Thursday, October 19, 2017

Schwartz hat trick lifts Blues to 5-2 win over Blackhawks

Tarasenko, Brodziak also score for St. Louis; Allen 
comes up with 22 saves to help break two-game losing streak

By LOU KORAC
ST. LOUIS -- Blues left wing Jaden Schwartz gave the 18,752 a scare Wednesday night against the Chicago Blackhawks.

There was a hushed silence when Schwartz crashed face-first into the back boards after getting an attempt on goalie Corey Crawford.

It happened at 12:46 of the first period of the Blues' 5-2 win, and Schwartz had already scored to give St. Louis a 1-0 lead and appeared well on his way to a strong game.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Jaden Schwartz (17) scores the Blues' first goal of a 5-2 win over Chicago
on Wednesday at Scottrade Center. 

He left for the remainder of the period, but when he stepped back onto the ice, the crowd gave its approval with a loud cheer.

What followed? Well, Schwartz's third-career hat trick followed.  

He scored three goals, Vladimir Tarasenko had a goal and assist and Kyle Brodziak scored for St. Louis (5-2-0), which got 22 saves and an assist from Jake Allen, the fourth of his career. It also marked the return of Alexander Steen, who played his first game after sustaining a broken left thumb Sept. 19.

"I just toe-picked or caught a (divot) in the ice and it just happened fast and went head-first into the boards and I couldn't get my hands up fast enough," Schwartz said. "Just kind of a bit of a scary moment, but it could have been worse. I ended up taking 20, 30 minutes there and I felt like I was good enough to come back.

"You want to give it a few minutes and see how you're feeling. Adrenaline's going so things could tighten up after that, but just went through some tests and did a few things to see if I was ready to go and I felt like I was."

The Blue were glad Schwartz did. His third-career NHL hat trick was the first since April 3, 2015 against the Dallas Stars and three years to the date of his first, Oct. 18, 2014 against the Arizona Coyotes.

"When he's going, he brings everyone else into it," Allen said of Schwartz. "He's really the guy that gets guys going, sparks guys, gets guys the puck. He works his best down below the goal line, right turns. ... He's really coming into a league of his own."

Schwartz's play typified the Blues' game, especially through 40 minutes when they throttled the high-flying Blackhawks (4-2-1) and outshot Chicago 26-8 through two periods and gave the Hawks very little room to breathe.

"I think we did a good job of taking away their time and space," Schwartz said of the Blackhawks. "Obviously they've got a lot of skilled players and you don't want to give them a whole lot of time. At the same time, we did a good job of hemming them in their own zone, playing in the o-zone and creating chances that way, tiring them out and that's what happened on my second goal there. Two or three lines before us did a great job and they couldn't change and I ended up getting a breakaway off of it. We took some penalties in the third and gave them some chances, but I thought we did a pretty good job of playing defense against them."

Blues coach Mike Yeo, who picked up career win No. 200, wouldn't say the Blues locked the Blackhawks down, but thought they got to the way they wanted to play early.

"What I can say is we were able to get to our game," Yeo said. "We talked about that from the start, making sure that we knew we were going to have to go out and execute. I thought we did that. I thought the d-man got the puck quickly up to the forwards' hands and I thought the forwards put pucks in places where we could establish our forecheck in our offensive zone play. Obviously grabbing the lead was big, but I felt like for the most part, we didn't back off on that."

"I thought right from the drop of the puck, everybody, every line, every single man was ready to play," Brodziak said. "We knew how big of a game it was tonight. You look at the standings already this early into the season, a division rivalry, it was big. It was a huge test for us and I thought everybody did a great job of responding and coming out. We didn't give them a whole lot, we were on our toes the whole game pressing forward. I think we made it difficult on them."

The Blackhawks got a couple late power-play goals from Richard Panik and Ryan Hartman, and Corey Crawford made 28 saves, but for most of the game, it was not evident this was the team that took points in five of six games.

"They played well and we were brutal," Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said. "It was a bad start, it was a bad middle, it wasn't very good. Even a little excited at the end, but that wasn't very good. That was as close to brutal as you can get."

Schwartz put the Blues on top 1-0 at 4:46 of the first period to give him a point in six of seven games this season. He picked up Tarasenko's pass from near the blue line, cut in front of Crawford before backhanding a shot in.

"I asked him if he was shooting or passing and he said he was passing," Schwartz said of Tarasenko. "I don't think Crawford saw me coming from that angle. Just great heads-up play by him. It's something that he does quite often."

Schwartz returned for the second period and made it 2-0 at 5:59. Allen was able to survey the ice and see Blackhawks defenseman Brent Seabrook caught out of position as Schwartz was coming off the bench, and the Blues' goalie wristed a pass off the side boards past Blackhawks left wing Patrick Sharp in stride to Schwartz. Schwartz moved in on Crawford, cut to his left and scored into an empty net.

"I saw we were changing, I sort of let the puck come to me a little bit and I could tell Schwartz, he was coming in," Allen said. "Seabrook, he was trying to pinch on me a little bit. I don't think he thought I was going to bypass him there. I just saw 'Schwartzy' coming onto the ice, so I just tried to put it up in an area for him and it got to him.

"The puck was coming real slow, so I had the chance to look around. ... If I didn't get good wood on it, it could have been ugly. I just tried to put it an area for him."

Schwartz saw Crawford commit out of his net.

"It happened fast," Schwartz said. "He did a great job of reading the play. Good heads-up play by him. I didn't even know he passed it because I was trying to hop on the ice. Next thing I knew, it was on my tape. He's obviously good at handling the puck and that helps us out a lot."

Tarasenko, who also has a point in six of seven games, scored from the slot at 7:49 to make it 3-0. The Blackhawks had the perfect breakout of their zone set up, with defensemen Duncan Keith and Seabrook going tape-to-tape with the puck. Seabrook's pass seemed to hit the shaft of center Artem Anisimov, which enabled Tarasenko to steal the puck and quickly beat Crawford high to the stick side from the slot.

"For me, (Tarasenko's game) has been building," Yeo said. "Tampa Bay was arguably his best game of the season for 60 minutes, and then tonight was a different level. The first thing you always think about is his shot, but when you see him getting involved in the forecheck and creating turnovers and getting scoring chances because of that ... he's a smart player, h can read the play, he can get his stick on pucks and create turnovers, and that leads to offense. So that was probably his best 60-minute game."

Brodziak scored off a 2-on-1 with Tarasenko at 7:01 of the third to make it 4-0. Scottie Upshall chipped the puck out of his zone, spring his teammates on the odd-man rush, and Brodziak faked the pass, decided to keep it and snapped a wrist shot high glove side.

"That's what I was initially thinking," Brodziak said. "I was looking to pass and the d-man kind of gave me a little fake and showed he wasn't coming, so then I just decided to shoot.

"Every once in a while, you get lucky, I guess. ... I'm just happy I hit the net. If you miss an opportunity with Vladi coming with you, it doesn't look good."

It's the first goal scored by a third- or fourth-line skater.

"It's six games into the year and we haven't contributed a whole lot," Brodziak said. "We know how much pressure that puts on the top guys. As a bottom six group, I feel like we're capable of contributing more. We know we can do it. It's just a matter of getting it done. I think tonight, not only the goal, but I think the shifts that the third and fourth lines put in for most of the night were quite a bit better than it has been and hopefully we'll continue to roll and continue to be able to contribute like that."

Allen's save on Blackhawks right wing Patrick Kane defined his game. A loose puck came across the goal mouth and Kane had a seemingly empty side to score into, but Allen dove to his right, got the paddle of his stick down by the post and kept Kane's effort out at 12:17.

"I just battled, the second effort," Allen said. "There was a chance on the side, he misfired, the guy did so it just went on (Kane's) tape and I tried to put something over there. I got my stick inside the post so I had some strength on it to hold it out."

The Blackhawks ended Allen's shutout bid on Panik's goal with 5:13 remaining, and Hartman made it 4-2 with 3:53 remaining that needed video review after the Blues challenged for goalie interference.
 
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Vladimir Tarasenko celebrates after scoring in the Blues' 5-2 victory over
the Chicago Blackhawks on Wedneday at Scottrade Center.

But the little scare was squelched after Schwartz scored into an empty net with 51.1 seconds remaining from three-quarters length of the ice.

"We played really well the first two periods," Allen said. "It's probably the best we've honestly played for 40 minutes this year. We sat back on our heels a little bit. That happens when you're up a few goals, but definitely, we want to get that out of our game a little bit. You can see with the skill and talent they have that they can hem us in there a little bit, get a couple goals and get a chance. We did a good job, I thought. That was a big win, a big divisional win."

* NOTES -- Blues defenseman Carl Gunnarsson played in his 500th NHL game. ... Yeo joking on his 200th NHL victory. "Yeah, only 3,000 more to catch 'Hitch,'" he said in reference to former Blues coach Ken Hitchcock.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

(10-18-17) Blackhawks-Blues Gameday Lineup

By LOU KORAC
ST. LOUIS -- A much-needed addition to the Blues' lineup will grace the ice of Scottrade Center in a pivotal Central Division showdown with the Chicago Blackhawks.

Left wing Alexander Steen returns after missing the final seven preseason games and first six games of the regular season with a broken left hand when the Blues (4-2-0) host the Blackhawks (4-1-1) at 7 p.m. (NBCSN, KMOX 1120-AM).

Steen has been skating for weeks to keep up with cardio fitness but has practiced the past two days with teammates and took part in an optional morning skate on Wednesday and declared himself good to go.

"Ready to go tonight," Steen said. "(Rehab's) been fine. It's been obviously a hand so able to work, skate, keep my conditioning up, so that stuffs been good. Other than that, it's been a waiting game, which is a little frustrating."

Steen was injured on Sept. 19 against the Dallas Stars after receiving a slash to the hand by Antoine Roussel.

"I mentioned it on the bench that I thought something was wrong," Steen said. "One of those feelings you get familiar with. I knew something was wrong, didn't know how bad it was. When we found out something afterwards, I was a little frustrated, but a couple days and I got back into training and getting ready for this game today.

"... It was unfortunate. I was a little frustrated after the game, but it's part of the game, injuries. Now I'm back, so it's good.

"It's part of the game. It unfortunately caught me in a bad spot . There wasn't much we could have done. I played, I think it happened early in the third. I knew something was wrong but I didn't think it was that bad."

Steen will be inserted onto the line with Paul Stastny and Vladimir Tarasenko.

"We've been waiting for this for a little while," Blues coach Mike Yeo said. "He's done everything he could to get back as quickly as he can. Conditioning-wise, his work ethic has been outstanding. Really good leader for us and a competitor, impacts our game in a lot of different ways, obviously on the special teams, leadership will be big for us, one of our more vocal players, especially in certain situations when you need that voice and more importantly, you need someone to go out and show the way. And then obviously it gives you the opportunity to shuffle some things around."

Steen's insertion into the lineup gives some sense of stability to the top six and enables Yeo to move rookie Samuel Blais down to play with Jaden Schwartz and Brayden Schenn.

"I think so. It gives you a guy that's proven offensively through the years, when you add a piece up there, you obviously get stronger through the rest of your lineup as well," Yeo said.

Steen comes back at a time when the Blues begin a stretch of three games in four days. They'll plat at Colorado on Thursday and make their first-ever trip to Vegas to play the expansion Golden Knights.

"Guys have been playing great, our goaltending has been really goo throughout the start of the year," Steen said. "We've ha a lot of young guys who have stepped in an played well. I think Dunner's (Vince Dunn) grown a lot in the six games that he's played. We've been trying some different things, which is what happens when you get a few injuries on the team but the boys have put a lot of heart into it and battled and gotten some huge points and now I jump in to the mix and try to help them out."

The Blues activated Steen off injured-reserve and had to make a corresponding roster move and put forward Wade Megan on waivers.

The Blues are hopeful Megan, who played one game, clears and if he does, he'll either be assigned to Chicago or San Antonio of the American Hockey League.

"He did a really good job," Yeo said of Megan. "He's done a lot more for himself and this organization in gaining our confidence as a player that we know we can trust and insert in the lineup than what he did last year. He took a step last year. He took a much bigger step this year. The message to him was pretty clear to him. We're very happy with him and make sure, he's got to clear waivers, then make sure he's the best payer."

- - -

Schwartz and Alex Pietrangelo lead the Blues with eight points on the season with two goals and six assists each. Both have a point in five of six games. ... Stastny (two goals, four assists) has a point in five of six games.

Tarasenko has scored in four of St. Louis' first six games and has 12 goals in 20 games against the Blackhawks.

Blues defenseman Carl Gunnarsson will skate in his 500th NHL game tonight.

- - -

The Blues' projected lineup:

Alexander Steen-Paul Stastny-Vladimir Tarasenko

Jaden Schwartz-Brayden Schenn-Samuel Blais

Magnus Paajarvi-Ivan Barbashev-Vladimir Sobotka 

Scottie Upshall-Kyle Brodziak-Dmitrij Jaskin

Carl Gunnarsson-Alex Pietrangelo

Joel Edmundson-Colton Parayko

Vince Dunn-Robert Bortuzzo

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

Heathy scratches are Chris Thorburn, Oskar Sundqvist and Nate Prosser. Jay Bouwmeester (ankle), Patrik Berglund (shoulder), Zach Sanford (shoulder) and Robby Fabbri (knee) are all out with injuries.

- - -

The Blackhawks' projected lineup:  

Brandon Saad-Jonathan Toews-Richard Panik

Ryan Hartman-Nick Schmaltz-Patrick Kane

Patrick Sharp-Artem Anisimov-Alex DeBrincat

Lance Bouma-Tommy Wingels-John Hayden

Duncan Keith-Brent Seabrook

Gustav Forsling-Jan Rutta

Michael Kempny-Connor Murphy

Corey Crawford will start in goal; Anton Forsberg will be the backup. 

Healthy scratches include Cody Franson, Jordan Oesterle and Tanner Kero. Marian Hossa (allergic skin condition) and Michal Rozsival (upper body) are both on long-term injured-reserve.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

(10-18-17) BLUES NOTEBOOK

Steen decision to be made after skate Wednesday; 
Blues-Blackhawks rivalry continues; Blais moves up to top line

By LOU KORAC
HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- The suspense of whether Alexander Steen will make his season debut Wednesday will live another day.

Steen, out since Sept. 19 with a broken left hand sustained in a preseason game against the Dallas Stars from a shash by Stars winger Antoine Roussel, was on the ice for a second practice day with his teammates and made it through the 45-minute session from start to finish.

Steen, who's been on the ice multiple weeks now keeping up his cardio fitness, could make his season debut Wednesday against the Chicago Blackhawks at home but coach Mike Yeo wasn't divulging.

"He's getting close, good progress again today," Yeo said after practice Tuesday. "We'll have the skate tomorrow morning and see where he's at. 

"I'm not going to rule him in, not going to rule him out right now."

Steen was skating with extra forwards Chris Thorburn and Wade Megan during line rushes Tuesday.

"Another skate tomorrow and again, it's good progress today and we'll see how it is in the morning," Yeo said.

Steen was unavailable for comment.

* Blues-Blackhawks rivalry continues -- The Blues (4-2-0) and Blackhawks (4-1-1) might as well get their kicks at each other in on Wednesday because after that, they shockingly won't play again against each other until March 18 in Chicago.

The Central Division opponents are on the short end this season of four matchups, including a home-and-home April 4 and 6.

"You always get up for games like this and we have to because we know that they'll be up for it," Yeo said. "We know that if you're not ready to play, then you get embarassed against a team like this. We'll have to be on top of our game, but the rivalry games are always fin to play. They're fun to go out there and compete, they're intense, they're physical and obviously there's a lot of hatred on the ice. It brings out the best in everybody. 

"I don't think they like us and we don't like them. When they come out on top, I think that they enjoy every minute of it, and I know we do on the flip side of things."

"It seems they always bring out the best in us and vice verse," Blues center Paul Stastny said. "Being gone for a while and now being back at home and having the crowd with us will be fun. There will be a lot of Chicago fans there, so that always makes it a little more intense."

Yeo said he's watched from afar what games between the Cardinals and Chicago Cubs mean and feels they carry over to the ice as well.

"I've watched a few baseball games and I think I picked up on it there," he said. "I can see why it's a big rivalry and it's fun to be a part of. I think that's what made the Winter Classic last year so special. It was a great event and it was a perfect rivalry with two good hockey towns. 

"We want to make it up to be what it is, and that's a rivalry game, a big game, a division game against a team that we expect to be battling with all year long. At the same token, we have to just make sure we're ready to play. It's something that we should gear up for, but there's no reason why we should not gear up for every game and make sure that we play physical, make sure that we play strong on our game and that's what we have to do tomorrow."

* Blais moves up -- Blues rookie Samuel Blais was working on the top line with Stastny and Vladimir Tarasenko at practice on Tuesday.

Blais, who made his NHL debut Saturday against the Tampa Bay Lightning, played with Jaden Schwartz and Brayden Schenn in that game but worked with Stastny and Tarasenko early in training camp.

"I played maybe first four days with them," Blais said. "... If I'm playing with them tomorrow, it's a great opportunity for me. I've just got to make the most of it and just play my game. They're really good players and they're going to help me a lot on the ice. I've just got to do my job.

"I've just got to bring some of my offensive game. If I can do that, I'll have some good chances."

Tuesday's practice lines:

Samuel Blais-Paul Stastny-Vladimir Tarasenko

Jaden Schwartz-Brayden Schenn-Vladimir Sobotka

Magnus Paajarvi-Ivan Barbashev-Dmitrij Jaskin

Scottie Upshall-Oskar Sundqvist-Kyle Brodziak

extras: Alexander Steen, Wade Megan, Chris Thorburn

Carl Gunnarsson-Alex Pietrangelo

Joel Edmundson-Colton Parayko

Vince Dunn-Robert Bortuzzo

extra: Nate Prosser

* Streak stopper -- The Blues, after starting the season 4-0-0, have dropped two in a row in Florida and used the past two days to eliminate some of the troubles they had against the Florida Panthers and Lightning.

"I think we've done a couple things," Yeo said. "Obviously we looked at some video there. Some of it was battle, some of it was pace, some of it was execution and detail-wise, I think we were able to get a few things in there, too. I think that the couple days in between here and a day of rest coming out of a stretch where we played five games in eight days, I'm excited to see the energy level that we bring into the game tomorrow."

Monday, October 16, 2017

(10-17-17) BLUES NOTEBOOK

Steen returns to practice, unknown if he'll play Wednesday yet; 
Schwartz sits out; Bouwmeester still not skating; Blues mix work and fun

By LOU KORAC
HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- The Blues had a welcomed addition to the practice ice Monday as they prepare for a Central Division battle with the Chicago Blackhawks.

Forward Alexander Steen, who sustained a broken left hand following a slash by the Dallas Stars' Antoine Roussel in the first preseason game and who has missed 13 games because of it, including the first six in the regular season, was a full participant in practice after being cleared.

"Yeah, he looked good," Blues coach Mike Yeo said. "He's obviously a big part of our group, a big part of the leadership and then you think about all the intangibles that he brings, special teams, leadership, offensively, defensively, he's a key guy for us, so we're anxious to get us back."

Steen has been skating for at least the past few weeks on his own and with Blues trainers and assistant coaches to keep his cardio fitness level up, but this was his first practice with teammates.

There was some talk of bringing Steen to the ladder part of the four-game trip to Florida but the Blues decided Steen was not ready. And Yeo was not ready to put Steen in the lineup against the Blackhawks either.

"I don't know. I haven't even talked to him as far as how he went through the practice today," Yeo said. "I think that was the first step and now obviously, if hopefully things went well today, then we'll get him in tomorrow's practice.

"... Obviously he as cleared today to be in practice. We're not concerned about him injuring it more and we just have to make sure he's ready physically to get in there. The conditioning, he's been working extremely hard. That's part of it. Timing-wise, making sure that he's ready to go out there, to play at the level that we need him to."

Steen is coming off a season in which he played 76 regular-season games and had 16 goals and 35 assists, but his addition would help solidify the top two lines.

"He'd mean a lot," Yeo said. "Obviously, what it does, number one, is it's going to strengthen you up top, but it also strengthens you lower in the lineup because now all of the sudden, somebody who is ... I don't want to say they were playing above where they should be, but you move him down in the lineup and now all of the sudden, that player is playing against their third d-pair's lines and I think it's going to strengthen the third and fourth lines as well. It's going to do a lot of for us as far as that, but his leadership, he's a huge part of that up front. On the bench, he's a guy that's going to talk. That second period when we start to slip a little bit, have a couple turnovers, it's one thing to have the coaches harp on it, but when a player grabs a hold of everybody and says it, I think that's the best form of leadership and the best way to get things turned around."

Forward Jaden Schwartz was the lone skater not to take part in practice on Monday.

"Just a little food poisoning, so we kept him off the ice today," Yeo said.

Defenseman Jay Bouwmeester, who fractured his left ankle during a team scrimmage on Sept. 17 and has missed the start of the regular season too, hasn't hit the ice yet after the Blues initially said he'd be re-evaluated in three weeks, along with Steen.

"He's coming along," Yeo said of Bouwmeester. "He's still obviously not on the ice right now. I would say he;s certainly not ahead of schedule, but he's not behind it schedule right now."

* Good, hard fun at work -- After a scheduled day off Sunday following a trip that took the Blues through four games in six days going 2-2-0, the Blues went through a spirited practice that involved battle drills, plenty of 1-on-1 work, puck possession, quick thinking and lots of skating.

At the end after the two teams (blue and white) played a small-ice game of 3-on-3, participants on both sides fired pucks towards the empty net at the other end of the rink. Who ever scored, didn't have to do full-length sprints. Whoever missed, well, it was go time.

There were plenty of misses, including that of Yeo, who got a rise out of the players after missing.

"That was terrible," Yeo joked. "Do as we say, not as we do.

"A little fun, but also, it was a work day. It's nice when you can confuse them to make them think it's fun when it's actual work. They did a good job today. Obviously practice time, the last week or so, we haven't had a lot of it. To get out there today and after a day off, I think it was important to get the guys moving again, get some conditioning, and it's not just the conditioning of just skating up and down the ice, it's also the conditioning of the battles of having to grind 1-on-1 in the corner and come out with the puck. Those are the things that was good to get the guys working with today."

The Blues were outscored 7-3 in two losses to the Florida Panthers and Tampa Bay Ligntning.

"Even the two games that we lost were very winnable games for us," Yeo said. "We were in those games. Obviously we grabbed the lead in Florida and lost it quickly, but I think that we beat ourselves in those situations. I think in Tampa we were going really good. The second period we turned a couple of pucks over and we realized that we started chasing the game at that point. In the second period, there was a couple times in both games that we lost, it cost us, and it doesn't take much for us to get off our game a little bit. But that said, I know we're a competitive group right to the end. And what I also know i that when we're on top of our game, we're a dangerous team and a hard team to play against."

There will be four days between games to try and rectify a few things.

"Working better, working for each other, putting more into five-man groups," center Brayden Schenn said. "I think that's the way to generate offense in this league. Everyone needs to be on the same page. We'll have some days here to obviously look at video to look at what we did (Saturday) and (last Thursday) that maybe didn't give us the answers that we were looking for.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Blues can't complete comeback, fall to Lightning 2-1

Tarasenko scores late, not enough as 
trip finishes 2-2-0; Blais makes NHL debut

By LOU KORAC
TAMPA, Fla. -- The Tampa Bay Lightning had scored 18 goals, an average of 4.5 per game, through their first four games in a 3-1-0 start.

So for the Blues to hold the high-powered Lightning offense, it's a good chance coming away with two points, right?

But finding offense was tough to come by despite some really good scoring chances for the Blues, and two mistakes turned into two goals that were enough to turn a good trip into an average one with a 2-1 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning on Saturday night before 19,092 at Amalie Arena.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues defenseman Vince Dunn (29) tries to make a play for the puck against
the Lightning's Yanni Gourde on Saturday in Tampa Bay's 2-1 win.

Vladimir Tarasenko scored late for the Blues (4-2-0), who have lost two in a row after starting the four-game trip with two wins in New York, and they had a late power play with 49.6 seconds remaining to give them a 6-on-4 but couldn't solve Andrei Vasilevskiy in the end.

"Obviously they're a team with a lot of skill," Blues center Brayden Schenn said of the Lightning. "They get one on the power play and I thought we got away from our game there a little bit. Kind of got it back in the third, but (Nikita) Kucherov makes a great individual effort there to get them a goal. We've still got to find a way there to get some shots, try to find ways to generate more chances and that's going to result in goals. 

"One goal, that's not going to win you many hockey games. Jake (Allen) was good again tonight. Gotta find ways to, not necessarily create more but find those dirty goals, get more chances around the net, I guess."

The Blues, who debuted forward and 2014 sixth-round pick Sam Blais, played a decent road game early but a poor penalty allowed the Lightning (4-1-0) to score on a Tyler Johnson goal, a goal Allen felt he should have stopped, and a play in the neutral zone not made by defenseman Joel Edmundson led to Kucherov's goal, what turned out to be the game-winner.

"In all honesty, there was a stretch in the second period, the second half of the second period where we got away from our game, but before that, there was large chunks where we were controlling the play, controlling the puck," Blues coach Mike Yeo said. "I thought we started to make a couple really loose plays with the puck. We lost a little patience that we needed to play with against that team. Next thing you know, it turned into some momentum from them and obviously a penalty and next thing you know, you're chasing the game and that changes the complexion of the game there. 

"I liked that the guys kind of refocused going into the third period. They didn't quit all night, they battled hard and we know that's not enough. We had a number of quality chances, but we made it way too easy on their goalie tonight. Breakdown at the end of the game where we're getting shots and we're standing off to the side of the net. It's hard to score in this league when good goalies are seeing pucks. You've got to take away their eyes, you've got to get more traffic. That's what creates more rebounds, that's what creates more second chances and we need more of that mentality; we don't have enough of it."

The only blemish for the Blues in the second was one of those momentum-killing penalties the Blues seem to be good at, too many men on the ice, and it cost them for the only goal of the period when Johnson fired a puck from the left circle through Allen, who looked like he had a good look at it, at 8:20 to give Tampa Bay a 1-0 lead.

Blues penalty killers did not get one clearance during the kill, which lasted for 1:20.

Johnson looked like he was trying to use Robert Bortuzzo on the screen, but moved to enough of an open spot to give Allen a look. The puck got through Allen, caromed off the bottom of his glove hand and in.

"Straight through me," Allen said. "Terrible goal." 

Kucherov made it 2-0 at 6:27 of the third when he was able to get a puck from Steven Stamkos after he won a battle outside the blue line with Edmundson. Kucherov went in on Allen and powered a backhand high and in.

Edmundson slammed his stick on the goalpost after.

"'Eddy,' when he's on top of his game, he's big, he's physical, he's on his toes, he's aggressive and assertive and that's what he did for us in the playoffs and we need that from him all the time right now," Yeo said. "He's got to be a presence back there. When he does that, he's a nightmare for teams to play against."

The Blues got to within one when Tarasenko took Jaden Schwartz's flip pass, skated into the right circle and snapped a shot past a screened Vasilevskiy to make it 2-1.

And when Schenn was high-sticked late, Colton Parayko had a couple good looks with that booming shot of his, but that's where Yeo was lamenting the Blues not getting traffic in front.

"We have a couple chances, but I think we've still got to do a better job of 6-on-4," Schenn said. "Six-on-five's tough, but 6-on-4, you've got to find ways to generate better chances, better plays. Forty-five seconds is a lot of time. We've got to find ways to be better there, too."

Blais opened the game with Schwartz and Schenn and played 6:14 with two solid scoring chances, and he blocked two shots. He finished with 17:18 ice time, had two shots on goal and and two blocks.

"It was a good moment for sure in front of my family," Blais said. "I've been dreaming of that for all my life. It was very exciting there for me and I think I did pretty good for my first NHL game.

"I had a couple good chances but I didn't capitalize. It was a couple good chances. I played with real good players and that helped a lot."

There was a play where Blais chipped a puck up to Schwartz, who skated inside and found Blais in the right circle, but his shot was high on a good look.

"It was a good play," Blais said. "I just missed. I think I missed the net on that one. It was very fun to play with these two very good players. I'm gonna remember the night all my life."

Blais skated onto the ice during pregame alone, something he knew was coming.

"They told me before the warmup that I as going to go there," Blais said. "It was very funny.

"When I got the first shift out of the way, I just played my game. It went pretty good."

Yeo, who liked defenseman Vince Dunn tonight, liked Blais' game, too.

"'Dunner' had another positive game and I thought Blaiser's debut was really good," Yeo said. "There's some things without the puck that we have to be careful of because they could have turned into some goals against, but he did a lot of really good things with the puck and that's a pretty good debut for a young kid.

"That's the knack he has. He finds himself in those situations. He reads how plays develop and he has the ability. He had three quality shots tonight. I think he'd like to hit the net on the one, but I think he was kind of thinking pass before that. Pretty pleased with him and the poise that he showed in the ability go out there and create some offense."
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Tampa Bay's Ondrej Palat (middle) looks to get a shot off while being
defended by the Blues' Colton Parayko and goalie Jake Allen Saturday.

"He had a great game," Schenn said of Blais. "No nerves at all. He was holding onto pucks down low, holding the puck on the rush, making plays. Obviously you see, he has a ton of skill. I've played with him four games now, three in preseason and one up here now. He's definitely got NHL-caliber skill that can make plays in tight spaces and he's a lot of fun to play with."

The Blues are off until Wednesday when they take on Chicago.

"We're 4-2 right now. We're doing alright," Allen said. "We have a long way to go. We definitely took a step backwards, I think, a little bit. But we get a couple days here, which is nice, get home and get regrouped. Big test against the Hawks here, first time this year."

"Heading into this one, we knew we could have been 3-1 on this trip, a pretty good trip heading home," Schenn said. "Unfortunately, we gave two away here in Florida. Obviously we weren't great the other night against the Panthers. Tonight, it was a tough hockey game."

(10-14-17) Blues-Lightning Gameday Lineup

By LOU KORAC
TAMPA, Fla -- An early-morning phone call can be annoying at times, especially if one is comfortably sleeping.

For Blues 2014 sixth-round pick Samuel Blais, a phone call letting him know he's coming up to the NHL is one he won't soon forget.

Blais was recalled from San Antonio of the American Hockey League on Friday while the team was in San Jose after the Blues assigned Tage Thompson to the Rampage, and Blais will make his NHL debut today when the Blues (4-1-1) close out a four-game trip against the Tampa Bay Lightning (3-1-0) at 6 p.m. (FS-MW, KMOX 1120-AM) at Amalie Arena.

"It was a long day but I received good news in the morning so it was all worth it," Blais said Saturday after an optional skate. "I was really happy. I play my first NHL game tonight. It's a dream-come-true for sure. When I was young, my dream was to play in the NHL one day and tonight it's going to happen, so I'm very happy."

Blais, who had three goals and one assist with the Rampage in two games playing on a line with former Chicago Wolves teammate Andrew Agozzino and Colorado Avalanche farmhand Rocco Grimaldi, had a very productive preseason with the Blues but was surprisingly sent to the AHL.

He took the news in stride and made the most of his opportunity before the quick recall.

"I took the news in a good way," Blais said. "I went back in San Antonio and I played pretty good. I had a good attitude and I played good and that's why I think I got called up.

"I was playing with a lot of confidence. I was playing my game and making some offensive plays and I think I did pretty good. ... I had a lot of fun down there, but tonight's going to be a fun game for sure."

The 8:15 a.m. call sparked text messages for Blais' parents, Sebastien and Marie-Josee, who along with Blais' brother Etienne and sister Florence, who all are flying in from Quebec City to be in attendance tonight.

Blais hopes to join Blues teammates Jaden Schwartz and Wade Megan, who also made their respective NHL debuts here against the Lightning, scoring their first goals. Schwartz did so in 2012, Megan did it last season.

"I was real happy," Blais said. "I text my mom and dad right away. They were very happy, too. I think they both booked their flight like an hour after that."

Then it was time to hop on a plane and make the cross-country trek to Florida.

"I was thinking about what's going to happen today," said Blais, who joined Wolves roommate Vince Dunn in Tampa. "I was really happy to come here and to play my first game. I'm going to enjoy the moment for sure.

"I may be a little nervous in the warmup, but I just got to do what I did in the preseason. Just play my game, play like I an play and if I do that, I think I'll have my chance to play good and I've just got to enjoy the moment. It's my first NHL game. Not every day that happens, so I've just got to go out there and have fun."

Blues coach Mike Yeo had a talk with Blais, and said it's a chance to take advantage of something that will only happen once in a player's lifetime, so enjoy it.

"For me, it's a similar conversation that I had with Tage," Yeo said. "You get one opportunity to have your first game in the NHL. We've talked about some things with Sammy through training camp and obviously we'll go over the systems with him again to make sure he knows that stuff. But I don't want him coming into the game thinking too much. I want him to play with his instincts, I want him to go out there and show us the things and prove why we called him up. He's an offensive player, he's strong on the puck, he has the ability to make plays and I want to see him get involved and do those things.

"He continued that going down and playing for San Antonio in the offensive situations that he needs and obviously contributing offensively. He's a guy that has a knack. As a coach, you watch him sometimes and you wonder why he's playing over there and all of the sudden, the puck's on his stick. The puck follows him around, he's got the instincts and he's go the ability. Great kid, we're happy for him and we're excited for him.

"There's no question that he'll have some (nerves), but he's a poised kid, he's a confident kid and I think getting out there early in the game, it won't take him too long to get over that.

"I think he'll have so much energy and adrenaline will kick in. This is your first NHL game, so I think he'll be fine."

- - -

The Blues, 3-1 on the road this season and 2-1 on this trip after losing for the first time Thursday, 5-2 at Florida against the Panthers, would love nothing more than to end the trip on a good note against one of the Eastern Conference's premier teams.

"Beating some pretty good teams in New York back-to-back games, last game could have went either way," Yeo said. "We could argue looking at the scoring chances all that kind of thing, the opportunities that we had, the missed chances, but the reality is we gave up five goals and you're not going to win many games when you give up five goals. But we have a chance to come in, if we can beat this team tonight, this is a team that many and with good reason are picking to come out of the East and even be Stanley Cup champions, so it's a real good test for us tonight. Their speed, their skill, their ability to counter and take advantage of opportunities, it's going to be a handful."

- - -

Defenseman Alex Pietrangelo is on a nine-game point streak (four goals, 10 assists) dating back to last season and leads the team with eight points (two goals, six assists) in five games this season; he shares the NHL lead for points among defenseman with Detroit's Mike Green, who has eight assists in five games.

Center Paul Stastny is also on a five-game point streak (two goals, six assists) to start this season and needs one to reach 600 for his NHL career (206 goals, 393 assists in 747 games).

Speaking of Yeo, he is one win shy of 200 for his NHL coaching career. 

- - -

Celebrate the first 50 years of the St. Louis Blues with former players and the author of a new book chronicling the team’s history. Sports columnist Dan O’Neill presents the story of the St. Louis Blues—from the humble beginnings and early expansion-team nights, though dramatic ups and downs, through the on-going quest to capture an elusive Stanley Cup Championship. Through stories and photos, “When the Blues Go Marching In” captures the magic—the color, the characters, and the excitement.

Hear from O’Neill, Blues announcer John Kelly, and Blues alumni such as Bobby Plager at the launch event for the book on Monday, Oct. 23, at the Missouri Athletic Club (405 Washington Ave) 

The event begins with a cocktail reception at 6 pm, followed by dinner at 7 pm and the event program. The price is $75, which includes dinner, parking at the MAC garage and a copy of the book.

For more information, clink on the link here: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/when-the-blues-go-marching-in-st-louis-blues-book-event-oct-23-tickets-37469400987

- - -

The Blues' projected lineup:

Magnus Paajarvi-Paul Stastny-Vladimir Tarasenko

Jaden Schwartz-Brayden Schenn-Samuel Blais

Vladimir Sobotka-Ivan Barbashev-Dmitrij Jaskin

Scottie Upshall-Oskar Sundqvist-Kyle Brodziak

Carl Gunnarsson-Alex Pietrangelo

Joel Edmundson-Colton Parayko

Vince Dunn-Robert Bortuzzo

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

Healthy scratches include Nate Prosser, Chris Thorburn and Wade Megan. Alexander Steen (hand) and Jay Bouwmeester (ankle) are day-to-day, Patrik Berglund (shoulder) is out until December, Zach Sanford (shoulder) is out until at least late February and Robby Fabbri (knee) is out for the season.

- - -

The Lightning's projected lineup:

Vladislav Namestnikov-Steven Stamkos-Nikita Kucherov

Ondrej Palat-Brayden Point-Yanni Gourde

Chris Kunitz-Cedric Paquette-Ryan Callahan

Alex Killorn-Tyler Johnson

Victor Hedman -- Jake Dotchin

Mikhail Sergachev -- Anton Stralman

Braydon Coburn -- Dan Girardi

Slater Koekkoek

Andrei Vasilevskiy will start in goal; Peter Budaj will be the backup. 

Healthy scratches include J.T. Brown, Gabriel Dumont and Andrej Sustr. Erik Condra (back) is out.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Blues decent on power play, want to be better

Man-advantage gets boost with Parayko working 
with first-team unit, Tarasenko helping teaching it

By LOU KORAC
TAMPA, Fla. -- As the Blues were going through a brisk practice Friday at Amalie Arena ahead of their game against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Saturday to conclude a four-game trip, the power-play drill they were working on caught the media's attention.

The Blues were working on a 5-on-3 drill and incorporating heavy-shooting Colton Parayko, who's normally been part of the second unit, into the first-unit group.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Imagine Colton Parayko (pictured) on the Blues' top power
play unit. Blues worked at it on Friday.

Parayko and sharp-shooting Vladimir Tarasenko were criss-crossing into positions to shoot one-timers on their off-shooting position, and Alex Pietrangelo, normally on the first-unit point, was playing down low, normally where a playmaking forward would normally be. Brayden Schenn, Jaden Schwartz and Paul Stastny, who was on the outside while Parayko mixed in, were also part of the mix.

And when a particular play was over, there was Tarasenko, talking, teaching, talking, communicating ... was it mentioned he was talking?

Tarasenko was giving tips and pointers to Parayko, who can be a lethal weapon for the Blues particularly in those situations.

The Blues, who were 1-for-5 with the man-advantage, including 1:03 of 5-on-3 time against the Florida Panthers in a 5-2 loss that resulted in no goals, had 17 shots Thursday with the power play but only a Stastny goal to show for it.

There was plenty of zone time, plenty of pucks hurled towards aging Panthers goalie Roberto Luongo with little to show for it. 

The Blues have a power play goal in each game; they're 5-for-21 on the season, which isn't particularly poor at 23.8 percent, good for ninth in the league, but they feel it can be better.

And more efficient.

A goal in that situation near the end of the second could have turned the momentum in a 3-1 Florida lead. At 3-2, it's game on. With nothing to show for it, potential momentum shift was gone, and the end result became predictable.

But the drill was being run swiftly and efficiently, with Parayko blowing a number of shots with force and some that looked effortless into the back of the net.

"Everyone has experience so we have a lot of ideas," Tarasenko said. "Just like when there's too many penalties right now, you get too excited when you go 5-on-3 and you just want to make a nice play. I think we need to play more simple and if you want more success, I think we have really good players to get it fixed and that's what we're working on right now.

"The question after a game like this is if you feel like you stay in the right program and do the right things and then it doesn't go in somehow, the question is can you stay on or you just let it go and try to find obviously wrong ways to do this? We work on staying on the same program. We know we have the chances, they just don't go in. We have to find the reasons why they don't go in and just make it go in next time."

It lends to wonder what if Parayko had been used at all during that 5-on-3? Imagine setting him up with nobody but the force behind his shot and Florida goalie Roberto Luongo as a last line of defense? 

One will never know, but the Blues caught on quickly enough to work on that very purpose on Friday.

"It's easy to say that he's got a big shot," coach Mike Yeo said of Parayko. "Obviously you have to know when to take the shot, when to pass the puck, but I think that we've got threats out there that are more than just 'Vladi.' We've got opportunities for guys to attack down low, we've got the opportunity to attack with shots. You look at the 5-on-3's in all the games that we've had, we've had one or two really good chances, some nice plays that are well-designed, but more often than not, when you look around the NHL and the 5-on-3 goals that are getting scored, it's how you attack the net, so we have to make sure that we find opportunities to make that happen."

Now that he's being given a chance, Parayko hopes to make the most of any time he's offered with the top power-play unit.

"It's exciting to be a part of it," Parayko said. "Obviously it's an opportunity where I have to make sure I take advantage of it, but it's fun obviously when you have opportunities 5-on-3, it's a good chance to score goals and go up. So if we get them in games, you want to make sure you capitalize on them. You work so hard practicing all the systems and everything like that. If you have the chance to work on something that doesn't seem so big but it could be a game-changer, score there it could be 3-2 and made a big difference almost in the game. I think it can go a long way if you can capitalize on those.

"... I would love to be out there, but the players that are out there, elite players and I'm still coming into my game. Those guys have been the best players in the league for a while now. Obviously everyone wants to be out there, but yeah, I would love to be out there and try to help out. Those guys are obviously elite players ... just because they don't score one 5-on-3, we've killed two or three 5-on-3's ourselves this year so far and those are against the best players on other teams as well. It's hard to score. There's still a goalie in the net, there's three players. Obviously you want to be out there, but at the same time, it's one of those things where we have top players out there."

But even as smoothly as the drills were working, Tarasenko was right there with his own teaching mechanisms with the coaching staff, lending Parayko anything that can help the team gain traction on success that caught those watching in the stands impressively off-guard.

"I used to talk before; you just don't see it," Tarasenko said with a smile. "I have some experience playing with different partners, some of the best players in the world. We just share our feelings. Especially with Colton and his shot, we just need to find a way to get him the puck in a nice, comfortable spot. I don't think 5-on-3 is supposed to be shot through traffic because I think we have good enough players to make it. So you just get too excited and try too much and want to make it nice and then you don't score. So we just try to simplify but at same time, we should know our roles and what everyone's role is."

And when Tarasenko was talking, Parayko was listening intently.

"If you know Vladi, he's passionate, he's intense, he wants to win and he's always wanting to do better," Parayko said. "Just within the locker room, he's always wanting to make the right play and always wanting to just ... be the best. He wants everyone around him to be the best, he helps everyone and that's just the kind of teammate that he is. He wants to bring out the best in all his teammates and obviously himself as well. Playing with a guy like that, it's fun to be around him. It's fun to play with him.

"... It helps out just getting the feel of things for each other and how each other kind of play. Just the little things he kind of lets me know and tells me. It's always fun to learn from a guy like that who obviously is an elite player."

And Yeo approves.

"It's a good thing," he said. "It's trying to find solutions and trying to make the group better. I don't think that it's successful for any team, whether it's special teams, power play, penalty kill, 5-on-5, the buy-in and the way that the players go out and perform is always going to be better if they're engaged and they believe in what they're talking about. Obviously, he was pretty passionate about things we were talking about today.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Right wing Vladimir Tarasenko (91) was on the ice working and teaching
the power play drill trying to help his team get better in any which way.

"You look at the 4-on-3's and the 5-on-3's, there's some really nice well-executed, well-designed plays, but the reality is you need more than that. I thought that the 5-on-3, obviously you've got a two-man advantage. If you move the puck extremely quickly, you're ready to attack and have the mindset that something is going to be available for you and you just have to move the puck quickly and see what's available. I think that we've been thinking a little bit slow, a little bit deliberate. If you take what they give you and you're ready to attack, then something will be there for you."

And that's what the Blues are searching for: solutions. Because simply having ample amounts of zone time and quality chances are not enough.

"If you don't score, you're not close," Tarasenko said. "... Just move the puck faster and create more quality chances.

"We cannot let teams go on us this hard and we don't respond well, especially us. Season continues tomorrow. It's important game for us. We have a chance to finish a good road trip so far. We prepare for hard battle for each other like always."