Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Perron signing has brought Blues great value

In second stint with team that drafted him, 2007 first-round pick feels at 
home with organization, producing plenty during career-best point streak

By LOU KORAC
HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- July 1 can be classified as the day that the NHL begins its Black Friday.

Unrestricted free agents are up for sale, and teams can line up waiting for some sort of blue-light special, with checkbooks in hand, looking for that big, home run-type signing thinking they're getting a great deal despite ponying up a lot of dollars.

Among some of the top forwards that came off the board on the first day (Andrew Ladd, seven-year, $38.5 million with the New York Islanders; Milan Lucic, seven-year, $42 million with the Edmonton Oilers; Frans Nielsen, six-year, $31.5 million with the Detroit Red Wings; Loui Eriksson, six-year, $36 million with the Vancouver Canucks; Kyle Okposo, seven-year, $42 million with the Buffalo Sabres and the Blues' own David Backes, five-year, $30 million with the Boston Bruins and Troy Brouwer, four-year, $18 million with the Calgary Flames), they cost a cool $238,000,000 million.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Signing David Perron (right) this past summer has been one of the top
value moves of the off-season, paying early dividends for the Blues. 

The Blues didn't get the John Hancock on any of those contracts. They instead chose to spend within, but Blues general manager Doug Armstrong didn't completely stay out of the market, and when he reached out to a familiar name in forward David Perron, it may not have been the home run signing at two years and $7 million, but the Blues have to feel like they got one considering the body of work thus far. 

For 23 games, or a little more than a quarter into his first season of a second stint, the 28-year-old Perron has given the Blues exactly what they were hoping for, if not more.

When the Blues host the Tampa Bay Lightning on Thursday, Perron will look to increase his career-high point streak to nine games; he has three goals and eight assists during an eight-game streak that has him second on the Blues (behind Vladimir Tarasenko's 23 points) in points with 16 (seven goals, nine assists) in 23 games.

And consider that (prior to Wednesday), Ladd had two goals and an assist in 21 games, Nielsen has 13 points in 23 games, Eriksson has 10 points in 23 games, Okposo leads the Sabres with 15 points in 21 games, Backes has nine points in 18 games and Brouwer has nine points in 25 games. Only Lucic (17 points) had more than Perron.

Considering Perron, who the Blues drafted in the first round in 2007, started last season with four goals and 12 assists with the Pittsburgh Penguins in 43 games before finding his game again after a trade to the Anaheim Ducks. The Blues did their homework on what he could bring in the absence of some key veteran departures that needed replacing.

"We saw him play last year with heavier players," Armstrong said. "We want to play quicker but we're not the quickest team in the league, and so we felt with the style that we wanted to play, there was certainly a spot for him on either of the two wings in our group of nine, and he's taken advantage of it."

This was a homecoming for Perron, who played the first six seasons of his career before a trade to the Edmonton Oilers on July 10, 2013. And despite entering free agency for the first time in his career, Perron saw a chance to return where it all began.

"I got a sense with Hitch and knowing what he wants from players," Perron said of Blues coach Ken Hitchcock. "If you play the right way and you play hard, you're going to get the right chances, right opportunities. When I came in, people maybe saw me as an offensive guy only, but when I was younger, I wanted to win as much as anybody in this room. ... I want to help out, block shots and make sure I do all the right things."

Perron's production, along with that of Jaden Schwartz (seven-game point streak and seven goals and five assists in the past 11), has been a blessing with Alexander Steen (upper-body injury) sidelined the past six games.

Perron was more known as a player with the offensive flare his first bout with the Blues. But he's grown up, has a family and son (Mason) and has altered his style of play as a veteran of 10 seasons to prolong his career effectively.

"He doesn't cheat to score," Hitchcock said of Perron, who has 148 goals and 200 assists in 593 NHL regular-season games. "He plays the game the right way, on the right side of the puck. He has a base where he understands that part of the game now. He's not fishing for pucks, he's not hoping pucks pop free to create offense, he's not looking to cheat the game. He plays the game real honest right now and I think it makes him a way better player. We use the term loosely, but man, he's a 200-foot player and he's made himself a 200-foot player.

"I really liked him as a player. I watched him play in Edmonton; he played fine. I watched him go to Pittsburgh and he was lost. He didn't play well there and he didn't look like he fit there. The way they wanted to play and the way he played didn't fit. Then when I saw him go to Anaheim, I thought I saw the same player that was in Edmonton. Doug and I talked about it. We both felt like if that's the player we're going to get, we have similar style players to (Ryan) Getzlaf and (Corey) Perry. Our players aren't quick, but they're strong on the puck. David fit that style and we thought he could could fit here. He's grown up, he's 28 years old, he's been 10 years in the league, his game has maturity, he's got maturity in his play, he's really competitive on the puck. I like that, and I trust him. I trust him offensively and I really trust him defensively."

Perron's season started with four points in the first 12 games (three goals, one assist), but they all came in one game at Calgary on Oct. 23. Then he scored Nov. 6 against Colorado and it was four goals and one assist in 15 games; about what one might expect for a player with a $3.5 million average annual value contract. 

But Perron has taken off since, and it's no coincidence. He feels like his game hasn't changed at all. Now he's just finding plays and shots going in more frequently.

"I really do. I had a good game in Calgary points-wise, I felt like my game was there, feel one of my best games was playing with 'Steener' and I think 'Vladi' in Vancouver (on Oct. 18). I'm trying to build and keep building and make sure even when the legs sometimes aren't 100 percent there, the puck making decision, everything is there and playing the right way.

"It's nice for sure. I think coming back here, I knew I would have some good opportunities, just knowing Hitch, knowing the staff, how much he pushed to get me back also. I think I could feel that from the start of free agency there when we started talking. It was a natural for me to come back. I got older, your game started to come together a little more. I was always trying to play that way, even back then and maybe you come in at 19 and people see a certain way and it's tough to change a perspective on a guy even if he's trying to do the right thing at all times. I'm trying to do that, keep improving and certainly I think we have the type of coaches and leaders in this room to make sure everyone's on board to play the right way. Obviously Hitch is never going to go away from that, so we've got to be on board and we are on board with that."

Perron is in a situation now where the Blues are winning and expected to win. That wasn't always the case when he was first here when the Blues were experiencing some lean years in the mid-to-late 2000's when he was on board and reaching the playoffs was not within reason.

He helped get that rebuild off the ground before seeing it through. Now he's glad to be back trying to push St. Louis over the top.

"I got traded a couple times since those years and I don't mean that negatively, but I still don't accept the trade," Perron said. "I wish I had been here all those years. I just know there's a business side of things and I'm just happy that I get a second chance here. Not everyone gets a second shot at something that you like or a place that you like, whatever it is. I'm fortunate for that. I'm happy and I'm glad it worked out. We had different options, but certainly this was one of the tops ones out there and I'm glad I came here.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Not only is David Perron (57) scoring for the Blues, but he's playing the kind
of 200-foot game coach Ken Hitchcock is looking for to make him effective.

"... I know it's different because as you get older, the experience of everything comes together. Sometime, it's just letting go of a mistake more easily. It's also letting go of a good performance quicker and move onto the next game, so that you don't get caught up in, 'Oh, I had a great game.' You want to turn the page as soon as you can on any kind of performance so that you can regroup, refocus and get back to work either in practice the next day or whatever it is that you need to do to get prepared for your next opportunity."

Perron is getting his opportunities often these days, and it's been a shot in the arm for the Blues, who have won six of seven since an 8-4 loss Nov. 12 at Columbus.

"He's come in and done a tremendous job for us, carried a lot of weight, a lot of responsibility and has been playing really well," Steen said.

Lately, playing with Schwartz and Paul Stastny has given the Blues a formidable No. 1 line.

"I think our line is finding a way to find chances on most shifts, and the shifts that we don't get chances we make sure we play defensively and that's the staple that needs to make sure it's there every shift," Perron said.

Music to Ken 'Play a 200-foot game' Hitchcock's ears.

(11-30-16) BLUES NOTEBOOK

Steen full-time practice participant, still not known for return; Edmundson 
on cusp of being cleared; Berglund misses practice; the Blues and KC 

By LOU KORAC
HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- Blues forward Alexander Steen, out with an upper-body injury since Nov. 15 against Buffalo, took the first big step towards getting back into action after missing the past six games.

Steen, who was checked into the offensive zone corner boards by Sabres defenseman Josh Gorges, has skated off and on with Blues teammates for almost two weeks now, but on Tuesday at the Ice Zone inside St. Louis Outlet Mall, Steen was a full-time participant for the first time.

"I don't know, I'd say day by day," Steen said when asked when he'd be ready. "It's nice to get out with the guys today and skate around, be a part of practice. That was a big positive today.

"I think it was a little more complicated than I thought it was going to be when it first happened, but I'm starting to feel a little bit better. I feel like I'm starting to turn that last little corner. Hopefully soon."

Steen has two goals and 10 points in 17 games this season.

"Today was the first time he joined us as a full-time player,  full-time practice player so it was a good sign," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said of Alexander Steen . "This was hopefully the final step before he's cleared to play and we'll see how long that lasts."

The Blues (13-7-3) have won five of six since Steen's departure.

"Yeah very," Steen said when asked how impressed he is of the team play. "The team has played tremendously. I think our goaltending has been superb and our fourth line has played unbelievable, like last night drawing two penalties. I feel like they're pushing the momentum up the ice and moving pucks in to the o-zone and changing at the right times to create momentum for the whole team. I like Bobo's game right now (Bortuzzo). He's been playing very well since he stepped back in. There's a lot of big positives."

Steen is questionable for the Blues' next game Thursday in the third of a five-game homestand against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

* Edmundson ready to return, Berglund misses practice -- Blues defenseman Joel Edmundson, out since Nov. 6 with an upper-body (10 games) had another full practice on Tuesday with no restrictions.

"He's full practice today, too," Hitchcock said of Edmundson. "Took full contact yesterday, full contact today. 

"He's taken those steps that we've wanted him to take. I think he's ready to be evaluated to be a game day player, too."

As for center Patrik Berglund, he was the lone skater not on the ice Tuesday at the team's practice facility.

"He's on a maintenance day, we'll see," Hitchcock said of Berglund. "He's day-to-day, we'll see how he feels tomorrow, but it's very minor. After talking to the trainers, it was best to give 'Bergy' today off."

* Remedy for penalties -- When asked of the issues with penalties and taking those 200 feet away from your goal, Hitchcock said he's not talking about penalties anymore.

"We're not going to talk about that anymore. We're going to use a different approach," Hitchcock said. "It's the disease that we're not going to speak about. We're just going to go out quietly and find a cure. We're not thrilled by it, but the more we talk about it, the more it seems to manifest itself. ... It's in the DNA; that's what I said last night. It's in the DNA; we've got to get rid of it. We'll figure out a way."

* Kansas City and the Blues -- The Blues will house a new home for a new American Hockey League team, according to a source.

The Blues, who have been with the AHL's Chicago Wolves for four seasons, including the current one, will cut ties with the Wolves at the conclusion of the 2017 season and form an affiliation with a team that will be based in Kansas City owned by Lamar Hunt Jr., whose father Lamar Hunt founded the Kansas City Chiefs, and former Blues defenseman Tom Tilley.

According to the source, it's pretty much "a done deal."

The Blues have not made the plans official, but Hunt Jr., who currently owns the Missouri Mavericks of the ECHL, who will also look to bring a United States Hockey League team to play with the new AHL team at the Sprint Center, where the Blues have played multiple exhibition games in recent seasons.

Hunt Jr., who has long wanted to own an NHL franchise, is said to be someone in the not-too-distant future to buy a stake in the Blues and become part of current Blues owner Tom Stillman's group. 

Bortuzzo's recent play hasn't gone unnoticed

Defenseman making it hard to remove from lineup with continuous solid 
performances, learning finer qualities of a particular musical instrument off the ice

By LOU KORAC
HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- These days, Blues defenseman Robert Bortuzzo is doing his extreme best to stay in the lineup among the top six. Off it, Blues fans would never guess what the Thunder Bay, Ontario native is up to.

Picture Bortuzzo, at 6-foot-4, 221 pounds, learning how to play a a musical instrument.

But not just any musical instrument.

Yep, a ukulele.

"I'm in the process of (learning)," Bortuzzo said. "I'm kind of self-teaching. I don't know if that's the best method for someone who's not musically inclined whatsoever. We do get a lot of free time sometimes, so instead of plopping in front of a TV, it's grab the old uke-daddy and strum away.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues goalie Jake Allen (right) is happy to see teammate Robert Bortuzzo
(left) playing as well as he has during his time in St. Louis.

"Someone told me it was one of the easiest instruments to pick up. It's only got four strings and me and 'Uppy' (teammate Scottie Upshall) went and bought ukulele's. That was pretty much it. Now with YouTube and I had one lesson. I was far over my head, but I'm sure I'll go back and try to get the hang of things."

This is the same Bortuzzo that on the ice, can be menacing specimen.

But it's also one that can be found mastering ping pong inside the Blues' rec room at the Ice Zone or wherever they play, or attending the Jim James concert at The Pageant, as he and Upshall did on Wednesday night. James is the lead singer for My Morning Jacket.

"This is the Upshall department," Bortuzzo said. "He's a big My Morning Jacket fan. Kind of introduced me to them last year." 

When he's on the ice, Bortuzzo packs quite a wallop. His physical presence and ability to step in and drop the gloves at that size doesn't go unnoticed. 

But ever since the day the Blues acquired the 27-year-old Bortuzzo along with a 2016 seventh-round pick from the Pittsburgh Penguins on March 2, 2015 for defenseman Ian Cole, it's been a roller coaster of adventure regarding playing time or taking a seat in the press box.

Something had to give. 

Even though all seven of the Blues' top defensemen are close on and off the ice, someone is always on the outside looking in. Right now, it's Joel Edmundson, who's missed the past 10 games with an upper-body injury. And in his absence, Bortuzzo, who missed 10 games himself with a lower-body injury before returning Nov. 19 against Nashville, has pounced on the opportunity. He's playing the left side, his offside, as a right-handed defenseman and has averaged 16 minutes, 44 seconds of ice time per game the past five, up from just under 12 minutes a night the first four.

But it's not Bortuzzo's physical nature that's keeping him in the lineup. 

"Just really good play. Good play with the puck, better play without it," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. "He's in control defensively. He's not over-pursuing contact. He's in a really good positional base and foundation and it's led to good play because of it. He's earned the right. He's going to be a tough guy to take out of the lineup if he continues to play at this pace right now.

"More composure when he doesn't have the puck, better positional play, not running after contact. Seems like the game's slowed down to him, and that's a good sign. He's able to play with great composure. He's always had tremendous character that his teammates love, but he's followed it up with good play and he's earned the right to play more and more every night."

Bortuzzo, who has a goal and an assist in nine games (both points coming the past four), has developed quite a combo on the third defensive pairing with Colton Parayko. Hitchcock has flirted with using Bortuzzo and Kevin Shattenkirk on occasion, but Bortuzzo and Parayko, an imposing figure himself at 6-6, 226 pounds, give the Blues three formidable defensive units.

"Him and 'Pary' have good chemistry going right now," said Pietrangelo, who came up with Bortuzzo's locker room nickname 'Bobo.' "He's been on the left side, which is never easy, but he's done a great job. 'Bobo' knows his game. He's been consistent. Both those guys have been great together. Seems they've found that chemistry.

"He's one of the best locker room guys I've ever seen. Everybody loves him around here, so any time he's having success, it's a good thing."

Said Blues goalie Jake Allen: "(Bortuzzo's) playing great. He's playing on his toes, which is the biggest thing. He's being aggressive, he's not being hesitant. He's jumping into the rush at good times, he's blocking shots. He's keeping the game simple, but when he has an opportunity, he's doing the right things. I like to see the aggressiveness in front of me. It's fun."

Bortuzzo is certainly playing with an aura of confidence, and when one plays with confidence instead of looking over his shoulder wondering if the next mistake may put him back in the press box, chances are they'll stay in the lineup.

"I've always had that confidence in my ability to perform and whatnot," Bortuzzo said. "Things are kind of going nicely right now. It definitely seems like I'm exuding some confidence on the ice and some of the plays I'm trying and making. I don't know if it's a mentality or anything, but it's just a bit of a groove and it's nice.

"It could be maturity. Sometimes you're over-anxious looking for hits, looking for plays that aren't there. As you get older and as you develop, it's just kind of letting the game come to you, settling into the flow of things, taking plays when they're there and not risking things when they're not. I don't know if it's a maturity thing or just watching games and playing in games. That could be all part of it."

Bortuzzo will try to continue to make it hard on Hitchcock to pull him from the lineup now that Edmundson is on the cusp of returning and the Blues having seven healthy defensemen. But in the meantime, he'll keep tuning up the strings and perhaps playing something for his teammates.

"He's getting better," Shattenkirk said of Bortuzzo's ukulele skills. "We've watched his progress. He loves to sit on nice park bench by himself and practice ukulele. I don't know if it's exactly for the music side of it or if it's for the look. I don't know if he's back in a scarf and waiting for a lady to pass him by and drop a sweet tune on her or something.

"That's kind of who 'Bobo' is. He's not going to sit in his apartment and waste away watching TV all day. He's an interesting guy in that respect and a fun guy to hang around with because he just kind of keeps his fingers dipped in a little bit of everything."

In the meantime, Bortuzzo will continue the juggling act of giving the Blues solid minutes, mastering the ukulele and beating Shattenkirk, who Bortuzzo claims is the ping pong king of the team.

"I'd be the first admit I'm not (the best)," Bortuzzo said. "I'm growing as a ping pong player as well. We've got a couple players in here. I'll chalk it up to Shattenkirk. He's got his own paddle from his college days and whatnot. I try and hang with the big boys, but I'm not there. I'm just going to get there eventually."

If this play continues, Bortuzzo can claim he's there on the ice, playing the left or right side. Right now, the left seems to be the preferred destination.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues defenseman Robert Bortuzzo (41) celebrates with teammates after
scoring in a game against the Boston Bruins on Nov. 22.

"That's sports. That's good teams, that's good hockey teams. You're going to have depth," he said. "When you are out, you definitely don't want to take steps backwards. You want to take any chance you can to get better, whether it's watching the games or through practice or wherever you can before or after practice. I've taken those opportunities in the past and will continue to do so in the future. Once you stop growing as a player, that's kind of when you're in trouble, I believe, in this league. I'm confident I'm still growing and getting better every day. That's a testament to my teammates and staff here and whatnot. It's nice.

"There's new things every day that you're learning. It's never perfect, nor is it when you're on the right side. You're going to watch your film and you're going to watch other guys who might be playing on the left side. I played with Paul Martin in Pittsburgh, he did it for years and actually enjoyed it. I've seen him do some things and kind of remembered some things he used to tell me." 

"A guy like Bortuzzo's really taken advantage of that situation," Hitchcock said. "He's playing better and better every time he's out on the ice, which is a great sign."

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Blues blow late lead again, win 4-3 on Tarasenko OT goal against Stars

Dallas scores late after Minnesota did same 
Saturday; Perron, Schwartz extend point streaks

By LOU KORAC
ST. LOUIS -- It's a win for the Blues, but the underlying concern is for the second game in a row, the opposition's found a way to swipe a point.

The Blues defeated the Dallas Stars 4-3 in overtime on Vladimir Tarasenko's goal with 1:36 remaining off a feed from Jori Lehtera, but the Blues (13-7-3), who have won six of seven and gained a point for the 10th straight home game (8-0-2), have slipped into some old habits of giving up a lead late in the game with the sixth attacker goal.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues left wing Robby Fabbri (15) scored in the first period past Tyler
Seguin (91) in a 4-3 OT win against the the Stars.

Jamie Oleksiak's second goal of the game came with 49.9 seconds left that tied the game and gave the Stars (9-8-6) a point. Same thing happened on Saturday when Charlie Coyle scored for the Minnesota Wild that tied that game 3-3 before the Blues won 4-3 in a shootout.

Winning is nice, yes, but maintaining good habits and protecting leads is not something the Blues have been good at the past two games.

"There's real concern about the leads," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. "There's real concern with what we gave up and how we did it. We played terrific and had full control of the hockey game and we got careless on our checking and puck management. 

"There's a lot of good things to like with what's going on right now. You like our spirit, the ability to come back, but there are some genuine concerns on my part about some elements of our game that ... they don't hurt you at home, but they'll kill you on the road and we have to get this cleaned up. It's the penalties 200 feet from our net that really gave momentum back, it's the blue line puck management when we have a comfort level that we're controlling the hockey game, so two games in a row, we've had a real comfort level of controlling the hockey game, but we got really loose on the lines and we've allowed the other teams to transition on us. That's hurting. In the two goals that we gave up late, both times, we either lost board battles or tried to make the extra play and got burnt because of it, so those are concerns. You can practice it, but they have to be in your DNA and our DNA is when it gets comfortable, we get loose, and that's something that works at home because you can build momentum because the fans are in and they're helping you along and I got the matchups that I want so I can make it happen and it won't hurt as much at home, but it has killed us on the road, and it's going to continue to kill us unless we fix it."

On the play, the Blues had full control of the puck after a blocked shot, but Paul Stastny chose to try and flip a pass to Jaden Schwartz instead of just clearing the zone. And in turn, Antoine Roussel read the play and picked the pass off, keeping the puck in the Blues' zone.

"First, two things happen. We stand still and try to make a play," Hitchcock said. "The second part is that the puck carrier has to take charge. He has to make a firm play and icing can still be a good play. We tried to make another play rather than take charge, and when you're playing 6-on-5 and you're playing the last five minutes, whenever it's in your zone, you have to take charge and taking charge means you skate. You skate on it and then the other part is on board battles, it just can't go by the winger to the point. On both occasions, it's done that and it's hurt us."

The Stars wound up getting the puck around to Oleksiak, whose shot deflected off Blues defenseman Alex Pietrangelo past Jake Allen.

"It's frustrating; it just seems like we can't get any bounces," said Pietrangelo, who scored the Blues' second goal. "We all tried so hard to clear the puck there right before that, but nobody cleared it and those always come back to haunt you. 

"I have one finger to hit left and it hits my pinkie and finds a way to change direction. Those are the bounces we're getting right now, but again, just like last game, as much as you want to correct that, we're getting two points and we'll take those and move on."

David Perron and Robby Fabbri also scored for the Blues (13-7-3), who are 10-1-2 overall at Scottrade Center. Allen made 18 saves for his sixth straight win; he has a 1.95 goals-against average and .933 save percentage in those six games and Allen is 8-0-2 at home with a 1.57 GAA and .940 save percentage.

"We got the win. Those are going to happen," Allen said of the late goals allowed. "We're going to get goals 6-on-4 or -5. We don't want to give them up. They just got a bounce. It bounced off someone and went in the net. We got the win, but we definitely have to find a way to be better.

"... It was going wide and hit someone and went the complete opposite direction. ... The guys played great, gave them absolutely nothing. It was one of those games I had to try to keep focus and stay into it and guys did a great job. Kept it simple, driving in pucks deep. I thought we played well the last two games. Even though we gave up the lead late, we still got wins, and still something to build off."

Jamie Benn had a goal and two assists for the Stars (9-8-6), who started a four-game trip that continues Tuesday at the Detroit Red Wings. Antti Niemi made 27 saves. 

"It wasn't pretty, but we got a point," Benn said. "I guess that's a positive. I like how we found a way to score late there, but this overtime is killing us right now."

Fabbri gave the Blues a 1-0 lead with his first goal in six games with a snap shot to the short side at 13:36 of the first period. 

Fabbri's goal was the element of three perfect passes to spring him free. Tarasenko started the play, getting it to Lehtera, who found defenseman Robert Bortuzzo, who then hit Fabbri in stride before Fabbri snapped a shot past Niemi to the short side.

"It felt like everyone on the ice touched it there," Fabbri said. "It was one of those passes from 'Bobo' there that was perfectly placed and yeah, I beat the goalie there because it was just a solid pass from 'Bobo.'"

Pietrangelo made it 2-0 with a power-play goal at 4:17 of the second period after crashing the net following Patrik Berglund's redirection. There was a big goalmouth scramble as Niemi thought he had the puck covered but it was loose under his pad.

"We didn't know who scored, so we just kept whacking," Pietrangelo said. "That's what we've got to do. It seems like we're scoring goals when we go to the net like that. It's not usually a d-man down there, but I do what I can.

"I had no idea. I was just hoping it was me. Someone hit it. I'll take it."

The Blues had control of the hockey game and had chances on multiple occasions to make it a three- or four-goal game. But Oleksiak beat Allen with a shot to the short side with 3:39 remaining in the second to make it a 2-1 game after dangling past Perron and around Pietrangelo before perhaps fooling Allen with a shot.

"I kind of fell asleep on that play and let the guy walk in," Pietrangelo said. "That wasn't a good highlight in my career. We got away from it there at the end of the second, but we grabbed it there in the third. Obviously took a penalty there, which kind of gave us a step back. Same thing we've done all year. Guys are finding ways to score. We don't know who it's going to be, but we're finding ways to get the two points."

"We were playing great. We played outstanding," Hitchcock said. "This is one of the best games we've played all year until they scored their first goal and that gave them the momentum, but they had no momentum going, there's no scoring chances. We were really checking well, we were managing the puck perfectly and then we started to stop checking, stop managing the puck and started to not control the two most important lines, the blue lines in both zones and came back and hurt us."

Benn tied it 2-2 with a power-play goal 1:47 into the third with a quick shot after skating into the right faceoff circle. This came after Fabbri was called for a questionable hooking penalty in the offensive zone. 

The Blues regrouped and Perron gave the Blues a 3-2 lead at 13:12 of the third with his seventh goal after a nice give-and-go with Schwartz, who extended his point streak to seven games (five goals, four assists) and 12 points (seven goals and five assists). 

Perron has three goals and eight assists during a personal-best eight-game point streak.

"I think it starts with 'Bouw' being patient and finding me in the middle there," Perron said. "I was almost going to go change there if he doesn't give it to me, then I was patient myself, giving it to Schwartz on the wing, he was patient also and you see 'Stas' going down and it's almost like a short 2-on-1. Maybe the goalie's thinking about that, so I was able to go low blocker.

"... It's funny. There was a lot of chances I felt in the game, just the shift before I hit 'Stas' for another breakaway almost, then the next shift, I think our line is finding a way to find chances on most shifts, and the shifts that we don't get chances we make sure we play defensively and that's the staple that needs to make sure it's there every shift."

Allen had already allowed a Benn power play goal to tie the game, but he made two crucial saves on the Stars captain with 7:06 and 6:56 remaining in the game moments before Perron scored.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues players Alex Pietrangelo (27) and Scottie Upshall (right) defend the
puck against the Stars' Antoine Roussel on Monday.

Tarasenko ended it when Lehtera, who had two assists, found him through the crease on the opposite side of the net and he was able to slam home the winner.

The Blues don't want to get into a habit of the dramatic win after leading.

"We're starting to be concerned a bit if we give it again I guess," Perron said. "We'll have to look at it again. Those are not ones we ever want to give up, for Jake, for anybody, for the extra point we may lose if we don't do it in the overtime and shootout. We found a way again and I guess that's what's most important in the end. We've got to look into that."

Added Hitchcock when asked about the DNA and how to address that, "We'll change it. No problem, we'll get her done."

Monday, November 28, 2016

(11-28-16) Stars-Blues Gameday Lineup

By LOU KORAC
ST. LOUIS -- Injured players Alexander Steen and Joel Edmundson, both out with upper-body ailments, will not play today when the Blues (12-7-3) host the Dallas Stars (9-8-5) in the second of a five-game homestand.

But both players were on the ice for extensive time this morning, taking contact and skating hard, which implies both are on the verge of returning to full-time duty.

And with that in mind, coach Ken Hitchcock has some tough decisions to make when both are available to play, especially on the blue line, where Robert Bortuzzo seems to have gained the trust of the coaching staff and entrenched himself into the top six.

"Yeah, I will. I'm going to have some really hard decisions," Hitchcock said. "Both (Edmundson) and Steen are going to make it easy for the coach, tough for the players. That's competition. That's what happens. That's what we were hoping (for) at the start of the year that the internal competition would make us better quick. It's approaching that stage right now."

The fact that Edmundson is a left-handed d-man and Bortuzzo, playing the left side for a second straight game with Kevin Shattenkirk tonight, is a righty doesn't affect the decision at all.

"Not one bit. Nope," Hitchcock said. "Not worried about that at all. When you see a guy who plays on the left side like Bortuzzo plays as well as he does, it doesn't matter a bit to me."

Edmundson will miss a 10th straight game tonight after being injured Nov. 6 against Colorado, and Steen will miss his sixth straight game after being injured Nov. 15 against Buffalo.

"All I know right now is he is a participant with us to a certain extent, but he's not a full participant," Hitchcock said of Steen. "He's not able to fully engage, and until he does that, we can't fully evaluate him. He's getting in shape, but he's not able to complete the tasks at practice yet on a full-time basis. So until that time (comes), he's kind of out but getting closer."

- - -

The Blues, who beat the Stars in a terrific seven-game series in the Western Conference Semifinal last season, are seeing Dallas for the second of four meetings.

The Stars won 6-2 in Dallas on Nov. 3.

"I think there's four, five, six players that played us different in that game, so there's a pretty big shift in their team," Hitchcock said of the Stars. "They got us in the third period there and took advantage of some mistakes we made, but I think there's a good rivalry there and a lot of good hockey played on both sides. I look forward to this game, really look forward to it."

- - -

Two Blues will put point streaks on the line tonight.

Right wing David Perron is in search of an eighth consecutive game with a point, which would set a personal career best.

Perron has two goals and eight assists during a seven-game streak, which he also accomplished Feb. 7-18, 2012 during his first stint with the Blues. The seven-game point streak is the longest currently in the NHL.

"He's given us what we anticipated when we saw him in Anaheim," Hitchcock said of Perron. "He didn't have a great start to the season in Pittsburgh. He played very well when he played with (Ryan) Getzlaf and (Corey) Perry in Anaheim. That's the player we were hoping to get and that's the player we got. He's played, he's earned his ice time, he's earned both ends of special teams, he's played hard, he's played the game the right way. He's started to use his legs on checking rather than his stick, so he's stayed away from some penalties the last few games, which is a good sign. He's made some progress in that area as well, a lot of work to do there. Overall, we're happy with his game and the way he finished the season in Anaheim, he's continued down that path, which is a great sign."

Left wing Jaden Schwartz has a six-game point streak (five goals, three assists) and has seven goals and four assists the past 10 games.

Schwartz, who sustained a bad left ankle fracture early last season, looks to finally be healthy again.

"He's had a number of unfortunate injuries he's had to overcome and some of it is based quite frankly on the way he plays," Hitchcock said of Schwartz. "He plays a big man's game and he's not big. Sometimes you get banged around that way, but his tenacity on the puck and his speed and his endurance on being able to fix and continue shifts all the way through is pretty impressive. He's a guy that is as dangerous with the puck as he is when the opposition has it because if you make an error, he's going to make you pay for it. He's got such a great stick. He's one of those 200-foot players that you really value this time of year."

- - -

The Blues are 7-0-2 the past nine at home, have won four in a row here and are in search of a 10th consecutive game on home ice with at least a point; they are 9-1-2 overall at Scottrade Center this season.

Goalie Jake Allen, who is starting tonight, is 5-0-0 in his past five starts with a 1.77 goals-against average and .943 save percentage over his past five starts; he is 5-1-1 with a 2.26 GAA and .912 save percentage against the Central Division this season, with his lone regulation loss coming at Dallas on Nov. 3.

Allen is 7-0-2 with a 1.42 GAA and .947 save percentage on home ice this season.

- - -

The Blues' projected lineup:

Jaden Schwartz-Paul Stastny-David Perron

Robby Fabbri-Jori Lehtera-Vladimir Tarasenko

Dmitrij Jaskin-Patrik Berglund-Ty Rattie

Scottie Upshall-Kyle Brodziak-Ryan Reaves

Jay Bouwmeester-Alex Pietrangelo 

Carl Gunnarsson-Kevin Shattenkirk

Robert Bortuzzo-Colton Parayko

Jake Allen will start in goal; Carter Hutton will be the backup. 

Nail Yakupov is the lone healthy scratch. Alexander Steen (upper body) and Joel Edmundson (upper body) are day-to-day.

- - -

The Stars' projected lineup:

Antoine Roussel-Tyler Seguin-Patrick Eaves

Jamie Benn-Radek Faksa-Lauri Korpikoski

Devin Shore-Jason Spezza-Patrick Sharp

Adam Cracknell-Cody Eakin-Brett Ritchie

Esa Lindell-John Klingberg

Jamie Oleksiak-Jordie Benn

Patrik Nemeth-Julius Honka

Antti Niemi will start in goal; Kari Lehtonen will be the backup. 

Dan Hamhuis, Curtis McKenzie and Stephen Johns will be healthy scratches. Mattias Janmark (knee), Ales Hemsky (hip), Jiri Hudler (illness) and Johnny Oduya (lower body) are out.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Blues rally in third, top Wild in shootout 4-3 on Perron goal

St. Louis 7-0-2 last nine at home, take two points despite giving up 
lead late in third; Schwartz scores twice, Allen five wins in past five starts

By LOU KORAC
ST. LOUIS -- They got down when they felt like they could have been leading, then fought back to get the lead in the third before giving it up late, it was a mixed bag of emotions for the Blues on Saturday night.

But David Perron alleviated some of those "what might have been" feelings of coughing up a late third-period lead when he scored the lone goal in the fourth round of the shootout in a 4-3 victory against the Minnesota Wild before 19,396 at Scottrade Center.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues center Paul Stastny (26) shoots and scores the first goal for St. Louis
past Wild defenseman Jared Spurgeon on Saturday in a 4-3 shootout win.

The Blues (12-7-3), who have won four straight at home and have points in nine in a row at Scottrade Center (7-0-2), got two third-period goals from Jaden Schwartz only to see Minnesota (11-7-3) get a tying goal from Charlie Coyle with 1:08 remaining and goalie Devan Dubnyk pulled.

But the Blues managed to salvage the second point and pending Chicago's late game at Los Angeles, pulled to within three points of the Blackhawks for first in the Central Division and move two points past the Wild (11-7-3).

Paul Stastny scored for St. Louis (12-7-3), which is 9-1-2 overall at Scottrade Center.

"It would have been nice to close it out in regulation, team chasing us, too, you give them an extra point, but we’ll take the two points," Blues captain Alex Pietrangelo said. "Yeah, I mean we’ve been pretty good this year (6-on-5) but it’s gonna happen, but again, we didn’t want to give them a point but good teams find a way to win and we did that in the shootout."

Perron, who had two assists to extend his point streak to seven games (two goals, eight assists) and tied a career-high (also done Feb. 7-18, 2012), beat Dubnyk five-hole after both Dubnyk and Blues goalie Jake Allen, who is 7-0-2 at home this season, thwarted three shooters on each side. Allen has won five straight decisions and allowed more than two goals at home for the first time this season.

"Yeah he was staying low but he was recovering pretty quickly," Perron said of Dubnyk. "Just saw the other guys go and actually on the way down was thinking backhand like I like to do and then I don’t know, I tried something different and it went in."

After Perron scored, Allen, who made 28 saves, poke-checked the puck off Mikael Granlund, who made a bid to extend the game but couldn't.

"I think it was only our second shootout of the year and that’s the way it goes," Allen said. "Sometimes they go 4-for-4, sometimes they go 0-for-4 and when we have a chance to win, I want to put the nail in the coffin just like a player would and I’m glad we got it done."

Mikko Koivu had a goal and an assist, and Erik Haula scored for the Wild, who got 35 saves from Dubnyk. 

"Anytime you can pull a goalie and get a goal, I think it makes you feel a little bit better," Wild coach Bruce Boudreau said. "Obviously you don't like to give up a lead in the third period, but we got a point on a tough week in a tough building so will take that right now."

Down 2-1, Schwartz tied the game 2-2 on a redirection of Perron's shot at 3:27 of the third, and then put the Blues ahead 3-2 with a power-play goal with a backhand from the slot at 4:30 following up Colton Parayko's shot from the point that created traffic in front.

"I think I had my guy beat a little bit coming to the net and I think I saw 'Stas' was in front too, so I just tried to find a quiet area," Schwartz said of his first goal. "I seen he was one-timing it and just stick on ice, and it ended up going crossbar and down. It happened so fast, so it was kind of just a split reaction. I wasn't really expecting that or thinking that was going to happen."

"Did a nice job of moving up top quickly. I think 'Petro' hit 'Colt' and did a good job of getting it through. We had traffic and I think it hit a couple of skates, maybe a couple of sticks and it was just kind of laying there. I was just trying to get as much as I could on it."

"He's really on top of his game right now; he's really playing well," Hitchcock said of Schwartz. "It's really good to see. He's just tenacious. The skill level and the timing of everything, I'm really happy for him. He's put so much work into it and his level of determination is high. It's great to see."

Boudreau challenged the goal, claiming Dmitrij Jaskin interfered with Dubnyk, but video review showed Minnesota defenseman Ryan Suter caused Jaskin to contact Dubnyk. 

"I just saw a quick replay on the Jumbotron," Schwartz said. "I think it was 'Jask' got pushed in a little bit, so those are dicey. I don't really know the rulebook on that, just hoping for the best. Like I said, I think it probably counted because he got pushed into the goalie a little bit."

"There was some goalie contact," Boudreau said. "It was iffy, but it's in the third period. The goal gave them the lead, so I mean to me, it was worth it, worth a gamble."

The Wild took a 1-0 lead when Koivu received a pass from Jason Zucker in the high slot and beat Allen with a wrist shot at 11:36 of the first period. 

Stastny tied the game 1-1 when he scored off a pass from Perron at 7:41 of the second. 

Haula put the Wild back in front 2-1 at 9:43 of the second when he scored off Jason Pominville's backhand pass.

But the Blues staged their comeback.

They had a chance to win it in overtime quickly, but Dubnyk stopped Stastny in tight 15 seconds into the extra frame before Allen's sprawling glove save on Zucker with 2:27 remaining in overtime after Schwartz's dangerous pass to Pietrangelo caromed off the Blues defenseman into the slot.

"Yeah, both guys made great big saves early," Hitchcock said. "Dubnyk made a great save on 'Stas' there, too. 

"It was a heck of a hockey game. Really two teams, there was a big push. When we went up, they made a big push at us and then we made a big push to start the third period, which is two really good really hockey teams going at it. They're deep and we're deep also, so it's good. Any time you get points in the division, it's like gold right now. We've got to keep this going." 

The Blues outshot Minnesota 38-31 for the game, and couldn't close it out in regulation after Vladimir Tarasenko's icing led to an offensive zone draw, one Koivu won from Lehtera, and Coyle slammed home Eric Staal's wraparound.

"I look at the way we played in the third period and it was really good, and then I looked at the goal against," Hitchcock said. "We tried to soft-lob it, went all the way for icing; it's no big deal. Then we made coverage mistakes on the goal. Got too far away from our net with our forwards and the wrong people down low. We made some coverage mistakes, so that was a little bit alarming because we made three of them in the last four games like that."
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues right wing Ryan Reaves (75) levels the Wild's Tyler Graovac
with a check Saturday night at Scottrade Center.

The third-period push is indicative of how they've played at home.

"Well, I think we needed to get a little bit more zone time," Schwartz said. "I think when we had them on their heels and put pressure on them, skated in-zone and created some zone time, we got some momentum with that ... and then a power-play goal. They brought a push there after we got our third one, and ended up going to a shootout, but Jake was good. We had a couple chances to make it 4-2 and missed, but overall it was a good third period, and we got close to 40 shots, so Dubnyk played good, too.

"Don't want that to happen (give up a late lead). Sometimes it does. We've had times where we scored 6-on-5. They had a push in the third period for a little bit there. We did a good job of responding and had a couple of chances in overtime, too. We just stuck with it. I think we're just focusing on ourselves and it's a big two points for us."

* NOTES -- Blues forward Alexander Steen (upper body) missed his fifth straight game. ... Defenseman Joel Edmundson (upper body) could return as early as next week after another day without restrictions practicing on Saturday. ... Blues prospect C.J. Yakimowicz, a 2014 sixth-round draft pick, was suspended indefinitely on Saturday after being ejected for abuse of an official during an Ontario Hockey League game playing for the Sudbury Wolves. According to The Sudbury Star, Yakimowicz appeared to strike a linesman during a scuffle with Niagara's Aaron Haydon during a game on Friday night. Yakimowicz faces a hearing with league officials on Monday. Here is a link to the story: http://www.thesudburystar.com/2016/11/26/three-more-wolves-suspended

(11-26-16) Wild-Blues Gameday Lineup

By LOU KORAC
ST. LOUIS -- The Blues, who host the Minnesota Wild to begin a five-game homestand today (7 p.m.; FS-MW, KMOX 1120-AM), are in a quagmire of Central Division teams where five teams are within seven points of each other.

The Blues (11-7-3), with 25 points through 21 games, lead the Wild (11-7-2) by a point; they trail first-place Chicago by five and six points, respectively. Nashville and Dallas trail by seven.

In recent past, the Central Division has been one where to stay in the hunt, teams need to accumulate points in mass quantities. But this season, it's been a race to see who can gain separation.

"You know what's really different is that we're all scrambling to get to our 'A' game," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said, "and teams have made big changes, and it's this race to the 'A' game. That's what we're all doing. We've all changed out significant personnel through free agency or whatever, but we're all racing like crazy to get to the 'A' game. You think you've got it, and then you don't have it. 

"To me, whoever's going to get those (top) three spots is teams that get to that 'A' game quicker and stay there. We were really approaching that, really coming on there and hopefully we keep it up because we've improved so much since the Columbus game, we want to keep it going. But it is a race to the 'A' game. I read all the quotes by the coaches in the divisions and we're all promoting the same stuff and we're all trying to find ways that we can get there. This seems to be a much bigger challenge because I think most teams have changed out about a third of their teams. That's going to be the battle."

Wild coach Bruce Boudreau said he's more focused on his Wild group.

"He's way too deep a thinker for me," Boudreau said of Hitchcock. "I just go with what our team does day-to-day. Our team has not changed from too much unless they've gotten better because November, the players are better in November than they were in October. In October, all these younger guys that were coming in don't really know what the league is all about, so the longer it goes, the better the league gets. That's why the Central Division is starting to rear its head and the teams are playing really good in it."

- - -

Blues forward Alexander Steen will miss a fifth straight game with an upper-body injury sustained Oct. 15 against the Buffalo Sabres.

Steen, who was checked by the Sabres' Josh Gorges in the offensive zone corner boards, took part in a second straight skate Saturday morning after a full practice on Friday. 

"I don't know where Steen's at," Hitchcock said. "I can't tell you there. He's obviously a practice player until he's fit enough to play."

Defenseman Joel Edmundson, who's missed eight games with an upper-body injury sustained Nov. 6 against Colorado, will not play tonight but is closer.

"Edmundson had a good day today," Hitchcock said. "This is the day we were looking for with 'Eddy' and hopefully he'll be able to take that final step and get ready to play next week." 

- - -

The Blues will swap their second- and third-line d-pairs for tonights game, moving Robert Bortuzzo to play with Kevin Shattenkirk and Carl Gunnarsson to play with Colton Parayko.

"More balance in the three pairs," Hitchcock said. "We think that with all the good teams coming in and all the teams with a lot of depth, we're going to need a lot of balance."

Bortuzzo and Parayko have been really playing well together, perhaps even better than the Gunnarsson-Shattenkirk pairing. But Parayko and Gunnarsson both said they don't mind since they got plenty of playing time together last season.

"I think we played, I'll bet you three-quarters and all the playoffs together (last season)," Parayko said. "We're familiar with each other and he plays a style that's easy to work with and I'm fortunate.

"It's the small things that you don't really notice in every day games until you get on the wrong wide if you play as lefty as a righty or a righty as a lefty. We both get the opportunity to play on the side you always play on definitely helps."

Gunnarsson added: "I think we had, I don't know ow many games last year, but most part of last year. Shouldn't be any problem.

"(Parayko) is a bulldozer. ... He can handle things so well. If he's in trouble, he can skate out of there. He's got good vision, a big body with that kind of skill. It's nice to have that next to you."

- - -

The Blues are 8-1-2 on home ice and have points in eight straight (6-0-2). 

"All the little things of playing at home help," Parayko said. "Sleep in your bed, get the crowd behind you. It's where you play half your games and you want to make a mark."  

"We played very well (in a three-game homestand) before we went on the road," Hitchcock said. "We've got to continue to play really well. We really checked well, we managed the puck, we got stronger as the games went on and played some really good teams. San Jose was on top of their game, so was Nashville. We played very well. Continuing that program, we've got a big test here tonight and then a bigger test even on Monday (against Dallas) also with all these division games. They're going to be difficult challenges."

- - -

It will likely be a battle of hot goalies.

The Blues are likely to see goalie Devan Dubnyk, who made 34 saves in a 6-2 win against Pittsburgh on Friday afternoon, tonight. Dubnyk, who leads the NHL with four shutouts, is tied for second in goals-against average at 1.58 and is second in save percentage at .948, has allowed 15 goals his past 12 starts with a 7-5-0 record.

Jake Allen is 4-0-0 with a 1.50 GAA and .953 save percentage the past four starts; he will start tonight. Allen is 6-0-2 with a 1.24 GAA and .953 save percentage at home this season.

"He's just a good goalie," Hitchcock said of Allen. "Been the story. The three home wins, he was great, great when it was on the line. He's kind of the guy we expected to be there. 

"Looks like in this division and certainly in this conference, you're going to need your goalie to be your best player if you expect to win games on a consistent basis."

- - -

Blues right wing Vladimir Tarasenko has 13 points (five goals, eight assists) in nine of his past 10 games. 

Right wing David Perron can tie a personal best with a point tonight; he has a six-game point streak with two goals, six assists. 

Left wing Jaden Schwartz has nine points (five goals, four assists) in eight of the past nine games, including a five-game point streak.

Right wing Nail Yakupov will be a healthy scratch for the sixth time in the past 11 games, replaced tonight by Ty Rattie in the lineup.

- - -

The Blues projected lineup

Jaden Schwartz-Paul Stastny-David Perron

Robby Fabbri-Jori Lehtera-Vladimir Tarasenko

Dmitrij Jaskin-Patrik Berglund-Ty Rattie

Scottie Upshall-Kyle Brodziak-Ryan Reaves

Jay Bouwmeester-Alex Pietrangelo 

Robert Bortuzzo-Kevin Shattenkirk

Carl Gunnarsson-Colton Parayko

Jake Allen will start in goal; Carter Hutton will be the backup. 

The healthy scratch will be Nail Yakupov. Alexander Steen (upper body) and Joel Edmundson (upper body) are day-to-day.

- - -

The Wild's projected lineup

Zach Parise-Eric Staal-Charlie Coyle

Mikael Granlund-Mikko Koivu-Jason Zucker

Nino Niederreiter-Erik Haula-Jason Pominville

Tyler Graovac-Zack Mitchell-Chris Stewart

Ryan Suter-Jared Spurgeon

Jonas Brodin-Matt Dumba

Marco Scandella-Nate Prosser

Devan Dubnyk is projected to start; Darcy Kuemper would be the backup. 

The Wild have no healthy scratches. Zac Dalpe (knee) and Christian Folin (MCL sprain) are out.