Saturday, October 29, 2016

Allen, Schwartz help Blues end homestand with 1-0 win against Kings

Goalie makes 27 saves; St. Louis goes 1-1-1 in three games, scoring three goals

ST. LOUIS -- If the Blues are trying to live on that fine line between winning and losing, they're doing a good job of it.

Scoring one goal a game will eventually catch up to them, but the way the goalies are playing and the penalty killing unit is in shutdown mode, any way the Blues can get points early in the season, they'll gladly take.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues goalie Jake Allen (left) makes one of 27 saves to help the Blues top
the Los Angeles Kings 1-0 on Saturday at Scottrade Center.

The Blues concluded their homestand 1-1-1, which is pretty remarkable considering they scored just one goal in each game.

But one goal was enough on Saturday when Jaden Schwartz scored early in the third period and Jake Allen made it stand up with a 27-save effort for his 12th NHL shutout in a 1-0 victory against the Los Angeles Kings on Saturday before 18,631 at Scottrade Center.

The Blues are 5-2-2, which is good. But they've scored all of one goal in five of nine games this season, including five of the past six games.

"Nobody really cares a month from now what the score is going to be," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. "They just care is it a 'W' or a is it a loss. I was happier today with the quality of the scoring chances. 

"The first 15 or 20 games of the season is like the playoffs. Every game feels like an immense playoff game. The intensity is through the roof. Most teams are healthy and this is the type of energized hockey you get. You get a lot of good hockey now, a lot of hard hockey. This was no day at the beach for either team. This was a heavy, hard, well-played hockey game."

Kings goalie Peter Budaj was nearly as good as Allen, making 24 saves, but Schwartz was able to break the scoreless duel 3 minutes, 43 seconds into the third period after Jori Lehtera -- who was as colorful as ever with his postgame quotes talking about the goal -- was able to check Trevor Lewis off the puck along the boards after defenseman Jake Muzzin's backhand flip. Carl Gunnarsson took the initial shot, which was blocked, but Vladimir Tarasenko made a blind backhand pass to Lehtera, who found Schwartz alone in the slot and he slammed the puck past Budaj for the only goal of the game.

"It was a huge play," Schwartz said. "Vladi made a nice pass to (Lehtera). Him and Vladi sometimes, I think they don't see me, but they still see me. It was a great play by them. It was nice to see it go in. ... I just got it off my stick as quick as I could. Don't like thinking about it too much. I wanted to rip that one. I've had a few of those this year and missed. I was a little bit frustrated not to see them go in.

"It's nice seeing it go in. We've had a lot of chances as a team. A little bit snakebit here now. Good defensive play, good goalies, we're managing to get points, but I feel like the team has gotten a lot of chances and I as well and have been missing too many so it was nice to see it go in."

Lehtera on the goal said, "That was a good pass by Vladi, a nice Bulgarian pass. Then Schwartzy got a good spot there, a good goal."

And what is a Bulgarian pass?

"Behind the back," Lehtera said, who added, "We're playing kind of like Italian soccer, 1-0, good defense, and it's just one goal. It's enough.

"That's kind of Juventus style."

The Kings (4-4-0), who saw their four-game winning streak snapped, challenged the play that Schwartz was offsides on the play, but replay officials confirmed the play to be a good goal.

"I was 100 percent sure he was offside because that was Schwartzy's first goal," Lehtera joked. "We were pretty sure he's not going to get the decision, but finally he got it.

"Yeah, I saw Muzzin was in the wrong spot kind of. It makes that pass easier for me to pass to Schwartzy."

Hitchcock said it was the kind of goal that was going to be scored in this type of game.

"What created the goal was we checked the puck back twice on that shift and maintained zone time and that's where they made mistakes," Hitchcock said. "That was how we were going to score. We had to get into their defensemen and create turnovers and use our quickness and speed down low and for them to win it they had to get in our defensemen and physically handle them. Early in the game, they came at us in waves and as the game went on, our speed and our quickness down low seemed to really have a major impact for us positively wise."

Before that, it was a goalie show.

Budaj auditioned first and came up with the first big saves.

Paul Stastny thought he had a lay-up goal, but Budaj was able to move right to left and get his left skate on a shot Stastny didn't get all of after getting a pass from Alexander Steen with 15:06 left in the first to keep the game scoreless. 

Budaj then robbed Blues left wing Robby Fabbri, who was sent in with a pass from Patrik Berglund, but Budaj was quick with the right pad with 10:31 left in the first to keep the game scoreless.

Allen's turn came in the second period when he was able to get a glove on a shot from Anze Kopitar from the high slot with 7:41 left in the second, but the rebound fell to the stick of Tanner Pearson, who was denied by Allen with the left pad with 7:34 remaining.

"I gave him a good little pass, I passed it right on his tape," Allen said of Pearson. "I just had to stretch as much as I could to get over there and get a little bit of a pad on it."

He also came up big when the Kings, who were 0-for-5 on the power play, had 22 seconds of 5-on-3 in the first period.

"It's just work, work, work, battle, battle, battle," Allen said. "It's 5-on-3 and it's never usually pretty."

Budaj stopped David Perron with 20 seconds left in the second from the high slot, then got a mask/shoulder on Berglund's effort in tight in the third with 7:57 to play to keep it a one-goal game.

But for Allen, who got his first shutout of the season, his thought process never wavers. If the offense isn't going, he's just going to do his job, no matter what the score is.

"No, I don't think that way," Allen said. "That's when they score on you. You just keep playing your game and try not to let anything phase you. If you need one goal, if you need a shutout, so be it, but you don't want to get too far ahead of yourself. It's just sort of one minute at a time.

"Find ways to get points with one goal. You see the chances we had tonight, it's just one of those little stretches where pucks are either hitting a stick, hitting a post, when most of the time they're going in. That's going to turn for us soon. We've just got to work through it. The goals will come. Tonight was a big win. Whether it's 1-0, 4-0, doesn't really matter. A huge win to cap off what would have been a rough homestand for us and take some momentum on the road."

The Blues will head on the road for games against the New York Rangers on Tuesday and Dallas Stars on Thursday. The goal scoring will need to pick up, but given the drought they've been on, 12 of a possible 18 points isn't too shabby.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
The Blues' Kyle Brodziak (right) and the Kings' Drew Doughty battle for
a puck along the wall Saturday at Scottrade Center.

"You've got to get points," Hitchcock said. "It doesn't matter what the score is. You can't keep playing well and not get points. We were on the verge in these last two games, if we don't get points in these games, then you start trying to play possibly a different way. You lose confidence in the way you're playing but when you're continuing to get points and playing well, so the belief system is starting to grow. 

"I think today was a big step for our team because our belief system of being able to stay with it won us a hockey game. It's hard when you're not scoring and playing well and you think you're doing a lot of things well, it's hard to stay on the's really hard. We've had a season so far where except for two games, New York and the second game against Calgary, that's nine games, eight games we've played awful well and haven't gotten production for it and you don't want to see the guys leave the page, because then it gets to be a whole another mess. They stayed with it today, they stayed with it against Detroit in the third period which is a real good sign."

(10-29-16) Kings-Blues Gameday Lineup

ST. LOUIS -- The Blues aren't making massive a overhaul to their forward combinations, but coach Ken Hitchcock stuck to his word and tweaked them a little bit.

When the Blues (4-2-2) square off against the Los Angeles Kings (4-3-0) at 7 p.m. today (FS-MW, KMOX 1120-AM), they will do so with David Perron playing on the top line with Paul Stastny and Alexander Steen and Robby Fabbri moving down to a line with Patrik Berglund and Nail Yakupov.

"I just threw them in the mixer yesterday and they jumped out at me," Hitchcock said after the morning skate. "It gives me some flexibility based on each opponent. Rather than changing out wingers, I'm able to change out centers if I want to see how it matches up during the competition. 

"I just feel right now we need to take a short-term approach and see what works and hopefully by putting people more on their natural sides, we have even more tempo that we need to play with. I've one back to mostly twosomes and I kept the twosomes together and changed out some of the singles. I liked this last night and hopefully I like it at the end of tonight."

Fabbri is one that is looking for the benefit most. Last season, his rookie season, Fabbri got his first NHL goal out of the way in the first game of the season. He has yet to score in eight games -- although scoring among forwards lately has been challenging -- but has three assists.

"It's tough," Fabbri said. "You want to put the puck in to help the team. The thing the coaching staff and myself have been stressing is just to help the team in other ways and letting that stuff come and staying positive and still having fun with it.

"We seem to read off each other pretty well and using (Berglund's) size and my speed will complement each other. With 'Yak' there on the other side with his speed and skill, it should be a good line."

Perron, who has three goals and one assist, all against the Calgary Flames on Oct. 22 in a 6-4 win, won't change much in terms of style of play.

"I think personally, I try and play the same game every night," Perron said. "That's creating offense and being smart, making sure that I do the right things all over the ice with the right work ethic. From there, only good things can happen."

And Perron certainly likes the idea of playing with those players.

"How can you not," he said. "That's two really smart players. 

"It's actually funny. With 'Steener,' I played one of my better games at Vancouver (Oct. 18) in a long time and he was really cheering me up and that was great to play with him. Even when I was back here before, we were always two left wingers. We never really played with each other, so it's great to be on the same line as him."

Hitchcock said Fabbri's game hasn't slipped. But playing on the top line, it's been an adjustment of playing against some of the opposition's top players.

"This is a big challenge for him because he's going up two levels," Hitchcock said. "He's now working against people that he never saw any ice against last year, now he's seeing a lot of ice against them. This is a significant challenge for a 20-year-old player. We've got to make sure we don't overwhelm with expectations. He's expected to work hard and compete which is his great asset. He's tenacious, he's a dogged player on the puck, sometimes the numbers are there at the start and sometime they're not and our feeling is at the end of the day, they're going to end up at the same place as long as he doesn't get discouraged."

The Blues will enter tonight's game losing four of the past five games (1-2-2), scoring one goal on each of the four losses. They enter the game with a 138:10 streak of forwards not scoring with a goalie in net (Perron's hat trick goal against the Flames in the third period last week), and 125:39 since Steen's empty-netter in the same game the last time a forward scored.

"We need more (scoring opportunities)," Perron said. "That's the result. If we don't score, we're definitely not getting enough. That's the sample the last five games; it's not just one or two games. I think we need to get more and that's getting the net more and creating those second and third chances."

- - -

One change that won't happen is Scottie Upshall, who will be a healthy scratch for a second straight game. 

That means Dmitrij Jaskin will remain in the lineup tonight on the fourth line.

"He's played great," Hitchcock said of Jaskin. "This is the best he's played since I've been here. We've just got to get him more ice, we've got to get him playing more times when the game is on the line. I would say he's the one player who's going to bounce up right away if we see it's not going our way."

- - -

Blues defenseman Robert Bortuzzo, who was injured early in the third period Thursday against the Detroit Red Wings, has a lower-body injury (believed to be a knee ailment) and will not be available tonight. 

Bortuzzo, in fact, will not be available for the next several nights.

"He's out, and we're going to reevaluate him in 10 days," Hitchcock said of Bortuzzo. "It's lower-body injury and we'll reevaluate him in 10 days." 

Hitchcock said that nobody will be recalled from the Chicago Wolves of the American Hockey League for the game tonight but it's a likely possibility someone will be recalled for the upcoming two-game trip to New York on Tuesday and Dallas on Thursday.

- - -

The Blues' projected lineup:

David Perron-Paul Stastny-Alexander Steen

Jori Lehtera-Jaden Schwartz-Vladimir Tarasenko

Robby Fabbri-Patrik Berglund-Nail Yakupov

Dmitrij Jaskin-Kyle Brodziak-Ryan Reaves

Jay Bouwmeester-Alex Pietrangelo

Carl Gunnarsson-Kevin Shattenkirk

Joel Edmundson-Colton Parayko

Jake Allen will start in goal. Carter Hutton will be the backup.

Healthy scratches include Scottie Upshall and Ty Rattie. Robert Bortuzzo (lower body) is out.

- - -

The Kings' projected lineup:

Dwight King-Anze Kopitar-Tyler Toffoli

Tanner Pearson-Jeff Carter-Devin Setoguchi

Andy Andreoff-Nic Dowd-Dustin Brown

Kyle Clifford-Nick Shore-Trevor Lewis

Brayden McNabb-Drew Doughty

Jake Muzzin-Alec Martinez

Derek Forbort-Tom Gilbert

Peter Budaj will start in goal. Jack Campbell will be the backup.

Healthy scratches include Teddy Purcell, Jordan Nolan and Matt Greene. Jonathan Quick (groin), Jeff Zatkoff (groin) and Marian Gaborik (foot) are on injured-reserve.

Friday, October 28, 2016

Determined to stay in game, Reaves changed playing style

Blues winger, known more for physical play, 
altered training style to fit today's NHL game

ST. LOUIS -- It started with a knee injury before it ultimately led to being in and out of the lineup.

It wasn't the way Ryan Reaves envisioned last season going for him, so instead of pouting over what didn't happen, the Winnipeg native took matters into his own hands to make himself a better player, one more equipped to suit today's quicker NHL.

Reaves altered his summer workout regimen, which included coming down to St. Louis twice during the summer and spent a week at a time working with Blues assistant coach/video coach Sean Ferrell working on ice and off the ice.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues right wing Ryan Reaves (75) lays a check on former
teammate and Nashville's Barret Jackman last season.

Ferrell filmed the on ice work, sent it to Reaves and he took the information back with him to Winnipeg to extend the training at home.

Ultimately, Reaves wants to get away from the reputation of being a hockey tough guy, one that uses his minutes looking specifically for physical play.

The game has changed, the times have changed and Reaves has changed.

He came back from his knee injury and things didn't feel right, and when he started going in and out of the lineup, that called for change.

"I think it kind of started the beginning of last season when I had the knee injury and when I came back, I wasn't really fast enough," said Reaves, who is listed at 6-foot-1, 224 pounds in his seventh season with the Blues. "The pace of the game was too quick for me and I could tell and 'Hitch' could definitely tell, and at the end of the season, you could tell the game's speeding up. I wanted to get a little faster so I just changed up a little bit how I worked out and a few things I do over the summer. I feel a lot better this year.

"I'm definitely leaner, I'm down about five pounds. I think the biggest thing I can tell is I feel faster. Over the summer, I did a lot more explosive jumping, explosive movements. I did a lot of work with weight vests off the ice. Jumping with weight vests, doing sprints on ice with weight vests. I feel like that helped my speed big time."

In a 2-1 shootout loss to Detroit Thursday, even though he only played 6 minutes, 49 seconds, Reaves made an impact on the ice. He and linemates Kyle Brodziak and Dmitrij Jaskin (usually Scottie Upshall) played with the puck in the offensive zone and Reaves, who doesn't have a point this season and is coming off a four-point season in 64 regular season games last year, had the penchant of getting to pucks quicker and retrieving them.

He's not just going on the ice looking to fire up the crowd with some bone-crunching hit in the corner of the offensive zone or in the middle of the ice. Reaves is trying to make a difference on the ice, and for the team.

"I think the biggest thing I notice in my game is, and I'm sure other people notice is my hits are down," Reaves said. "I think mainly because ... I think when I get in trouble sometimes is when I go out in a game and all I want to do is hit guys, and I find that ... yeah, OK, I may lay a big hit into somebody, but all of the sudden, the puck's going back into our zone and yeah, it's good for the crowd and make some noise, but it doesn't really help the play. I've cut out chasing hits. I'm definitely not going to pass up one if an opportunity comes, but I'm not going in hitting just to hit. I'm trying to play a little more positionally sound and also I feel like I'm getting to pucks before other guys now. I feel like I'm arriving before I need to hit them; I'm getting to the puck. I think that's the two things that have changed in my game.

"I think using my speed and a little bit of my reputation where guys think I'm going to go lay the body no matter what. Sometimes they might hesitate a little bit to go to the puck. I think it's allowing me to get there quicker and get there first sometimes. I think I can let my speed and my reputation do a little play for me now."

Coach Ken Hitchcock likes the results of the new changes.

"Ryan had no choice but to change because he saw where the league's going, it's not going backwards and he's had to make adjustments, so he's had to get quicker, he had to get faster, he's had to have more endurance and there's been a lot of guys that have refused to make that adjustment and they've just said, 'No, I am who I am and I'm not going to change,' but he changed," Hitchcock said. "So his agility on the ice, his quickness to get to spots, his movement on the ice is much more fluid and it's allowed him to be relevant in the game."

Sitting is not an option anymore, and Reaves -- thus far -- has made sure of it.

At least through the early part of the season.

"That was a big part. I hate watching hockey," Reaves said. "I love being in the battle with the boys, and I want to try and extend my career. I got into this league my changing the style of play from what I was in junior and my first year in Peoria. And the game's changing again. If I want to extend my career a couple more years, I've got to adapt with it. I don't know anything but hockey; that's been my life. I've got to do whatever I can to stay in this league. I want to play on this team. This is all I know and I don't want to leave here, so whatever I gotta do to stay in this lineup is what I've got to do.

"Everyone knows I love the physical style of play. I love the physical part of the game, but if just being a physical player's going to run me out of the league, then I've got to change up a little bit. That's how it is."

Hitchcock has received the message clearly and would rather it play out this way.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues right wing Ryan Reaves (75) gives chase to Dallas' Travis Moen 
during the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs last season.

"It's not just the option, he's had a great attitude and a great work ethic and it's allowed him to stay in the lineup on a nightly basis," Hitchcock said. "He's an effective player, but there's sometimes you think you need ore from a certain position, but he hasn't given us that option because of the way he's performed. He's performed at a high level."

If the offense comes, great. But for Reaves, adapting and adjusting to change was necessary to extending his NHL shelf life. 

"Obvously no points yet, but I think our line has been in the offensive zone a lot more than we usually are," said Reaves, who has 20 goals and 38 points in 347 NHL games. "We've had a couple meetings together about playing more positionally sound and trying to get every puck that we can to the net. But when we start going out and just trying to make something happen and go lay a body out, then that's when we're back-checking all the time ... maybe not Brodziak ... but making sure we're in the right position and we're supporting each other, supporting the puck all the time, making sure everything's going to the net is kind of been the focus for us."


Hitchcock to "tweak" lineup; Blues to retire Plager No. 5; 
Bortuzzo status unknown; Reaves playful jab at former teammate

ST. LOUIS -- The Blues practiced Friday, but 15 skaters (including goalie Carter Hutton) were on hand at Scottrade Center.

The Blues (4-2-2 overall), are just 1-2-2 in the past five games and have scored a grand total of one goal in each of the four losses (they scored six in a 6-4 win at Calgary last Saturday).

They out-chanced the Detroit Red Wings by a wide margin Thursday in a 2-1 shootout loss, but Petr Mrazek in goal for the Red Wings had something to do with turning back some of those high-percentage looks and bottom line, the Blues simply had other looks and could not convert.

So it is likely going to prompt coach Ken Hitchcock to do some tweaking with the lineup when the three-game homestand comes to a close Saturday against the Los Angeles Kings.

"I think you have to be careful when you're analyzing because you look at scoring chances and you can get a one-off of scoring chances," Hitchcock said. "We've played awful well but the trend is, we've played awful well in four of the last five games and haven't won some of them. To me it's about winning. I think when you look at the trend from the four or five last games, we have to look at tweaking a little bit. We have to make some subtle changes to help the players have success for all the work they're putting in. They're working hard, they're creating a lot of good parts of our game, but at the end of the day, we just have to help them a little bit in getting the reward for the work they're putting in. We looked at it hard yesterday, we looked hard at it again this morning. We think we've got to tweak a few things and help them along."

Hitchcock noted after the loss Thursday second and third layers at the net have been absent in recent games, and that's what will prompt the change.

"I don't think we have traffic at the net for the shooter," Hitchcock said. "I don't think we have enough of that. The player away from the puck is too far away from the area that creates the confusion for the goalie, so I think that's the No. 1 element for me, we're not there for the shooter. It's not like he's for to get the puck, we're not there for the shooter. We're kind of there, but we're not there. That's why we practiced what we did today, we'll practice again tomorrow, we'll try to get better at that element because we are getting a number of quality opportunities, but it's just us and the shooter. There's nothing in between for the goalie to have a distraction, so we have to do that. Everybody says 'getting to the net,' but it's starting at the net more, maintaining that position at the net so that the goalie has a more difficult time seeing the actual shot.

"... Yes, we're playing really well, we're playing really hard and we're getting good goaltending, but we don't want to live on any of those three. We want to enhance those. There are some tweaks we can make that help to create more speed and then there's also a few tactical changes that we think we can make that can help along the way, too."

* Blues to retire Plager's No. 5 -- The Blues announced Friday they will retire #5 in honor of former original Blue, Bobby Plager. 

A banner raising and official retirement date has been set for Feb. 2 prior to the Blues' home game against the Toronto Maple Leafs. The Blues are recognizing it during the first period of Saturday's game against the Kings.

Plager, who was acquired by the Blues on June 6, 1967 and has been with the organization for all 50 years, will become the seventh player in Blues history to have his number retired, joining No. 2 Al MacInnis, No. 3 Bob Gassoff, No. 11 Brian Sutter, No. 16 Brett Hull,  No. 24 Bernie Federko and his brother, No. 8 Barclay Plager. 

Bobby and Barclay Plager join Maurice and Henri Richard of the Montreal Canadiens as the only brothers to have their numbers retired by the same team in NHL history.

A No. 5 shadowed by a Blue heart originally went to the rafters of Scottrade Center when the Blues honored Plager for his franchise-long commitment and service to the team both on and off the ice. The original banner paid homage to one of Bobby’s favorite sayings, “Number 5 in your programs, Number 1 in your hearts.”  

The jersey was never officially retired and was most recently worn by Barret Jackman, who recently announced his retirement from the NHL.

In 10 seasons with the Blues, Plager played in 615 regular season games, had 141 points and 762 penalty minutes before retiring from the NHL following the 1977-78 season.

* Bortuzzo status -- Blues defenseman Robert Bortuzzo, who appeared to injury a knee early in the third period Thursday and left the game, was not on the ice Friday and as of early Friday afternoon, there was nothing new to update on his status.

"We're not going to know until later in the day (Friday)," Hitchcock said after practice. "We'll give you details early in the morning (Saturday). We're hopeful to get good news on it, but we're not sure right now."

* Reaves/Ott exchange -- Former teammates and fourth line wingers Ryan Reaves of the Blues and Steve Ott of the Red Wings were among the starters for the drop of the puck Thursday.

Both players were leaning on each other and there was a notion that the former teammates could drop the gloves and give the fans a big rise.

Reaves joked, "I told him I've been waiting six years, so if he wanted to give me a go, that was the time. Obviously he said he had a little glue on his hands and couldn't get his mitts off but maybe next time."

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Blues scoring woes continue in shootout loss to Red Wings

St. Louis has lost four of five, scoring one goal in each of the 
four losses; Zetterberg's shootout goal in eighth round is difference

ST. LOUIS -- The effort was much better, but the result was much the same in recent games for the Blues.

They managed a point, but a lack of scoring is starting to bite this team hard right now.

It cost them a well-deserved second point on Thursday in a 2-1 shootout loss to the Detroit Red Wings Thursday at Scottrade Center after Blues killer Henrik Zetterberg scored on Jake Allen in the eighth round.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Red Wings goalie Petr Mrazek makes a save on the Blues' Vladimir
Tarasenko (right) in the first period Thursday of Detroit's 2-1 shootout win.

It ruined a game in which the Blues were for much of the first half of the game, decidedly better, but Red Wings goalie Petr Mrazek kept his team in it long enough before the Wings (6-2-0), winners of six in a row, began to generate some life after Frans Nielsen's shorthanded goal in the second period to wipe out Kevin Shattenkirk's marker early in the period.

The Blues, 4-2-2 overall, but just 1-2-2 in their last five, have scored one goal in each of their four losses but have managed to get two points out of it. Mainly because of their goaltending.

But it's now four goals on 115 shots in the past four losses, with 232 shots directed at the net.

Shattenkirk has scored the past two Blues' goals.

"We're scoring one goal and getting points," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. "That's incredible and that's a helluva feather in these guys' cap, to score one goal, work as hard as we are. This is like the Vancouver game (a 2-1 overtime loss), where you're scoring one goal and getting points. You're going to score more in the league, you're going to finish your chances. But I don't think we're creating the second and third opportunities that we normally do. That's why I say that we've got to look at combinations. There's a lot of scoring chances, but they seem to be one and done for me. So we've got to take a look at that."

The Blues had a chance to break this game open early, but Mrazek made what coaches call 10-Bell saves on Vladimir Tarasenko with 10 minutes, 30 seconds remaining in the first and then robbing Nail Yakupov with 9:09 remaining after Patrik Berglund fed Yakupov for a quick one-timer after a Darren Helm turnover.

"Well I think this game is the same as four or five games we've played already," Hitchcock said. "We've played really well, had a lot of good stuff, but don't finish. I think we've got to look at everything right now. I think we've got to look at combinations, what's working, what's not working, what we need to get more from. Can't just keep living on scoring chances, you've got to finish at the end of the day. I think we've got to look at every aspect right now."

Alexander Steen scored in the first round of the shootout for the Blues before Gustav Nyquist equalized for the Red Wings in the second round.

After that, it was Allen and Mrazek getting the job done until Zetterberg, 13-for-58 in shootouts coming in, beat Allen five-hole to end it.

"My objective is to stop the puck, that's it," said Allen, who made a crucial shoulder save on Alexey Marchenko late in regulation and then on Tomas Tatar in the closing seconds of overtime. "Sometimes you're 3-for-3, sometimes you're 0-for-10. Shootouts, you're not going to win them all, but it's a tough way to go down."

The Blues' biggest takeaway is they have the penchant for dispatching a bad all-around outing like the one they had against Calgary on Tuesday in a 4-1 loss. Aside from Carter Hutton, nothing else went right.

"I think we created a lot more chances as a team offensively," center Paul Stastny said. "It was nice having Jori (Lehtera) back, 'Schwartzy' getting in his groove, so many chances eventually they're gong to go. We just have to keep finding ways to create chances and kind of bear down when we have to and win that special teams battle.

"Both goalies were good. You could see in the shootout, too, not a lot of goals scored in almost 20 shooters. Sometimes they're not going in and you're squeezing the stick a little too hard, you're trying too hard, and then sometimes you just need that bounce. It happens to everyone throughout the season. We have to look within ourselves to dig deep out of it and keep creating chances, creating your luck and kind of getting the bounces."

The overtime was so wide open, both teams had endless chances to score, but the Blues had three they would normally bank on.

Schwartz redirected Tarasenko's pass wide of an open side of the net with 4:12 remaining, then Lehtera, who returned after missing four games with a concussion, was thwarted on a breakaway, and Steen's redirection of a Schwartz pass from in tight was turned away by Mrazek.

"We can't lose sight of the difference between tonight and Tuesday's game," Shattenkirk said. "We did a lot of great things tonight, a lot of things we can take into Saturday's game and be happy about. When it comes to it, we need to bury our chances, we had some great ones tonight, when we go back and look at it and realize we were creating those, and how we were creating those, that's going to be what we need to focus on."

Shattenkirk said in the shootout, the ice was rough for both sides and would like to see the dry scrape return because it was hard to make moves. The Blues seemed to want to beat Mrazek five-hole from distance.

"A little bit. Me personally, when I shot that puck, it was a little slow, getting that shot off but, that's something maybe we'd like to see, the scrape come back into the game," Shattenkirk said. "It opens up a little creativity. I think we could have pulled off some better moves and given ourselves some better quality scoring chances."

Shattenkirk gave the Blues a 1-0 lead 2:31 into the second when Patrik Berglund won an offensive zone faceoff and Shattenkirk's wrist shot caromed off the skate of Nielsen.

The Blues had things going their way, outshooting Detroit 20-7 before Nielsen and Helm worked a shorthanded 2-on-2, and Nielsen beating Shattenkirk around the right edge before throwing a shot off Allen's left pad and caromed high into the net for a 1-1 game at 13:54 of the second.

"It's a hard play because Helm did such a good job of slowing me down on the rush and then as he drops it to Nielsen, he's got so much speed," Shattenkirk said. "I think Jake felt like he had to honor the backdoor pass. It was also a great move by him, it looked like he was going behind the net and stuff it. If I could read that a little better and have my speed better then hopefully I can get a stick on that play."

Hitchcock didn't like the development and the way it happened.

"It was another 2-on-2 rush that we got beat at the net," Hitchcock said. "Happens, I guess. Our coverage was soft on the 2-on-2."
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues goalie Jake Allen sprawls to make a save in front of teammate Alex
Pietrangelo (right) Thursday against the Detroit Red Wings.

It changed the momentum of the game and took a lot of the steam the Blues had built up.

"We've got to, as a unit, either get momentum or score when we get a power play," Stastny said. "Not get scored on. That was just a miscue, not even a miscue, when we're out there, that's the last thing we're thinking, getting scored on, we should be thinking, every time we're out there, we should be thinking get a goal or get momentum. That one we didn't and it kind of paid a dividend for them and basically that was the tying goal and that's what forced the loss for us.

"A point's a point. If you get any points, whether you're the better team or the team playing from behind, if you find a way to get a point, down the road, that's important. When you're at home, you want to get as many points as you can. We didn't get one the first game, got a point today, hopefully get the win and it's a decent homestand."

* NOTES -- Blues defenseman Robert Bortuzzo, who replaced Carl Gunnarsson in the lineup Thursday, left with an undisclosed injury early in the third period and didn't return. Hitchcock had nothing new to report and said an update should come Friday. ... Scottie Upshall was a healthy scratch for the first time this season. Dmitrij Jaskin remained in the lineup in his place. ... With Lehtera's return, the Blues put Magnus Paajarvi on waivers. Another team has until 11 a.m. Friday morning to claim him or the Blues will send him to the Chicago Wolves of the American Hockey League.

(10-27-16) Red Wings-Blues Gameday Lineup

ST. LOUIS -- It's the eighth game of the season and the Blues will play a full, healthy lineup for the first time.

Center Jori Lehtera was activated off injured-reserve on Thursday after he missed the past four games with concussion-like symptoms.

Lehtera, who doesn't have a point in three games, missed the past four games but began skating Monday and practiced with the team in full Wednesday. 

"It's always tough when the boys are on the road trip and you're just by yourself at home laying on the couch. It's not fun," Lehtera said. "I'm really excited (to play). ... Everything's good. I feel good, yeah. I feel like you but better."

After passing concussion protocol, the Blues deemed him fit and ready to go and Lehtera will initially at least be reunited on the "STL Line" with Jaden Schwartz and Vladimir Tarasenko but start off as a left wing and Schwartz stay in the middle.

"We're going to keep Schwartz at center, at least to start today and 'Lehts' play on the left wing there," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. "We're not opposed to making changes as we see fit. We've got three good players on the same line and if we've got to divvy up the responsibilities and move one of those guys down or up, we'll see. Obviously that line had great chemistry last year. They were a very good line and we'll keep them together to start with."

Hitchcock is obviously pleased to get Lehtera back.

"We know the chemistry that he has with 'Vlad,' which is a good sign," Hitchcock said. "But quite frankly, he was our best forward, the way he was playing before he got hurt. Through exhibition games and through the start of the league play, this is as good as he's played since he's been here.

"So what we're getting is another good player back. We've added Schwartz and we've added Lehtera now, and when you get two really good players like that back, it really gives you the depth on your team that your looking for. He was playing great hockey and hopefully we can get him back up to speed."

In order to make room for Lehtera, the Blues put left wing Magnus Paajarvi on waivers, a day after Hitchcock said Paajarvi was the team's best skater on the ice the past three days at practice.

Paajarvi, who signed a one-year, one-way contract for $700,000, had one goal -- a game-winner against the Minnesota Wild -- in three games. But the Blues opted to make him expendable over Dmitrij Jaskin or Ty Rattie.

"(Paajarvi) has been good," Hitchcock said. "Rattie has been good, lots of tough choices. Lots of tough choices on who sits out, too. When you've got a lot of players who are playing pretty well, it's competition on, it's game on. Ty gets his chance, you hope he takes advantage of it. Magnus gets his chance, hopes he takes advantage of it. Jaskin stays in, Upshall goes out, so 'Jask' has to take advantage of it. That's what happens when you're healthy and competitive like we are right now."

"(Paajarvi's) done a good job. He's a dutiful player. He checks. We'd like him to score more and he'd like to score more, but he does what he's asked to do and he did a good job of it here. But it's a full lineup right now."

With it being a tough lineup now to crack, the Blues will make Scottie Upshall a healthy scratch tonight. Upshall has a goal and an assist in seven games.

AFTERNOON UPDATE: One change on defense also includes defenseman Robert Bortuzzo in the lineup tonight in place of Carl Gunnarsson. Bortuzzo has been a healthy scratch the past two games and four of seven this season. 

- - -

It's a reunion of sorts with another ex-teammate for the Blues when they entertain the red-hot Detroit Red Wings, winners of five in a row, today at 7 p.m. (FS-MW, KMOX 1120-AM).

After entertaining Brian Elliott and Troy Brouwer with the Calgary Flames on Tuesday, the Blues welcome friend Steve Ott back with the Wings tonight.

Ott, who was acquired before the NHL Trade Deadline along with Ryan Miller from the Buffalo Sabres late in the 2013-14 season, spend the past two-plus seasons in St. Louis, including last year's run to the Western Conference Final.

"It started when I landed obviously. I went out to dinner with a lot of the guys last night and it was great to see them," Ott said. "Obviously miss the boys. It's been a tight team here in St. Louis last year and when you have that, you make friends for life. I have a bunch over there obviously, but today's a game day and yesterday was a friendship day.

"The emotions are always ramped up. That's the human nature of everything. I want to try and play my way as much as possible, but we're here business-wise. It's another game obviously. I've done this a few times obviously when you've played your ex-teammates as you move along in your career. For us, we want to keep something as we're building as the Detroit Red Wings. We're winning games, we're playing the right way and our total game's starting to come together and that's the big picture."

Hitchcock, who coached Ott in Dallas as well, had the line of the day.

"Who?" Hitchcock said. "Don't know him. There's a little short guy on their team wearing (No.) 29, I don't know if that's him or not. Don't know him, sorry."

Ott is known as an agitator and did it well while with the Blues, and now he gets to turn it back around on his friends tonight, including chirping.

"I'm sure he'll just be his usual self," Schwartz said. "He does like to talk on the ice, create havoc a little bit. He's good at what he does. You just try not to let him affect the game too much. I'm sure he'll be fired up to play here and he'll be forechecking hard and getting to the net, so a guy we'll have to box out. I'm sure he'll have fun talking, chirping on the ice. I think we'll all be ready for it.

"I usually laugh at his jokes. I'll probably laugh and just keep on going. He's pretty quick if I give something back. I'm sure he'll come back with something better."

Could Ott perhaps get in a fight, say, with Ryan Reaves?

"I think he knows he can't get under my skin, but I can't wait for him to try," Reaves said. "I think we both are kind of similar, it's tough to rattle us with words. I've never been one for somebody to chirp at me and get me made. I'm more of a smile-in-your-face-kind-of-guy and that (ticks) people off. He's the same way. It's tough getting him off his game with words. I expect the old Otter to come in and play against us the way he days. It'll be a battle, but it'll be fun."

Ott said: "Maybe I was laying ground work last night. It wouldn't be the game the way it's supposed to be if you didn't play the way you're supposed to play and compete the way you're supposed to play. There's no letups. This is a profession. This is a business that we all play. No difference in myself in playing my way. I know guys are going to be playing extremely hard and I wouldn't expect nothing less."

Tonight will also mark the 800th NHL game for Ott.

"This is something," Ott said. "You never think you're going to play one, so to play 800 tonight, especially with as many bumps and bruises as I've had over my career, you never know when your last milestone is. This could be it, so who knows. Continue to push forward and continue to keep going and do my thing."

When Ott became a free agent this past summer, choices would be limited, and when it became obvious he wouldn't return to St. Louis, he wanted to get closer to his home of Summerside, Prince Edward Island. Ott played junior hockey for the Windsor Spitfires, across the Detroit River.

"You know what, absolutely. I talked to my agent right way and I said, 'Just try to land me a job in Detroit," Ott said. "This is where I've always wanted to play. I grew up a big Wings fan. It's close to home, and to have the opportunity to play in front of friends and family every single home game, it's something really special to me. I've really, really enjoyed my time here. It's a great organization and we're having a lot of fun."

And Ott, who signed a one-year, $800,000 contract, has made an impact in the Red Wings locker room.

"Steve's had a big impact on our team so far in two different areas," Detroit coach Jeff Blashill said. "One would be intangibles off the ice. He brings energy to the locker room. We needed some of that energy. He's a fun guy to be around. He brings camaraderie, and I think that's a real critical part to winning. And on the ice, he's been a real good, complete player. He wins faceoffs on the left side especially. He's a good penalty killer, but he provides energy in physicality but is real accountable defensively. Those are rarities on the league and he's been a real good impact so far."

- - -

The Blues' projected lineup:

Robby Fabbri-Paul Stastny-Alexander Steen

Jori Lehtera-Jaden Schwartz-Vladimir Tarasenko

David Perron-Patrik Berglund-Nail Yakupov

Dmitrij Jaskin-Kyle Brodziak-Ryan Reaves

Jay Bouwmeester-Alex Pietrangelo

Robert Bortuzzo-Kevin Shattenkirk

Joel Edmundson-Colton Parayko

Jake Allen will start in goal. Carter Hutton will be the backup.

Healthy scratches include Scottie UpshallCarl Gunnarsson and Ty Rattie. The Blues report no injuries.

- - -

The Red Wings' projected lineup:

Gustav Nyquist-Frans Nielsen-Dylan Larkin

Tomas Tatar-Henrik Zetterberg-Riley Sheahan

Andreas Athanasiou-Darren Helm-Justin Abdelkader

Drew Miller-Luke Glendening-Steve Ott

Danny DeKeyser-Mike Green

Jonathan Ericsson-Alexey Marchenko

Brendan Smith-Ryan Sproul

Petr Mrazek will start in goal. Jimmy Howard will be the backup.

Xavier Ouellet is the healthy scratch. Niklas Kronwall (knee), Tomas Jurco (back) and Thomas Vanek (mid-body) are out with injuries.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016


Blues trying to find home swagger again; Lehtera close to return; 
another former teammate returns; Paajarvi could play; Winter Classic prep

ST. LOUIS -- After a lackluster 4-1 loss on home ice to the Calgary Flames on Tuesday, Blues coach Ken Hitchcock finally expressed a concern that has been an underlying issue through the early stages of this season and for a good part of last.

When Hitchcock took over in 2011, one area the Blues began to excel at quickly was its penchant to be a dominant home ice team. Opponents dreaded coming to Scottrade Center in recent seasons, and in Hitchcock's first season, the Blues held the best home record in the league at 30-6-5, then were 28-9-4 after the strikeout-shortened season of 2013-14. Even in 2014-15, they were a very respectable 27-12-2.

But last season, the Blues slipped to 24-13-4, and the only reason they continued to be among one of the top teams and competed for the Central Division title is because of their second-best road record (25-11-5) in the Western Conference (behind San Jose) and third in the NHL (Washington).

The Blues are 2-1-0 through three games, but the two wins haven't exactly been convincing (3-2 over the Minnesota Wild and New York Rangers) and after last night's loss, they're being outscored 8-7.

"To win at home, I don't want to say it's easier to win on the road, but it's easier to get your 'A' game on the road, to be honest with you, in the league," Hitchcock said. "I think a lot of it is the white noise. I think you've got to really eliminate the white noise. I think that when you get a condensed schedule like there is this year, having gone through this with an Olympic schedule, one of the things when you get back home is you get really busy. You get really busy away from the rink because you're playing catch-up all the time. I think you've got to eliminate that white noise and the things that go on in your life to try and maintain a focus that quite frankly is easy on the road because everybody's together. You're going from building to building together, you're going from a hotel to hotel together, but it changes at home. Everybody's on their own. I think getting that central focus is really important at home and finding a way to make sure that everybody stays in that framework is a challenge."

Winning consistently on home ice gives a team a swagger, and the Blues need to recapture it quickly. 

"That's a good term for it," said goalie Jake Allen, who will be back in net tomorrow when the Blues host the Detroit Red Wings. "We talked about that this morning, having confidence in our own building, making it a rough place to play, tough place to be. If you're a visiting team, you're going to be in for a tough night and a long night coming into our rink. I think we need to get that back on the map that when Detroit comes in here, they're going to have a tough go from every aspect.

"We'll get it back. I'm not worried about it at all. We all love playing in this building. It's comfortable, it's a fun rink to play in. It's loud, it's bright and it's enjoyable. Just had a rough couple periods and I don't think we're too worried about it."

It started with the rough third against the Rangers, albeit the Blues were down three players for the entire 20 minutes because of injury. But nevertheless, it shouldn't have carried over to Tuesday.

"We used to be one of the best teams," defenseman Alex Pietrangelo said. "We were almost unbeatable at home a few years ago. We've got to find a way to reverse that trend, we've got to use that home ice advantage. You want to come home knowing you have a real good chance to win. Hasn't been that the last few years and I think we've just got to stick to our game plan, simplify and play the same simple game that we play on the road.

"I wouldn't say comfortable. Maybe we try and expose some matchups and sometimes we think it's going to come easier than it should. But that's no excuse. We've got to find a way to play the same way at home as on the road, which is using everybody in every situation and playing simple hockey."

With the red-hot Red Wings (winners of five in a row after an 0-2-0 start) and Los Angeles Kings coming to town Thursday and Saturday, respectively, it could make for a good start to the home schedule and set the Blues up moving forward.

"In your own rink in the NHL, you need to be consistently a winning team with a winning percentage especially," Allen said. "I think we just need to bring the game more at home. The last four periods at home haven't really been our best.

"We haven't had some of the juice we've had on the road. We need to jell together at home a little bit more. We've got two games at home this week and we're trying to focus in on the details. We started off on the right foot and we dropped off a little bit and we're trying to gain that step back."

* Lehtera close -- Center Jori Lehtera was on the ice with teammates practicing for the first time since leaving the 3-2 win against the Rangers on Oct. 15 with concussion-like symptoms.

Lehtera, who has missed the past four games after getting a puck caught between his skates halfway through the second period before being checked by the Rangers' Jimmy Vesey, began skating on his own Monday and gradually worked his way up to where he could practice with teammates. He was wearing the powder blue practice jersey with Magnus Paajarvi and Ty Rattie and wasn't among the regular lines but could return as soon as Thursday against Detroit.

"I feel OK," Lehtera said. "It's been so boring (being out) more than one week. It feels like one month, but it's good to be back with the boys.

"I was skating yesterday with Ray (Barile) and it felt good today with the team. Hopefully I can play with the team tomorrow or Saturday.

"I think it's all about 'Hitch' and me. I have to (clear) through the doctors, too. There's three people I have to ask."

Hitchcock said more details will be known Thursday morning.

"I think it's all that protocol stuff that goes on," Hitchcock said. "I think he's into that. We'll get the word first thing in the morning though. He looked really good though.

"... He looked really good, so this is full participation. We're just awaiting the word on what's next on the agenda, whether he's a player or whatever. We'll know that probably tomorrow morning for sure."

As for where Lehtera will fit, Hitchcock wasn't certain.

"I don't know. We were talking about that," Hitchcock said. "(Jaden) Schwartz has played great at center and he's really enjoyed playing center and he's been really effective for us. 'Lehts' has played a lot of left wing, he's played a lot of international left wing. He's very good there, too. It's a nice option to have to be honest with you."

* Paajarvi could rejoin lineup -- Paajarvi has been a healthy scratch the past three games and four of seven this season, but it wouldn't be a shock to see him back in the lineup against the Red Wings in place of Dmitrij Jaskin.

"The other guy that's starting to jump up is Paajarvi," Hitchcock said. "Paajarvi's really starting to get confidence and skating well. This is three practices in a row that he's really been one of the best players at practice. I think there's got to be some consideration there, too."

Paajarvi has one goal in three games, a game-winner against the Wild on Oct. 13.

* Another homecoming -- After former Blues Brian Elliott and Troy Brouwer along with hometown boy Matthew Tkachuk breezed through town Tuesday for the Flames, Steve Ott gets his welcome home Thursday with the Red Wings.

Ott, who played the past two-plus seasons in St. Louis after being acquired along with goalie Ryan Miller from the Buffalo Sabres days before the NHL Trade Deadline in the 2013-14 season, signed a one-year, $800,000 contract with the Red Wings as an unrestricted free agent this past summer.

So it'll be another challenge of facing a former teammate and friend for the first time.

"It's the name of the game," Hitchcock said. "You've got friends on every team. You've just got to have more friends on your own team. That's the name of the game. We talked about that. It's a tough business. You've got close friends that you went to war with and battled with and really fought for each other and then all of the sudden, they're in another sweater and you've got to figure out which one's more important to you and it's a tough business to do that in. First time through it, it's tough. Next time, you move forward. First time through's tough and we've got another one tomorrow."

* Gearing up for the Winter Classic -- A representative from the NHL was in St. Louis on Wednesday to prep players and coaches for the behind-the-scenes documentary leading up to the Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic between the Blues and Chicago Blackhawks, which will be played at Busch Stadium on Jan. 2.

More information will become available at a later time regarding network and when taping will begin, but it will be an all-access account of practices and games leading up to the game.

"I'm going to ask what the fine is first and then figure it out from there," Hitchcock joked. "I'll be good; you might even find out I'm funny. You never know. Might be a real shock for you. 

"I might swear less, but that is an 'if' too. I'm not sure about that even, but no, I'm not going to change."