Wednesday, March 29, 2017

(3-29-17) Blues-Coyotes Gameday Lineup

By LOU KORAC
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- By taking care of their own business and a little scoreboard watching up in Alberta, the Blues (41-28-6) could solidify a position that was in question just a little over a month ago.

With a win against the Arizona Coyotes (27-40-9) today (9:30 p.m.; FS-MW, KMOX 1120-AM) and a Calgary Flames win over the Los Angeles Kings, the Blues would punch their ticket into the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

The only questions remaining would be where would the Blues finish and who would they open the Western Conference first round against.

"It's good motivation for us tonight to go out and play a real strong game," said defenseman Alex Pietrangelo, who tied a career-high with his 12th goal of the season Monday in a 4-1 win over the Coyotes. "We've talked about us playing really good hokey right now, and I think it's an opportunity for us to put ourselves in a real good spot in the standings. A lot on the line tonight. It makes for an exciting game for us."

For a while there, the Blues were teetering on the brink of being in and being on the outside looking in, but a 10-1-1 run and the Kings slipping in the standings drastically, including a 2-5-1 stretch in the past eight, puts them in grave danger of missing the playoffs again.

Also for the Blues, it's a chance to leapfrog the Nashville Predators into third place in the Central Division by a point. The Predators lost 4-1 at Boston on Tuesday and the Blues' game in hand is tonight.

"More proud after we do it. We're in a good position," Blues coach Mike Yeo said. "You come into a game like this tonight and we have a chance to clinch. We can do our part, we need somebody else to do their part, but I just think we've got a chance, we've got an opportunity here down the stretch. 

"We've said our goal, there's two parts two it. The first is to make sure we get in and the second is to make sure that our game is real sharp, and if we continue to make sure our game's real sharp, then we'll go in in a good spot. Making the playoffs, it's a big deal. So to have a chance to do that tonight's pretty exciting."

The Blues have been the beneficiaries of playing one of the weaker schedules down the stretch. This will mark the third time since March 18 they'll have faced the Coyotes. The Blues have played the last-place Colorado Avalanche twice since March 5 and will play in Denver Friday and host the Avalanche to conclude the regular season on April 9.

"It's almost like a playoff series as many times as we've played them," Pietrangelo said of the Coyotes. "Coaches don't like it, but the best part is we don't have to sit through as many meetings. It's easier on us."

- - -

Defenseman Jordan Schmaltz will enter the lineup for his third NHL game.

Schmaltz, who's been a healthy scratch the past eight games, will replace Carl Gunnarsson in the lineup tonight.

Gunnarsson was apparently injured in the win over the Coyotes Monday and according to Yeo, missed the last 10 minutes of the game, which had Yeo joking: "If you guys would have been watching the game ... were you guys even there?"

Gunnarsson didn't skate this morning.

"Yeah, a little bit (dinged up). Held him off the ice today," Yeo said. "This was a game we were going to play Schmaltz no matter what. Keep 'Gunny' off the ice here today and should expect him back soon hopefully."

Schmaltz played 12 minutes, 8 seconds March 11 against the New York Islanders after making his NHL debut on March 5 against the Avalanche, where he played 15:07; he'll play alongside Robert Bortuzzo tonight.

"Always nice to know you're going to get back in the lineup and playing the game that you love, so yeah, it's going to be fun. I can't wait for it," Schmaltz said. "... You've just got to be ready for the bell. I guess the bell's ringing so I've got to answer the call here."

- - -

Goalie Carter Hutton will also enter the lineup tonight against the Coyotes in a potential clinching game.

Despite Jake Allen being 7-0-0 with a 1.00 goals-against average and .961 save percentage in his career against Arizona, including a 3-0 shutout here at Gila River Arena on March 18, Yeo said it's time to get Hutton some work.

"He's got all the skills of winning hockey games and doing the right things there, but there's much more than goes into it," Yeo said. "He's a great teammate for the guys. He's a guy that goes unnoticed just the extra work that he puts in after practice so guys in their game can stay sharp. I'm hoping that we put a good game in front of him here tonight.

"He's got a great attitude. He's happy for Jake's success. At the same time, he's a competitor and he wants to play. He makes sure that he stays focused and he's prepared. He puts an awful lot of work in on the non-game days to make sure his game stays sharp."

Hutton's last start was March 16, a 4-1 win at San Jose.

"Jakey's our guy; we know that," Hutton said. "... As of late, I haven't played that often, and when I have played, it's been back-to-backs. But I understand. I understand how it works. I thought at a point in the year, I came in and was solid when we needed it and I helped out and that's what you need sometimes from a No. 2 guy. Sometimes you're going to be called upon when normally you wouldn't be. It might not be that back-to-back situation. Now we're rolling and things are going well, so it is what it is. I can only control what I can do on the ice, my output in practice and preparing."

- - -

The Blues will insert a few tweaks into their specialty teams tonight, too.

Schmaltz will get some time on the point on the second power play unit, and Zach Sanford will move up to the first unit, dropping Patrik Berglund back to the second unit as well.

The Blues are 0-for-9 the past four games on the power play and haven't scored a man-advantage goal since Pietrangelo's tally at the tail end of a five-minute power play here on March 18.

"Last game was just not even close enough to good enough for us," Yeo said. "It's one thing if you don't score, but you want to generate some momentum and you want the rest of the guys on the bench feeling like we're doing the right things. Certainly that wasn't the case last game. We have to be much better tonight.

"We lost a lot of momentum from that (the first period power plays Monday). Watching the game again, our first couple shifts of the game were good and then it just kind of sucked the life out of us, so we have to be much better."

Schmaltz will quarterback along with Colton Parayko.

"I think I can help on that sort of end," Schmaltz said. "It's always nice being on the power play, getting a little more ice and hopefully create some scoring chances."

As for Sanford, it's a chance to put a bigger body at the net.

"Our power play hasn't been as good as it needs to be lately," Sanford said. "Hopefully I can be strong there and help us out.

"I think a lot of it's just getting to the net. We play on the perimeter a lot. I didn't really talk to the coaches too much, but I think they wanted 'Bergy' on the wall there on the second one, which makes sense. It's just another big guy to create traffic."

Putting Schmaltz on the man-advantage gives him an opportunity to get more acclimated with playing, since there's a likelihood he'll play Friday in Colorado, too.

"We intended to play him in this game and most likely next game no matter what because obviously guys have been doing a really good job, all of our guys, but we want to make sure everybody stays a part of it and everybody's game is staying sharp," Yeo said. "He's a young player who needs the experience so we feel like now's a good time."

"The last couple games, he just kind of said he's not going to make promises but to just be ready," Schmaltz said of Yeo. "I'm just trying to do that every day working after practice and stuff like that. Just trying to be a good teammate."

- - -

The Blues' projected lineup:

Jaden Schwartz-Alexander Steen-Vladimir Tarasenko

Magnus Paajarvi-Patrik Berglund-David Perron

Zach Sanford-Ivan Barbashev-Nail Yakupov

Scottie Upshall-Kyle Brodziak-Ryan Reaves

Jay Bouwmeester-Alex Pietrangelo

Joel Edmundson-Colton Parayko

Robert Bortuzzo-Jordan Schmaltz

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

The Blues have no healthy scratches. Paul Stastny (lower body), Robby Fabbri (knee), Jori Lehtera (upper body), Carl Gunnarsson (undisclosed) and Dmitrij Jaskin (upper body) are out with injuries.

- - -

The Coyotes' projected lineup:

Clayton Keller-Christian Dvorak-Radim Vrbata

Max Domi-Alexander Burmistrov-Anthony Duclair

Brendan Perlini-Jordan Martinook-Tobias Rieder

Lawson Crouse-Peter Holland-Josh Jooris

Oliver Ekman-Larsson-Connor Murphy

Alex Goligoski-Anthony DeAngelo

Jakob Chychrun-Luke Schenn

Louis Domingue will start in goal; Mike Smith will be the backup. 

Zbynek Michalek, Teemu Pulkkinen and Christian Fischer are healthy scratches. Brad Richardson (leg), Kevin Connauton (upper body) and Shane Doan (lower body) are out with injuries. Jamie McGinn (death in family) is out.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Barbashev proving he belongs in the NHL

Center providing much-needed relief at center, got proper growth from 
current staff in AHL after challenging first season with Chicago Wolves

By LOU KORAC
ST. LOUIS -- Ivan Barbashev claimed he was nervous. Blues coach Mike Yeo thought he fit in immediately.

No matter how one dissects it, the Blues have found out rather quickly something they had been hoping for since the day they drafted Barbashev with the 33rd pick in the 2014 NHL Draft: he's a keeper, and the Blues are going to keep him, it looks like, in the NHL and allow the 21-year-old center iceman to grow.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues center Ivan Barbashev (49) celebrates after scoring against Calgary
on Saturday. Barbashev has earned his way to the NHL since his recall.

Barbashev, the pick the Blues acquired on July 13, 2013 along with Magnus Paajarvi that sent David Perron to the Edmonton Oilers, was called up from the Chicago Wolves and made his NHL debut on Jan. 26 in Minnesota, and admittedly and naturally, it was an adjustment.

"The first eight games was kind of hard, I was still nervous before every game," Barbashev said. "...  My first couple games, I was like really cautious. I was trying to not to make any mistakes and stuff like that. But right now, I'm still doing the same things, I'm trying to be careful because it's the NHL. Every mistake could be bad, but I'm trying to play smart, specially for my line."

The numbers may not jump off the stat page, but Barbashev's four goals and four assists through 23 NHL games are more than just the goals and assists. He's supplying more than depth at a center position that's been hurting because of injury to some key veterans, namely top-line center Paul Stastny as of late.

Nobody knew what to expect from Barbashev after coach Mike Yeo said "I didn't think his camp was very good, so I didn't really know what to expect."

But Barbashev, after putting up 19 goals and 18 assists in 46 games with the Chicago Wolves this season, came in ready to compete for a job, and has won over the staff.

"I thought that he fit in right from the get-go," Yeo said of Barbashev. "He earned our trust. I had heard he was playing well. We gave him the opportunity and he took full advantage of it. I think what's more impressive from me is not that he came in without nerves, I think that's quite often the case with a lot of young players, but what's more impressive to me is quite often with these guys, one, two, three weeks into it, all of the sudden, they reach their water level. He is showing no signs. He's showing that actually he's playing better hockey this time of the year in these difficult games when things get ramped up and he can have a bad shift, he can have a game that's not his best and he can bounce back from that."

Barbashev, who said he gained 16 pounds to put him at his current weight of 196 to go with his 6-foot-0 frame, said it's been a different lifestyle of eating at the NHL level, one that includes a protein-rich cache of foods.

"The foods I eat two years before and right now, it's completely different," he said. "That's probably why I gain some weight. It's a really good thing. Protein and I've been working out all summer."

But Barbashev joked, "They've been helping us with the ice cream before bed."

After a successful three-year win with the Moncton Wildcats of the QMJHL where he put up 88 goals and 137 assists in 173 regular season games, Barbashev's AHL career with the Wolves got off to a rough start. 

He finished with 10 goals and 18 assists in 65 games in the 2015-16 season and found life challenging. But he took the high road and continued to work at his craft.

"It was frustrating to start, because after they put me on the fourth line, I just said, 'whatever, I'm going to keep working hard,'" Barbashev said of the coaching regime of John Anderson, now an assistant with the Minnesota Wild. "I've talked to a lot of people, especially my family, all my friends who play professional, my brother (Sergei) who is in KHL for five years. He's been playing on the fourth and third line for four years. He knows how it is. He told me just 'don't worry, keep working hard every day, be the last guy on the ice and be always in the gym and work hard and you'll see what happens.'"

Blues management felt Barbashev wasn't being used in proper situations and his growth was being paused because of it, so enter a new coaching staff this season that includes coach Craig Berube and assistants Darryl Sydor and Daniel Tkazcuk.

"They made a big difference," Barbashev said. "All of those coaches, they've been working on me the whole year in Chicago. Thanks to them, they did a helluva job. Huge difference to be honest since last year. My game changed a lot. Right now, I'm playing like I used to play in juniors. That's probably why I had success at this level. 

"The biggest change is about the organization since last year and this year. This year, they told me before season I'm going to have more minutes in Chicago. It really happened. I had more minutes. I was on the ice in real important times of the game with a minute left or something. That's how we learned because the AHL is a professional league, too, and that was relief for me that I spent one and a half years in Chicago. It really helped me, but now I'm trying to make the team for next year. I'm just trying to improve myself."

And Barbashev is proving himself with his poise with the puck, his ability to protect it from the big, brawny players trying to out-muscle him at the point of contact, and Barbashev continues to dazzle and impress Blues fans with his stick-handling abilities and persistent play under pressure.

"He's competitive," Yeo said. "You always talk about hockey strength and you see guys go into the corner and find a way to come out with it. ... I know that he goes into the corner and he comes out with the puck. In his body checks and his counter checks, he usually comes out on top."

"I'm getting more comfortable to be honest," Barbashev said. "... Now, I'm just going in every game, I'm feeling comfortable, I'm trying to create some offense right now. I'm just trying to go out there and do my job.

"I feel like with this team, I'm just getting comfortable and comfortable. The guys are always helping me out, same as coaches always telling me 'great job' and stuff like that. It just feels like I'm more comfortable. Hopefully it's going to go higher."

Barbashev played a career-high 15 minutes of ice time against Arizona, the Blues' opponent Wednesday again to begin a two-game trip. He didn't score, but since the loss of Stastny and no apparent timetable of his return, Barbashev has given the Blues a bonafide center to play between fellow young forwards Nail Yakupov and Zach Sanford, and perhaps Dmitrij Jaskin, who Barbashev played with at Moncton, when Jaskin returns from an upper-body injury.

"The first game together was a little tough because we didn't have much chemistry between us, but now, I know where 'Sandy' and 'Yak' will be on the ice," Barbashev said. "If I'm going to put the puck behind the net with no look, I know somebody will be there. It's kind of made my game easier."

Yeo won't put a ceiling on what Barbashev can reach with the Blues and his NHL career, but if he continues to trend in the right direction and is able to handle the responsibilities the coaching staff puts on him, Barbashev can certainly be a staple on this team for years to come.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues center Ivan Barbashev (right), here battling with a pair of Calgary
players, scored his first NHL goal Feb. 7 against Ottawa.

"I never really like to put a ceiling on young players," Yeo said. "So for us, we'll just keep trying to push him. Obviously he's got great tools. I think that he's showing he's playing a mature game, but there's certain parts of his game that with us coaches, we have to try to grow in terms of his play without the puck, but we really have to try and challenge him with the puck and see what he can grow into, give him the opportunity to make plays, teach when it's time to teach, but give him the opportunity show us what he can do."

Which is fine with Barbashev, who is having the time of his life.

"I wasn't sure if I would be able to play at this level," said Barbashev, whose first NHL goal came Feb. 7 against the Ottawa Senators in a 6-0 victory. "But if you work hard, you're going to be good at this level. That's what I did my first eight games, but I'm still working hard and right now, it just feels good to be here.

"Oh my God! It's a lot of fun!"

* NOTES -- The Blues signed Providence College defenseman Jake Walman to a three-year entry-level contract on Tuesday.

Walman, 21, is a third-round selection by the Blues in the 2014 NHL Draft who completed his collegiate season at Providence recently with seven goals and 18 assists in 39 games. 

The 6-0, 193-pound Toronto native, Walman spent three seasons at Providence and was named a Hockey East first-team all-star in each of the past two seasons.

Walman will immediately report to the Wolves, joining 2016 first-round pick Tage Thompson.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Blues' top line, Allen lead way in 4-1 win over Coyotes

Steen, Tarasenko, Schwartz combine for 10 
points to keep pace in Western Conference race

By LOU KORAC
ST. LOUIS -- The 19,164 that paid to watch the Blues and Arizona Coyotes on Monday were in the process of asking for their money back.

In the first period, the hockey was boring, there was no bite, and the Blues needed some sort of jolt in a game where two points mattered much more to them than the Coyotes.

This is where coaches normally say, "Our best players need to be our best players," and Alexander Steen, Vladimir Tarasenko and Jaden Schwartz took matters into their own hands.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues teammates Jaden Schwartz, Nail Yakupov & Alexander Steen (20)
congratulate Alex Pietrangelo on his second-period goal Monday.

In the end, after the trio had already combined for seven points, they teamed up for one more goal, one by Tarasenko, but it was evident that Steen and Tarasenko tried to get Schwartz a hat trick.

The Blues' top line saw Steen leading the way with a career-high four assists and matching a career-high four points (done two other times), Schwartz had two goals and one assist and Tarasenko had a goal and two assists as the Blues took care of business with a 4-1 win against the Coyotes for their 10th straight win against Arizona, and the Blues have earned a point in 14 straight against the Coyotes (13-0-1).

The win for the Blues (41-28-6), 5-0-1 in the past six, leaves them still one point behind Nashville for third place in the Central Division and two behind the Calgary Flames for the first wild card in the Western Conference. Nashville won 3-1 at the New York Islanders and Calgary took care of business at home, 4-2 against Colorado.

But more importantly for the Blues, they now have an 11-point edge on the Los Angeles Kings, who are the lone team mathematically alive for the Stanley Cup Playoffs in the conference after the Blues eliminated Dallas and Winnipeg.

"It's that time of the year," said Schwartz, who got his first two-goal game since Dec. 6 against Montreal. "Everyone knows how big these points are and everyone wants to keep moving up and there's teams on everyone's heels. That's just how it is this time of year."

And the Blues kept pace because their top line got the ball rolling offensively, and Jake Allen was robust in goal with a 21-save performance to improve to 7-0-0 lifetime against Arizona.

In a first period that was as stale as the score indicated (0-0), neither team produced much offensively, but Allen had to make two strong saves in a 5-5 shot total for the period.

"We were just a little too relaxed, I think," said Allen, who earned his 30th win on the night and become the first Blues goalie since Chris Mason (2009-10) to win 30 games in a season. "First period on both teams, each team had a couple good chances, but other than that, it was a pretty slow period. I think both teams were a little sluggish to start and it wasn't good. It was 0-0, which was fine, but it definitely wasn't a great start."

Something clicked, and it was the top line that got the ball rolling.

"Yeah, we weren't good in the first, that's for sure," Blues coach Mike Yeo said. "And so what you hope, you go in and you obviously challenge the group to be better from that point and so what you hope is that the response starts from your leaders and we got that."

"I thought after the first period, we started working a lot harder," Steen said. "I think we've had our fair share of chances in the recent last few games here and have hit posts and goalies made some saves, but tonight, we kind of turned it in our favor and got some bounces for us."

Schwartz put the Blues ahead 1-0 at 7 minutes, 53 seconds of the first when Steen made a move past Connor Murphy and slipped the puck in a spot for Schwartz to snap it past Mike Smith.

"That was a great pass," Schwartz said. "I saw him hesitate, I was on the outside, and that meant he wanted me to jump to the inside. The 'D' was focused on him, I think he drew a couple guys to him, that's what left me open and he made a great pass."

Steen added: "I knew once I made the move behind the net that I had a little bit of space. 'Schwartzy' made a great read, I think we both saw that area right away, so it was pretty easy. 

"He's easy to play with. He's a hard working guy which makes it easy to read off him. He's more times than not he's in the right spot. You know, just like that goal, you see the same area and he kind of jumps toward it. He's a good player, man."

Alex Pietrangelo's 12th of the season, which ties a career-high set in 2011-12, came after Nail Yakupov, who got an assist for the third straight game, tried to dangle through Anthony DeAngelo, but the puck caromed off the Coyotes defenseman right to Pietrangelo, who hammered a shot from the right circle off the far post past Smith at 12:28 of the second for a 2-0 lead.

That's when Allen came up critical.

After making key saves on Josh Jooris and Tobias Rieder in the first, Allen made four crucial saves in the second to keep it 2-0.

He denied Christian Dvorak's backhand charging hard at the net with 4:46 left in the period, then made the outstretched glove save on Max Domi with 4:41 left and heard the appreciation of the fans.

"You hear them, but you're pretty zoned in," Allen said. "It's tough to explain unless you're in the position that I'm in. You love the energy and hearing the energy. You more or less hear it at the start of the periods, but once the clock starts, it's all business. It's just something that grows on you after playing goal for 15-16 years."

Allen then made two back-to-back saves on Jordan Martinook late in the period.

"Jake was huge tonight," Yeo said. "The first period, for us to come out 0-0, that was on him. And then the second period, obviously we grab a lead there and at the end of the period, we gave up a couple of massive chances that not only did we keep the lead, but I thought the building came alive. I think the building recognized what he was doing for us and so we certainly got momentum from that as well."

"Obviously it's a jolt to the group," Steen said. "The biggest thing he brings to the table is a calmness. When there's a breakdown, you feel a confidence and he's going to stop this one and we're not going let that happen again. It's a little bit of a jolt for the group.

"... I've been saying it for years. I think you could see it right away when he came up in training camps and stuff. The technique and, in my opinion, he's got one of the better hockey senses in the group. He's able to read the play almost like in the beginning of the year, he was reading it too well, he was almost a step ahead and the bounce would beat him. He's a solid goaltender. I think he's one of the top three in the league."

The Coyotes (27-40-9), who got a goal from DeAngelo and 24 saves from Smith to finish off a five-game trip 1-4-0, got on the board on DeAngelo's long-range one-timer 1:01 into the third to make it 2-1, moments after Schwartz put a shot off the post and Smith robbed Steen with a sprawling glove save at 19:33. 

But the Blues regrouped, got a big goal from Schwartz at 10:06 after a pretty passing play between Steen and Tarasenko's backhand in the slot, and Tarasenko finished off a 3-on-1 when he and Steen tried to get Schwartz his hat trick.

"That's probably what everyone tries to do when anyone has two goals," Tarasenko said. "Just tried to set him up for a nice empty-netter, but I miss the play. Say sorry already.

"... It's nice 'Schwartzy' start scoring again. They're both are great players. I keep saying this, it's a pleasure to play with them and we need to improve more and win the games that we have left to prepare for the playoffs."

"It doesn't matter," Schwartz said of the hat trick. "These two points are all that matters right now. I knew 'Vladi' was looking for me, hat tricks aren't something you're really worried about."
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues goalie Jake Allen (left) makes a save on Arizona's Christian Dvorak
in the second period of a 4-1 victory on Monday at Scottrade Center.

It didn't go his way, but Swansea, Ill. native Clayton Keller, who signed a three-year, entry-level contract with Arizona on Sunday, made his NHL debut in the building he grew up watching and idolizing what would be his AAA Blues coach, Keith Tkachuk.

Keller, who was the seventh pick in the 2016 NHL Draft, played 14:09 and got a tap on the shin pads from Tarasenko at the opening puck drop.

"It's something I'll never forget," Keller said. "He's an unbelievable player. He's a star in the league and someone I definitely look up to. It was awesome.for him to come up and say congrats on the first one here.

"It was a really special moment getting to start. It is something I will remember forever and you only have one first NHL game, but I thought it was pretty cool."

(3-27-17) Coyotes-Blues Gameday Lineup

By LOU KORAC
ST. LOUIS -- Second-year defensemen Colton Parayko and Joel Edmundson continue to learn on the fly.

But now with the Blues' defensive unit more solidified with the trade of Kevin Shattenkirk to the Washington Capitals, Parayko and Edmundson, who both have become accustomed to one another as consistent partners together, are growing as a top-unit defensive pair.

Playing in a top-four, both Parayko and Edmundson, one more of a well-rounded offensive defenseman with quality shutdown ability, and another known as a physical d-man in his zone with a penchant of pitching in some offense, are relishing in the fact the Blues, who close a three-game homestand tonight against the Arizona Coyotes, are giving them more responsibilities.

"It's been a lot of fun just in a sense that we're getting a lot of trust from the coaching staff and the players and when you get that, you start to build a little bit of confidence," Parayko, who has four goals and 29 assists in 73 games this season. "It's a learning curve. Every game, we're making mistakes. It's the nature of the game. Everyone makes mistakes, but that's the beauty. We're kind of doing it together and it's a lot of fun, too, to have Joel on my side to learn together because I think if we can continue to play together for a few years, we can really become a dominant pair.

"We're playing against some of the top teams' lines, and that's good. That's what kind of makes you go out and need to perform at your highest levels. These are the best players in the world. When you get that opportunity, it only makes you have confidence as the game goes on. You'll continue to learn and improve from it."

Blues coach Mike Yeo is playing Parayko an average of 21 minutes, 4 seconds per game, and is at 17:25 on the season, but Edmundson has played 18-plus minutes in 14 of 24 games since Yeo's arrival, and Parayko is over 20 minutes a night in 14 of 24 games.

"Those guys have deserved it," Yeo said. "No different than our forward position, if the job wasn't getting done, then you switch it out, but those guys have been doing a nice job. 

"They're big bodies, they're physical. They both can skate, they both can execute and they both have a defensive mindset to their game. When you're looking at guys that are going to play in your top four, it's pretty hard to be one-dimensional. You need guys now that are solid defenders and guys that can execute and move the puck. Typically those guys are on the ice a lot of time with your best players or guys that are higher up in the lineup. In order for those guys to be able to get to their game, then they need defensemen that can get them the puck and both guys can do that.

"Colton, there's just so much pure raw talent there. He's still a young guy who's developing his game. His defensive game is just rock solid and we're seeing more and more confidence in his offensive game, and that'll continue to grow. That'll take several years for him to really get on top of that, but he's already a great player there, but I just think the sky's the limit. Eddy's almost a raw, just physical, just a real solid defending type of player. There's some detail in his game that we're working on and some things that he'll learn, and a lot of that will come with experience, but overall, he's a real competitor."

They're young players, and mistakes will be made, but he more experience they gain, the more they seem to thrive, and that minimizes the errors.

"We always come to the rink and expect to learn something," Edmundson said. "You just have to keep an open mind. We try to learn from your like 'Bouw' and 'Petro.' Last year, we both played with veteran defensemen. We learned a lot and now we're just trying to use that to our experience.

"We realize if we don't have the puck and it's in our forwards' hands, we're doing our jobs. We're just trying to get it away from us as soon as we can and protect our own zone. 'Wils' (assistant coach Rick Wilson) is comfortable throwing all six of us out there. It doesn't matter what point of the game it is. If you're playing your game that night, he'll throw you out there. It's going to help us in the playoffs for sure."

- - -

The Blues (40-28-6), who host the Coyotes (27-39-9) at 7 p.m. (FS-MW, KMOX 1120-AM) in a home-and-home set, begin a week of three games against the bottom two teams in the Western Conference, including road games at Arizona Wednesday and Colorado on Friday.

The Blues trail the Nashville Predators by one point for third place in the Central Division but lead the Los Angeles Kings by nine for the second wild card in the Western Conference. They also trail Calgary by two points with one game in hand for the first wild card.

"It doesn't seem like a lot of games, but there's still 16 points even though we're nine in front," Parayko said. "People say we have a favorable schedule and things like that, but teams are very good hockey clubs. Even though they don't have the records to show it, they still have lots of players that can put the puck in the net and lots of players that are dangerous. We definitely can't see it as a finish line yet. We've just got to do what we can control."

The Blues are 9-1-1 the past 11 games and have allowed 17 goals in that span.

"I think we've been playing great over the last month I would say," Parayko said. "These points are big. It's tough to get points this time of the year based on the fact that the standings are always tight, everyone's fighting for that home ice advantage, everyone's fighting for that extra playoff spot."

The Blues are coming off a 3-2 overtime loss to the Flames.

"Through 60 minutes, I thought we had the better of the chances as far as numbers and quality," Yeo said. "Certainly (Calgary is) a skilled team, but I thought that we did a lot of really good things. At the end of the night, we still lost the game and we've got to find a way to bounce back today."

The Blues defeated the Coyotes 3-0 on March 18, their ninth straight win against Arizona and the 13th straight game earning a point against the Coyotes (12-0-1), but Yeo wants to see a bit more.

"We have to play for 60 minutes," Yeo said. "I thought we had a real good start in that game (1-0 lead after one period, 16-3 shot edge). I think it was a combination that they weren't on top of their game and we were really good to start. ... We got the lead, and then early in the second period, we scored and from that point on, we changed our game and from that point on, I thought they had the better of the chances. We opened up the game and ironically we didn't score any more goals (on goalie Mike Smith) from that point and we gave them way too much. We have to control the game a little bit better tonight."

- - -

Matthew Tkachuk already returned to his hometown to play, and now it's Clayton Keller's turn.

The Coyotes' 2016 first-round pick (No. 7 overall, two spots behind Tkachuk), who signed an entry-level contract on Sunday, will make his NHL debut tonight in a barn he grew up idolizing Blues players.

Keller, 18, a Swansea, Ill. native who just completed his freshman season at Boston University on Saturday, got into Boston at 4 a.m. Sunday, flew out at 6 a.m. and arrived in St. Louis for practice Sunday. 

"It's really cool, the place I grew up watching games," said Keller, who called Keith Tkachuk, one of his AAA Blues coaches, as his favorite player growing up. "My dad, grandpa taking me to games when I was really young. It's really special to have the first one here. I'm looking forward to it."

Keller, who said he'll have family and close friends in attendance tonight, is the first cousin of Blues assistant equipment manager Chad O'Neil.

"He's been great," Keller said. "I can remember when I was real young and skating out there with him, things like that, and always fixing my equipment, always being there for me and my family, sharpening my brother's skates and mine. I can't thank him enough, so it's special to have him around."

- - -

Goalie Jake Allen, who is 7-1-1 and allowed 12 goals in that stretch, will start in goal; he is 6-0-0 with 1.00 goals-against average and .962 save percentage with two shutouts in his career against the Coyotes.

Yeo said forward Dmitrij Jaskin (upper-body injury) is close to returning to active duty but will miss a seventh consecutive game.

- - -

The Blues' projected lineup:

Jaden Schwartz-Alexander Steen-Vladimir Tarasenko

Magnus Paajarvi-Patrik Berglund-David Perron

Zach Sanford-Ivan Barbashev-Nail Yakupov

Scottie Upshall-Kyle Brodziak-Ryan Reaves

Jay Bouwmeester-Alex Pietrangelo

Joel Edmundson-Colton Parayko

Carl Gunnarsson-Robert Bortuzzo

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

The healthy scratch is Jordan Schmaltz. Paul Stastny (lower body), Robby Fabbri (knee), Jori Lehtera (upper body) and Dmitrij Jaskin (upper body) are out with injuries.

- - -

The Coyotes' projected lineup:

Max Domi-Christian Dvorak-Radim Vrbata

Clayton Keller-Alexander Burmistrov-Christian Fischer

Brendan Perlini-Jordan Martinook-Tobias Rieder

Lawson Crouse-Josh Jooris-Jamie McGinn

Oliver Ekman-Larsson-Connor Murphy

Alex Goligoski-Anthony DeAngelo

Jakob Chychrun-Luke Schenn

Mike Smith will start in goal; Louis Domingue will be the backup. 

Zbynek Michalek, Teemu Pulkkinen, Peter Holland and Anthony Duclair are healthy scratches. Brad Richardson (broken leg), Kevin Connauton (upper body) and Shane Doan (lower body) are out with injuries. 

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Blues finding ways to overcome adverse effects

When negative instances occur, players able 
to wipe slate clean, build positive momentum

By LOU KORAC
ST. LOUIS -- It was obviously a call that went against the Blues and one that resulted in even more bad news.

And if this were, say, December or January when the Blues were floundering, those bad breaks would multiply and by the end of the night, the Blues would be left to wonder why another game went without points.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Goalie Jake Allen, making a save Saturday against Calgary's Matthew
Tkachuk, said the Blues are able to move past negative plays in games.

When Scottie Upshall was whistled for slashing that began when he took a face full of glove of Calgary's TJ Brodie in the face that resulted in a scrum in front of Brian Elliott involving all 10 skaters and Upshall somehow was the only one found guilty of wrongdoing and the Flames scored on the ensuing power play, the Blues found a way to regroup and go about their business.

They would get the game back on a level playing ground after falling behind 1-0, and despite falling 3-2 in overtime against the likely playoff-bound Flames, the Blues earned a well-deserved point, and had every opportunity to get two.

That's not something that would have happened two months ago.

"Yeah, I think that's something Mike preaches," Blues goalie Jake Allen said of coach Mike Yeo. "I think that's something we've learned since he took over, just go back at it next shift, don't worry about what happened, even it's 6-0, just keep going out there and playing and things will come. 

"We got a point, not satisfied, but we still moved up and that's our objective right now, just finding ways to get points. If we can get one, great, we're just making positive steps. Eight games left, get another point and hopefully get some Monday."

This has been some of the culture Yeo has built when he took over the reigns of the Blues on Feb. 1, and the Blues (40-28-6), who play a home-and-home set with the Arizona Coyotes beginning Monday at home, have benefited going 16-7-1 in Yeo's 24 games.

"That's what we're trying to build here," Yeo said. "There are some things that you can make predictable, some things that you can make within your control. There's going to be some things that are not in your control. But the only thing that matters is how you come back your next shift. So we're not a team that's dwelling on mistakes or bad bounces -- whatever the case. Even good bounces or good fortune for that matter. We come back the next shift, we know what our game is and we get to it."

"... The last couple of games, the other team scored first and we've gotten three out of four points, so that's improvement. But we're not done, we have to keep growing here."

The Blues, 9-1-1 the past 11 games, have allowed 17 goals in that span, good for 1.55 goals per game; prior to losing Saturday, the Blues allowed 1.70 goals per game since Yeo took over, which was No. 1 in the NHL as well as 1.39 goals against per game in even strength situations. They were No. 1 in save percentage (.942), penalty kill (90.6), second in goal differential (plus-25) and second in even strength goal differential at plus-18.

Allen had the best GAA since Feb. 1 at 1.68, best save percentage at .944 and was tied with Columbus' Sergei Bobrovsky with three shutouts.

All the hikes in numbers come back to positive reinforcement.

"We've been saying here for the last couple of weeks, it's been a real positive when things are going our way we seem to bounce back and turn things around," defenseman Alex Pietrangelo said. "So I like the way we bounced back from (the penalty on Upshall). We're still doing a good job when things aren't going our way."

But while the Blues have been winning, it's important that they hammer the point in that Saturday was in fact a loss, albeit one they felt could have gone the other way, and to reinforce the winning culture that many of these players have grown accustomed to in recent years.

"It's still a loss, so I think that we'll make sure that we make that point," Yeo said. "We've got to be ready to bounce back next game. But there was still a number of good things in the game. For awhile here we've been focused on building our game, and we've got a pretty good sense of when we're doing the right things and what it looks like, and when we're not. I don't think there's too many guys in the locker room thinking that we didn't do a lot of good things here tonight. We didn't get the win, and so we'll have to find a way to be better next game."

But looking at the recent body of work, it's been something the Blues will bank on come playoff time.

"Big picture yeah. I mean, obviously it wasn't good enough because we didn't win," Pietrangelo said. "But big picture, yeah, the last couple of weeks here I think we can all agree on that."
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues captain Alex Pietrangelo (27) likes how the team is able to bounce
back and turn adverse effects into better play.

"We just want to come to the rink every day and push to get points," defenseman Colton Parayko said. "Just push to get better and make sure we're putting our best foot forward to win hockey games and give ourselves the best chance to win."

They're doing just that.

"I think the compete level is very high from our group right now," Yeo said. "I think emotionally we got wrapped up in some stuff in the first period, got a little too focused on the refs, or a couple of bounces, whatever the case is. I think the guys regrouped well, I think that we were able to regain our focus and with that, our execution started to get a little bit sharper. But all together, the guys are competing very hard. I think that you're seeing consistency in our game. We're building more pace in our game. I didn't think we were there in the first period, but I thought as the game wore on, we started to. We're still checking well, we're still checking hard ... our 5-on-5 game was pretty solid and we're a darn good team in the offensive zone, so we just have to continue to find a way to get there."

* NOTES -- The Blues on Sunday signed goalie Evan Fitzpatrick to a three-year entry-level contract.

The 19-year-old Fitzpatrick is a second-round pick in the 2016 NHL Draft who played 49 games at Sherbrooke of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League where he posted a 3.46 GAA and .899 save percentage.

-- The Coyotes also signed one of their own draft picks on Sunday, Chesterfield native Clayton Keller, the seventh pick in the 2016 NHL Draft. 

Keller, who drew up in Swansea, Ill., was one of five St. Louis-area players to be picked in the first round along with Matthew Tkachuk (No. 6, Calgary), Logan Brown (No. 11, Ottawa), Luke Kunin (No. 15, Minnesota) and Trent Frederic (No. 29, Boston).

All played for the AAA Blues and were coached by former Blues Jeff Brown and Keith Tkachuk, fathers of Logan and Matthew, respectively.

The 5-foot-10, 174-pound Keller, who was on the gold medal-winning team with the US World Junior squad in Toronto and Montreal three months ago, just completed his freshman season at Boston University and finished the season as the team's leading scorer with 45 points (21 goals, 24 assists) in 31 games.

Keller, 18, was on the ice with the Coyotes on Sunday at Scottrade Center and is expected to make his NHL debut against the Blues Monday night.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Flames score late in OT to top Blues 3-2

Monahan goal with 2.5 seconds remaining halts St. Louis' 
winning streak at four; all three Calgary goals go in off Blues skates, stick

By LOU KORAC
ST. LOUIS -- Jake Allen made all the saves that were cleanly thrown his way by the Calgary Flames on Saturday night.

Unfortunately for the Blues' goalie, he was the recipient of some bad-luck bounces off his own teammates' skates and stick, including one too many skates in overtime.

Sean Monahan's centering pass off center Kyle Brodziak's skate got past Allen with 2.5 seconds left in overtime to give the Flames a 3-2 victory over the Blues before 19,516 at Scottrde Center in a game packed with playoff-like intensity.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues defenseman Colton Parayko (55) looks to move the puck past
Flames center Sam Bennett Saturday night at Scottrade Center.

With the Blues (40-28-6) practically scrambling most of the overtime period, Monahan, who nearly won it seconds earlier but missed the net from the slot and was robbed by Allen with 1 minute, 45 seconds to play in the OT, was trying to feed a backdoor pass to Michael Frolik. Instead, the puck caromed off Brodziak and into the net before the Blues could get it to a shootout.

"There were 15 seconds there and (Mark) Giordano made a great play in the slot and I missed that one and I tried to feed it back door and it bounced in off Jake for a great win," Monahan said. "You never know when you throw pucks at the net, anything can happen. That's a good bounce, a lucky bounce and we'll take it." 

"It's hockey. Unlucky bounces," Allen said. "... We got a point, moved ahead. Positive. Didn't go backwards."

Former Blue Troy Brouwer and Matt Bartkowski each scored, and former Blues goalie Brian Elliott made 29 saves for the Flames (42-29-4), who went 1-2-0 on a three-game road trip.

Elliott, who spent the past five seasons with the Blues, improved to 13-1-1 in his past 15 starts with a 1.84 goals-against average and .938 save percentage in his first head-to-head matchup against Allen.

Ivan Barbashev and Jaden Schwartz scored for St. Louis (40-28-6), who lost for the first time in five games. Allen made 28 saves for St. Louis, which fell one point behind the Nashville Predators for third in the Central Division after the Predators defeated the San Jose Sharks 7-2.

The Blues were nine points ahead of the Los Angeles Kings, who were playing the New York Rangers late on Saturday, for the second wild card in the Western Conference. 

The Blues lamented that they played too defensive in overtime, didn't take care of the puck when they had it and had three goals go off them past Allen.

"They had the puck a lot (in overtime)," Blues defenseman Alex Pietrangelo said. "It's tough when all three goals go in off your own guys. You feel bad for Jake, who played the way he did. If you're going to give up three goals off your own guys, it means probably for the most part you're doing a good job defensively."

"We didn't really have the puck a whole lot obviously," said Blues coach Mike Yeo, whose team was outshot 6-1 in the extra period. "It's tough when you don't start with the puck. They were smart with how they played it, they were patient, they didn't take wasteful shots and obviously they've got some skill over there where they can work it around. They made it tough for us to get the puck back."

Pietrangelo, whose delay of game penalty with 2:04 remaining could have cost the Blues a point had the Flames scored late in regulation, had the Blues' best chance in the overtime when he had a 2-on-1 with Schwartz but never got a shot off and instead tried to stop on a dime and make a pass back.

"Puck just stopped moving," Pietrangelo said. "It's no different than my penalty at the end. That was a tough sheet to play on. You could see a lot of pucks, it was not a pretty game in terms of the puck moving out there. A lot of guys were losing the puck.

"I've got to find a way to make that play, but it is what it is."

Brouwer, who played for the Blues last season, put the Flames ahead 1-0 on a shot from the right faceoff circle that appeared to hit defenseman Jay Bouwmeester's stick and go over Allen at 17:11 of the first period.

But that's not what upset the Blues most. It was what the Blues felt was an egregious penalty called by referee Brian Pochmara, who whistled Scottie Upshall for slashing that ended with a scrum in front of Elliott and led to the Flames' power play.

Replays showed there was no slash by Upshall, but the whole scrum started when Upshall was facewashed by Flames defenseman TJ Brodie, who escaped unscathed without any infraction.

Yeo obviously voiced his displeasure, and costing the Blues a goal in the process made it even worse.

"Yeah, I thought so," Yeo said. "Tough call there, but I also felt that we deserved more than one power play tonight, but we're not going to sit here and complain about breaks or bounces.

"There were some things we could have done a little better in the game and so here we are."

The Blues had one power play in the game; the Flames had three.

The Blues tied it 1-1 when Barbashev stayed with his own rebound and scored from the slot at 8:08 of the second period. Barbashev's goal came as a result of a solid centering pass from defenseman Colton Parayko off the rush following Nail Yakupov's pass and the ability to stay patient and persistent after Barbashev's initial shot was blocked. Barbashev stayed with it and beat Elliott high with a wrist shot.

"At first, 'Yak' made a hell of a play on the blue line, and passed it to Colton, it was a better pass from Colton to be honest," Barbashev said. "After the first shot, the legs of the 'D' or someone, I saw the puck was going back, I was 100 percent sure someone was going to be there but I got lucky. There was no one and I just had to put the puck in an empty net."

"That was a beauty," Parayko said. "He's been playing really well right now. It's a lot of fun to see for a guy like him to come up and play like that and be an impact every night."

Schwartz said recently that once he starts to score, they'll go in in weird ways.

Chalk up another one when Schwartz put the Blues on top 2-1 at 7:16 of the third period after following up a point shot.

Bouwmeester's shot was redirected by Brodziak on goal that Elliott stopped, but Schwartz came from the other side and the puck caromed in off his skate as he was trying to settle it.

The officials looked at it and deemed it a goal.

Elliott didn't agree.

"I thought it was a blatant kicking motion by 'Schwartzy,'" Elliott said.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues defenseman Colton Parayko (right) celebrates with teammate Ivan
Barbashev after Barbashev scored in the second period Saturday night.

But Bartkowski tied it 2-2 when his shot from the left circle went in off Bouwmeester's skate at 10:53 on a delayed penalty.

"That's a tough one," Parayko said. "Obviously the way that they went in, but it's hockey. Throw pucks towards the net, you never know what's going to happen. That's just the way the game goes sometimes. It's one of those things we've got to take in, come back Monday and win another hockey game."

Flames defenseman Deryk Engelland prevented Barbashev's first two-goal game in the NHL when he blocked a rebound attempt with 15:07 to play.

"It felt like a playoff game today," Barbashev said. "Both teams played a helluva game today. It's kind of a tough loss."

The Loss was the Blues' first wearing their Winter Classic uniforms; they fell to 4-0-1 with them and will wear them the final two home games of the regular season.

(3-25-17) Flames-Blues Gameday Lineup

By LOU KORAC
ST. LOUIS -- It's been the anticipated matchup since the Blues traded Brian Elliott to the Calgary Flames at the NHL Draft last summer.

Neither Jake Allen or Elliott were in goal together on the same night when the Blues (40-28-5) and Flames (41-29-4) played in a home-and-home set way back in October, but they will finally class today when the two Western Conference playoff hopefuls meet at Scottrade Center at 6 p.m. (FS-MW, KMOX 1120-AM).

Allen was in goal for the Blues' 6-4 win at Calgary on Oct. 22 and faced the Flames' Chad Johnson, and when the Flames won 4-1 on Oct. 25, Elliott went against the Blues' Carter Hutton.

"It will be fun to play 'Ells,'" Allen said of his close friend. "He's a great goalie, but points are crucial for both teams right now. Hopefully it'll be a good game."

Allen and Elliott teamed up to lead the Blues to the Western Conference Final last season, but with both wanting the cage more often instead of the traditional split of the past two seasons, the Blues traded Elliott for a pair of draft picks, a second-round pick in 2016 one being a conditional third-round pick in 2018 if the Flames resign Elliott to an extension.

"It's pretty cool to be able to play against your friends, but this time of year, it's not so friendly anymore," Elliott said Friday.

Both goalies are on a tear.

Allen is 7-1-0 his past eight starts with two shutouts and allowing only 10 goals. Elliott is 12-1-1 with to shutouts and has allowed only 25 goals in that stretch.

It's no surprise to the Blues, who have seen this before.

"Not at all," left wing Jaden Schwartz said. "They're both great goalies and they've proven that for a long time. They work extremely hard. We're happy for 'Ells' in here. He's a battler. Obviously (tonight), we'll try to turn the table on him a little bit, but definitely happy for him and how well he's doing. He's a big reason why that team's sitting in a playoff spot right now. Jake just does his thing.

"There's been some storylines. I think they won 10 in a row or something like that. That's something that you notice. Obviously he's a big part of that."

"They're both competitors," defenseman Alex Pietrangelo said. "They've always been like that. I'm sure they're going to have a little friendly head-to-head there and it's exciting. You've got (Troy) Brouwer there, too, who's certainly going to make life miserable for me, too. It' always fun playing against guys you have a relationship with. It kind of brings out the best in you a lot of time and those guys will be ready to go tomorrow.

"Look at what they did last year. They both played outstanding. None of us are surprised. It's good to see them both have success. I know we're playing against him (tonight), but when you know you have a friend on the other side, you want to see him play well as well. It's a good thing that both of them are doing what they're doing."

- - -

The Blues, who are in third place in the Central Division by virtue of being even in points with Nashville (85-85) but hold the tie-breaker based on more regulation/overtime wins (39-35), also trail the Flames by one point for the first wild card in the Western Conference, so lots ride on tonight's game.

The Blues, who have won four in a row and nine of 10, have been as stingy as anyone in the league. They have allowed 14 total goals, or 1.4 per game the past 10 games.

Why?

"I would say goaltending is obviously first and foremost," Blues coach Mike Yeo said. "It gives you confidence to find your game. For me, it's the group of defensemen, but our forwards are playing a game that helps the group as well. If we're playing well defensively, I think that we're going to look tight in our structure and be sort of an in-your-face, pressure team, but we're going to have layers to our defense. Any team that's out there and is is as good defensively as you can be, eventually if you keep defending, then you're going to give up something. I think we've been doing a good job getting on the attacks and more time in the offensive zone and possessing the puck and that's helped our defensive game as well."

"Our goaltending's been great," Schwartz said. "'Hutts' and Jake have been making big saves, whether it's timely saves early in the game to keep us in it or when we've got a lead, they're doing their job, so they're really kicking. That allows our PK to be good and I think most games we're eliminating odd-man rushes against. There's always the odd one, but I think we've done a good job of eliminating those as much as we can."

Blues defenseman Jay Bouwmeester was surprised as anyone to hear the numbers.

"I didn't even know that was kind of the number, but that's pretty good," Bouwmeester said. "Obviously goaltending's No. 1. They've been playing great. Even (Thursday) night at the start of the game, (Allen) kind of made some big saves and kept us in it for a little bit. We were a little slow-starting, but I think there's been a focus for the past 20-25 games just to tighten that part up. Early in the year, we were just giving up so much. People were blaming the goalies or whatever, but we were giving up a lot of pretty quality chances. It makes their life pretty difficult. For whatever reason, we've just had more of a focus and we've been able to just do a better job. Penalty kill's been pretty good the last 10 games or so. That obviously helps, too."

Yeo said the Blues have made small, subtle detail changes with the forwards to make them more mindful defensively since he took over but nothing major.

"I would just say that there's points of emphasis, things that have been in our game that we just kind of wanted to reestablish and wanted to make sure that we got back on top of," Yeo said. "There's been some real focal points that we're trying to concentrate on to make sure that certain elements of our game just as far as how quickly we counter from offense to defense in terms of how we track and how we reload and how we work to get on top of the puck and I think that allows our defense to have a little better gap in the neutral zone and make it a little bit more difficult for them to get through with some clean speed."

Since Yeo took over Feb. 1, the Blues have allowed an average of 38 goals in 23 games, or 1.65 goals per game.

"Not really tactical, I just think we're executing better," Schwartz said. "Maybe a couple things positionally but I just think we're executing better as a team and realizing the situaton of the season."

"Some little things, but everyone pretty much plays the same now," Bouwmeester said of any changes. "If anything, I think it's just be more patient down there, realize where the real dangerous areas are. If you can give up shots from the outside, that's the thing. Our goalies can handle that. It's just more being stronger around our net."

- - -

Schwartz's first non-empty net goal in 26 games on Tuesday against Colorado helped him breathe a sign of relief.

After he scored, Schwartz more or less looked up to the heavens and exhale.

"It felt good," Schwartz said. "It was definitely nice to see it go in rather than hitting a post or hitting shoulders, hitting something.

"I was just upset it took so long. Of all the chances, you get one like that go in, so it's kind of weird how that works out sometimes. Just good to see it go in."

Schwartz has 15 goals and 31 assists in 69 games this season, but his all-around game hasn't been affected by the goal-scoring drought.

"It's just part of the business," he said. "Sometimes in sports, you have ups and downs, sometimes you're hot, sometimes you're cold. You've just got to stick with it and learn from it. I'm still playing well, getting a lot of chances, creating for others. I don't really think about that to be honest. I'm worrying about how I'm playing, how the team's playing. When us individuals are doing our jobs, better chance you're going to win games, so that's all I'm focused on."

- - -

The Flames, who have lost two in a row for the first time since Jan. 23-24, will get hometown boy Matthew Tkachuk back in the lineup tonight.

Tkachuk, son of former Blue Keith Tkachuk, was suspended the past two games for elbowing Los Angeles Kings defenseman Drew Doughty last Sunday.

"It's a fine line," Tkachuk said. "It's tough when you're just watching your team, especially when we didn't get the outcome we wanted the past two games. I'm moving forward, I'm back in now and I'm just going to try and make a difference." 

Tkachuk, who has 13 goals and 33 assists in 68 games, will rejoin linemates Mikael Backlund and Michael Frolik

"It's a good addition for us," Flames coach Glen Gulutzan said. "To get those guys back, they play so well together. They have great chemistry. They play against the top lines nightly. It's good to have them back. I think everyone's happy that they're back together."

- - -

The Blues' projected lineup:

Jaden Schwartz-Alexander Steen-Vladimir Tarasenko

Magnus Paajarvi-Patrik Berglund-David Perron

Zach Sanford-Ivan Barbashev-Nail Yakupov

Scottie Upshall-Kyle Brodziak-Ryan Reaves

Jay Bouwmeester-Alex Pietrangelo

Joel Edmundson-Colton Parayko

Carl Gunnarsson-Robert Bortuzzo

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

The healthy scratch is Jordan Schmaltz. Paul Stastny (lower body), Robby Fabbri (knee), Jori Lehtera (upper body) and Dmitrij Jaskin (upper body) are out.

- - -

The Flames' projected lineup:

Johnny Gaudreau-Sean Monahan-Micheal Ferland

Matthew Tkachuk-Mikael Backlund-Michael Frolik

Lance Bouma-Sam Bennett-Alex Chiasson

Kris Versteeg-Matt Stajan-Troy Brouwer

Mark Giordano-Dougie Hamilton

TJ Brodie-Michael Stone

Matt Bartkowski-Deryk Engelland

Brian Elliott will start in goal; Chad Johnson will be the backup.

Healthy scratches include Freddie Hamilton, Rasmus Andersson, Curtis Lazar and Dennis Wideman. Ladislav Smid (neck) is out for the season.