Sunday, December 31, 2017

Blues go with 11 forwards, seven defensemen, top Hurricanes 3-2

Brodziak, Upshall thrust into more prominent roles, contribute pair of goals

ST. LOUIS -- Mike Yeo tried everything.

The Blues' coach tinkered with lines, he threw them in a blender. 

Anything to get a spark out of a team struggling to score goals in the month of December, or since the day Jaden Schwartz went down to a right ankle injury on Dec. 9 in Detroit.

So 24 hours after the Blues came off a distressing 4-2 loss to the Dallas Stars on Friday, Yeo wanted to try something a little different, and with defenseman Jay Bouwmeester returning from a nine-game absence stemming from a lower-body injury, why not try it?
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Scottie Upshall (9) celebrates with teammates after scoring in the third
period on Saturday of a 3-2 win against the Carolina Hurricanes.

Yeo decided to go into Saturday's game against the Carolina Hurricanes short a forward but playing an extra defenseman, so a 11/7 formation. That way, there's extra protection in case Bouwmeester wasn't going to be up to par but also give some forwards some more ice time.

It all added up when mainstay fourth liners Kyle Brodziak and Scottie Upshall were thrust into more prominent roles, with Upshall moving into a role with top-line players Brayden Schenn and Vladimir Tarasenko in the third period, and Brodziak forming a new third line centering Patrik Berglund and Alexander Steen.

Both Upshall and Brodziak scored to help the Blues get a badly-needed win in a 3-2 victory over the Hurricanes on Saturday before 18,749 at Scottrade Center.

The Blues (24-15-2), who came in having lost five of six and seven of nine, closed December 7-8-1 and needed a win in the worst way to bring some some closure to 2017 and end a month that was grueling, wretched at times and downright challenging.

But in implementing some other pieces around, guys one wouldn't normally think of in these situations, it worked for one night.

"For one, 'Bouw' hasn't been in for a while, to give him a chance to protect him," Yeo said of the strategy. "The guys have been playing well. I thought it freed up some opportunities to get a little extra ice time to some guys up front. There was a couple things that came into it."

The Blues, who hit the halfway mark to the season with their 41st game, the first team in the NHL to do so, didn't seem to mind.

Forwards have to be a bit more mindful on the bench about who they're playing with, what extra shifts to take and when, and defensemen, well, there's one extra there, so there's some coordination that goes into effect there. There's going to be one extra at times sitting out particular shifts.

"You don't really know how the game is going to go," Upshall said. "If you get in penalty trouble or the game is played with odd men, it can be difficult. 'Yeozy' did a great job with 'Chief' [Craig Berube] managing the bench and being very vocal with who's up. And then we all leaned on our veteran guys to step up tonight and play bigger roles, take leadership roles, to get our group in the spot to get points and finish the job, which we've been having trouble doing. It was a big win led by the leaders in the room and it was something we can build on.

"The game of hockey is never perfect, it's never X's and O's. You have [23] guys you can use on every different night and tonight was an opportunity for guys like Brodziak, 'Maggie' [Magnus Paajarvi] stepped in and did a great job and 'Barby' [Ivan Barbashev] was doing everything he's asked and more. Just an opportunity for everyone to take bigger steps to move this group in the right direction without 'Schwartzy' [Jaden Schwartz], not to mention what 'Bouw' was able to do back there was huge. He was a big force and didn't look like he missed a step."

"It was different for sure," Brodziak said. "You don't really know what to expect, I guess. As a forward, everyone's kind of anticipating playing a little more. I thought as a whole, everyone responded pretty well.

"... Yeah, definitely on the bench it can feel a little more chaotic. I think everyone did a real good job tonight of staying in the moment, talking on the bench, who's going next, who's up. Yeah, definitely might help in that regard, for sure."

Bouwmeester played 17 minutes 34 seconds and was noticeable in the situations he was asked to play in.

"Oh it was good," Bouwmeester said. "I don't know, kind of a weird game, kind of took both teams a little bit to get into it. But for me, that was OK because you kind of get adjusted. It felt pretty good, so it was all good."

Upshall scored the tiebreaking goal in the third period, off a Brayden Schenn pass from the left circle at 8:58 to help the Blues win for the second time in seven games.

"It was our typical you get it up the wall to the winger, play it to a centerman heading north with speed and I just yelled to [Schenn] too and he did an incredible no-look pass that put me in a great shooting spot," Upshall said. "I was able to put one in."

Upshall was thrust into the role with Schenn and Tarasenko after Barbashev started there, and a host of others have tried -- and failed -- to fill Schwartz's shoes.

"I dont know about that," Upshall said when asked if he'll be a regular on that line. "It was definitely a great opportunity for everyone to step up and take on more responsibility and play in more situations. Tonight was a big character win that was very uplifting for our group. I think we deserved better than what we've been getting and tonight we got rewarded.

"You keep your head down, work hard, and when you get the opportunity, you make the best of it. Those two guys, they've been right there for the past few weeks, just haven't been scoring. Tonight was an opportunity that everyone ran with. Our D played great for 7 guys back there. 'Huttsy' was incredible and the forwards, everyone stepped up and played well.

"[Yeo] grabbed 'Maggie' and I right at the start of the third and said he was going to throw us in the mix, we'd be all over the place. The next shift, he had me out with them and I thought we had a great opportunity where 'Vladi' got the puck deep, I made a play to him, he brought it to the net, we had a good opportunity. He just came back to us, we got a big goal and he just kept going to us."

Brodziak had a goal and an assist and matched his point total (15) in 40 games after doing so in 69 games last season, Berglund scored, Alex Pietrangelo had two assists, and Carter Hutton made 23 saves for the Blues.

"It's a big win, it's a good hockey team over there too," Hutton said. "They pressed, we bent but didn't break. We made it interesting there there obviously taking a penalty. We fought them off and held on for a big win."

Lucas Wallmark scored his first NHL goal, Derek Ryan scored, and Scott Darling made 26 saves for the Hurricanes (18-13-7), whose season-high four-game winning streak ended. Carolina is 7-2-0 in the past nine games.

Brodziak gave the Blues a 1-0 lead 43 seconds into the first period off a one-timer from the slot following a pass from behind the net by Steen.

It couldn't have been a better start for the line.

"We won a draw in the O zone, cycled it to the back of the net, which we talked about," Brodziak said. "'Bergy' drove right through, which drew some guys with him and I was surprised to be all alone in the slot like I was. He does a good job going to the net and it freed everything up and 'Steener' made a great play."

St. Louis went up 2-0 on Berglund's goal 42 seconds into the second period on a give-and-go with Pietrangelo.

It was a pretty transition play that started in the Blues' zone and ended with Pietrangelo and Berglund working a nice give-and-go with Berglund finishing under the bar with Carolina's Jordan Staal hooking Berglund's midsection.

The Blues' 5-on-5 game was working well in building a 2-0 lead, but then their Achillies' heel came back to light, the power play, which has been poor at times all season and was not good again in going 0-for-2, and each time, it helped fuel Carolina's goals.

Ryan scored at 8:00 after coming out of the penalty box to make it 2-1, in the craziest of situations since the Blues frittered away a great chance to go up by three.

A Colton Parayko shot knocked Darling's stick out of his hands into the corner boards with 13:03 remaining in the period. Darling was without a stick for 1:03 from the time he lost it to Ryan's goal with 12 minutes left in the period. The had a few issues gaining the offensive zone while Darling as handicapped, and at the urging of the crowd, failed to get shots off at the net except for one by Vince Dunn, but he missed the net in an attempt to perhaps get a tip off the stick of Vladimir Sobotka, the puck rimmed around the boards down the ice where Ryan came out of the box and won the puck. He curled to the net and muscled past Hutton and Pietrangelo before sliding in a second effort. Pietrangelo was trying to lift Ryan's stick on the play.

"Yeah, tough break," Hutton said. "I was gonna go play it, and then the guy, he was gonna beat me to it. I kind of misread, I thought 'Petro' was gonna be able to like wedge him, keep him on that side of the net, so I kinda tried to be aggressive with him, but he just kinda got through and made a pretty good play to wrap it all the way around and scored."

It took some steam out of the Blues' sails and then after another failed power play, Carolina scored again when Wallmark scored from the slot off a Noah Hanifin backhand pass at 13:58 to tie it 2-2.

And with the way things had been going, those 'Uh-oh' feelings could have easily risen.

But that wasn't the case.

"Luckily we talked about it before the game," Yeo said. "You would hope that things go exactly the way you planned over the course of a hockey game, but that's not going to be the case. The other team gets a say in it. They've got good players who can make plays. 

"I think when we're at our best, there are going to be moments of games where you bend a little bit but we don't break. I think there have been times lately where we've broken in those situations. I think tonight was a real good example. When they scored that second goal, I liked the way we came out and got right back to our game. I really liked our third period, I think we were still aggressive, you could see we were still attacking off the rush, but still making smart decisions while we were doing it. I think that was an important thing to talk about before the game."

So in a 2-2 game, with 20 minutes on the line to decide a victor, Yeo moved Upshall up. And the move paid off.

"I think it was a little more get some veteran play at that time," Yeo said. "It was a fresh body with some speed. We tried it out for a few shifts and obviously got the goal, which was big, and then continued with it because he looked good there.

"I really liked 'Barby's game too. 'Uppy' stepped up when called up on. I thought 'Uppy' was good all night to be honest with you. He had a different role tonight, playing with a little mix of everybody. I thought he was real positive on the bench, and I think that was a big factor in why he was ready for that opportunity. I think those two games for 'Barby' in my eyes resemble a lot of what we saw from him last year and that's a real positive. I'm happy for both of those guys."

Carolina had already pulled Darling to create a 6-on-5, but had a 6-on-4 for the final 1:12 when Brodziak was called for delay of game, an inadvertent swat of the puck out of midair into the stands.

The Blues relied on their solid penalty kill, which ended 46-for-49 in the month of December, and Hutton made some key saves down the stretch.

"It was just a weird play," Brodziak said. "I honestly just reacted to it. I saw the puck kind of squirt up and I just tried to hit it away and it went up in the stands. It's kind of a bad break. The guys held the fort. They did a real good job. 'Hutts' was awesome all game, especially at the end. They're gonna press, they're gonna throw everything at the net. Those are tense moments, but he did a good job of holding the fort down, smothering any rebound and killing any play they might have had."
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Alexander Steen (20) celebrates a goal scored by teammate Kyle Brodziak
in the first period on Saturday against Carolina.

It closed out a night where the fourth liners were thrust into the spotlight and they persevered in the shining light.

"We're just trying to contribute any way we can when we get a chance to get on the ice," Brodziak said. "You see a guy like Uppy goes up there, gets bumped up and plays a little more in the third period. He got a chance and he delivered. He's been a guy throughout his career, he's found a way to get the job done. He did a huge job for us tonight.

"... We're competitors as well, competitive by nature. We want to get as many chances as we can. We know what our role is when we're on the fourth line. We just try go do the best job that we can and we get a chance like tonight, we want to do the same. We want to go out there and play the best game that we can. I thought everyone did a good job of that tonight."

No comments:

Post a Comment