Sunday, January 31, 2016

Tarasenko honored to represent Blues again

Right wing lone player chosen for the All-Star Game in Nashville

ST. LOUIS -- Vladmir Tarasenko couldn't contain himself when he was named as a first-time NHL All-Star last season.

The Blues' right wing, who was bestowed the honor of representing the Blues for a second straight season in Nashville which will be played out today with the 3-on-3 competition, repeated his immediate reactions after being informed by general manager Doug Armstrong.

They included phone calls to his father Andrei and grandfather Vladimir, who he was named after; the mood was reminiscent.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Right wing Vladimir Tarasenko (91) is the lone Blues representative at the
NHL All-Star Game this weekend in Nashville.

"Last year I was really happy and surprised when Doug called; same as this year," Tarasenko said. "All my family and me (are) proud to represent the Blues there. This is a big honor for me. This makes me to work harder to stay on the same level, especially because the last couple three weeks, this was kind of good news for me."

"They were happy and tell me the same stuff, that I need to work even harder now because players know you. You can't be the same player all the time."

Tarasenko, who was accompanied to Columbus for last season's festivities by teammates Kevin Shattenkirk and Brian Elliott, was part of the skills competition on Saturday at Nationwide Arena. He was selected by Central Division captain Patrick Kane as one of passers (along with Los Angeles' Drew Doughty) in the accuracy shooting, he was one of the one-timer shooters from the left circle and was involved in the shootout; he was stopped by Florida's Roberto Luongo in the first round of the shootout.

But when the competition is for keeps this afternoon and evening, when the Central Division takes on the Pacific Division, with the winner meeting the winner of the Metropolitan and Atlantic Divisions for a chance at a cool million, Tarasenko, who leads the Blues in goals (25) and points (46), is all-systems-go.

"Yeah, it's really fun, fun to play," Tarasenko said. "But you really need to be focused for 100 percent because if you lose your guy for a second, you can lose game. This is really fun for me."

Tarasenko admitted he was in awe last season with the surroundings of the All-Star festivities and didn't know what to expect. He's got company with his in Nashville and is making the most of being surrounded by so many great players around the league while his teammates have been away on mini vacations resting and relaxing.

"I think this year (is) little bit easier because now I know a couple players," Tarasenko said. "First year is always tough. Now, my wife come with me and my best friend from Russia. It will be a really happy time for him, too, to see all the players and hang out there. I'm just looking forward to staying a week in Nashville because we play there next game."

Tarasenko, after a breakout season of 37 goals and 73 points in 77 games with the Blues last season, isn't the unknown commodity anymore. He signed the richest contract in franchise history (8 years, $60 million, or $7.5 million in average annual salary last summer) and thrust himself into the light of other stars around the league.

There comes pressure to perform at a high level, and the 24-year-old has handled himself well.

"It's always like this, if you do something good, people learn you, especially as a forward," Tarasenko said. "If you go through this, you will always be a better player. That's what I try to do and I think it's been good."

Tarasenko's time in Nashville has been eased by having his wife and best friend with him, but the biggest regret is not having any of his Blues teammates with him. But since he has to go solo at it, he's focused on representing the organization well.

"It's pretty tough when you're by yourself from a team," he said. "'Shatty' and 'Ells' were there last year and we had great time together. We have a lot of good players and I'm really proud to represent all of them down there."

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Players have scattered for rest, coaches to work

Blues won't play until Feb. 2 while rest of league plays 
games through Wednesday, getting much-needed time off

ST. LOUIS -- With the rest of the NHL playing games through Wednesday, the Blues got a much-needed head start on a well-deserved break.

Most players scattered to warmer climates for some rest and decompression of the body.

Players will rest, coaches on the other hand, will rest ... and work?

"They need to get a rest and then we need to address what we're doing here," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said, referring to the coaching staff. "One party can rest and the other one can do some resting and thinking."

Thinking about where the Blues are at (28-16-8), and wonder where they need to go over the final 30 games.

At 52 games, the Blues are further along than everyone else except the Chicago Blackhawks, who played their 53rd game on Tuesday.

Last season, the Blues didn't play their 52nd game until Feb. 6, which spread games out for an extra 13 days.

"We've done a good job here in the first 50-something games," captain David Backes said. "We're going to use this break and recoup and come back firing on all cylinders and hopefully with a full register of healthy bodies."

A full set of bodies that they hope includes Jaden Schwartz (franctured ankle), who will skate through Wednesday before taking a couple days himself; Jake Allen (lower-body injury), Magnus Paajarvi (upper body) and perhaps towards the end of the season, Steve Ott (hamstring).

"It's a good time for anyone," center Paul Stastny said. "I think we're battling through injuries, but we've put ourselves in a good position to take advantage of our break and then come back fresh and ready to go."

The Blues won't play until Feb. 2 when they conclude a set of four games at Nashville, where All-Star Vladimir Tarasenko will be waiting for them.

And in the meantime, coaches will try to figure out who will play where and how, because the Blues, despite going 1-1-1 in the first three legs of this trip, have scored three goals. Only Brian Elliott's impressive play enabled the Blues to get three points out of the trip.

"It's the people that are put in that position," Hitchcock said. "It's the power play or whatever, we've got to have more production. How we formulate our lines moving forward, it's going to give us a chance to take stock."

Said Backes: "It's burying pucks when you have chances, no question about it. We'll take that on us. It's just got to be four lines rolling, four lines contributing. We've had different guys stepping up, but two goals in Detroit, one goal in Colorado and then none (Sunday), just not going to win games with that offensive output but we need all lines contributing and doing their part and it was not enough (Sunday)."

Consider it one of those tough stretches.

"You're going to go through spurts like that, especially this time of year," Stastny said. "Whoever scores that first goal, they have a big advantage, whether it's early in the game or late in the game obviously. Goals are at a premium right now. That's what we've got to do, find a way to get that first one."

The Blues were 34-14-4 (72 points) at this juncture last season, so 64 points doesn't look as good, but considering they're fifth in the NHL in man games lost (189, according to, it's not a bad spot to be in, especially with reinforcements on the horizon.

"Hopefully we'll have more healthy bodies after seven days or resting and recouping and everyone else gets a little time to recharge the battery and make sure we come back with a good practice on Monday, good intensity and then getting into Nashville and play another Central Division (and) hard matchup," Backes said.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Schwartz not far away from playing for Blues

Left wing out with fractured left ankle skating, feeling return is close

ST. LOUIS -- Jaden Schwartz has been out of the Blues' lineup most of the season, and it's been what he's called, "a tough situation."

Schwartz missed his 45th game Sunday against the Chicago Blackhawks, but if all goes according to plan, it won't be long before the Blues' left wing rejoins his teammates for the stretch run, which for the Blues, will be 30 regular season games remaining.

Schwartz has been skating for 3-4 weeks, he said, but to finally be able to get on the ice with his teammates after a nasty fractured left ankle sustained in practice Oct. 23 is something he's been looking forward to. Schwartz was ready to join his teammates. He was ready to skate with the boys and made his first trip since the injury last week.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Jaden Schwartz (right) attempts to get a shot off against Edmonton's Cam
Talbot in a game earlier this season at Rexall Place.

"Yeah for sure. That's something you look forward to," Schwartz said before the Blues faced the Blackhawks on Sunday. "I've never really been out this long before. It's a tough situation to be in. ... It sucks. You miss hanging out with (the team), especially on the road. Watching definitely gets old. You want to be a part of the team as soon as you can, so it's nice taking this first road trip and be done with that and taking morning skates with the team."

Schwartz joined the Blues for the first time on ice Wednesday in Detroit and has skated every day since, including three morning skates with teammates.

So far, things have gone according to plan from an injury that the Blues said at the time would have them re-evaluate in 12 weeks (it's been 13 weeks and a three days today).

"I didn't know what to expect," Schwartz said. "You ask questions, but everyone's kind of different. Everyone heals differently. You kind of go through a different process. You don't put weight on it for a while. Once you start putting weight, you get that mobility back and strength and things like that. It's been a good process, it's been a long process, but I've felt like we've done a lot of work to try getting me feeling back as good as I can and then once you start skating, that's kind of another whole different situation. That's something you've got to get used to with adjusting your skates and going through different things like that.

"Yeah, you've just got to get the strength back. You're still going to have a couple issues on the ice, but that's something you've got to work through. That's kind of why I'm with the team now trying to work through that and get up to pace a little bit."

Schwartz recalled the injury, one in which he was participating in a pre-practice drill, lost an edge reaching for a rebound of a shot to Brian Elliott's left and crashed hard into the side netting, buckling his ankle underneath him.

"Yeah, I figured it would be serious," Schwartz said. "I've broken a few bones. You kind of hope for the best, but it swelled up pretty quick and it was probably one of the most painful injuries I've ever had. Obviously you couldn't put any weight on it and knew right away. Then I found out a few guys have had that injury so you ask them some questions and you see what that process was like."

The post All-Star break has been sort of the target for Schwartz's return, which would put him back on Feb. 2 at Nashville when the Blues return from the break. There are no guarantees, but it's a realistic possibility.

"Yeah ... I'm not sure. Obviously you don't want to rush it and reinjure it, but that was our goal," said Schwartz, who had four assists in seven games before going down. "I definitely feel better. It's week to week. I've been feeling a lot better. Day to day, you don't notice a lot of difference. Week to week, it's definitely a better feeling and comfortability on the ice. We'll see. Over the next few days, do some extra work. Don't know the exact date; we don't have a date circled, but hopefully short after the break."

One good indicator for Schwartz: he's ramping up his skate sessions more and more each time on the ice. And each time, he's had no issues, another good indicator.

"Yeah, pushing, trying different things," Schwartz said. "Skating and pivoting. You can do things on your own on the ice, but when you get on the ice with the team, it's different. That's a good way to push it.

"Yeah, it's different for sure. It's not normal yet, but we're getting there. Skating by myself felt pretty good. You're able to work on a number of things on your own and kind of see what you can and can't do. When you get on with these guys, there's certain things you find out you find out that you need to work on and then that's something I can work on in practice."
(St. Louis Blues photo)
The Blues' Jaden Schwartz (17) has missed the past 45 games with an
injured left ankle and is close to returning to the lineup.

While his teammates get away for the break to rest and relax and allow bodies to heal, Schwartz, who has 62 goals and 139 points in 214 NHL games, will stay in St. Louis and continue to work through Wednesday before he gets away for a couple days himself. Because it's all about getting back for the stretch run and helping an offense that runs hot and cold. 

Adding a player like Schwartz for the Blues is as good as any trade deadline deal or a free agent signing.

"Yeah, I kind of expected that," Schwartz said on staying in St. Louis a few extra days. "I want to get back as soon as I can. We decided that was best for me. With me hopefully coming back right after the break, it only makes sense. I've got to get back into shape."

Hawks dump Blues 2-0

St. Louis shows life early, can't beat 
Crawford to finish trip 1-1-1 with three goals scored

CHICAGO -- The game was there early on for the taking, a chance to finish a tough three-game trip with five of six points and leave on a good note into an extended week-long All-Star break.

But the Blues, who were head and shoulders better than the Chicago Blackhawks, who looked tired in their own building, a building where the Blackhawks have been tough on the entire league. But the Blues allowed a good hockey team to find its legs and begin to push back.

The pushback came in the second period, and the Blues were the ones that appeared tired and ready to crawl into the All-Star break after falling 2-0 to the Blackhawks at United Center.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Troy Brouwer (36) has a shot blocked by Blackhawks defenseman Niklas
Hjalmarsson Sunday night in Chicago.

It was a chance for the Blues (28-16-8) to pull within two points of the division-leading Blackhawks (33-15-4), who got a second-period goal from Artemi Panarin and a power play goal in the third from Andrew Shaw.

The Blues, who finished their three-game trip 1-1-1, good for three points despite scoring only a mere three goals, outshot Chicago 12-6 in the opening period but Corey Crawford, who registered his NHL-leading seventh shutout, kept his team at a level playing ground, and the Blues missed out on some quality scoring chances to get a lead, force the opponent to chase and perhaps dictate on your own terms.

That wasn't the case, and Chicago slowly found its legs.

"I thought their team looked tired in the first period and we didn't take advantage of it," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. "And then I thought we looked tired in the second and third. I thought both teams had their moments. First period was a good one for us but I thought after that, we didn't create many scoring chances at all. We didn't have any offensive energy."

Said captain David Backes: "I think we carried the play. Hit a cross bar, hit a goalie in the mask and had a few other good chances. Things happen like that sometimes. The second period, we've got to follow it up with the same sort of intensity and effort. Law of averages will work itself out after a while. But we take a step back, they take a step forward and they were able to get a goal on a pretty nifty 3 on 2 with a back-checker. Then the power play goal, (Dmitrij) Jaskin is falling already trying to play the puck and their guy ends up falling on the play. Whatever; we've got to kill a penalty and keep it a one-goal game and have a chance at the end. If there's any glimmer of hope, I think our 6-on-5 at the end was probably the most proficient 6-on-5 we've had in a long time with shots and rebounds and collecting it again and not just letting them clearing it into an empty net."

Getting the first goal normally doesn't affect the Blues one way or the other this season (they came in just 17-6-4 when scoring first, 11-9-4 when the opponent scores first), but Chicago was only 3-11-2 when the opponent scores first but 29-4-2 when it scores first.

"I think we have to find a way to get a goal there and try to get the lead in the first," center Paul Stastny said. "I think we had a little more jump than they did to start. We had a good first period, especially in this building, and we couldn’t get out of it. Then weathered the storm there in the second for a while, then they made a nice play there. It was an unfortunate, I think the bounce hit 'Shatty' and then at which point, playing against that team, it’s tougher. We tried to come around late, but it was a little too late for that."

Chicago was ripe for the taking, but as often is the case for the Blues when a game is winnable, the inability to finish goals is typically what's been problematic.

Chicago got better in the second period and finally broke the stalemate when Panarin's one-timer from the left circle deflected off Kevin Shattenkirk's stick and beat Brian Elliott, who was brilliant allowing four goals in three road games, upstairs 15 minutes, 26 seconds into the second period for a 1-0 lead. Panarin converted Patrick Kane's cross ice backhand feed.

The goal broke Chicago's goalless drought at 154:43.

"That's what good teams do if you let them hang around," Backes said. "We should have buried a few and kept on our game for 60 minutes and I don't know if they can have that push."

Then when Jaskin was falling trying to play a puck, he tripped Andrew Desjardins 4:14 into the third, and Shaw gave the Blackhawks the cushion they needed when he tipped Marian Hossa's one-timer from the top of the right circle over Elliott's glovehand at 4:56.

The Blues pulled Elliott, who made 23 saves, with two minutes remaining and started to pepper Crawford again but to no avail.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues center Paul Stastny (26) looks to pass a puck with Blackhawks
defenseman Michal Rozsival nearby.
"We did the same thing in Colorado," Hitchcock said. "We created a lot of chances in the first half of the game, but not many in the second half of the game, and that's what we've got to address. How can we sustain the type of offensive energy that we need to continue to put pressure on people.

"We look at this road trip, to come out of this thing with three points and scoring three goals, pretty fortunate. Our goaltender was our best player. Detroit, he was our best player and in Colorado. You're not going to win many games scoring at the rate we are on the road, so it's something that over the next week, we're going to have to address on how we play our lineup because we're going to have to obviously coming back, we're going to have to get a lot more production than what we're having right now.

"Elliott really did a job for us to get us the three points because we're not scoring. We're not scoring, we're not showing the tenacity and energy to score the greasy goals and that's something that we're going to have to address."

Sunday, January 24, 2016

(1-24-16) Blues-Blackhawks Gameday Lineup

CHICAGO -- Defenseman Colton Parayko doesn't have much of a stomach for things that tend to look gross.

When Parayko saw the picture of his mouth after being hit with a puck in a 2-1 shootout loss to the Colorado Avalanche on Friday that resulted what looked like a firecracker exploding that shattered his upper lip, it even grossed him out.

"It was kind of gross," Parayko said. "I don't really have a strong stomach for that stuff. I have a weak stomach. It kind of upset my stomach, I'm not very good with that stuff."

Parayko missed roughly eight minutes after getting stitched up (he thought 12 stitches) but came back to finish the game.

"It's kind of gross but crazy how good the doctors are and how fast they put it back together," Parayko said. "It just shows how good they are and what they can do to help you out.

"Yeah, (the doctor) did a really good job and did it in a really good manner, made sure that I was comfortable and really took good care of me in a dire situation kind of thing. He was really good."

It's been a rough week for Parayko, who came down with the flu and had to miss a 2-1 victory at the Detroit Red Wings to begin the three-game trip, which culminates with a Central Division game today (6 p.m. on FS-MW, KMOX 1120-AM) with the Chicago Blackhawks (32-15-4). 

"Yeah. Starting with the flu and then a puck to the face," Parayko said. "That's what's going to be in 82 games. It's not going to be picture-perfect. Come on one more game, have a good game and get a nice little break. Have one game and leave it all on the ice for a good week at least."

- - -

Blues captain David Backes will play in his 700th NHL game tonight for the Blues (2815-8).

Backes, who played his 500th NHL game here at United Center, was drafted by the Blues in the second round of the 2003 NHL Draft.

Backes will become the fifth player in Blues history to play in 700 games with the franchise, joining Bernie Federko (927), Barret Jackman (803), Brian Sutter (779) and Brett Hull (744).

"It's gone by pretty quick," Backes said. "It feels like yesterday I was flying to Pittsburgh for my first game. It's been a heck of a ride and hopefully a lot more to go with a lot of success to come."

Backes is seventh in franchise history in goals (197), eighth in assists (246) and seventh in points (443).

- - -

The last time the Blues were in this building, they overcame a 5-2 first-period deficit, won in overtime on Vladimir Tarasenko's goal and the "Roar Bacon" phenomenon began.

"That was incredible," Parayko said. "Obviously with the "Roar Bacon" thing. The comeback was pretty fun and then the overtime was even crazier and then getting the win was pretty cool. Obviously it's a tough building to play in and a really loud and fun building. It's always fun, especially the rivalry."

Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said it was so long ago that he doesn't remember much of the Blues' first two meetings with the Blackhawks but does remember one aspect of that game here on Nov. 4.

"I can't even remember, other than the first game was absolutely crazy," Hitchcock said. "Neither team looked like they could defend against the other team. I thought the game back in St. Louis was more of the structure and discipline that both teams can play with. Both teams in their own unique way are tough to handle. They're tough for us because of their motion and mobility on two of their lines, we're more tough for them because we can grind it out down low and effectively get the puck to the net. 

"It doesn't look like either team is in control of each other and it's kind of, I don't want to say last goal wins, but whoever's offense seems to have bigger control in the hockey game ends up winning."

- - -

The Blues will make one lineup change tonight, inserting Scottie Upshall in for Ryan Reaves to give the Blues a less of a physically-imposing lineup but one with a little more speed.

Upshall, a healthy scratch Friday at Colorado, will play with Kyle Brodziak and Dmitrij Jaskin.

- - -

With one game remaining before a much-needed All-Star break that will keep the Blues off the ice for seven full days before resuming practice Feb. 1, tonight marks the opportunity to leave everything on the ice and for all intents and purposes, put the Blues within two points of first in the Central Division.

"I think we have faced a lot of adversity, a lot of injury issues where we've plugged holes and had different linemates and had to kind of go with the flow and ad-lib on the fly," Backes said. "The way we've stuck together and built character in here is going to pay out in droves as we go down the home stretch. Hopefully we'll roll all the bodies in as healthy bodies and we've got more tools at our disposal."

Said Parayko: "First three-quarter, right? This is a game where we want to put it all on the line. Kind of a game you want to leave yourself with ... over the break, you don't want to be thinking, 'Oh, we could have done this or should have had a win kind of thing.' It's one of those ones you want to leave with it feels good to leave on a break with a full win."

The Blues wrap up seven games in 13 days in this stretch that came on the heels of nine games in 15 days on two separate occasions.

"I don't know that it's like, it's this 9 in 15 twice that, this is now five, almost six weeks, one hockey practice," Hitchcock said. "We're so fortunate that we've got good veteran players that can carry the day without practicing, but we've got a list that's three pages long that we want to work on, I'm sure Chicago does, you can't work on it. You have to decide whether you're going to have energy or structure with no energy and we've opted for energy, just as the Hawks have. So you just close your eyes and hope like heck you've got better energy at the end of the day. We're both lucky that we both get rest in the second half and we'll have some actual hockey practices that we can get better at. I don't think you can get better just playing games. There are so many things that both teams need to work on, you at least need 30 minutes on the ice once or twice a week to get it done. I'm looking forward to that too."

The fact that the Blues could only be two points back of the division lead, which was once at 10 when the Dallas Stars occupied first place, is a testament of sticking with things.

"I don't think anybody catches a championship team until you beat them in a playoff series," Hitchcock said of the Blackhawks. "You can talk all you want about the regular season. We're like that, we're trying to get in, you have to beat them because there's an emotional gear that championship teams go to that not many teams can sustain. Just when you think you've got them, they go to another gear. If you're even going go to beat them, you've got to beat them in a playoff series before you can say that."

- - -

Brian Elliott, 5-6-1 with a 2.60 goals-against average and .909 save percentage lifetime against the Blackhawks, will start his eighth straight game tonight.

Since Jake Allen (lower-body injury) went down Jan. 3, Elliott is 5-1-2 with a 1.97 GAA and .942 save percentage.

"I've seen spectacular play," Backes said of Elliott. "It seems like he was given that job when Jake goes down and he's just run with it and carried us on his back for quite a few games, made some key saves, had tons of key moments in games and given us a chance to put a few in and get him a win. When he's had two or three goals scored for him, he's been pretty dynamic in getting those wins piled up. A huge part of our success as of late and we'll need that going forward to continue that."

- - -

Hitchcock was mixing and matching players working on the power play Sunday morning at the skate.

The Blues are 0-for-13 the past five games and 0-for-17 going back six games since they scored on two straight power plays (both by Patrik Berglund) against New Jersey on Jan. 12.

"I think there's two things happening. One, we don't start with the puck as much as we did, we're losing a lot of faceoffs, and then we're not entering as clean as we did," Hitchcock said. "We'll hopefully be better at that tonight. That's what puts you out of sync. In order to be a successful power play you've got to be a minute-plus in the zone, and we're at 40 seconds, so it's not allowing us. We're kind of one and done. It's not like we're getting outworked. We're doing a good job when we get it in there, it's that we're not starting with the puck and we're chasing it back down the ice a little too much right now."

- - -

The Blues' probable lineup:

Alexander Steen-Paul Stastny-Troy Brouwer

Robby Fabbri-Jori Lehtera-Vladimir Tarasenko

Patrik Berglund-David Backes-Ty Rattie

Scottie Upshall-Kyle Brodziak-Dmitrij Jaskin

Jay Bouwmeester-Alex Pietrangelo

Carl Gunnarsson-Kevin Shattenkirk

Joel Edmundson-Colton Parayko

Brian Elliott will start in goal. Jordan Binnington will be the backup.

Ryan Reaves and Robert Bortuzzo will be the scratches. Jaden Schwartz (ankle), Steve Ott (hamstring), Jake Allen (lower body) and Magnus Paajarvi (upper body) are out with injuries.

- - -

The Blackhawks' probable lineup:

Andrew Shaw-Jonathan Toews-Marian Hossa

Artemi Panarin-Artem Anisimov-Patrick Kane

Andrew Desjardins-Phillip Danault-Teuvo Teravainen

Richard Panik-Dennis Rasmussen-Brandon Mashinter

Duncan Keith-Niklas Hjalmarsson

Trevor van Riemsdyk-Brent Seabrook

Erik Gustafsson-Michal Rozsival

Corey Crawford will start in goal. Scott Darling will be the backup.

Healthy scratches include Jiri Sekac and Rob Scuderi. Marcus Kruger (wrist) is on injured reserve.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Blues like position they're in as break looms

Despite points being left on the ice, team in solid 
spot with one big game remaining before deserved rest

CHICAGO -- At 28-15-8, the Blues have one game remaining before a well-deserved week off for the NHL All-Star break that will enable what seems like a season's worth of injured players to finally heal up.

One huge Central Division game remains Sunday against division leader Chicago, a chance to get to 66 points and for all intents and purposes, have the Blues feeling extremely good about the position they'd be in for the final 30 games.

One way of looking at what the Blues have done is can be viewed as remarkable considering they've had 183 man-games lost due to injury, which is in the top five in the league.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Ty Rattie (18) has three goals in five games played since being recalled
from the Chicago Wolves.

But on the other hand, there have been points the Blues have left on the table.

Blown third-period games in which they were either tied or leading, including those games in which they've allowed late goals that resulted in a loss, such as Friday's 2-1 shootout loss at Colorado in which Nathan MacKinnon scored a goal with the sixth attacker with 53.7 seconds remaining to erase a 1-0 deficit, the Blues could conceivably be in a better position.

MacKinnon has victimized the Blues twice in that situation this season, and for all intents and purposes, the Blues can consider two points given away in that situation while handing the Avalanche four.

In those late-game scenarios, let's take a look at how things have transpired.

The Blues have allowed four sixth-attacker goals and have scored none; twice they were able to win:

Oct. 16 at Vancouver -- Daniel Sedin in a 4-3 victory
Dec. 29 vs. Nashville -- Colin Wilson in a 4-3 overtime victory
Jan. 6 at Colorado -- Nathan MacKinnon in a 4-3 overtime loss
Jan. 22 at Colorado -- Nathan MacKinnon in a 2-1 shootout loss

And in the empty-net category in which the Blues are either trying to seal a regulation win or come up with some late-game magic of their own, they've been outscored 9-6.

Goals for:
Oct. 8 vs. Edmonton -- Troy Brouwer in a 3-1 victory
Oct. 27 vs. Tampa Bay -- Troy Brouwer in a 2-0 victory
Nov. 28 vs. Columbus -- Alexander Steen in a 3-1 victory
Dec. 8 vs. Arizona -- David Backes in a 4-1 victory
Jan. 12 vs. New Jersey -- David Backes in a 5-2 victory
Jan. 18 vs. Pittsburgh -- Kevin Shattenkirk in a 5-2 victory

Goals against:
Nov. 3 vs. Los Angeles -- Trevor Lewis in a 3-0 loss
Nov. 12 at New York Rangers -- Dan Girardi in a 6-3 loss
Nov. 14 vs. Chicago -- Artem Anisimov in a 4-2 loss
Nov. 17 at Columbus -- Brandon Saad in a 3-1 loss
Dec. 10 vs. Philadelphia -- Ryan White in a 4-2 loss
Dec. 13 vs. Colorado -- Carl Soderberg in a 3-1 loss
Dec. 27 at Dallas -- Cody Eakin in a 3-0 loss
Dec. 31 vs. Minnesota -- Thomas Vanek in a 3-1 loss
Jan. 2 at Toronto -- Michael Grabner in a 4-1 loss

While fans can view some of the games this season with a level of frustration, the big picture can be viewed as the Blues have gutted out a number of games to leave themselves in a very good position within the division and most importantly, the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

"We're getting points. That's all that matters. Now we're getting points," coach Ken Hitchcock said after Friday's loss, as frustrating as it may have seemed. "We've got to take this one. When it gets to a shootout, on the road with what we're dealing with, pretty happy. Move forward and we're playing Chicago."

Alexander Steen, who scored what looked to be the winning goal until the Avalanche's late-game, views the positives that the team has been able to persevere through. Not Friday.

"Not tonight. We lost one," Steen said after the game. "We should have had this one. We let them get too much momentum in the third period, but I think if you look over the last seven or eight games, it's been a battle. The boys have been battling hard. You see the guys after the games put everything we've got into it. We're working."

But looking at the big picture, with all the players out of the lineup and the young players that have had to fill roles, and Brian Elliott's recent brilliance in the absence of Jake Allen (lower-body injury), it's been a heck of a stand to this point.

"When you go through injury trouble like we have this year ... we started the year with a bunch of bodies down and then started to get healthy and then a bunch of guys went down again, you need that commitment from everybody," said Steen, one of five players to play in all 51 games. "I think if you see over their last span here, the type of games that we've been playing, they're all like this. It's a grind. They're hard-fought, they're emotional games and they've been pretty much one-goal games for a while. There's not a lot of space out there. Collectively, I think we've been doing a good job of keeping it tight together and trying to get the goals. Up until tonight, we've done a good job of holding onto them recently. There were times before that when we weren't, but recently we've been doing a much better job. 

"Guys are battling."

Consider what Joel Edmundson and Colton Parayko as rookies have done on the blue line, what Robert Bortuzzo does when he steps into the lineup and the team doesn't miss much, Robby Fabbri is doing as a rookie at forward and the recent impact Ty Rattie has had with big goals in absence of key players up front, and then there's Elliott, who has picked up where Allen left off when he went down Jan. 8.

All Elliott's done is give the Blues a chance at two points every game, despite who's in and who's not.

"He's our best player right now," Hitchcock said of Elliott. "He's playing outstanding."

Said Steen: "'Moose' has come in and done an unbelievable job when 'Snakey's out. Some of the saves he makes, he makes them look easy and they're not. He's been standing on his head.

"I think Brian's done it, our kids have done it."

It's nothing new for Elliott, who is 5-1-2 since Allen went down. He has a 1.97 goals-against average in that time and a .942 save percentage.

"He's done that to us a few times now," Shattenkirk said of Elliott. "He's a goalie who we have to battle against every game when we play them. We had some great chances tonight and overtime we know is back and forth. Brian made some big saves for us as well to keep us in it.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Brian Elliott (left) and Joel Edmundson (right) have helped alleviate the
injury bug for the Blues, helped them continue to collect points.

"We all couldn't be happier for him right now. He's come in and he's been great for our team all year and obviously this year, or the last few games, him stepping in and playing the way he has is just amazing. We'd really love to get him some run support there in the shootout. He makes two huge saves there. If we can just get one and keep it going, that's what we've got to work on."

Elliott and the Blues will look to have one more solid game with a bit of a patchwork lineup, guys feeling battered and bruised and leave it all on the line.

"It's kind of that time of year when bumps and bruises start showing," Elliott said. "Guys are playing their hearts out blocking shots and that's when you get those little injuries that can mess with things. Luckily we've got one more game here we can battle it out before the break and guys can kind of heal up."

Blues lose another late lead to Avs, fall in shootout

MacKinnon ties it for Colorado, Landeskog 
nets lone goal in SO spoiling Elliott's 40-save effort

DENVER -- An eerily similar occurrence developed for the Blues here at Pepsi Center against the Colorado Avalanche on Friday. It started in this building 16 days ago.

And unfortunately for the Blues, a similar script by the same player stole two points in regulation and in the end, the Blues had to settle for one point when the same player that decided the game for Colorado that night, also decided it on this night.

The only difference: this time it came in a shootout loss.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Brian Elliott (1) made 40 saves for the Blues but it wasn't enough in a 2-1
shootout loss to the Avalanche.

Nathan MacKinnon, just like he did here on Jan. 6, tied it with 53.7 seconds remaining in regulation and the Blues clinging to a one-goal lead, culminated with Gabriel Landeskog scoring the lone shootout goal in the Avalanche's 2-1 victory against the Blues before 16,366.

The Blues (28-15-8) led here 3-2 when MacKinnon scored with 1 minute, 29 seconds remaining and the Avalanche (25-21-3) playing  with a sixth attacker. Landeskog scored the winner in overtime then.

Those two players teamed up to get the better of the Blues (2-0-3 in their past five road games) again.

MacKinnon's tying goal came with the Avalanche using a sixth attacker, and Landeskog scored in the first round of the shootout, and Semyon Varlamov was not to be denied on shootout attempts by Alexander Steen, Vladimir Tarasenko and Troy Brouwer.

"We were in good control," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. "We made a mistake at the end icing the puck and that set them up for more zone time. It's something that we'll talk about it tomorrow. We were managing it well, made the mistake when we won the faceoff. We played off the glass instead of direct play. It allowed them to gain another faceoff in our zone.

"We made two or three mistakes on cross-crease stuff. Our defensemen got pinned at the goal. We had stick in the wrong lane there, but it was set up by the icing."

Defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk iced the puck playing it off the boards that gave Colorado another offensive zone draw, one in which the Blues lost and Matt Duchene made a cross-ice feed to MacKinnon, who made no mistake one-timing a shot from the left circle past Brian Elliott, who was spectacular for the Blues making 40 saves and two of three in the shootout.

"Up until that point, we played a really good game," Shattenkirk said of the tying goal. "It's a tough one. Credit to them. They really do a good job with their 6-on-5. They gain control of the puck, they throw a lot of pucks and bodies to the net and I think that's what kind of opens that play up. That puck goes to Duchene there and we all kind of converge on the net waiting for a puck to be thrown into the chaos. He's a great player and makes a heck of a play to MacKinnon there. It's tough. You want us to try and stay aggressive on 6-on-5 and limit their time and space, but they did a good job of pushing us back on our heels there and it's two games in a row that we'd like to have the last two minutes back."

Elliott tried to go post-to-post but said he couldn't get through a mass of bodies.

"We did a good job in the third period, I thought," Elliott said. "We weren't giving them too much and then once it went 6-on-5, they were just kind of finding seams and they're good at that. I had to kind of front Duchene's shot and just kind of got tangled up in the pile trying to get back over. It's a bang-bang play. 

"It was just like a pile of guys. That stuff happens. ... It's frustrating. You play 60 minutes like that, or 59, and you don't come out with a win. It's frustrating, but it's a lesson you've got to put teams away. We played a good game, but it's frustrating not coming out with a 'W.'"

The winner looked like it was going to come off Steen's stick in overtime, but Varlamov, who made 33 saves, kicked out his right pad on Steen's one-timer after taking a saucer feed from Tarasenko.

"I think he made a good save, but I don't get (the puck) where I want it," Steen said. "It's a great pass, but it's a little bit tight into the skates where it's tough to get the elevation. I tried as hard as I could to get that puck up. If I just get it up, it's in."

The Blues led 1-0 on Steen's second-period goal and appeared poised to win another tough, gritty road game after losing defensemen Alex Pietrangelo for nearly seven minutes in the second when he blocked a Duchene shot and Colton Parayko had a deep gash after getting hit in the mouth. He missed eight minutes, got stitched up and was back out there.

"We only played 12 minutes with six defensemen," said Hitchcock, whose team won 2-1 in Detroit on Wednesday with five defensemen the entire game. "We're going back and forth with five guys. Everybody should be fine for tomorrow."

Neither team scored in the first period, but both goalies came up with big saves to keep it scoreless.

Varlamov prevented Robby Fabbri from scoring on his 20th birthday on a breakaway with a right pad save with 6:25 remaining in the first.

Elliott then made his presence felt with a quick right pad save on a John Mitchell shot from the slot on Colorado's first power play with 5:21 remaining in the period.

The second period was destined to have no goals as well, but the Blues took advantage of a turnover and broke the ice on Steen's 15th of the season.

Brouwer intercepted former Blues draft pick Carl Soderberg's clearing attempt by batting the puck out of mid air, fed Steen in the right slot and his one-timer squeezed through Varlamov five-hole at 17:57.

A clock malfunction came and it was stuck at 2:39 remaining, and the rest of the period was played with the public address announcer giving the time remaining for the final 2:03.

Soderberg thought he tied the game with 13:44 remaining when he jammed a puck through Elliott's pads. But referee Kelly Sutherland made an emphatic no-goal call, believed to be because he lost sight of the puck, but when asked, Elliott said, "You can't spear the goalie to cause a goal, so it's no goal anyways."

The Blues will play at Chicago on Sunday before getting a much-needed break for a week during the All-Star break. And they'll need it with the battered and bruised bodies they have had to endure all season.

There was a differing opinion on if there have been some points lost in the third period.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Troy Brouwer (left) celebrates with Alexander Steen after the Blues scored
in the second period. The lead couldn't hold up in a 2-1 shootout loss.

"We're getting points. That's all that matters. Now we're getting points," Hitchcock said. "We've got to take this one. When it gets to a shootout, on the road with what we're dealing with, pretty happy. Move forward and we're playing Chicago."

Steen said, "Not tonight. We lost one. We should have had this one. We let them get too much momentum in the third period, but I think if you look over the last seven or eight games, it's been a battle. The boys have been battling hard. You see the guys after the games put everything we've got into it. We're working."

Friday, January 22, 2016

(1-22-16) Blues-Avalanche Gameday Lineup

DENVER -- The Blues will go into their game today against the Colorado Avalanche (8 p.m. CT; FS-MW, KMOX 1120-AM) with a full complement of defensemen.

After Wednesday's snafu that forced the Blues (28-15-7) to play with five defensemen from the start, they will be able to bring forth six defensemen and not have to go with a mix-and-match game, one they won 2-1 at the Detroit Red Wings.

Carl Gunnarsson will return tonight against the Avalanche (24-21-3) after he was supposed to play Wednesday, but the Blues failed to remove him from injured-reserve on time with the league's central registry and so Gunnarsson was forced to miss one more game.

"It was a little bit weird, but you know, stuff like that happens," said Gunnarsson, who five games with an upper-body injury. "Just got to get ready for tonight. That's it, just look forward."

Getting in a couple extra days didn't hurt Gunnarsson either after he was injured Jan. 9 at the Los Angeles Kings.

"That's the positive side of it," Gunnarsson said. "That was tough for them (Wednesday), but it was nice to get the win. They did a tremendous job, so you've got to give it to them, give them a little tap on the shoulder. But it's going to be nice, especially here being six for tonight. It's good. Everyone's kind of coming back, starting to get healthy, the whole group. We're real excited about that."

The Blues were forced to play with five defensemen Wednesday after rookie Colton Parayko came down with flu-like symptoms and could not go.

He skated Friday and aside from a hoarse voice and sweating profusely, he's good to go tonight.

"Good, better," Parayko said when asked how he was feeling. "It was bad enough (on Wednesday) to point where felt it was safe not to play. I was up all night and things weren't going out the right way. Obviously that's not a good sign. Caused a couple headaches. Just wanted to get ready and get to 100 percent and ready to play.

"It feels good to get it all out. Feels good to be back with the guys. I felt like I missed more, even though it was just one day."

- - -

Defenseman Joel Edmundson is questionable after he took a puck to the mouth during the morning skate. He departed late in the practice with a towel on his mouth, but in case he can't go, Robert Bortuzzo, who has missed the past two games with a lower-body injury after blocking a shot against the Montreal Canadiens last Saturday, is deemed fit and ready to step in if Edmundson can't go.

"Yeah, we're ready to go when called upon," Bortuzzo said. "Physically, we're good to go.

"You want to get back as fast as possible. At the same time, you want to be smart about things. Tried to see how it responded. It's needed a couple extra days. I've done a good job with the trainers and really been smart about things."

Coach Ken Hitchcock was glad for a few moments about getting more bodies back until seeing Edmundson take a shot.

"Well, we were until we took a shot in the mouth," Hitchcock said. "We'll see where that is this afternoon. We lasted 11 minutes as healthy. That's about as good as we've gotten so far. We'll see how 'Eddy' is later today."

With Bortuzzo deemed ready, the Blues assigned defenseman Andre Benoit to the Chicago Wolves of the American Hockey League.

Benoit is still with the Blues though he's been officially reassigned because he couldn't get to Charlotte in time to play this weekend with the Wolves, who are playing the Charlotte Checkers. But due to the inclement weather on the east coast, Benoit will join the team after the weekend.

- - -

In the absence of a defenseman, Kevin Shattenkirk played a season-high 28 minutes, 14 seconds in the victory against the Red Wings. He, Benoit (16:24) and Edmundson (20:34) really had to pick up the slack, along with Alex Pietrangelo's game-high 28:28 and Jay Bouwmeester going 24:26 in his second game back from concussion symptoms.

"It's also one of those things, the more you do it, the more you get used to it," Shattenkirk said of playing the heavy minutes. "It would have been really hard to do it here. If we got stuck with it here, it would have been tough. It's something that 'Petro' will tell you, when you get used to those minutes and you know you're going to play those minutes, you can adjust accordingly and play your certain game."

Defensemen deal with injured players going out during the game and playing with five for the duration of the game. But to start that way, is there a difference?

"It was and it wasn't," Shattenkirk said. "I think when a guy goes down, you rally around it. For whatever he went down for or was kicked out of the game, there's a sense of pride to hang in there and do it. You have a similar mindset, but going into the game, it forces you to be more cautious, to think about it more, think about how you have to lay your time out and pace yourself. You obviously can't predict the score, but if you get to the third period and it's a tie game, you have to be sure you have the energy to go out there in a 2-1 game and be able to make some plays in the third period. It's a little different in certain ways."

Shattenkirk said he hasn't recalled anything like it.

"No, not since playing 4 'D' back in peewees," he said. "We were saying, those were the glory days, and then after the last game, we were like, 'I don't know how the hell we did it.'"

- - -

Jaden Schwartz (fractured left ankle) and Magnus Paajarvi (upper-body injury) were two of the injured that skated again on Friday.

For Schwartz, who's missed the past 43 games, it's another step in the right direction. He stayed on the ice after the team was done to get extra work in, as he did on Wednesday.

Players are getting a good sense that the roster is finally coming to fruition and are eager to see the completed result.

"It's just good to see the guys out there skating with the group," Gunnarsson said. "I think they feel the same way. Skating on your own, it kind of sucks, it's kind of boring. The first couple practices back with the team, it's fun. I'm happy for the guys who are coming back here and it's good to be back with the team again."

Bortuzzo agreed.

"I think you can definitely feel it. 'Schwartzy' definitely brings that energy to practice. All those guys coming back from injury, they bring an energy to our group that is infectious being around them. We haven't really had our full squad all year. Injuries happen. That's sports, but it will be nice to transition into our full group of healthy bodies."

Hitchcock won't allow himself to get excited until he can see them in the lineup.

"I'm dealing day-to-day," Hitchcock said. "I don't look at those guys that are skating, say today as we speak, as players until Ray (Barile) says, 'Hitch, they're good to go, they're good for your evaluation.' Until then, I don't look at them as players. They're ... I don't want to say this cold and calculated, but they're a little bit faceless for me until they get into the lineup and they're able to perform at a high level. Then you're excited, but until then, it's status quo. Get out what you can and let the assistant coaches and training staff work with the guys individually."

- - -

The Blues will be going for their fourth win in a row and fifth in six games. They've earned points in eight of the past nine games (5-1-3) but last time in here (Jan. 6), they lost a 3-1 lead and fell 4-3 in overtime.

"I think we've got to start with the puck more," Hitchcock said. "We did a great job for two periods and then I don't think we had the puck. I think we lost 11 faceoffs overall in the third period and didn't start with the puck. If we start with the puck, it'll mean they have to chase us and if they start with the puck, we're chasing them and they're the wrong team to chase. They've got lots of dynamics up front, lots of skill up front, lots of speed up front. Having them start with the puck as much as they did, Buffalo ran into the same thing. Buffalo played a great first two periods and then didn't have the puck in the third period and the Avs came back and won the hockey game."

- - -

Brian Elliott, who starts for the seventh straight game and making his eighth straight appearance since Jake Allen (lower body) was hurt Jan. 8, is 5-2-1 with a shutout, 2.44 goals-against average and .885 save percentage lifetime against the Avalanche but he is 3-0-0 with a 1.30 GAA and .938 save percentage the past three starts.

- - -

Former Blues defenseman Rik Wilson passed away Friday, announced by the Blues alumni.

"The St. Louis Blues and the Blues Alumni organization are deeply saddened by the passing of Rik Wilson," the Blues said in a statement. "Rik donned the Blue Note with pride and passion during five of his six NHL seasons. Rik was a valued member of not only the Blues organization but the St. Louis community, where he and his family settled following his retirement. Our thoughts and prayers are with the Wilson family during this difficult time."

Wilson was originally drafted by the Blues in the first round, 12th overall, of the 1980 NHL Draft. He spent five seasons in St. Louis, appearing in 235 regular season games and 22 postseason games with the Blues. Wilson also made brief stints in both Calgary and Chicago before retiring from the NHL after the 1987-88 season.

- - -

For Colorado, Blake Comeau will be a game-time decision. Comeau's wife gave birth to a child Friday morning but the Avalanche expected him to play. 

If Comeau doesn't play, Chris Wagner will step into the lineup and center the third line.

(UPDATE) ... Comeau was not on the ice for pregame warmups, so he'll be scratched and Wagner will play.

Former Blues defenseman Erik Johnson will miss a ninth consecutive game with a lower-body injury. Johnson did practice hard for a second straight day and is expected to play Saturday at Dallas.

- - -

The Blues' probable lineup:

Alexander Steen-Paul Stastny-Troy Brouwer

Robby Fabbri-Jori Lehtera-Vladimir Tarasenko

Patrik Berglund-David Backes-Ty Rattie

Dmitrij Jaskin-Kyle Brodziak-Ryan Reaves

Jay Bouwmeester-Alex Pietrangelo

Carl Gunnarsson-Kevin Shattenkirk

Joel Edmundson-Colton Parayko

Brian Elliott will start in goal. Jordan Binnington will be the backup.

Scottie Upshall and Robert Bortuzzo will be scratched. Jaden Schwartz (ankle), Steve Ott (hamstring), Jake Allen (lower body) and Magnus Paajarvi (upper body) are out with injuries.

- - -

The Avalanche's projected lineup:

Alex Tanguay-Nathan MacKinnon-Matt Duchene

Gabriel Landeskog-Carl Soderberg-Mikhail Grigorenko

Andreas Martinsen-Chris Wagner-Jarome Iginla

Cody McLeod-John Mitchell-Jack Skille

Francois Beauchemin-Nikita Zadorov

Nick Holden-Tyson Barrie

Zach Redmond-Chris Bigras

Semyon Varlamov will start in goal. Calvin Pickard will be the backup.

Healthy scratches include Nate Guenin, Andrew Bodnarchuk and Blake Comeau. Erik Johnson (lower body) is out but is expected to return Saturday. Reto Berra (ankle), Ben Street (chest), Brad Stuart (back) and Jesse Winchester (head) are out indefinitely.