Monday, November 30, 2015

Blues' record comparable to last season

One point off mark of 2014-15 season, 
accomplished in much better fashion with plethora of injuries

ST. LOUIS -- The Blues begin the third month of the season Tuesday when they play host to the Florida Panthers at Scottrade Center.

Their record is 15-6-3, good for 33 points, which is respectable and among the leaders in the NHL entering play Monday. 

They're one point off pace of their mark through 24 games last season (16-6-2, 34 points), but it's hardly considered any sort of failure. As a matter of fact, it's remarkably better the way they've gotten there currently than how they got there last season.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Paul Stastny (26) missed 16 games with a broken foot earlier this season.
The Blues have been able to withstand a number of injuries this season.

Last season, the Blues only had to endure Paul Stastny's shoulder injury for eight games and were relatively injury-free most of the year. This season has been a different story.

The Blues are among the NHL leaders in man-games missed. Only Buffalo, Detroit and Edmonton had more man-games missed entering play Monday. And considering the Blues have played large portions of the season without Stastny (16 games), Kevin Shattenkirk (10), Robby Fabbri (six), Steve Ott (six), Jaden Schwartz (currently missed 17) and Patrik Berglund (all season), it's been quite a story that the they've not only tread water but entered play Monday fifth in the league in points, second in the Western Conference.

"I think it's way more impressive than last year," Ott said. "One being the schedule's completely different. We started the season with a hard, hard road trip (six games); that was exhausting. We've played a lot of weird divisional, hard games in close spans where you kind of switch things up. Then you top it off with the amount of injuries that we've had. Not just your run of the mill hockey players, your most key guys. 

"Any time you miss 'Shatty' for the way we did, 'Stas' the way we did, 'Schwartzy' the way we are, obviously 'Bergy' for the whole season so far, you take those four guys away from any dressing room, that team would probably be in the basement right now."

The Blues have had to plug in players to fill gaping holes left by those key players and not only have they performed but have been thrust into crucial roles. Guys like Scottie Upshall and Scott Gomez, who weren't even on the radar coming into training camp before both veterans came in on professional tryouts before earning and signing one-year contracts. Younger players like Fabbri and defensemen Colton Parayko and Joel Edmundson, as well as Magnus Paajarvi and Dmitrij Jaskin and Ty Rattie (when he was recalled from the American Hockey League) have been thrust into situations perhaps not thought of before the injuries. All have kept the Blues well above the equator.

"We were in scramble mode before," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock admitted. "There's no way to put it. I think what's saved us was Gomez and Upshall. I think they came in and gave us good minutes, allowed us to stay afloat. They came in as guys trying to help us and I don't want to say part-time players, but they were guys that came in on a limited role, got thrust into the limelight right away and answered the bell. It's given us, rather than trying to bring American (Hockey) League players or call-up players to try and survive from within; these were NHL players who knew how to play the game. They gave us good, sustained minutes, which I think helped keep us to stay afloat to be honest with you.

"I can't even remember where we were last year, but I think what's helped us, we've been able to get points in the third period, win games in the third period. I don't know that we've down going into the third that much, but we've been tied and getting wins or points out of those games. Those are the points you're going to need. I think what we're doing now is we're starting to put more and more better minutes together. I think we were starting at 30 minutes at the start of the year of really solid play. Now we're in the 40's. I think that's what's allowing us to play well towards the end of games; we're getting better and better minutes from more and more people, more and more people involved in the good play. ... We're getting more and more players connected in building good minutes, so it's allowing us to control the game a little bit more."

The Blues are a team that has to endure comebacks all season. They've only led in five of 24 games this season after one period but have had what Hitchcock and players called the "spirit" in coming back. They're 4-4-1 when trailing after one but 7-0-0 when leading after two and 7-0-0 when tied after two.

But it's been a common thread around the NHL this season: close, tight games right to the finish.

"It feels like every game's a playoff game, it feels like every game's one goal," Hitchcock said. "We were bemoaning the fact of that a couple weeks ago, but I think that's the reality that the league is like that now; it's so close. You're just going to have to live in that atmosphere. So I think learning how to play in that atmosphere is going to help us. But I just think we're going to be in a lot of one-goal hockey games for the rest of the year and we're just going to have to get used to it because there is not much difference in a dozen teams in both conferences right now. I think it really bears fruit when you see how many games ... I was looking, I think Detroit and somebody else played nine or 10 overtime games already, and that's incredible. That's almost half of their schedule has gone into overtime. I think just learning to play in that atmosphere is something everybody's going to have to get used to.

"I think even the players are looking at the standings on a daily basis. It used to be coaches for nothing but the first 30 games, but I think the players are looking at it, too, right now. I think we're all looking at where we stand, we're all looking at who's above us and who's below us. I just think when you have this much proximity of teams in the standings, you can't help but notice on a daily basis. I know I'm watching every day now. It's fun, but it feels like the wins are bigger and the losses are even bigger than that, and that's just the atmosphere that you work in right now in the National Hockey League."

The Blues' 8-1-3 in one-goal games is a testament to their attention to not only detail but to amp things up when the game is on the line.

"The teams that throw away points in October are always wishing they had them in April," Ott said. "For us to crawl back in the amount of games that we have, come back in third periods, be able to play tight and win games or collect points like we have, come April, we shouldn't be sweating as hard. But we're going to continue to have to push to stay at the top of the league.

"That's one of the reasons how our team's built, is by depth. We're built for the playoffs. Obviously you have to get into the playoffs and collect points on the way in; these points are all-too-important, but when you're collectively thinking you have the depth on the team, come playoff time when guys do go down, you hope that guys are able to step up. Now you know who can step up in certain situations when the season continues to progress and guys go down or needed to boost up a teammate or someone needs to come into the lineup."

Captain David Backes also said points now are equally as vital as they are in April.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
The Blues have been able to accumulate points this season despite injuries.
Players like Scottie Upshall (10) have filled in quite nicely.

"They'll come back to bite you in the butt in a hurry," Backes said. "We've seen that in the past, learned our lessons early in my career that these two points are as valuable as the other two points. It's got to be a great effort every night and regroup and piece it all together and find out that maybe we don't skate the next day because we poured it all into the game. Those things are acceptable when you're pouring it all into the game and getting the right result.

"We're concentrating on what we're doing now. Last year's written its own story and we've got to piece it together as we go this year. We've had some adversity, we've had some key guys out of the lineup and been able to maintain a decent level of play and find ways to win games. I think we've had a lot of success so far this year, but we need to keep getting better as everyone else keeps getting better to maintain our position and the top five teams in the league."

* NOTES -- Hitchcock said Tuesday's lineup will remain the same as the one that played in a 3-1 victory against Columbus Saturday, meaning Robert Bortuzzo, Dmitrij Jaskin and Scott Gomez will be healthy scratches. 

Jake Allen will start in goal for the 15th time in 17 games, but Brian Elliott will get the start on Friday when the Blues travel to the New York Islanders.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Veteran Upshall ready when number called on

Blues winger understands role, provided game-winning goal in win Saturday

ST. LOUIS -- Scottie Upshall understands the drill.

A veteran of 13 seasons who came into Blues camp this season without a job having to earn a contract, the 32-year-old Fort McMurray, Alberta native is grateful for the opportunity to play whenever his number is called.

Upshall, who earned himself a one-year, two-way contract worth $600,000 for the season, was a healthy scratch in the Blues' 4-3 overtime loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins on Wednesday. It's not the first time and likely won't be the last time.

It's the nature of the business and the way the Blues (15-6-3) are constructed to utilize a particular lineup on a game-by-game basis, when Upshall is inserted into the lineup, he'll be asked to provide spark, grit, energy and the occasional offensive production.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Scottie Upshall (left) has given the Blues solid minutes when his number
is called upon to play. 

The ladder came in the form of a game-winning goal in a 3-1 victory against the Columbus Blue Jackets on Saturday night.

Upshall, who has four goals in 18 games this season and has 22 game-winners in his NHL career, had what was needed of him from the opening drop of the puck.

"I'm confident with the way my game is," Upshall said. "I've played in big games before, been on great teams. But this feeling in this room is really special. I've said that since Day 1. It's the guys inside the room that lead and ply for each other. It's a great group of guys. We've got a great goaltending duo, we've got great defense and then with our star players scoring two or three goals a night, it makes it tough for teams to beat us and that's our attitude."

Upshall and Scott Gomez, another professional tryout signee, understand the circumstances. They know they won't play 82 games a season anymore. But when they are called upon, the Blues will look for them to play within their element and give the team the best chance to win.

"It's their job to play, it's my job to monitor the energy they bring," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. "Those guys have been through a lot. They're not big guys. They've been through a lot. They're gonna be needed down the line here. Gomez is going to get in in the next couple games. He's going to get back in the lineup, he's going to have to contribute, but we've also gotta pay respect for guys that have played and gone through the wear and tear of it, guys like (Upshall) have. 

"Nobody's happy not playing every night, but you've got to get your 'A' game out there or else there's no point in just playing. When they play, we want them to play well and that's what they've done for the most part."

Upshall was in on the forecheck that helped force the turnover before scoring a goal, a shot in which he patiently outwaited Jackets defenseman Andrew Bodnarchuk before firing a wrister upstairs over the glove of goalie Sergei Bobrovsky.

"He played great," left wing Alexander Steen said of Upshall after the game Saturday. "He had a lot of energy after the first. 

"We go around the room talking about what's been good and the first period, 'Uppy' had some really good legs. You could tell he was going to have a good game. He had a couple shifts where he banged some bodies around, got some shots off and it looked like he was feeling it today."

As a veteran player told to sit, it's understandable if one has a chip on his shoulder. They've been there, done that. But for the Blues, who support each other no matter who plays, it's been a great system in light of some injuries that could have decimated a team. The positive reinforcement has allowed the Blues to stay afloat in the standings as guys return to the lineup. They call it a competitive spirit that's enabled them to overcome obstacles, including deficits early in games.

"I would say the best way to describe it is the players are genuinely happy for each other," Hitchcock said. "There's a camaraderie that creates the chemistry that's been going on since Gomez and Upshall came in. They're veteran players who have really good spirit, good team spirit and I think when you see veteran players who are unselfish like those two are, I think it rubs off on guys the right way. But there's a genuine excitement for somebody else having success other than yourself and I think that creates that spirit where they're cheering for each other, they're trying to help each other, and I think it goes a long ways into why we've got the points we do right now."

Teammates agreed.

"Every time he's been in the lineup, he's brought a lot of energy, a lot of grit," goalie Jake Allen said of Upshall. "He doesn't get rewarded sometimes on the scoresheet like some other guys do, but it was great to see tonight. He does have a good shot. The hardest thing in hockey is getting the shot off. When he got that off, he made no mistake."

"He's been real good for us," defenseman Alex Pietrangelo said of Upshall. "He's been bringing a lot of energy, is great in the room. (Good) to see a guy like that get rewarded, comes into camp, played well. ... A guy like 'Gomer' or 'Uppy.' Those guys bring a lot of energy into our lineup. Good teammates, all of them."

So if Upshall is scratched again, don't be surprised. But knowing you don't have to have eyes in the back of your head, Upshall can just go out and play. And when his number is called on, he'll be ready to work.

(St. Louis Blues photo)
When Scottie Upshall (front) scores, there's usually a lively flare that
tends to do along with the goal celebration.
"I finally just felt like you're not worried about making mistakes," said Upshall, who has 119 goals and 119 assists in 571 NHL games. "You're out there doing a job and you're out there doing it as best as you can. This group in here, they're a great hockey team, 25 guys deep. On any given night, guys have got to step up and play hard and do a little extra. When you feel like you've got it, you've just got to keep running with it and continue to play hard and keep your legs going. Everyone's been chipping in over the last 10 games. We're in the tough part of the schedule, so we've just got to keep going in these games at home to put us in a good spot going forward."

And when Upshall chips in, there will always be the penchant for the vivacious goal celebration.

"I like scoring," Upshall said. "I used to do a lot of it."

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Blues slip past Blue Jackets 3-1

Upshall scores game-winner, Tarasenko has goal, assist

ST. LOUIS -- Scottie Upshall's game got revved up from the opening drop of the puck.

And when Upshall scored 6 minutes, 2 seconds into the third period that proved to be the game-winner in a 3-1 victory against the Columbus Blue Jackets at Scottrade Center on Saturday, his goal celebration typified the charged up motor that Upshall displayed throughout the game.

"I was fired up; I like scoring," Upshall said. "I used to do a lot of it."

His teammates were fired up for Upshall, too.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Scottie Upshall (left) and Joel Edmundson celebrate Upshall's goal in the
third period that helped the Blues to a 3-1 victory over Columbus.

"It's rewarding for guys that don't get to play a whole lot," goalie Jake Allen said.  "Scoring goals, especially nice goals like that, it's worth the celebration."

"That was a good celly," Alexander Steen laughed.

"That was awesome; great celebration," Pietrangelo said. "Loved it.

"He has so many celebrations, so it doesn't really count. That was a good one tonight. ... He's been real good for us. He's been bringing a lot of energy, is great in the room. To see a guy like that get rewarded, comes into camp, played well. He's got four now, I think. ... It's obviously a great goal." 

Upshall, who scored his first goal in eight games, dug a puck out of the corner, skated into the slot, waited out Blue Jackets defenseman Andrew Bodnarchuk before taking a wrist shot that beat Columbus goalie Sergei Bobrovsky high glove side. Upshall's previous goal was Nov. 7 against the Nashville Predators. 

"A puck came on my stick, kind of with my back to the net, I turned around and I can hear 'Fabs' (Robby Fabbri) going, 'Backdoor,' which brought their (defenseman) and gave me some space," Upshall said after scoring the 22nd game-winning goal of his NHL career. "I've been shooting the puck a lot lately in practice and feeling good with it. It was just one of those chances when you know you're in the slot, it's tough to make plays when you're a shooter and you're not much of a playmaker. I just threw it on net and saw it go top corner and was pretty happy."

Vladimir Tarasenko had a goal and an assist, and Steen scored for St. Louis (15-6-3). Allen, starting for the 14th time in the past 16 games, made 23 saves.

"It's nice to get contributions from other people," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said, "but I thought (Upshall) played a really strong game. It looked like the rest did him good. I thought he played a very strong game. He thought he was on the puck, physical, used his speed from a checking standpoint, put a lot of pressure on people and was rewarded. It was a great turnover, great shot." 

St. Louis is 7-0-0 when tied after two periods this season and took advantage of a weary Columbus team that played on Friday night, a 2-1 overtime victory against the Pittsburgh Penguins.

"One thing is depth," Pietrangelo said of the ability to win games tied after two periods. "We have a lot of energy in the third period because we're able to play everybody; that's an important thing. We have that killer instinct right now. We always feel we have a chance to win, whether down by one or up by one, tied, or whatever it us. We feel that we have an opportunity to win." 

Columbus also played the game without center Brandon Dubinsky, who was suspended Saturday afternoon by the NHL's Department of Player Safety for a cross-checking penalty assessed after hitting Sidney Crosby.

"He's contagious and he was our best player last night," Blue Jackets coach John Tortorella said of Dubinsky. "'Dubi' brings that and I thought for the most part, most of our guys fought hard tonight. We still have some guys that need to jump aboard as far as what you have to do to win these type of games, but 'Dubi' certainly would have helped.

"... We're not going to whine here. Pittsburgh can whine. Pittsburgh whines enough for the whole league, so there's no room for any other team to whine. We just go about our business."

Ryan Johansen scored for Columbus (10-15-0); Bobrovsky made 29 saves. 

"They scored in the third; we didn't," Tortorella said. "It's the type of game if we want to be where we want to be, when your season's done, you need to at least get a point out of it. I thought we had the opportunity after we killed the 5-on-3 and got through that second  period, but we couldn't score; they did."

The Blue Jackets jumped on top in the first period. 

Johansen's sixth goal of the season came after a failed clearing attempt by Tarasenko, and Columbus defenseman David Savard picked it off. He shot the puck off the end boards, and it caromed in front to the near post where Johansen jammed it past Allen in front of defensemen Jay Bouwmeester and Pietrangelo with 5:14 remaining in the period. 

The goal was Johansen's eighth point in eight games (five goals, three assists) and came on Columbus' fifth shot, which was 9:02 after the Blue Jackets took their fourth.

The Blues weren't worried because they felt like they could eventually wear on the Blue Jackets, but they are concerned about the lack of productive starts in recent games.

"We didn't start the way we wanted to, but once you start picking up the tempo ... they played last night obviously, it was kind of the same situation as when we went there (Nov. 17, a 3-1 Columbus victory)," Blues defenseman Alex Pietrangelo said. "It seemed like as the game went on, we burned them out of energy and we kept the pace up, rolled four lines, six (defensemen) and took the game over." 

Allen agreed.

"Not the best first period, but we regrouped in the second," Allen said. "That (second period) was a dominant period to watch. We changed up a couple things and got the win." 

Tarasenko tied the game with his Blues-leading 14th goal of the season after Alexander Steen was twice able to keep the puck in the offensive zone. He got it to Kevin Shattenkirk, who fed Tarasenko for a wrist shot top-shelf glove-side on Bobrovsky 2:09 into the second. 

The assist extended Shattenkirk's point streak to eight games (two goals, eight assists). 

"Even if we didn't score, I felt like that's what you want from a momentum standpoint," Hitchcock said. "You build momentum off that type of zone time and I think what we did was ... even if we didn't score, I thought the momentum we built would have had them on their heels for a few more shifts and we would have gotten a goal even on the 5-on-5 play."

(St. Louis Blues photo)
Alexander Steen (left) moves the puck past David Savard in the Blues' 3-1
victory against the Blue Jackets on Saturday at Scottrade Center.

The Blues took 18 shots on Bobrovsky in the second period and had a two-man advantage for 1:13 late in the period but did not score. 

Steen scored an empty-net goal with 54.1 seconds remaining.

"The first period, they sat back and kind of trapped us a little bit and we were a little slow with the puck," said Steen, who scored for the first time in 10 games. "It played right into the game that they kind of wanted and then the longer the game went on, we started picking up the pace in the passing. We had a feeling that this was going to turn if we just kept pushing in that direction."

(11-28-15) Blue Jackets-Blues Gameday Lineup

ST. LOUIS -- Joel Edmundson said it was good for him to take a step back and observe.

The Blues' rookie defenseman said he was able to absorb plenty in light of being a healthy scratch the past two games. 

Edmundson will return to the lineup today when the Blues (14-6-3) host the Columbus Blue Jackets (10-14-0) at 7 p.m. (KMOX 1120-AM; FS-MW).

"Obviously watching the game closely and you get to see how much time you actually have in your own zone," said Edmundson, who will replace Robert Bortuzzo and play alongside Kevin Shattenkirk. "I think that's what I really needed to work on. That's what I was kind of struggling in the past few games. I wasn't too happy with my game the last time we played Columbus. It'll be a good challenge for me tonight and I'm looking forward to it.

"My past few games, I'm not too sure what it was. It wasn't there. I think just over-thinking things. I'm a simple guy and I've just got to keep it simple there, take the body out. I think I was doing too much."

Edmundson was able to work on and off the ice with associate coach Brad Shaw on a number of things, and coach Ken Hitchcock said it's up to Edmundson to implement those teaching moments moving forward.

"Get hungry again. Get hungry to bring his game out quicker," Hitchcock said. "I think he's hesitant in bringing his game into the start of the hockey game. He's like any other young player. When you're not feeling it, you hesitate a little bit. Getting his game out there, he's got a real physical edge to his game and there's nothing more than getting a few hits early in the game, getting physically involved, starting to build the energy. I find that the more physical he plays early in games, the better puck decisions he makes. So for me, get your game out there early, don't hesitate, don't worry about if there is a mistake because of it, get out there quick, get out there hard and everything else will take care of itself."

Another lineup change for the Blues will have Scottie Upshall replace Dmitrij Jaskin, who has played in 22 of 23 games this season.

But Jaskin has just five points in 22 games.

- - -

Ryan Reaves is feeling like himself again.

The Blues' fourth-line right wing said Wednesday's game at Pittsburgh was the best he's felt this season.

Reaves, who has battled a knee injury that has hampered his game  through training camp and the first quarter of the season, said although physically he's as close to 100 percent as he can get, it's the best he's felt all season.

"I think you look at the first 20 games when I was in, I didn't have the same jump as I used to," said Reaves, who played 8 minutes, 2 seconds Wednesday. "Because of that, I wasn't getting to the body, I wasn't getting to the forecheck. It was very haphazard games I was playing. I think keeping me out for the last bit to get my conditioning back and letting my knee rest those games was probably was the best thing for it. It feels really good right now. I've just got to keep improving, keep working."

Hitchcock liked Reaves Wednesday.

"He played a good game," Hitchcock said. "He managed his game, he managed the puck well. He played a good, solid game."

- - -

Forward Robby Fabbri has four goals in 17 games, but the rookie has made a penchant for scoring goals at critical times.

His first NHL goal was a game-winner on opening night against Edmonton. He scored a big goal Nov. 4 at Chicago to help the Blues overcome a 5-2 first-period deficit before winning in overtime, then scored a game-winner in the third period in Buffalo on Monday before tying the game in the third period Wednesday that helped the Blues earn a point.

There's a reason Fabbri, who has six points, seems to find his way around important situations.

"He's a hunter, a hunter for the puck," Hitchcock said of Fabbri. "He's hungry for the puck, he's a young guy that when he's feeling it and he's got that energy to go and hunt it down and keep it and have that energy to make people pay for making mistakes.

"... That’s a goal-scorer’s goal (against the Penguins). I mean, he knew exactly where he was shooting, he knew the angle, he knew everything and zipped it in there. Some guys can stand there all day with a bucket-load of pucks and it never goes in. But people who know how to score goals, they go in from there."

Fabbri said he wants the puck in all situations, and watching Blues left wing Jaden Schwartz helped him create that thirst for the vulcanized rubber.

"Whether it's on the forecheck or in zone or exiting the zone, I want to make plays, I want the puck to make plays," Fabbri said. "When we don't have it, I want to get it back. A guy like 'Schwartzy,' he's on the hunt for the puck. He's a guy I've payed close attention to and 'Mullsie' (assistant coach Kirk Muller) told me to watch and stuff like that. It's something in my game I want to keep providing for the team.

"A couple of those goals are always big, especially in the third period. But whether it's in the first, second or third, any of us will take them. We're just trying to work with the lead early and not have to come back too many times in the third. When you're playing with great players, they make things happen."

Fabbri has been playing with a couple of 30-somethings in David Backes and Troy Brouwer.

"He's extremely intelligent," Backes said of Fabbri. "I think it’s an adjustment for anyone playing in the NHL, especially a 19-year-old right out of junior (hockey). But he’s coming along every game, seems to be getting better and making more plays and thinking at the speed that it needs to be played at."

- - -

The Blues, who lost at Columbus 11 days ago 3-1 on the second of back-to-back games, are catching the Blue Jackets in the same scenario.

Columbus, which got word Saturday afternoon that center Brandon Dubinsky will be suspended for tonight's game by the NHL's Department of Player Safety for the cross-checking penalty against the Penguins' Sidney Crosby to the back of the neck, won 2-1 on overtime on Friday on home ice.

Under the terms of the Collective Bargaining Agreement and based on his average annual salary, Dubinsky will forfeit $31,451.61. The money goes to the Players' Emergency Assistance Fund.

"They outplayed us substantially in the last game in their building," Hitchcock said of the Blue Jackets' on Nov. 17. "They won a lot of the puck battles, they won a lot of the puck fights that ended up allowing them to have possession. We were on our heels for most of that game, so hopefully we got a little more energy to play tonight. They caught us on a back-to-back off a real physical game. Now we've got them on back-to-back so hopefully we can have a little more energy in the game."

It's a chance for the Blues to take the opportunity of feasting on home ice, where 12 of the next 17 games will be played.

"Yeah, I think as long as we don't take it for granted," Hitchcock said. "As long as we put in the effort we're capable of, you get in these things and sometimes you can get stale after a while. I think having to go out on the road once or twice helps us a little bit to maintain energy back home. I think the big challenge is we're playing a lot of Eastern (Conference) teams. I think that having the energy when you don't know the opposition that well is more challenging. For us, finding our own energy within our team, getting our identity back; we're more concerned with the way we're playing right now. We want to see more of our own team game take place and be a major factor in the games. We've had it for periods of time and then we've gotten away from it. This is a chance with a little bit of practice for us to really build some of the strengths that we've had in the past few years here."

- - -

Shattenkirk will carry a seven-game point streak into tonight's game. Shattenkirk has two goals and seven assists during his streak.

- - -

The Blues' probable lineup:

Alexander Steen-Paul Stastny-Vladimir Tarasenko

Magnus Paajarvi-Jori Lehtera-Scottie Upshall

Robby Fabbri-David Backes-Troy Brouwer

Steve Ott-Kyle Brodziak-Ryan Reaves

Jay Bouwmeester-Alex Pietrangelo

Joel Edmundson-Kevin Shattenkirk

Carl Gunnarsson-Colton Parayko

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

Scott Gomez, Dmitrij Jaskin and Robert Bortuzzo are the healthy scratches. Jaden Schwartz (ankle) and Patrik Berglund (shoulder) are out with injuries.

- - -

The Blue Jackets' projected lineup:

Boone Jenner-Ryan Johansen-Nick Foligno

Scott Hartnell-William Karlsson-Brandon Saad

Cam Atkinson-Alexander Wennberg-Matt Calvert

Kerby Rychel-Gregory Campbell-Markus Hannikainen

Jack Johnson-David Savard

Ryan Murray-Andrew Bodnarchuk

Kevin Connauton-Justin Falk

Sergei Bobrovsky will start in goal after making 24 saves in a 2-1 overtime win on home ice Friday. Curtis McElhinney will be the backup.

Brandon Dubinsky (suspension) and Dalton Prout are the healthy scratches. Fedor Tyutin (broken nose), Cody Goloubef (jaw), Rene Bourque (upper body), David Clarkson (back) and Jared Boll (foot) are out with injuries.

Friday, November 27, 2015


Elliott keeps head up with lack of games; 
Blues practice with tempo; new fourth line look

HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- Brian Elliott and Jake Allen were both heavily involved in a spirited practice by the Blues at the Ice Zone on Friday.

Both got a full workload in, like the rest of their teammates and got in a good sweat.

But as has been a common theme lately, Allen will get the start when the Blues (14-6-3) host the Columbus Blue Jackets (who played Friday at home against Pittsburgh) on Saturday.

It will be the 14th start in the past 16 games for Allen, who's taken the reigns of the No. 1 goaltending duties, and it's hard to knock Allen's play. He's deserved the opportunity.

But Elliott, who last played in a 3-1 loss against the Blue Jackets on Nov. 17 when he stopped 35 of 37 shots on the second of back-to-back games for the Blues, is 4-2-1 with a 2.70 goals-against average and .898 save percentage; he started the season 4-0-1.

"I'm just trying to stay positive and be the best you can be for the guys," Elliott said Friday. "Take as many breakaways as they want, just try to better yourself when you have the chance to.

"... It's a challenge because you feel like you're on, and you feel good. Last game I got in, I felt really good even though you don't get the result you want and then you don't really get another opportunity. It's tough (but) Jake's playing well, the team's playing well. It's kind of all about the swings. I always say when you guys ask me this question, I just try to stay in the middle of those swings."

So for the time being, Elliott is staying in the swing by staying sharp on the practice ice and being the best teammate -- and mentor, in a sense -- to Allen.

"I've always told him the past couple years when he came in two, three years ago, I was like, 'You're going to be the future of this franchise. Don't worry if you have a bad game here or there; it's about the end product,'" Elliott said. "He's showing that now. He's trusting himself, and I've been in that situation, too, where guys have said the same thing to me. You kind of want to pass on that, I don't want to say wisdom, but you know what I mean."

Blues coach Ken Hitchcock recently said it came down to Allen's play of late and a guy who's stayed consistently strong and he expects Elliott to be good when called upon.

"It is what it is. Just be ready for your next one," Hitchcock said. "What can you say? You've got a goalie that's playing awfully well, he's taken the ball and running with it. When it's Brian's turn, we expect him to play well. He's worked his tail off at practice, he's had a great work ethic, a great attitude all year. He's experienced enough to know that things turn. You get an injury or something happens and he's needed, he;ll be more than ready. I think it's just the nature of the business.

"He's been really good, but I wouldn't expect anything different. It would be concerning if he was, but that's not an issue with Brian. Brian's a team guy."

But Elliott, who holds the franchise record for shutouts in a career (21), is human. It's only natural for him to want to play games.

"It's hard to describe for someone that's not really been in this situation," Elliott said. "Luckily for me, I've been in a lot of (these) situations. I've been able to have experience and know how to handle myself. You take things from all your coaches and along the way and everybody always says there's an opportunity to learn no matter where you are in your career. ... The tough part is having that mental capacity when you know you're putting your all in and then you're not really getting an opportunity. That's the hard part. I don't know what else to say but I just try to stay prepared as possible. Anything can happen on any given day and you have to be ready."

* Up-tempo practice -- Friday's practice was one in which all healthy bodies (aside from those on injured reserve) were present and available, and the pace was vivacious.

And in short order, Hitchcock wanted to accomplish one aspect: get the Blues playing with speed and tempo again.

"Maybe it's because the types of teams we're playing with Detroit, Buffalo (and) Pittsburgh, we looked like were a little methodical at moving the pucks and we actually looked slow," Hitchcock said. "I said this after the Pittsburgh game, we played slow. So today was a day of trying to get some quickness back in our game, in our puck movement and our puck support. I thought it was the best practice we've had in a month, which is a really good sign. I thought our guys were really attentive and very alert today. A combination of the day off, Thanksgiving and everything, but I thought we were really alert today, which was a great sign."

After playing nine games in 16 days, the Blues took Thanksgiving off and had their first stretch of consecutive days without a game since Nov. 8-9, which allowed for coaches to amp up the tempo. These types of practices have been hard to come by.

"Well, we've had a couple of them, but they've come after pretty hard games," Hitchcock said. "This was good to see. It was good to see that we adapted. You can rely on your work and your spirit, which we've done a good job of all year, and we've gotten a lot of points in the third period because of it, but I think we've just got to find a way. If we can find a way to play a little bit faster, I think it's going to make our whole group look a lot quicker."

"We understand that we're a veteran group; we've got to put the work in and make sure that we're improving every day," captain David Backes said. "We're in a lot of tight games right now and we need to find a way to be on the right side of them."

The Blues will begin a stretch of 12 games at home in the next 17 to close out the 2015 calendar year and a time to establish some home dominance.

"We've spent our fair share on the road and get some home cooking, especially this time of year, it's a great time to be at home and recharge your batteries, sleep in your own bed, be in front of our fans that give us so much energy at our friendly venue at Scottrade Center," Backes said.

* Fourth line change -- Hitchcock had Steve Ott, Scott Gomez and Dmitrij Jaskin occupy the spots for the fourth line, leaving Kyle Brodziak and Ryan Reaves as the extra forwards.

Brodziak has played in all 23 games, so that would have been a surprise to see him as a healthy scratch, and Gomez has been a scratch the past two games. But Hitchcock won't make any changes, except perhaps inserting defenseman Joel Edmundson into the lineup.

"I wanted to see what it looked like today at practice," Hitchcock said of the fourth line Friday. "I don't think I'm going to change much from the last lineup. We might bring Edmundson back in; we're not sure right now. We haven't really discussed our lineup, but I wanted to see what it looked like today. Brodziak's playing for sure, but I wanted to see from a quickness, skill standpoint what the line looked like."

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Blues want to dictate early, not play catch-up

Team has done well playing from behind, 
don't want to make habit of chasing games

ST. LOUIS -- The past five games, the Blues have picked up six of a total of 10 points.

Not bad in the grand scheme of things, as a record of 2-1-2 can attest.

The problem for the Blues (14-6-3), who took Thanksgiving off and will get back in the practice ice today at 10:30 a.m. at the Ice Zone in preparation for their next game Saturday at home against the Columbus Blue Jackets, is in each of those five games, they haven't had the lead heading into the third period.

It's a small sample size, but it's a trend they'd like to nip in the bud. 
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues defenseman Alex Pietrangelo (left) battles former Blue David
Perron for a loose puck Wednesday in Pittsburgh.

The going rate in the NHL is if a team leads after 40 minutes, chances are you're getting the two points at the end of the night. The Blues, who rallied late in the third to grab a point against Detroit on Nov. 21, won at Buffalo on Monday when down a goal after two and again rallied in the third Wednesday in Pittsburgh to pick up a point, appreciate the fight and no-quit attitude in the team but would rather be dictating rather than chasing.

"Too much, I think, this year," said left wing Alexander Steen, who like his teammates took a day off to step back and refresh the mind and body with a little food, drink and football on Thanksgiving. "It's a huge positive to be able to come back in the games all the time, but we've got to start putting ourselves out front.

"The fact that we're able to come back again, one of the positives I was talking about, the never-quit mentality. We just keep playing. We of course like everybody else make mistakes out there but don't let them bother us much. We just shrug them off and keep getting back to our game."

The Blues are 1-6-3 when trailing after two periods, so they have collected five points when behind but on the flip side, they're 7-0-0 when leading after two and what's even better, they're 6-0-0 when tied after two periods. So just having a game on level playing ground after 40 minutes has suited the Blues well. But being ahead tends to allow a team to dictate more and pounce on other teams' willingness to gamble because of the need to press the issue.

"It's not easy playing comeback hockey," defenseman Alex Pietrangelo said. "We've got to find a way to get up on teams early and bury them. We've had good character showing coming back here, but it would be nice to be up once in a while. But then again, it's tough on the road to carry that momentum for a full game."

The Blues got off to a solid start against the Penguins before falling 4-3 in overtime. Paul Stastny's power play goal had the Blues ahead and they appeared poised to take that lead into the second period before a Carl Gunnarsson gaffe led to Sidney Crosby's first career goal against St. Louis, one of two the Penguins captain scored.

The Blues couldn't ratchet their game back on a consistent basis until the third period when they scored twice, goals from Robby Fabbri and Pietrangelo to rally from one-goal deficits.

"We haven't played near as well as we have in the past," coach Ken Hitchcock said. "Even the Detroit game, there was way more tempo in our game than there was in the last two games here (in Buffalo and Pittsburgh).

"We've got too much slowness in our game, there's too much slowness. From where we were before, we were really in attack mode and we're on the heels now. We're way too much on the heels now. We're constantly trying to slow the play down instead of trying to get the pace back up again. That's something that we want to improve. We've got a day off, take a rest and then we'll have a great practice on Friday and see if we can gather our tempo back up and get our speed in our game and out transition a lot quicker than it is right now."

Though the players want to rectify the recent trends of playing from behind, they understand in an 82-game schedule, not everything is going to be perfect either.

"You're going to have those swings throughout the season where you have a couple games like that," said Stastny, who set up Pietrangelo's tying goal in the third. "You have games were you're up and you sit back (too). You play good teams. No matter who you play, some teams are on one night, some teams aren't. It doesn't matter. They're all good, close games. It never seems like you see blowouts anymore. If you do, the puck's really bouncing your way."

The Blues just wrapped up a stretch of nine games in 16 days and were 4-3-2. After Columbus, it's two more days between a home date with Florida on Dec. 1, then another two days between back-to-back games at the New York Islanders and home against the Toronto Maple Leafs. 
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues center Paul Stastny (26) chases Pittsburgh's Pascal Dupuis during
action Wednesday during the Penguins' 4-3 overtime victory.

With two games in the next eight days, some rest and practice time going through repetitions might help solve issues.

"It's been a lot of minutes, but we look at the schedule and we're prepared," Steen said. "There's no excuses or time for credit. We've played 22 games; there's a long way to go."

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Malkin OT winner for Penguins downs Blues 4-3

Fabbri, Pietrangelo score pair of equalizers in third, St. Louis takes 
three of four points on road, finish stretch of nine games in 16 days 

PITTSBURGH -- The Blues finished a stretch of nine games in 16 days in which they played a lot of hockey with little time in between.

They finished collecting three of four points on a two-game swing going into the Thanksgiving break after Evgeni Malkin's backhander 1 minute, 3 seconds into overtime gave the Pittsburgh Penguins a 4-3 victory against the Blues Wednesday at CONSOL Energy Center.

The Blues (14-6-3) got the tying goal with 5:41 remaining from Alex Pietrangelo and battled back twice but couldn't gain the victory after Malkin hooked up with Phil Kessel on a 2-on-1, and Malkin slipped a backhand past Jake Allen.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk (22) pursues Penguins center Sidney
Crosby during action Wednesday in Pittsburgh.

Paul Stastny and Pietrangelo each had a goal and an assist, Alexander Steen had two assists but it wasn't enough. 

They come home with three of four points after a 2-1 victory at Buffalo on Monday.

"Three-on-three is always kind of a toss-up," Stastny said. "It happens. You get one chance one way and if you don't score, they come back and score. It was important that we got that point, battled back in the third. We got a big point."

There was some question, and the Blues asked the officials to go to Toronto to see if there was an offside play but coach Ken Hitchcock said officials deemed the play legal.

"They said it wasn't," Hitchcock said of the officials. "They went upstairs with it. That goes to Toronto and they said it was onsides."

"The last two games, we haven't played near as well as we have on the road. We'll take three of the four points, get home and get some rest." 

He wouldn't admit it, but Penguins captain Sidney Crosby has had the Blues marked on the schedule.

Crosby, one of the more prolific players in the NHL, had 28 teams marked off on his things-to-do list when it comes to scoring a goal. The Blues were the lone remaining team to keep him off the goal-scoring sheet.

Crosby's two goals, the second on the power play and Ben Lovejoy scored for the Penguins (13-8-0).

The Blues came away with a good first period on the road but were tied 1-1.

Stastny's power play goal just seven seconds into it, 9:15 into the first period gave the Blues a 1-0 lead off a smart slap pass from Steen. Kevin Shattenkirk extended his point streak to seven games (two goals, seven assists), but the Penguins tied the game late.

A Carl Gunnarsson turnover led to Crosby alone in front of Jake Allen and the Penguins captain made no mistake with a slap shot high glove side with 3:41 remaining in the first to tie the game 1-1.

"We kind of let them into the game after after I thought that we were dictating for the most part in the beginning," Steen said. "It was back and forth pretty much all game."

Crosby's goal was his first in 11 career games against the Blues. He's scored on the remaining 29 teams in the NHL. Crosby has goals in two of the past three games and a three-game point streak after scoring only twice in 18 games to start the season.

Crosby struck again on the power play in the second period when he redirected Malkin's pass from the right half wall over Allen at 9:57 of the second period for a 2-1 lead.

With Dmitrij Jaskin off for holding, the Penguins won the faceoff, Malkin spotted Crosby in the slot and Jay Bouwmeester a stride off before slotting the pass and Crosby made no mistake.

The Blues, who also trailed going into the third in Buffalo before rallying to win, got the equalizer on Robby Fabbri's second goal in as many games. He took a pass from Pietrangelo and whipped a wrist shot that slightly caught the stick of Rob Scuderi and surprised Marc-Andre Fleury to make it 2-2 at 1:12.

The Penguins regained the lead on Lovejoy's wrist shot from the high slot after Vladimir Tarasenko blocked a shot and broke his stick, the puck came to former Blue David Perron, who dropped it to Lovejoy for a 3-2 Penguins lead at 6:49.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Alex Pietrangelo gets congratulated from the Blues bench after scoring the
tying goal in the third period Wednesday in Pittsburgh.

The Blues fought back again, this time on an intercepted clearing pass from Steen and the puck got to Stastny, who slipped the pass to Pietrangelo. The Blues defenseman beat Fleury short side through the arm to tie the game 3-3.

"Paul was making plays all night," Pietrangelo said. "When I saw he had an opportunity to get it to me, I figured I'd go. Sure enough, he made a good play." 

(11-25-15) Blues-Penguins Gameday Lineup

PITTSBURGH -- The Blues will make one lineup chance ahead of their matchup today against the Pittsburgh Penguins (6 p.m.; FS-MW, KMOX 1120-AM).

Ryan Reaves, who has had a tough go of it in the first quarter of the season trying to battle back from a knee injury sustained during training camp, will play for the Blues (14-6-2) against the Penguins (12-8-0). 

Reaves, who has no points in 14 games this season, has been scratched in seven of the past 10 games, including three straight.

But with the Blues playing a talented group like the Penguins, Blues coach Ken Hitchcock felt it was time to bring in someone who can add some energy and add a player the coaches feel is healthy.

"An edge," Hitchcock said when asked what Reaves brings to this game. "He's uncomfortable to play against. He's had very much an up-and-down season. Most of it based on health. He's healthy now, he feels good. We've conditioned him. This is about as far as we can go with him and the rest is going to kind of be in his court. He's going to have to continue to maintain a fitness level from the injury and keep up to pace during the games. We think he can bring a good energy. If he's up to speed, he can bring a good energy."

- - -

The trade that happened more than eight-and-a-half months ago seems like a distant memory for both Robert Bortuzzo and Ian Cole.

The Blues, who acquired Bortuzzo and a 2016 seventh round pick for Cole on March 2, has settled into his new duds as has Cole, who is third on the Penguins in average ice time per game (19 minutes, 26 seconds) behind Kris Letang (25:42) and Ben Lovejoy (20:04).

"It's been great. It's been a great situation," Cole said. "Playing a lot in a lot of different situations. From that aspect of it, it's fantastic. Obviously miss all my old teammates, miss all the boys, the equipment and training staff over at the Blues, but obviously the career is one of those things that takes precedence. 

"I get a lot of PK, which is great. ... I've been getting a lot of PK time, which is fantastic." 

The two have played against each other already, and Bortuzzo actually scored a goal upon his return to CONSOL Energy Center when the Blues won 3-2 in overtime March 24. So the time of facing the former team is all but history now.

"I think I'm definitely a Penguin now. I don't consider myself a Blue anymore," said Cole, who has three assists in 20 games. "Obviously that happened, but I am 110 percent in all-Penguins, which is great. There still is a personal side of things and a separate from a professional side of things. Still have a lot of friends on that team. A lot of friends, a lot of guys you looked up to. But there's also some guys who are gone. A guy that was a huge mentor for me was Barret Jackman and he's in Nashville and I got to play against him in Nashville. That was pretty fun."

"I think it's worked out so far," Bortuzzo, who's played 13 games and has one goal, said. "You don't know how things are going to pan out, but I'm in a great situation here with an extremely competitive team. You get a chance to contribute. I'm in a spot to do that. ... I've grown in ways. I've had another summer to work on things."

Bortuzzo will play alongside of rookie Colton Parayko. The two are 6-foot-4 (Bortuzzo) and 6-5 (Parayko), respectively and give the Blues a definite size advantage on the third pairing.

"'Borts' is really good when he distributes the puck to somebody else," Hitchcock said. "It ends up on Parayko's stick a lot. They work well together in getting the puck to Colton. Borts is such an unselfish player. He energizes our team, he energizes the pair, he plays a very physically demanding game of himself, not fun to play against from an opposition standpoint and they like playing together. I think they really enjoy playing together. I think it affords us a chance to get Colton a breath of fresh air because sometimes when you're playing a young guy in a top four position, it's a lot of stress and a lot of pressure on him and I think this just affords us to back him off a little bit. They're obviously a good third pair. They're a good third pair on any team in the league right now."

- - -

Penguins left wing David Perron will also face his former team for just the seventh time and second in a Penguins uniform.

Perron, who was traded by the Blues along with 2015 third-round pick to the Edmonton Oilers on July 10, 2013, for Magnus Paajarvi, a 2014 second-round pick (which the Blues used to select Ivan Barbashev) and a 2015 fourth-round pick, has three goals and seven points in 20 games this season.

- - -

The Blues' last three trips to Pittsburgh have all produced victories, including a pair of 3-2 overtime wins and a 1-0 victory.

Hitchcock said it comes from a fear factor.

"From our standpoint, when you're a little bit scared, it gets your attention," Hitchcock said. "You don't want to be embarrassed by the skillset, especially with what's out there now. It almost scares you straight. Any mistake you make checking-wise you know is going to end up in the back of your net, so you've got a healthy respect for what goes on on the other side. The fear factor is a great motivator and I think that's what does it for us, is we have a healthy dose of respect for that they have going over there and there's also the fear part of it that dictates that you better play your best game checking-wise or else you're going to get embarrassed. I think that's why we've played so well in this building is because of that. We're not taking anything for granted. We know if we go to sleep on one shift, especially on the top three lines, we're going to get beat."

Penguins center Sidney Crosby, aside from the team he's played for his entire career, has scored a goal against every NHL team aside from the Blues in his career. Crosby, who by his standards has struggled with three goals and 11 points in 20 games this season, has five assists in 10 career games against the Blues. 

- - -

The Blues' probable lineup:

Alexander Steen-Paul Stastny-Vladimir Tarasenko

Magnus Paajarvi-Jori Lehtera-Dmitrij Jaskin

Robby Fabbri-David Backes-Troy Brouwer

Steve Ott-Kyle Brodziak-Ryan Reaves

Jay Bouwmeester-Alex Pietrangelo

Carl Gunnarsson-Kevin Shattenkirk

Colton Parayko-Robert Bortuzzo

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

Scottie Upshall, Scott Gomez and Joel Edmundson are healthy scratches. Jaden Schwartz (ankle) and Patrik Berglund (shoulder) are on injured-reserve.

- - -

The Penguins' probable lineup:

Pascal Dupuis-Sidney Crosby-Patric Hornqvist

David Perron-Evgeni Malkin-Phil Kessel

Chris Kunitz-Nick Bonino-Beau Bennett

Sergei Plotnikov-Matt Cullen-Eric Fehr

Rob Scuderi-Kris Letang

Brian Dumoulin-Ben Lovejoy

Ian Cole-Adam Clendening

Marc-Andre Fleury will start in goal. Jeff Zatkoff will be the backup.

David Warsofsky and Daniel Sprong are healthy scratches. Olli Maatta (upper body) and Bryan Rust (undisclosed) are out with injuries.