Tuesday, October 31, 2017

A healthy Schwartz helping guide the Blues' engine to success

Relentless puck-hunting left wing leading by example with play on ice, feeling 
completely healthy, on pace to shatter career highs in goals, assists, points

HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- When looking at NHL scoring leaders, familiar names typically occupy the list.

They tend to include past and/or present award winners, names that have often been there before, names like Sidney Crosby, Alex Ovechkin, Connor McDavid, Patrick Kane, Nicklas Backstrom, Steven Stamkos, Nikita Kucherov, among others. 

The latter two are at the top of the leaderboard today, helping the Tampa Bay Lightning to the best record in the Eastern Conference. 

But then there's a name that hasn't been there before. He's diminutive in size (listed at 5-foot-10, 190 pounds), calls himself a "puck hound," the kind of player that drives the opponent nuts.

He'll hound you until you call 'Uncle.' Try to take the puck away from him, good luck; he protects it as well as anyone whether it be using his smallish-stature strength or zig-zagging his way through a phone booth with puck and stick in hand. 
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Is Jaden Schwartz on the path to stardom? Persistent hard work combined
with early-season scoring have the Blues' left wing on the right path.

And he could care less that he's among the NHL scoring leaders.

Say hello to Blues left wing Jaden Schwartz.

"I don't like to worry about points," Schwartz, who came into Tuesday third in the NHL with 17 points in 13 games on eight goals and nine assists, said. "I don't even worry about how the production is even going to end or where I'm going to be; I have no idea. I don't like worrying about that at all."

For those that know Schwartz, 25, this is what he's about. He won't talk about himself, always casts credit to his teammates and doesn't like the drawn attention 

Or does he?

"I think we should get credit because all we do is pump his tires," joked Blues center Paul Stastny. "Ask [Robert] Bortuzzo. I think every day, he says, 'Who has it better than One-Seven?' We keep him loose. He never gets too high or too down."

But this is Jaden Schwartz today, know to his teammates as 'Schwizz': a relentless pursuer of the vulcanized rubber who uses every inch of his body to fend off would-be puck pursuers trying to take away what to him seems like a kid's favorite toy. When the Blues were questioned at the start of the season as to who could pick up the scoring slack other than Vladimir Tarasenko, Schwartz has been front and center, arguably the Blues' best player to date and a big reason why they're off to a terrific 10-2-1 start to a season nobody thought they'd be able to achieve thus far. And in the process, the Blues sit atop not only the Western Conference standings with 21 points but right there side by side with the Lightning with identical records atop the NHL standings.

"I think consistency is something I've really worked on," Schwartz said. "There's times definitely throughout the season where you're feeling it, maybe offensively or you feel like your work ethic is there, but I think right now, just coming into the season, I was ready and prepared and I wanted to have a big role on this team. That was kind of my focus all summer, just building off the end of last year and in the playoffs. We're (13) games into the year."

Thirteen games in. In other words, let's not pump the tires too much. There's a long season ahead.

Even if Schwartz isn't getting the national accolades, his teammates are more than happy to give him all the props they feel he deserves, because he's earned them.

"Maybe for you it doesn't seem like this," Tarasenko said. "'Schwartzy' has always been a great player. We all know this, and whenever guys say something about him, that's their own opinion. Let them talk. We all know what kind of player Jaden (is). For us, he's unbelievable. He has an unbelievable personality. I don't think he (has) ever been underrated. They can talk whatever they want. We all know who 'Schwartzy' is.

"... There's always going to be different opinions on players. I'm proud to play with him for this long stretch and I hope we play longer together."

They will, and Brayden Schenn is now the benefactor of playing between two-thirds of the 'STL Line.'

"He's been awesome since Day 1," Schenn said of Schwartz, a teammate with Team Canada at the world juniors in 2010-11. "... Obviously he's a key piece to this team, a key piece to this locker room."

For the first time in perhaps his NHL career, Schwartz, the 14th pick in the 2010 NHL Draft (two spots ahead of Tarasenko), not only looks but feels 100 percent. Yes, he played 78 games last season, and there were at times questions of 'what's wrong with Schwartz? Why isn't he scoring at the clip when he posted career-highs of 28 goals, 35 assists and 63 points in 2014-15?' 

Injuries have derailed, to a degree, Schwartz's progression.  A broken foot sustained on Jan. 3, 2015 blocking a shot shelved Schwartz for seven games. But according to him, he was able to overcome that relatively quickly.

Then came the big one, one in which looked painful when it happened at practice on Oct. 23, 2015, but one that sidelined Schwartz for 49 games, a fractured left ankle during a drill. Then last season came a left elbow injury that forced Schwartz to miss four games. 

These things take a toll on the body, and what sometimes is not understood is that just because a player returns to action from injury, doesn't necessarily mean said player is 100 percent healthy. Especially Schwartz, who uses his legs for cutting, hard skating and the ability to play a hard, two-way game.

Add on top of everything he dealt with physically, but the toughest hurdle to overcome before even making a mark in the NHL was losing his older sister Mandi, who was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia in December 2008 before passing away April 2011.

It's been a challenging and winding road for Schwartz, who only scored eight goals and had 14 assists in 33 games in 2015-16 before 19 goals and 36 assists last season. But still, fans were wondering why the dip in production.

"It's quite a bit different than when you're completely healthy," Schwartz said. "I think guys will tell you when you're hurt, you lose a lot of things, whether it's timing, strength, mobility, different things that you have all the time. I never really had a serious injury until the ankle. I had a broken foot, but I wasn't out long, and then before I got here, I had some ankle issues as well, but the ankle injury was the first (serious) one I had. That's a tough one. I don't know if you can kind of describe it, but that's something where you don't get your mobility back for a long time and you don't get your strength back. Even today, I still need to do things to make sure it's feeling good. 

"Any time you have an injury, it sucks being out. You want to get back as soon as you can. As soon as you feel like you're ready to play, you want to jump in, whether your body is 100 percent or not when you're coming back from injury. You want to get back in the lineup and help your team as soon as you can. Sitting out, it just gives you an itch. I don't like making excuses either. With injuries, when you come back, you don't want to use that as an excuse to why you're not playing well or producing. The reality is there's a mental side to it, too, whether you're cautious or you're not. Your instincts aren't quite where they need to be or where they usually are when you're 100 percent. That plays a factor, too, as far as getting to the dirty areas or the corners, in front of the net. You might tweak something if you move the wrong way or someone hits you the wrong way. That plays a factor, too."

Schwartz had a burst in the Stanley Cup Playoffs last year, as he said, when he built up momentum from a late push in the regular season, a season that included a stretch of three goals in 40 games. But he finished with five goals in 11 games to close the regular season and had nine points in 11 playoff games, including the game-winning goal of Game 2 in the first round against Minnesota late in the third period; he also produced well in the playoffs in 2016, with 14 points in 20 games.

"Even when I came back from the ankle (in 2016), I think there was maybe 20-30 games until the playoffs, I can't remember exactly, but I felt like the first few, the first little bit was tough, the timing and the feel of it," Schwartz said. "I don't think looking back that I regretted coming back when I did or I remember feeling out of place or playing bad. I thought I jumped in and did as well as I could. 

"Sometimes injuries linger. Guys will tell you that, and they can linger longer than you want. Certainly when you get a summer to regroup and rest, that's part of the NHL though. It's not just me; there's a lot of injuries. There's a lot of guys playing banged up. Guys are playing with worse injuries than other guys. Anytime you get a summer to reboot and reset and recover, it goes a long ways."

However, no complaints.

"He gets judged on the last couple years, but he came off that broken ankle, everyone in this league comes back early from injuries," Stastny said of Schwartz. "An injury like that might take 12 months to 18 months to fully heal up, especially with not doing the right rehab because you're playing and practicing every day. Last year, I think he had that elbow injury and I think once we made the coaching change too, I think it opened him up a little bit, freed him up a little bit the way he played the second half of last season and playoffs and he's just kind of continued with it."

Schwartz got in a full summer to not only refresh the body but have one that would heal from the bumps and bruises that go along with an extended regular season and postseason.

He came into training camp this season ready, hungry, and most importantly, feeling good.

"That is (a) fair (assessment) and the reason it's fair is because work ethic is contagious, especially when it's coming from your top group of players," Blues coach Mike Yeo said. "When you watch him play his game, lots of players in this league have skill, but when you combine it with the tenacity and the relentlessness he brings each and every shift, then obviously that's where you start to separate yourself.

"... He doesn't play the game for people to talk about how good he is. But at the same time, he's human. I'm sure he wants to be recognized for his efforts, and the start that he's had, he's got to be in the conversation with the top players in the league. It's great to see him continue to go out and perform at that level."

Perhaps Schwartz started to separate himself when Yeo incorporated his style and system in with the players when he took over for the fired Ken Hitchcock.

"We've seen it," Stastny said. "I think he's just getting more and more comfortable with himself and kind of establishing his game, really knowing what his strengths are and the weaknesses that he had. He's kind of polished himself up a little bit and made himself a better all-around player. Obviously the sky's the limit for him because he's pretty high up there, but I think we've seen it every day in practice. 

"More guys around the league ask me about him because at first, you kind of look at 'Vladi,' or in the past, 'Backs' [David Backes], [Alexander] Steen, 'Osh' [T.J. Oshie], kind of that line and 'Schwartzy' and 'Vladi' have always kind of been the young guys and now they're coming into their own.

"It's hard to take the puck off of [Schwartz]. I think he kind of creates plays out of nowhere. He's always trying to find space out there, but I think he's a skill player that works really hard. That's what makes the top players. When you see players like Crosby, everyone says how skilled he is, how smart he is, but I think what makes Crosby one of the best players in the game is how hard his work ethic is around the puck and down low, and I think 'Schwartzy's the same way where if he doesn't have the puck, he's going to hunt the puck down. When he's playing with linemates that kind of support him well and can help create those turnovers, I think he's going to be the first man on the puck. He doesn't give the puck away. He's pretty hard on himself sometimes; I think all good players are. I think it's fun to see how emotional he gets. His best attribute is that puck possession game." 

A teammate with the now-defunct Peoria Rivermen in 2012-13, Blues goalie Jake Allen has seen the rise and progression, and the proof is in the play this season that Schwartz is as close to himself as he ever has been.

"Even just carrying the puck up the ice, he looks like a different player," Allen said. "I think he's just that much more confident. He's making plays. I think every game, you have at least two to three Grade A scoring chances himself, that's weaseling his way off the wall into the slot finding pucks. That's why he has the numbers he does right now and why he's contributing. He's probably the biggest part of our successes. He's the engine; he really is. He brings it every single night. He wears his emotion on his sleeve and we know that. He's been a fun guy to watch. I got to live with him when we first got to play together in Peoria. It's been a long time since then. He's done so many good things for our team and our organization. I think he's got a very big ceiling ahead of him. He's still only 25-26, whatever he is.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Seventeen points in 13 games have Blues left wing Jaden Schwartz on
pace for career highs in points (107), goals (50) and assists (57).

"So far, and I know it's a very small window, but it's just his confidence, his tenaciousness. He's just all over the puck. It's fun to watch, especially from my end."

Schwartz, who has 97 goals and 132 assists (229 points) in 331 NHL games, is on pace for 107 points on 50 goals and 57 assists, which would shatter his career highs in all three categories.

It bodes well for the Blues that the puck hunter is on the prowl, and the driver that fuels the engine is on a straight and narrow path to success. Including this season, there's four more years of growth and untapped potential the Blues hope to benefit from.

"They may think of that differently than I do," Schwartz said. "I think we've got a lot of guys that can do that for our team, who can spark us at different times. I just focus on doing my job. If I'm doing that and they feel that way, I feel like I'm doing a good job. I enjoy being relentless on pucks. I've always said I was never the biggest guy or (have) the most skill no matter where I've been, so I've had to find other ways to be effective, to be reliable and to be a difference-maker. I feel like that starts with work ethic and being relentless."

Tarasenko Schwartz, Schenn lead charge in Blues' 4-2 win over Kings

Trio combines for five points; St. Louis matches franchise record 
for wins in October, win fourth in a row, 6-0-1 past seven games

ST. LOUIS -- Finding different ways to win seemingly each time they do, the Blues had a trio of talented forwards lead by example in a marquee matchup against another Western Conference heavyweight.

On Monday, Vladimir Tarasenko, Jaden Schwartz and Brayden Schenn, a trio of young but ever-growing talent took charge against a team always known for their big, burly, physical style that's added a speed element to their arsenal.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Jaden Schwartz had a goal and assist helping the Blues stay red hot with 4-2
win over Kings on Monday. Schwartz is third in NHL with 17 points.

The line combined for five points, led by Tarasenko and Schwartz each with a goal and an assist, and the Blues won their fourth straight game with a 4-2 victory over the Los Angeles Kings on Monday before 17,423 at Scottrade Center.

After a 4-1 victory against the Columbus Blue Jackets on Saturday in which the Schwartz, Schenn and Tarasenko line was held without a point, it was their mission to come up large in a battle of the top two teams in the Western Conference.

"I thought we were better than last game," Schwartz said. "I thought we were moving a lot better, supporting each other better and just making strong plays with the puck. We weren't  too happy with the last game. Our team played well. I know it was a big win against Columbus, but we knew we had better and we talked about it. We wanted to come out tonight and play a hard game against these guys."

Boy, did they ever.

Knowing that the Kings like to filter pucks into the offensive zone and impose their will on opponents, the Schwartz-Schenn-Tarasenko line took the lead on reversing the tactics on their opponents, and then everyone else followed suit.

But in a game where the Blues were going to need some of their top six forwards to play a large role in the outcome, this trio came out with a vengeance, and did so with purpose.

"You could see the purpose in their game from the start," Blues coach Mike Yeo said. "The forecheck pressure, that's a really tough team to create offense on. You're not going to get easy ice, you're going to really have to assert yourself, you're going to have to force them into mistakes and create opportunities with work ethic, with good sticks, with checking. I thought they did that tonight."

"I feel like every night, we get better," Tarasenko said. "We get more understanding where we are because we never played together before. I play with Jaden for five years and 'Shenner' is first year here, so you just try to talk a lot and just make some plays, not dumb play like dump-and-chase hockey."

The Blues are 6-0-1 in their past seven games and 5-0-0 at home this season.

Carl Gunnarsson and Vladimir Sobotka also scored, and Jake Allen made 26 saves, with a number of them of the clutch variety, for St. Louis (10-2-1), which tied the franchise record for wins in October with the 1997-98 team that went 10-2-2 in October.

"I think we've got a good thing going right now," Allen said. "We're relaxed, have confidence instilled in us right now. I think we're just finding ways to win games. It's fun to watch from my end. Guys are blocking shots; we're doing everything. It's the same stuff we comment on every game. We're just consistently doing it, and I think the more consistent you are, the better chance you're going to win."

The Kings (9-2-1), who completed a six-game road trip 4-2-0, got goals from Tanner Pearson and Dustin Brown. Jonathan Quick made 26 saves.

"Their team game is very strong and their defense is big and they play fast," Kings coach John Stevens said of the Blues. "Kind of a sour note to go home on but to be honest with you, I thought the guys played hard tonight. We'll learn from this game and continue to get better."

Tarasenko scored the first of five goals in the second period, giving the Blues a 1-0 lead on a shot from the left circle at 7:25. It was as if Tarasenko knew what he was doing when Schwartz intercepted Derek Forbort's neutral zone pass, then fed Tarasenko in stride for a quick snap shot high blocker side past Quick.

"Every time we get a puck off the forecheck or off their D's, I know where 'Schwartzy' (is) and I'll get used to 'Schenner,'" Tarasenko said. "It makes a game easier."

"Yeah, it was kind of a scrambled puck," Schwartz, who is third in the NHL with 17 points behind Tampa Bay's Steven Stamkos (24) and Nikita Kucherov (21) said. "Just cut to the inside and he had a little speed, a little step on the guy. It was a great shot by him."

Yeo and the coaching staff should get some credit for their ability to read that Doughty, who logs the most minutes for the Kings, was caught in the LA zone and was on the ice against the Blues' fourth line, so there was a chance to change, and the coaches got the Schenn line back on the ice, and after a heavy forecheck and puck pursuit, Schwartz scored on a rebound at 10:17 for a 2-0 lead.

Tarasenko, at the right point, found Schenn in the slot, and the Blues' center quickly backhanded a shot on goal, creating a rebound, one in which Schwartz banged home.

The lead was cut in half on Pearson's breakaway goal at 13:20 after Gunnarsson's outlet pass was picked off my Alec Martinez, who sprung Pearson in on Allen. Pearson, who was stoned earlier in the period by Allen's glovehand, deked and went five-hole.

But Gunnarsson, who got the Jimmy Roberts Hard Hat Award Monday, redeemed himself when he fired a wrister from the left point through traffic that beat Quick short side at 16:19. The Kings challenged for goalie interference, claiming Kyle Brodziak interfered with Quick, but the call on the ice was upheld, displeasing the Kings goalie and prompting Brown to criticize the process.

"If you look at the replay, [Quick's] stick gets pulled out but no one knows what the rules are anyway so it's kind of a ... I mean tonight, it was not goaltender interference and two weeks from now, it might be; I don't know," Brown said. "That's part of the problem, I think. Quite honestly, I think all these challenges and reviews should be done in Toronto."

Gunnarsson said the puck will go to his new baby daughter Elise.

"Oh yeah, I got it," he said. "We'll frame that one.

"I saw the guy coming in my lane, so I just tried to fake and then just try to get it to the net. I know that (fourth) line likes to get in there and get a little dirty, so I tried to get it to the net, got really lucky, but we'll take it."

Brown made it 3-2 with a power-play goal at 17:17, deflecting Doughty's shot in after Colton Parayko's tripping penalty in the neutral zone in Doughty's 700th NHL game.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues defenseman Carl Gunnarsson looks to move the puck up ice past the
Kings' Tanner Pearson Monday. Gunnarsson scored in a 4-2 victory.

But the Blues were able to clamp down in the third period. Allen came up with a couple doozy saves, including one on Doughty at 3:38 diving back to his left after a caromed puck and a couple more quick ones moments later off a lost puck before Sobotka's empty-net goal with 1:05 remaining in the game made it 4-2 to seal the win.

"We're doing a good job that way," Allen said of closing down games. "We really are and we're finding ways to hold the fort down. Other teams are going to find ways to get goals. That's the name of the game, but to find ways to slow the momentum, I think ... the biggest thing for us in the third period like that for me is try to get whistles. Don't let the flow of the play go. That's what they want. If we can slow that down, it gives us a better chance to win the game. The guys do a great job lately when it's 6-on-4, penalty kill, empty net or whatever it is. That was a big goal (Sobotka) there."

"We're a good team. We're a good hockey team," Yeo said. "We've still got a long difficult road ahead of us here. We haven't accomplished anything yet except for a good start."

Monday, October 30, 2017

(10-30-17) Kings-Blues Gameday Lineup

ST. LOUIS -- It's early, but a good measuring stick game will take place on a Monday when two of the top teams in the Western Conference standings collide at Scottrade Center.

The Blues (9-2-1) entertain the Los Angeles Kings (9-1-1) at 7 p.m. (FS-MW, KMOX 1120-AM) in a matchup of two teams atop of the conference standings with 19 points and off and running in this young NHL season.

The Blues, who are tied with the Kings atop the conference standings with 19 points, are the only unbeaten team in the League on home ice (4-0-0) and have points in five straight games (4-0-1).

It's the second of a four-game homestand and the Blues are in the midst of six of seven on home ice and looking forward to seeing where they stack up against an upstart Kings team.

"It's going to be a fun game," Blues coach Mike Yeo said. "It's another team that's going. Their top guys are going really well right now. [Anze] Kopitar looks really good, [Drew] Doughty looks really good, and then their supporting cast, I'd say that everybody is on top of their game. Everyone's excited. 

"John's doing a good job (first-year Kings coach John Stevens). It's showing up in their game. There's still a lot of similarities that you'd think of when you play the LA Kings, and that's a hard, heavy structured smart game. It's going to be difficult to get things going against a team like this. They're going to force you to defend in situations that are not easy to defend. I feel like they're playing with a little bit more pace than they have in the past. I've seen a lot of good things from their side."

"Yeah, 9-1 versus 9-2, both in the Western Conference. It's going to be a Western Conference style of hockey tonight," Blues center Brayden Schenn said. "There's not going to be a whole lot of chances. I think it'll probably be a pretty physical game, tight defensively. It's going to be a fast-paced game tonight but I would say it's going to be physical. It's going to be tight."

The Blues and Kings have been known in the past as playing that big, heavy, bruising style of game where the team that wins the war of attrition normally comes out on top.

Times have changed ... somewhat.

"They're big and heavy, but they're starting to play with that up-tempo pace that I think that we've played with since Mike came in," Blues defenseman Alex Pietrangelo said of the Kings. "They obviously are at the top of the standings for a reason. They have a good recipe right now of good size and skill that we do, so I think both teams will use this (game) as a measuring stick."

The Kings' 19 points through 11 games matches their best start since 1980-81 when they were also 9-1-0-1 (one tie); they've won three in a row and are 4-1-0 on a six-game trip, which wraps up against St. Louis.

"These are some of the most fun games in the league to play in," said Doughty, playing in his 700th NHL game tonight. "It's a battle out there. It's a playoff every single time. They have a very similar system to us and very similar personnel. It's a lot of fun. ... We have to show them that we're for real. They're at the top of the league, too, so it's a big game."

Stevens has paid much attention to the Blues from the start of the season and is very respectful of how they've managed to be a top-tiered club.

"We're looking at it as a big game," Stevens said. "... We're focusing in on one game right now. I've watched St. Louis since the start of the year. They've had a lot of injuries and their biggest focus has been on their team game. I think because of that, they've been able to absorb a lot of injuries and still have a lot of success. I think their team game is very good and the other thing is their defense has scored 13 goals in 12 games, I think it's a St. Louis record. Obviously there's some things they're doing to really get their defense involved in the offense and we've got to be aware of that.

"I think their team game has always been part of their identity here and their defense is big; they're big and they move, and I think that's probably the one thing that's changed. They've implemented some young guys and they still have some key core guys around them. They've done a great job with it."

- - -

Speaking of Schenn, he goes up against the club that drafted him with the fifth overall pick in the 2009 NHL Draft.

Schenn, who has 10 points (three goals, seven assists) in 12 games this season, played in only nine games with the Kings before being traded to the Philadelphia Flyers on June 23, 2011 but still knows a number of coaches and players on the Kings.

"Stevens was an assistant coach when I was there, (goalie coach) Bill Ranford. I know Doughty, Kopitar, [Dustin] Brown, [Trevor] Lewis, [Jonathan] Quick, [Kyle] Clifford, [Jake] Muzzin -- there's a lot that I know. Obviously been away from them for a long time now. They're all good guys that have had a ton of success and off to a great start this year.

"A couple Cups later, and obviously a lot of guys with a lot of good resumes. They've built a winning culture over there and through those core player of guys. They've definitely done a good job of doing it."

Doughty said he doesn't remember Schenn a lot as a teammate but they have been close friends.

"No, but I know him pretty well," Doughty said. "I was buddies with his brother [Luke]. I used to go to Saskatoon for Jarret Stoll's golf tournament so I would see them there. I actually stayed at their house a couple times. I know him pretty well. Brayden's a good kid, a good player, plays well going both ways. I'm surprised to see him come here; I'm surprised he's not in Philly anymore. He's obviously a good addition to their team and he's going to be a guy we have to shut down and play hard (against) tonight."

Stevens said Schenn has come a long way since his Kings days and he's not surprised.

"He's obviously a kid we had for not a lot of time, but just a really good, gritty offensive player," Stevens said. "He's one of those guys that has great offensive instincts and skills but he's got a little edge to his game as well. Certainly followed him when he was in Philadelphia there and I could see him having success. Not surprising. He's matured now. He's become a well-rounded player but definitely is still a dangerous offensive player.

"St. Louis, to me, has really thrown some trust towards their players. I think they've asked them to be responsible in certain areas of the game. That's the trade-off with those players and it looks like he's really embraced that idea. When he was with the world junior and really set the world on fire from the center ice position, I think there's a level of trust there that he had to earn and it looks like he's done it."

- - -

Yeo was asked if he was awake for the end of last night's Game 5 World Series game, a game which the Astros won 13-12 in 10 innings, since Yeo does have ties to Houston and still has a home there.

"No, I'm a Cardinals fan," Yeo said with a smile. "I was in bed long before that game was over last night. But I was following along. It was a heck of a game, for sure."

- - -

Blues center Patrik Berglund, who skated on Saturday with extra players before the game against the Columbus Blue Jackets, took par in the morning skate and worked on skating, puck handling and shooting.

Berglund has been sidelined with a dislocated left shoulder, sustained during off-season training who isn't scheduled to be re-evaluated until mid-December.

"He's been working real hard," Yeo said of Berglund. "He's been doing a lot of conditioning skating. He's coming along. Obviously he's still a ways away here. Definitely nice to have him back with the group. We have to take advantage of the start we've had but when you think about a guy like that and what he means to our team, and the way that guys have stepped up, guys have done a really good job, and obviously we're anxious to get a guy like that back."

Also, defenseman Jay Bouwmeester, out since Sept. 17 with a fractured left ankle, skated on his own before the team's morning skate.

"He's put his skate on," Yeo said of Bouwmeester. "I don't know if I'd call it skating yet, but he's kind of moving around a little bit. He's inching along. He's getting there."

Goalie Carter Hutton, who missed Saturday's game to be with his pregnant wife, is expected to back up Allen tonight unless "something changes," according to Yeo. Ville Husso, who backed up Allen on Saturday, is still here just in case.

- - -

The Blues' projected lineup:

Vladimir Sobotka-Paul Stastny-Alexander Steen

Jaden Schwartz-Brayden Schenn-Vladimir Tarasenko

Magnus Paajarvi-Oskar Sundqvist-Beau Bennett

Scottie Upshall-Kyle Brodziak-Dmitrij Jaskin

Carl Gunnarsson-Alex Pietrangelo

Joel Edmundson-Colton Parayko

Vince Dunn-Robert Bortuzzo

Jake Allen will start in goal; Carter Hutton is expected to be the backup.

Healthy scratches include Nate Prosser, Chris Thorburn and Ville Husso. Jay Bouwmeester (ankle), Patrik Berglund (shoulder) and Zach Sanford (shoulder) are out.

- - -

The Kings' projected lineup"

Alex Iafallo-Anze Kopitar-Dustin Brown

Tanner Pearson-Adrian Kempe-Tyler Toffoli

Michael Cammalleri-Brooks Laich-Trevor Lewis

Andy Andreoff-Michael Amadio-Nic Dowd

Derek Forbort-Drew Doughty

Jake Muzzin-Alec Martinez

Kurtis MacDermid-Christian Folin

Jonathan Quick will start in goal; Darcy Kuemper will be the backup.

Healthy scratches include Oscar Fantenberg and Nick Shore. Marian Gaborik (knee), Kyle Clifford (upper body) and Jeff Carter (lower body) are out.

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Offensive-minded fourth line, Allen catty Blues to 4-1 win over Blue Jackets

Upshall, Brodziak, Jaskin combine for seven points; Allen makes 36 
saves; St. Louis has won 11 straight in second of back-to-back games

ST. LOUIS -- Not often asked to supply offense, Scottie Upshall, Kyle Brodziak and Dmitrij Jaskin, which makes up the Blues' fourth line, was front and center on Saturday night.

The trio is typically asked to be good forecheckers, play physical, manage the puck properly and supply much-needed energy when called upon.

So when their names pop up on the stat sheet in the offensive categories, the Blues are more than likely on the winning end of it, which they were Saturday after Upshall had his first three-point game in nearly three years with a goal and two assists, Kyle Brodziak had a goal and an assist and Jaskin had two assists in the Blues' 4-1 win over the Columbus Blue Jackets before 17,834 at Scottrade Center.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Scottie Upshall (second from left) celebrates his goal with teammates
Dmitrij Jaskin (left) and Joel Edmundson (right) on Saturday in a 4-1 win.

The scoring from that trio has been relatively scarce, that Upshall couldn't even remember when his last three-point game was, and understandably so.

"No, I don't, but I'm sure it was some time ago," Upshall said.

(For the record, it was Nov. 8, 2014 as a member of the Florida Panthers against the Calgary Flames when he scored two goals and added one assist).

"I don't even remember the past time I had a two-point game," Upshall joked. "... It was nice to chip in offensively. I like just the way our line's been used and just been relied on lately for added minutes and good offensive zone minutes. It helps our group when we can play like that."

"It's one of those nights," Brodziak said. "We're getting pucks to the net and they were finding their way in.

"... I think we've talked about it a lot the last little while, our top lines were doing all the scoring, they weren't getting any help. The third and fourth lines, we know we're capable of chipping in every once in a while, helping out more, felt the pressure, both lines have responded well the last little while."

And in a game where two teams were coming off back-to-back games and the expectation of a big, heavy game, the Blues established their forecheck early and often in the first period, and it seemed to play right into the hands of the fourth line.

"We needed them to fuel that type of game for us," Blues coach Mike Yeo said. "The team that we were playing, they can really take you off your game and disrupt you and make things awfully frustrating for you. And I thought that everyone, and in particular those guys did a nice job of not letting them get to their game and we redid that by getting in on the forecheck by playing in the offensive zone.

"And obviously they can't get to that forecheck-heavy game where they wear on you in your own zone. And obviously I think we were able to do a pretty good job of that early."

Jake Allen made 36 saves for St. Louis (9-2-1), which is on a six-game point streak (5-0-1) and undefeated at home (4-0-0), the only unbeaten team on home ice after the Tampa Bay Lightning fell to the Anaheim Ducks 4-1 on Saturday.

Joel Edmundson had a goal and an assist and Vladimir Sobotka scored for the Blues, who have won 11 in a row in the second game of a back-to-back dating to last season. The Blues are 13-2 the past two seasons in this scenario and going back to the 2015-16 season, they've won 18 of 21 in the second of back-to-backs.

"I think we've been winning in different ways," Yeo said. "I think good teams do that. Some nights it might be defense. Some nights it might be goaltending. We've had special teams do it for us. We've had our defense score. Our bottom two lines score. Our top two lines obviously have gotten lots done for us. I think that's what good teams do. You have to find different ways to win hockey games. Every game is different in its own right, every team you play is different."

Matt Calvert scored for the Blue Jackets (7-4-0), who lost for the first time in three games. Joonas Korpisalo made 38 saves.

"Both teams came in a back-to-back," Blue Jackets coach John Tortorella said. "They played better early on and grabbed momentum right away and they get the lead. It's tough against a veteran team like that in your back end. It's tough to come back when your down by a couple. 

"I felt we put in some good minutes. I thought we didn't have a lot of puck luck where I thought we were getting closer. Allen made some key saves, some of them I don't even think he saw the puck, but the team that won tonight deserved to win."

The Blues outshot the Blue Jackets 14-8 in the first period, and Sobotka followed up Colton Parayko's slap shot from the slot and knocked in the rebound with 33.2 seconds remaining for a 1-0 lead.

Upshall gave the Blues a 2-0 lead at 6:31 of the second when Edmundson's shot from the left face-off circle caromed off Upshall's skate in the crease and got past Korpisalo.

Columbus made their push at the Blues after falling behind by two, but Allen was the brick in goal when called upon; his best save came off Cam Atkinson's effort at the side of the net going from left to right before Atkinson put the rebound off the post at 8:28 of the second.

"There was a guy wide open in front of the net, no one knew he was there," Allen said. "I didn't know he was there either. You do what you have to do.

"I think he probably wants that one (rebound) back."

Edmundson put the Blues ahead 3-0 off a 2-on-1 with Dmitrij Jaskin at 1:29 of the third period. Edmundson looked off Jaskin and beat Korpisalo short side.

"I was thinking pass most of the time," Edmundson said. "I thought the defenseman did a good job taking him away, but when I looked up, I saw there was lots of blocker side open, I just pretty much put my head down and shot."
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues goalie Jake Allen eyes down Columbus' Artemi Panarin before
making one of 36 saves in a 4-1 victory Saturday.

Calvert ended Allen's shutout when he scored from the right circle at 6:21 to make it 3-1.

Brodziak made it 4-1 at 13:23 by crashing the net following up his own rebound after Jaskin hit the post.

It was the perfect cap to a night where the fourth line imposed its will.

"I think that's a big part of our line's identity," Brodziak said. "We want to get in hard, make it difficult, find a way to create turnovers. We did a good job of that. I think we've been getting better game in, game out, getting on the same page, trusting each other. Tonight was good, created some turnovers, created some chances and were able to bury some." 

(10-28-17) Blue Jackets-Blues Gameday Lineup

ST. LOUIS -- At 8-2-1, the Blues are off to their best 11-game start since going 8-1-2 in 2013-14 and will look to keep the run going when they play the third set of back-to-backs this season, hosting the Columbus Blue Jackets today at Scottrade Center (7 p.m.; FS-MW, KMOX 1120-AM).

The Blues, who have a point in five straight games (4-0-1), are coming off a 2-1 victory over the Carolina Hurricanes on Friday. Center Brayden Schenn scored the game-winner midway through the third period.

The eight wins in 11 games is impressive for the Blues on a number of fronts, including the injured players missing at the start of the season and playing eight of 11 away from home, where the Blues are one of two teams (Tampa Bay Lightning at 6-0-0) unbeaten on home ice (3-0-0).

"This league never allows us a whole lot of time to sit around and be happy about things," Blues coach Mike Yeo said. "We will be for a little bit, but obviously we get to work here with  Columbus. That'll be a tough one. It doesn't do you much good unless you can take advantage of the home games. That'll be the challenge now."

Now the Blues will entertain one of the top teams in the Eastern Conference in the Blue Jackets (7-3-0), who are off to their best 10-game start in franchise history after a 2-1 overtime win on home ice Friday over the Winnipeg Jets.

- - -

The Blues recalled goalie Ville Husso from the San Antonio Rampage of the American Hockey League on Saturday morning.

Goalie Carter Hutton, who backstopped the Blues on Friday with a 26-save performance to improve to 3-0-0 on the season, and his wife are expecting the couple's first child and could miss the game tonight, and Husso would be thrust in to backup Jake Allen, who will get the nod tonight.

Husso, 22, has appeared in three games with the Rampage this season, posting a 2-1-0 record along with a 2.69 goals-against average and a .927 save percentage; he was drafted by the Blues in the fourth round of the 2014 NHL Draft.

- - -

With an assist on Schenn's winner Friday, Blues left wing Jaden Schwartz is third in the NHL with 15 points (seven goals, eight assists) and is on a six-game point streak (five goals, three assists). 

Blues right wing Vladimir Tarasenko, who hasn't scored in four games but does have four assists, has 13 points (seven goals, six assists) in 11 career games against Columbus.

The Blues will play six of the next seven on home ice and 11 of the next 15 at Scottrade Center.

- - -

Neither team held a morning skate Saturday after playing Friday, so lineup decisions/changes will come later this afternoon. Yeo will address the media at 5:30 p.m.

(UPDATED) -- Yeo said the Blues will go with the lineup that won in Carolina, but Hutton will not be backing Allen up. 

"Everybody did their job," Yeo said. "Obviously 'Jasky' got a goal there last game, so it's good for him. Let's see if he can build off that."
The Blues' projected lineup:

Alexander Steen-Paul Stastny-Vladimir Sobotka

Jaden Schwartz-Brayden Schenn-Vladimir Tarasenko

Magnus Paajarvi-Oskar Sundqvist-Beau Bennett

Scottie Upshall-Kyle Brodziak-Dmitrij Jaskin

Joel Edmundson-Alex Pietrangelo

Carl Gunnarsson-Colton Parayko

Vince Dunn-Robert Bortuzzo

Jake Allen will start in goal; Ville Husso will be the backup.

Healthy scratches are Nate Prosser, Chris Thorburn and Carter Hutton. Jay Bouwmeester (ankle), Patrik Berglund (shoulder) and Zach Sanford (shoulder) are out.

- - -

The Blue Jackets' projected lineup:

Artemi Panarin-Nick Foligno-Josh Anderson

Boone Jenner-Brandon Dubinsky-Cam Atkinson

Matt Calvert-Alexander Wennberg-Oliver Bjorkstrand

Sonny Milano-Zac Dalpe-Pierre-Luc Dubois

Zach Werenski-Seth Jones

Jack Johnson-David Savard

Ryan Murray-Markus Nutivaara

Joonas Korpisalo will make his third start; Sergei Bobrovsky, who made 29 saves Friday, will be the backup.

Healthy scratfhes include Markus Hannikainen and Scott Harrington. Gabriel Carlsson (upper body) and Lukas Sedlak (ankle) are injured.

Thursday, October 26, 2017


Prosser, Bennett have solid debuts; Dunn continues to impress;
 Gunnarsson back after birth of daughter; Hurricanes, Blue Jackets next up

HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- Two Blues who made their team debuts came out with positive marks on Wednesday following a 5-2 victory over the Calgary Flames.

Defenseman Nate Prosser and right wing Beau Bennett didn't factor in on any of the scoring by the Blues (7-2-1), who begin their third set of back-to-back games Friday in Carolina against the Hurricanes before returning home to face the Columbus Blue Jackets on Saturday, but both were effective in helping the Blues to their fourth straight game earning at least a point (3-0-1).

Prosser, who played for fellow defenseman Carl Gunnarsson, whose spouse Josefin gave birth to the couple's first child, a daughter named Elise, was a healthy scratch the first nine games before logging 15 minutes, 23 seconds. He delivered four hits, blocked one shot, had a takeaway and one giveaway.

"He did fine," Blues coach Mike Yeo said of Prosser. "It's a tough situation for a d-man to come in or any player for that matter when you haven't played a game in probably close to a month now. But I like the way that he defends, I like his competitiveness. He had a couple turnovers, but one of those, looking back at it again was actually not his fault. Puck support kind of left him out to dry. I thought he did a nice job coming in.

"He's a guy when you watch the video back, you don't always necessarily always pick it up during the game but the subtle things maybe it's a d-zone coverage shift, maybe it's a small little box-out play that allowed Jake to see the play. These are the things that helped him be successful as a player."

Prosser was partnered with Colton Parayko, and goalie Jake Allen said moving a guy into the lineup  for a first game can be tough but Prosser's veteran savvy made it a seamless transition.

"It's tough for that, really," Allen said. "He's practiced (but) he's experienced. He knows what to do with us, but he hasn't played in a game yet, and it's completely different once you get in a game. 

"To be honest, he did pretty well for a first game. We know what to expect from him, very simple, poised, just get pucks in, pucks out, great team guy. When he's called upon, he'll be ready to go. I think that's why he's stuck around. Obviously 'Yeozy' really likes him and he's been with Mike for a while. That's why he's going to be a big part of our group. He might not play a ton of games, but when he does, and just being around the rink, he's such a good guy to have. He's ready to go when called upon."

Bennett, recalled earlier in the week from the Chicago Wolves of the American Hockey League, skated on the third line with Magnus Paajarvi and Oskar Sundqvist and finished with 11:54 ice time, two shots on goal and two hits.

"His third period was the best and that's what I liked," Yeo said of Bennett. "Just a little bit of composure and poise in that situation. Some players in that situation might panic a little bit and start to rush plays and the next thing you know, the play can start coming back and the other team can generate some momentum. I thought he did a really nice job. He's a guy that obviously knows how to play the game without the puck and I thought that line had a good game for us."

* Dunn doing things right -- Blues defenseman Vince Dunn continues to impress playing in his rookie season.

The 2015 second-round pick out of Mississauga, Ontario may only have two goals in 10 games thus far, but he and partner Robert Bortuzzo continue to give the Blues good, solid minutes from their third d-pairing.

Dunn, who had two shots and two blocked shots in 18:25 ice time, will make for a difficult decision for Yeo when veteran Jay Bouwmeester, who continues to recover from a fractured left ankle sustained Sept. 17, returns to the lineup.

"I think if anything, we're increasing his usage that we would deem important or difficult situations and shifts," Yeo said of Dunn. "The reason for that is quite simple: he's earning it now. He's earning our trust, so he has to make sure he stays on it. That's the challenge for young players, but certainly, he looks like he's very comfortable and confident out there in his abilities and his play would indicate that."

Allen, who works on communication with all his defensemen in particular, sees the growth Dunn has displayed and likes it.

"I think his game's changed completely from the start of the year to now, especially on the defensive side of things," Allen said of Dunn. "Just comfort and experience. He's playing well. We know he's an offensive talent. Over time, he'll get his offensive chances more and more but defensively, I've been real impressed with him the last couple games. He's making his passes, getting the pucks out of the zone when need be. They're doing well. It's been the story the last couple years, to be honest. We've had injuries, guys have come up and played well. It goes to show we have pretty decent depth."

* Baby Gunnarsson arrives -- Gunnarsson, who missed his first game on Wednesday, was back at the practice rink on Thursday with six teammates in a very limited optional skate before the Blues departed for Raleigh.

Yeo said he expects Gunnarsson to get back in the lineup against the Hurricanes.

Needless to say, the Orebro, Sweden native was all smiles Thursday.

"It's been a whole lot of emotions," Gunnarsson of having a first child. "It's been fun and it's been incredible. I don't know, it's tough to explain it. Before you have a kid, it's going to be a game changer, it's going to be amazing, it's going to be this and it's all that, but you never realize it until it's time. It's been great, best couple days of my life right now. I had a ton of fun. It's been tough, but just happy.

"Mom's doing OK. She's a warrior. She was in a lot of pain for a bit, but she's doing OK now."

Gunnarsson said he hasn't had to change any diapers yet, but "it's coming. It's coming pretty quick." He also said that while he didn't have the chance to watch the win over the Flames, "I had my phone right next to me, so I just kept track that way and checked Twitter and all that."

It's a good thing timing-wise for the Blues to have a plethora of home dates coming up. After Friday, the Blues begin a four-game homestand and play six of the next seven at Scottrade Center and 11 of the next 15 at home.

"As tough as it is leaving them back here and going on the road, it's going to be nice to get back there," Gunnarsson said. "The good thing is it's just one game and we get back home and get re-focused on family and games are going to be more of a day-to-day kind of regular life not going to the hospital and sleeping on a tiny bed or whatever. It's still going to be waking up in the middle of the night for a while but that's life, and it's fun."

* Finding ways to win -- The Blues' objective was met Wednesday, coming away with two points, but it wasn't the cleanest of games for them, particularly at the outset when the Flames were hemming the home side in their own end of the ice and forcing neutral zone turnovers.

The Blues trailed 1-0 before catching their bearings and using their special teams to help solidify things and make the game cleaner as it moved along.

"We did enough things to win the game, but we also didn't do enough things that allowed us to really play one of our stronger games," Yeo said. "For me, I felt that some puck management early in the game, I felt like some of our checking, we were close to being there but we weren't quite there. We weren't quite as tight as we normally (are) and it allowed them to get to our zone a little bit more easily than we usually play against teams. We had a couple bad changes. There's things where we weren't quite spot-on with and so we have to make sure we find a way to dial it up."

Allen even had a mishap of his own during the game when he went behind his net in the second period to play a puck but wound up falling on his backside and Mikael Backlund scored his second of the game to cut the Blues lead at the time to 3-2.

"I don't know, I put my skates on the wrong way," Allen joked. "The puck was too far in front of me and I had to reach, and I as just caught off balance.

"... Everyone's going to fall at one point or another."

* Setting injuries aside -- All teams deal with injuries, multiple ones per season, but when the Blues entered the season without Alexander Steen, Bouwmeester, Robby Fabbri, Patrik Berglund and Zach Sanford, and then having Gunnarsson miss a game, incorporating rookies (Dunn and Tage Thompson) into the lineup, the Blues had ample depth to offset the losses and help them to match the second-best record to begin a season over the first 10 games in franchise history.

"I think it's depth, to be honest," Allen said. "It's quality of players and depth. I think we're very fortunate to have that. Some teams, I can't speak for experience, but teams might not just have the comfort of guys stepping in and playing right away. If you don't have that, things can get a little haywire at times, especially on your bottom six when it's usually a guy questioning himself. But guys are just going in and playing. I think they have great players to play with as well. It makes everything easy for everyone."

"The core group we've got, everyone's on the same page," Gunnarsson said. "It's guys stepping in and doing a heck of a job. And this year, too, a bunch of injuries at the start and young guys coming up playing their guts out. I think it doesn't matter if you lose two or three guys or one guy, there might be five guys, but the core group is still doing the same kind of job and everyone knows what our game is. I think that's part of it and Mike's been pushing on it, so everyone knows what we're doing out there."

* Hurricanes, Blue Jackets next on docket -- The Blues are playing back-to-back games but will also get two opponents who will be playing the second of back-to-backs.

The Hurricanes played Thursday night in Toronto before traveling home and the Blue Jackets will host Winnipeg on Friday before traveling to St. Louis.

Regardless, Yeo thinks the Blues are in for two more tough tests; they're 3-2-0 thus far against Eastern Conference competition.

"That's doing to be a tough game tomorrow," Yeo said. "That is a team that's always hard to play against. Regardless of the outcome, you have to know that it's going to be a very difficult game. They play with pace, they play a pressure game, their D are very active, they're very aggressive offensively. It's going to be a good challenge.

"Two hard games. I've got a chance to see both teams already. Obviously I won't start concentrating on (Columbus) until after tomorrow night, but two teams that in a a lot of ways are aggressive, are similar in their aggressiveness. Six D and four lines that will come at you and challenge you shift after shift. They're going to be full 60 or 60-plus minute difficult games."