chance along with Chris Thorburn to bump Gabriel Landeskog off the puck inside the blue line.

Instead, Landeskog flipped a backhand to Rantanen, who backhanded the puck back to MacKinnon before he used Colton Parayko as a screen before snapping a shot past a screened Jake Allen, who made 19 saves, to get the Avalanche on the board.

"I think we could've been a little bit harder on the first puck battle in the offensive zone, and just sorted it out a little bit better," Yeo said. "We kind of had three guys fishing around on the one puck, and the way I saw it, I thought 'Thorbs' was on the 1-on-1, and we probably could've just been a little bit more alert on where other people were. But again, I think a guy like Nathan MacKinnon's gonna find a way to get a couple shots like that in a game."

He did so again and made it 2-0 at 13:03 by being in the right place at the right time.

Barrie's harmless flop shot towards the net seemed to handcuff Allen, who had Landeskog in front. The puck caromed off Allen's body and to his right, where MacKinnon beat his guy to the net and cashed in.

"It dropped like three or four feet," Allen said. "I didn’t get a good glimpse on it until the end. I just tried to put a glove on it. It was a knuckler and it just hit my body weird. Obviously was wide open there."

Edmundson, playing his first game since Feb. 8, made it 2-1 at 9:15 of the second period, the only time they could solve Varlamov. Edmundson was able to throw a puck at the net, using Dmitrij Jaskin's screen in the high slot and Vladimir Sobotka's screen in front of Varlamov.

"I wasn't trying to score," Edmundson admitted. "I was just trying to get it there for a rebound or a tip. 'Sobe' did a good job of getting to the net and it made it hard for [Varlamov] to see."

The Blues had the momentum. They were building and appeared on the verge of getting the game to at least 2-2 and then perhaps taking it over, but a back-breaking goal late in the second on Colorado's sixth shot gave them a 3-1 edge.

With three players (Alexander Steen, Edmundson and Parayko) going off for a line change, Berglund lost possession of the puck heading into the offensive zone along the wall, taken off it by Landeskog, who alertly found Rantanen at the offensive zone blue line. Rantanen pushed forward with Vince Dunn fast in pursuit. Dunn did his job forcing Rantanen away from the goal onto his backhand, but Allen left a gaping hole on the short side, where Rantanen backhanded a puck off his glove and up into the net at 16:29.

While the puck was lost in the offensive zone, Yeo wonders if the Blues could have changed quicker to get fresher bodies on.

"Where the puck was, we lost the puck in the offensive zone, but I would say we have to change better than that," Yeo said. "In the second period, what you have to be able to do is change one defenseman at a time. I'm gonna have to take a look at the overhead. I don't know if we came off the ice hard enough, if we got on the ice hard enough, if we should've had one guy hold, but obviously you want to be able to hang onto the puck in the offensive zone. That's obviously the opportune time for tired defensemen to get off the ice."

"That was a tough one to give up, but I thought we responded well after that," Edmundson said. "We still had our chances after that. It's just a tough line change and we can't be turning pucks over."

The Blues did come in, in the third, and with a vengeance but to no avail.

And it was Tarasenko, who led all players with 15 shot attempts in the game (eight on, five off the mark and two blocked), who could have made it interesting.

After Jaden Schwartz's shot was stopped by Varlamov, the rebound lay to the goalie's right with Tarasenko lurking. Sure goal, right? Nope.

Tarasenko appeared to slightly go to his forehand to pop it in and at the last moment, decided to try and backhanding it in by a lunging Barrie, who threw his stick into the crease. But Tarasenko still had an open side and pulled the backhand past the near post with 16:38 to play, and the game remained 3-1.

If Schenn's save early didn't sum up the night, this did.

"Listen, 'Vladi's gonna be harder on himself than everybody," Yeo said. "Those things happen. That's part of the hockey game. We had other opportunities. Obviously 'Vladi' knows better than anybody else, he gets paid to score goals. But I would say he generated and was involved in more scoring chances tonight than he's been in a long time."

"When 'Vladi' gets that chance and he misses, he doesn't miss," Schenn said. "Give him that chance 99 times out of 100 he'll make it. Obviously that's the one time he missed. It's tough."

Rantanen cinched the game for the Avs with 41.2 remaining with an empty-net goal.

And down to 12 games, the Blues have little leeway remaining.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Jaden Schwartz (17) works the puck past Colroado's J.T. Compher during a
4-1 loss to the Avalanche on Thursday at Scottrade Center.

"We have lots of time," Schenn said. "Lots of hockey left to be played. Obviously we're going to need some help but we'll do our part and get the wins. If we were playing like we were maybe two, three weeks ago, you look back and say we don't really have a chance, but the way we're playing now after the California trip, tonight we feel like we're going in the right direction. The wins are going to come."

"I still feel confident," Yeo said. "Yeah. We're showing that we've got fight in our room right now. And obviously this is a disappointing one. I think that whether you look at the shot attempts, whether you look at some of the play, you can see that guys care. And I know that you don't get points for that. But what it does, it gives me confidence that this is a group that's gonna be ready to respond."

(3-15-18) Avalanche-Blues Gameday Lineup

ST. LOUIS -- The Blues will get a boost on their blue line with the return of defenseman Joel Edmundson, who comes back into the lineup against the Colorado Avalanche on Thursday after missing five weeks with a fractured right forearm.

The Blues (37-27-5) trail the Avalanche (37-24-8), who have points in eight straight games (5-0-3) by three points for the second wildcard in the Western Conference and the Dallas Stars by four points for the first wildcard.

Edmundson, who was injured Feb. 8 against these very same Avalanche blocking a shot by former teammate Nail Yakupov, will start on defense with Robert Bortuzzo.

"I feel good. Felt good this morning," Edmundson said. "Did some battle drills after everyone got off and I feel good enough to play, so I'll be in the lineup tonight.

"... Coming to the rink this morning I was 50-50 if I was going to play or not, but I got a good warmup in, had a good practice, and I decided I'll play tonight."

The Blues went 4-7-2 with Edmundson out of the lineup but have won two straight and scored 11 goals. But coach Mike Yeo welcome's Edmundson's return; he will replace Jordan Schmaltz.

"Very happy to have him back," Yeo said. "We all saw what he means to our team in the time he was out of the lineup. Obviously in terms of what he brings to the table, penalty killing, defensive play, physicality, also kind of a quiet, important part of our leadership group, it helps out a lot of the young guys on the team and a good presence inside of our locker room. So it's good to have him back."

Edmundson has 15 points (six goals, nine assists) in 56 games this season.

"I'm just excited to play hockey again," Edmundson said. "I've watched a lot of games over the past five weeks, watched our team struggle a bit so I want to get out there a bit and help them out."

Starting him on a pair with Bortuzzo could change as the game moves along, according to Yeo.

"First off, we didn't know if he was going to play this morning or not, so I think we'll see a few different things through the course of the game," Yeo said of Edmundson. "But I've also liked 'Dunner's game [Vince Dunn], been real happy with the way he's played. 'Eddy' and 'Bortz' have at different times played together and they've done a nice job, too. That's a 'D' pairing that I think a lot of people wouldn't want to be on the ice against.

"... Because of their size and their aggressiveness, they kill plays and again, when you have play-killers back there, it allows you to get back on the attack."

- - -

Blues goalie Carter Hutton will not back up Jake Allen tonight; it will be Ville Husso, who was recalled again on Wednesday.

Hutton, who's been dealing with a neck issue stemming from the morning skate on March 8 against the San Jose Sharks, did not practice on Wednesday.

"I haven't gotten an update on his MRI results," Yeo said. "He had an MRI yesterday so we're waiting on that, hopefully nothing serious."

In the meantime, Allen is 2-1-0 with a 1.68 goals-against average and .948 save percentage the past three starts. He will be making his fourth consecutive start for the first time since doing so Dec. 21-29.

- - -

Blues left wing Jaden Schwartz has seven points (two goals, five assists) the past six games.

Blues right wing Vladimir Tarasenko has five points (two goals, three assists) the past six games.

The Blues have won four in a row against the Avalanche and won 13 of the past 15 against Colorado at Scottrade Center.

- - -

The Blues' projected lineup

Jaden Schwartz-Brayden Schenn-Vladimir Tarasenko

Patrik Berglund-Kyle Brodziak-Alexander Steen

Dmitrij Jaskin-Vladimir Sobotka-Tage Thompson 

Nikita Soshnikov-Ivan Barbashev-Chris Thorburn

Carl Gunnarsson-Alex Pietrangelo

Vince Dunn-Colton Parayko

Joel Edmundson-Robert Bortuzzo

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

Healthy scratches include Jordan Schmaltz and Oskar Sundqvist. Carter Hutton (neck) and Scottie Upshall (knee) are out. Robby Fabbri (knee) and Jay Bouwmeester (hip) are out for the season.

- - -

The Avalanche's projected lineup:

Gabriel Landeskog-Nathan MacKinnon-Mikko Rantanen

Sven Andrighetto-Tyson Jost-J.T. Compher

Matt Nieto-Carl Soderberg-Blake Comeau

Alexander Kerfoot-Dominic Toninato-Gabriel Bourque

Nikita Zadorov-Tyson Barrie

Patrik Nemeth-Samuel Girard

Duncan Siemens-David Warsofsky

Semyon Varlamov will start in goal; Spencer Martin will be the backup.

Healthy scratches include Anton Lindholm, Mark Alt and Nail Yakupov. Mark Barberio (upper body), Andrew Hammond (concussion), Erik Johnson (upper body), Vladislav Kamenev (arm), Colin Wilson (concussion) and Jonathan Bernier (concussion) are all out.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018


Edmundson could return against Avalanche; Hutton suffers 
setback, Husso recalled; Bortuzzo not skating, will play Thursday 

HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- Joel Edmundson is on the cusp of returning to the Blues' lineup, and the defenseman would immediately infuse some much-needed brawn into the lineup with the Blues playing arguably their best hockey in weeks.

Edmundson could join the Blues (37-27-5) in their push for the playoffs when they entertain the Colorado Avalanche (37-24-8) on Thursday.

Edmundson, who coincidentally sustained a fractured right forearm against the Avalanche on Feb. 8, was hopeful of getting into one game on the Blues' California swing on Monday in Anaheim but felt it wasn't quite the time.

After practice Wednesday at the Ice Zone inside St. Louis Outlet Mall, Edmundson sounded as optimistic as he has since he started practicing again.

"It's feeling good," Edmundson said Wednesday after practice. "If I have a good day tomorrow, I might be in the lineup. We haven't decided that yet, but it keeps getting better every day. The end is near and I'll join the boys in the playoff push right away. ... I'm hoping for tomorrow, but we're still not sure.

"I got cleared (by team doctors before going to California) to do what I want, so now it's all on me. I'm the only one that can tell how I feel."

Edmundson was a full participant in all drills Wednesday, including some battle drills that occurred.

The Blues were 4-7-2 with Edmundson out of the lineup but have won two straight.

"We're hopeful for sure. Good practice for him today," Blues coach Mike Yeo said of Edmundson. "Obviously he's been with us on the road trip here. Eddy adds a lot for our group. A big, physical presence, a guy that's really hard to play against. Hopefully he's in tomorrow and if not, then we're going to have to find a way to make up for those minutes and a guy like 'Schmaltzy's been doing a nice job for us lately. We'll count on those guys.

"We don't want to put him in a bad position. He's a warrior for us. He goes out, he competes for us every night, lays it on the line and he's a guy you can trust and you know is going to give you everything he's got and if he's ready, he's going to play. I have no doubt in my mind, but we're definitely not going to put him in a bad position, too. If he feels like he's not ready, then we'll have to wait."

Yeo has liked the effort given by Jordan Schmaltz, who has filled in nicely when called upon, but when Edmundson returns, he'd likely be the odd-man out.

"You don't go around throwing the word 'warrior' around lightly, but he is," Yeo said of Edmundson. "He competes, he sacrifices the body, he pays a price, plays physically, does it night after night after night. He's a guy that kind of stuff rubs off on the team, the pull, it drags people into the fight with them. Hopefully we get him back tomorrow, but obviously we can't base everything on it because we don't have 100 percent yet."

Edmundson said Wednesday wasn't the most physical practice he's been involved in, but got in some much-needed work after it was done with ...

"When practice ended, I pulled [Oskar] Sundqvist aside and did some battling with him," Edmundson said. "It's felt the best since I've been injured. I'm looking at the positives right now."

* Hutton suffers setback -- When the Blues assigned goalie Ville Husso back to the San Antonio Rampage on Tuesday, it was with hope that Carter Hutton would be able to practice Wednesday and get himself back to active duty.

But Hutton was not on the ice Wednesday, and local goalie Tyler Stewart, who was an emergency backup earlier this season, was in his place, and Husso was recalled from the Rampage on Wednesday afternoon.

Hutton, who injured his neck during the morning skate in San Jose on March 8, was to get looked at Wednesday afternoon by doctors to see the extent of what's been the cause of his neck ailment.

"He's going to get checked out there later this afternoon," Yeo said of Hutton after practice. "We sent Ville back, we expected Carter was going to be able to practice today. Woke up this morning and was starting to have some troubles again. He'll have an appointment here today and we'll see what we find here from that.

"It's worrisome enough that we'll get him checked out today and then in talking with Ray [Barile], I think it's way too early. I asked Ray if it's something we need to worry about and he said, 'Don't even think about it until after we've met with the doctor and find out.' ... Took a shot (in San Jose) and sort of as the day went on, it got progressively worse."

In Hutton's absence, Jake Allen has found his game again; he went 2-1-0 with a 1.68 goals-against average and .948 save percentage, stopping 92 of 97 shots.

"I think it's similar to kind of what we saw last year," Yeo said of Allen. "When we started getting on a roll, the confidence that Jake was playing with, the team feeds off that. I think you can be a little bit more aggressive in certain situations, whether it's the way you defend, getting on people, your gaps. If you're playing without the fear of possibly giving up a shot or a chance knowing that he's going to be there to protect you, you can play a little more aggressively. I think it also helps guys to focus and concentrate on their own job not trying to do anything extra out there. I think we saw that last year. Certainly his poise in the net the last few games has filtered through he rest of the group."

* Bortuzzo not skating -- Defenseman Robert Bortuzzo, who scored the opening goal in each of the Blues' past two games (first time he's scored in back-to-back games in his career), did not participate in practice on Wednesday.

Bortuzzo, who was dealing with a knee issue stemming from an injury in Dallas on Feb. 16, has missed the occasional skate since returning from the injury.

"Just giving another chance to get two days in between and just making sure that he's ready to go for tomorrow," Yeo said of Bortuzzo. 

Bortuzzo has 10 points (three goals, even assists), which ties a career-high also set in 2013-14 with the Pittsburgh Penguins (all assists).

"He's spoiling us with his play, let's put it that way," Yeo said. "He's playing like a real top-notch defender. He's really competitive. His gaps are good. He's really strong and hard around the net and his execution and his reads have been really strong."

* Successful ending to California -- The Blues started off their California trip with a discouraging 2-0 loss to San Jose and offered little hope that they were ready to stay in this Western Conference playoff race.

But wins at Los Angeles (7-2) and Anaheim (4-2) can quickly change the fortunes of one team, and although the Blues will enter Thursday three points behind the Avalanche for the second wildcard, they are displaying that with 13 games left, the Blues will not back down quietly.

"I think that our group definitely has a belief," Yeo said. "I think that there's an understanding that we still have a long road ahead of us. Not only are we chasing a lot of teams here, but we're chasing a lot of really good teams. But that said, I think looking at our schedule, looking at the games we've played lately in terms of what we're capable of, I think that there's a really strong belief in our group. And I like the experience factor. We have a lot of guys whether they did it last year for us having to play these meaningful games and find a way to play at your highest level, whether it's the experience of playing in playoff hockey and knowing how to come through and doing the little things and dealing with those types of emotion, I think that that's going to help us. It's a long, tough road ahead of us, but we're excited about the opportunity."

A team that scored just three or more goals in two of the previous nine games, the Blues have 11 the past two games and reversed a poor trend of losing hockey.

"You have to kind of understand that the puck went into the net," Yeo said. "I would say the LA game and the Dallas game were actually two very similar games. In both games, we gave up two goals, but in both games, we competed very hard. Both games we basically generated the same amount of scoring chances. We finished and we capitalized better in the LA game. I would also say that we were more assertive and more aggressive in and around the net, which has to be a big factor for us going forward. With our personnel, we have to do that. That's going to be a challenge night after night. Teams are going to be aware of that, they're going to defend against that, but we have to find a way to break through. But I think it's as much as anything else, too, we got back to our identity a little bit in terms of being a team that's hard to play against, getting pucks in behind their defensemen, hounding their defensemen, playing in the offensive zone, controlling the puck. I think we did a much better job of doing that through 60 minutes. 

"More direct, that's a word that I like to use. I think that when we play that game, when we're trying to go east-west, we're trying to play a cute game, however you want to put it, but we don't have as much pace to our game, we're not as effective. When we're direct, when we're going north, I think that we're challenging teams, I think that we look faster and I think that we're quicker in getting into the offensive zone and that's ultimately when I think that we're at our best."

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Blues head west for important California trip

St. Louis two points out of wildcard, haven't played since Saturday; 
Edmundson traveled with team, Soshnikov looks primed to play again

HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- Let's get it out of the way and state the obvious right off the bat: the Blues' upcoming California road trip could very well be make or break as far as the Stanley Cup playoffs are concerned.

The Blues (35-26-5), who haven't played since a Saturday matinee 3-2 overtime loss to the Dallas Stars, headed west Wednesday for games at San Jose on Thursday, Los Angeles on Saturday afternoon and Anaheim on Monday.

At the start of the day on Wednesday, the Blues trailed the Kings by two points for the second and final wildcard spot out of the Western Conference, they were four points behind the Sharks and five behind the Ducks. Of course, whichever of those teams finish second and third in the Pacific Division is of no use as far as the Blues are concerned but chances are they will have to track down one of them in order to gain a spot in as a wildcard. 

The Blues trail Dallas by five points for the first wildcard and the Minnesota Wild by eight for third place in the Central Division.

"It's important," Blues defenseman Alex Pietrangelo said. "We obviously know that we're trying to catch LA, Anaheim and San Jose. They know it's important, too. It'll be a big weekend for all the teams. ... All these games are important. We're trying to catch them and they're trying to separate."

Call them proverbial four-point games, because if the Blues happen to win two of three or perhaps even all three games, they will be in a good place heading into the final 13 games of the season season, and of those 13, eight will be against teams currently sitting outside the playoff cutoff line.

"I don't want to say that this has been a tough stretch for us, but we've played a lot of really good, quality opponents and this is three more good, hard teams that we're playing against here," Blues coach Mike Yeo said. "After this road trip, we do play a lot of teams that would be out of the playoffs, so we have a chance to put ourselves in a position here, but obviously teams we're trying to catch, we're going head-to-head with on this trip. Big games.

"These are teams that we're chasing. They're going to want to keep their spot, they're going to want to build on that and we'll face intensity, we'll face their best games, but we have to get excited about this. This is what you love to do, to go into another team's building when the season is pretty much on the line and find a way to come out with a win. That's why you play the game."

The Blues haven't fared will against the California foes this season. They're a combined 1-4-0 in five games on home ice, with the lone win over Los Angeles on Oct. 30. So they'll try to redeem themselves in the most important time of year.

"You never like a trip unless you win," Yeo said. "This is obviously a big trip for us."

* Edmundson will travel; Soshnikov ready -- Defenseman Joel Edmundson was a full participant in practice Wednesday for a third straight day and traveled with the team for the upcoming trip.

Edmundson sustained a fractured right forearm blocking a shot on Feb. 8 against the Colorado Avalanche and has missed the past 10 games; he's unlikely to play against the Sharks but all bets are on moving forward.

"I don't anticipate him being in the lineup tomorrow," Yeo said of Edmundson. "Now if he came knocking on my hotel door tonight and said, 'I'd like to play tomorrow,' then that might change things. I don't think he'll be in tomorrow, but certainly he's getting closer and hopefully we'll see if there's potential on this trip."

Needless to say, the Blues could use Edmundson; they're 2-6-2 without him.

"It's good to see [Edmundson] get back out there," Pietrangelo said. "... He brings an element, obviously the physical play, consistency, plays in all situations. Any time you miss a guy like that and even a guy like 'Bouw,' tough things but it's got to be next man up.

"It's good to see [Edmundson] out there with us," Parayko said. "Obviously he's a big presence. He brings a lot to our d-corps, a really good player so we're looking forward to having him back. ... He's very hard to play against. He's a good guy that eats a lot of minutes."

Forward Nikita Soshnikov, who missed Saturday's game in Dallas, appears ready to return after a neck issue sustained on Feb. 27 at Minnesota.

"Yeah, he looks like he's ready to go," Yeo said. 

Soshnikov skated on the fourth line at left wing with Oskar Sundqvist in the middle and Tage Thompson on the right.

Here's how the Blues skated in practice on Wednesday:

Alexander Steen-Ivan Barbashev-Vladimir Tarasenko

Jaden Schwartz-Brayden Schenn-Dmitrij Jaskin

Vladimir Sobotka-Kyle Brodziak-Patrik Berglund

Nikita Soshnikov-Oskar Sundqvist-Tage Thompson

Chris Thorburn was the extra forward

Carl Gunnarsson-Alex Pietrangelo

Vince Dunn-Colton Parayko

Jordan Schmaltz-Robert Bortuzzo

Joel Edmundson was the extra d-man

Expect Carter Hutton to get the start in goal Thursday.


Edmundson getting closer to returning to lineup; Soshnikov, 
Gunnarsson resume skating; Blues have extra jump in practice

HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- The sight of defenseman Joel Edmundson on the ice for the Blues is definitely a sight for sore eyes.

And considering that another veteran defenseman (Jay Bouwmeester) is shut down for the season, Edmundson's presence in the Blues' lineup for some critical games down the stretch trying to reach the Stanley Cup playoffs is of vital importance.

"I feel good," Edmundson said after a second straight full practice with the team. "I'm getting better every day, that's really all you can ask for. I'm putting the time in and the work. It's my second day practicing with the team and it keeps feeling better. I'm hoping sooner rather than later."

Edmundson has missed the past 10 games after sustaining a fractured right forearm blocking a shot off the stick of Nail Yakupov against the Colorado Avalanche on Feb. 8. 

The Blues (35-26-5) have gone 2-6-2 since Edmundson departed the lineup.

And being two points out of a wildcard spot in the conference with 16 games remaining, the Blues, who begin a three-game California trip at San Jose on Thursday, could use an infusion into the lineup.

But is it worth the risk to get Edmundson in as quickly as possible? Perhaps. But is it for the best? That's another question for another day.

Which is why Edmundson, who has a career-high six goals and matched his career-high in points established also last season with 15 but done so in 56 games (13 fewer than last season) and the team's leading shot blocker, will be vital to the Blues' success down the stretch.

Initially, the prognosis was six weeks from the surgery, but at nearly four weeks since it happened, Edmundson is unlikely to play against the Sharks on Thursday but didn't rule himself out for the remainder of the California swing at Los Angeles Saturday and Anaheim Monday.

"We'll see how I feel," Edmundson said. "I could have a good day and you never know. If one of our 'D' go down, I may have to get in. I'm feeling pretty good on the ice right now, just practice. There's a couple of things I still want to work on before I get back in the game. Just make sure my conditioning's back up there, too. Just make sure I'm 100 percent before I step back on the ice.

"For being three and a half weeks out of surgery, I'm feeling really good. I think I'm a little ahead of schedule. I'll just put the work in in the gym and the trainers, they're taking good care of me. Now it's just to see how long it's gonna heal."

Blues coach Mike Yeo knows that time is running out and there's a decision that has to be made on when to give Edmundson the green light to return.

"You look at it two ways. You look at what's best for him," Yeo said. "We don't want to put him in a bad position and he had a surgery that was a pretty significant injury that we don't want to put him in a bad spot. At the same time, when he's cleared to play, he's cleared to play. We're at a point in our season where it's desperation mode. We can't sit around and try to save somebody for the playoffs because that's not going to be there for us unless we start winning games here.

"He had a good day today. He looks good to me so we'll see how tomorrow goes. I don't have a time frame for you guys right now, but obviously every day he goes out there and plays the way he did today at practice, it moves him closer to coming back in."

Most noticeable is the lack of physical presence when Edmundson is not on the ice. He and Robert Bortuzzo present the most beef on the blue line, and when both were out of the lineup (Bortuzzo has since returned), it put the Blues in vulnerable positions in front of their net.

"It's tough watching," Edmundson said. "You want to be out there helping and contributing. But at the same time, you know all the boys are doing everything they can. It's tough just sitting on the couch and watching. You're getting a little antsy, you want to get out there helping the team out. Hopefully I'll be out there sooner than later.

"You want to be smart about it. Obviously I want to get out there as fast as I can, but at the same time, it's a serious injury so I want to make sure before I step on the ice into a game and make sure I can compete in the battles like I used to. For right now, I'm just working on my shots and we'll ramp it up and get into battle practices and I think I'll be good to go."

Edmundson is a near full participant in practice drills, even taking shots, but the physical aspect will be the real test.

"Getting into intense practices," Edmundson said. "The next step might be getting into battle drills and all that. For right now, I'm trying to get my shot back and getting the wrist loose again.

"The strength isn't there yet, there's still a bit of pain. I can fight through pain, but just the strength. The more shots I take, I feel like the better I'll get. I think over the next week it'll come. ... It's pretty close. I've got the plate in there. The doctor said it's as sturdy as ever so we don't have to worry about that. It's just getting the strength back and making sure the muscle's there and we're all good."

* Soshnikov, Gunnarsson resume practicing -- Forward Nikita Soshnikov and defenseman Carl Gunnarsson were back on the practice ice Tuesday after both missed Monday's session.

Gunnarsson was sick, but Soshnikov, who is dealing with a sore neck stemming from a collision with Minnesota Wild goalie Devan Dubnyk on Feb. 27. He received six stitches in the bridge of his nose.

"I'm feeling better right now," Soshnikov said. "But I think we've got to take it day by day. I think I hit his pads. 

"I just tried to score a goal and I think some of the guys tripped me and I fell down on his pads but face first. I couldn't do anything. Just happened. It could happen with anyone. ... It was tough to miss game, especially that game (Saturday) against Dallas. Huge game for us. Hopefully I can catch up."

* Pep in the step -- Tuesday's practice served notice that the Blues had some extra juice in their step.

Between the home game against Detroit on Feb. 28 and Thursday's game against the Sharks, the Blues will have played one game in seven days, allowing some teams battling for postseason position to catch up or even pass the Blues.

"I'm kind of happy about that," Yeo said. "That means that they've been having some busy stretches and ours hasn't been so busy. I think we've been able to work on our game here. It's quite clear what we're up against now. Every day, it gets posted up as far as what other teams have remaining in terms of their schedule and what-not, so big picture for me is, let's make sure we stay focused on ourselves. Getting caught up in whether or not someone else wins or loses or who they're playing, that stuff's fine if you're taking care of your own business, but if we're not getting wins, if we're not getting points, that's going to be irrelevant anyway, so let's make sure we have a good practice tomorrow and get ready for a big road trip."

During the down time, the Blues have been utilizing their time trying to salvage some of the deficiencies in their game.

"It was a good practice for us," defenseman Colton Parayko said. "As you guys saw if you watched the whole thing, it was high tempo, a lot of speed and pace. I think that's something we need to get back to. I think when we see that in our game, it's very noticeable and it's a lot of fun to play that style and you have to be upbeat to do that, so it was good." 

The Blues entered Wednesday two points behind L.A. and Colorado in the conference standings.

Monday, March 5, 2018


Bouwmeester to miss rest of season, Upshall out at least four weeks; 
Schmaltz gets big chance; Edmundson practices in full; Thomas receives award

HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- If the Blues are to push back into the Western Conference playoff picture, they'll for sure do so without one veteran and likely miss another for most, if not all, of the remainder of the regular season.

Blues defenseman Jay Bouwmeester will miss the remainder of the season with a left hip injury and left wing Scottie Upshall will miss at least four weeks before being reevaluated with a left MCL sprain. Both were injured in a 3-2 loss at the Dallas Stars on Saturday.

Bouwmeester will have surgery and is expected to need 4-6 weeks to recover; he initially sustained the injury Dec. 10 against the Buffalo Sabres that forced him to miss nine games. 

The initial thought process was either play through the injury and receive injection shots in the hip and play through it, which Bouwmeester decided to do, or have surgery then and perhaps try to salvage any part of the season.

"I've had, hopefully the same thing on my other hip, so I know kind of the whole deal with what goes on with that," Bouwmeester said referring to a hip injury he sustained earlier in his career. "You do what you can to play until you can't play anymore. ... I think at a certain point you just have to think down the road and for me, that's just the best thing is to get it fixed and move on."

Blues general manager Doug Armstrong said he was fine with Bouwmeester trying to play through the injury.

"Jay wanted to get the injection and play through it," Armstrong said. "That's why he has been limited to no practice time. We were trying to work him the best way possible with that hip."

Bouwmeester was injured in the second period on Saturday.

"He sustained the injury in Dallas to the point where another injection wasn't possible and the surgery was going to be required," Armstrong said. "Our hope is to get the surgery done now and we'll get an update after the surgery on what they find in there, but we're hoping within 4-6 months he'll be ready to resume playing."

Bouwmeester missed the first 19 games to start the season with a fractured ankle blocking a shot during a scrimmage in training camp.

"I came back and played the next 10 games and this kind of happened," Bouwmeester said. "At that point, you want to play. That's what you do, you want to play. It was OK for a while and then it just kind of deteriorated over the last little bit. I knew it was going to be something kind of awkward that would set things off. It kind of is what it is."

Bouwmeester had seven points (two goals, five assists) in 35 games this season. In 1,106 career games, Bouwmeester has 398 points (84 goals, 314 assists).

"We knew he was kind of playing on borrowed time," Blues coach Mike Yeo said of Bouwmeester. "We were hoping he was going to get through the season, but we knew that there was really only so much life left in that hip of his. Very safe to say he gave us absolutely everything he had. 

"... It's a good example of ... it's good for your culture as far as your young players seeing he is such a pro the way he conducts himself, the way he shows up to the rink, his conditioning level, his preparation. Him playing through pain, him playing through that without complaining. He was in way more pain than he was letting anyone know that he was. He's a hockey player and I think it's a really good example and certainly one that you hope your young players look to and try to model themselves after. There's a reason why he's played 1,200 games in this league and you play in world championships and Olympics because of the way that he's conducted himself."

Upshall also was injured against the Stars on Saturday.

Upshall, 34, has 18 points (seven goals, 11 assists) in 61 games this season.

"We'll get him training and we'll get him back as soon as we can," Armstrong said of Upshall. "... He'll work as hard as he can to get back as quick as possible. Hopefully we've gone on a nice run at that point."

The Blues, who don't play until Thursday when they begin a California road trip against the San Jose Sharks, are two points behind the Los Angeles Kings for the second wildcard in the Western Conference. 

* Next man up -- With Bouwmeester gone for the season, defenseman Jordan Schmaltz may never get an opportunity as good as the one in front of him to make an impact on the Blues.

Schmaltz, the Blues' first-round pick in the 2012 NHL Draft (25th pick), has played in seven games this season with no points and 16 during the regular-season of his NHL career; he played in one Stanley Cup playoff game last season in Game 1 of the conference quarterfinals against the Minnesota Wild.

Schmaltz, 24, will get regular playing time at least until Joel Edmundson returns.

"That's a big loss for us with 'Bouw,' but I think it's kind of a next man up here," Schmaltz said. "Whenever 'Eddy' gets back and whatever the team needs, I've got to bring it.

"... I think for me, the time is now. I've got to assert myself and prove that I can play in this league. ... For me, I've got to bring what I can and prove I can play in this league and assert myself."

Schmaltz is in his third season in the Blues organization after playing three years at North Dakota and the Blues need to figure out just what they have and if Schmaltz can become an every day NHL player.

"I would say that we're pretty close to that point," Yeo said. "I would say that's more of a management question than a coaching question. For me, I look at our situation and I know that inside our locker room there's still a lot of belief, there's still a lot of character. We're on a day-by-day basis right now. We're still going to do everything we can to fight and push and try to give ourselves a chance to get in. We know the odds, we know what we're up against, we know all that kind of stuff. But for me, certain people seem to find a way when things are like this and obviously we're hoping to prove that we're a group of those people.

"There's an opportunity there. Certainly you would look to a guy like that and expect them to be prepared to take advantage of it. hen I see 'Schmaltzy,' I see a guy who's been looking for this opportunity. His whole career, I would say that we've had a real strong group of defensemen for a long time. Not easy to get in the door here, but at the same time, you're not going to get a better situation than what we have right now."

With the Blues in the playoff hunt, it makes it more motivating for Schmaltz to see what role he can play during an important time.

"I think, especially here, it's time for me to prove I can play," Schmaltz said. "I need to show this team what I can do and not kind of be a body out there. I need to move my feet, I need to be a player, so it's a big test for me.

"The race is tight, every team is good. This next road trip, all three games in Cali are huge for us. I can't just be a body out there. I've got to assert myself." 

* Edmundson, Soshnikov, Gunnarsson updates -- Edmundson, who sustained a broken right forearm blocking a shot by former teammate Nail Yakupov Feb. 8 against the Colorado Avalanche, participated in practice for the first time today.

The initial prognosis was for Edmundson to be reevaluated in six weeks, which would put the timeline at March 22, but depending on the process of healing and Edmundson getting caught up to speed, that may be pushed up perhaps.

"I think today was the first step," Yeo said. "We'll have conversations as far as where he felt that he was at. He was a little bit limited, but for the most part, it was pretty much a full practice for him. I think that that's good and obviously we'll continue to ramp it up here this week. This is a great opportunity for him. Not often during a course of a season a guy like 'Eddy' can get close to coming back and all of the sudden get three straight days of good practice time so this will be good for him."

With Bouwmeester now sidelined, the Blues are missing two of their top left-handed defensemen.

As for forward Nikita Soshnikov, he was a non-participant in practice Monday with what Armstrong and Yeo both called a sore neck.

The injury initially occurred Feb. 27 against the Minnesota Wild in a collision at the Wild net with Minnesota goalie Devan Dubnyk.

It was originally thought that Soshnikov, acquired from the Toronto Maple Leafs in a trade for a 2019 fourth-round pick on Dec. 15, was ill.

"Bad neck and so today was a little bit of progress and we'll see how he makes our tomorrow as far as his treatment and whether he's able to come into practice or not," Yeo said. "When I said he wasn't feeling well, I didn't necessarily say that he was sick."

Defenseman Carl Gunnarsson missed  practice with illness, something Yeo with a smile confirned.

"Gunny's sick and not feeling well, but he is sick," he said.

* Yeo's honestly about Thompson -- Yeo was asked about rookie Tage Thompson and the lack of minutes he's received in the past certain amount of games.

Thompson, the Blues' first-round pick in 2016 (26th pick) who has six points (three goals, three assists) in 28 games, played 6:54 against the Stars and 7:11 against Detroit last Wednesday.

"Physically, he's OK," Yeo said. "We had a conversation with Tage before last game and we thought that he was better in the game. It's got to be, the way I see it, you've got to bring more than potential and we know that he has potential. We really do believe that he's going to be a guy that scores a lot of goals in our league and is a real solid, effective NHL player for a long time, but you have to bring something to the table. The conversation was pretty honest as far as, (Thompson's) played 28 games and we've got three goals. You've got to make sure that you're bringing more to the table than the potential of scoring a goal because if you're not getting that much offense, then you need to find a way to contribute to the team and contribute to the game and be effective. I thought he was a little bit better last game. For me, it's competitiveness. He's minus-10 right now, so we've go to improve his defensive play and make sure ... you're going to have some games where you don't score, but make sure you're not on the wrong end of it."

With the Blues in the thick of a playoff race, the scenario came up whether it would be beneficial to stick Thompson with Brayden Schenn and Jaden Schwartz, two of the top workers on the team, and allow their habits to rub off on Thompson instead of Dmitrij Jaskin.

"We tried him up there, and we're not giving up on the season," Yeo said. "I've been in this league for a long time and I know that, and with good reason, I think our fans should be excited about the future and our young players and their potential. This is the NHL, it's a hard league, and I've seen a lot of players get hurt by playing in positions that they're not quite ready for. If he shows us that he's ready for it and he earns his way up throughout the lineup, good on him and we'll be happy to put him there, but also don't think we're in a position where we're going to give people things that either that they haven't earned or e don't think that they're ready for. Certainly we're waiting on people to step up, we need secondary scoring, goals are going to be important for us and I hope that he can prove that he can be one of those guys."

* Anyone else getting a look? -- With Bouwmeester and Upshall out, the Blues have available at their disposal two more recalls from the American Hockey League of their alloted four after using two following the trade deadline in Thompson and Schmaltz.

The Blues could use a recall in an emergency basis if they fall below the 12 forward/six-defenseman threshhold but Armstrong was asked about 2017 first-round pick Klim Kostin, who's playing at San Antonio.

"I think when you watch him down there, he's finding his way in the American Hockey League now," Armstrong said. "I think there's a lot of level of growth for him at that level now."

In other words, don't expect to see the 18-year-old who has 19 points (six goals, 13 assists) in 50 games at San Antonio.

* Thomas receives honor -- Blues prospect Robert Thomas, one of two 2017 first-round picks (20th), was named the Ontario Hockey League's player of the week on Monday.

Thomas had seven assists in three games for the OHL's Hamilton Bulldogs in the week ending March 4 and helped the Bulldogs to their sixth straight win and their first division title since 1976.

Through 45 games this season with the London Knights and the Bulldogs, Thomas has 68 points (22 goals, 46 assists).

Thomas joins Jordan Kyrou, who has been named the OHL player of the week three times this season.

Kyrou, the Blues' second-round pick in 2015, plays for the Sarnia Sting and became the first OHL player to reach 100 points.