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."