Zubrus came close to calling it an NHL career;
Shattenkirk not ready; Upshall fine; Allen in goal
HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- Instead if throwing in thr towel, Dainius Zubrus continued to believe.
A veteran of 18 NHL seasons, Zubrus has had a tumultuous few months.
After spending the past eight seasons with the New Jersey Devils, Zubrus had his contract terminated by the Devils on July 30, thus making him an unrestricted free agent. And when no takers came with a contract for the 2015-16 season, Zubrus was left without a place to attend training camp for the first time since 1996.
But 48 hours ago, a call came from Blues assistant general manager Marty Brodeur, Zubrus' teammate with the Devils from 2007-2014.
Brodeur asked Zubrus, among other things how things were going and would he be interested in coming to St. Louis on a professional tryout.
There was no hesitation.
"I've been waiting for a call like that for a couple months and it never happened," Zubrus said. "Obviously sitting at home and waiting and you kind of question whether it's going to happen. I was hoping that it will and it did. I was very happy to have a chance to get an opportunity. That's all I can really ask for and I'm happy."
Zubrus, 37, and 34-year-old Martin Havlat, who got a phone call from Blues GM Doug Armstrong piqueing his interest for a PTO, were at practice with the Blues, who have given them, and vice versa, a 10-day window to impress enough to perhaps work out an NHL contract.
Havlat also spent last season with the Devils and had 14 points (five goals, nine assists) in 40 regular season games.
The 6-foot-2, 209-pound left wing was originally drafted by the Ottawa Senators in the first round of the 1999 NHL Draft and went on to be named to the 2000-01 NHL All-Rookie Team in his first season.
Overall, Havlat has appeared in 14 seasons, including stints with the Senators, Chicago Blackhawks, Minnesota Wild, San Jose Sharks and Devils. A 2006-07 All-Star, Havlat has played in 788 games and has 593 points (241 goals, 352 assists). The Mlada Boleslav, Czech Republic native has 52 points (21 goals, 31 assists) in 75 career postseason games.
Havlat was in camp with the Florida Panthers on a PTO but was released.
"I'm here and I'm trying to play here," Havlat said. "I've been happy to be on the ice with the boys today. It's much more fun than the last three weeks. I was the best player on the ice because I was skating by myself. It was a little different today, so much more fun.
"I felt pretty good actually. I think I came in good shape and had a decent camp. It is what it is and for whatever reason, it didn't work out (in Florida). Now today I'm standing here."
Zubrus posted 10 points (four goals, six assists) in 74 regular season games last season.
Originally drafted by the Philadelphia Flyers in the first round of the 1996 NHL Draft, the Elektrenai, Lithuania native has played with the Flyers, Montreal Canadiens, Washington Capitals, Buffalo Sabres and Devils. The 6-5, 225-pound forward has 584 points (225 goals, 359 assists) in 1,243 games and 35 points (11 goals, 24 assists) in 92 career postseason games.
He worked out on his own at the Devils' training facility but began to wonder if another opportunity in the NHL would ever arise. Zubrus even contemplated going to Europe but didn't sway from his thinking that a call would eventually come.
It came from old friend Brodeur.
"He just asked me how I'm doing and if I'd be willing to come in and I said, 'Of course,'" Zubrus said. "I still feel like I'm an NHL player; I want to play in the NHL. I kind of waited for some options, maybe go to Europe and things like that, but in my head, it was NHL or nothing.
"At first it was just kind of texts. Things like, 'How are you doing?' We occasionally text each other to see how we're doing. My wife's French-Canadian; obviously he's French and his wife. I wasn't sure what it was all about, but sure enough, I went on the website and Googled the news and stuff. I knew there were a couple guys already hurt and then I saw there was another one. So I kind of put two and two together and I asked him straight up of there's anything going on. And he said, 'Yeah.' That's how we kind of continued and here I am."
Both players have made millions of dollars working in the NHL and are at a point in their careers where winning is the standard.
Just ask veteran Scott Gomez.
"If you're an older player especially ... you bet," he said. "We've all been in places. Obviously the league's gotten younger where you're team's not doing well, yeah, they're going to go, 'It's an excuse, but we're going to go with the young guys.' But I think the whole hockey world knows this is a Cup-contending team. Especially later on in your career, that's all you want. You want to get into the playoffs. That's the goal."
Both players took part in a relatively brisk but spirited practice Wednesday. Coach Ken Hitchcock said the jury is still out.
"It's too early right now," Hitchcock said. "Neither one of them have practiced for a little while. They both went through a heavy dose of training camps and exhibition games and stuff like that, but they haven't been able to practice yet. We'll get a much better evaluation by the end of the weekend here. But first day, as we said, both guys come from really good, structured programs so they know how to work, they know how to play the game the right way. If they look like they've got the enthusiasm and energy just based on their own playing ability, they would help any team.
"We've got to get them working so they get up to speed. A lot of things are happening pretty quick right now, so get them up to speed and see where it is here in the next 7-10 days."
No matter what happens over the next 10 days, it's a step-by-step process, and one both veterans will take.
"I've never been in this situation, but I'm excited and I'll take it one day at a time," Zubrus said. "... It wouldn't have made sense to drag on. If it's not happening, eventually you get to the point that it's not happening. I wasn't there yet. I was still waiting. Of course you second-guess and question when you're you're going to get a call or if you're going to get a call. I tried as good as I can to stay in shape and I'm glad it happened. This team is a really good team. It's been a good team for a long time and I'm sure the goals are to win and I'm glad they gave me this opportunity."
"It's always a nice feeling when someone wants you to come and show them what you can," Havlat said. "It's nice to feel that you're wanted somewhere."
* Shattenkirk not ready -- Optimism turned to caution for Blues defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk.
Shattenkirk, who's been dealing with a lower-body injury since Oct. 13, has missed the past six games.
Thursday when the Blues (6-2-1) host the slumping Anaheim Ducks (1-6-2), Shattenkirk will miss a seventh game.
There's no reason for concern, but Shattenkirk wants to be 100 percent when he returns to the lineup.
Hitchcock said it's not quite there.
"It's the five-percenter. It's five percent," Hitchcock said. It's 95 (percent healthy); he wants to be at 100. We want him at 100 so we're trying different aspects to see if we can get it. He's worked really hard, he's skated extra, he's done all the extra work, but it's stalled. By taking the day off and doing all the work off-ice that he did, we're hoping we can crack it through the last five percent. We're right there. We've got to find the right balance between the work and the rest. Today was not a scheduled work day, but with everything that happened yesterday, we decided to put him into it. We'll see how he is tomorrow. He's days away; he's not weeks away. We're trying to get that last five percent."
Shattenkirk didn't practice Wednesday after skating hard the past couple days.
"Just coming in today after skating Monday and Tuesday and not feeling like it was progressing, I just figured that it would be good to give it a day to relax because the past few days have been pretty hard on it," Shattenkirk said. "That was the goal the last few days, to skate like I was going to be playing in a game. Because it didn't respond well, I just felt it was the right decision to rest a bit and give it time."
* Upshall missing -- Forward Scottie Upshall also missed practice.
After missing Saturday because of sickness, Upshall played Tuesday in a 2-0 win against the Tampa Bay Lightning.
"He got banged up with maybe five minutes left in the game a little bit," Hitchcock said of Upshall. "He's a little bit sore today, so we just opted to keep him off the ice. He'll be fine for tomorrow."
* Power outage -- The Blues are playing short of some key pieces in Shattenkirk, Paul Stastny (foot) and Jaden Schwartz (ankle). All three are key contributors on the power play and it's definitely showing.
After going 0-for-3 Tuesday, the Blues are 0-for 11 the past three games and in a 1-for-23 funk going back six games.
They only have four power play goals on the season.
"I think it's gone in stages," Hitchcock said. "I think we're in the stage now where we're forcing the issue a little too much, so we want to get them to relax and find open people.
"There was a time before this where we were quite frankly getting outworked. That's not there. The last couple power plays, we've worked really hard, we've battled, we've competed, we've kept the puck. We've kind of forced it a little bit. Quite frankly, I like where we're going now. When you have a good work ethic, these are areas that you can fix as a coach, but when you're struggling on the work ethic side of things, you've got a bigger problem. But we look like we're past that now. We're starting to get our work ethic and our determination back where we want it."
Are teams standing the Blues up and the blue line and making zone entries tougher?
"No, it's our tempo," Hitchcock said. "There's been too much indecision in what we're doing with the puck. I liked what we did yesterday. We got it in the zone. We did a good job with it yesterday, but when it got a little bit scrambly, rather than settle it down, we forced the issue. We tried to keep the puck moving and we could have held on and maybe had a little more composure."
* Notes -- WIth Shattenkirk out, the same six on defense will play against the Ducks, who are 0-3-1 on their current five-game trip with one more stop left.
Jake Allen, who stopped all 26 shots faced in beating close friend Ben Bishop on Tuesday, will get the start Thursday.
After the Canadiens allowed five goals to the Vancouver Canucks on Tuesday, the Blues remain as the lone team in the league to not allow more than three goals in a game this season.
The Blues are 5-0-0 in games scoring three goals or more, 1-2-1 when scoring fewer than three. Their first win in that fashion came Tuesday.