Reaves promoted to third line; Blues in heated battle for playoffs;
Allen ready to reclaim cage; Schwartz "fine" according to coach
HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- Ryan Reaves, third-line right winger.
No, it's not a typo although it's been pretty much a staple all season when making out the Blues' lineup to use Upshall-Brodziak-Reaves as the fourth line.
But with Brodziak's right foot injury that has him sidelined for at least five weeks, and the Blues' ever-changing line combinations in search of a semblance of consistency.
"It will be fun," Reaves said. "Obviously a big opportunity for me and something I have to jump on and take advantage of while I can. It starts tomorrow.
"... Two years ago I played with 'Stas' for a couple games right after the All-Star break. Other than that, I would say you could count on two hands for sure, injuries and the way I might be playing. The way I look at it, it's obviously not a lot of times I get put up there. When I do I try to take advantage of it."
Reaves was whizzing around in practice Monday with Patrik Berglund in the middle and Robby Fabbri on left wing.
"He's made more backhand sauce passes than I have this year," Fabbri said laughing. "I don't think of him as just a fourth-liner. He's been great for us this year, whether it's been fighting or just getting energy going. He's a great leader in the room with all the guys. He's earned it.
"He was with us at the end of that Washington game there. ... He's been working hard. You see how well that line's been playing for us. He makes a lot of room out there. We're excited to play with him and we'll see how it goes."
Reaves doesn't disagree but said the backhand sauce feeds aren't necessarily by design.
"That is true, not by choice though," he joked. "Remember, we black out when we do that. I don't know if I'm just going to be going out there and throwing sauces."
Blues coach Ken Hitchcock will give it a shot but won't commit to anything long-term.
"I don't think it's going to affect his minutes at all," Hitchcock said. "He's not going to change the minutes, but it might change the way we rotate. I think it gives us two defined third lines. I'm going to move 'Revo' around based on the opponent and also the situation of the game. I'm not going to cast that in stone, but this was a time I wanted to look at it for sure. We'll see how it looks tomorrow. We'll see whether it's two shifts, a full game or whatever, but the feeling for us is we need to play two third-line situations and between him and 'Bergy' and (Ivan) Barbashev's line, we'll see where 'Revo' fits the best.
"... (The Brodziak injury) dictates a lot and it dictates how we're going to play and how much we're going to split and things like that. We've got to find a little bit different combinations here both 5-on-5 and killing penalties."
Reaves, who has three goals and four assists in 47 games this season; his career-highs came in 2014-15 with six goals and six assists in 81 games, but a leaner, quicker Reaves has shown some offensive prowess this season when opportunity knocked.
"It's made it really easy for us," Hitchcock said. "He's played well. Now sometimes when you move up a notch in the lineup, you get careless with the puck. We've talked to Ryan about it. We're hopeful that he keeps with the same deep puck play and can add some grit and determination to that line, which we think going to need moving forward.
"... I think it's all based on puck management. His ability to put every puck deep and keep it in there, protect it down there has allowed him to spend more time in the offensive zone and not chase the game like they did for a few years. That line wad controlling the puck in the offensive zone and defending that way and it was very effective."
Reaves said he's not about to go and take a walk on the wild side and go away from what he does best. But he'll try and add more to his game.
"Obviously the coaches see what I bring when they put me on that line and they're not putting me on that line to change anything," Reaves said. "They're not putting me on that line to toe-drag anyone at the blue line, make some fancy play like that. They're putting me in there to get it deep and grind and open up room for those guys to do their thing. Nothing has changed. I'm going in with my exact same mindset. Maybe test out the lungs a little bit more."
* Back on the grind -- The Blues (24-20-5), who open a three-game homestand against the Winnipeg Jets (23-25-4) Tuesday at 7 p.m., sit in the first wildcard spot in the Western Conference but by the skin of their teeth.
Although the Blues are three points behind Nashville for third place in the Central Division and the final guaranteed divisional playoff position, they are tied with Calgary in the wildcard with 53 points, but Los Angeles and Vancouver are one point back and Dallas and the Jets are three points back.
"There's thirty-something games left and can't lose faith in here," Blues right wing David Perron said. "I saw the feeling in Pittsburgh past year what it was like and the same in Anaheim when I got there, it was pretty similar. We know we've got some details that we need to get better at and other things to make sure we're competing in the playoffs, but at the same time, we've got to stay confident, keep working hard and not lose faith because it can turn and once it does, it can have a lot of success like Pittsburgh did last year."
After the Blues play the Jets, Toronto and Pittsburgh on home ice this week, they play 18 of their final 30 games on the road. The schedule has some favorable matchups, but accumulating points will be of the utmost value the rest of the way, no matter the opponent.
"We've got 33 games left and we're in a playoff race right now," Hitchcock said. "We're in the playoff hunt. We've punched a ticket where we're still in this thing. To me, it's got to be no memory for everybody. Starting tomorrow, you are what you are. If you can help us, you get to play and if you can't, then someone else gets that turn. That's the attitude we've got to have. You can't work on past history with people. Whether it's a player or a goaltender or whatever, whatever you're doing for us immediately is what we have to honor because we've earned the right to still be in this race. We've had an up-and-down season. Our highs have been really high and our lows have been really low. We're in a situation where if we can even out our play, I like our chances. But we're going to have to even out our play. In order to do that, we're going to have to get better play from more people or we're going to have to find people within the organization who are willing to give us that even play."
The All-Star break was good for all teams, and the Blues, who came out of their post-Christmas break and won two of three, including the Winter Classic, hope to get off on the right foot again.
"Just like Christmas break, I think that break was good," Fabbri said. "We need to come back with fresh minds here and get back to what was making us successful earlier in the year. I think everyone in here's on the same page. We're confident in the group and we're ready to get to work here.
"... There's not really any room to slip a little bit. Every game, every point's important. In this league, every game's a tough one now. There's no easy games. We've got to start stringing together some consistency and get some wins going here."
Hitchcock said it's more than simply wanting it. And the Blues are prepared to utilize anyone that's willing to put the work into results to finish the season, which means there could be more of a shuttle from the Chicago Wolves if certain players don't give more.
"I think it goes a little deeper than that. I think this is the time of year that quite frankly, the only way you get in it is with your work and your determination and your grit level," Hitchcock said. "That's the only way you get in. You can have all the skill in the world you want, you can have a skilled base, but in order to get ... and this is the fun time for the players. They can see light at the end of the tunnel.
"I said this after the Minnesota game, 'Who wants it the most?' You have to want it through your work, and if your work is at the top of the heap, and that's paramount in your game, you're going to be able to look yourself in the mirror every game, and whatever happens, happens, but you're going to feel good about the work that you put in, and that's what we want to see. We want to see a consistent work ethic throughout our hockey club. Like I said, whoever's giving it to us, they're going to be the guys we really lean on right now. We're not in a position to wait and hope and kind of nurture along. Everybody knows the system, everybody knows how we want to play. Now you've got to put the work in."
* Allen ready to go -- Jake Allen will make his first start since Jan. 19 Tuesday, and the Blues' netminder is licking his chops.
Allen, who has made it no secret regarding his recent struggles, including being pulled in three straight starts, has been working on the technical aspects of his game. But Allen feels it's time to put the work into action.
"I'm ready to go tomorrow," Allen said after practice Monday. "I'm looking forward to it. It's felt like a decade to be honest. I'm looking forward to it, I'm excited. I think the break did well for a lot of us and we have a really condensed schedule coming up and a lot of big hockey to play.
"... It felt like it's been a while for me to play. I look forward to getting back in there and going to work with the guys again, just getting back on my game. I don't expect to be perfect but just get in there, battle with the guys, give them a chance to win, start enjoying it again, have some fun with it."
Allen, who has allowed 10 goals on 36 shots the past three starts with a .722 save percentage, made a cameo appearance in Minnesota before the break and stopped three shots in the third period after Carter Hutton was relieved in a 5-1 loss.
Allen won't blame a condensed schedule like some of the veteran goalies (Henrik Lundqvist and Carey Price, among others) have. Allen said he's just in a mental rut and is eager to break out of it.
"No, I don't feel that way at all," Allen said. "I feel our most compressed is coming up. We haven't dealt with it. March is a chaotic month for us. But every team has to deal with it and hopefully we deal with it in a good manner. That hasn't been an issue for me.
"... It's not the technical side. Everyone says it. People try to make reasons for things, but it's not the technical part of your game. Obviously you can stay sharp in certain situations, I feel really good out there. I have been. I felt great last week, felt good again today. The technical side should be the least of your worries."
* Schwartz OK -- Blues left wing Jaden Schwartz departed practice early in the second portion of the two-set phase after a battle drill along the wall. He got up a bit slowly but skated off on his own power with head athletic trainer Ray Barile.
Hitchcock said, "he'll be fine," after practice.