Thursday, October 2, 2014

Blues top Wild 4-1 in physical affair

Reaves, Bissonnette highlight physicality; Leopold nets game-winner in third

ST. LOUIS -- Fourth line players don't typically garner a ton of attention.

So when Ryan Reaves becomes a primary focus of practically an entire team, even in the preseason, it typically means one thing: they're doing what they're sent out on the ice to accomplish.

In other words, they're doing their job.

Reaves and Paul Bissonnette played the role of heavyweights to a tee Thursday night in the Blues' 4-1 victory against the Minnesota Wild at Scottrade Center.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Ryan Reaves (left) and Joel Rechlicz were part of four fights in the Blues'
4-1 preseason victory against the Minnesota Wild Thursday night.

Reaves set the tone early in the game when he rocked the Wild's Joel Rechlicz with a crushing hit along the left boards near center ice. The hit stung Rechlicz, who was on a knee trying to shake out the cobwebs. But Rechlicz took exception to Reaves, as he darted for the Blues' enforcer while play was going on. 

"I figured once I heard the whistle, I didn't know if he got up yet or not, I figured he was coming after me," Reaves said of Rechlicz. "He must have lost his balance at the last second. I just gave him a little forearm, he went down."

It was the start of a night in which the teams amassed 92 minutes in penalties, including four fights (two for Bissonnette and one each for Reaves and Kevin Shattenkirk).

"Tough couple first games for me, so I had to come out and make a statement, especially at home," Reaves said. "So I decided to test out the mitt and it's feeling good."

Bissonnette, with the Blues on a personal tryout looking to make an impression, didn't shy away from a pair of encounters with Stu Bickel and Justin Falk.

"It makes you a little more comfortable having another guy, especially when you play teams that have one or two guys who are heavy," Bissonnette said. "Obviously having (Reaves) on your team is a good thing. I learned that firsthand last year how he can bring it physically. 

"We got a little bit of a heads-up and what they were bringing in. It's nice to match teams physically when they kind of want to play that game, too. I'm sure the other skill guys appreciate it, too. It kind of makes them feel a little more comfortable out there. I know it's kind of a dying breed and it's kind of leaving the game, but if you need it, it's nice to have that element."

Blues coach Ken Hitchcock called the fourth line action a necessary element.

"We're trying to get an identity on that fourth line," Hitchcock said. "(Reaves is) a big part of the team. It was good to see them forecheck and create pressure. We managed the game and managed pucks really well. That's a good sign for us. Exhibition games, you can give them more minutes. They get a chance to play a little bit."

As for the game itself, the Blues fell behind 1-0 on a Jason Zucker goal but scored four unanswered goals -- including three in the third period. Patrik Berglund tied it in the second and Jordan Leopold, T.J. Oshie (power play) and David Backes (empty-netter) sealed the Blues' second straight win (2-3-1) after a four-game winless streak to start the preseason.

"The thing I'm impressed with is our team game," said Hitchcock, whose team outshot the Wild 37-15. "We stayed with it. We could have got frustrated not scoring on all the chances, but I thought we just stayed with it and didn't give up anything. We didn't play loose, we didn't try to cheat. We just stayed on it and we were rewarded because of it.

"Puck possession and penetration. I thought we went to the net really hard. I thought we managed the puck really well. I don't think we gave up six, seven scoring chances all game. That stuff makes you happy when you see that."

Berglund's one-timer from the right circle off a pass from Alex Pietrangelo 7:55 into the second tied the game, and Leopold picked up the game-winner on a nice feed from Vladimir Tarasenko 5:33 into the third when he rifled a shot high into the goal past Niklas Backstrom.

Oshie's power play goal with 2:51 remaining gave the Blues insurance and Backes sealed the win with 1:29 left.

The game marked the preseason debut for Jaden Schwartz, who logged 17:37 of ice time and had an assist. Schwartz was pressed into more time, as well as other forwards, when 2014 first round pick Robby Fabbri left early in the first period to what Hitchcock called "some soreness." 

"For the first game, just the overall team game, we had a lot of offensive time," Schwartz said. "It's easier to play when you've got the puck the whole time.

"It was a little bit rough today. I don't know if they planned it, but it sure looked like it with the lineup they sent out. But it was good. I took some hits. Just took some tight turns, having a guy on you, just being able to make that play. A couple times I think I could have made a better play. First game, I think I can improve on that once I get it going."

Hitchcock liked Schwartz's game.

"He was really good," Hitchcock said. "He was on top of things. He showed great speed. He played a lot more than he thought he was. It was a good step for him. This was something he needed, we needed. I thought he did a great job."

Hitchcock added that Schwartz brings, "Speed with weight. For a small guy, he's a really heavy player. He's got a heavy stick and his speed and his weight that he brings is really impressive. If you look at our hockey club, that type of speed is going to be really necessary moving forward."

Fabbri, who was having a solid training camp, had a Wild player fall on him awkwardly near the Blues' bench. He went to the locker room and did not return in what was called an upper-body injury.

"We'll evaluate him in the morning," Hitchcock said of Fabbri. "From a precautionary standpoint, (athletic trainer) Ray (Barile) said pull him out. We'll see in the morning. I think a guy kind of fell on him awkwardly. He was a little bit sore there, so we just shut it down."

Jake Allen had a light night in goal, stopping 14 shots. But Allen, who played his first full game, felt like he was in command. His toughest save was of the glove-hand variety on the Wild's Erik Haula in the second period.

"It is tough, but it's the sort of the style we play," Allen said. "We try to limit the opposition as least as possible. It's definitely tougher to stay focused. It's easier when you can get a lot of action, but that's my job, to stop the puck. Guys played great tonight.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Vladimir Tarasenko (91) congratulates teammate Jordan Leopold after the
Blues' defenseman scored the game-winning goal in the third period.

"It's good to get a full game. It's a big difference. I haven't really had much consistent action,. A lot of scrambly play and stuff like that. I just wanted to finish on a strong note tonight before next week starts. I felt I did that even though I had only 15 shots tonight. I felt good out there. I got to handle the puck a little bit."

The Blues will not make any more cuts until after their final preseason game Saturday at Minnesota. They're down to 32 players after defenseman Nate Prosser was picked up off waivers from the Wild earlier in the day Thursday.

But for Reaves and Bissonnette, if it was their last time playing together, they left a lasting impression.

"That's a lot meat on that line. A lot of fun," Reaves said. "You never know what happens. It's still training camp, so we'll see what happens after the next game.

"It's fun watching somebody else once in a while. I'm not usually the spectator."

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