Friday, January 21, 2022

(1-21-22) Blues-Kraken Gameday Lineup

By LOU KORAC
When the Blues open a three-game trip tonight with their first-ever visit to Seattle to face the expansion Kraken for the first time at Climate Pledge Arena (9 p.m.; BSMW, ESPN 101/1-FM), they'll do so with a full lineup.

Well, almost full lineup.

Aside from defenseman Scott Perunovich, who continues to be day-to-day with an undisclosed injury, the Blues (23-11-5) will have everyone at their disposal against the Kraken (12-23-4) when forward Pavel Buchnevich is the last of the recent players to serve time out in COVID-19 protocol.

"We've had a lot of COVID guys and injured guys, so it's nice to have almost everyone back here and get to work together and see what we can bring to this road trip," forward Oskar Sundqvist said. "If you look up and down the lineup, it's a really good lineup. I think this is probably one of the best lineups I've played with in my time in St. Louis. There's such good depth in there too. I'm very excited to see what we can bring here together."

Knock on wood, the Blues are healthy and have decisions to make in the lineup and how the lines are put together, a nice luxury for coach Craig Berube.

It includes putting David Perron back together with running mate Ryan O'Reilly tonight along with Brayden Schenn.

O'Reilly, Schenn and Ivan Barbashev combined for 11 points in a 5-3 win against Nashville on Monday.

"I was surprised for sure after the game they had the other day, but I'm sure as they look at stuff and are like Buchy's coming back and they're trying to find chemistry throughout the lineup, all that stuff," Perron said. "Definitely I'm not going to complain about it, I'm going to look to build off that and I thought I had a decent start to the season, but the injury and a couple things happen, I just got to get back to that and keep improving every day."

The Blues are facing the Kraken for the second time in nine days. The pesky Kraken, who have won two straight after nine straight losses (0-8-1) gave the Blues all they could handle in St. Louis Jan. 13 when they led 1-0 heading into the third before the Blues rallied for a 2-1 win behind goals from Robert Thomas and Buchnevich.

"We talked this morning, I think we're ready," Berube said. "We had good practices, but we have to understand the situation in here with Seattle. They play well, they play hard. It's not going to be an easy game. They beat San Jose last night (3-2), they played hard against them. It was kind of a physical game too. We talked to our guys. You can't go into this game lightly, you can't take them lightly. We have to make sure that we come out in the first period, we're on our toes and we're skating and we're working. That's what it's really going to boil down to. 

"I think they've played good defense all year. They don't give a lot of shots up, they're pretty tight. They get a lot of numbers in on the puck. We went over that this morning about what we need to do with the puck in these situations. We're going to have to work for everything tonight. They compete hard and they work hard and they play with good structure in their system. It's going to take a real effort here tonight."

- - -

Putting Perron back with O'Reilly and Schenn could get Perron back on track.

Since coming back from his injury Dec. 29 against Edmonton and missing a week in protocol, Perron has a goal and an assist in six games.

"I felt really good against the Oilers the first game back, felt real good the Winter Classic and then the next game in Pittsburgh, I don't know if it was symptoms of whatever, but I just kind of had no energy that week," Perron said. "I definitely did not like the way I played and I'm definitely looking forward to getting back to my normal self playing some good hockey for the team and contributing in many ways.

"It's great for sure, but I don't know if we're done dealing with all kinds of stuff. Still got a bit til the All-Star break until they fully change everything, but most of us are kind of in a 90-day holiday, so we should be good to go here moving forward, get moving forward as a whole group together. We're pretty deep, so it's good to see."

Berube balanced the lines up quite nicely, but he had plenty of players at his disposal. And getting Perron going again will be a priority.

"I think that's the goal, but looking at the other guys coming back in the lineup, it was just a matter of putting people together that have worked well together in the past," Berube said. "We had to do some maneuvering around a little bit, and that's how that worked out."

- - -

There's no question the Blues have established some home dominance, going 16-4-2 at Enterprise Center, but now it's time to get the road mojo going.

They'll play 11 of their next 16 away from the friendly confines of home and would like to greatly improve on the 7-7-3 record.

"I think the biggest thing would be starts," center Robert Thomas said. "I think in your own rink, you're able to get the momentum of the crowd when you're down. It's harder on the road because they feed off their crowd's energy. I think the biggest key should be our starts and getting off to a good start."

"It's kind of weird to think about because ... we haven't had that many road games in the last month or so," defenseman Justin Faulk said. "I don't even think it's in guys' heads. No one's talking about it for sure. We know what we need to do to play good hockey. We've been finding ways to win games over the last few weeks and what not. I think we can have that carryover here on the road and just keep building our game, but I didn't know the road record until you said it, and I don't know if many other guys in that room necessarily do because we're not really focused on what the record is today, but just building our game and continuing to get better."

- - -

Buchnevich has been cleared from COVID protocol and will return tonight, but he will have to miss Sunday's game at Vancouver.

In the US, protocols that were put in place in late December by the league and the PA, players that test positive are required to quarantine for a minimum of five days but can return after that if they have two negative COVID tests.

Buchnevich has done that, but going into Canada still requires travelers to be at least 10 days removed from a positive test, and Sunday will be the 10th day for Buchnevich, so he won't be able to join the team's flight to Vancouver for Sunday's game against the Canucks.

Buchnevich will stay in Seattle and skate at the Kraken's practice facility before flying to Calgary Monday morning to meet the team and be ready for the game against the Flames.

- - -

* Forward Jordan Kyrou has 14 points (five goals, nine assists) his past nine games.

* Forward Vladimir Tarasenko has 12 points (six goals, six assists) in a seven-game point streak.

* Barbashev has 15 points (five goals, 10 assists) his past 10 games.

* Buchnevich has 12 points (three goals, nine assists) his past eight games.

* O'Reilly has eight points his past five games ( four goals, four assists). 

* Defenseman Torey Krug is a point a game player the past eight games (two goals, six assists).

* Defenseman Marco Scandella will play in his 100th game with the Blues tonight.

- - -

The Blues' projected lineup:

Brayden Schenn-Ryan O'Reilly-David Perron

Pavel Buchnevich-Ivan Barbashev-Vladimir Tarasenko

Brandon Saad-Robert Thomas-Jordan Kyrou

Klim Kostin-Tyler Bozak-Oskar Sundqvist

Niko Mikkola-Colton Parayko

Torey Krug-Justin Faulk

Marco Scandella-Robert Bortuzzo

Ville Husso is projected to start in goal; Jordan Binnington would be the backup.

Healthy scratches include Logan Brown and Jake Walman. Scott Perunovich (undisclosed) remains day-to-day but is skating.

- - -

The Kraken's projected lineup:

Marcus Johansson-Jared McCann-Jordan Eberle

Yanni Gourde-Alex Wennberg-Calle Jarnkrok

Ryan Donato-Riley Sheahan-Mason Appleton

Alexander True-Karson Kuhlman-Joonas Donskoi

Mark Giordano-Will Borgen

Vince Dunn-Adam Larsson

Carson Soucy-Jeremy Lauzon

Joey Daccord is projected to start; Philipp Grubauer would be the backup. 

Healthy scratches could include Haydn Fleury and Colin Blackwell. Jaden Schwartz (upper body), Morgan Geekie (upper body) and Jamie Oleksiak (illness) are out. Chris Driedger and Antoine Bibeau are in COVID-19 protocol. 

Thursday, January 20, 2022

Barbashev has come full circle, turned into quite an offensive gem for Blues

Forward came into NHL as offensive player, adapted to new role to 
make it in league, now counted on to produce, living up to standards 

By LOU KORAC
ST. LOUIS -- In the first period Monday against the Nashville Predators, there was a redirection of a goal that got the Blues back in the game; then there was a quick and precise cross-ice seam pass that sprung a goal, and then there was a second goal of his own, a goal scorer's goal.
(St. Louis Blues/Scott Rovak)
Robert Thomas (arms raised) joins the celebration after Ivan Barbashev (49)
scored at the 2022 Discover Winter Classic at Target Field. 

No, this wasn't Vladimir Tarasenko, it wasn't Ryan O'Reilly, it wasn't Brayden Schenn, it wasn't first-time All-Star Jordan Kyrou. It wasn't even Robert Thomas.

Then who could be making these high-impact plays that has the Blues among the top-tiered teams in the Western Conference?

Imagine the surprise when those on the outside see that it's Ivan Barbashev, a second-round pick in the 2014 NHL Draft, who has become quite the high-impact player for an offense that ranks fifth in the NHL with 136 goals, or 3.58 goals per game.

There's such a balanced attack when it comes to the Blues statistically, but for the 26-year-old Barbashev, it's a breakout season for him in the NHL.

The Moscow, Russia native, who has 24 points (11 goals, 13 assists) in 19 games since Nov. 26, and 15 points (five goals, 10 assists) his past 10 games, has already set a single-season NHL career highs in goals with 15, in assists with 19, in points with 34, power-play goals (four) and power-play points (eight).

His three-point effort fueled a 5-3 come-from-behind win against the Nashville Predators on Monday skating on a line with O'Reilly and Schenn.

Think of it, this is the same player that was impactful in a different way helping the Blues win their first Stanley Cup in 2019, as a fourth-line checking and energy guy with Alexander Steen and Oskar Sundqvist.

Now, in his sixth NHL season, Barbashev has been thrust into a role to help make the offense go, and he's done it with a plethora of linemates. No matter where coach Craig Berube puts the 6-foot-1, 195-pound lefty-handed shot, he's thrived.

"I'm not sure. It's just fun to play with every single guy on the team," Barbashev said. "We've got a really good team that's skilled. We're playing the right way and I think it just makes it easier for everyone to play with each other. It's been a fun season so far, especially when the team is winning. It's more fun."

Barbashev's previous high in goals was 14 in that Stanley Cup-winning season of 2018-19, but he did it in 80 games. His high in assists was 15 in in 2019-20 in 69 games. And his high in points was 26 in 18-19 and 19-20. Last season Barbashev played the same amount of games, 38, and had 12 points (five goals, seven assists).

"I think 'Barby' over time, whoever he played with, since he's played with has played in different roles for us and different players," Berube said. "He just plays his game. I don't thunk it matters who he plays with. I really think he has some great chemistry with (Pavel) Buchnevich for sure. I think that goes back to when they were young too. It seems like he and 'Buchy' really know where each other is on the ice, find each other. Sort of like 'Sunny' and 'Barby' back a couple years ago when they played together a lot, it was similar. They fed off each other on the PK, they fed off each other 5-on-5 in their play. Back then, they produced for us too playing in a different role than they do now. It's not like he hasn't produced in the past, he has, but he's producing in a different role.

"Sometimes players develop later, sometimes players have a different role and 'Barby's in a different role this year and he's producing for us. He's on the power play, he's playing in a top six role for most of the year and he's doing the job."

Of course Berube's not surprised; he's seen glimpses of this and used Barbashev in similar roles when the two were together with the Chicago Wolves of the American Hockey League when Barbashev had a hit of a breakout season in 2016-17 with 37 points (19 goals, 18 assists) in 46 games.

So should this really be considered a surprise though? Probably not.

When the Blues drafted Barbashev, he was coming out of the Quebec Major JUnior Hockey League off a 95-point season (45 goals, 50 assists) in 57 games. He had 88 goals and 137 assists in three seasons in Moncton, but as he progressed through the pro ranks, Barbashev had to adjust, refine his game and has become one of the more effective, well-rounded players on the roster.

"I think it's just years, maturity, opportunity and making the most of it," Schenn said. "He got an opportunity this year early on and you see what this league's all about. You have to make the most of your opportunities. Not that he wasn't before, but he even got a better one this year with more offensive minutes and playing with more offensive guys. He shows that he can put the puck in the back of the net as well. He's a great passer too. He can see the ice really well and he's fun to play with because he does compete very hard at both ends of the ice."

Consider some of Barbashev's other numbers compared to his career numbers, and they're staggering. He's averaging 0.89 points per game, which more than doubles his career average of 0.40; he's on pace for 73 points, which also more than doubles his career-high of 33; and he's averaging 17:09 of time on ice per game, which crushes his career average of 13:01.

It all comes with responsibilities 5-on-5, on the power play where he averages 1:20 ice time per game; he's a regular on the penalty kill, just getting chances in all situations amplifies all the above numbers.

"Yeah, for sure. It's been nice," Barbashev said. "I've been playing in different roles, PK, power play, some 5-on-6 or stuff like this. It gives me some confidence. You do want to get those chances and make the most of it.
(St. Louis Blues/Scott Rovak)
Ivan Barbashev (second from left) celebrates with teammates after he
scored Monday in a win against the Nashville Predators.

"I remember my first training camp. Really nervous and stuff like this. It took me a while to get to my game. It took me maybe about three to four years to get it. It's a tough adjustment for some players. It's been fun the way I've improving every single year."

That he has, and it's no wonder how Barbashev has gained the trust of the coaching staff.

"I think last year we used 'Barby' up and down the lineup," Berube said. "We used him in different roles. He played with (David) Perron and O'Reilly for some time and they were really good together and produced offensively. I think he was a guy that came into the league in a certain type of role and his role has advanced over time. Now he's obviously on the power play, he's playing on the penalty kill still. He's an all-situational player now. He's done a real good job, whether it's at center ice or on the wing, he plays all positions for us. He's been a real good player."

Barbashev is on pace to score 31 goals this season, which would be quite remarkable for someone asked to become more of a checking forward to make it in the NHL. But just think, with patience and hard work, the rewards come with it, and Barbashev certainly has earned them.

Imagine had the Blues left him unprotected in the expansion draft last summer. They knew better.

Monday, January 17, 2022

(1-17-22) Predators-Blues Gameday Lineup

By LOU KORAC
ST. LOUIS -- The band is back together again. 

Almost.

The Blues (22-11-5) got a shot of good news on Sunday when coach Craig Berube announced forwards Vladimir Tarasenko and Brayden Schenn, along with defenseman Colton Parayko would return to the lineup today when the Blues conclude a five-game homestand against the Nashville Predators (24-12-3) at 7 p.m. (BSMW, ESPN 101.1-FM) after each cleared COVID-19 protocol.

After Monday's morning skate, it was confirmed that forward David Perron cleared COVID protocol earlier in the morning will also return, and forward Logan Brown (non-COVID illness) would also return to the lineup.

"He cleared this morning, so he'll be a player for us this morning too, which is good," Berube said of Perron, who missed the past two games. "They're only out five days, right? It's a quicker return, which is good for all the teams, especially with guys with no symptoms and things like that. When you don't have any symptoms and you feel ready to play, it's a good thing you get them back a lot quicker."

Brown also missed two games; he skated Sunday during an optional and is deemed good to go.

"He's fine, he's going to play, he's ready to go," Berube said.

That leaves forward Pavel Buchnevich as the lone skater that remains sidelined. He went on COVID protocol on Friday, which means if he tests out accordingly and doesn't have symptoms, he can resume practicing Wednesday.

"It's exciting obviously getting some guys back here," Parayko said. "Kind of see our team form up a little more. I feel like we've had a lot of injuries and COVID kind of throughout the season, but obviously we're not the only team. It's nice when you can look down the lineup and see what we were expecting to see at the beginning of the year and coming together. Just on us now to perform now and get some points."

"The whole league's dealing with it realistically," Schenn said. "I think that's why it's important to have lots of depth. We've been able to compete with the top teams in the league just because we are so deep everywhere on our team. With COVID and everything and guys being out for five days at a time or 10 days at a time, you're going to need lots of bodies and guys that have came in have done a great job."

Parayko and Schenn said each felt five quarantining. 

"Just a stuffy nose, that's it," Schenn said. 

"Feeling good. Luckily, I had not one symptom the whole time," Parayko said. "Feeling good and just excited to get back."

Needless  to say, each would rather do without so much testing, being on par with many of their Blues teammates that have been out.

"I think at some time, the NHL has to stop testing," Schenn said. "The PA, we have to find a way. ... It just seems a little ridiculous at times when you have 15,000-18,000 people watching  the game and no no one else is testing. Obviously it's a very serious thing and stuff like that, but kind of the way it's trending a little bit right now, it seems to, in our locker room at least, guys are getting colds and stuff like that, feel fine, good enough to play. Hopefully at some point down the stretch, they can come up with something where guys aren't forced to miss 5-10 days with a cold.

"Testing every single day, guys are going to get a cold or whatever else is going around here. That's kind of what's going through our locker room right now. There's no really way of avoiding when you test every single day."

"I don't know where to really go with this," Parayko said. "There's so many ways to look at it from a hockey standpoint. Personally, I had no symptoms and stuff and I felt great the whole time. It's difficult that way. Some guys are getting hit a little bit harder. Some guys get hit differently. Obviously you've got to look at it from a health standpoint, but at the same time, it is what it is. Obviously we wish we would test less and I wish I didn't miss games, but every team's got to do it. We've just got to move forward and do what we can."

Schenn has played in just 22 of 38 games this season dealing with an upper-body injury on two separate occasions and just wants to get back on track. He's hopeful this is it.

"I sure hope so. It's been one of those years," Schenn said. "I've been pretty fortunate and lucky to stay healthy in my career and stuff. It's one of those years where you feel like you can't get in a rhythm and now down the stretch here the last 40 games or whatever we have here left, I'm looking forward to being a contributing factor to this team and helping the team win hockey games."

- - -

Tonight, the Blues will put Chris Pronger's No. 44 into the rafters during a pregame ceremony that starts at 6 p.m.

Pronger will join Al MacInnis (No. 2), Bob Gassoff (No. 3), Bob Plager (No. 5), Barclay Plager (No. 8), Brian Sutter (No. 11), Brett Hull (No. 16) and Bernie Federko (No. 24) as players to have their numbers retired by the Blues.

Pronger was originally acquired by the Blues in a trade by then GM/coach Mike Keenan that sent fan-favorite Brendan Shanahan to the Hartford Whalers on July 27, 1995. During his nine seasons with the Blues, Pronger played in 598 regular-season games and totaled 356 points (84 goals, 272 assists) and 931 penalty minutes. Pronger was a four-time All-Star as a Blue, finished in the Top 5 of the Norris Trophy voting five times and in 2017, was named one of the "100 Greatest Players" by the NHL.

"You look at some of those numbers that are in the rafters, not just our building but every building," Parayko said. "Just to be put up there and even on it that way is something special and you're doing something right. It's not hard to see how good of a player he was. You hear about how he was as a person too. Great person and teammate. With all that stuff being combined, it's no surprise he's out there. We're excited as an organization to celebrate that and watch 44 go up in the rafters."

Schenn played briefly with Pronger in Philadelphia with the Flyers.

"I played with him I don't know how many games before he had that unfortunate eye injury there," Schenn said. "I think I was on the ice, I'm not sure, but I feel like I was when it happened. For me, he was really good to me as a young guy. Obviously him as a player and the demeanor he had around the locker room was obviously very demanding, tough on his teammates, demanded a lot out of his teammates. Ultimately that made guys better. That's why he's won everything he's had. He's won individual trophies and team awards and championships and Olympics and everything that comes with it. Definitely very well deserving putting his number up here in the rafters here in St. Louis, a guy that just me being a kid and stuff like that, used to watch him and just how tough and mean he was and hard top play against and a guy that can control the game from the back end. Not many guys have been able to do that throughout their career and he was definitely one of them. Very deserving that he goes up in the rafters with the rest of them.

"Nights like this are big in the organization. People fly in for them, alumni are here and ultimately, you just want to put on a good show for the fans and the guys that have worn the jersey before you. We're going to have a lot of those guys in the building tonight and you want to come out, make them proud and have a good game tonight."

Berube coached Pronger in Philadelphia and played against him for a number of years and recalls so many good things about him.

"I played against him and I coached him in Philly. He was a great player, one of the best defensemen that's played the game in my opinion," Berube said. "He's a mean guy, great, great vision and passer of the puck, control a game back there singlehandedly in my opinion. There's not many guys that can do that. He's one that could do it. I enjoyed coaching him. I don't know if I enjoyed playing against him that much because every time I went to him, I got a cross-check in the face. But anyways, as a coach, I learned a lot coaching just from his side of things and how he thought about the game. It was pretty funny, I was running the forwards and every time he'd have a shift, he'd come back, he'd yell my name, 'Chief, get down here!' I'd go down to the D, I had to go by the coaches and go down to the D and he'd say, 'Tell that guy up front this and that and that.' It was pretty funny. I said, 'Prongs, I'm watching the game.' 'I'm just making sure you're on it.' He's a demanding guy by everybody. He wants the best out of the coaches and the best out of all his teammates because he expects the best out of himself, and that's the way he played the game."

Needless to say, the two never fought.

"Why would he fight me? That's a bad trade-off," Berube said. "He had other guys to fight me like Kelly Chase and 'Twister'."

- - -

Ville Husso will get the nod tonight in goal for the Blues. 

Husso is 7-0-0 with a 1.38 goals-against average and .955 save percentage in his past eight home starts.

"We've been rotating, like I said before, like I said yesterday," Berube said. "We've been rotating, so this is the rotation."

- - -

The Blues' projected lineup:

Ivan Barbashev-Ryan O'Reilly-Brayden Schenn

Jordan Kyrou-Robert Thomas-Vladimir Tarasenko

Brandon Saad-Logan Brown-David Perron

Klim Kostin-Tyler Bozak-Oskar Sundqvist 

Niko Mikkola-Colton Parayko

Torey Krug-Justin Faulk

Marco Scandella-Robert Bortuzzo

Ville Husso will start in goal; Jordan Binnington will be the backup. 

The healthy scratch will be Jake Walman. Scott Perunovich (undisclosed) is out. Pavel Buchnevich is in COVID-19 protocol.

- - -

The Predators' projected lineup:

Filip Forsberg-Ryan Johansen-Luke Kunin

Eeli Tolvanen-Mikael Granlund-Matt Duchene

Yakov Trenin-Colton Sissons-Tanner Jeannot

Michael McCarron-Nick Cousins-Philip Tomasino

Roman Josi-Dante Fabbro

Alexandre Carrier-Matt Benning

Mark Borowiecki-Philippe Myers 

Juuse Saros is projected to start in goal; David Rittich would be the backup. 

The healthy scratch is expected to be Ben Harpur. The Predators report no injuries, although Fabbro departed Saturday's 4-3 overtime loss against Boston with an upper-body injury. Mattias Ekholm is in COVID protocol.

Sunday, January 16, 2022

(1-17-22) BLUES NOTEBOOK

Berube says Binnington, team need to be better; Scandella taking 
some heat; COVID reinforcements ready to return; home point streak solid run

By LOU KORAC
MARYLAND HEIGHTS, Mo. -- There would certainly be questions, especially after the nature of how Toronto's go-ahead goal was scored in a 6-5 loss by the Blues against the Maple Leafs on Saturday night to end their 13-game home point streak.

For the 15th time in 22 starts, Jordan Binnington has allowed three or more goals in a game, and Saturday marked the eighth time he's given up four or more in those 22 starts.

The goal by Ilya Mikheyev with 3:15 remaining was the result of a poorly executed shift by the Blues' failure to get a puck deep in the Toronto zone, then failing to execute a zone clear on multiple occasions, but the bad angle that Binnington was beaten for what was the game-winning goal was a shot that requires a save.

The Blues' No. 1 netminder, with the loss, fell to 11-8-3 with a 3.05 goals-against average and .906 save percentage. Among qualified starters, his GAA ranks 30th in the NHL, his save percentage is 27th and he's tied for 20th in wins.

In his 22 starts, Binnington has a save percentage below .900 in 10 of them, including Saturday when he allowed the six goals on 40 shots.

Blues coach Craig Berube wouldn't comment on any of the goals against Saturday and was asked again Sunday if his goalie could be better.

"Binnington, yeah, and on our team," Berube said. "Again, it's a team. 'Binner', he's played some good hockey for us. You go Dallas game (Jan. 9), he played well, we won 2-1. The Edmonton game (Dec. 29), mase some big saves in the third period, we won that game. You look back at the Pittsburgh game (Jan. 5, a 5-3 loss), we didn't play very well in front of him. He hung us in there. It was kind of a weird ending to that game, but we have all the faith in the world in 'Binner'. Yeah, he has bad games like everybody has bad games."

Ville Husso has stepped up and gone 7-0-0 in his past eight home starts with a 1.38 GAA and .955 save percentage. He's 5-2-1 with a 2.13 GAA and .935 save percentage. Earlier this season when Binnington was in COVID-19 protocol and Husso was hurt, Charlie Lindgren went 5-0-0 in four starts (one relief appearance) and had a 1.22 GAA and .958 save percentage. 

Husso has been making a bid to be in the rotation for more starts, and Berube was asked on that subject.

"He's been in the rotation, hasn't he? We've rotated the goalies," Berube said. "I get it, but he ended up getting hurt, so he was out for a while. Since he's been back, he's been in the rotation. And before he got hurt, Lindgren was in the rotation, so he played."

The Blues (22-11-5) close out the five-game homestand against the Nashville Predators on Monday (7 p.m.; BSMW, ESPN 101.1-FM) and it will be interesting to see which direction the coaching staff goes in.

* Reinforcements are coming -- Forwards Vladimir Tarasenko and Brayden Schenn and defenseman Colton Parayko will all return to the lineup Monday after skating the past couple days, including getting in a full practice on Sunday.

Tarasenko missed the past four games in COVID-19 protocol and Schenn and Parayko each missed the past two games.

"They'll all be available tomorrow, they're off COVID so they're ready to go," Berube said. "Obviously these guys are real good players for us. They have been in the past. It's nice to get them back."

Forward David Perron, also in COVID-19 protocol, was eligible to resume skating Sunday but did not and it's more a question of producing consecutive negative tests, which the Blues weren't aware of early Sunday afternoon.

"Not that I heard of today, no," Berube said. "As of right now, I don't have him in, but we still got a day, right?"

Forward Logan Brown, who has missed the past two games with a non-COVID related illness, skated in full during Sunday's optional.

"He did good today, so he's a possible player tomorrow," Berube said.

* Scandella under fire -- Defenseman Marco Scandella made the final, fatal mistake in not clearing the zone that led to Toronto's game-winning goal Saturday and has come under fire again by the fanbase.

Scandella had a decent game before that and finished with 20:45 ice time but his shift in that sequence lasted 1:59 and his ill-advised reversal of the puck back behind his own net out of the reach of Justin Faulk that led to the goal instead of moving the puck safely out of the zone did not go over well with Blues fans, especially since the veteran has had mistakes like this before.

"It's mental and I talked to the team about it today," Berube said. "It's not just Scandella, I talked to the team today about composure. We didn't have the composure that was needed last night to making plays, making right plays, wanting the puck. It's a team. It's all about the team and as a team, we didn't have enough composure as a team last night and as a team, we didn't want the puck enough."

The Blues simply did not have consistent breakouts with pucks, they did not get pucks in deep and they didn't manage the plays along the walls and win enough of those battles.

But the breakouts from the d-zone forced skaters to extend shifts, thus force more mistakes than usual.

"It starts with breakouts and they weren't very good last night by everybody. We've got to be better at it," Berube said. "It's not so much getting it in deep, we never got that far. We spend too much time in our zone and then when you get the puck, you just want to get it out because probably you want to get a line change because you're tired, and you basically get the puck out in the neutral zone but they're a fast team and they play that way and they quicked-up and they get back at us. It's kind of a snowball effect that way. That's why you have to advance it 200 feet. When you spend too much time in your own end, you get tired and you don't have the ability to advance it 200 feet. You're tired and you want to get off and get a line change."

And about those wall battles, the Blues just didn't manage them well.

"Yes, a lot, and we didn't win enough of them, you're exactly right," Berube said. "We've got to be a lot stronger there and again, that's composure too on the wall. We'll be better at that now, we've got to be better at that. They press on you and their D are down. We've got to be stronger there and we need to have more composure on the wall, make plays and make strong plays.

"Overall, I think we're pretty good. There's games where we're not, yeah, for sure. We address it and show it, but I think overall, our breakouts have been pretty good finding the middle of the ice or having composure with it and doing things right."

* Home success -- The Blues' 13-game point run came to an end Saturday (12-0-1) and it was the third-best run in Blues history.

"It was a great run, guys did a great job with a depleted lineup like that, guys battled hard, they competed hard," Berube said. "I had no problem with the compete and the battle. We had some guys that stepped up and made some things happen offensively and did a good job. We had a lot of guys logging a lot of minutes lately. They've done a real good job with that."

* Pronger's night -- Former Blues defenseman Chris Pronger will become the eighth player in their history to have his number retired, No. 44, prior to the Blues playing the Predators.

Pronger will join Al MacInnis (No. 2), Bob Gassoff (No. 3), Bob Plager (No. 5), Barclay Plager (No. 8), Brian Sutter (No. 11), Brett Hull (No. 16) and Bernie Federko (No. 24).

The first 12,000 fans at the game will receive a Pronger replica banner courtesy of Bally Sports Midwest.

The jersey retirement will be available on Bally Sports Midwest and 101 ESPN.

The game is scheduled for 7 p.m. Doors will open at 5 p.m. and the Blues are strongly encouraging fans to be in their seats before 6 p.m., when the ceremony begins.  

Pronger was originally acquired by the Blues in a trade by then GM/coach Mike Keenan that sent fan-favorite Brendan Shanahan to the Hartford Whalers on July 27, 1995. During his nine seasons with the Blues, Pronger played in 598 regular-season games and totaled 356 points (84 goals, 272 assists) and 931 penalty minutes. Pronger was a four-time All-Star as a Blue, finished in the Top 5 of the Norris Trophy voting five times and in 2017, was named one of the "100 Greatest Players" by the NHL.

Depleted lineup finally catches up to Blues in 6-5 loss to Leafs; errors made by key players

Costly mistakes, particularly on Toronto's late go-ahead goal, proves 
fatal for team that was finding ways to win despite missing several key players

By LOU KORAC
ST. LOUIS -- It was bound to happen sooner or later.

The Blues had been living well for quite some time, riding out games in which they were missing key players in the lineup on a daily basis, it seems.
(St. Louis Blues/Scott Rovak)
Toronto's William Nylander (right) looks to make a play defended by the
Blues' Niko Mikkola (middle) and goalie Jordan Binnington.

Against the high-powered Toronto Maple Leafs on Saturday, the Blues were depleted, playing without forwards Vladimir Tarasenko, Brayden Schenn, David Perron and Pavel Buchnevich along with defenseman Colton Parayko, all out due to COVID-19 protocol. Tarasenko, Schenn and Parayko have started skating Saturday but were unavailable to play. Also, Logan Brown missed his second straight game due to a non-COVID related illness.

Meanwhile, the Leafs were getting back Mitch Marner and Pierre Engvall from COVID-19 protocol, and oh, they have Auston Matthews, who has scored in nihe straight road games.
The Blues had to field a lineup with Alexei Toropchenko, Dakota Joshua, Nathan Walker, James Neal and Klim Kostin missing $29.3 million ($30.05 million of you include Brown) in cap space and 122 points. But the Blues haven't used COVID as an excuse. They kept plugging and playing.

And winning.

It bit them Saturday, finally, in a stinging 6-5 loss to the Leafs to end their 13-game home point streak (12-0-1).

And it wasn't those fringe players that made the mistakes that cost the Blues (22-11-5) goals on this night.

It was some of their veteran guys that are in the lineup on a nightly basis.

Case in point, the Leafs' go-ahead goal scored by Ilya Mikheyev, a goal that never should go in in the first place, but the sequence starts with a failed backhand dump-in in the offensive zone by Ivan Barbashev that leads to the Leafs (24-9-3) gaining possession and entering the Blues zone with 4:07 remaining.

From there, it was mistake after mistake and multiple failed executions. 

Walker wasn't able to win a wall battle -- something the Blues had issues with most of the game -- along the right side that enabled the Leafs to keep the puck deep. Tyler Bozak had the first of multiple failed clearing attempts when instead of firing it hard off the boards or whipping it straight out, he softly throws it off the boards and the puck's picked off. Then Justin Faulk had the first of two failed clears, the first when he fanned while trying to slap it around the boards. And then Bozak plays it around the boards but it was kept in at the point. The puck gets thrown back around to the opposite side, Bozak in possession again, flips it off the back boards to Faulk, who instead of slamming it out of the zone, tries to feather one up to the blue line to James Neal, only to get picked off again. The puck was there to be won on the wall again, and Neal's backhand attempt to clear the zone was also unsuccessful. Neal gets to it along the left boards, and throws it off the back boards around to Marco Scandella, who gathers it with acres of empty space to finally get a clear. But for whatever reason, inexplicably, Scandella, instead of moving it safely out of the zone, whether skating it out or just pushing it ahead while the Blues are making a line change, he reverse pivots it while making a change himself at the end of a 1:59 shift back behind the net out of the reach of Faulk. The puck gets picked off by Engvall, who feeds Mikheyev, and if anything didn't go wrong to begin with, he scored in a sharp angle that Jordan Binnington allowed through the wickets, a goal that should never go in. 

"The guy (Mikheyev) just threw it on net and it went in," Blues coach Craig Berube said. "That's how I saw it, but before that, we should have had the puck out twice, and we didn't. Wall play wasn't very good and then we have it again and go behind our net. That puck should be out of the zone."

It capped off a sequence of errors that kept the Blues from at least earning a point in a game in which they came out with a lead, then went flat, came back to regain the lead in the third and lose in the end.

"We just kind of gave up the middle of the ice a little too much," said Blues captain Ryan O'Reilly, who scored twice. "We weren’t our normal heavy-to-play-against and stopping-on-pucks (self) and such. A team like that, they’re so skilled offensively and thrive off that. We just kind of gave them too much early and it starts with myself. I was horrendous defensively tonight and wasn’t hard enough to play against. I think other guys probably feel that way, too. We’re not going to win games when the staple of our game is being good defensively and playing hard to play against, and we’re not going to win a lot of games if we don’t defend well. It’s frustrating, but I think we got what we deserved tonight. We kind of played their game and obviously got beat at it."

But did they?

The Blues, depleted and all, scored five times on Atlantic Division All-Star Jack Campbell, and for how the Blues play, five goals is more times than not more than enough to win. 

But it was one of those mistake-filled, wind-up-in-the-back-of-your-net games that cost them two points.

"We got sloppy with the puck, turned it over, and they obviously had an elite offense and they’re going to capitalize," said Blues forward Brandon Saad, who had a goal and an assist. "So that’s what happened.

"You’re back and forth in the game. And you have an opportunity to finish it off, that’s what you want to do. Unfortunately, we kind of let that one slip away. At the end of the day, it is what it is and we have to move on from it."

After O'Reilly scored a nifty goal to give the Blues a 1-0 lead, the Leafs capitalized on an unusual play when O'Reilly was jumped on a defensive zone draw by Matthews, who instead of trying to win the face-off back, jumped his stick in front of O'Reilly and was able to get a shot off on Binnington, who made the kick save, but Michael Bunting skirted past Barbashev to backhand the rebound home.

"Yeah, it was a great play by him," O'Reilly said of Matthews. "It was really smart. I’ve seen it the odd time before. Yeah, when I’m going hard backhand like that, he made a great play … Especially, too, in the circle, (this) is probably the worst season I could’ve had in the face-off circle. I can’t seem to win anything. It’s frustrating, but yeah, I’ve got to give him credit there, he made a good play and it was a tough one to eat."

OK, move on, it happens. But goals two and three? They came off mistakes.

Mitch Marner made it 2-1 when he stripped Oskar Sundqvist, who was causual with the puck turning and trying to move it out of the d-zone, from behind and skated into the high slot and beat Binnington high glove (this is  theme for the night).

On John Tavares' goal that made it 3-1, three goals that came in a span of 3:44, Jordan Kyrou had a chance to clear the zone but just poked the puck to the wall in the d-zone, Toronto cycled it to the point, where a shot caromed at the skates of Niko Mikkola and Alexander Kerfoot. Kyrou overplayed the puck and Tavares swooped in and and beat Binnington again high glove from the high slot.

Berube called a time out to calm the troops down.

"I was just talking about more or less the same things I've been talking you here, we've got to do things quicker, move the puck quicker and play, skate and attack, get going," Berube said. "We kind of watched a little bit tonight and didn't put the pressure on them enough overall. That's basically what I got out of this tonight. We didn't dictate enough tonight."

After the Blues tied it 3-3 in the second on goals by O'Reilly and Saad, Timothy Liljegren's goal came after the Blues failed to again get a puck in deep from the neutral zone, enabling Toronto to move the ice up quick and gain zone entry. The puck was worked around on the point, down low and around to the high slot for a one-timer from ... the high slot ... high glove. 4-3 game.

"I think most of (the mistakes) were self-inflicted," Berube said. "I mean, we're playing with fire with the penalties a little bit. We only got one power play tonight, but some of them are self-inflicted. They're a good team, they're a good offensive team, they score lots of goals."

"I think a little bit of both. It’s tough," Saad said. "There was a lot of self-infliction with pucks in the middle, a little bit of careless play on our end. Sometimes, when you’re in trouble you’ve just got to go off the boards with it, survive and live another day. But if you’re kind of throwing pucks away, not being hard in the middle of the ice, they’re going to take advantage of it."

But through all that, the Blues tied it before the end of the second on a Robert Thomas goal set up by a highlight reel play by Kyrou, who was a man possessed winning a puck from Liljegren and working a play to Thomas to make it 4-4. And Mikkola scored early in the third to give the Blues a 5-4 lead after they killed off 56 seconds of a Toronto power play to begin the period.

But Toronto came fast and furious. The Leafs at one point had a 10-1 shots advantage in the third and cashed in on their third power play when Matthews one-timed a Marner feed from the left circle to make it 5-5 with 8:36 to play.

It came after a Klim Kostin holding penalty, minutes after Dean Morton missed an obvious trip on Jake Muzzin on Kyrou, literally feet from the official. 

"Can't take a penalty, we took a penalty and they tied it up," Berube said.

It set up for at least a tie, head to overtime with a point in hand and fight for a second.
But the Blues, who were outshot 13-4 in the third, didn't make a hard enough push until they were down and with an extra attacker.

"The third, we just didn't push enough, I didn't think," Berube said. "We had the lead there and we just kind of sat on it a little bit. ... But overall, they battled, our guys. We're pretty depleted tonight. We scored first, a little unfortunate first goal we gave up. In the end, we came back, we were down 3-1, they battled back and we made a game of it, but overall, the puck play wasn't good enough to break pucks out and get the puck up 200 feet getting in the offensive zone more."

Depleted, yes. Excuses no.

"Yeah, personally you hate to think of that," O'Reilly said of the depleted lineup. "But yeah, you look at who we're missing, we're a significantly different team with the guys that aren't here. But still we do have a lot of good players and I think I need to do a much better job of leading the way and sticking to our identity when we don't have those guys and I think throughout the course of the year, we've done a great job at that. When guys go down, guys have been stepping up and doing that. It's just tonight, I think we are all a little disappointed ourselves. We have to play harder and be tougher against."

As for Binnington, Berube wasn't going to make any knee-jerk reactions, but the fact that the Blues' No. 1 netminder allowed three or more goals for the 15th time in 22 starts, and eight times allowing four or more goals in a game, it has to be concerning at this point.

Binnington has a 3.05 goals-against average and .906 save percentage after allowing six goals on 40 shots Saturday.

"A lot of those goals were pretty high end," Berube said. "I've got to go back and look at them. I'm not going to answer that question right now. I've got to look at it on tape and then we'll go from there."

There were still good signs and remnants of the Blues battling even with a depleted lineup, including Scott Perunovich returning from his bout with COVID protocol after missing three games. It just so happens on this night, the mistakes were costly.
(St. Louis Blues/Scott Rovak)
Blues defenseman Justin Faulk (72) fights for a loose puck with Maple Leafs
forward Mitch Marner on Saturday night at Enterprise Center.

"It was not clean enough, our exits and our support," O'Reilly said. 'I kind of touched on this before, just kind of fighting the puck all over the ice. There's times, we're trying to do the right thing and just fighting it and not getting it by guys, not getting it deep and our game, it's got to be a staple of our game and build it from there. When we're not doing it, it's frustrating, we make it hard on ourselves and a team like that, they just they thrive on it. They're run-and-gun, they're very fast and they make plays all over the ice. They're going to try to beat guys all the time. And if you feed it like we did, you end up with six goals against and that's not a winning recipe.

"Offensively, we found a way to get some goals and going to the net. It was something we talked about, that's an area that if we want to score and get bounces you go to the net and it was good. We scored some but again, the most important thing for us is the way we defend and that's what the reset and the focus has got to be on when we go on to another tough game coming up here."

The good news through all this is when the Blues end the homestand against Nashville, they should have some reinforcements return to the lineup.

"For sure, any time you can get some good players back and have a healthy team, that’s always exciting," Saad said. "So I think for us, it’s just one day at a time and take it as it comes."​

Saturday, January 15, 2022

(1-15-22) Maple Leafs-Blues Gameday Lineup

By LOU KORAC
ST. LOUIS -- The Blues keep taking punches and keep coming out on the right side of them.

How many more they can take is an ongoing question, with the latest hit of Pavel Buchnevich being placed in COVID-19 protocol, and the Russian is expected to miss at least the next two games, beginning with today's 6 p.m. clash with the Toronto Maple Leafs (23-9-3) at Enterprise Center (BSMW, NHL Network, ESPN 101.1-FM).

Buchnevich, who is second on the Blues with 34 points (14 goals, 20 assists) in 34 games and is tied for the team lead in goals, is another hit to a group that is missing some key contributors that are in protocol, including Vladimir TarasenkoBrayden Schenn, Colton Parayko and David Perron.

Defenseman Scott Perunovich will make his return to the lineup after missing three games in protocol. He is likely to replace Jake Walman.

Tarasenko and Perunovich were eligible to come off on Monday but each has missed the past three games. Schenn and Parayko are eligible to come off today, but in order to do that, they have to either be asymptomatic and test negative for consecutive days.

Tarasenko and Schenn skated this morning, according to Craig Berube, and Parayko "has skated" according to Berube.

Perron is eligible to come off on Sunday. 

"It's a little bit soon (to tell)," Berube said Friday after practice. "We've got some guys that feel good and they want to play, but until you test out (negative) and your days are up, that's the only way you can work off it, so right now, I'm not sure who's available tomorrow out of those guys."

Buchnevich scored the game-winner in a 2-1 win against the Seattle Kraken on Thursday to run the Blues' home point streak to 13 (12-0-1).

"Me, Buchy and Vladi, we knew it was coming probably, but it just seems like he's been around me and Vladi before and now he's got COVID so he's out," forward Ivan Barbashev said.

In the meantime, Berube and the coaching staff just goes day by day in trying to piece together a lineup.

"Doug (Armstrong) and I, we talk with the coaches and just try to figure out what we're going to do, who's going to come up, taxi squad, those issues, the cap and all that stuff," Berube said. "We've got to mull that stuff over and figure out what we can do there and you sit with the coaches and you go over things and what you think is going to work as lines. That's all you can do."

Forward Logan Brown, who missed the game Thursday due to a non-COVID related illness and did not practice on Friday, will be out again tonight after missing Thursday. The team called up Dakota Joshua Friday under emergency conditions and forward Alexei Toropchenko was recalled from the taxi squad. Each will play.

"He's a little bit better," Berube said of Brown on Friday. "We're going to have to wait on him in the morning and see how he's doing and he'll get a skate in in the morning and see how he feels."

The Blues, in light of so many skaters in COVID protocol and with the amount of injuries they've dealt with in the past, are 10-2-1 their past 13 games and just continue to find a way. 

"It says a lot," Barbashev said. "That's the group we've got. We keep fighting, never quitting. When we're down first, second periods, we always have confidence that we can get one and the other one. It's been something special with this team and we just keep playing."

- - - 

* The Blues are tied for tops in the league with Colorado and Florida for most comeback wins this season (13). The Blues are 12-5-1 this season when conceding the first goal.

* The Blues have lost just one game in regulation this season when keeping the opposition to no power-play goals (18-1-5).

* With at least a point tonight, the Blues can tie for second in franchise history with 14 straight home games with a point, last accomplished Oct. 27-Dec. 15, 2016 when they were 11-0-3.

* Forward Jordan Kyrou has 12 points (five goals, seven assists) in a six-game point streak.
* Barbashev has 10 points (three goals, seven assists) his past eight games. 

* Forward Robert Thomas will play in his 200th NHL game tonight.

- - -

The Blues' projected lineup (will be updated pregame; these are based off some drills team ran in practice Friday; Joshua was not at practice Friday however):

Ivan Barbashev-Ryan O'Reilly-Oskar Sundqvist 

Brandon Saad-Robert Thomas-Jordan Kyrou

Klim Kostin-Tyler Bozak-James Neal

Nathan Walker-Dakota Joshua-Alexei Toropchenko

Torey Krug-Justin Faulk

Niko Mikkola-Marco Scandella

Scott Perunovich-Robert Bortuzzo

Jordan Binnington is expected to start in goal; Ville Husso would be the backup.

The Blues report no healthy scratches or injuries. Vladimir TarasenkoBrayden Schenn, Colton Parayko, David Perron and Pavel Buchnevich are are out until removed. Tarasenko, Schenn and Parayko are out of protocol but not ready yet.

- - -

The Maple Leafs' projected lineup:

Michael Bunting-Auston Matthews-Mitch Marner

Alexander Kerfoot-John Tavares-William Nylander

Ilya Mikheyev-David Kampf-Pierre Engvall

Kyle Clifford-Jason Spezza-Wayne Simmonds

Morgan Rielly-TJ Brodie

Jake Muzzin-Timothy Liljegren

Rasmus Sandin-Travis Dermott

Jack Campbell will start in goal; Petr Mrazek will be the backup. 

The healthy scratch is expected to be Joey Anderson. The Maple Leafs report no injuries. Ondrej Kase, Justin Holl and Nick Ritchie are in COVID-19 protocol and are out.