Friday, April 20, 2018

Blues defenseman Vince Dunn

ST. LOUIS -- During the 2017-18 season, the Blues looked at a a select number of younger players, first-year players if you will, to give the chance at grabbing a spot on the big club.

Among them was defenseman Vince Dunn, a 2015 second-round pick.

Needless to say, Dunn was not on the high-end radar at the time training camp opened but quickly ascended at or near the top.
Blues defenseman Vince Dunn

Dunn completed his rookie season in fine form and hope for the future. He played in 75 games and finished with 24 points (five goals, 19 assists), a season that began as a third-pairing on defense with Robert Bortuzzo and quickly ended with a steady role on the second pair with Colton Parayko and at times, utilized with Alex Pietrangelo on the top pair.

Dunn averaged 17 minutes, 14 seconds of ice time per game, including two minutes per game average on the power play, and although there were teachable moments at times when mistakes were made, Dunn received praise from management and coaches as a player who will continue to thrive and be an impact player moving forward in the organization after completing the first year of his three-year, entry-level contract.

Dunn, 21, talked about his first NHL season, being selected for the World Championship even though he will miss it now because of an upper-body injury, being honored to be considered and what he hopes to accomplish moving forward:

What did you learn about your rookie season in the NHL?
I think it's always a roller coaster, there's a lot of ups and downs in the season. This season, we can feel bad for ourselves, I think realizing where we may have gone wrong this season and hopefully we can all come back after this summer, put some work in, and come back as a stronger team.

You were so close to making the playoffs, being one point away. How disappointing was it to be on the outside?
It's disappointing. You can see how close the standings are all year and you miss the playoffs by one win or one point. It's definitely a tough way to go out and coming into the season, with the good start we had, I think we'd probably see ourselves in a playoff spot. At the end of the day, you have to finish how you start. It's tough. We had a lot of character in this room. I think we all saw ourselves as a good contender for the Cup at the end but obviously it didn't work out in our favor.

Do you feel like you're getting better and better the more ice time and experience you gain?
I think with the more ice time near the end of the year that makes it a lot easier. It's a learning experience from start to finish. At the start, you're just learning things. Every day is a new day, every day is a new learning experience. At the end, you're kind of getting used to the routines and how guys are off the ice, how guys are on the ice, how things work off the ice and on the ice. It's just kind of adapting to a new league and a new system. I think I found myself in good positions all year. I had a lot of resources to be successful and I was put in spots to be successful. I was pretty happy with my year.

What's in store for your offseason (question was asked before the news that Dunn would be skipping the Worlds with an upper-body ailment?
I've got world championships coming up. That's exciting. That's obviously going to take a toll on my body. After that, I'll see how I feel. I'll obviously need some rest. That's quite a grind for a tournament. This summer should be a little different and I'll probably try to listen to my body more than anything. Next year, I think we all want to come in with a better way than we came in this year. Do work over the summer and we can all be better next season.

Have you ever represented Canada at the international level before?
Never played for Canada. 

How big of an honor is it?
It's definitely an honor to play for your country, represent your country. I've never been in that position before, never been on any regional teams, it will be something new for me. Hopefully a couple of guys will be joining me from the team here. I've heard it's a lot of fun. When the rounds start it gets a little more serious but I'm really looking forward to the experience.

Were you surprised with the invitation?
I was. I didn't really even know about the tournament. I was pretty surprised, at the same time I'm honored and ready to excel.

What was the big lesson learned this season?
It's not something I really learned. It's more just being focused, it's more of a mental game than anything. We've all be playing the same game since five years old. Nothing really changes on the ice. I show up at the rink and put my equipment on the same way. Nothing really changes that way. It's more staying composed in your own head. Taking everything for what it is, not getting too high, not getting too low. We've got to find a way to get compete for all 60 minutes when maybe we weren't during the year. We've got to be able win games that mean the most.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Blues goaltender Jake Allen

ST. LOUIS -- In his final regular season game, Blues goalie Jake Allen did all he could to give his team a chance to win and advance to the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

It didn't turn out the way Allen and the Blues wanted and thus ended the Blues' pursuit for a seventh straight postseason berth.

Allen's season had similarities to his 2016-17 season that saw a number of ups and downs. When Allen was on, he was on, and when he wasn't, he wasn't.
Blues goaltender Jake Allen

Allen went 27-25-3 with a with a 2.75 goals-against average, .906 save percentage and one shutout as the No. 1 goalie in his fifth season in the NHL.

It'll be an interesting offseason as the Blues reconvene and formulate a plan for the franchise moving forward, and Allen will be a topic of discussion moving forward. He has three years remaining on a four-year contract at a $4.35 million cap hit. 

Allen talks about the disappointment of the season being over, his desire to stay in St. Louis and how his workload was handled, among other topics:

Is it hard to believe that it's over?
Yeah, it's tough. It's been a tough couple of days just thinking about it and disappointing to me because we're just so used to being in the playoffs. It's crazy to think you lose by one point, and you think about how many things you could've done different. Throughout the years things could've gone differently, could've got that point somewhere else. It's tough to take, especially the way that essentially we went out.

Why were you determined not to come out of the last game despite injuring hamstring?
We had to win the game. We had to get it to overtime at least anyway. That's my job, that's what I'm here to do. I had an honest feeling that we were still gonna come back in that game, guys were gonna lay it on the line. It didn't go the way we wanted, but it was a unique situation to be in, in a game where both teams are do or die to still get in the playoffs. It was tough. It was a tough one to take. We gave it our all. They played well. It's gonna be a stinger for a little while.

How is your hamstring now? If you were still playing now, would it have been a problem?
It might've been. I don't know. Playoffs might have been a tough stretch right now, especially the first round.

People want to lump your last two years together regarding your dip in play. Do you find any similarities?
I definitely need to be more consistent as the starting goalie for the St. Louis Blues. There's no question in my mind I'm capable of it. I've shown it. It was a tough stretch, no question, for us all. But I started extremely well. I finished extremely well. I've just got to find that middle consistency. And it doesn't take a whole lot. We were right there. I think if we all had that middle part of the season back, we would've been not only in the playoffs, probably in our division second or third somewhere. We were that close. So that said, it's definitely a big objective for me that I'm gonna take a lot of accountability into next season and go from there.

Can you put your finger on your play?
I think we tried to change maybe a few things at times during the season and myself personally on the ice in a game, when I think I realize I don't really need to change much. I'm a pretty good goalie, I know deep down. I think just stick with it and trust myself and the games will come, the wins will come. I think really just the latter half of the year, I can't give an exact date, but really created a pretty good blueprint for success there. It was basically reiterating what I did at the start of the year, and I think that's something in the summer you definitely have to just go back to and rely on, and base your summer work around those points.

Safe to say that sometimes for you, it was mental? Is that dangerous thinking too much out there?
Yeah, I guess. You gotta be thinking a little bit, but just going back to just being yourself and trusting yourself. I think that goes for all of us in this locker room, especially me. I take a lot of responsibility this year for not getting us into the playoffs. It's disappointing from my end, because I'm the guy. 'Hutts' [Carter Hutton] stepped up when he needed to, but I definitely take a lot of ownership on it.

Hoe much did that final home game against Chicago sting the way that went down?
It sucks. Eight seconds, maybe nine seconds. That would've got us in. And that's how close and how tight the league is when you look at it. You look at 82 games, grind of a year, long year. Guys are battling hard. You can look at it and say that eight seconds could've gotten us into the playoffs, but there were 75 other games that could've changed as well. So that's just the way the year goes and at the end of the year, I think when you look back on it, we've never been in a situation like that here. We've always sort of solidified our spot early, which is great, but I think next year every single point we've learned is crucial. Even if you lose a game in overtime, so be it, you made positive ground and you're moving forward. I think that's something that I don't know if we really understood, but now we do, and we're gonna have to turn things around pretty quick.

Sometimes you hear a skater say a simpler, more basic approach is necessary. If that true for a goalie too?
Yeah, I think that's probably true for everyone. Sometimes you're your own worst enemy. If you can just go back to keep things simple, and being confident in yourself, more than likely, things go your way. We're all good hockey players to get to this point, you've just gotta know that.

Are there one or two things this club needs in your mind?
We have the talent, there's no question about that. We just have to, like myself, be a bit more consistent as a group and bring it every single night. It's not gonna be great all the time but we just can't have the lulls. And like I said about myself individually, we can't have 'em as a group either. Right from early October when we start next year, to the end in April, we need to have those points. Yeah, there's gonna be ups and downs but we've got to minimize them and I think that's the biggest thing, is making those peaks and valleys small.

Do you feel like you have plenty of room to grow your game?
I think growth is a term. But I think it's really right now, I've proved that I can play. It's just more consistency in finding ways to win games and that's really it. Obviously this is the longest summer I've had for a long time and probably dated way back to my first couple years in the minors. I can specifically work on certain things. Get in the gym quicker. You've got to find a way to make the positives out of all of it. It's gonna be a long summer mentally. I'll probably be bored by next week. But you've got to find a way to get better and we can still get better as a group here and myself especially.

Do you like your summer routine or do you feel like you can change anything?
No. I wouldn't change a lot for the summer routine. I feel like I always come in in really good shape. I'm an honest guy that way. I think now with Dave [Alexander's} help and being around with Dave through the year, and he's known me in year's past, we can specifically hone in on some fine-print details and come back in a great state of mind and just ready to go. I think that's the biggest thing is to come back healthy, if you're not healthy in training camp you're behind the 8-ball already, so I think that's the main point for me.

Did you ever get your luggage back from Denver?
I did [Monday] night (after the final regular season game).

Anything you do about the details in your game?
I've created a pretty good blueprint for my game over the last month of the year, and just gonna with those, specifically drive all the drills you do into those specific areas and just try to almost perfect it. Nothing's gonna be perfect, but be the best you can at those.

Any techniques you'll look for in your game this summer?
I can't see it changing too much.

Players talk about you as a level-headed guy, but when team announces you need a mental break, fans come up with the question of what's his psyche like. Do you think if people say you're a head case?
If someone called me a head case, they might be the head case. I think from a mental side, if you're classifying it as a mental break, I'm not sure when that term was delivered, but if you're playing 13 or 14 games in a row, yeah, sometimes you do need a night off. You need a mental break, because it's not your physical aspect, it's your brain as a goalie. It's preparing all day, every day, knowing you're starting the next day. It's a non-stop battle. You're always on your toes. You try to be as light as possible in there and keep your brain loose, but at the same time, you do need breaks at times, no question. Going forward, 100 percent it will, too. That's just the life of a goalie.

Do you want to be here moving forward?
I'm a Blue and this is where I want to be. I want to make sure I'm going to be secure for a while.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Blues goaltender Carter Hutton

ST. LOUIS -- Goalie Carter Hutton knows his contract with the Blues will expire at 11:59 p.m. on June 30, and then he will have the option of choosing what's the next step of his career once July 1 hits.

And the way Hutton performed for the Blues in the 2017-18 season won't -- and shouldn't -- go unnoticed, and writing the next chapter of his NHL career won't last long.
Blues goaltender Carter Hutton

The 32-year-old teamed up with Jake Allen the past two seasons and in particular this past season, Hutton did all he could to keep the Blues afloat in their quest to keep their six-year playoff run alive, something they fell short of by one point.

Hutton went 17-7-3 in 32 games and led the NHL in goals-against average (2.09) and save percentage (.931) and in two seasons with the Blues after signing a two-year, $2.25 million contract  on July 1, 2016, Hutton has a huge choice to make: search for greener pastures and gauge the market for his services if he's a No. 1 goaltender or not, or continue to tandem with -- at the present time -- Jake Allen and keep that solid foundation moving forward.

Hutton talks about his uncertain future, his season with the Blues, the injury that derailed the likelihood of him having the majority of the starts down the stretch, if he'd welcome a return back to St. Louis and his disappointment of the Blues not reaching the Stanley Cup playoffs:

Have you done enough to show other teams what you're capable of, because you've shown this one what you can do? What's your level of disappointment not reaching the playoffs?
I think I've done enough to definitely show that, especially a team, my age, I think for me the last two or three years I've been a strong goalie in this league and I think the last two years playing more games I've proved that, whether it's on a two week basis, whether it's on a nightly basis, I can sustain it. So now it's just a matter of what teams want, what teams need. There's such a unique market too. I think this year there isn't a ton of goalies available. I thought the No. 1 guy was [Antti] Raanta and he just signed and a couple of similar guys signed backup deals like [Aaron] Dell and [Darcy] Kuemper, so maybe I'm like a hybrid of those two. Raanta's played more minutes and sustained in Arizona where Kuemper and Dell haven't played a ton of minutes and I think I have more experience. It's going to be interesting to see what teams want and need from my perspective. But I haven't really done a ton of homework yet. I feel like, I tried to engulf myself in what we were doing, in our culture, in the St. Louis Blues and helping this team win, whether I was on the bench or any way I could. I think I was a good teammate in that sense I tried to support Jake [Allen] as much as possible. I've made that very clear from Day 1. The overall team doing well is better for everybody. Standing here I'm thoroughly disappointed we didn't make it and partly embarrassed because I think we are a playoff team. We're not in the playoffs, but I truly think we are a playoff team, so it's even more frustrating. So now I recollect and I'm sure over the next little bit, me and my agent will make some decisions and paint a picture of what it's like right now in the market.

Can you discuss what exactly was your injury in March?
I herniated a disk in my neck, C5, C6. I messed it up. My MRI showed it up. I don't think we wanted to make it into something bigger than it was. Until I got that in place, I couldn't really do much. What they thought was little tears over time and then I just ruptured it. It was hitting into my spinal cord so then I needed, they just needed it to heel, and then once it healed … Every day I would leave the rink, get treatment, come back, play the games or practice. It was a hectic schedule but now a full recovery, I don't have issues. It's more I think moving forward a training thing, I'll just have to adjust some things the way I take care of myself, training in the gym and being cautious with it. I was sore in the morning and then I made a save, a quick look up to my right, and that's when it went, and all of a sudden, I told them, and we were optimistic because we didn't know at the time and I went to the hotel that day, I got up, I couldn't even move. We were on the road so I couldn't get an MRI. I came back in Anaheim, the doctors gave me some medication to get better, but it was only a five-day scrip, once that ended, that's when I back down again. It's never a good time to get hurt. That's why it wasn't just a sore neck it was an issue, but that's the way it goes.

Have any thoughts about where you want to go? Are you ready to be a No. 1?
I don't know what I'm going to do. Truthfully, I'm going to play it by ear. I think right now it's a good time to reflect on the season. It was obviously very disappointing the way we missed the playoffs. It's frustrating, but reflecting on the season, it was a strong individual season. It doesn't really make things easier right now; obviously we should be playing, so it's tough to swallow, but for me, we'll re-evaluate with my family, my agent, see where they stand where they're at and go from there.

What do you think is ideal for you?
I just think getting a contract … The last two seasons I've proved my value. It's a comparable league. It's the way that it works. It's a real estate market kind of thing. If you have statistics, stats kind of drive the league. I've proved that I can play in my eyes. It's a big reason I left Nashville because I wanted to play more minutes and I think I've shown that here. Whether it was once every 10 days or four times every 10 days, I've kind of sustained that. I did a good job this year carrying the load when I needed to. I did a good job of being a good teammate when I needed to. There's obviously a lot to take in. It's obviously … I haven't done a ton of analyzing it. I think my agent and I will do that and see where we're at. Right now, I was just involved in trying to get this team to the playoffs and fully putting the team before myself but now over the next few weeks we'll sit back and reflect on it and see where we're at and see where they're at. We didn't really talk a whole heck of a lot because we were worried about winning. The last thing I needed to do was be worried about a contract and I'm not going anywhere. Right now, if I'm going to sign anywhere, it's going to be here, whether it was last week or a month from now. The main thing was trying to get this team in the playoffs and now we can sit back and go over why we missed it and what's best for me and my family.

Would you welcome a return back to the Blues?
Of course. I love it here. My wife loves it here. We've made a lot of good friends, our son was born here, I love the fans, I feel like I've got a ton of support here. We've got a really good hockey team and I don't think just because this year went this way that that's going to change. I think that's just going to light a fire under everybody heading into summer. I want to be back but there's so many other things to consider and I think time right now is what it's going to take to figure that out. But right now I'm very optimistic for sure.

How would you classify your season?
Timing is everything. It's something that … I didn't try to get too caught up in it while I was playing. I really focused on winning hockey games. I think if you can win games, the rest takes care of itself, but from a statistics standpoint, if they're going to keep track, it's obviously a good thing to be in first. It's one of those things. I thought I did everything I could to help our team win and looking back, I put myself in a good situation heading into being a free agent and the way the market is.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Blues right wing Vladimir Tarasenko

ST. LOUIS -- It would perhaps be a bit harsh to call the 2017-18 season tumultuous for Blues right wing Vladimir Tarasenko.

Putting up 66 points (33 goals, 33 assists) would hardly classify as a down year for many. But for Tarasenko, even by his own admission, it would be classified as a down year.

Sort of like the rest of his team.
Blues right wing Vladimir Tarasenko

Tarasenko did lead the Blues in goals for the fourth straight season, but the end of his season was sort of a microcosm of the up-and-down season he endured when he dislocated his shoulder in the season-finale against Colorado.

Surgery followed and Tarasenko has a recovery timeline of 4-6 months, and like his teammates, he has the time to heal after the Blues missed the playoffs for the first time in seven seasons.

Tarasenko's 66 points this season are the fewest for him since the 2013-14 season, his second in the league, and as the Blues' game-changer, he expects more of himself even though he had a career-high 306 shots but the second-lowest shooting percentage of his career (10.8 percent).

Before he went into surgery last Wednesday, Tarasenko spoke of the disappointment of the season as a whole despite the Blues finishing with 94 points, two short of reaching the playoffs, the injury, what happened with the power play, playing on a top line with Jaden Schwartz and Brayden Schenn, :

How are you feeling?
I feel good. Tomorrow surgery. We'll see how it goes. (Tarasenko has since had the surgery and it went well).

What's the injury?
Dislocated shoulder. 

Looked like you knew it right away. Was it a bad feeling knowing you got hurt in such an important game?
The longer you play, the better you can find out if it seriously hurts or no. When it don't go away for like 10-15 seconds, you really know (it's) something serious. Of course I'm really upset it's happened in most important game of the year. It's really bad feelings to be in the locker room when the guys try to fight for a (playoff) spot.

Was it especially tough because you were going so well when you got hurt?
Whatever how was it before, the one game, everything was on the line and I don't really think about how I go before because everything, like all our minds was on that game. It's especially hard injury at that time.

What do you think happened to the team after such a fast start to the season?
I don't know. All teams go through up and downs in the year. The teams that handle it better get more success, but we don't handle it well. I take (responsibility) of it, too. I know I need to play better. I know everyone try to leave everything what we have on the ice. Something just not go the right way this year. It was a hard year everywhere around, a lot of injuries. Now we have time in the summer for those guys, like 'Army' [Doug Armstrong] and Mike [Yeo], to find out what was wrong. Of course we make our fans upset, we make ourselves upset, too. I just want to say thanks for support, especially for our families, for our friends to be with us. We will play better.

How tough is it not to be in the playoffs?
There wasn't question like five years before if we were going in the playoffs or not because we usually clinch before the last games. It is tough, and it's tough for over the season in April. Even if I don't take injury, it sucks. Like, I don't know what to say. It's really bad things. We just need to turn to ... like every day is getting worse and worse because emotions calm down and then you find out your season is over. It's not really what you want to reach for your goal.

Do you know the timetable of your injury, when you'll be back?
We have six months before season starts now because we don't make playoffs, so I think this will be enough time to recover.

The two top teams [Nashville and Winnipeg] in your division are built to win. What do you think you need to add in the offseason for you to be that team that's built to win?
It's obvious there's supposed to be some moves by 'Army,' but it's not on us to say what we need. It's other guys' job. Our job is just to go on the ice ... if we all stay on this team, just go out there and give 100 percent every night and let those guys decide who's playing and who's not.

What do you think happened with the power play and why it struggled so much?
I think (we) just tried too much. Sometimes we need to just simplify this. We have good players playing together trying to make it look nice, but it doesn't work this year and it doesn't connect. Obviously it's one of the reasons why we don't have success. Like I said, I take it on me to and blame myself because it's on me and I need to do it better, too.

What would you like to improve in your game?
It was weird year for me because I never hit so many posts and this puck doesn't go in sometimes. When it's happened, it's hard to handle. It gives you frustration to the next level. I just need to be more consistent and now I have time to work on my shoulder and stay healthy all year. I just need to get more goals.

Did you try to find yourself to be too perfect with your shot sometimes when it wasn't going in? Was that part of the frustration when it wasn't going in?
I don't know. I got the eye surgery last summer so maybe I could see it better and try to put it on a perfect spot. Sometimes and a lot of people have told me if you put it like 20 centimeters lower, you're still going to score. It's what I think during the summer and like I said, just play better.

How much fun was it playing with Schenn and Schwartz on a line?
It was ups and downs. Like sometimes puck doesn't go in. Sometimes we have 20 scoring chances a game and we don't score like one goal. It's hard to handle, but it was really fun time playing together. I think we score a lot of goals and have a lot of fun. Everything we're thinking now is upset because we don't make the playoffs and we don't play anymore.

Have you had any surgeries before?
I have a couple. 

You have a couple teammates in Patrik Berglund and Alexander Steen that have had to deal with shoulder injuries. Can those guys help you?
My father got three surgeries on shoulders, so I have all the relationships with guys, so he cal help me, too. But I talk with these guys already. I never feel without support here. Guys always help me and everything just good in this way because if there's one positive moment on this team is when somebody have problem, everyone try to help him. I don't think people feel alone over here.

What happened to cause the injury? It didn't look bad.
Shoulder dislocated. I don't know. Hockey is weird sport in a way when you can get heavy hit, you don't have nothing and then you can have small bump that cost you like six months. It doesn't really matter how it happened because it's still same injury, but for me, the most upset part is it happened in that game especially.

You mention the fans. They mean a lot to you, don't they, and can you understand their frustration of not making the playoffs?
You perform for yourself, you perform for your families because your kids are watching and your wife, your parents. But of course these people in the rink, you try and make them happy because they cheer for you. They support us all the time, especially last games here. Like I said, you just blame yourself for not making it, but we tried to. We tried to til the end. We don't give up. We all need to be better and say sorry for not making it. We let them down without the playoffs.

Monday, April 16, 2018

Blues center Brayden Schenn

ST. LOUIS -- When the Blues traded for Brayden Schenn, acquiring the center from the Philadelphia Flyers at the 2017 NHL Draft for Jori Lehtera and a pair of first-round picks, it was with hope of adding an impact player entering his prime.

At 26, Schenn is entering the prime years of his NHL career, but would those prime years translate into the best seasons? Judging by his first season with the Blues, it's off to a good start.
Blues center Brayden Schenn

Schenn established career-highs in goals (28), assists (42) and points (70) having an impact role and playing consistently in the top six; he was one of two players (Colton Parayko) to have played in all 82 regular-season games, the third time in his career, for the Blues in 2017-18, and with the kind of numbers Schenn put up, the capper on a solid season would have been to make the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

But for the fourth time in Schenn's seven full NHL seasons, he's on the outside looking in and certainly coming over from Philadelphia, where the Flyers failed to make it last season but did this year, it's a bitter pill to swallow.

Schenn talks about the level of disappointment of not being in the playoffs, what his expectations were coming here, what needs to be done to get the Blues back to the postseason and his first year in St. Louis playing with Jaden Schwartz and Vladimir Tarasenko:

After a couple days of reflection, where's the level of disappointment not to make the playoffs?
We're all disappointed. It's a tough game to lose there in Game 82. Now this time of the year where everyone's turning their attention to the playoffs and you don't see your team out there, it's really disappointing. Playoffs are a hard thing to make. You need everyone buying in, you need everyone playing up to their capabilities and it's a tough thing to make the playoffs. It just shows you when we fell short in Game 82.

When you got traded here, you knew of the team's run of making playoffs six straight years and you had to be excited for that. On a personal level, is there more disappointment for you in that regard to miss out again after missing out in Philadelphia?
Yeah, absolutely, super disappointing. What you just said, there's six years in a row you knew you'd come to St. Louis and you knew you were going to play on a good team, especially with the start we had, too. You think you've got a chance to win a Cup and all, but when you look back after 82 games, you're not even in the playoffs. Obviously, we've got a lot of work to do this summer to get back to where the Blues are capable of being. It sucks and it's disappointing right now, but at the same time, we were pretty banged up since Day 1 this year with [Jay] Bouwmeester and with 'Steener' [Alexander Steen], 'Schwartzy' [Jaden Schwartz] going down for that amount of time was huge for us. We were one of the best teams in the league and then he's gone for six weeks and we kind of fell apart a little bit after that. It was just kind of guy after guy. We just weren't able to have a full, healthy lineup and able to compete with the rest of our division.

How much do you hope management will try to add to the depth of this team or next year in light of the injuries you had this year?
Yeah, we need depth. Every single team has depth and just guys going down and stuff like that. Guys stepped up and did a good job of filling roles, but you need players, you need bodies, especially through an 82-game season. No excuses. Injuries happen. Every team has them. We seemed to have a lot of them this year (at) key times (to) key players. You need depth moving forward. I'm sure that's something we'll probably address.

When you hear the term buy-in, what was your comfort level with this club?
It takes a while. This is all new to me. I got traded from Los Angeles when I was 19 years old. I didn't really know many of the veteran players or the guys. I was still playing junior hockey and stuff like that. I come from Philadelphia to here, it's a little bit of an adjustment period, especially not knowing any of these guys in this locker room, but it's a good group to be a part of. There's a bunch of good guys that play hard for one another in here. Now that Year 1's behind me, I obviously feel comfortable. I've had a great opportunity since Day 1 here, kind of exactly what I was looking for, playing a lot of minutes with good players and I felt I was able to show, I guess, what I have and I feel I can still get better.

How did you feel about the chemistry you had with Tarasenko and Schwartz?
We obviously had a hot start. There's no doubt about that. When 'Schwartzy' came back, it took some time for the three of us to get 'er going again. We kind of got flipped-flopped around there a little bit but towards the end, we played with each other. We feel like we can be a dangerous line, but we'll see what happens. It's obviously a lot of fun playing with two highly-skilled players that are able to create a lot of offense as well as be good in their own end.

Is there one or two things you'd like to fix for next season as a team?
The Blues are known to be tight defensively, tough to play against. If you're ever going to win, you've got to always keep that. I think offensively, you've got to score goals as well in this league and we went through a lull there where we weren't scoring a whole lot of goals. It's tough to win hockey games, and yeah, power play for whatever reason, we couldn't find the five of us for majority of ability to connect, flip-flopping guys to different spots, different setups and stuff like that. To miss the playoffs by one point having the 30th-ranked power play, that means we were doing our job off 5-on-5 offensively, but you've got to be in the top 10, top 15 at least (on) the power play if you want to do any damage.

Did you feel like the coaches did enough to mix things up on the power play to try to give you an advantage?
The other day (in the regular-season finale), they put me and 'Petro' [Alex Pietrangelo], 'Schwartzy' and 'Vladi' and 'Steener' [Alexander Steen] you'd have to say for the majority of that. It's nothing to do with the coaches obviously. It's on us. They can put a plan in place, but us as players, we've got to find ways to gel with one another, read off one another and be able to find chemistry on the power play, which we kept on going back at it and back at it. It just for whatever reason, it didn't work.

Guys were down at the trade deadline. How did you guys rally there after that?
Yeah, we felt like we were underdogs or we were banged up at the time and obviously trading 'Stas' was obviously huge for us. Everyone knows that, but guys were able to rally around that. It took a little bit a while after the deadline, but once we kind of got it going, we played some good hockey after that. Guys stepped up and played more minutes than they normally do, played bigger roles and that shows you the character in this locker room. We had guys playing good hockey for a long period of time, but at the end of the day, we just ran out of bodies, ran out of juice and like I said, it comes down to Game 82 and a tough back-to-back and we just weren't able to do it.

Was there a level of disappointment that you didn't get any help at the trade deadline?
We were for a stretch there, I don't know how many games throughout the middle of the year we were bad or under .500 hockey team so I think when Schwartzy went down, he was obviously a big piece and brings a lot of offense to our team and stuff like that. Maybe at the time, the start of the year, we were hot, we thought maybe we'd add, but when you go into a stretch where you're under .500, it's tough to add at that time. I'm sure that's something Army's going to address this summer. We'll see his attack, his point of attack and I'm sure he'll do a good job of it.

Any teams in the Central Division caught you off guard or were better than you thought they'd be?
I think if you look at the two top teams in our division right now, Winnipeg and Nashville, they stayed healthy and they were built to win. It's been a long time where they've been kind of building up for that, especially a team like Winnipeg. They've got a good team and they added at the deadline, so you never know, whoever comes out of that one, both teams are tough to play against. Even the start of our division, teams loaded up whether it's Minnesota, Dallas loaded up in the summer. Obviously they didn't make the playoffs. We know we have a tough division and it's going to be the exact same next year. Obviously hopefully add to our lineup and hopefully get healthy bodies and obviously the plan is compete for No. 1 in our division next year.

Are you fully prepared for the roster to be different when you come back next season?
Year to year, every other team, majority of teams make changes and you probably expect no different in this locker room, (especially) when you miss the playoffs. We kind of had a good start and average middle of the season and pretty decent finish for what we had. There's going to be changes; we know that. Everyone knows that and I guess we'll see what happens.

With better health next year and a couple tweaks, do you expect this team to get right back instead of more of a wholesale change?
I think if you look at the bodies we had in this locker room, we've got the horses on the backend, we've got good goalies, all of us are in our prime of our careers, whether it's 'Pary,' 'Petro,' me, 'Steener,' 'Vladi,' 'Schwartzy,' the list goes on and on there. From me personally, I don't see this as a huge rebuild. A couple pieces there and we'll be able to compete for the division next year.

You had career numbers, but do you feel like there's still room to grow your game?
Absolutely. You'll always got to find ways to get better and develop. I know year by year basis, I felt like I've done that. For me, I still feel like I can be better defensively, tougher to play against. When you're tougher to play defensively, the offensive numbers also rise. You have the puck more, but at the same time, I got a great opportunity to play a lot of minutes this year with key guys in key situations. That's what I was looking for when I got traded here. I'm looking for more of the same if not more next year.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Blues forward Alexander Steen

ST. LOUIS -- The longest-tenured member of the Blues, forward Alexander Steen echoes the thoughts of many of his teammates after the completion of the 2017-18 season: it was a disappointment.

Steen, who has been with the Blues since the 2008-09 season, completed his ninth year in St. Louis and 13th in the NHL. 
Blues forward Alexander Steen

One of the remaining core players from the team that reached the Western Conference Final two seasons ago, Steen's offensive numbers -- most notably, goal-scoring -- have slipped each season since scoring a career-high 33 goals in 2013-14 and finished with 46 points (15 goals, 31 assists) in 76 games after missing the first six games of the season with a wrist injury.

When he plays his second game next season, Steen will reach 900 NHL regular-season games. 

He talks about missing out on the playoffs for the first time in seven seasons, what needs to be addressed in the offseason and how the team rallied and gave it a final push before missing out on the playoffs by one point despite a roster that continues to transition to a younger group:

Can you point to anything specific or are there a broad range of reasons why you're standing here talking about not making the playoffs instead of being in them?
It's difficult to put everything into words I think right now. Still a lot of emotions and the biggest one being disappointment and frustration. We have an extremely long summer ahead of us that needs to be used in the right way.

How do you use it in the right way?
I'm sure we're going to have some good discussions here in the next little bit. From there, it's about preparation for the upcoming season. For us as players, it's getting the bodies ready, the brains ready for what's going to be a big year for us.

When you look at a team like Colorado that was able to do what they did, go from 48 points to the playoffs, can you draw some similarities of how you'd like to make sire this doesn't happen to you next year in terms of bouncing back?
I don't think those are similar situations. For us as a group, it's looking at things that went on throughout the course of the year. I think the fact that we weren't able to sustain what we had at the start of the year, obviously special teams, both sides of it that's been a staple of our group for years and years, you kind of slipped already a little last year and this year was obviously far from good enough. Those are two big points that we'll need to address.

You guys are used to going to the playoffs. Is it hard to cope with the fact that you're not this year?
Yeah, it's hard to swallow. Like I said, that we weren't able to sustain what we had at the beginning of the season, we'll obviously look at why that was, the special teams part of it, and even down the stretch, we had our share of chances to lock up a playoff spot and made similar mistakes to what we did at the start or the midpoint of the season. As the season progresses, you want to progress as a group and make sure that you learned from what's gone wrong in the past. To let some of those games slip, it's a disappointing time right now. It'll take a while to get over and obviously get into some discussions to make sure we're on the right track going into next season.

There were multiple times where you stood here and said that was unacceptable, whether it was effort or the way the team played. How do you prevent those?
Those aren't really what I'm talking about. I'm talking about more mistakes that are made in-game allowing goals in Nashville on our power play for them to come back and tie it up or not being able to get a big kill or mental lapses that end up costing us goals and momentum in games, things like that. It's something that we'll talk about and address and clean up.

What was the mindset at the time Paul Stastny was traded?
It was definitely a difficult time for the group. He's a big part of who we've become and the culture and identity of the team. I think even though that game in Minnesota ended up the way it did, I still think there was something that got ignited in our group. I don't know how many games were left from that point on, but we knew that there were 17 games or whatever it might have been and we knew where we were in the standings and that we needed to get a good push. There were a lot of guys that really responded and the care was there and we started playing with a lot of selflessness again. It started adding up and we started getting some points. 

What do you think this team needs moving forward?
Like I said, special teams has been a staple of our group and that's something we'll need to address on both sides of it, power play and penalty kill. We'll go over, we'll have discussions here about this past season and clean up what we need to clean up. From that point on, it's about preparation and getting ready.

You don't control what goes on upstairs, but are you prepared to have a different group coming in here next year?
I think those things are, like you said, out of our control. They're sometimes more expected when seasons go like the way that they did this year. It's more of a question for the guys that run that part of our organization. We'll see what happens.

From your point of view being in your 30's and trying to bring a Stanley Cup here, do you feel like it was a wasted year?
Yeah, when you don't make the playoffs, the year's gone. That's pretty well put.

World Championships in your plans at all?
No, not really. I've got some things I've got to sort out here in St. Louis before that point in time.

Is that part of the sadness and disappointment that there will be guys that won't be back here?
That's something that happens every season, whether you go deep in the playoffs like we did a couple years ago or you're eliminated like this. You expect some changes to be made to make our team better. We'll see what those are. Right now, I think our focus is on these discussions on looking at ourselves in the mirror and what we didn't do well and what we need to do to sustain throughout the course of the year and get ready for next year. 

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Blues defenseman Alex Pietrangelo

ST. LOUIS -- Blues defenseman Alex Pietrangelo's second season as captain produced a career season offensively.

Pietrangelo established career highs in goals (15) and points (54) while being the Blues' most reliable blue liner, leading the team once again in ice time at 25:44, which was sixth overall in the league.
Blues defenseman Alex Pietrangelo

But the disappointment of not reaching the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time in seven seasons was on display when Pietrangelo met with the media for his season-ending comments. He talked about the disappointment of falling a point short of reaching the playoffs, the challenges of being the captain and a host of other topics in his eighth full season and 10th overall:

How much does this stink not to be playoff-bound?
First time for me, I guess since my first year. It's been what, six or seven years? It already feels long. It's been two days, so I would imagine come June, it's going to feel really long. I guess try and use it to your advantage, get some training in and heal all the wounds and get ready.

After great start to season, did injuries knock you off the rails ultimately?
You can't use that as an excuse. Obviously it hurts losing a guy like 'Schwartzy' [Jaden Schwartz], but you lose Paul [Stastny] at the deadline and we played well. Something to identify. There's a reason why it happened and we've got to look hard in the mirror to figure out why.

Was it one game, one win, that seven-game losing streak? What was it that put you in this position?
I don't even remember half the games, but somewhere down the line, we gave up the lead, a two-goal lead, maybe a three-goal lead, I don't remember, but somewhere down the line, we did something. Even that 20-game stretch there, we were probably below .500. You win a couple games there, you're probably in the first wild-card. It's easy to say now, but again, it's why you play 82 games. You've got to make sure you're consistent throughout so you don't put yourself in that position.

What was your biggest challenge as a captain this year?
Obviously you lose the injuries and making sure that everybody's filling in. There's some ups and downs. I thought in the second half of the year, everybody just kind of grabbed a role and stuck with it. Not easy when you're in a situation like this, and it starts with me, starts with the leadership group. If we want to get better and move forward, it starts with us.

A couple years ago, you were playing for a conference title and you know what that team looks like. How far away is this team from being back there?
Well, it's a young group, but the makeup of the team is very similar. I think some of us that went there still have a real opportunity to get back to that place. Again, this is an important summer for us to 1) look in the mirror and 2) get ready and prepare yourself for next year because I think for a lot of us, for as good as we've been for as long as we are, it's a wakeup call and kick in the butt to know that it is hard just to get in and harder to get to that point.

As a captain, what's your comfort level with the room?
We've got good chemistry in here. We obviously get along real well. Again, that's only half the battle. Get on the ice and making sure we're playing well. That's the other half of the battle. I'm never worried about the room, never have been worried about this room. We really do care about each other.

How important is it to make this a tough place to play again after going just 24-17-0?
Yeah, we had spurts there in the second half of the year where we were playing well, but we've got to get back to ... this is always been a place where teams don't like coming. You get that home ice matchup, you get that crowd involved. You heard it in the last 10 games when we were pushing for that playoff spot. We've got to get back to that.

You ever feel like the power play was where it should have been?
No. I think with the talent that we have in this locker room, it can be a lot better. It's a topic for discussion and at some point, could have won us a game or two throughout the year. It's a small part of it, but it's an important part that we need to talk about.

Do you think that's more schematic or do you think that's more skill?
I don't know. It's something that we need to sit down and look at. I think it's a combination of everything.

Are you going to the World Championship?
No. I've got a lot on my hands.

Friday, April 13, 2018

Blues coach Mike Yeo

ST. LOUIS -- Blues coach Mike Yeo completed his first full season behind the bench, and although it didn't end the way he envisioned with a spot in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, there's still plenty to dissect, positive and negative.

Yeo, after taking over with 32 games remaining in the 2016-17 season for the fired Ken Hitchcock and helped the Blues go 22-8-2 down the stretch and help push them into the playoffs, wasn't able to do it with a group that played with fewer skilled guys and more younger players.
Blues coach Mike Yeo

In one-plus seasons, Yeo is 66-40-8 (.614 winning percentage) with the Blues and admittedly feels there needs to be change in his coaching style, particularly how he handles the specialty teams (power play in particular, which finished 30th in the NHL).

Yeo will be the associate coach for Team Canada for the upcoming World Championships in Denmark May 4-20.

Yeo discussed this and a number of other topic during his end-of-season gathering with the media and offered the following takes:

What was your view on the difference between the hot start and the cold stretch that you had?
For me, it was goal scoring. That's what it came down to. 'Army' can give you the stats, I think the stats are pretty staggering. As far as the beginning off the year, we were scoring goals, we were winning games. And when we stopped scoring goals, I think that it started to affect individuals, individuals like Jake [Allen]. I think it put a focus on him. Our goals-against didn't increase a whole lot during that time, but our goal production went down and you obviously start to lose games. There's obviously more to it than just that. I think at that time, we weren't good enough in our game. Our focus. Again, I'm not going to get too much into it. Our power play, obviously, that's a huge factor there. We weren't finding a way to score enough goals, we weren't finding enough resilience to get out of that time until the trade deadline, quite frankly, and that was when the final push was made and we started to become a good team again.

How do you sort through the consistency issues, deal with aspects when guys say, 'We took our foot off the gas?'
For me, it comes down to consistency and the consistency of our game, and we talk about scoring goals, and you get into that time of year, we have an identity that's been longstanding here, that's a team that's hard to play against. It's a team built on checking for sure and physicality and hard work, but it's also been a team that's built on scoring goals a certain way. I felt that during the time that we started to not to score goals, the focus became solely on scoring goals and we started to slip in all the other areas that we were strong and eventually what you end up doing is you end up scoring less goals. That's what happened to us. We became weaker defensively, we became easier to play against and we started to score fewer goals. Obviously that's something that we can't allow as a coaching staff. We have to find a different method to make sure  that we don't get into something like that and that we don't allow it to continue.

Is there anything you can do on the power play scheme-wise differently?
That's obviously a huge focus for us and as a coaching staff, I promise you that we will not sit around and just assume that things are going to be better next year. Obviously we have to look at everything from the way that we're managing it, running it, holding guys accountable, the personnel that we're using, the tactics that we're using, certainly we're going to do everything that we can to go to school from the rest of the league, as far as what teams are doing, the best power plays, what makes them successful compared to us, analyzing everything that has gone wrong for us this year. We obviously have to do everything on our part to make sure that that changes.

What do you make of the people connecting the poor power play in Minnesota and now here?
If it's going to keep following you around, then that's something that I have to live with and I'm going to have to make sure that changes. I'm not going to dodge that. There's no question. I'll take responsibility for it. That's on me.

Anything to the approach of home games that you can change?
For me, it's a mindset. I think that we go on the road, I don't want to say that we assume we're going to win at home … when we go on the road, there's a better understanding, better preparation, and we invest in the game better. We come out in the first five minutes of the game, we manage the puck, we get pucks in behind the defensemen, we make it difficult on them because of the way that we check, because of our physicality and we make the game miserable. We find a way to play a game that allows us to take the game over as it goes on. When we come home, we just think that we're going to go out there the first two, three shifts, grab the lead and then coast to a victory. It doesn't work like that. I think that we have to get back to being a team that is much harder to play against at home. It should be a miserable time for teams to come into our building. Our fan support is awesome, it's noisy, it's an intimidating place to play if you play an intimidating game and I didn't think ... that doesn't mean fighting every shift, but we didn't play a game that made it uncomfortable for them every shift.

Is that a red flag that happened multiple times?
I hate to say it, it's too late for red flags right now, but obviously it's something that we have to correct. We have a long list of things that have to get better. That is absolutely on our list and Army and I are taking the time right now to meet individually with each player and obviously that's a focus for all of us to make sure that we correct.

Jake Allen owned up that he needs to be more consistent. How do you get him more consistent?
I think again, I like that he's taking that ownership. The way we turn things around is we all have to obviously look in the mirror and analyze everything that you're doing and for us as a staff, is there anything differently that we can do in terms of the way that we managed Jake, whether it's the minutes that we give him, the games that we give him, the way that we manage him through practice, through preparation. I don't think it's fair to just sit here and say that he wasn't good enough. When they're playing for you, they're ultimately your responsibility. I think a lot of that also lies in obviously, you look at that stretch where things weren't going well, and the lack of goal scoring obviously made for the fact that Jake had to play the perfect game. Obviously at that time, he didn't play perfectly. There were mistakes that you could look back and say that cost us the game, but when I look at the body of work and the body of play that we gave during that time, we weren't playing the same game that we were playing earlier in the year, which allowed us to score goals, which allowed us to be more successful and then obviously your goalie is the last line, the guys that you look to when the puck goes in the net. We have to make sure as a staff that we can find a way to make sure that we don't allow our game to slip during those times. If your goalie's struggling, that's when your team has to dig deeper, has to play harder, has to play stronger and play a game that really allows him to be successful to get out of it.

How do you think Vladimir Tarasenko played within the system?
I'd say that there were times that 'Vladi' played very well in the system and then there were some other times where I would say, like our team, there was some consistency that we have to make sure that we have and we see night in and night out, and that's not just him. This is easy to point a finger at one guy. I'm really impressed and pleased with the way that he finished the season. To me, him along with some of our veteran players, that showed a lot in terms of character and how much this team, this franchise, this city means to them. But again, it's up to me as a coach, as us as coaches to make sure that we find that level of consistency. 'Vladi' is a guy that cares. He allows sometimes his frustration, his emotion to affect his play and we have to make sure that we manage that better.

What was your take on the locker room?
I think the room came together at the end of the year. I think there were times where our game slipped a little bit and I don't think it was an issue of guys like chemistry or guys liking each other. It's actually a very close room. Ultimately, you've got to find a way for that to not happen. I think to Army's point, you can never have enough leaders, but as far as looking at the core guys, the guys that we have, these are guys that have won here in the past and they're guys that are gonna want to win down the road as well. Don't question that. It's just ... I know that we have the character inside the room, but with that said, we're sitting here having this press conference. We all have to look in the mirror and we all have to bear responsibility for that. That falls on the leaders in the room, that falls on on our top players, obviously that falls on us as coaches. We've slipped here, and part of being a good leader and part of being a character person, is bouncing back from that, is showing determination and you're really in accountability that forces you to come back to be better and to demand more of yourself.

What's your biggest regret of something that you could have done that could have had you playing playoff hockey instead of this conversation?
It's hard to put it on one, to be honest with you. When we started to struggle a little bit there in terms of scoring goals, we started to alter our practice, our mindset, our focus. As coaches, you start to try to coach the offense, you start to try to focus on offense and with that, I think a lot of things that we were doing, a lot of things that made us a team that was hard to play against and ultimately you look at the way we scored goals at the beginning of the year, we weren't a pretty, fancy,  just go and dipsy-doodle through everybody and tic-tac-toe goals. We earned our goals through our checking, through our our team work, through our team game and I think as we started to struggle a little bit as coaches, I think that we started to change the focus and that allowed the players, for their game, for our identity to slip. That was one for me. I'll go back to the power play again. Looking at that, and I would say that the one thing I feel that we relied on a lot is obviously our top guys and that group was out there consistently. I really do believe that you're not going to win in this league and you're not going to win meaningful games if your top players are not at their best. But that said, I think that we can have more accountability in there. If guys aren't getting the job done, then we have to make sure as coaches that we don't just continue to roll players out there just because they're our so-called top players. We expect them to be our top players and I think that's something that we have to do a better job of.

How do you feel about Colton Parayko's season?
It's tough to sit up here and comment on 'Vladi' and Colton now not having the chance to meet with these players first. I think Colton has the ability to be a dominant player in this league. I think that we saw it at times, I don't think we saw it enough. For me, again that falls on us as coaches that we make sure that Colton understands that he's a young player that's still developing and he needs to continue to develop. There's things that have to be in Colton's game on a night to night basis to allow that dominance to show. That's something that we have to communicate here with him today and make sure that we really drive forward with here.

Of all the young guys, is Vince Dunn the one that made the biggest impact and is the biggest riser?
I look at Tage [Thompson] and I think Tage took some big steps this year and then I think we had some other young guys that maybe didn't take a step. I do look at 'Dunner' as a guy that took a real positive step this year. Now, that said, 'Barby' [Ivan Barbashev] was one of those guys last year. 'Dunner,' it was a great season for him as far as No. 1, earning the trust of the coaching staff, proving that he can play in this league and then the confidence that he grew. You look at how his minutes went up, how his role went up and that's obviously a great accomplishment. That said, this league is, for as long as we can all remember, there have been an awful lot of players that have come in and had a good first season and then taken a step backwards, so I think his offseason is going to be incredibly important and how he handles it. But I have no reason to believe that this is a guy that's going to take a step backwards. I think he's a competitive kid, he's a gamer, he wants to make plays when he's out there, he has the ability. We can all see the way that he moves the puck. W're going to continue to develop him and make sure that this isn't the highest that we've seen.

What does Thompson need to take out of his experience this year?
Just how hard the NHL is. I think that's the biggest thing. I think that he really started to understand that, to grasp that. He's improved with his play without the puck. Obviously he went a long time without scoring goals. We all felt if he got one or if he got on the board, then it would probably translate for him getting on a bit of a run or a bit of a streak. But it's a hard league to score goals in. And so with that, you have to be more than just a shooter, you have to find a way to get to the net, you have to find ways to score other goals as opposed to just relying on your shot and you have to do more in your game. And I think that that's something he's embraced and he's working on and again, this is a guy that I think his offseason's going to be very big for him. He's a guy with a lot of potential, he's a guy with a lot of character, he really cares. I think it was a good first step for him and I think part of why it was so big and so important for him is he realized just how good this league is.