Thursday, November 30, 2017

Slow start, special teams costly for Blues in 3-2 loss to Ducks

Injury-plagued Anaheim cashes in on two 
power-play goals; Brodziak scores twice, too little, too late

ST. LOUIS -- If they were overlooking the opponent, they shouldn't have.

It hasn't been the Blues' style in the past, but it was clearly evident that they didn't take the injury-ravaged Anaheim Ducks seriously.

And in the end, despite a late push, it cost the Blues two valuable points.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Kyle Brodziak (28) looks to get the puck with Ducks defenseman Korbinian
Holzer pursuing. Brodziak scored twice in a 3-2 loss Wednesday. 

The Blues looked slow and out of sorts early, and despite the paltry numbers showing otherwise prior to Wednesday, the inept special teams reared its ugly head, especially on the penalty kill as the Ducks scored twice on it and held off the Blues 3-2 before 16,760 at Scottrade Center.

The Blues (17-7-1) remained in first place in the Western Conference with 35 points but have Winnipeg, which lost 3-2 in overtime at Colorado on Wednesday, nipping at their heels with 34 points and the defending conference champ Nashville Predators with 33. 

The Blues got two late third-period goals from Kyle Brodziak to make the score much closer than it really was, but they showed no life and no zip in the 8:10 p.m. start time against a team that was missing regulars Ryan Getzlaf, Ryan Kesler, Rickard Rakell, Brandon Montour, Patrick Eaves, Jared Boll and Ondrej Kase.

"Maybe we were looking at what they were missing," Blues coach Mike Yeo said of the Ducks. "I don’t know. Obviously we talked about it and we tried to address it. We knew after their last outing that they were going to come out hard, check hard, but we didn’t match their desperation."

Not even close.

The Ducks (11-10-4), who came in losers of four games in a row (0-3-1) and outscored 17-7, rebounded well from a 7-3 thrashing at the hands of the Chicago Blackhawks on Monday, and Yeo was adamant that they would come out with some purpose tonight.

The players never responded, especially early on.

"I don't think we got to our game at all tonight," Blues forward Alexander Steen said. "We lost the special teams battle, I thought we didn't play the way we had played previously and it bit us tonight.

"Obviously a winning team, you have to give them credit, (but) I think we shot ourselves pretty good in the foot tonight, too. Our execution early on, they get two power play goals, we don't get any, that's the deciding factor tonight."

If it wasn't a concern before, it better be quickly.

The Blues have been so good at 5-on-5 play (third in the league in goals for at 56 and third in the league in goals against at 38 for a plus-18 differential) and they're fifth in the league averaging 3.36 goals per game. But when the special teams are so poor (power play is 24th at 17.2 percent and penalty kill is even worse at 27th with a 75.9 percent), there are certain nights where this is a clear issue.

For the second game in a row, the penalty kill has allowed two goals.

"There's breakdowns," Steen said of the PK. "There's a couple tonight, it's the same thing that was our problem on the power play. Our minds were a little slow, so reading the play, we have chances when there are two guys on one side and we actually have more numbers than them on that side and have a chance to pressure and let them off the hook a little bit. There are a few pressure points and then reads on where guys are when shots are coming. It was one of those nights when plain and simple we weren't good enough."

The Blues hammered 13 shots in going 0-for-4 on the power-play Wednesday. They can live with getting quality chances and sustained zone time, unlike other times when it looks so paltry that they couldn't even gain the offensive zone. But the penalty kill has now given up at least one goal in 15 of 25 games, and three of those games, they were 1-for-1 twice and didn't have to kill a penalty in another game.

"If you’re minus-2 on special teams it’s going to cost you," Yeo said. "We made some progress last game, but we’ve got to stop the bleeding with our penalty kill. Every game is a different game, like every game the goals are going in a different way. You look at the Minnesota game (Saturday), you kill 1:45 and then you just don’t bear down at the end of the power play and they score a couple off the rush. Tonight, they were just broken plays. Whether you have a chance to clear or it’s just not bearing down in those situations … whether it’s focus, whether it’s desperation, we don’t have enough of it right now, and until that happens, obviously we’re going to be chasing."

So why are these things happening?

"I'm not exactly sure," Brodziak said. "We're getting scored on quite a bit all year basically. Early on we were getting scored on, and that might have hurt the confidence. It felt like we were starting to get it back together, but the last few games, same thing. We give up two more tonight. It's really the story of the game pretty much.

"... I think it's just we're not maybe being aggressive as a four-man unit as we have in the past. When you get scored on, I know it's tough not to do it, but maybe we're being a little hesitant and second-guessing a little bit. Power plays now are too good to be doing that against. They're going to find a way to beat you if you're hesitating or second-guessing at all.

"... A game like tonight, penalty kill could have found a way to win a game for us. Instead, we found a way to lose a game for us tonight." 

John Gibson made 37 saves, Antoine Vermette scored two goals and Kevin Roy had a goal and an assist for the Ducks.

"When you get thumped like we did the other night in Chicago, you look for a response from your group and we knew that we could play a lot better brand of hockey and we knew we could be competitive," Ducks coach Randy Carlyle said. "You can't go out and say your going to win every game, but we did not give ourselves a chance [Monday] and tonight, we gave ourselves a chance to do that to win a hockey game." 

Gibson was pulled from a 7-3 loss at the Chicago Blackhawks on Monday after allowing four goals on 22 shots.

"It's going to happen to everybody throughout the year," Gibson said. "It's part of the game."

Jake Allen made 27 saves for the Blues, who are 2-2-0 on a five-game homestand.

Vermette scored to give the Ducks a 1-0 lead at 4:17 of the first period when the puck caromed off his body after Allen got a piece of Roy's shot off a rebound.

The play went to review and confirmed the call on the ice that it was a good goal. 

The Ducks took a 3-0 lead with two power-play goals in the second period.

Roy scored with a one-timer from the right face-off circle 33 seconds into the period after Jakob Silfverberg one-touched Cam Fowler's cross-ice pass. The play was kept in the zone when Joel Edmundson lost hold of his stick, tried to throw a hand pass that was into the skates of Scottie Upshall and had another hard chance to clear but couldn't, so the puck stayed in zone.

Vermette scored his second of the night on the long rebound of a Kevin Bieksa shot from near the blue line to make it 3-0 at 3:01 after a failed clearing attempt by Jay Bouwmeester.

"We'll address it, we'll get on it and obviously we’ll look at video," Yeo said. "But for me it’s an attitude. You know what, we’re going to give up some goals. They’ve got a man-advantage for a reason and they’re going to score some goals. But if they’re going to score, I want to make sure that we’re going down swinging. And too many times I think we make it easy on them”

"... A couple of times we were caught out of position, whether it’s lack of aggression there. I think those are just not great reads. Again I think both times we had opportunities to clear the puck and we didn’t. For me, they’re broken plays. They’re not situations where they’re in an in-zone set-up. It’s not a designed play, it’s just the ability to read in a situation and recover from a situation, and I don’t think we did that well."

The penalty kill wound up 2-for-6 in the game but giving up two on the first three is unacceptable.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues defenseman Robert Bortuzzo (right) battles with Ducks center Chris
Wagner for battle of a puck Wednesday at Scottrade Center.

"After that second (goal) on the penalty kill, we had another two or three and I thought we were really good," captain Alex Pietrangelo said. "Those are something to build off, but you still can't be giving up two (penalty kill) goals a game."

Brodziak ended Gibson's shutout at 16:12 of the third period by squirting a rebound under the pad from the slot and then scored again with 16.7 seconds remaining to make it 3-2.

But ... 

"We were too little, too late tonight," Brodziak said. "... We weren't quick enough right through the lineup, not making plays, not executing quick enough to get to their end. When you play against a team like that and they're structured, they do a good job, you've got to execute, you've got to be quick and you've got to find a way to get it in their zone. We just had too much troubles with that the first half of the game."

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

(11-29-17) Ducks-Blues Gameday Lineup

ST. LOUIS -- The Big Swede is back.

Center Patrik Berglund returns to the lineup for the Blues (17-6-1) on Wednesday when they play host to the battered and bruised Anaheim Ducks (10-10-4) on Wednesday (8 p.m.; FS-MW, KMOX 1120-AM).

Berglund, who had a career-high 23 goals last season, returns after missing the first 24 games of the season because of a dislocated left shoulder sustained during off-season training in his native Sweden.

"I'm going to play. I'm very excited," Berglund said. "I've been feeling good for a while now. We decided that today would be the first game and I think two good practices Monday and Tuesday and here we are now. It feels as good as it can be right now.

"Yeah, a little bit (of butterflies) I'd say. It's been a long road up to this day. I'm excited to be back and I'm excited to try and help out the team as good as I can."

Berglund will return to the lineup and center the third line with Dmitrij Jaskin and Sammy Blais.

"Happy to get 'Bergy' back. It's been a long time," Blues coach Mike Yeo said. "Like we said with 'Bouw,' he's not gonna step in and be on top of his game. But we're gonna do everything we can to get him there quickly.

"That third line's done a really nice job for us all year. They've checked hard, they've been responsible defensively. And I feel as of late they've been generating more offensive zone time. And more pressure. Obviously, 'Bergy' has the ability to create offense. We don't lose the checking aspect, and the identity of the line, but I think he gives us a little bit more of a threat. And so certainly secondary scoring is very important in the NHL and he provides us with that."

Both Blais and Jaskin are glad to have the 29-year-old Berglund back. It will be Blais' first opportunity to play with Berglund.

"He's a big part of this team," Blais said. "Last year, he had a very good season and I'm happy and glad that he's back. He's going to help us to win hockey games."

"It's exciting. It's been a long time for him," Jaskin said. "Obviously physicality. Some puck possession. He's good on the puck and heavy. So hopefully it'll work out.

"We just focus on our game and trying to help him out as much as we can. Obviously, he will get tired at some point tonight. It's not gonna be easy, but I'm sure his preparation has been good and it's been long, so I think he's ready. I'm just happy for him."

Berglund comes in and Oskar Sundqvist will come out of the lineup and be a healthy scratch. Also, with Berglund's return, veteran defenseman Nate Prosser was placed on waivers since the Blues were carrying 24 players and have to trim one off the roster when Berglund was activated off injured-reserve.

"It's tough for me," Yeo said. "I've been with 'Pross' since we both started in Houston (of the American Hockey League) together. So I love the kid. He's a phenomenal personality and a great player. But obviously we've got a large number of quality defensemen here and couldn't keep 'em all."

Prosser could very well be re-claimed by the Minnesota Wild, who claimed Prosser off waivers when the Blues had him for a cup of coffee in 2014. The Wild placed Kyle Quincey on waivers and are in dire need of a right-handed defenseman.

Prosser played in one game for the Blues after signing a two-year, two-way contract in August.

"He comes to the rink with a smile on his face every day regardless of his own situation," Yeo said of Prosser. "So ultimate team guy. Obviously he only played the one game for us but it was never because we didn't have confidence in him. It was just a matter of the other guys were doing such a good job."

- - -

Former Blues left wing and recent Hall of Fame inductee Paul Kariya is in town and will drop the ceremonial first puck tonight before the game.

Kariya, who retired after his third and final season with the Blues following the 2009-10 season, played 15 seasons in the NHL, the first nine with the Ducks, has been out of hockey since his early retirement due to history with concussions.

Read more on Kariya later and what he has been up to, his desire if he'd ever return to the NHL in some form and what the past seven years of his life have entailed. 

- - -

The Blues have won four of five and 11 of the past 15; they've scored four or more goals in five of the past six games.

The line of Brayden Schenn, Jaden Schwartz and Vladimir Tarasenko has combined for 48 points (18 goals, 30 assists) the past 10 games.

The Ducks will be without defenseman Brandon Montour, who hyper-extended his elbow Monday in a 7-3 loss to Chicago. He joins six others out due to injury.

Anaheim is playing the third of a six-game trip and is 0-3-1 the past four games. The Ducks have been outscored 17-7 during their losing streak.

So what does Ducks coach Randy Carlyle see in the Blues?

"Lots of confidence," he said. "They've got three lines that are really cooking for them. They're getting contributions from different people and they've got a big, mobile defense. They're a hard team to play against. Their tenacity is demonstrated, their eagerness on the puck, that's what I see."

- - -

The Blues' projected lineup:

Vladimir Sobotka-Paul Stastny-Alexander Steen

Jaden Schwartz-Brayden Schenn-Vladimir Tarasenko

Dmitrij Jaskin-Patrik Berglund-Sammy Blais 

Scottie Upshall-Kyle Brodziak-Chris Thorburn

Jay Bouwmeester-Alex Pietrangelo

Joel Edmundson-Colton Parayko

Vince Dunn-Robert Bortuzzo

Jake Allen will get the start in goal; Carter Hutton will be the backup.

Healthy scratches include Carl Gunnarsson, Magnus Paajarvi and Oskar Sundqvist. Zach Sanford (shoulder) is out indefinitely and Robby Fabbri (knee) is out for the season.

- - -

The Ducks' projected lineup:

Nick Ritchie-Derek Grant-Corey Perry

Andrew Cogliano-Chris Wagner-Jakob Silfverberg

Logan Shaw-Antoine Vermette-Kevin Roy 

Mike Liambas-Kalle Kossila-Dennis Rasmussen

Cam Fowler-Kevin Bieksa

Francois Beauchemin-Sami Vatanen

Hampus Lindholm-Josh Manson

John Gibson will start in goal; Ryan Miller will be the backup.

The healthy scratch includes Korbinian Holzer. Jared Boll (lower body), Patrick Eaves (illness), Ryan Getzlaf (face), Ondrej Kase (upper body), Ryan Kesler (hip surgery), Rickard Rakell (upper body) and Brandon Montour (elbow) make seven players out due to injury.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

All signs point to Berglund return Wednesday

Center took part in another full practice, centered third line 
between Jaskin, Blais; forward sidelined with dislocated left shoulder

ST. LOUIS -- Another full day of Patrik Berglund practicing with the full group indicates that the big center iceman is ready to return to the lineup.

And that time it looking more and more likely to be Wednesday against the Anaheim Ducks.

Berglund, who's missed the entire season thus far after dislocating his left shoulder during an offseason training session, was part of the group centering the third line between Dmitrij Jaskin and Sammy Blais.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Center Patrik Berglund (21) is looking more and more likely to make his
season debut Wednesday against the Anaheim Ducks.

The Blues will officially make their decision after the morning skate, then have a roster decision to make.

With 24 players all on the cusp of being healthy, someone will either A) be placed on waivers for the purpose of assigning them to the American Hockey League or B) being optioned outright to the AHL.

"He looked good," Blues coach Mike Yeo said of Berglund before half-jokingly ask, "What did he say to you guys?

"He looked good so we'll re-evaluate in the morning, but we feel pretty confident that he's ready to go here. We'll make the decision tomorrow."

The Blues (17-6-1) will play the fourth of a five-game homestand on Wednesday and there was some talk that the target was Dec. 1 against the Los Angeles Kings as a potential return, a full two weeks ahead of the initial re-evaluation time.

"We're happy with where 'Bergy's at," Yeo said. "He's not going to be there yet. He's a big body that it's going to take him a little while for sure, but I know that getting him right off the hop, we're going to give him a chance to get him and his game going quickly.

"He's a great personality and a great teammate. He's a guy that shows up to the rink and has a great attitude. He's a competitor, but it could be his size on one night and it could be his puck protection and offensive zone another night, could be his penalty killing, his defensive play another night. He adds a lot to our group and obviously you add a quality player like that, it makes your group stronger."

With Berglund's possible return, Oskar Sundqvist looks to be the odd-man out.

Sundqvist, who has three assists in 22 games after being acquired from the Pittsburgh Penguins in a draft-day trade on June 23, has anchored the third line with the Blues dealing with early-season injuries.

"We have options there," Yeo said. "We know 'Brodzy' [Kyle Brodziak] can play the right. too. 

"I spoke with 'Sunny' today and I feel like that there is more push in his offensive game, I feel like he's taken his game to another level. I know he only has the three points, but his line gets much more sustained offensive zone play time. I think that 'Jasky' has elevated his play and all of the sudden, he's starting to get some points and I think Sunny has been a part of that as well even though he's not faring in on the scoresheet. I think we'd all agree and he would agree that there's another level there, but he's a young player with very little experience in the NHL and I think what we're seeing is progress from him. 'Bergy' comes in tomorrow, if that's the case, then 'Sunny' will find himself out, but he won't be out for long."

Berglund is a versatile forward who can play the center ice position or the wing, but Yeo is sticking -- at least for the time being -- to Berglund playing down the middle.

"We talked about it. We have options going forward here," Yeo said. "I really liked him as a center iceman last year and I've seen him on the wing and he does a great job there, too, but I thought that he did a helluva job for us last year in the middle of the ice. It's really hard to play against a guy like that with skating ability, range and strength."

Monday, November 27, 2017

Berglund could return this week

Out since dislocating left shoulder in off-season, 
center could rejoin lineup as early as Wednesday

ST. LOUIS -- The Big Swede is on the cusp of rejoining the Blues lineup.

Center Patrik Berglund could rejoin the Blues' lineup, perhaps as early as Wednesday when the 17-6-1 Blues host the Anaheim Ducks.

Berglund, who dislocated his left shoulder while pulling a training sled in the off-season in his native Sweden, has been skating for weeks with the team, including morning skates. But on Monday, coach Mike Yeo finally put Berglund on a line, centering the third line flanked by wingers Dmitrij Jaskin and Sammy Blais.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues center Patrik Berglund could rejoin the Blues lineup this week.

When asked if he could play Wednesday, Berglund said: "We'll see. Yeah, maybe, maybe not. We'll see. I don't know yet what the plan is. I'm just trying to get in shape and work on my conditioning and strength and try to really get in there and get used to the competition again, so we'll see.

"It's just get used to competing again on a high level. I've been skating a whole lot for a long time. It's nothing like it to get out there and compete again. I've got to still work on that and see when I'm ready."

Berglund, who had a career-high 23 goals last season, would be a welcomed addition to a line that has sorely needed some offense.

"I thought that he had another good day," Yeo said of Berglund. "He's showing a lot of the qualities that we love to see in him, and that's obviously the big frame and the skating ability. It's going to take him a little time timing-wise, but what I like is that we had an opportunity to put him on a line to get full reps and to get involved.

"He's got to get out there and medically, we feel confident obviously to put him out there that the shoulder's ready. Now it's just a matter of building that confidence in it and building up the conditioning and the timing part of it so that he feels he can come in and contribute the way we want him to."

The initial time frame for Berglund was a re-evaluation in mid-December and go from there, but obviously, that's been moved up by the positive progress.

If Berglund doesn't play Wednesday, there was some talk last week that a target date could come on Dec. 1, which is Friday against the Los Angeles Kings.

"Yeah, I would say there's a chance," Yeo said. "The first step is we have to get through these first couple practices here first. Tomorrow, we'll put him on a line so that he's getting full reps and the linemates and the feel that he would need to feel confident coming into the game.

"He's a heck of a player. He was a real strong player for us last year, he's done it year after year for us. I think he contributes to the identity of our team, which makes us a hard team to play against. He does it on both sides of the puck. He's got a physical element to him. He's got size, but he's also got speed and ability to carry the puck through the middle of the ice, play in the offensive zone. He's the kind of player that helps you get to your game."

Berglund's teammates agree.

"It's always good to have a guy with that kind of impact back into the lineup," captain Alex Pietrangelo said. "He looks fresh, he looks excited, he's got a jump in his step and he's hard to handle, at least in practice. Any time you can have a centerman that can come in and play the way he does, it's going to be a good addition."

Getting Berglund in on a line combination was almost the final step of feeling like part of the group again, along with the contact drills to really test the shoulder. 

"I feel like no one was going easy on me out there today and I don't want them to either," Berglund said. "I want to feel that competitive standard and see where I am at and how strong I am on the boards and so on. I think it's the last step right before you feel confident to go out there and play a game. It's moving along and it's all good so far."

In 637 NHL games over nine seasons, Berglund has 296 points (151 goals, 145 assists).

* NOTES -- Blues center Brayden Schenn was a noticeable absentee from practice today. Schenn was walking around the locker room Monday and appeared to be OK.

"'Schenner's going to be OK," Yeo said. "We just kept him off today."

In practice Monday, Oskar Sundqvist was skating in Schenn's spot between Jaden Schwartz and Vladimir Tarasenko.

Also, wing Magnus Paajarvi, who took a puck off his foot in a 2-0 loss to the Nashville Predators on Friday that forced him to miss Saturday's 6-3 win over the Minnesota Wild, was back on the ice Monday.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Blues get back on saddle, double up Wild 6-3

Special teams comes up with three power-play goals, a shorthanded tally; St. 
Louis wins 12th straight on second of back-to-backs after loss to Nashville

ST. LOUIS -- There's something about this Blues group that has a penchant for parking a loss.

And when it comes on the second of back-to-back games, whether they won or lost the previous night, count on it as money in the bank on the second night.

The Blues kept the trend alive, and they did it doing the things they failed to do Friday night against the Nashville Predators.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues right wing Sammy Blais gets congratulated by teammates after he
scored his first NHL goal in a 6-3 win over the Minnesota Wild Saturday.

The Blues got to the dirty areas, they caused havoc around Minnesota Wild goalie Devan Dubnyk, they got their special teams to be effective and unlike Friday, the Blues came out with a purpose in the first period Saturday against the Wild in a 6-3 victory at Scottrade Center.

The Blues (17-6-1), who bounced back from a 2-0 loss to the Predators on Friday, scored multiple power-play goals for the first time since Oct. 25 against the Calgary Flames after going 3-for-8 on Saturday. They were 5-for-38 the previous 13 games.

It's also the first time the Blues have scored three power-play goals and a shorthanded goal in a game since Nov. 11, 2014 vs. the Buffalo Sabres.

"Some big goals," Blues coach Mike Yeo said. "Timely goals for sure. That's nice."

"We had a lot of chances," said Blues left wing Jaden Schwartz, who scored twice. "A couple of them didn't go as planned, but I thought we did a better job of just executing. I thought coming through the neutral zone, we were better, faceoffs were better and just getting pucks to the net. Our goals weren't pretty, but little plays in tight and I think when you're moving the puck, you feel it. I think your confidence gets a little bit better and getting some goals today can hopefully carry over."

Sammy Blais scored his first NHL goal, and Paul Stastny, Dmitrij Jaskin and Kyle Brodziak scored for St. Louis (17-6-1), which lost to the Nashville Predators 2-0 on Friday.

Alexander Steen, Colton Parayko and Vladimir Tarasenko each had two assists for the Blues, and Jake Allen made 22 saves.

St. Louis has won 12 straight in the second of back-to-back games, including four this season.

"I didn't know that," Schwartz said. "Good off-season training maybe. Guys are in good shape. 

"I think with just the performance we had on Friday, when you don't play your best, you come back hungry. You obviously don't want to lose two in a row at home on the weekend."

Stastny gave St. Louis a 1-0 lead with a power-play goal at 6:15 of the first period, tipping Vladimir Sobotka's pass. Jaskin made it 2-0 at 11:09 after a Kyle Quincey turnover caromed to the slot.

In an effort to halthe momentum, former Blue Chris Stewart and Chris Thorburn dropped the gloves after the faceoff in a spirited fight that lasted 1:12 from the time they dropped the gloves to the time the linesmen separated them.

"Yeah, yeah, me and 'Stewy' have had some fights in the past," Thorburn said. "He’s been super honest with me. He’s just a tough kid and it was a good fight, so kudos to him. He actually let me up there halfway through the fight, which is awesome. He’s done stuff like that in the past for me. I definitely remember stuff like that."

It didn't work on Minnesota's part because Schwartz made it 3-0 at 16:54 by deflecting  Vladimir Tarasenko's pass in front.

It was the perfect period, which included some 10-bell saves from Allen, whose most significant stops came on back-to-back stops on Tyler Ennis and Zack Mitchell right before the Jaskin goal.

"Yeah, I got a couple there, a little breakaway and then a rebound and then we went down and scored," Allen said. "I think if I didn’t make those saves, that goal wouldn’t have happened and it could have changed the game.

"... I thought we came out strong. I don't think we were too happy wth our start [Friday] night and I think we wanted to come back and take that out. Both teams are playing on a back-to-back, a little less juice, but obviously I thought we started strong in the first period."

The Blues' start was exactly what they were looking for and forced the Wild to chase a game.

"Right off the hop, we turned a few pucks over," Yeo said. "That's a team, they pressure hard, they've got speed and they've got good sticks. Aside from that, I thought when we had opportunities, we were sharp in our game and sharp in our execution and able to capitalize on them.

"We did a better job of hanging onto the puck and allowing us to get ourselves in better position. When you do that, when you have that kind of sustained zone time, that's when things start to open up and that's what we saw on a couple of those goals."

Blais' giveaway gave Charlie Coyle a shorthanded opportunity, and he beat Allen at 15:02 of the second period to make it 3-1.

It was a uh-oh hiccup by a young guy who could have sulked and seen his confidence level drop to the ice. And in many circumstances, a coach would remove such young player because of a costly mistake. But Yeo, who said Saturday morning that he wouldn't hide Blais if mistakes are made, didn't hide him. 

In fact, Yeo got him right back out the next shift.

"He made a mistake," Yeo said. "Everybody makes mistakes and that's a mistake where you're still learning the league and understanding how good players are here. Not just how good they are with the skill and the things they can do, how good their sticks are and how quickly they can get on you. It was a mistake that he made, but we kept him out there on that next shift, he had a great shift, and I'm really happy for him to get that goal. I thought he played a real strong game tonight, not just that goal, that mistake aside, I thought he was very effective."

Blais appreciated the vote of confidence from his coach.

"Mistakes are going to happen, this is not the first one," Blais said. "The coach told me to forget it and to just go play out there." 

Brodziak scored a shorthanded goal at 2:09 of the third period to make it 4-1, but Zack Mitchell scored on the power play at 3:31 to make it 4-2.

Eric Staal's power-play goal, Minnesota's 10th in the past 21 attempts, at 8:52 made it 4-3 got got the locals nervous, but Schwartz's second of the game made it 5-3 at 11:36 after Colton Parayko intercepted Matt Dumba's clearing attempt.

It was a goal each for Rick and Carol Schwartz, Jaden's parents, who are in town visiting their son.

"It's really nice having them here," Schwartz said of his parents. "They love visiting. They're here for a week, they made some good meals and I tried to reward them with a couple goals.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues goalie Jake Allen and Kyle Brodziak (middle) congratulate with 
teammates after a 6-3 victory over Minnesota on Saturday at home.

"Yeah, it was a really good pass by [Parayko]. Good forecheck by the forwards allowed Colton to stay in. He made a great play. I had quite a bit of time to make a move there. That doesn't happen without the other guys. Kind of just instinct. There was a battle going on in the corner. My first thought was shoot, but I didn't like where the puck was, so I just decided to grab it, hold onto it and try to outwait the goalie."

Finally, Blais scored St. Louis' third power-play goal at 14:12 to make it 6-3 off a feed from Steen that set up a one-timer from the left circle and helped forget about the error earlier in the game.

"It's nice to have my first goal in a win," Blais said. "... I played my game. I was good on the forecheck, I finished my hits and it's nice to have a goal at the end. I'm just going to try to keep going like that."

Saturday, November 25, 2017

(11-25-17) Wild-Blues Gameday Lineup

ST. LOUIS -- Sammy Blais will play on Saturday when the Blues (16-6-1) host the Minnesota Wild (11-8-3) in the second of back-to-back games for both teams.

Blais, who has an assist in four NHL games this season, will replace Magnus Paajarvi, the Game 5 hero of last spring's first round postseason series with the Wild who coach Mike Yeo said took a puck off the foot in a 2-0 loss to the Nashville Predators on Friday.

"He took a puck off the foot, but we expect him to be fine," Yeo said of Paajarvi. 

Blais, who had a really strong training camp, made his NHL debut on Oct. 14 against the Tampa Bay Lightning and will be inserted onto a line -- initially -- with Oskar Sundqvist and Dmitrij Jaskin

Blais was recalled from the San Antonio Rampage of the American Hockey League on Thursday.

"We didn't have a plan," Yeo said of when Blais would play. "We wanted to make sure he was here in case we felt that somebody needed to come out or if somebody needed to come out based on injury and so obviously we made that decision.

"We talked about it after the game [Friday] and felt that it would be a good time to get him in."

The knack on Blais, though, has been his play away from the puck and Yeo wants him to be more predictable to his linemates.

"That's what's preventing him from being an every day player," Yeo said. "It doesn't mean that it's not going to happen. He's got life-long habits that need to be changed. We want to see his creativity, we want to see his instincts with the puck, but our success this year is because we play as a five-man unit. We've got to make sure that guys are fitting into that. We're also just not going to bury him if he makes a mistake. We want to make sure that we keep developing him in the right way. We don't want him to be a good player, we want him to be a great player."

As for Blais' other elements and if they've gotten better with time?

"It's tough to say," Yeo said. "Obviously, they're going to have a different system down there (in San Antonio). What we talked about with him is we know what he can do offensively. He's a guy that can make plays, he's a guy that be sneaky-competitive, can win battles, moves his feet and execute and either shoot pucks or create shots by his passing ability. What he needs to do is his play without the puck. He has to be easier to read off of from his teammates. If you're not making the players on the ice that you're playing with better, if it's too difficult for them to know where you're going, then obviously there's a lot of times when you're in between and in between is death in this league. That's what we've been talking to him about and that's what we're hoping to see some improvement and talking with him and talking to people that have been watching him, then yes, he's definitely had a strong focus there."

- - -

Yeo had one distinct takeaway after Friday night's loss.

"Our execution was very poor all night," he said. "That's a team that they've got guys that defend hard and heavy down low and I thought we as opposed to fighting through that hard checking style, we skated away from it, and when you do that, you end up either high in the zone or on the outside. We had odd-man rushes where we had a chance to shoot the puck and we're missing the net. We have an odd-man rush where we have a chance to make a pass and we're putting it in somebody's feet and odd-man rushes where you just end up flat-out just losing the puck. We've got to be sharper there."

One particular area is a porous power play that's been inconsistent all season and ranks 27th in the NHL at 16 percent. It was 0-for-3 on Friday with two shots and little momentum generated.

Since scoring two power-play goals against the Calgary Flames on Oct. 25, the Blues are 5-for-38 in the past 13 games.

So what would Yeo like to see?

"Goals," he said. "Obviously momentum, that's the biggest thing. Our breakouts and our entries, just way to slow and I think that our in-zone matched that, too."

Nashville played a diamond formation near the blue line and made life miserable for the Blues, who didn't help themselves with poor execution.

"I think teams always want to try to stack the line and prevent clean entries, but if you're making right decisions at the line, if you have speed, then there's no defense for that," Yeo said. "You're either going to gain with possession or you're going to have to put it in, but with that speed, you're going to be able to get it back. I think that we were just too slow and that's just too easy to defend."

- - -

Blues goaltender Jake Allen, who will start Saturday, will face the Wild for the first time since the Western Conference First Round series last season, won by the Blues in five games. Allen was 4-1 with a 1.48 goals-against average and .956 save percentage.

The Blues will have to be mindful of Wild left wing Nino Niederreiter, who has scored in six straight games and has seven in all during the streak.

Blues center Brayden Schenn saw his career-best eight-game point streak stopped but still has 19 points (seven goals, 12 assists) the past nine games.

Blues defenseman Carl Gunnarsson will be a healthy scratch for the third straight game.

The Blues are 18-2 in the previous 20 games in the second of back-to-back games, including 11 wins in a row.

- - -

The Blues' projected lineup:

Vladimir Sobotka-Paul Stastny-Alexander Steen

Jaden Schwartz-Brayden Schenn-Vladimir Tarasenko

Dmitrij Jaskin-Oskar Sundqvist-Sammy Blais

Scottie Upshall-Kyle Brodziak-Chris Thorburn

Joel Edmundson-Alex Pietrangelo

Jay Bouwmeester-Colton Parayko

Vince Dunn-Robert Bortuzzo

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

Healthy scratches include Carl Gunnarsson and Nate Prosser. Patrik Berglund (shoulder) is day-to-day, Zach Sanford (shoulder) is out indefinitely, Magnus Paajarvi (foot) is day-to-day and Robby Fabbri (knee) is out for the season.

- - -

The Wild's projected lineup:

Jason Zucker-Eric Staal-Charlie Coyle

Nino Niederreiter-Mikko Koivu-Mikael Granlund

Daniel Winnik-Zack Mitchell-Chris Stewart

Marcus Foligno-Matt Cullen-Tyler Ennis

Ryan Suter-Jared Spurgeon

Jonas Brodin-Matt Dumba

Kyle Quincey-Gustav Olofsson

Devan Dubnyk will start in goal; Alex Stalock will be the backup.

The healthy scratch is Mike Reilly. Zach Parise (back) is out indefinitely.

Friday, November 24, 2017

Predators blank Blues 2-0

Nashville wins initial showdown of Central 
Division giants; Hutton strong in goal despite loss

ST. LOUIS -- The game set up as a showdown for the Blues, one in which the Blues and Nashville Predators were using as a measuring stick.

But in a rematch of their Western Conference Second Round series from a season ago, one in which the Predators won in six games.

And much like their game on Nov. 1 against the Philadelphia Flyers, the Blues couldn't solve the guy between the pipes at the other end, and the Predators got the best of it Friday night in a 2-0 victory before 19,033 at Scottrade Center.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues goalie Carter Hutton (left) makes one of his 26 saves on Friday in a
2-0 loss to the Nashville Predators.

Pekka Rinne made 34 saves, and Ryan Johansen's goal early in the first period was enough to thwart the Blues (16-6-1), who were listless in the opening 20 minutes before making a push over the final two periods, only to have the Predators (14-6-2), winners of four in a row and nine of 10, go into a bit of a prevent-defense style in front of Rinne to iron out a gritty road win to pull within three points of the Blues (33-30).

The Blues, who were outshot 12-6 in the first period, had no zip, no moxie, they were fumbling over pucks, fumbling over their skates, falling to the ice, mismanaging pucks on what looked like a poor ice surface before giving off some pushback in the second and third periods.

And even when they were able to get some sustained zone time, they mismanaged pucks in the offensive zone, didn't get much space between the dots and made life fairly easy for Rinne, who surpassed Miikka Kiprusoff for most shutouts in the NHL by Finnish-born goalies (45).

"I think execution was a problem all night," said Blues coach Mike Yeo, whose club turn right back around to face the Minnesota Wild here Saturday night. "We had open guys and whether we didn't see 'em or didn't hit 'em, I think that that was evident. And it showed up not just in the passing. You see some opportunities where we're missing the net.

"You see some times when we have an opportunity to get in on the forecheck and we're dumping it to the goalie. Those are the little things, the execution plays that I felt we weren't sharp enough with to try to create some offense against a team like that."

The Blues' red-hot line of Jaden Schwartz, Brayden Schenn and Vladimir Tarasenko, who accounted for 54 points the past 13 games, were held in check, but so were the rest of their teammates.

"I don't think we got to the net tonight, there was a lot of perimeter stuff," said Blues goalie Carter Hutton, who made 26 saves on 27 shots and lowered his goals-against average to 1.59 and has a save percentage of .946 on the season after his record fell to 4-1-0. 

"[Rinne's] a pretty elite goalie and I think he kills a lot of plays with his stick and his glove. He's pretty good at puck control. We rim pucks and he gets pucks and they're out of the zone. It wasn't that gritty effort we need against a team like that. We put up a bunch of goals last game, maybe we think it's going to be easier. I don't know. We stepped our game up after the first period, and I thought we had chances but it's the heart of the Central Division is a lot tougher."

The Blues fell behind 1-0 just 2 minutes, 32 seconds into the game when Ryan Johansen's snipe from the right circle beat Hutton high, stick side after the Predators were able to get their top line out against the Oskar Sundqvist line with Magnus Paajarvi and Dmitrij Jaskin. 

It was Jaskin who's icing of the puck led to the defensive zone draw and the match that the Predators wanted.

"I saw it, but it's pretty much a perfect shot," Hutton said. "Obviously you want to save everyone. It's a little pop play that we know they like to do. We're worried about that F3 there and we lose coverage and he takes a slapshot, I don't even know if it made it to the back of the net, just bar down. Guys score good goals, it's a good league."

From there, it was looking to pounce on Blues mistakes and try to create odd-man rushes. And the Blues' ineptitude on the power play again (they were 0-for-3 with two shots) reared its ugly head.

“We didn’t get in the zone," Blues captain Alex Pietrangelo said. "We didn’t have any pressure.

"They stand up and we have to get in behind them and we didn’t. We just kind of played into their hands."

Playing into the Predators' hands was pretty much the theme of the night. 

"We knew it was going to be a good game," Pietrangelo said. "Both teams are playing well. They’re trying to catch us obviously. It was a good test for us and tomorrow (against Minnesota) will be the same.

"We had some chances, you’ve just got to find a way to score. When you don’t score you can’t win. 'Hutts' played well and its frustrating we don’t’ get any especially when we had the power play opportunities.

"... It’s tough to make plays and the ice didn’t help. I think we could have simplified especially when the ice got as bad as it was. I think we just kind of played into their hands, but when we got it in I thought we had some good chances."

The Blues' offense was so anemic, they were utilizing their fourth line with Kyle Brodziak, Chris Thorburn and Scottie Upshall, who had good shifts throughout the game.

"I liked their game," Yeo said. "They did what we needed them to do. I thought they brought momentum for us, I thought they got to the offensive zone, generated some zone time. You've gotta win battles and you've gotta find a way to separate guys from pucks, and I thought they did that tonight."

"We had some looks, but I don’t know," Thorburn said. "It seemed like we were going quite a bit. It was great, getting into the flow of the game. We had a couple of looks. I wish a couple could have went (in), or at least one of them, but unfortunately the didn’t."
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues left wing Scottie Upshall (9) gives chase to Predators defenseman
Roman Josi during action Friday at Scottrade Center.

The Blues tried to make their push in the third, but like the Flyers game, allowed an empty-net goal to Austin Watson with 47.5 seconds remaining.

"We'll have a quick conversation in the morning," Yeo said. "Whether we look at a little video or not, it's on us. We know that. But the most important thing for me is that we bounce back.

"I think that second and third period, we were probably the better team. We got off to a slow start and we gave up one goal besides the empty-netter. Gave ourselves a chance to win, but we weren't sharp enough. Obviously, you don't score a goal. We gotta be better than that."

(11-24-17) Predators-Blues Gameday Lineup

ST. LOUIS -- With two crucial Central Division games on hand for back-to-back nights, the Blues have the luxury of turning to not only one goaltender, but two.

They will do so tonight when Carter Hutton gets the start against his former team when the Blues (16-5-1) entertain the Nashville Predators (13-6-2) at 7 p.m. (FS-MW, KMOX 1120-AM).

The Blues, first in the Western Conference with 33 points, will also host the Minnesota Wild on Saturday and Jake Allen will get the cage for that one.

It'll be the two teams the Blues faced in the Stanley Cup Playoffs last season.

Hutton, who spent three seasons with the Predators from 2013-16, is 4-0-0 on the season with a 1.71 goals-against average and .943 save percentage; he's 0-1-0 with a 2.79 GAA and .897 save percentage in three games against Nashville.

"They've got a good team, obviously knocked us out of the playoffs," Hutton said. "We're playing well, they're playing well. It should be a big divisional battle for sure."

It will be Hutton's first game since relieving Allen on Nov. 11 against the New York Islanders and first start since Nov. 9 against the Arizona Coyotes.

"Obviously it's nice to just play," Hutton said. "I'm excited to play. I try to bring as much juice as I can every night. Obviously playing a team like that and getting another start at home is great. We've got a big weekend here and a lot of big games coming up, divisional battles."

Blues coach Mike Yeo factored in the the time to get Hutton a game, perhaps some extra motivation playing his former team and Allen's success against Minnesota in the playoffs last season as reasons for the split.

"For sure. This was targeted, the back-to-back nights, a team he's familiar with, a player always has some extra motivation playing against a former team," Yeo said. "We've got to factor in what's best for Jake, and I think maybe an extra day between games for Jake and then he can come back and play against Minnesota, a team that he's had strong performances against. That was our thought process here.

"Both guys have played well. We certainly, it would be a different story, we'd have to spend a lot more about it if 'Hutts' wasn't on top of his game or he hadn't played well for us, we didn't have confidence in him. That's clearly not the case."

- - - 

After being sent home from practice because of didn't feel well Thursday, Patrik Berglund was back on the ice moving closer towards a return to the lineup.

"It feels good. It's getting closer and closer every day," Berglund said. "Still, it's a process and we'll see when I'm ready to compete and play."

Berglund is involved in all facets of preparation these days, including conditioning, all on-ice related activities including contract drills.

"Mostly getting stronger in the gym, too, keep getting some strength back and all that so I really feel comfortable when I start playing," Berglund said. "I've been skating for a while now. I think strength-wise is the biggest part now.

"(Contact) has been feeling pretty good. It's hard for the guys to play you really hard in practice. That will never happen until you really are competing in the games. Protecting the puck, getting pushed on and so on, it feels pretty good. Everything is moving along good."

Berglund will be a welcomed addition to the roster, especially on the third line where the Blues can use some scoring pop.

"Maybe I've been ready for a month, but they just don't want to put me in because there's no spots," Berglund joked, regarding the team's strong start. "It's been amazing to see how good they're playing (and) competing, after a bad game how they've bounced back, too. They're really rolling and it's great to see."

Dec. 1 against the Los Angeles Kings could be the projected game for Berglund's return if things continue to progress in the right direction.

- - -

Tonight's matchup will be the first since the Predators eliminated the Blues in the Western Conference Second Round last season in six games. But with a new season on hand, both sides have much respect for one another.

"Right now, they're the tops in the West and one of the top teams in the National Hockey League, so it's a great challenge for us coming in here," Predators coach Peter Laviolette said. "It should be a good game. The games last year were always competitive. For the most part, every game that was played was about the battles and winning the battles."

If it wasn't hyped up before, perhaps P.K. Subban offered fuel to the rivalry.

"Personally, I don't like playing these guys," Subban said. "I don't like them very much, but they're a really good team and you've got to respect the way they play. 

"... You know what, it's going to be a physical game, it's going to be competitive, high energy. I wouldn't expect anything less. You really have two really good teams in the league going at it that are playing well. ... I definitely want to walk out of here with two points tonight, that's for sure."

The Blues will have to be mindful of Nashville's power play, which is third in the league at 25.3 percent and is 6-for-11 the past three games.

"Their special teams have been very good lately, that's going to be a big factor in the game tonight," Yeo said. "That was a big factor in the playoffs last year. Getting through the neutral zone is always going to be a challenge, whether it's their neutral zone forecheck, the rush, your rush opportunities, the rush against, they always have numbers back, they always have skating D-men that hold good gaps, so you don't generate a lot of rush opportunities. 

"You've got to find a way to get pucks in on the forecheck and create in the offensive zone and even when you did get there, they get on you quickly. They swarm you pretty good, how we beat guys to the net, how we shoot, how we recover pucks and try to create off the shot, that's going to be a focal point tonight."

- - -

Blues center Brayden Schenn is on a career-high eight-game point streak (seven goals, 12 assists); he has two four-point games during the streak, something Schenn never accomplished in the 447 NHL games prior to the streak.

Since they first played together as a line on Oct. 25, Jaden Schwartz, Schenn and Vladimir Tarasenko have combined for 54 points (18 goals, 36 assists) in 13 games.

Schwartz has nine points (two goals, seven assists) during a five-game point streak.

Tarasenko has 12 points (six goals, six assists) the past eight games.

Forward Sammy Blais, recalled from San Antonio of the American Hockey League on Thursday who made the trek to St. Louis from San Jose, where the Rampage played Wednesday, on Thanksgiving, was on the ice but will not play. He could get into the lineup Saturday against the Wild.

- - -

The Blues' projected lineup:

Vladimir Sobotka-Paul Stastny-Alexander Steen

Jaden Schwartz-Brayden Schenn-Vladimir Tarasenko

Dmitrij Jaskin-Oskar Sundqvist-Magnus Paajarvi

Scottie Upshall-Kyle Brodziak-Chris Thorburn

Joel Edmundson-Alex Pietrangelo

Jay Bouwmeester-Colton Parayko

Vince Dunn-Robert Bortuzzo

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

Healthy scratches include Carl Gunnarsson, Nate Prosser and Sammy Blais. Patrik Berglund (shoulder) is close to returning; Zach Sanford (shoulder) is out indefinitely and Robby Fabbri (knee) is out for the season.

- - -

The Predators' projected lineup:

Filip Forsberg-Ryan Johansen-Viktor Arvidsson

Kevin Fiala-Kyle Turris-Craig Smith

Pontus Aberg-Nick Bonino-Calle Jarnkrok

Miikka Salomaki-Colton Sissons-Austin Watson

Roman Josi-Mattias Ekholm

Alexei Emelin-P.K. Subban

Matt Irwin-Anthony Bitetto

Pekka Rinne will start in goal; Juuse Saros will be the backup.

Healthy scratches include Cody McLeod and Frederick Gaudreau. Ryan Ellis (knee), Scott Hartnell (lower body) and Yannick Weber (lower body) are out.