Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Healthy Berglund can help Blues

Forward is past shoulder surgery, giving team infusion of fresh legs

HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- It was April 11, 2014, the second-to-last game of the 2013-14 regular season and Patrik Berglund was well on his way to a fifth straight game of 17-plus minutes of ice time.

Berglund wasn't lighting up the scoreboard at the end of that season, but then what appeared to look like a routine check along the offensive zone half-wall boards turned into a right shoulder injury that would wind up lingering with the big Swede for the next year and a half.

Berglund would play through the injury during a six-game playoff series against the Chicago Blackhawks but missed two of those games. Instead of surgery, he opted for rest during the off-season and play through the 2014-15 season and finished with a career-low of 12 goals. He had 27 points in 77 games. Not exactly what Blues fans envisioned from a No. 1 pick (25th overall) in 2006.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
A healthy Patrik Berglund (21) wants to help the Blues in whatever way 
He re-injured the shoulder Jan. 29, 2015, during a game against the Nashville Predators; he missed three games, returning against the Buffalo Sabres on Feb. 5.

Berglund topped off that season with a goal and and two assists in a six-game playoff loss to the Minnesota Wild last spring.

Berglund, 27, went back home in the offseason again as he does every year, but this time, he amped up his training regimen, re-aggravated the shoulder injury and did so again during informal workouts prior to training camp.

This time, there would be no rest. It was time to go under the knife. 

It was the only solution.

The Blues knew they would have to sideline Berglund for roughly half of the 2015-16 season. 

"It's an injury we hoped we were past," Blues general manager Doug Armstrong said at the time. "It happened a couple years ago entering the playoffs, and he did a great job of rehabbing and getting the strength back. We were hoping it was behind us, but he was training this summer (and) he aggravated the shoulder again. He came right to St. Louis when that happened and our trainers and 'Bergy' worked on it, and it certainly wasn't going to get any better. So the surgery was necessary."

Berglund has since returned to the ice and played six games, just in time since the team lost five more regular skaters (including goalie Jake Allen) to shelve roughly a third of the playing roster.

In Tuesday's 5-2 win against the New Jersey Devils, Berglund scored twice, two power play goals as a matter of fact, to give him three goals and four points in six games.

Not earth-shattering numbers, but they should raise some eyebrows. Perhaps Berglund can infuse some much-needed all-around good play into a depleted lineup that's used more gauze bandages than an emergency room doctor.

The Blues have no other choice right now.

"He looks fresh and he's making plays," Blues captain David Backes said of Berglund. "He's skating well and doing all the things that he does when he's productive with our team. It couldn't have been a better time and now other guys getting injured, hopefully those fresh legs can go a few more minutes each game and take a little more of a load."

Fresh legs, which is key.

"Have another guy out there that can win a lot of draws and put the puck in the net, he's such a big body out there that guys have a hard time taking the puck off him," goalie Brian Elliott said of Berglund. "You kind of control play without really playing with too much speed. It kind of slows the game down for everybody so you can get in those open spots. It was awesome seeing him get two goals (Tuesday)."

"Probably in comparison to the guys that have played 40-plus (games). He's still got that spring chicken in his legs a little bit, so hopefully he can keep that up for the rest of the season."

As the Blues prepare for their 47th game of the season Thursday against the Carolina Hurricanes, those that are playing are feeling the pain, battered and bruised from the bumps and grinds of a heavy workload. 

Enter Berglund, who is just beginning his season, and most importantly, feeling as close to 100 percent as he's been in the past two years.

"I feel healthy obviously," Berglund said. "I still have work to do strength-wise to come back, but I feel really good.

"... I've just been working hard and I feel good and I go from there. I hadn't played for 40 games. I know the grind; it's tough. It's good that I can come in with some legs and try to help out the team."

Coach Ken Hitchcock has wasted little time inserting Berglund into a multitude of situations, playing him on left wing, right wing, at center, on the power play, penalty kill time and 3-on-3 overtime minutes.

"We trust him in the situations, but it's more based on his energy," Hitchcock said. "He kind of hit the wall early, as I said to you (Tuesday) night. He hit the wall early and punched through early. We were surprised by that. We were thinking around game seven or eight, he was going to hit the wall, but then in game three, he hit the wall. He struggled with energy and then he bounced right back in game four. We were kind of surprised by that, but he feels good now, he's pretty healthy. I think we can play him in every situation. Those two power play goals by that unit, that helped us so much yesterday and gave guys a lift on the bench. That's the type of stuff we're going to need if we're going to win."

Blues fans have come to dump on Berglund. After a 21-goal, 47-point rookie season in 2009, fans thought it was the making of a player who would only dart up in numbers from there.

Berglund had career-highs with 22 goals, 30 assists and 52 points in 2011 but has dipped in goals since.

"I think a lot was restricting him with the shoulder injury," Hitchcock said. "That's why his playoff was so impressive (last season). I think people forget, until he re-injured it, he was really playing well. That line was playing really exceptionally. He was really hurting at the end in the playoffs, but that line with (Paul) Stastny, (Dmitrij) Jaskin and Berglund, that line was really efficient for a long stretch there in the second half of the year and then 'Bergy' with about four games left banged it again and it kind of limited him with the things he could do. 

"This just shows you how demanding our league is, the wear and tear on guys. Bergy's come in, he's a fresh player, he's got fresh energy, he's not beat up like a lot of the guys are or with the way the league is or how many games we've played. We've played the most games in the National Hockey League right now. And I think from that standpoint, it shows Bergy's ability to bring us some energy that is necessary. It's a good example about a guy that took care of himself and I think the other part is he's really been hungry and it shows in his game."

Berglund seems like he's not hesitant to move in those tough areas on the ice. He's cycling the puck, protecting it better.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Patrik Berglund (21) celebrates with his teammates after scoring two goals
against the New Jersey Devils on Tuesday.

"I think he's able to fight through seams that he couldn't because of the shoulder before," Hitchcock said. "When you're hurting every day, there's a mental thing that goes on. It's not the days you play. You can get adrenaline-rushed and get pinned down with medication to get through the game. It's the off-days that wear you out. It's the days that there's no medication, you're just having to go at it and live through the pain that wears you out. I think you saw that. I think you saw it in his body language. I think you saw it in his disposition. That's normal; that's what happens. I know as a player in talking to guys that have had to play through injuries, it's those off-days that you just dread. You'd rather just play every day. I think he's feeling healthy and it's starting to show in his disposition, too."

Berglund said he's not quite at 100 percent, but having him contribute, albeit whatever way possible, can help this team plod through the games as the Blues await for healthy troops to reestablish themselves in the lineup.

Again, the Blues have no other viable options at the moment.

"I want to play as much as I can and help the team as much as I can," Berglund said. "Wherever (Hitchcock) needs to have me, I'll go in and I'll do the best that I can."

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