Friday, November 18, 2016


Blues hopeful to have Steen for Saturday; Bortuzzo fit, ready to return; 
Rattie stays patient; Schwartz looks healthy; fourth line gaining Hitchcock's trust

ST. LOUIS -- It was a light skate day for the Blues on Friday with only seven skaters (including goalie Carter Hutton) on the ice.

The noticeable absence was forward Alexander Steen, who missed Thursday's 3-2 win against the San Jose Sharks with an undisclosed injury.

Steen, who departed in the second period after hitting the back of his head following a collision with Buffalo Sabres defenseman Josh Gorges, missed the third period and after taking the morning skate on Thursday, was not in the lineup.

But the Blues are hopeful to have Steen on the ice Saturday to wrap up a three-game homestand against the Nashville Predators.

"We're hoping that everybody's ready tomorrow," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. "The only guy potentially that probably isn't going to skate or partake in some form tomorrow will probably be 'Eddy' (defenseman Joel Edmundson). He's going to actually skate in the pregame skate, but he's not ready to play yet."

Steen is considered day-to-day.

* Bortuzzo fit, ready to return -- Blues defenseman Robert Bortuzzo, who was activated off injured-reserve on Thursday, was one of the skaters on the ice Friday and has declared himself fit and ready to go from a lower-body injury that's forced him to miss the past 10 games.

"We got what we needed over the last couple days," Bortuzzo said. "Ready to make that jump in there and get back with these guys and keep moving forward.

"That's been kind of the plan all week was shoot for Saturday. We haven't had any hiccups or any setbacks. It's nice to get some timing in with practices and whatnot. It's just stepping in and contributing. ... It's nice to jump in some battles and really stress some things. We were able to do some 1-on-1 stuff yesterday after the morning skate, which was a real good test. Now it's just a matter of getting in there and getting the timing down."

It isn't know if Bortuzzo will actually be reinserted into the lineup. If he does, Petteri Lindbohm would be the obvious candidate. 

Or would he?

"We'll see," Hitchcock said. "We were a little banged up today and we'll get a better look in the pregame skate.

"'Borts' has declared himself fit, so if he's eligible, then we've got to take a hard look at him. He was playing well before he got hurt. It's pretty hard to take a guy out from an injury standpoint. We'll see. The one challenge for us is we're carrying lefty-righty right now and it's working, so that's something we've got to think about also. When he's in the lineup, we like him."

* Rattie remains patient -- Blues right wing Ty Rattie has been a common figure when the Blues skate, optional or not.

Rattie, drafted in the second round of the 2011 NHL Draft along with Dmitrij Jaskin, made the Blues out of camp this season but has only dressed in one of 18 games.

It's been a tough go for Rattie, who has four goals and four assists in 27 NHL games. But playing the role of good teammate who works hard and bides time for his chance to play is what he's relegated to do.

"Obviously it's tough to complain when you're in the NHL, but at the same time, I want to be in the lineup," Rattie said. "I want to be in the lineup every day. It's just the way things are going right now. Hopefully I'll get back in there soon and when I do, I know I'll have to make an impression.

"It's been different. I can't say I've done it before or anything like that. But like I said, I'm in the NHL, I come to the rink every day and play hockey for a living. I want to play, don't get me wrong; I want to be in that lineup so bad, but there's only so uch I can control in practice and stuff like that. Once I do get out there, that window of opportunity is small and I've got to take advantage of it."

Right now, with the Blues winning two straight games, it's not a option to tinker with the lineup.

"He's right now on the outside looking in for a chance," Hitchcock said of Rattie. "He went down and played those games to get condition-wise in good shape. Now he's waiting for his opportunity. Hopefully when the door opens and he gets a chance, he goes in and he plays well. It doesn't do him or us any good putting him in a fourth-line role. We've got other people that can play down that role and do a good job for us. He's waiting for one of those top nine jobs to open up and when it does, hopefully he takes advantage of it."

Rattie could be in the AHL with the Chicago Wolves, and playing on a regular basis, or remain with the NHL club and likely be a healthy scratch on a nightly basis. It's a tough situation but one he isn't complaining about.


"I don't know too many guys that have asked not to be in the NHL," Rattie said. "But not playing is hard. It's hard to come to the rink every day. You're on the team, but you also kind of feel on the outside a little bit. You're not playing games with the boys and stuff like that. My chance will come. ... (Injuries) and that kind of stuff do happen. Hopefully I get my name called and I'll be able to take advantage of that.

"I had a good training camp, I felt. I was confident in my training camp going in. Then I get the one game in Vancouver and other than that, I've had good practices, I guess. I work my hardest in practice. I want to prove that I can be out there as a game player and stuff like that. So far, it hasn't went that way, but I've just got to keep my head up, keep positive and be a good team guy and once I do get in there, be that guy they can count on."

The Blues sent Rattie to the Wolves last week for a conditioning stint. He played three games and had an assist.

"It was good to play games again," Rattie said. "First little bit being rusty having a couple weeks off, but it was good. A bunch of good guys down there, coaching staff. It was good to get games in and get the feet wet again."

Rattie continues to practice hard waiting for his chance, whether through an injury or ineffective play by someone. The mental battle has been a challenge.

"It definitely is a mental battle," Rattie said. "Every morning I wake up, I'm like, 'Maybe I'll play today. I want to play today.' I come to the rink and I'm not. It sucks. You don't come to the rink not to play. It does suck, but you lace on those skates and you can't just go out there and pout and be a baby about it. You've got to go out there and work your hardest. Hopefully they notice you and maybe next time, you'll be in the lineup.

"I'm not going to ruin my chances of that and ask to go somewhere else to play and stuff like that. I want to be here, I want to play here. I've just got to stay positive. ... I'm not running into Hitch's office screaming and yelling why I'm not playing. I just strap on my skates and hope to be a good teammate."

* Schwartz looks healthy -- Jaden Schwartz returned from that gruesome ankle injury he sustained in October of 2015 that forced him to miss a large portion of the season; he did play in 33 games (26 after the injury) but was Schwartz really back to 100 percent?

No, he wasn't, and it was a must for Schwartz to have an effective off-season of training to get himself close to fit.

Schwartz, who injured his elbow in the preseason and missed four games, began the season with one goal in eight games but has caught fire with five goals in six games, including two in a 3-2 win against San Jose on Thursday.

Schwartz looks like he's at or close to 100 percent, and this bodes well for the Blues, who are 5-0-0 when Schwartz scores two or more goals in a game.

"I think what he had to do was trust his work," Hitchcock said of Schwartz. "He's a work-based player. Sure, he's got skill and he can shoot the puck; he's underrated in a lot of things, passing, shooting, he's a little underrated, but his calling card is his work and his determination. That's what had to come back into his game. I think he was on the outside a little bit and not using what I consider his strengths to me, which he's got that second and third work ethic that's unique. He had to start trusting that again and that's what's happening more on a daily basis now. He's really starting to trust his work and I think the scoring is a reflection of how many second chances, third chances he's getting, how many opportunities he's getting because he's put himself in the right spot from a work base."

When Schwartz hounds the puck relentlessly, it bodes well for the Blues and spells bad news for the opposition.

"It always feels nicer," Schwartz said. "It's guys in front doing a good job, taking the goalie's eyes away; that gives you the opportunity to pick a corner. That's big obviously.

"When pucks are going in as a team, it's a little bit of weight off your shoulders. Not relaxed, but you get a better feel shooting the puck."

* Fourth-line trust -- It was another solid game for the Blues' fourth line, which is suddenly giving them a third-line feel. 

Kyle Brodziak, Ryan Reaves and Scottie Upshall were right at the top when it came to pinning the big Sharks in their own zone, and Schwartz's second goal was a perfect example of manufacturing a goal.

Reaves did a lot of the work that kept the puck in the San Jose zone, which Hitchcock said turned into a 65-second shift, which is long for that group by normal standards.

But when all three were checking and hemming the Sharks in, it gave Upshall the chance to get off the ice, get Schwartz on with fresh legs and he finished the play to give the Blues a 2-1 second-period lead.

And in the process, Hitchcock trusts the grou more than ever. 

"They're playing the right way, they've got speed in their game, they've got the other teams' ears pinned back against the boards and there's a lot of things they're doing well," Hitchcock said of the group. "We put a lot of faith in them yesterday and there's a few things at the end that we had to meet about today to get corrected. If they can take that seriously and take that and work on that in earnest, then they can manage the clock for us. I think the thing we liked the best is ... this is the first time since they've been together that they've managed the clock properly. It's not turning into a high-energy track meet. They're managing the ice properly, they're managing the clock properly. They've got the other teams pinned back in their own zone, which is a good sign. The product of that is they're getting points. They're getting points like a third line because they're playing the game the right way, but in the last four minutes there, they got loose on it a couple times and it could have done a lot of damage, but they saw it today and hopefully they get that chance tomorrow and I'm sure they'll do a better job with it."

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