Perron slots in with Schwartz out; Blues to play
regular lineup Saturday, reduce roster down to 23
ST. LOUIS -- When a team loses one of its key cogs for an extended period of time, it could result in negative results.
The Blues have been used to losing Jaden Schwartz for extended periods of time because of injury; it happened last season with the fractured left ankle (49 games) and the season before with the foot fracture (six games) as a result of a blocked shot.
So in being prepared, the Blues have had a capable replacement to play with Jori Lehtera and Vladimir Tarasenko. Blues coach Ken Hitchcock wasted little time in inserting David Perron on that left side, and the trio will get an extensive look Saturday in the preseason finale against the Chicago Blackhawks.
Having Perron, who signed a two-year, $7.5 million free agent contract on July 1, on hand doesn't force the coaching staff into instant teaching mode. Yes, there is teaching, but not to the extent if a completely new player coming to the organization didn't have some sort of familiarity.
Perron, having played his first six seasons in St. Louis, played for Hitchcock before and knows what's expected of him.
"The words that 'Hitch' uses, I'm familiar with and everything," Perron said Friday. "I practiced a lot with (Ty) Rattie and 'Bergy' (Patrik Berglund) and those guys, a little bit with 'Fabs' (Robby Fabbri) in camp and I've practiced with Jori and 'Vladi' the last couple days.
"I think it was good to get a couple days of practice together and even that game, I didn't think we generated a crazy amount, but 'Vladi' scored a goal (Wednesday), he hit a post, we had a 2-on-1 and I hit a post myself. It just shows if we kind of ramp it up to another level, I think we can be really productive and of course 'Schwartzy' not being on that line, I have to try and accomplish some of the things that he does and even for myself, I need to play well and try and kind of lock up a spot until either he comes back or whatever; we don't know. Lines always move around, but it's for me to play the best I can. It's not only point for that line, it's creating a lot of forecheck, creating a lot of loose pucks for them. That kind of resulted in that first goal in that last game and I want to keep doing that."
Having a wiser Perron, now 28, gives the coaching staff the luxury of inserting him ther without hesitation.
"He comes as advertised," Hitchcock said of Perron. "Strong on the puck, determined, almost carries the puck in the offensive zone like a 220-pound player. And we're working on this dynamic.
"We're putting three top players on one line and we're putting two shooters on one line, and we're hoping that between the two shooters, one guy can make a play to the other guy because both guys are playing their off-wing, both guys can snap the puck and score from distance, so you have two players who can score from the top of the circles and that's very unique to put them on the same line. But that's the way we're going to start the year."
Perron can alleviate some of the pressure of Tarasenko and Lehtera missing Schwartz and will do his best to complement two-thirds of the "STL Line,"
"I talked with 'Schwartzy' actually (Friday) morning about that because I know he's played with them a ton," Perron said. "I think that Jori is going to have the puck a lot of times in the corners and make plays to 'Vladi' in the slot and I need to make sure I'm around the net, I'm on the forecheck and create those pucks that we can get on. From there to add to the line, I need to make plays myself. I need to bring some guys to me and hopefully open up some ice for Vladi because he doesn't need too much. And Jori's such a good playmaker, he's going to find him."
Lehtera said the transition's been smooth.
"I played with him one game and he's been looking good in the practices," Lehtera sid of Perron. "He's a good shooter, he can stick-handle. He's been pretty good in everything. It's all good right now. ... There's always room for a guy who can score. He's a pretty skilled guy and I think he's going to be a good fit for our team.
"We haven't played a game together yet, but right now it feels good. We need a game (tonight) and be ready when the season starts."
In the meantime, Hitchcock has expectations of Perron, and he expects the Blues' left wing to meet them.
"He knows how I want him to play," Hitchcock said. "We're working through those details, so I'll leave it at that. He understands the value system here, and that's important for us and for him. ... There are non-negotiable parts of our game that everyone has to adhere to and he's beginning to remember those a lot now.
"The rule here is we don't put restrictions on players offensively. We want that creativity, but there's only one look when the other team has the puck. There (are) no such things as being creative when the other team has the puck. When they have it, there's one set of rules. He knows that."
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The Blues have cut their roster down to 23 players, which could very well be what they open with heading into Wednesday's opener.
On Saturday, defenseman Petteri Lindbohm was assigned to the Chicago Wolves, reducing the number of defensemen down to seven, and forward Landon Ferraro was placed on waivers. The Blues would love to keep Ferraro, but there's a chance he gets claimed. If not, he'll start the season in Chicago.
On Friday, the Blues assigned forwards Kenny Agostino, Ivan Barbashev and Samuel Blais, defenseman Jordan Schmaltz and goalie Jordan Binnington to the Wolves and officially released veteran d-man Mike Weber from his professional tryout.
"I think the bubble thing's over," Hitchcock said Friday. "What's here quite frankly, what practiced here in the last two days, they're part of the mix that they're either going to start here or they're going to be first call-ups. One of the decisions we have to make is how do we want to play our lineup. We could put a checking group together in the third hole, or put a potential scoring group together. I think that's going to determine how we are going to play the game."
Whether the Blues open with 23 players or 22 depends on that of Schwartz, who was originally projected to miss the month of October.
"Depends on where we view Schwartz's situation at," Hitchcock said. "He's been skating very aggressively on his own right now. We'll see where the timing is on him. We'll see whether he's on that same timeframe we thought."
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The Blues will field the majority of their main players that will be on the opening night roster and in the opening night lineup against the Blackhawks in the preseason finale today (7 p.m. on KMOX 1120-AM and NHL Network).
Robby Fabbri-Paul Stastny-Alexander Steen
David Perron-Jori Lehtera-Vladimir Tarasenko
Dmitrij Jaskin-Patrik Berglund-Ty Rattie
Scottie Upshall-Kyle Brodziak-Ryan Reaves
Jay Bouwmeester-Alex Pietrangelo
Carl Gunnarsson-Kevin Shattenkirk
Colton Parayko-Robert Bortuzzo
Jake Allen will start and play the entire game in goal. Carter Hutton is the backup.
"We'll ice our good team (tonight) and get a read on the last two days," Hitchcock said. "Since the wakeup call in Kansas City, we've had two good days of practice. We look well underway now to regaining some form. We've got some continuity in our practices, we had some continuity in our team game in the practices. You hate to say you need a wakeup call like that, but that was a great wakeup call to get without having to pay a price for it.
"They know when it's time to play, but what you're looking at is continuity on the ice. One team had midseason continuity and the other had training camp continuity. That showed up a lot. Our reads and our reacts were three steps slow and they were gone on us and they had a lot of odd-man breaks from exits, three breakaways. Their anticipation was really amped up and that's what we needed to do these last two days was our anticipation levels really needed to increase dramatically an they did."