Thursday, December 28, 2017

Blues continue to search for answers to finding more offense

Yeo changed lines at practice, Barbashev "not going to get a 
better opportunity than this right here;" Bouwmeester skates

HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- Another day, a rare practice, a full practice, for the Blues, trying to find that elusive answer -- or answers -- to get an offense going that has fallen off a cliff.

Another game in the balance, one there for the taking, but in the end, it was a 2-1 loss to the Nashville Predators on Wednesday.

The same questions continue to surface, but it's gotten to the point where actions speak louder than words.

For the Blues (23-14-2), who have lost four of five and six of the past eight in which they've scored two or fewer goals in seven of those eight and one or fewer in five of them, it was another day of answering the same questions: why can't this team score and what can you do to fix it?
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues left wing Alexander Steen (right), moving the puck away from Kyle
Turris of the Nashville Predators Wednesday, is one of several players
in search of goal scoring for the Blues.

"We just need to be competitive for 60 minutes and if we do that, if we concentrate on staying on our game, make sure that you battle through the hard parts of the game, make sure that you find a way to shift through the momentum to get things back in your direction," Blues coach Mike Yeo said. "We talk about when we have wave after wave, line after line of going out and doing things true to our identity, then we're a hard team to play against."

"We've been obviously searching for answers for what, two, three weeks a month now? We've got to stick with it," Blues center Brayden Schenn said. "Obviously we've got to find ways to create room for each other out there and get second and third opportunities. To say there's one thing we can do and all of the sudden we're going to start scoring goals is hard to say, but it starts with the little things and details that get you goals. This team can score. We all know it. It's a matter of having the confidence to do it."

Ahh, those elusive goals at the front of the net. Traffic at the net. But how about those opportunities, a prime example Wednesday when the Blues caught Nashville on a number of odd-man rush opportunities and either turned the puck over or were hesitant in the final push?

It affects all sorts of things when pucks aren't going in and confidence can be an issue.

"I would say that that's certainly the issue, but what are we going to do," Yeo said. "Nobody's going to give us a bunch of free goals to change that. That's life in the NHL. It's big boy hockey. There's no magic pill or magic way to get confidence. Confidence is earned and we need to earn it for our team and we need to earn it for individuals. That's the simple truth. It's earned, number one, through work ethic and doing the right things shift after shift and you build off of that."

The Blues seem to be dealing with the physical and mental aspects all in one.

"Yeah, it is a mindset, but it's a confidence thing too," Blues center Kyle Brodziak said. "In a league that every team knows how to defend, it's a hard league to get goals in. We're not feeling too good about our offensive game right now. We just gotta keep working at it, and trust -- we got the players in here to do it. We just gotta get that mojo going again."

So Yeo and his assistants went back to work mixing up some combinations.

Ivan Barbashev, a healthy scratch the past two games, worked with Schenn and Vladimir Tarasenko and Patrik Berglund, who played on that line the past three games, centered the third line with Vladimir Sobotka and Dmitrij Jaskin and Chris Thorburn was back on the fourth line with Scottie Upshall and Brodziak.

For Barbashev, who's been a disappointment thus far, this is the opportunity like no other playing with two skilled forwards who can get him going and if he's going, can get them going as well.

"Again, we're trying something there," Yeo said. "We need 'Barby.' Obviously he's not going to get a better opportunity than this right here. We'll give him that chance and hopefully he can take advantage of it. I believe when he's on top of his game, he can make plays, but more importantly, his work ethic should open up some ice and some opportunities for the other two guys. We can keep switching lines, but bottom line is that 'Shenner' and 'Vladi,' it shouldn't really matter who we put over there. They should be finding a way to be factors and dangerous in every game."

The Blues are a team that thrives off puck possession, and even in that area has lacked.

"I think you see the start we had the last game and I think we're getting a little too focused on scoring the goal," Yeo said. "Next thing you know, we're turning pucks over on entries and losing possession. We want to make plays off the rush, but if it's not there, you have to choose what else is available to you. It's hard to score goals if you have to back-check and if you have to play in your own zone. Same applies to our offensive zone play. We have some good shifts in there, but there's a lot of shifts where we're either forcing a play, we're not strong enough on the puck, we're not moving our feet enough and easy turnovers. Again, it makes it difficult to score goals. Those are situations and times in a game where you could really turn it into something. Those are opportunities lost."

What's really lost is valuable points, points that can never be recovered, and for a Blues team that is 3-6-0 the past nine since Jaden Schwartz went down to a right ankle injury, they have only allowed 19 non empty-net goals, an average of 2.11 per game.

Which brings us back to that goal-scoring issue ... The Blues need that production from their top line guys more than ever.

Tarasenko has just three goals the past 17 games and hasn't scored an even strength goal since Nov. 21 (18 games ago) against Edmonton. Alexander Steen has just one goal the past 19 games (an empty-netter at Vancouver last Saturday) and has just four goals in 33 games this season. Paul Stastny has just seven goals in 39 games, none in the past eight and one in the past 15, and even Schenn, who was blistering the stat sheet earlier in the season, has just one goal in the past eight games.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues center Paul Stastny (left) gets off a shot during Wednesday's 2-1 loss
to the Nashville Predators.

"It's up to us forwards or it's up to us as five-man groups to get out there and score goals," Schenn said. "We've had great goaltending all year. Defense has been there for us all year. Us forwards here, we've got to do a better job of, whether that's creating opportunities or getting to the net or getting traffic to the net so the d-man can score, it obviously relies a lot on us forwards and that's what we need to do.

"We're going to have to rely on a lot of second and third opportunities at the net. We've got to get greasy. We scored our goal last night just by getting people and pucks to the net and getting a tip and it went in. I think that's the way we've got to do it. It's not going to be one thing and all of the sudden, boom, we're going to score six goals. It's going to be little things that reward us and that's what we need to focus on."

* NOTES -- Defenseman Jay Bouwmeester (lower body) skated as Yeo thought he would at practice Thursday with no restrictions.

Bouwmeester, who missed 21 games to start the season before playing in 10 games, has missed the past eight games.

He was expected to travel for Friday's game in Dallas but slim chance he plays with only one practice in tow.

"I thought he looked good," Yeo said of Bouwmeester. "I haven't had a chance to talk to him yet, but I thought with him being out there for a full practice, he's such a strong skater that I thought he looked really good.

"I need to have a talk with him to see how he felt out there."

Forward Sammy Blais, who's missed five games since sustaining a lower-body injury against Winnipeg, skated before practice and Yeo thought he would travel.

"He skated before practice. I don't think he's a ways away," Yeo said of Blais. "I have to double-check, but I think that he's going to come with us tomorrow but we'll hav to find out on that."

-- The Blues, who struggled on the penalty kill early in the season when they were as low as 27th in the NHL, have worked their way up to tied for ninth at 82.8 percent efficiency after going 5-for-5 against the Predators on Wednesday.

The Blues are 41 for 43 in the month of December, which is No. 1 in the league.

"Those guys have done a nice job lately," Yeo said. "... (Goalies) are always going to be your No. 1 penalty killer. I do think that the penalty kill has been going strong. That's been a positive for us. We'll have to continue that. You know we're going to be challenged with that tomorrow. Every day is a new challenge, but definitely have been pleased with that lately."

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