Thursday, December 31, 2015

Wild down Blues 3-1 with two third-period goals

Haula's bad-angle shot is game-winner; St. Louis couldn't solve Dubnyk

ST. LOUIS -- Jake Allen has been so good for the Blues this season.

Allen, the Blues' goalie, has made countless saves that has either preserved wins or kept games tied and give the Blues opportunities to win.

But Allen was human on New Year's Eve, and by his own admission allowed a couple goals he feels he should make. Erik Haula's goal with 8 minutes, 32 seconds remaining broke a 1-all tie and helped the Minnesota Wild defeat the Blues 3-1 at Scottrade Center.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues center Kyle Brodziak (28) fends off Minnesota's Jarret Stoll during
play on Thursday at Scottrade Center. The Wild defeated the Blues 3-1. 

Haula, who went 15 games without a point and 17 games without a goal, got a pass from Nino Niederreiter from a sharp angle, threw it towards the goal and caught Allen by surprise.

Thomas Vanek added an empty-net goal to send the Blues (23-13-4) out of 2015 with their fifth home loss in 11 games this month.

Allen blamed himself.

"Not a good goal by me there," Allen said. "I lost (the puck) behind the net and didn't know where it was. (Haula) banked it off me."

Allen's teammates won't blame their netminder.

"He's made huge saves, he made huge saves tonight," captain David Backes said. "I'm not a goaltender, but he's done more than his fair share. We need to support him with more than one goal if we want to win these games. I think we had our chances and didn't get the job done."

Blues coach Ken Hitchcock lamented the fact that the Blues lost two board battles on the play after winning the initial faceoff, both with defenseman Robert Bortuzzo with Niederreiter behind the net that eventually saw the puck go to Haula for the bad-angle shot.

"We got beat on the end boards twice," Hitchcock said. "We won the faceoff and got beat twice on the end boards. I don't think it was fluky. Bad timing to get beat like that."

The underlying issue that pops up for the Blues is scoring.

They were minus-2 in 5-on-5 play Thursday and haven't 

"Also we're living on the fine line of scoring one goal, and it wasn't 5-on-5 either," Hitchcock said. "We just can't keep living on the fine line that we're living on right now scoring one and two goals and still getting points. Today was a game where we had a great start, probably from five minutes left in the first period, the balance of the game was probably even. We were better the first 15 minutes, but if you're playing even or a little bit better, you've got to get points. But it's hard living with one goal."

Vanek scored with 1:37 remaining.

Shattenkirk scored moments after the Blues had a two-man advantage. His wrist shot from the left circle beat Dubnyk top-shelf, far-side 8:42 into the second period for a 1-0 lead. It was Shattenkirk's 23rd point (seventh goal) in his past 24 games.

It would be the only time the Blues would beat Dubnyk.

"We had some good pushes there, some good moments," Shattenkirk said. "We got some good scoring chances, we got a lot of shots on (Dubnyk), but he's so big. He gets down and lets his body block them. We've just got to find a few rebounds and put them in.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk (22), who scored for St. Louis, moves
the puck past his goal and around the Wild's Jason Zucker on Thursday.

"It's a tough one to lose, especially that late in the game. I thought we were playing some good hockey, especially in the third."

The Wild tied it 1-1 with 3:48 left in the second period on Niederreiter's fifth point in five games (second goal) after he followed up Fontaine's shot. Allen steered the rebound to the far side but right to Niederreiter.

"It was coming right on the ice and it hopped right over my stick and onto the guy's tape," Allen said. "The guy shot it and it was going on my stick and bounced, hit my pad right on the guy's tape. Smart play by them, but a little bit of a lucky bounce thanks to the ice."

It was a case where the Blues just didn't bail their goalie out on this night.

"There's a few series of plays before that where we need to take care of the puck and make sure that we're being hard on it," said defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk, whose power play goal in the first period gave the Blues a 1-0 lead. "(Allen) bailed us out a lot tonight and he's bailed us out a lot this year. It's an unfortunate one to let in because especially for him, he's making such big saves. It feels like he's saving everything right now and when that goes it, it's tough on him. It's our job after that to pick him up. He's done it for us for so long. We have to get a goal for him and make sure we're getting it back in our favor."

(12-31-15) Wild-Blues Gameday Lineup

ST. LOUIS -- As the Blues close out 2015 by hosting the Minnesota Wild (7 p.m. on FS-MW, KMOX 1120-AM), they can look back on their 23-12-4 record with a sense of pride.

Last season at this time, the Blues were relatively-speaking healthy, no major injuries to deal with, but this 2015-16 season, it's been a rolodex of key players that have been out with significant time.

However, when the Blues play their fourth straight Central Division game tonight, they will look to close out 2015 winning their seventh game in the past nine and six of seven on home ice.

But now that Patrik Berglund (shoulder) is on the cusp of returning, Jaden Schwartz (ankle) is not far off the horizon and Steve Ott (hamstring) is a ways off but expected to return in the not-too-distant future, the Blues have been able to bag points when they could have easily fumbled them away with a makeshift lineup on the ice at times.

"What we've put in the bank has really helped us," coach Ken Hitchcock said. "When we were in a tough spot from game seven to 25, we got points in those games that looks like we're going to need all of them that we got; we're going to need them now. That’s the bonus part. We were in a tough spot, but we got points and kept ourselves into it and now we have a chance to get healthy. Bergy's back quickly here and that'll be another guy that helps us. We still don’t know what our lineup is; we don’t know what we look like yet; we haven’t played one hockey game knowing what we look like. I just look back on that time, and what really was a wakeup call was watching us play in game 11 against Minnesota and you're going, 'Where's this guy, where's that guy?' We were in a tough spot, but we still got points. Those have really paid off for us right now." 

So to be seven points off of first place in the tough division that they play in and coming close to playing with a full deck soon, the Blues like the position they're in and hope there's more in store for 2016.

"I think we like where we are at," captain David Backes said. "We've played a few more games than other teams but we've dealt with a lot of adversity and a few tough stretches and come out on the other end better for it. You like that sort of character from our guys. We've done a pretty good job of filling holes and patching the lineup. With a guy like 'Bergy' returning imminently and hopefully 'Schwartzy' chasing him down. He's been strolling around here pretty well. We'd love to see what this team is like with every body healthy and every weapon at our disposal.

"I feel like last year was maybe more of the anomaly than this year is. It feels like we've had a significant piece or so out for extended times in most of the years. Last year was the exception. Guys playing different roles and comfortable expanding their ability to play in different situations and different spots up and down the lineup will give us a lot more choices come playoff time and later in the season when push comes to shove or when guys are tired or injured, then you've got a lot more decisions to make. Those are great problems to have."

The Blues started off December losing four of their first five but have righted things even though games have been air-tight.

"The last month or so, we've had dips in our game, but we've found ways to win hockey games,"  defenseman Alex Pietrangelo said. "This time of the year, fatigue sets in and you've got to find ways to do that. Nashville was a good example of that where maybe we slipped mentally but we found a second effort there to pull through in overtime. We look at the overall body of work. We've put ourselves in a pretty good spot in the standings, so you've got to be pleased with that."

- - -

The Blues, 1-1-0 against the Wild this season that included a 3-2 overtime win on Halloween on Backes' winner, his second of the game, will face the Wild (19-10-6) without Zach Parise (lower-body injury).

"We've got to worry about our game," Backes said. "They've got plenty of other capable bodies over there and we've got to stick to what we do the best and we'll like our result. They're a team that's had success against us in the playoffs and we've split the two meetings with them so far this year. It'll be a good good divisional rivalry and another contested game for a full 60 minutes."

The Wild beat the Blues 3-2 on Oct. 10 and in the Western Conference First Round playoffs last season in six games. There's a reason for the close-knit games.

"No space," Hitchcock said. "Neither team gives you much. You've got to earn it. Not a lot of scoring chances, both teams have groups of forwards that work for the defense. You have to stay really patient and if you don't stay patient, then you end up making mistakes and you pay for it. Both teams are pretty honest teams that play an honest game. They're not easy for either team to play in."

- - -

Before the Blues put 2015 behind them, they have to take care of business first before making any New Year's resolutions for 2016. 

Some believe in them, some not so much.

"I don't believe you should wait for a holiday or a special time of year to make changes or make resolutions," Backes said. "I'm always trying to do something different or make myself better or make the next week better no matter where it is in the year. I haven't thought that far ahead. We've got a good game we need to win tonight and then we'll worry about New Year's resolutions and maybe a nice kiss from my wife after midnight."

Pietrangelo said he always has something in mind but ... 

"I'll probably come up with something later tonight that doesn't make much sense," he said. 

How long does it last?

"Usually about a week," Pietrangelo said, who said he gets ideas from his significant other as well but, "Let's be honest, that never works out either."

- - -

Pietrangelo was leading the league towards the end of November in ice time, which is uncommon for him.

But since the return of Kevin Shattenkirk, Pietrangelo's minutes have been reduced and something the Blues wanted to do to keep him fresh.

Pietrangelo has only gone over 26 minutes four times in the past 17 games. He was over 26 minutes in 18 of the first 22 games.

He feels like he's been playing better and being able to keep his responsibilities in check.

"In the last month or so, especially me and 'Bouw' together, we've been on the penalty kill and elevated that and it's just kind of carried into our 5-on-5 game," Pietrangelo said. "Minimal opportunities for the opposing teams' best players and we're starting to create some offense, too. Our goal night in, night out is to chip in defensively, power play, penalty kill. If we can do that night in, night out, we feel like we're going to have a lot of success. Coaches have given me the opportunity to do that."

- - -

When the puck drops tonight, left wing Jordan Caron will play for the fourth time in five games since being recalled from Chicago of the American Hockey League.

Caron, who's averaged a touch over six minutes in the three games he's played on the fourth line, knows the plug could be pulled on him at any moment with the Blues getting healthy. But he's making the most of his chances.

"Obviously I want to stay here," Caron said. "It's my goal to be in the NHL and that's what I work for every day. Right now, I'm just happy to be here and I'm taking it day by day and I'm enjoying every moment and I think that's the right approach to have to stay here.

"It's been good. It's a really good team, a heavy team, plays really good defensively and can score a lot of goals with the top two lines. I think it's a good fit for me. A defensive-minded team that likes to play physical and use their size and get on the forecheck. I feel I fit in pretty well with that group. I'm excited to be here. ... Every time I've been up in Boston, it was always been that same kind of role, fourth-line guy, getting on the forecheck and stuff, more of a checking role so I'm used to that. I'm enjoying it. I want to be in the NHL and I'm ready to take any role that they're going to give me."

- - -

Former Blue Chris Porter will make his second appearance in St. Louis since the Blues decided not to resign him and he signed with the Wild as a free agent over the summer.

But the last time Minnesota was here, it was on the second of back-to-back games and there was no time to soak in what he called a second home.

"I really enjoyed my time here," Porter said. "Eight years in the organization. They gave me my opportunity to play in the NHL; it'll always be my second home. I've built a ton of great friendships. It's always tough coming into a building where you played here and you know all the guys, the coaching staff, training staff. You try and put that aside for the 60 minutes that you play, but it's hard to look across there and know you have friends over there as well."

Porter spent time with Berglund having dinner Wednesday night, and he said, "Bergy's still Bergy."

But Porter, who has two goals and two assists in 34 games, has found a niche similar to the one he had here. 

He has family in Thunder Bay, Ontario, a 6.5-hour drive.

"Obviously first choice was to come back to St. Louis," Porter said. "I really felt I built a great thing here, but being from Minneapolis and I'm living there, it's nice to be home. I'm close to family and friends. It's an organization that's built a lot of great things over the years. I'm hoping to add to that piece. It's been a lot of fun so far."

- - -

Vladimir Tarasenko missed the morning skate and did not play against the Wild because of illness. Tarasenko, who leads the Blues in goals (22) and points (39) missed his second game of the season. Ironically, he missed his only other game this season against the Wild on Oct. 31 because of the flu.

Scottie Upshall, a healthy scratch Tuesday, crew back in.

- - -

The Blues' probable lineup:

Alexander Steen-Paul Stastny-Magnus Paajarvi

Scottie Upshall-David Backes-Troy Brouwer

Robby Fabbri-Jori Lehtera-Dmitrij Jaskin

Jordan Caron-Kyle Brodziak-Ryan Reaves

Jay Bouwmeester-Alex Pietrangelo

Colton Parayko-Kevin Shattenkirk

Carl Gunnarsson-Robert Bortuzzo

Jake Allen will start in goal. Brian Elliott will be the backup.

The healthy scratch includes Joel Edmundson. Vladimir Tarasenko is sick. Jaden Schwartz (ankle), Patrik Berglund (shoulder) and Steve Ott (hamstring) are on injured-reserve.

- - -

The Wild's probable lineup:

Jason Zucker-Mikko Koivu-Charlie Coyle

Thomas Vanek-Mikael Granlund-Jason Pominville

Nino Niederreiter-Erik Haula-Justin Fontaine

Chris Porter-Jarret Stoll-Ryan Carter

Ryan Suter-Jared Spurgeon

Marco Scandella-Matt Dumba

Jonas Brodin-Nate Prosser

Devan Dubnyk will start in goal. Niklas Backstrom will be the backup. 

Zach Parise (lower body) is day-to-day, and Darcy Kuemper (concussion) is out at least four games. The Wild has no healthy scratches.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015


Lehtera, Fabbri, Jaskin give Hitchcock dynamic options 
when playing well; Gomez to be released; Allen back against Wild

ST. LOUIS -- A five-point night during a 4-3 overtime win against the Nashville Predators gave coach Ken Hitchcock a positive outlook on the line that features Jori Lehtera, Robby Fabbri and Dmitrij Jaskin.

In smarter concepts, it's probably not a good idea to break that combo up since there were good results from the trio when the Blues' coaching staff assembled the group for eight games before an injury forced the group to be split up.

Hitchcock went with the sharp-shooting Fabbri, playmaking Lehtera and big-bodied Jaskin on Dec. 8 against Arizona and liked the way the group handled itself. An injury to Kyle Brodziak on Dec. 17 against Nashville forced some line juggling and separation of the group for two games in Boston and at home against Dallas, but Hitchcock went back to it Tuesday, and it was as if the trio never separated.

Instant chemistry was quite evident.

"They were excellent," Hitchcock said. "They were (the) poster card or poster child or whatever you want to call it for how to play. They checked, they hunted the puck, they created offense because of it, they played in straight lines offensively; they were excellent. They really had a heck of a game (Tuesday).

"That line was great for eight games and then we messed with it. We needed a center when Brodziak went down, so 'Jask' was the logical guy. He played some center, but we messed with the line and now the line got back, it got a couple skates together and back up and running again. They were good again (Tuesday) so that's a real good sign. When that line's playing like it is right now, that's a really good sign for us because that's a group we can play against just about everybody."

If the unit can continue moving forward and make that kind of impact in games, it creates all sorts of dynamics for the Blues moving forward.

"It means I can look for a competitive advantage in one of the other lines rather than just neutralizing," Hitchcock said. "When I can play them against anybody, it allows me to have an advantage down the line, which is what we had all of last year when we were healthy. We're looking to get that advantage again. If they can continue to play with that type of puck support, that type of anticipation for each other, that's a good thing for us. Getting two goals (Tuesday) night, that augments ... we're not leaning on one or two guys doing all the offensive work."

Hitchcock, a master at shuffling lines, liked the different dynamics each player brought to the line that could make it effective.

"We went with the aspect that Lehtera's a smart player and he knows how to cycle the puck and Fabbri knows how to get in the holes," Hitchcock said. "We just thought those two guys would work well together, and then Jaskin seemed to fit in because he's a puck-control guy. We saw some things when we were doing it at practice. We hadn't played them yet in a game, but a couple times at practice, they were together and we thought they were a real good combination."

Fabbri, who has nine goals and 13 points, likes Lehtera because, "You've always got to be ready for the puck. When you're not expecting it, he can still find you. We've got some pretty good chemistry going here. He's a lot of fun to play with.

"We're all using the strengths to our game to work together. We've got 'Jasky' with the big body, 'Lehts' with how smart he is. I'm just trying to fit in with my compete level and all that stuff. We're just working hard away from the puck and with the puck to play more in the offensive zone than the defensive zone."

This is what happened Tuesday when the Blues were having issues handling Nashville's tenacity in all zones. This line tended to neutralize things.

"I was really excited when I saw it on the board that we were going to play together," said Jaskin, who had a goal and an assist Tuesday. "I think it worked yesterday. ... Jori's the brain of that line. He's making the plays. Me and 'Fabs,' we work to get the puck to him. That's our role and each guy's got unique stuff."

Lehtera, who had two assists Tuesday, got ample time in overtime. As for not using Fabbri, Hitchcock joked, "He needs a better coach. He needs a smarter coach to put him out there, which should have happened yesterday. But, when you're in the offensive zone so much, your players aren't tired, so we were able to double-shift (Vladimir) Tarasenko and Lehtera because we were in the offensive zone so much."

But the more and more games Fabbri, who has a goal in four of five games, gets under his belt, the more comfortable he seems to be getting.

"I'm not above or below anything I came into (this season with)," Fabbri said. "I just wanted to come in and grow as a player throughout the year and learn as much as I can that could help me go along in my career.

"I get a little more comfortable every day. The guys are always helping me with little things. I'm working with Muller on little spots of the game."

"I think he's going to be a really good player because he finds quiet spaces offensively that really smart players find," Hitchcock said of Fabbri. "He finds the quiet areas on the ice to shoot the puck. I just don't think you can teach that. You can walk a guy through it every day, but anticipation of where to find, where the puck's going to go next, that's hockey sense. It's too late for us to teach hockey sense; they've got to come into the league with it. We think he's got a high level of hockey IQ."

If the line can maintain a level of consistency, it gives the likes of Tarasenko, Alexander Steen, David Backes, Paul Stastny, Troy Brouwer and others opportunities that might not have been there before.

"That would be huge to (score) on a consistent basis," Fabbri said. "We've gone through stretches of not scoring. Now that we've had a big game like that, we've got to be consistent in our game and good things will come."

* Gomez done? -- Scott Gomez's stint with the Blues, and perhaps a 16-year career in the NHL, is over.

Gomez cleared waivers Wednesday and the Blues played the center on unconditional waivers for the purpose of giving the 36-year-old his unconditional release from the team.

Gomez played in 21 games with the Blues and registered eight points (seven assists). Those eight points came in the first 10 games he played in.

Gomez, who was signed to a one-year, two-way contract worth $575,000 in the NHL and $200,000 in the AHL, but both parties have decided to allow Gomez to try and pursue another opportunity with an NHL team instead of going to the Chicago Wolves. But chances of playing in the NHL again appear slim after Gomez went unclaimed by Wednesday's 11 a.m. (CT) deadline.

If this is the end of the line for Gomez, he will finish a career with 755 points (181 goals, 574 points) in 1,066 games and two Stanley Cup titles. Along with the Blues, Gomez has played for New Jersey (twice), Montreal, San Jose and Florida.

* Rest day -- Hitchcock said he planned to use Wednesday as a full practice day but altered plans because guys were in need of rest following Tuesday's game, which was the third straight against Central Division foes following back-to-back games over the weekend against Dallas.

The Minnesota Wild is on deck Thursday, and there were 11 skaters and to goalies on the ice for Wednesday's impromptu optional at Scottrade Center.

"Just as tenacious," Hitchcock said. "These games are incredibly-paced; they're hard games, hard for our players. I showed up to the rink today anticipating we're going to have a full practice and we had four or five guys that needed time off. We'll be full to go tomorrow but they're draining, they're draining on everybody, they're draining on your team, they're draining mentally, they're draining physically. ... You have to put a lot into these games if you expect to win them."

Hitchcock said Jake Allen would start in goal Thursday, and he didn't expect any lineup changes from Tuesday's game.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Blues blow late lead, win on Steen OT goal

Predators overcome 3-1 deficit to force extra 
period; Lehtera, Fabbri, Jaskin combine for five points

ST. LOUIS -- The Blues were in control on the scoreboard at least in their game against the Nashville Predators on Tuesday.

Two points seemed to be in the bag. But there seemed to be a bit of uneasiness to  the final stretch.

The Blues needed an Alexander Steen goal with 58.2 seconds remaining in overtime to give them a 4-3 win against the Predators at Scottrade Center, but it was two points earned the hard way.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Alexander Steen (left) beats a pair of Nashville players to score the OT
goal in a 4-3 Blues win against the Predators on Tuesday. 

The Blues (23-12-4) were having flashbacks to Philadelphia, a game they blew a 3-0 lead and eventually lost 4-3 on Dec. 21. This time, they led 3-1 with under four minutes remaining. But goals from Shea Weber and Colin Wilson in a span of 2 minutes, 20 seconds saw a 3-1 lead evaporate. They earned the point getting it to overtime but would have been incensed had they lost the game.

But Steen got a breakout pass through the Nashville zone from Paul Stastny and took a wrist shot past Nashville goalie Carter Hutton. 

"Yes, and good first pass by 'Petro' to go to 'Stas' as opposed to me," Steen said. "And 'Stas,' I knew he was coming to me. Nice play."

The Blues outshot the Predators 6-0 in overtime with the majority of zone time and capped it with Steen's winner.

"We started with the puck, which is huge in OT and kind of waited for our chance to shoot," Steen said. "We didn't waste anything. For the most part, we were pretty good in OT. It's all puck possession."

Dmitrij Jaskin had a goal and an assist, Kevin Shattenkirk and Robby Fabbri scored, and Jori Lehtera had two assists for the Blues. Goalie Jake Allen made 30 saves to defeat the Predators for the third time this season. 

St. Louis, which has won six of eight, is an NHL-best 17-5-0 against the Western Conference. 

St. Louis defeated Nashville 2-1 here on Dec. 17 but according to coach Ken Hitchcock, the Blues got too comfortable in this game.

"... If you're sitting on the bench, you're hoping you get to the end of the buzzer because we weren't really in control of anything. Other than the first two-thirds of the first period, which was exceptional, we weren't in control of anything. We were trying to keep up to them and they were trying to keep up to us, but neither team was checking very well. Both teams looked like they were a little bit tired for whatever reason. When you come off your checking against that team, you're going to get beat."

Mattias Ekholm had a goal and an assist, and Shea Weber and Colin Wilson scored for the Predators (18-12-7). Carter Hutton made 21 saves; he is 0-2-3 against St. Louis. 

The Predators are 0-6 in overtime this season. 

"It's a huge character (point), especially against a team that defends so well usually as a team," Weber said. "This team, when they get a lead, it's so hard because they collapse and they block a lot of shots. The way Allen's played against us this year too. 

"I think that was the first time we've scored even strength on them this year, so to get two late, that's a big deal for us here and to get one point in a division game is big."

Weber's 11th of the season cut the lead to 3-2 on a quick shot from the high slot after taking Roman Josi's feed with 3:52 remaining, and Wilson collected a rebound and beat Allen with 1:32 remaining after the Predators pulled Hutton. Ryan Ellis' shot from the blue line pinballed off Troy Brouwer and Carl Gunnarsson before fortuitously falling to the top of the crease, where Wilson easily tucked the puck into the empty net.

The Blues had to find a way to regroup, and quickly.

"They turn it on, trying to get anything, get a couple bounces," Steen said. "The last one was really unfortunate. It's going away and hits something and goes back the other side and they've got two guys just standing there. It's unnecessary, it's things that we can't let happen. We have to shut them out when the score is 3-1."

"Everyone was staying positive," Fabbri said. "It wasn't over when they came back and we knew that. Just sticking to what got us that lead was what we did."

Fabbri broke a 1-1 tie on a give-and-go play with Lehtera. Fabbri skated toward the slot and pulled the puck around sliding defenseman Seth Jones before beating Hutton with a wrist shot five-hole 12:04 into the second period to give the Blues a 2-1 lead.

"Lehtera did a great job, took two guys with him," Fabbri said. "He gave me that lane to the net there. Jones went down and when I went around him, he sort of hit my stick. Five-hole wasn't necessarily where I was going, but it counts."

Shattenkirk gave the Blues a 3-1 lead when he took a breakout pass from Lehtera and beat Hutton with a slap shot from the top of the right circle 1:55 into the third period.

Jaskin's first goal in 20 games put the Blues ahead 1-0. He was able to tip Jay Bouwmeester's shot on goal, then collect the rebound and backhand it past Hutton 9:38 into the first period.

The Predators tied it 1-1 on Ekholm's shorthanded goal, his first goal in 21 games. Fisher won an offensive-zone faceoff back to Ekholm, who seemed to catch Allen off guard with a quick shot inside the near post at 14:00.

"We had a great start and the first goal was exceptional, and then when we got scored on, we sagged, and it took us a whole to catch it back up," Hitchcock said. "Then when we started to play again, we started to play, but we were vulnerable defensively. We had too many just-abouts. We were vulnerable back there, so I think we became hesitant and when you become hesitant defensively, that's usually when you get in trouble.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues center Jori Lehtera (12) moves the puck past Nashville center Mike
Ribeiro on Tuesday. Lehtera has two assists in a 4-3 OT win.

Things looked good for the Blues after Shattenkirk's goal, but they caught themselves fending off a late Nashville push and had to refocus on getting a second point.

"The win's the win at the end of the day but to give up with five minutes left a two-goal lead and let them back in the game and give them hope, it's not the right thing to do and we all know that," Allen said. "You can't really say anything about it now, but we wish we could take those five minutes back and do it a little differently, but we got the win, we found a way, and move on to the next game." 

(12-29-15) Predators-Blues Gameday Lineup

ST. LOUIS -- Kyle Brodziak will return on Tuesday, and with Patrik Berglund on the cusp of returning to healthy status, the Blues placed veteran center Scott Gomez on waivers.

The Blues, who host the Nashville Predators (7 p.m.; NBCSN, KMOX 1120-AM), will put Brodziak back into his spot centering the fourth line. He missed the past five games with a lower-body injury that occurred as a result of a skate cut above the right knee. It happened when the Blues beat the Predators 2-1 on Dec. 12 when he was cut by a Seth Jones skate.

"I feel good," Brodziak said. "Now it's going to be up to the coaches. As far as to how it reacted yesterday and how it felt this morning, it felt pretty good.

"I'm looking forward to it. Everyone knows it's not fun sitting out and watching. Hopefully I can get back in and continue to build my game and continue to build the team's game as we go along here. ... It's too tough of a league where you have to tip-toe your way in."

With Brodziak out, the Blues were 3-2-0, but coach Ken Hitchcock was forced on a game-by-game basis to use a makeshift fourth line in Brodziak's absence. And his penalty killing abilities were missed.

"He got cleared this morning, so that's good news," Hitchcock said of Brodiak. "Get him back and working on that fourth line and killing penalties, so that's good news  for us.

"He got hurt and then we had no hockey practices. So to put a new guy in there and expect the same type of result from your fourth line with the way your fourth line plays was a difficult challenge. We had (Dmitrij) Jaskin there and after the faceoff, he was a good player for us, but he never even took a faceoff, hasn't taken a faceoff in three years and all of the sudden, he's playing center ice. That's a little bit challenging."

The 36-year-old Gomez, who was signed to a one-year, two-way contract worth $575,000 NHL/$200,000 AHL, was brought to St. Louis when the Blues were hit with a plethora of injuries to their forward crop. But with Brodziak's return and Berglund, who has been out since having shoulder surgery on Aug. 28, on the verge of being activated from injured-reserve, Gomez became expendable.

Gomez played on the Blues' second power play unit and centered the third line early. He had eight points the first 11 games but when he was relegated to the fourth line, he had no points the past 10 games.

"He was good early," Hitchcock said of Gomez. "When we went down quick with all those injuries when (PaulStastny went out, he was good early. But it's not fair for him to come and play a role he's never played before here. Hopefully somebody picks him up and he can play a top-six, top-nine role and have that support. With Brodziak back in and obviously Berglund coming back in, he's a player that would just be waiting for an injury and that can sometimes be a long wait."

Berglund was cleared for contact on Monday, and it's just a matter of time before he's activated.

Gomez was respected in the locker room and had a presence with both teammates and coaches. He leaves with two Stanley Cup titles on his resume, leaving only Troy Brouwer as a Stanley Cup winner.

"He's a good veteran player that's had success and brought a lot of credibility to this room," captain David Backes said of Gomez. "I don't know we would have done without him, when we had Paul out during that tough stretch when you're looking for bodies. He brought one that was very capable. He was great for us while he was here. This is the business side that you lose a good guy in the room, but it's just what happens.

"I don't know what we would have done without him with Paul out and during that tough stretch where you're looking for bodies and he was one that was very capable."

Added defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk: "The way that (Gomez) thought the game and the way that he played was something that we all learned from, especially our young forwards. I think Jaskin and (Robby) Fabbri and some of those other guys who had an opportunity to play with him really gained an appreciation of how he played. For a player like me to watch him and see how smart he was, was fun. And I think his voice in the locker room was tremendous for us. It's tough to see him go because he was a great guy."

The Blues also put center Justin Hodgman, who had six assists in 15 games for the Chicago Wolves of the AHL, on unconditional waivers.

Hodgman signed a one-year contract in the offseason after spending last season in the Arizona Coyotes organization.

- - -

There has been some question regarding the points production of center Stastny. Stastny, who had a goal and four assists in five games before sustaining a broken foot blocking a shot in Vancouver on Oct. 16, missed 16 games. He came back and had four points in six games but has since had a goal and three assists in 11 games.

But Stastny, who has three goals and 13 points in 22 games, isn't too concerned. The chances have been there.

"I'm just hoping to get those bounces going in," Stastny said. "I've been creating a lot of chances. I feel good about my game to be honest with you. There's games where you know you could have easily had another two or three points. You're hitting posts, you can get an assist. I'm not too worried. I know it's going to come. It's a long season. You just worry about the little things, try to take care of those little things away from the stat sheet, whether that's in the defensive zone, the neutral zone or special teams, faceoffs, I think it all kind of plays into how the team's doing.

"Me, 'Mags' and 'Tank' have had nights where we could have easily had four or five goals as a line if it's going in. That's just the way it is and we've just got to keep at it and when we get that first one, they'll go in from there."

Stastny, who centers the top line with Vladimir Tarasenko and either Alexander Steen and most recently, Magnus Paajarvi, is a key piece to both sides of trhe special teams and according to statistics, Stastny is second overall in the NHL in faceoff percentage (59.5 percent) among players taking at least 200 draws in the month of December.

Stastny has won 57.8 percent of his draws this season.

"He has a good all-around game and to me, points come, points go," Hitchcock said of Stastny. "Somedays, everything you shoot goes in the net and now this year, he gets so many quality scoring chances and they're not going in. Still, he gives you good minutes on everything. He gives you good minutes 5-on-5, he gives you real good minutes on the power play, gives you great minutes killing penalties. He's just an all-around good player. I think you've got to be careful getting wrapped up in points because I just find that regardless of what happens, guys wind up in the same place every year. If a guy's a 60-point player, he gets to be 60 points. If a guy's a 40-point player, they get there. Sometimes it's an even-keel approach to a season and sometimes it's hot and cold or cold and hot, whatever. I said the same thing to (T.J.Oshie and Backes last year. They struggled at the start and they were within one or two points of their seasonal totals. I think he's just going to end up in the same place, but he might go at it a little different. 

"This is one year though where he feels he's missed a lot of great opportunities to score. I know he's a playmaker, but he has had a number of quality scoring chances that I'm sure him and us would like to see go in."

Hitchcock believes that eventually, Stastny will start potting pucks into the net.

"If they dry up then you're worried, but when you get this many opportunities every game, you've got to think over time it's going to go in," Hitchcock said. "My experience is if you're not scoring, you better be checking and buying yourself some time. To me, he's doing that and he's allowing the line to have some pretty good substantial O-zone time because of it."

- - -

Rookie defenseman Joel Edmundson will be a healthy scratch for a third consecutive game.

Hitchcock likes the group of six playing now, which has included Robert Bortuzzo, who will play a fourth consecutive game after being a healthy scratch nine in a row and 10 of 12.

Hitchcock has said in the past that if young players don't play, they won't stay up here, but Edmundson, who has two assists in 25 games, remains on the club.

"I think he's benefiting from being here, but he's got to play," Hitchcock said. "Those are decisions we're going to make here in the next couple of games. We like what the group's done for the last two games and when it's his turn, he's got to be ready to go. Has he benefited, yeah, because we've worked hard with him and teaching things he needs to get better at, but there's going to come a point where we're going to need his mobility and his size and left shot. We can't lose sight of that. I think in the next couple of games, we'll make decisions that might be a little long-lasting. We'll see."

- - -

Some side notes:

The Blues are are a league-best 16-5-0 against Western Conference opponents.

Defenseman Colton Parayko's 78 shots are 27 more than any other rookie defenseman in the league (Edmonton's Darnell Nurse has 51).

Tarasenko has 14 points (eight goals, six assists) the past 12 games.

Jake Allen, who will start tonight, is 2-0-0 against the Predators this season with a 0.50 goals-against average, a .986 save percentage and a shutout. He's stopped 72 of 73 shots against Nashville this season.

Predators goalie Pekka Rinne, who will back up Carter Hutton tonight, is 0-5-2 his past seven road games.

- - -

The Blues' probable lineup:

Magnus Paajarvi-Paul Stastny-Vladimir Tarasenko

Alexander Steen-David Backes-Troy Brouwer

Robby Fabbri-Jori Lehtera-Dmitrij Jaskin

Jordan Caron-Kyle Brodziak-Ryan Reaves

Jay Bouwmeester-Alex Pietrangelo

Colton Parayko-Kevin Shattenkirk

Carl Gunnarsson-Robert Bortuzzo

Jake Allen will start in goal. Brian Elliott will be the backup.

Healthy scratches include Joel Edmundson and Scottie Upshall. Jaden Schwartz (ankle), Patrik Berglund (shoulder) and Steve Ott (hamstring) are on injured-reserve.

- - -

The Predators' projected lineup:

Filip Forsberg-Mike Ribeiro-James Neal

Colin Wilson-Mike Fisher-Viktor Arvidsson

Austin Watson-Calle Jarnkrok-Craig Smith

Eric Nystrom-Paul Gaustad-Miikka Salomaki

Roman Josi-Shea Weber

Mattias Ekholm-Ryan Ellis

Barret Jackman-Seth Jones

Carter Hutton will start in goal. Pekka Rinne will be the backup.

Healthy scratches include Cody Hodgson, Anthony Bitetto and Petter Granberg. Gabriel Bourque (upper body) is out with an an injury.

Monday, December 28, 2015


Berglund cleared for contact; Brodziak close to return; Allen against Predators

HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- Patrik Berglund continues to trek in the right direction.

The Blues' forward, who has missed the entire season following shoulder surgery on Aug. 28, took part in another practice session, an optional, but the next step -- a pivotal one -- has been set in motion: Berglund has been cleared for contact.

Fourteen skaters too part in Monday's skate, and Berglund was among them whipping around and bumping into teammates.

"I asked 'Reavo' to run me over today, but he was going pretty soft on me," Berglund joked, referring to teammate Ryan Reaves.

"The next step is for me to kind of be ready, conditioning-wise and obviously strength-wise," Berglund added. "That's where we are right now. I'm still rehabbing, I'm still doing heavy lifting in the gym to get my strength up. When that feels good, that's when I think it's time to play."

Berglund's initial timeline was for reevaluation in four months and we're at the four-month marker now.

"I think the next step is more endurance, see where he's at," coach Ken Hitchcock said of Berglund. "He has a schedule, we have a schedule; hasn't changed. 

"Early in the New Year, we're anticipating him getting ready to play. This is the fourth day now of some people leaning on him and today he took a lot of one-on-one, two-on-two contact, so that's a good step. We'll see how he feels tomorrow. If he feels fine tomorrow, then we'll just amp it up into a normal player status and see from there."

Berglund wants to really get out into a full practice and be able to take the physical toll and see how the shoulder reacts.

"It feels pretty good," Berglund said. "We haven't had many skates. It's been more pregame skates and not a lot happening. A few more practices like this and we'll see when they think I'm ready and when I think I'm ready."

* Brodziak close -- Center Kyle Brodziak is on the cusp of returning to the lineup, perhaps as soon as Tuesday when the Blues (22-12-4) host the Nashville Predators for the second time in 13 days; the Blues, who are 2-0-0 against Nashville this season, won that game 2-1 on third-period goals by David Backes and Vladimir Tarasenko.

Brodziak, who was injured the past time these teams met when he sustained an inadvertent skate cut in the second period from defenseman Seth Jones, has missed five games but began practicing past week. He was on the ice Monday.

"Better, a lot better," Brodziak said when asked how he felt. "I tried skating a few days ago. It still wasn't feeling great, but today was a step in the right direction and now just have to wait and see how it reacts.

"... It was more than just a cut. I had to go get an MRI and found some other stuff going on. The range of motion wasn't great, strength around the area wasn't great. That's why it's kind of taken longer than we first hoped and thought."

Brodziak, who centers the Blues' fourth line, finished that game after getting stitched up but said he was sore that night after going home.

"When you get a cut, you kind of feel almost like a hot sensation and then I looked down and saw a cut in my sock so I kind of figured something might be going on," Brodziak said. "I just went to the bench and had a look and saw a pretty good cut.

"I had to finish the shift obviously. They were in our end. At the time, you don't really feel it took bad until later on in the night. I got stitched up and played the third. That night is when it stiffened up quite a bit. I was a pretty sore. That night was pretty bad, and then the next few days after was pretty sore."

The Blues have used a makeshift fourth line since losing Brodziak and Steve Ott (hamstring) but would welcome Brodziak's return for a plethora of reasons.

"Obviously secondary faceoffs on that side of the ice, killing penalties," Hitchcock said. "He was playing good for us. Where he's really good is in our own zone. He's really competitive in our own zone. He gets pucks out, hard to play against, he can really lean on people. He's a really competitive guy. It's the identity of what you want in your fourth line. He provided that for us and gave us that good direction. We'll be really happy to get him back in.

"I think he's close to being assessed to play. ... He went full go today, he said he felt good and we'll see for him in the morning. Hopefully we can get him up and running and get him ready to play. If not tomorrow, then we'll get him ready for the next game."

The Blues are 3-2-0 with Brodziak, who has been listed as day-to-day, out of the lineup.

"I'm not sure what the plan is yet for tomorrow," Brozdiak said. "I'm going to wait and see the rest of the day how it reacts and see how it feels in the morning. Hopefully things are going well. It'll be a coaching decision after that."

* Allen back in goal -- Blues goalie Jake Allen will play against the Predators, who he's beaten twice this season.

After Brian Elliott was sparkling in a 3-0 loss at Dallas Sunday in which the Blues' netminder made 35 saves and gave his team a chance, Allen will face a team he made a career-high 45 saves against in a 4-0 win on Nov. 7 and has stopped 72 of 73 Nashville shots.  

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Stars turn tables on Blues in 3-0 victory

Teams played second of back-to-back; Dallas' 
special teams difference despite Elliott's solid effort

DALLAS -- Brian Elliott gave the Blues the chance at sweeping a home-and-home with the Dallas Stars.

Unfortunately, the Blues' netminder didn't get much support from the teammates that dressed on Sunday night.

Elliott, making only his second start in the past seven games, was spectacular; he made 35 saves. But the Blues provided no offensive support in a 3-0 loss to the Stars at American Airlines Center, less than 24 hours after the Blues won 3-2 in a shootout in St. Louis.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Brian Elliott makes one of 35 saves on Sunday against the Dallas Stars
in a 3-0 loss at American Airlines Center.

Elliott, who came in 5-0-0 against Western Conference foes this season, was beaten by power play goals from Patrick Sharp late in the first period and Jamie Benn early in the third period. He was a fortress other than that, but the Blues (22-12-4) were blanked for the third time this season with 22 shots at Kari Lehtonen, who got his 33rd career shutout, third career against the Blues and first this season.

"I mean, it was outstanding," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said of Elliott. "That’s the part that disappoints everybody here, is he battled like crazy, he made great saves, he kept us right there and we couldn’t get a goal for him."

Defenseman Jay Bouwmeester agreed.

"Oh yeah, he was awesome," Bouwmeester said. "Without him, the score’s a lot different. I don’t know what the shots were, but probably close to 40 shots and if you’re giving up that many and good Grade-A chances, he made some really good saves, so yeah, it was good for him."

The Blues fell nine points behind the Stars (27-7-3) for the Central Division lead.

The game was played with only one referee (Rob Martell), as Brad Meier was unable to make it into Dallas because of the heavy rain that has hampered much of the Midwest and South for the past two days.

Martell had a tough time keeping the game in check by himself.

"Yeah, I thought there was some missed stuff," Elliott said. "You obviously can’t blame him, but having two guys out there really catches everything. He can’t watch the whole ice. It’s probably both ways, too. I’m not saying it was called one way or the other."

A non call on Benn, who scored 40 seconds into the third period on the power play after cross-checking Bouwmeester, proved costly as the Stars went ahead 2-0 and all but put the nail in the coffin for the Blues, who didn't have much in the tank in this game.

Benn was able to knock Bouwmeester to the ice and get Sharp's pass and put it past Elliott.

"Yeah, I would say so, that he did," Bouwmeester said when asked if Benn got away with a penalty. "If they call penalties both ways then yeah, for sure he did, but I mean one ref tonight and the guy we got, was what he was, so that’s how it goes."

Hitchcock said with the way the game was going, it was the back-breaker. He tried to get Martell's attention to come to the bench, but Martell would have none of it.

"The one that really hurt us, I mean broken sticks, we broke four sticks and didn’t get a call until the end, but the one that really hurt us was the second goal," Hitchcock said. "'Bouw' was playing the front of the net, gets cross-checked from behind and the guy that cross-checks 'Bouw' from behind scores a goal. That really hurt us a lot, so yeah, what are you going to do?"

But the Stars, who have shut out the Blues and Chicago Blackhawks in back-to-back home games, had the better of the play from start to finish. The Blues' chances were minimal at best with little-to-no sustained zone pressure. Turnovers in the neutral zone fed into the Stars' ability to free-flow around the ice.

"Yeah, well we didn’t manage the puck properly. That’s why," HItchcock said. "We turned it over in the neutral zone all the time. In the first two games we played in our building, we didn’t turn it over, but we turned it over all night today and when you play that way against that team, that just feeds what they did, so we couldn’t get on our toes because we put ourselves on our heels. We didn’t manage it very well and they came at us because of the neutral-zone turnovers and we couldn’t sustain any zone pressure until really the third period."

"Well, I don’t think either team had a lot of energy at the start of the game," Bouwmeester said, "but it was sort of whoever was just going to milk it and get it in and grind away was going to get off on the right foot and they sort of did in the first period and then really all of a sudden, there after the first two periods and then you get down by two and start pushing, but yeah, we would have liked to respond after that tonight, you move on."

The Stars had the better of the play and much of the territorial edge in the first period and finally cashed in on a late power play.

Sharp, who celebrated his 34th birthday, followed up his initial shot off the cross bar and tucked a loose puck past Elliott with 1:57 remaining in the period after Dallas was given a power play on a Scottie Upshall interference penalty.

The Stars outshot the Blues 16-5 in the period.

There was a scrum that ensued when Robert Bortuzzo and Jamie Benn crossed paths on the ice, and Bortuzzo and Tyler Seguin took matching minors for what Benn claimed was a stick to the midsection.

Seguin took exception to Bortuzzo, who got the butt end of his stick, up in Benn's mid-section. The Blues felt Benn embellished the contact. He was on the ice for the next shift on the power play.

"We're just playing hard," Bortuzzo said. "He's a high-end player on the team and I'm trying to make things as uncomfortable as possible. He plays a game the hard way as well."

In predictable fashion, things for feisty to begin the second period. Troy Brouwer dropped the gloves with Antoine Roussel three seconds after the puck drop for the period, and four seconds later, Travis Moen sidestepped Ryan Reaves and went for Bortuzzo and those two tangled. 

"I think their guys just kind of saw a reaction," Bortuzzo said. "A lot of times, there's little shots after the whistle. That's hockey. (Benn's) probably doing the same stuff out there. We're just playing hard. I have a lot of respect for the guy; he's a good player. Hopefully he has respect for what I'm doing out there. We're just playing hard."  

At 1-0, the Blues could have used one of those fights as motivation moving forward but there would be nothing that could motivate them tonight, except for the play of Elliott, who was the story for the Blues in the game. He robbed Ales Hemsky right at the side of the net with a glove save that appeared to have the Stars' second goal written all over it with 6:18 remaining in the second period, among many key saves to keep it a 1-0 game and give the Blues a chance to tie on one shot.

"Yeah, sometimes you get those, sometimes you don’t," Elliott said. "That’s all we’re trying to do as a goalie back there, is just try to keep in the game. If we’re struggling, just try to make those saves and let the guys kind of rebound and do their thing.

"... Results aside (I am pleased). I felt good. I made a couple good saves to try to keep us in it, but the less than 24-hour turnaround, it just looked like we didn’t have the same amount of gas as we did at home. It was tough getting scoring chances. We couldn’t really get anything to the inside. He (Lehtonen) kind of had an easy day down there."

The Blues allowed two power play goals for only the second time in a game this season (Oct. 18 at Winnipeg was the other). They were 32-for-34 since Nov. 25.

"Yeah, we’ve done a pretty good job lately' we had a stretch there of real good play," Bouwmeester said. "They've got a good power play. 
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Scottie Upshall and the Blues had a tough time of it
on Sunday in Dallas. The Blues lost 3-0.

"We took too many penalties. That’s partly our fault, partly the ref, but yeah, it’s one of those things. They’re going to happen, but you want to eliminate, they got chances. They've got good players, too."

The Blues began to build some traffic around Lehtonen but Cody Eakin's 200-foot bank shot off the glass in his own zone caromed into the net with 1:32 remaining.

So the Blues lost out on a point in the standings to the Stars, who earned three to the Blues' two, but the Blues are 2-1-0 against Dallas this season. They learned they can play with this high-powered team.

"It looks like neither team can win in the other team’s building," Hitchcock said. "Matter of fact, to be honest with you, it’s not even close. That’s what it looks like. Neither team’s close. They outplayed us significantly today. We outplayed them significantly yesterday, so we’ll see next event, but so far in the three games, neither team’s been close."