Sunday, March 26, 2017

Blues finding ways to overcome adverse effects

When negative instances occur, players able 
to wipe slate clean, build positive momentum

ST. LOUIS -- It was obviously a call that went against the Blues and one that resulted in even more bad news.

And if this were, say, December or January when the Blues were floundering, those bad breaks would multiply and by the end of the night, the Blues would be left to wonder why another game went without points.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Goalie Jake Allen, making a save Saturday against Calgary's Matthew
Tkachuk, said the Blues are able to move past negative plays in games.

When Scottie Upshall was whistled for slashing that began when he took a face full of glove of Calgary's TJ Brodie in the face that resulted in a scrum in front of Brian Elliott involving all 10 skaters and Upshall somehow was the only one found guilty of wrongdoing and the Flames scored on the ensuing power play, the Blues found a way to regroup and go about their business.

They would get the game back on a level playing ground after falling behind 1-0, and despite falling 3-2 in overtime against the likely playoff-bound Flames, the Blues earned a well-deserved point, and had every opportunity to get two.

That's not something that would have happened two months ago.

"Yeah, I think that's something Mike preaches," Blues goalie Jake Allen said of coach Mike Yeo. "I think that's something we've learned since he took over, just go back at it next shift, don't worry about what happened, even it's 6-0, just keep going out there and playing and things will come. 

"We got a point, not satisfied, but we still moved up and that's our objective right now, just finding ways to get points. If we can get one, great, we're just making positive steps. Eight games left, get another point and hopefully get some Monday."

This has been some of the culture Yeo has built when he took over the reigns of the Blues on Feb. 1, and the Blues (40-28-6), who play a home-and-home set with the Arizona Coyotes beginning Monday at home, have benefited going 16-7-1 in Yeo's 24 games.

"That's what we're trying to build here," Yeo said. "There are some things that you can make predictable, some things that you can make within your control. There's going to be some things that are not in your control. But the only thing that matters is how you come back your next shift. So we're not a team that's dwelling on mistakes or bad bounces -- whatever the case. Even good bounces or good fortune for that matter. We come back the next shift, we know what our game is and we get to it."

"... The last couple of games, the other team scored first and we've gotten three out of four points, so that's improvement. But we're not done, we have to keep growing here."

The Blues, 9-1-1 the past 11 games, have allowed 17 goals in that span, good for 1.55 goals per game; prior to losing Saturday, the Blues allowed 1.70 goals per game since Yeo took over, which was No. 1 in the NHL as well as 1.39 goals against per game in even strength situations. They were No. 1 in save percentage (.942), penalty kill (90.6), second in goal differential (plus-25) and second in even strength goal differential at plus-18.

Allen had the best GAA since Feb. 1 at 1.68, best save percentage at .944 and was tied with Columbus' Sergei Bobrovsky with three shutouts.

All the hikes in numbers come back to positive reinforcement.

"We've been saying here for the last couple of weeks, it's been a real positive when things are going our way we seem to bounce back and turn things around," defenseman Alex Pietrangelo said. "So I like the way we bounced back from (the penalty on Upshall). We're still doing a good job when things aren't going our way."

But while the Blues have been winning, it's important that they hammer the point in that Saturday was in fact a loss, albeit one they felt could have gone the other way, and to reinforce the winning culture that many of these players have grown accustomed to in recent years.

"It's still a loss, so I think that we'll make sure that we make that point," Yeo said. "We've got to be ready to bounce back next game. But there was still a number of good things in the game. For awhile here we've been focused on building our game, and we've got a pretty good sense of when we're doing the right things and what it looks like, and when we're not. I don't think there's too many guys in the locker room thinking that we didn't do a lot of good things here tonight. We didn't get the win, and so we'll have to find a way to be better next game."

But looking at the recent body of work, it's been something the Blues will bank on come playoff time.

"Big picture yeah. I mean, obviously it wasn't good enough because we didn't win," Pietrangelo said. "But big picture, yeah, the last couple of weeks here I think we can all agree on that."
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues captain Alex Pietrangelo (27) likes how the team is able to bounce
back and turn adverse effects into better play.

"We just want to come to the rink every day and push to get points," defenseman Colton Parayko said. "Just push to get better and make sure we're putting our best foot forward to win hockey games and give ourselves the best chance to win."

They're doing just that.

"I think the compete level is very high from our group right now," Yeo said. "I think emotionally we got wrapped up in some stuff in the first period, got a little too focused on the refs, or a couple of bounces, whatever the case is. I think the guys regrouped well, I think that we were able to regain our focus and with that, our execution started to get a little bit sharper. But all together, the guys are competing very hard. I think that you're seeing consistency in our game. We're building more pace in our game. I didn't think we were there in the first period, but I thought as the game wore on, we started to. We're still checking well, we're still checking hard ... our 5-on-5 game was pretty solid and we're a darn good team in the offensive zone, so we just have to continue to find a way to get there."

* NOTES -- The Blues on Sunday signed goalie Evan Fitzpatrick to a three-year entry-level contract.

The 19-year-old Fitzpatrick is a second-round pick in the 2016 NHL Draft who played 49 games at Sherbrooke of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League where he posted a 3.46 GAA and .899 save percentage.

-- The Coyotes also signed one of their own draft picks on Sunday, Chesterfield native Clayton Keller, the seventh pick in the 2016 NHL Draft. 

Keller, who drew up in Swansea, Ill., was one of five St. Louis-area players to be picked in the first round along with Matthew Tkachuk (No. 6, Calgary), Logan Brown (No. 11, Ottawa), Luke Kunin (No. 15, Minnesota) and Trent Frederic (No. 29, Boston).

All played for the AAA Blues and were coached by former Blues Jeff Brown and Keith Tkachuk, fathers of Logan and Matthew, respectively.

The 5-foot-10, 174-pound Keller, who was on the gold medal-winning team with the US World Junior squad in Toronto and Montreal three months ago, just completed his freshman season at Boston University and finished the season as the team's leading scorer with 45 points (21 goals, 24 assists) in 31 games.

Keller, 18, was on the ice with the Coyotes on Sunday at Scottrade Center and is expected to make his NHL debut against the Blues Monday night.

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