Stastny likely back Monday; Agostino impressive in time here;
Barbashev deserving to stay; Blues looking to finish strong heading to bye week
By LOU KORAC
HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- It was another good day for Paul Stastny on the ice Sunday, and by all counts, the Blues center is likely to return to the lineup against the Florida Panthers on Monday.
Stastny, who has missed the past four games with a lower-body injury sustained Feb. 8 at Toronto, made it through Sunday's optional session with no issues but will go through the day and through Sunday night and skate Monday morning. If all goes well, there will be nothing to keep him from playing Monday's final game for the Blues (31-23-5) before the bye week.
"The last couple days I've been pushing it pretty good," Stastny said. "Every day's been better and better, no setbacks. That's the important thing. I don't want to come back until I'm 100 percent comfortable with it. We'll see how it reacts tonight, skate tomorrow morning and we'll make a decision."
Blues coach Mike Yeo was certainly encouraged.
"Another good skate for him today and provided things," Yeo said. "(If Stastny) continues to go well in the morning and after the morning skate, then I'd say there's a good chance we could see him in the lineup."
Stastny was injured on what looked like an innocent play with the Maple Leafs' Nazem Kadri in the early seconds of the second period.
"Just kind of a tweak kind of thing," Stastny said. "It's something that's happened before and was bugging me and I knew something. It looked harmless because it wasn't foul play on any guy. It seems like you get hurt these days is on the most random plays. ... It feels frustrating, but it's been nice. The team's playing well since then. Kind of got lucky with the schedule where we had a couple days off and we've got the break coming up. If something was going was to happen, this was a good for it."
Look for Stastny to reclaim his spot between Alexander Steen and Vladimir Tarasenko on the top line, where they started to develop good chemistry together. Stastny was playing arguably his best hockey of the season before going down.
"That's always tough, but the positive was the boys kept winning and guys kept stepping up," Stastny said. "Right now, points are so important for us and it almost seems like, not a must-win, but every game is so important for us, especially now with 'Yeozy' behind the bench, you're trying to create something new and kind of keep building on it."
Yeo liked what the trio was bringing to the ice and offered no indication that he would separate them.
"It was going real well," Yeo said. "The first game, it took a little bit of time in Philadelphia and then the Ottawa game, it gave us a taste of what it could look like and then obviously we didn't get through the Toronto game. I have no reason to think that they can't pick right up where they left off. Three talented hockey players and three intelligent hockey players that should be able to read off each other."
With only one game until the bye week, there was some consideration shutting Stastny down through the bye week to be on the safe side, but from a player's perspective, the longer one sits out, the longer it takes to get back into a flow, so if Stastny is ready, get back in.
"I thought about it, but at the same time, if I could have played against Buffalo (Saturday) ... maybe I could have played against Buffalo, but at the same time, if I don't feel 100 percent, then I don't want to do it," Stastny said. "If I know the injury's fine and mentally I'm fine, then I'd rather play. The longer you miss, if I don't play, then I'd be gone for 2.5 weeks, three weeks. Every week you're gone, it almost takes a game to kind of catch up to the game speed or the mental side of things. Form me, it's all about getting back as soon as I can to try and help the team win."
Yeo said the Blues have played it safe in regards to Stastny and didn't risk making the injury worse.
"I think we've been sort of playing it on the safe side as it is. At any point in any game, regardless of what you're dealing with, there's always a risk, or some sort of risk. But we have reason for it to be pretty confident that it shouldn't be an issue and he feels good. He's been skating and the player's confident in it and we get word that he's in a good spot, then obviously we're glad to have him back."
* Agostino made his mark -- Winger Kenny Agostino, who was assigned back to the Chicago Wolves after the Blues' 3-2 loss against the Sabres that snapped a six-game winning streak, left a favorable impression with the coaching staff.
Agostino, who had a goal and two assists in seven games since his recall, goes back to play with the Wolves, where he was the leading scorer in the American Hockey League with 60 points (18 goals, 42 assists) in 48 games. But he definitely made an impression with Yeo.
"For me, he's shown us an awful lot," Yeo said of the 24-year-old Agostino. "He had a good training camp, but realistically speaking, I don't think that we considered him a guy that we would be looking to and a guy that we would be counting on midway through the season. What he's done through his play with Chicago and what he's done with his play while he was up here has really given us a strong idea of what kind of player he is and what he can add to our group. We do feel he can add to our group.
"The situation is that he goes down today because we're getting a healthy player back (Stastny), but he helped his case. He helped his case an awful lot. What I like about him is his hockey sense, his puck strength and his stick strength. I like that he helps you get to the offensive zone and he's strong on the puck in the offensive zone. He has the ability and the knack and the hockey sense to find himself in situations to get scoring chances and he's shown me that he's a pretty reliable player. He's going to keep building on those things and there's a couple areas that we have talked about that he knows that he's going to have to continue to build on in his game."
* Barbashev stays -- Center Ivan Barbashev will remain, for the time being, with the Blues and based on his play, he deserves to stay.
Barbashev, a second-round pick in 2014 which was the pick obtained in a trade that sent David Perron to Edmonton in 2013, has played in 11 games and has two goals an one assist, but most of that was centering the fourth line.
Barbashev, 21, has shown a true ability to be a two-way hockey player and will get the chance to keep growing his game here.
"I like his competitiveness, I like his play both in our own zone, not only without the puck and his positioning there, but his ability to separate, his ability to create turnovers and help us relieve pressure and get out of our own zone," Yeo said. "I just like that he's a pretty darn complete player right now.
"I feel like the more that he plays and the more that he continues to be with our group, he's continuing to develop some offensive confidence and to get a little bit more zone time, to get more puck touches and a little bit more creativity with that. His game is coming along nicely and obviously we know that we want to win right now and he's an important player for us, not only today but down the road. If we didn't feel that he was progressing or if his time here was hurting him, then he'd be down, but he's showing that he's developing and his game is growing and I hope that continues."
* Rattie reclaimed -- The Blues went back to a familiar avenue to replenish the cupboard with the Wolves by claiming former second-round pick Ty Rattie off waivers from the Carolina Hurricanes.
Rattie, who was first claimed off waivers by the Hurricanes on Jan. 4, played in five games for Carolina and posted two assists.
Rattie, 24, was originally drafted by the Blues in 2011 and has four goals and six assists in 35 NHL games.
* Pouring it all in -- The Blues' loss to the Sabres came as a result of playing their third game in roughly 3.5 days. Even with the 39 shots thrown at Robin Lehner, who was the difference for Buffalo, Yeo said he saw some tendencies of what tired players would do and hopes with the two-plus full days between games and the bye week looming, Yeo expects an all-in mentality Monday against the red-hot Panthers, who have won four in a row (all on the road) and conclude a five-game trip here.
"I think a lot of the things showed up, to be honest with you, in our game (Saturday)," Yeo said. "I think that there were some areas where we were good, but there were some areas where we didn't have that same push, that same fight to get to the inside, to win our 1-on-1 battles, to win loose pucks and that's why I think there should be no excuse for that now. It was a late day on the ice for the guys that skated and for the guys that didn't skate, that gives them almost 1.5 days off to make sure that we have lots of energy heading into that game tomorrow."
The Blues' projected lineup Monday:
Alexander Steen-Paul Stastny-Vladimir Tarasenko
Jaden Schwartz-Patrik Berglund-Magnus Paajarvi
Ivan Barbashev-Jori Lehtera-David Perron
Scottie Upshall-Kyle Brodziak-Ryan Reaves
Jay Bouwmeester-Alex Pietrangelo
Robert Bortuzzo-Kevin Shattenkirk
Joel Edmundson-Colton Parayko
Jake Allen in goal