Thursday, March 9, 2017


Blues keeping pucks out of their net at league-best pace; Yeo 
had thoughts elsewhere; Schmaltz debut; increased shot volume

ST. LOUIS -- It's been quite a run since Mike Yeo took over as coach of the Blues on Feb. 1.

The Blues are allowing 1.73 goals per game in 15 games since Yeo took over, winning nine of them. 

Throw in the fact that three of them were empty-netters and one was of the fluke variety against Minnesota Tuesday with 11 seconds remaining, the numbers could be a lot stingier.

The goals-against is tops on the NHL as is the save percentage for Jake Allen and Carter Hutton, which is .951 as a unit.

"We're playing a little tighter in the middle of the D-zone," Blues captain Alex Pietrangelo said. "I think we're taking care of the front of the net a little better. We're playing tighter as a five-man unit. We're still not giving up big opportunities. Shot totals may be up a bit, but the chances aren't the quality they were before.

"If we're giving up shots from the outside on the rush or point shots with no one in front, we're not OK with it, but it's better than giving up what we gave up before, which was less shots but the chances were much higher. Jake will make the first save, and then it's on us to kind of clear away and make sure there's no second opportunity."

Allen and Hutton are making the saves they're supposed to make, and the skaters in front of them are eliminating the high-percentage looks teams were getting earlier in the season.

"The high quality and second chances has obviously been a big emphasis on us defensemen to clear the front of the net and not let those guys get those sticks in there," Pietrangelo said. "If Jake and 'Hutts' don't handle the shot, that leaves the second opportunity."

Hutton has a .989 save-percentage and Jake Allen is at .941. The Blues were dead-last in the league (.879) when the coaching change, which included goalie coach Jim Corsi, was made.

"Both goalies, 'Hutts' and Jake, have both been outstanding," Yeo said. "I look at last game for Jake, one of the things that impressed me most is I thought we defended well. Minnesota did a good job. They played smart in terms of trying to throw as many pucks to the net as possible and trying to create offense off that. Our 'D' did an outstanding job of tying guys up and letting him see pucks, but more importantly, Jake controlled every one of those rebounds. Jake just made easy, routine saves that if he wasn't on his game, it would have made for some chaotic situations."

Yeo said he hasn't paid attention to where the numbers are.

"We're trying not to look at everything as a whole right now," Yeo said. "Just for me, there's two areas of focus. It's our last game, it's what we did well and what we want to repeat. And the second (and) obviously the most important is we've got to have that translate to a home game now. Even the last home game that we won against Vancouver, it wasn't a particularly strong game. I think part of that is just recognizing that it's going to be a very hard game. 

"Everybody's dialed things up. Home ice, the energy of the crowd, that's still relative but teams at this point of the season, they're used to dealing with that and teams are not going to get pushed out of games because games are too important. We've got to be ready to play -- as cliche as it is -- a full 60 minutes and we have to make sure that we're doing all the little things."

* Anxious dad -- Yeo was quick to do his post practice interview, going in front of the players on Thursday with good reason.

Yeo was on his way home to stream the Minnesota AA high school state hockey championship tournament, where son Kyler was participating at Xcel Energy Center, home of the Minnesota Wild.

Kyler, a senior at Hill-Murray High School, faced Moorhead at 1 p.m. Friday. Mike Yeo headed home to stream the game.

"I'm just a nervous dad," Yeo said. "The scouting report we're working on is obviously for our game tomorrow (against the Anaheim Ducks), but there will be some tense moments this afternoon I'm sure."

Those tense moments turned sad unfortunately as Morehead defeated Hill-Murray 4-2.

* Staple win -- Tuesday's 2-1 win over the Wild was what the doctor ordered for the Blues, who came home for a cup of coffee with back-to-back home games Friday against the Ducks and Saturday against the New York Islanders.

Now the question for the Blues (33-27-5), who led the Los Angeles Kings by three points for the second wild card in the Western Conference and three behind the Nashville Predators for third place in the Central Division, can they follow it up?

"We've shown that we can do it," Yeo said. "Now we have to show that we can do it consistently. It should provide us with some confidence, it should provide a little bit of a blueprint in terms of the way that we play the game, the approach that we have from the drop of the puck. It's nice that we did that, it's nice to have that in the bank, but it's what we do going forward now. We can use that, but we have to make sure that we get the job done and for me ... you can never guarantee results, but you can guarantee yourself a real strong performance and that comes from your preparation and when you do that, then you give yourself obviously a great chance.

"... We've earned a position where we control our own destiny right now. We can't hope our way into the playoffs, we can't hope other teams are gonna lose. We've got to win a lot of hockey games and we've got to get points along the way and if we do that, we'll be fine."

The Blues will play a stretch of games with the utmost importance, including this weekend's games against the Ducks and Islanders, who are jockeying for playoff position, before heading to the west coast, but a win against the Western Conference-leading Wild at this time of year can carry a lot of weight.

"They each have their own scenario and story, but I think the mentality that we had was excellent," Blues right wing David Perron said. "We played a complete game. We had the right intentions of shooting the puck and being at the net. In the NHL, every team wants to do the same thing. They want to outwork the other team, be smart and I think it comes down to details again."

* Shot volume -- The Blues have won two in a row ... on the heels of a five-game winning streak ... on the heels of a six-game winning streak, are glad to be cutting down their quality chances against but are looking for more shot volume of their own.

The Blues have typically been among the top teams regarding shots on goal per game but entering Thursday, are 27th at 27.6. Only Vancouver (27.5) and New Jersey (27.3) are worse.

And while the Blues are sixth in the NHL in shots against (28.2) per game, the shots for has them 16th in the NHL in goals per game at 2.72.

"It's just a proven fact that if you don't get shots to the net, then you're not gonna score goals," Yeo said. "There's two areas. We have to increase our shot totals on a nightly basis and we have to increase our traffic out of activity that we have around their net. We did a better job of that last game. We saw two goals like that (off traffic). Now we have to get more shots and if we do those things, then we'll get some more offense."

Yeo has a target of 30, and it's one in which the Blues have reached only five of 15 games since he took over, with a high of 40. The Blues are averaging 27.3 shots on goal per game during their 15 games since Yeo took over.

"I'd certainly like to be over 30 shots a game and in all honesty, I'd like to be much higher than that," Yeo said. You're feeling pretty good about your offensive game when you're getting 35 to 40 shots. Obviously, scoring chances is something that we put the greatest emphasis on, but we just know that as far as creating offense is concerned this time of year, you have to get more shots."

The Blues know it's an area that can certainly improve.

"That's definitely one part where we can get slightly better at," said Perron, who scored the Blues' first goal Tuesday. "When you're up a goal against a good team like that, it's probably natural that you're gonna keep making sure you're playing a complete game. I thought we were excellent in that regard. Sometimes it's just going to lower your shot total. I think in the third, we didn't get many shots. That's a big reason. Certainly we'd like to have 12-15 shots every period, I'm not sure that's the reality when you're up 2-0. At that point, you want to make sure you're over their guy and that can take away from your offense. ... The mentality has to be there to shoot the puck."

* Schmaltz debut -- Blues defenseman Jordan Schmaltz, their 2012 first-round pick, made his Blues debut Sunday in a 3-0 win at Colorado.

Schmaltz was on the ice for both Blues goals, was a plus-1 in the game in 15 minutes, 7 seconds of ice time and had two hits in the game.

Nothing flashy, nothing splashy. Just a simple debut.

"That's an ideal first game there," Schmaltz said. "You just try and keep things in front of you, keep the puck going north. Don't overextend your shifts and just kind of play within yourself and just kind of build from there, I guess.

"Just like every level you go up things happen quicker. Guys are stronger, I think you have to be more alert. But other than that, it's a hockey game. You're just out there trying to play within yourself, keep it simple, don't try and do too much. ... Not every game's perfect. I think a couple times I went east-west when I should have just went north. But yeah, when there's plays like that, you just remind yourself, 'Hey, that was nothing bad that happened there, but let's keep this thing going north and keep it simple.'"

Schmaltz, who was recalled on March 2, has played in just one of three games but is soaking up the NHL experience.

"It's the same attitude," Schmaltz said. "You've got to approach every game that you get in the same way and just try to build from there."

Yeo liked Schmaltz's game against the Avalanche but seems geared towards using veteran blueliners as games take on so much importance.

"It's not an easy situation," Yeo said. "I was thinking about him after the game. We hold a team meeting, a pretty strong team meeting, the day before his first game in the NHL. He comes into an high-pressure environment against a team that's playing kind of loose and kind of reckless and I thought he handled it very, very well.

"He got better as the game went on. I would say that he played a good game. You can see the poise in his game, you can see his puck presence, you can see how he can help us execute."

* Team photo day -- The Blues took their annual team pictures before practice on Thursday, and there were plenty of smiles to go around.

But once they got back to work, lines were consistent with the ones that played Tuesday sans Jaden Schwartz, who was absent from practice. Yeo said he was given a maintenance day and is fine, so Ivan Barbashev took Schwartz's spot on the top line with Paul Stastny and Vladimir Tarasenko.

"We were able to stay with our lines because we had everybody going," Yeo said. "It certainly helps when you grab the lead in the game. But I think role-wise, everybody had a good sense of what we needed from them and they were doing a good job."

Included in team pics was second-year forward Robby Fabbri, who is out for the season after tearing the ACL in his left knee against the Pittsburgh Penguins on Feb. 4.

"He looks fine to me," Yeo joked. "(The knee is) a long way from the heart."

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