Monday, October 23, 2017


Special teams not so special to start season; Barbashev, Blais to remain 
in AHL; Kostin, Bouwmeester updates; schedule gets stretch of home games

HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- The Blues opened the season on a nice run despite missing some valuable members of their lineup, winning six of their first nine games (6-2-1) and picking up 13 of a possible 18 points.

But with the special teams surprisingly struggling in those games, both units were overlooked a bit before the Blues' last game in Las Vegas against the Vegas Golden Knights.

But in a game the Blues dominated most of the vital categories, including shots on goal (49-22), scoring chances, faceoff percentage (52-48), puck possession, zone time, among others, but in a 3-2 overtime loss where the Blues' special teams again failed to produce (0-for-4 on the power play, making it 0-or-17 since Oct. 12 and Vegas scored on 2 of 3 power plays, giving the opposition at least one power play goal in eight of nine games), it was arguably the first time that the specialty teams units could have made a direct impact.

"We've gone through a bad stretch and there's always ebbs and flows through the course of the year, but it does have to be a focal point for us right now," Blues coach Mike Yeo said Monday after practice at the Ice Zone. "We spent a little time on the penalty kill today and will spend some more time on the power play and penalty kill tomorrow. You look at what adjustments we need to make as coaches personnel-wise and just make sure we have the right plans coming into the games."

Through nine games, the Blues' power play ranks 24th of 31 teams at 14.3 percent compared to 20 percent last season at this time, which was 14th in the league in a season in which it finished No. 8 at 21.3 percent.

The penalty kill is ever worse at a current clip of 27th of 31 teams, or 73.7 percent. It was second in the league through nine games last season (93.9 percent) and finished third overall at 84.8 percent.

The Blues were missing left wing Alexander Steen for the first six games, and he impacts both units, and defenseman Jay Bouwmeester is part of the top penalty-killing d-pair with Alex Pietrangelo and is still out of the lineup.

But according to center Kyle Brodziak, another of the key penalty killers, personnel has nothing to do with it.

"'Bouw' is a critical part of the penalty kill and we know that," Brodziak said. "It's tough when it's right at the beginning of the year. You want everything to be feeling good. You want to get some confidence in an area. As a group, we all feel like we know what we need to do to be a successful PK, but we're just finding ways to get scored on right now. 

"We've just got to get it rolling, get through a game killing off every penalty. Then you go into the goal to kill off in that game, too. Slowly I think you'll see you can get the ball rolling. Right now, it's tough, especially where you see a game like last game. We kill one of those off, we win the game. It's unfortunate that we're going through it right now at the start of the year, but everything else, our 5-on-5 play is great, we're doing a lot of good things in a lot of areas but that's one we need to get better in."

Perhaps the Blues' success stems to its success in 5-on-5 play, something that was not up to par at this time a season ago and the special teams helped the Blues to a 5-2-2 start through nine games.

St. Louis is seventh in the league in 5-on-5 goals scored with 19 and fourth in the league allowing only 11. Part of that is the play of goalies Jake Allen and Carter Hutton, who carry a .946 save percentage in 5-on-5 situations, which is third in the league.

"You've got to be proud of the 5-on-5 effort we're putting forth on both ends of the ice," Pietrangelo said. "The thing is, they're tightening up on the penalties this year. We're going to have to make sure the special teams get going here in the long run.

"We're getting good looks on the power play, we've just got to find a way to finish. ... We're getting some good opportunities. We're two and three feet away from the net and we just can't find a way to put it in. We've just got to bear down and maybe put more pucks to the net. 

"The penalty kill needs to be better, it's as simple as that. We've got to take the momentum out of the game for the other team. We've got to stay on our toes. We're kind of been sitting back when the other team has the opportunity to set up. The more aggressive this group has been over the years, the better we are."

The Blues will spend a good portion of Tuesday's practice at Scottrade Center working on the special teams ahead of their game against the Calgary Flames Wednesday night.

"If you're looking at the power play, we're generating shots, we're generating chances," Yeo said. "We're not finishing those chances (and) our net front's not nearly good enough. Every power play scores goals and the really good power plays score goals because of shooting pucks and net front and the way they converge on the net and we're not scoring those goals right now. There's some good things there, just not enough of that mentality.

"Penalty kill-wise, every game has been a different thing. You look at the Chicago game and I thought out penalty kill was outstanding. We took too many penalties (in the third period) and next thing you know, we took a double minor at the end of the game and they scored on both of those. That was a game I felt like it was a big part of why we won that game even though giving up two goals. Next game in Colorado, it was a disaster; we weren't nearly good enough. For me, I think that sometimes when you're on the penalty kill, a couple pucks go in the net and it can kind of change the way you're playing. We have to make sure that we get back to being an aggressive unit and making sure that the fundamentals have to be there, blocking shots, having good sticks and then clearing pucks when you have an opportunity."

In the thick of it, players around the locker room feel it's a matter of time before both units are back to where they need to be.

"Those games are going to happen," Blues center Brayden Schenn said. "Stretches in the season are going to happen like that. You're not going to be 2-for-4 on the power play every game, you're not going to be 4-for-4 on the penalty kill. It's the way it goes sometimes. 

"We're not worried. We're going to work through it, hammer down on a few systems and work together. No doubt in our minds special teams will come through and work for us at the end."

* Barbashev, Blais to remain in AHL -- When the Blues assigned center Ivan Barbashev to the Chicago Wolves of the American Hockey League and wing Sammy Blais to the San Antonio Rampage, there was some thought whether it would simply be for cap-related purposes with the Blues having three full days off before their next game.

But Yeo indicated after practice Monday that both young forwards will not return to the Blues for their game against the Flames.

Veteran right wing Beau Bennett was recalled from Chicago as one replacement, and the Blues could make another corresponding move to get their roster back to the 23-man limit. 

But in the case of both Barbashev and Blais, its two young guys going back for different reasons.

Barbashev, 21, had no points in six games after coming up last season and playing well with 12 points (five goals and seven assists) in 30 regular season games and filling a vital role in the first round of the Western Conference playoffs against the Minnesota Wild while Paul Stastny was injured.

Barbashev has not played up to the potential the Blues were looking for and it's something that went all the way back to training camp.

"'Barby,' nobody's more aware and grateful for what he did last year than I," Yeo said. "He came in and did an unreal job at a time when we really needed some help. He came in and he did the job for us, both offensively but defensively, he was a guy that we can count on night in and night out. That said, we came with expectations of that level of play and at training camp, he didn't meet them, so he got off to a tough start. We tried to get him into games, we tried to get him to find that rhythm. He had a couple games where it looked like it was close, but this is a hard league for a young player to find his game in. I think it's just really important he goes down and finds his game. He's a guy, we told him on his way out, he's an important part of this team, he's a guy that we need coming in and playing at the level that he can play at because he makes us a better team when he does that."

Blais, who impressed during training camp and was a surprise cut at the time, picked up his first NHL point (an assist) in a 4-3 win at Colorado last Thursday.

But Yeo continues to preach that Blais needs to work on his game away from the puck, be more predictable to his teammates and raise the level of his skillful offensive game.

Blais played in four games in St. Louis after getting three goals and one assist in two games with the Rampage.

"Sammy, he came up his first couple games, I think it's sort of common for a young kid, a prospect like that, played off the emotion and sort of the league caught up to him a little bit," Yeo said. "He just showed he's got some other areas that he's got to work on in his game. We're very excited about his potential, obviously his skill level, but we addressed some things that we have to make sure that he works on, and there's no better place than that than the American (Hockey) League where he can go down and he can play his offensive game without the fear of making mistakes and he can sort of learn and develop the things that he needs to be an effective play at this level.

"He's an instinctive player and we have to make sure that he uses his instincts, but right now, he's playing only on instincts and what that does is it puts you in a situation where number one, your teammates can't read off you, but number two, you're putting yourself in a position where you're at the mercy of sort of what the other team gives you. You're at the mercy of waiting for a bounce. You're going to have a night where things kind of go your way; the other team might make a couple mistakes or might give you a little bit of free ice, but if that's not there, you're not going to be an effective player. ... We're not trying to get him to go down there and be a defensive specialist. It's about him doing the things that he needs to do without the puck so that he can get to his offensive game."

* Kostin update -- Blues 2017 first-round pick Klim Kostin, who started the season with the Rampage, had to be helped off the ice on Sunday following a knee-on-knee collision with the Texas Stars' Jason Dickinson.

There was no official update on Kostin, who had a goal and four assists in six games with the Rampage, including his first AHL goal and assist on Sunday.

"I haven't got word as far as the injury that he sustained, but I haven't got work that it's serious and just in talking to everyone, the reports I'm getting is that he's playing really well," Yeo said. "I saw some of the highlights, saw some of the things that he's doing down there. He's coming along."

Kostin, 18, missed most of last season in Russia with a shoulder injury, and the Blues selected the strong, gifted winger after acquiring the 31st pick in the draft from the Pittsburgh Penguins along with center Oskar Sundqvist for Ryan Reaves.

* Bouwmeester update -- Bouwmeester, who has missed all nine games with a fractured left ankle sustained during a preseason scrimmage on Sept. 17, and after the team announced the 34-year-old would be re-evaluated in three weeks, it's been five weeks and counting and Bouwmeester still hasn't taken the ice to begin his rehab.

"I talked to him when I came off the ice," Yeo said of Bouwmeester. "I would just say it's progressing slowly, but it's still progressing right now. It's running the course. He's certainly not ahead of schedule right now, but I wouldn't consider this any big setback or something that we should have done any differently. He hasn't really been able to do anything on the ice, we haven't been able to do anything. Unfortunately, it's just the nature of the injury and we have to take it a bit longer to run its course."

The Blues have received solid play from rookie Vince Dunn among the top six, and Yeo said although the Blues wouldn't rush Bouwmeester back, Dunn's play has certainly offset the veteran's loss.

"We wouldn't be able to rush him anyway," Yeo said of Bouwmeester. "Somebody would have to be in the lineup right now and I know 'Pross' (Nate Prosser) hasn't played yet but he had a real strong camp. But we didn't know if 'Dunner' was going to play one game or the full season and right now, the way that he's playing, he's deserving of staying in the lineup so it's up to him to make sure that as a young kid, obviously you can't get comfortable in feeling too good about what you've done in the past. Your next game is always your biggest challenge."

* Home cooking -- After beginning the season with seven of nine on the road, the Blues will begin a stretch of even of the next nine at Scottrade Center, where they're 2-0, and 12 of the next 17.

"We've only had two home games so far and not a whole lot throughout the exhibitions," Schenn said. "... We're looking forward to playing some games at home here and play in front of our fans."

Given the circumstances the Blues have been under with injuries and playing in some tough buildings to begin the season, to be 6-2-1 at this point is a number the team will gladly take

"Definitely we'll take that," Schenn said. "We're playing some pretty good teams, too. There's great teams all over the league but a lot of back-to-backs and stuff like that. 

"We're scoring as a team, getting goals from the defensemen. Guys are chipping in all over, so that's what you need."

"It's a tough start," Pietrangelo said. "Those are some tough games on the road."

Yeo said the idea is to continue to strive to be better and not be content with the start, despite a good one.

"I think that good teams are never satisfied and we have to keep finding ways to keep getting better and make sure that we keep pushing to make sure that we're ready because it's always about what's coming up next," Yeo said. "... All things considered, I would say that with the injuries that we've had out, with the amount of road games we've played, we're pleased with what the guys have shown us. More importantly for me, I'm pleased with how a lot of the parts of our game look. I feel that we're creating a lot of turnovers, I feel that we're playing a high-pressure game, I feel that we're playing with speed and we're executing properly. We're a dangerous team."

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