Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Blais shines in Blues' 5-3 preseason loss to Stars

Forward scores goal, assists on another; young players have 
good moments, teachable moments according to coach Mike Yeo

DALLAS -- If Samuel Blais continues to perform in this manner, the Blues are going to have a hard time telling the 2014 sixth-round pick he's going back to the American Hockey League.

Blais has been given a great opportunity in camp thus far, and the 6-foot-1, 181-pound right wing is making a better case for himself playing in the Blues' first preseason game Tuesday in Dallas.

Blais scored a goal and added a pretty assist on Klim Kostin's goal in the Blues' 5-3 loss to the Stars at American Airlines Center.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Defenseman Jake Walman (46) led all Blues skaters in ice time on Tuesday
with 24:15 in  5-3 preseason loss to the Dallas Stars.

Blais started off camp playing with Paul Stastny and Vladimir Tarasenko, then coach Mike Yeo moved the Quebec native to play with Alexander Steen and Robby Fabbri for Tuesday's game. But Fabbri wasn't on the trip and didn't play (Yeo said after the game Fabbri is fine and they decided to hold him back at home), but Blais made the most of playing with Vladimir Sobotka and Jordan Kyrou, giving the line plenty of speed, finesse, grit and flashes of skill.

"I'm seeing progress from him," Yeo said of Blais. "There's some parts of his game that he's got to show us that he can improve on through the course of training camp. In all honesty, a lot of veterans are like that, but some of the plays that he made with the puck, some of the poise that he had, I felt like he was trying to make a difference out there and offensively, he obviously found a way to contribute. It was a real strong game from him."

Blais, who had 26 goals and 17 assists last season with Chicago of the American Hockey League, worked both sides of the ice and was able to be effective even without the puck. He blocked a shot on the first, darted out of the zone and drew a penalty, then drew another one on Alexander Radulov by using his strength to fight the Russian off a puck and then picked the pocket of Julius Honka in the neutral zone and nearly getting a breakaway before drawing his third penalty of the game.

"Just moving my feet and that's what I think made them take penalties on me," Blais said. "I think when I move my feet, I think that's when I'm at my best. I feel like that's what I did tonight.

"I've got to be good on the little details. Tomorrow's another day so we're starting all over again. I've got to be ready for the next couple days."

The Blues young players also showed some flashes of good play, and there were moments with some where the NHL game is different than anything they've seen before.

Some of those younger guys were not afraid to attack the Dallas veteran group with their speed and stickhandling. 

Especially when the puck was on the sticks of 2017 first-round picks Robert Thomas and Kostin, 2016 first-round pick Tage Thompson, 2016 second-round pick Kyrou, Blais and 2014 second-round pick Ivan Barbashev, they attacked into the Dallas zone with speed and ready to make plays.

"I think I was a little more ready for it (the NHL game)," said Thompson, who had one shot off the post from the high slot. "There's still another level. It's preseason. It's a good step in the right direction, but there's definitely another step. It was a good first taste.

"Just play my game. When I make a play through the neutral zone, just go quick and not hold onto it too long. It's another level. Use your speed and move pucks quick is how you're going to get past them." 

The goal of the night was Kostin's goal that put the Blues ahead 2-0; he got a behind the back backhand pass into the slot from Blais after he took Barbashev's feed down low near the goal line.

"I looked over on the other side and I saw him," Blais said of Kostin. "I knew he was there, so just put the puck there."

Wade Megan scored one of two power play goals for the Blues, who were 2-for-11 with the man advantage, including a pair of lengthy 5-on-3's. Blais scored with the two-man advantage after Thompson nearly scored a highlight-reel goal on a two-man advantage in the second period.

The Blues led the game 2-0 in the first and 3-2 after two periods against a Stars team loaded with regular NHL players before Dallas rallied with three third-period goals -- two off backup Jordan Binnington and one into an empty net.

Carter Hutton started and played the first half before Binnington jumped in with 9:29 remaining in the second.

Defenseman Jake Walman led all Blues skaters in ice time with 24:15, but Yeo said there were ups and downs to his game.

"I thought there were some good moments, but too much inconsistency," Yeo said. "That was very similar to the rest of our group. We'll talk to Jake. It was a first step. He's a young kid, so kind of expect that. You can see some of the good things that he does when he's on top of his game, his skating ability, puck movement, his shot, his instincts. There's some things we can correct as we move along here. It was a first step and we'll move forward."

Thomas, who one might think had a bad game because he was a minus-3 on the sheet and won just four of 13 faceoffs, did play 19:50 and most of the night, drew the toughest assignment playing against the Stars' two best players: Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin.

Thomas centered the top line with Alexander Steen and Thompson.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues defenseman Vince Dunn (29) battles for a puck with Dallas' Mattias
Janmark during preseason action Tuesday.

"That's what we want to do," Yeo said. "We want to out guys in a tough environment and see how they can handle it. That's obviously a pretty tough matchup there.

"I felt like he did OK. A lot like the young kids, the first four days of camp, they did really well and then they don't quite realize what another step it is. When you start getting into games and you start playing against the big boys and they start dialing it up. It took him a little bit of time to realize that, but I thought he had some good moments tonight. I'm not concerned. I know all these guys will figure it out as they go. That's why you give guys more than one game. It takes them some time to adjust."

* NOTES -- With the NHL officials already beginning the crackdown on slashing infractions and faceoff violations the first few days of preseason, the Blues and Stars didn't face many issues in that department. 

There were only three lashing penalties called in the game (two on the Stars) but no faceoff infractions. 

However, the Blues were on the power play 11 times. Dallas had eight man-advantages.

Some players have already voiced their displeasure with the abundance of calls in those two areas, but Yeo thinks it's something everyone will have to adjust to.

"I think it's good," he said. "It's going to force us to get ready. ... I know there's going to be a lot of special teams, and so that's OK, I'm good with the work for both the power play and the penalty kill, it's an important part to get ready for the start of the season. Through preseason what we'll see, every team is about learning habits, these are going to be habits. For me, it's always about stick on puck, to slash on the hand, you get a good player, you're slashing on the hands, he's still going to be able to make a play. He's still going to be able to make a pass and put the puck in the net. The stick on puck is going to be crucial as far as staying out of the penalty box. Faceoffs will be a good challenge for our centermen. If you want to win faceoffs during the year, you better get ready for it right now.

"We had them watch the league video this morning and we spent the last couple days talking about that. A lot of those things are part of our system anyway. We're very strict about making sure you're stick on puck. I think the best defenders through time have always been phenomenal with their stick. It's a habit we really stretch with our players."

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