Sunday, September 30, 2018

Blues' Swiss Army knife among most invaluable players in NHL

Jaden Schwartz "drags the team into the fight";
leads by example with sheer grit, energy, skill

ST. LOUIS -- The definition of a Swiss Army knife is simple. It's a multi-tool, with multiple instruments used for a variety of tasks.

It's known to be a trusted tool around the world.

Take that tool and translate to what it would be if it were a hockey player and how would one associate player with it.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Jaden Schwartz is the Blues' version of a Swiss Army knife,
and he thrives in being asked to do it all.

Probably a good place to start would be someone who's responsible, reliable, gritty, suffocating, plays with a tenacious, relentless intensity, is a good teammate, gets rewarded for hard work and skill and has an incredibly high infectious work ethic. 

Sound familiar? Yes? Anyone on the Blues come to mind? Perhaps the one that stands all of 5-foot-10 and 190 pounds of him.

Opponents hate playing against him. They consider him the worst kind of pest.

That's good because that means he's doing his job and doing it well.

His number is 17, and his name: Jaden Schwartz.

From the moment that Schwartz, a first round pick (No. 14) in the 2010 NHL Draft, made his debut with the Blues on March 17, 2012 at Tampa Bay and scored his first NHL goal (in a win no doubt), he has made his impact on the Blues in just about every facet from even-strength play, the man-advantage, penalty kill, 3-on-3, 4-on-4. You name it, chances are Schwartz's fingerprints are all over them, and helping decide the outcome for the Blues.

"Speed, energy, work ethic, he's a great player," Blues coach Mike Yeo said of Schwartz. "He impacts all parts of the game. He's one of those players ... he drags the team into the fight. 

"You usually look at centermen and the impact that they have in the game and even though he's not a centerman, he impacts it that much because of how involved he is both in the offensive and defensive side of things, both parts of the special teams and his work ethic is second to none. That's what separates him. He's got a superstar work ethic."

That superstar work ethic has certainly been missed when Schwartz has been out of the Blues' lineup since his arrival. 

Schwartz has a career plus-minus of plus-75, has 271 points (113 goals, 158 assists) in 380 regular-season games and 30 points (10 goals, 20 assists) in 49 career playoff games. The Blues have a 236-117-27 regular-season record when he plays, good for a .621 winning percentage. When Schwartz is out of the lineup, the Blues are a mere 39-35-14, good for a .443 winning percentage.

When Schwartz plays, the Blues have a goal differential of plus-192; when he doesn't, it's minus-29. 

The power-play clicks at 20.2 percent with Schwartz in the lineup, 18.4 percent when he's not. The penalty kill is actually higher at 85.1 percent when Schwartz is out of the lineup, as opposed to 83.9 with him, but the picture is painted pretty brightly here.

"He's obviously a huge piece in our locker room," Blues center and linemate Brayden Schenn said of Schwartz. "When he sits out, you notice. When he was out last year, we noticed. Every team has their guys and he's obviously one of ours."

Last season, when the Blues failed to make the playoffs by one point, is a prime example. The Blues jumped out to a 20-9-1 record the first 30 games with Schwartz in the lineup. When he sustained an ankle injury blocking a Mike Green shot Dec. 9, 2017 at Detroit, a 9-10-1 stretch followed. The Blues could never regain that high level of consistency again and finished 44-32-6.

Certain players can have a certain impact on their respective teams. Take Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin of Pittsburgh, Connor McDavid in Edmonton, Alex Ovechkin in Washington, Drew Doughty in Los Angeles, among others, and although it's always considered a team game, there are players around the league that have that kind of an impact on their lineups. Schwartz, 26, may not put up the kind of gaudy numbers some of those players do, but his presence on the ice for the Blues is invaluable.

"He's very underrated, but he's very dynamic," Blues center and new teammate Ryan O'Reilly said of Schwartz. "He's constantly creating. He's one of those guys that picks up the puck and he's going to do something with it. You don't know what, but he's going to do something. He's just that dangerous player and seeing him now more and more, what he does out there is impressive. It's a treat to see.

"You've got to be on your game defensively when you're playing against him. He puts you in uncomfortable spots. He just knows how to create. The speed and his edges, he's constantly moving, he's hard to check. It's nice to actually be on a team with him. His impact is massive."

And Schwartz's impact, when at the highest level, certainly rubs off on his teammates and it's hard not to try and mock his actions when they see him harassing and hounding the puck, creating turnovers and backchecking before coming to the bench for a breather and it's their turn to come over the boards and help the cause.

"I just try and play that way every game, and if I'm not paying like that, I don't think I'm very successful and I'm not helping the team as much as I can," Schwartz said. "It's the only way that I feel I can help the team and myself. If other guys see that and it helps them out, then that's good.

"I try to be more consistent with that. Just bring my game every night. I don't like when there's games that you don't play well, it sits (bad) in your stomach and it's not a good feeling, so I just try to leave it all out there as much as I can. Some nights it looks better than others, some nights the puck bounces your way more. I just try to bring that work ethic and move my feet and that's when good things happen."

There was an "uh-oh" moment for Schwartz again on the injury front; this time, at the World Championships in Denmark this past May, a tournament he was invited to play for Team Canada with the Blues missing the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time in seven seasons.

Schwartz sustained a right shoulder injury getting checked into the offensive zone corner boards, one that did not require surgery but needed time to heal, which the Blues had with their season and his tournament being over.

"I had a little time off and then a little longer offseason, longer than any of us would have liked," Schwartz said. "I took a little while. I took probably four weeks off after that injury and then just started doing a lot of rehab, saw some different people. This is my first shoulder injury and didn't really know much about it. Just kind of did exercise and everything. I didn't need surgery or anything, so mostly it was just rest and exercise and rehab and things like that. It's feeling pretty good now."

It's also feeling pretty good now that Schwartz is part of a team that revamped its roster with an infusion of forwards in O'Reilly (acquired through trade with the Buffalo Sabres), Tyler Bozak, David Perron and Pat Maroon (all signed as free agents), and Schwartz is feeling pretty good about the new additions.

"It was exciting getting a lot of good players in your lineup, a lot of big pieces that are going to help us moving forward," Schwartz said. "They're going to help us in a lot of different ways. It's centermen and right-handed shots, guys you can plug in on the power play, things that we needed help with. We're all pretty happy to see that and I was talking to guys and it's pretty mutual that everyone in here is pumped up with all the moves that we made."
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues left wing Jaden Schwartz (17) battles with Stars defenseman John
Klingberg for the puck Friday in preseason action. 

Gotta love a motivated Schwartz, because even an average Schwartz is good, but one that has extra mojo? Well, that bodes well for the Blues.

"It was frustrating last year obviously," Schwartz said. "I think the best thing you can do is learn from it. We were pretty disappointed with how things finished. We don't want to have that happen again. The fitness testing was a good start for us. You see how good shape guys are in and we start building now. I think chip on the shoulder is one way of putting it, but I think it just gets you excited for the season to get going again and put (last season) in the past. At the same time, you've got to learn from it and move from the frustrating times that you had. In the end, it can make you better if you learn from losing and you learn from going through spurts that we had that wasn't very fun. If you can take that forward into this year, I think that'll help us."

Schwartz sounds like he's ready to go to war, and if his teammates were wise, they'd back their ammunition and join him.

Friday, September 28, 2018

Schwartz leads way, Blues buckle down defensively in 3-1 win over Stars

Forward nets goal, two assists; Allen solid in 
goal with 21 saves; O'Reilly nets first goal as a Blue

ST. LOUIS -- Getting back to more of an identity was key for the St. Louis Blues on Friday.

An identity that includes playing sound defense, proper puck management, playing for one another and Jaden Schwartz leading the initiative.

The Blues improved over their defensive game against the Washington Capitals on Tuesday and were much more disciplined and in unison against the Dallas Stars on Friday, and Schwartz had an all-out effort including a goal and two assists in a 3-1 win over the Stars at Enterprise Center.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Ryan O'Reilly (right) celebrates with teammate Vladimir Tarasenko after
scoring in the second period of a 3-1 win over Dallas on Friday.

Ryan O'Reilly scored his first of what he hopes is many goals as a Blue and continued a solid repoire with linemates Vladimir Tarasenko and Pat Maroon, young defensemen Jordan Schmaltz and Jake Walman had a nice game and Jake Allen looked sharp again in goal, stopping 21 of 22 shots and falling 1 minute, 57 seconds short of a shutout in his first complete game of the preseason; he played the first two periods on Tuesday and made 19 saves on 21 shots, good for a .930 save percentage.

The Blues (4-2-0) have one more tune-up game remaining, on Sunday at Washington, before opening the regular season.

"Getting closer to the start here, I think we geared up," O'Reilly said. "We obviously wanted the game to be better than the last one. We focused up a bit and said, 'We've got to be better here.' Season's coming soon and we've got to be sharp."

"We're a team that knows we defend hard, hard to play against," said center Brayden Schenn, who had an assist on Schwartz's goal early in the third period. "Better details tonight. A little bit better with the puck. Can still clean a lot of things up, but we're pointed in the right direction."

When Schwartz is hounding pucks, playing determined, turning the opposition over and creating offensively, he's as good as anyone at doing it in the league. His efforts on the ice become contagious with his teammates and seem to resonate throughout the game.

"You see how he impacted (the game)," O'Reilly said. "He was awesome tonight. Every little play he made, both sides of the puck he was making an impact. The goal, two assists, he's working and he's creating and it's nice to see him get rewarded for it."

It started when he helped create a turnover that led the O'Reilly's goal 31 seconds into the second period, and Tarasenko finished off the passing to O'Reilly in the right circle for a one-timer that beat Stars goalie Landon Bow.

"It's nice to connect," O'Reilly said. "I feel like we've had a lot of chances. This line's creating a lot. We're right there, we're just not putting them in. It was nice tonight to get a little success 5-on-5 and score some goals, which is nice."

Schwartz is gearing up to be in top form after injuring his right shoulder at the IIHF World Championship in Denmark over the summer. Sure looks like he's coming along well.

"I'm just trying to get back up to speed," Schwartz said. "First two games, we were creating a little bit, but a little bit too much swinging in my game and maybe not doing the little things as much as what I usually need to do. I just tried to focus on that. Good things happen when you take care of the little things and take care of the puck. I thought overall it was a good team game. 

"I just try to play that way every game. If I'm not playing that way, then I don't think I'm very successful and I'm not helping the team as much as I can. That's the only way I feel like I can help the team out and help myself out. If other guys see that and it helps them out, then that's good."

Schwartz's goal 1:30 into the third period was typical of how he plays, dogged, determined and persistent. He finished off a chance after initially being stopped by Bow but falling down, stayed with the play and swatted the puck in sliding by the right post.

"Maybe I got lucky with the puck coming back to me," said Schwartz, who missed on a penalty shot at 11:33 of the first period. "I had some chances earlier and it wasn't going in. Sometimes you just keep hacking away and stay with it and that one went in."

"I thought he had a really good game," Blues associate coach Craig Berube said of Schwartz. "His tenacity and speed on the puck and quick plays he makes was very noticeable tonight. I thought he played very well. Looks in good form, midseason form right now."

Schenn made the pass in a continued effort to keep that solid chemistry with Schwartz.

"It just doesn't happen overnight," Schenn said. "It's going to take some time to get back. It was a step in the right direction to playing the way we can play and obviously we got more levels to go here but a step in the right direction.

"He had a great game tonight. He was around the net, he made plays. Obviously three points. He's obviously a huge piece to our team. Just by talking to him, obviously felt better than the games in the past. ... He's obviously a huge piece to our team. We know that. He's able to kill penalties, play on the power play, play in different spots on the power play. He's a huge piece that drives our team. We expect a big year out of him."

Allen looked calm in goal for a second straight game. He tracked pucks well, didn't allow many rebounds and made the necessary saves when called upon. His workload got busy in the second period when he stopped all 11 shots faced.

"I think if you count that (game Tuesday) and practices in between, I felt we were good," Allen said. "Just trying to get better every day right now until next Thursday. It was another good step tonight.

"I felt solid last game for a first game. I honestly felt better than I thought I would out there comfort-wise, so I took that into practice and tried to build off that yesterday. ... I felt pretty smooth."

Blake Comeau scored on a goalmouth scramble for the Stars (4-1-1), who had pulled Bow for a sixth attacker, but that was Allen's only blemish on the night.

"He looked really good in net, calm, made a lot of good saves, handled the puck really well," Berube said of Allen. "He looked relaxed in net."

Tarasenko scored into the empty-net with seven seconds left.

The Blues had a couple scares in the game when Maroon was drilled by a Tarasenko shot moments before O'Reily scored, and Sammy Blais was hit on the left leg/knee in the second period by a Julius Honka wrister.

Maroon limped to the bench and had trouble getting down the tunnel but returned not too long after and Blais initially stayed on the bench but in some discomfort. He then went down the tunnel but immediately returned after walking it off.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Jake Allen makes one of his 21 saves on Friday during a 3-1 win over the 
Dallas Stars at Enterprise Center.

Schmaltz finished with 14:24 of ice time, and Walman was at 13:44. They were on the ice for the Stars goal but handled themselves well.

"Dallas came in here with a good lineup, so they were out there against some really good players," Berube said. "I thought they handled themselves really well."

The Blues will fly to Washington on Saturday, play the Capitals at 2 p.m. Sunday and stay over and visit the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md. before returning home Tuesday following a team bonding trip.

(9-28-18) Stars-Blues Preseason Gameday Lineup

ST. LOUIS -- Another dress rehearsal for the Blues (3-2-0) when they host the Dallas Stars (4-0-1) today at 7 p.m. (, KMOX 1120-AM,,, Sports Radio 98.1 HD3) gives another audition for a number of young players.

Most notably, the defensive pair of Jordan Schmaltz and Jake Walman will get tested against a veteran-savvy Stars lineup.

Schmaltz will most likely get a good look in the final two preseason games considering there's a better than average chance that he will be in the lineup opening night on Oct. 4 against Winnipeg with Robert Bortuzzo being suspended for the first regular season game.

"It's another opportunity for me," Schmaltz said. "Playing with Walman tonight, so it should be good. We've got to be good. We've got to move the puck quick and be good on our retrievals. 

"It's still about a week away. I've just got to keep playing well and asserting myself and we'll see what happens next week. ... I'm controlling what I can. I'm playing pretty well. I just need to keep going and give these coaches no excuse (not) to put me in the lineup."

Coach Mike Yeo said that there is that opportunity knocking now that Bortuzzo, who was handed a three-game suspension on Thursday for his elbowing infraction Tuesday on a hit to Washington Capitals defenseman Michal Kempny.

"There's an opening right there in itself that we have to fill," Yeo said. "It's an opportunity for somebody to grab a hold of potentially that spot, maybe another.

"Take advantage of the opportunity. This is a good lineup that they're going to face and with that, comes the opportunity to send a pretty good message. If you go out and play well in a game like this, it's going to be competitive, they're going to be more on top of their game than a week ago or so when we played them. They're going to have more NHL players in the lineup. You play well in a game like this, you show us that you're close to being ready to be an NHL hockey player."

For Walman, a 2014 third-round pick, last season was a bit of a lost season having to play for the Chicago Wolves and Binghamton Devils of the American Hockey League, two landing spots not affiliated with the Blues' farm clubs and not getting the proper coaching from organizational coaches.

Walman finished with 20 points (four goals, 16 assists) in 59 games, of which 40 were with the Wolves (two goals, 11 assists) and 19 with the Devils (two goals, five assists).

"It was a tough year to say the least," Walman said. "There's adversity that every player has to go with at some point in their career. I guess I was fortunate enough for that to happen early on. I can get that stuff out of the way and now I know what to build on. Any circumstance that comes along, I know how to take advantage of it.

"I had to work hard for everything I got last year. I wasn't with a team that was affiliated with the Blues, so I had to work extra hard and nothing was guaranteed with lineup spots. Even in practice, I wasn't getting as many reps. I definitely learned to work my butt off outside the rink and with my teammates in the rink."

Yeo said he's seen a gradual increase in Walman's game.

"I've seen a big jump in his progress, a big jump in his development," Yeo said. "The offensive side of things, I'd still like to see him move the puck quicker, still would like to see him distribute the puck, get involved in the play, jump up in the play. Sometimes he hangs onto it a little too long. But that for me is a young offensive defenseman ... this is a different game here than it is in college. This is a different game here than it is in the American (Hockey) League. I think he's just trying to learn that and I've seen improvement in that area. The biggest improvement for me is competitiveness and his defensive game. He's a player that I trust on the ice right now, he's a player that's going to use his skating ability to play tight, to play our system, to be aggressive as far as his gaps as far as how he closes on people down low in the defensive zone. A big jump in his progress there.

"I don't know what it was (last year). It's hard to say right now. We can speculate, who knows. Maybe he would have had a tough season if we would have had our own farm team. It is what it is. We're here today and it was a tough season in that regard but probably built a little bit of character in him that he can deal with that stuff. I'm sure he learned things along the way. It's tough to say what last year was. I have seen improvement in him and it's been a good camp up to this point. I'd like to see him have a heck of a game tonight."

Chances are Walman will be in San Antonio this season; he doesn't have to clear waivers to go down, unlike Schmaltz, who does. But knowing he will be handled by organizational coaches is a comforting feeling for the Toronto native.

"This year is going to be a great year for me," Walman said. "I know that. Wherever I end up, I know I have a place to play and a home wherever that may be and I'll finally feel like I'm a part of the family. 

"I don't think about that stuff (cuts) too much. I think last year, I focused on it a little more than I should have. This year, I've just been focusing on myself and hanging with the guys around the room, getting to know everyone pretty well. It's just feeling like home here. That's my biggest focus."

- - -

Jordan Kyrou, a 2016 second-round pick, gets the chance to audition himself in even a bigger role playing with Jaden Schwartz and Brayden Schenn tonight.

Kyrou only played 8 minutes, 19 seconds on Tuesday but given that Yeo has moved him up in the lineup, this is another chance at perhaps solidifying his spot on the opening night roster.

"I thought I've had a good start and I've played really well out of the games," Kyrou said. "It's not over yet. We still have two games left to show what you've got. Continue to go out there and play my game and help the team win.

"They're great players and it's exciting to play with them tonight, so I'm excited. They're giving you opportunity and you want to go out there, take it and play well."

Sammy Blais, Robert Thomas and Ivan Barbashev will all be in the lineup again tonight.

"It was tough to evaluate Kyrou last game," Yeo said. "I thought that he did some good things. He only played eight minutes or so of ice time, was on neither special team and playing a fourth line. Our focus right now has to be in part making decisions, but heavily it has to be making sure that our veteran players are ready to play and starting the season and getting the ice time that they need. Tonight, we have an opportunity with 'Steener' out of the lineup that we can get Jordan more ice time, a bigger role with quality players and get a really good look at him here. I thought 'Blaiser', for me, he took a step back last game. He's still doing some great things, but it was a little bit of a step back. What I want to see tonight, I'm not holding that against him. I'm giving him an opportunity and the benefit of the doubt that he played a hard game in Columbus with lots of ice time and a really hard practice the next day and I thought he didn't have the same jump in that game. But he's going to get another really good opportunity tonight and I think that he's going to show well."

- - -

Alexander Steen and Vince Dunn, who sat out Thursday's practice with upper-body injuries, were both on the ice Friday but will not be in the lineup, and Zach Sanford, who returned to practice Thursday following the death of his father, Michael Sanford, skated for a second straight day. 

Robby Fabbri, nursing a Grade 1 groin strain, was not on the ice Friday. 

- - -

The Blues' projected lineup:

Pat Maroon-Ryan O'Reilly-Vladimir Tarasenko

Jaden Schwartz-Brayden Schenn-Jordan Kyrou

Sammy Blais-Tyler Bozak-David Perron

Ivan Barbashev-Robert Thomas-Oskar Sundqvist

Jay Bouwmeester-Alex Pietrangelo

Joel Edmundson-Colton Parayko

Jake Walman-Jordan Schmaltz

Jake Allen will start in goal and play the whole game; Ville Husso will be the backup.

- - -

The Stars' projected lineup:

Jamie Benn-Tyler Seguin-Alexander Radulov

Mattias Janmark-Jason Spezza-Blake Comeau

Jason Dickinson-Radek Faksa-Tyler Pitlick

Devin Shore-Roope Hintz-Gemel Smith

Esa Lindell-John Klingberg

Marc Methot-Miro Heiskanen

Gavin Bayreuther-Julius Honka 

Landon Bow will start in goal; Ben Bishop will be the backup.

Thursday, September 27, 2018


Steen, Dunn day-to-day with upper-body injuries; Schwartz given maintenance 
day; Fabbri practices, leaves early; Sanford returns after father's death

ST. LOUIS -- The Blues had a bit of a mash-up as far as their forward line combinations on Thursday at practice without a couple key forwards.

Alexander Steen and defenseman Vince Dunn missed practice after sustaining upper-body injuries in the preseason game Tuesday against the Washington Capitals. Both are day-to-day.

Jaden Schwartz took the ice for a brief time, took a few twirls around the ice before practice and then left with what coach Mike Yeo called a maintenance day, and Robby Fabbri, who sustained a Grade 1 groin strain in a preseason game last Sunday at Columbus after experiencing a sore back and sore hip flexor after playing against Minnesota on Sept. 19, practiced for the first time this week but did not come back out for the second half of it.

The Blues host the Dallas Stars on Friday at 7 p.m. (, KMOX 1120-AM),,, Sports Radio 98.1 HD3).

" We would expect [Schwartz] to be on the ice tomorrow and we'll decide if we want to put him in the game and see how that goes," Yeo said. "Robby went on the ice, didn't reinjure it, but just didn't feel up to the level that he needed to, to continue to practice, so we pulled him off."

The Blues open the regular season next Thursday, Oct. 4, against the Winnipeg Jets and are trying to keep the lineup as close to in tact as possible with smaller ailments creeping in.

"You just want to make sure when you're here that we're getting better," Yeo said, "and getting better might mean rest, it might mean holding someone off the ice and just having an off-ice workout and not putting them in a position where if something's nagging them, it gets worse, or it might be getting on the ice and getting better that way."

* Sanford returns -- Another forward, Zach Sanford, returned to the ice after going home to Massachussetts to spend time with his family after the shocking and sudden death of Sanford's father, Michael.

Sanford left the team last Friday.

"It's hard for us to judge him today," Yeo said. "It was good for him to get back on the ice today. He's had a good camp up to this point. We think highly of him as a player and now it's just get him back with the group and see how he gets up and gets moving here."

The best medicine Sanford can get now is the support of his teammates and organization.

"There's really not a whole lot to say. I don't talk about it, not because I don't care. I care incredibly. It's really sad and it just flat-out sucks and I feel terrible. He's a great kid. We're hurting with him, but there's not much to say."

* O'Reilly still working late -- Even since Ryan O'Reilly reported for informal skates prior to training camp, he had a knack for staying well after his teammates were long gone, working on extra drills and getting in plenty of cardio.

And on Thursday when practice was done for at least 30 minutes or so, O'Reilly came into the room to change, and following him in were youngsters Robert Thomas, Sammy Blais, Jordan Kyrou and Jake Walman, all who remained on the ice with the veteran O'Reilly.

"It was just us messing around, working on different things," O'Reilly said. "It's nice. It's nice being out there with young guys. It definitely gives myself some good energy. It's good. You've got to have that. You've all got to work on our game and get better. For these guys, we have to keep doing all these things constantly to make an impact."

Yeo certainly condones it, and not just with O'Reilly, but with everyone.

"I like guys to stay after practice; they don't have to be young," Yeo said. "He's showing that. I think that's an opportunity to work on your game, to work on skills, to work on things that are going to arise and happen in the game and next thing you know, you're ready for it. I think that you're going to see over time, it's one thing for them (and) it's easy because you have a guy like 'O'Ry' on the ice and you're a young kid, it's hard to go off the ice before him. I think what you're going to see over time, you're going to start to see not only young guys but other guys following suit too. ... There's opportunities before and after practice to work on individual skills to you and your game and he's mastered that. When you see a guy out there doing those things, it's not just what he creates, it's not just what he's making happen out there, it's what other people on the bench are seeing and he's raising the level of the rest of the group. His impact is definitely huge. It's his quality of play, it's his body of work. It's also how he drags other people into the fight with him."

* Movable parts on D -- Thursday's practice had the top four defensemen switched up, with birthday boy Jay Bouwmeester, who turned 35, paired with Alex Pietrangelo, and Joel Edmundson paired with Colton Parayko.

It's not uncommon for Yeo to do that, and those four have been flipped before, but it was the first time in camp that Edmundson and Pietrangelo have been separated, and Bouwmeester for the most part has been paired with Parayko.

"It's interchangeable," Yeo said. "I think that that group of four, they've seen time with each guy. 'Eddy' and 'Petro', we've liked what we've seen there. Now it's just an opportunity to see how it affects things. We haven't done it yet this year, so I felt it was important ti give it a shot and see how it looks."

* Bortuzzo suspended three games -- The NHL's Department of Player Safety suspended Blues defenseman Robert Bortuzzo for elbowing Capitals defenseman Michal Kempny during Tuesday's preseason game.

Bortuzzo will miss the final two preseason games and the regular-season opener Oct. 4 at home against Winnipeg. 

Under the terms of the collective bargaining agreement and based on his average annual salary, Bortuzzo will forfeit $6,182.80. The money goes to the players’ emergency assistance fund.

Here is video of the league's explanation:

Bortuzzo went in for a check to Kempny in the Blues' zone and caught him up high with the elbow-forearm to the side of the face/jaw area in the first minute of the third period. The Capitals, who won the game 4-0, scored seconds later. Bortuzzo was not given a penalty on the play.

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Maroon more than just a big, physical body; he has a set of skilled hands

Oakville native honed craft as a younger kid, realized speed wasn't 
going to get him noticed to play in NHL; made stick-handling a priority

ST. LOUIS -- The character traits on the ice were on full display Tuesday for one of the newest Blues forwards, and Oakville native, Pat Maroon.

Maroon, signed to a one-year, $1.75 million contract on July 10, was more than a willing participant to show what he can do for those that have never met him before. At 6-foot-3, 225 pounds, Maroon is the guy that will go in and do the dirty work in the offensive zone, dig pucks out, create space, protecting pucks, getting netfront presence, get pucks to playmakers and make a play when needed, as he was doing for Vladimir Tarasenko and Ryan O'Reilly against the Washington Capitals.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues winger and Oakville native Pat Maroon developed hands to play in the
NHL for more than just fighting. They're offensive assets as well.

Maroon was also chucking his gloves from the middle of the Enterprise Center ice so far that when he whipped them off, they landed all the way back in Oakville it seemed, during a second-period fight against Liam O'Brien protecting teammate Alex Pietrangelo.

Common and predictable characteristics? Yes. But there's also an element to Maroon's game one wouldn't guess. A former NHL player identified it as, "the best set of hands by far from the blue line in."

Best hands normally are attributed to the artists on the ice that make the impossible play possible, like a Connor McDavid in Edmonton would do, or a Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin would do in Pittsburgh, or a Nicklas Backstrom in Washington or Claude Giroux in Philadelphia. Guys that make hands a priority to their respective success on a daily basis.

It's not often a bigger, physical skater is associated with soft hands, but Maroon felt at a young age, if he was going to pursue hockey, development of his hands would be the way to go since, "It's not my foot speed," he said laughing, "so I had to find a different element to my game and my hands have always been there, I've always been able to stick-handle out of a phone booth sometimes."

It started in the garage of Maroon's parents, Philip and Patricia, and developed more in a pair of roller skates.

"It's been with me for quite a bit. I don't know where it came from," Maroon said. "I was always in the game, I always had good hands growing up since I was a little kid. Playing roller hockey was one of the things and I just worked at it. I know it sounds cliche, but it helped my game a lot. Playing that a lot and just stick-handling a golf ball in the garage every day."

Imagine the feel, tap-tap-tap-tap-tap-tap-tap, back and forth, back and forth, over and over. This is what Maroon was, and did.

From the time Maroon was able to break into the NHL, teams have noticed that he's more than just a big body. He played with Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry in Anaheim, and McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, two explosive offensive players, during his time in Edmonton and had his best season statistically during the 2016-17 season with career highs in points (42) and goals (27).

"Very good hands for a big guy. [Maroon's] got extremely good hands," winger Jaden Schwartz, one of the better stick-handlers with the Blues, said. "You notice that right away. He's played with a lot of good players. In Edmonton, I think he played with McDavid for a while, he played with some skilled guys there. He's a guy that can play in all different kind of situations and different lines and brings a physical element, but he's got that offensive upside as well.

"I don't know if you see that a whole lot with a guy his size and hands that good. He's good in tight too around the net, whether it's rebounds or pucks in close. From all the practices and scrimmages, he's good in tight getting pucks up."

And the Blues brought the hometown kid back knowing he could add an element that's been lacking since the departures of David Backes and Troy Brouwer, a presence in front of the net who can contribute and enhance Tarasenko's shooting ability and O'Reilly's workmanlike game down the middle of the ice.

"He's got good hands, especially down low and around the net," Blues coach Mike Yeo said of Maroon. "... That's part of his game. He's a physical player, he's a big body, but that's not all of him. A big reason why he's here is we believe he's strong around the net, good hands down low in the offensive zone and has the ability to make plays."

When Maroon broke into the league in 2012, he wasn't going to outskate anybody, so in order for him to have a prolonged career, the hands would have to do it. That's why he's played anywhere from the first to the fourth line. That sort of versatility has become a unique weapon for Maroon.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues winger Pat Maroon (7) battles for position in front of the net on
Friday against Columbus.

"For a big man, I knew I had to find a way," Maroon said. "... That's always been with me. It's something I've been fortunate enough to have because a lot of people don't have that. I'm lucky enough to have hands. Some people have foot speed, I have hands.

"... Moving forward in the NHL, if you lack confidence in this league, it's going to be a long year. You just have to have confidence in this league and feeling good about yourself and just being yourself. It's tough when you don't have that swagger in the NHL."

* NOTES -- Blues defenseman Robert Bortuzzo will have a hearing Thursday with the NHL's Department of Player Safety for an elbowing incident with Capitals defenseman Michal Kempny.

Bortuzzo went back to check Kempny in his own zone and caught the Caps d-man in the face seconds before Washington scored to make it 3-0.

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Blues top lineup comes up empty in 4-0 loss to Capitals

First game with near-regular season lineup sees positives, 
shortcomings that need work; Allen Perron make preseason debuts 

ST. LOUIS -- Playing with a loaded lineup that will resemble as close to, if not, what the opening night lineup will look like, the Blues found out some things playing their fifth preseason game against the defending Stanley Cup champion Washington Capitals.

The bottom line: there's work left to be done, some quirks to work out and some timing plays that need repetition.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Jake Allen (34) made his preseason debut for the Blues in a 4-0 loss to the 
Capitals. Allen made 19 saves on 21 shots in two periods of work.

A 4-0 loss against a Capitals squad that brought with it some savvy veterans, including Alex Ovechkin, John Carlson, Evgeny Kuznetzov and Lars Eller among others, was a stark reminder that not all is going to go right when putting  plethora of new faces into the lineup. 

On paper, everything looks Stanley Cup worthy. The finished product obviously needs some touching up. But one thing the Blues can take away from a loss and first experiment as a group together: they won't take any flack from the opposition.

"This was an intense game. You can see that," Blues coach Mike Yeo said, with 44 minutes in penalties and two fighting majors in the game. "They had a physical lineup. Some things I'm unhappy with, but certainly happy with the way the guys competed and stuck up for each other.

"... We want to be a team, and tonight, I thought that we were team-tough. When something happened, we saw a teammate getting in there for each other. That's a big, physical team. Saw that in the playoffs last year, and they had a couple other guys in the lineup that play a very physical brand. We were willing to stand up to it, but obviously at the end of the night, we're sitting here and we lost the game 4-0. There's some other areas that we have to get better, but from that standpoint, you're trying to build your team, you're trying to build a group that wants to play hard and stick up for each other and play for each other. At least in that regard, there's something to build off of."

One was Patrick Maroon, who jumped in with Washington tough guy Liam O'Brien, both chucking their gloves off and landing in North County, before each landed some hard blows when the game was 3-0.

Maroon took exception to O'Brien getting a little too physical with captain Alex Pietrangelo. 

"I felt he got his elbow up on 'Petro' and I didn't like that and he jawed back at the bench," Maroon said. "I was just trying to be a teammate. That's all I'm trying to do. It's nothing new with me. I'm sure you'll see a lot of it. It's how I play. It's kind of my game, my style. I'm not afraid to do that stuff. He's a tough customer. I'll have to look at the stat sheet next time."

The Blues, who outshot Washington 42-37 in the game, and were blanked because of the efforts of Pheonix Copley, who was in the Blues' system until traded back to the Capitals in 2017 in the package that sent Kevin Shattenkirk to Washington, has their moments at scoring, including a 5-on-3 for 1 minute, 54 seconds that yielded them four shots on goal and a Vladimir Tarasenko snapper off the left post.

"Good movement, threats from different areas," Yeo said. "We saw chances from in front of the net, saw chances from up top. You've got to find a way to finish, you've got to find a way to bury chances, but without scoring, that's as good as a 5-on-3 has looked for a while here."

The game was the first for Jake Allen, who made 19 saves on 21 shots and played the first two periods before giving way to Chad Johnson.

"I actually felt pretty good," Allen, who will play a full game Friday against Dallas, said after the game. "My footwork felt good. It was actually (more challenging) getting into the gameday routine again and that sort of thing. It's nice to get back into that rhythm as well. I was happy. I felt pretty solid out there.

"It was good to get some shots too. I was glad to get some good attempts instead of a boring night. It was nice."

Allen and David Perron made their preseason debuts in the game.

"Man, it's been a while since he played," Pietrangelo said of Allen. "Stopped the puck real well. I think the next for him is feeling more comfortable, keep moving the puck and I think Friday, he'll be even better."

"I thought he made a couple really good saves," Yeo said. "I thought he didn't look like he's been out for a long time, and that's good news for him. He stood tall in there. Him getting through this is a big first step."

The young kid line with Robert Thomas, Jordan Kyrou and Ivan Barbashev didn't get a ton of ice time (10:15 for Thomas, 8:19 for Kyrou and 10:43 for Barbashev) but when the trio got out there, they were threats with their speed and puck movement. 

Kyrou was robbed by Copley with a glove save directly in front of him after he got a pass from Thomas with 2:53 left in the opening period.

"Those guys, I thought they did their job tonight," Yeo said. "It's a bit of a different role for them. They're used to being the top ice guys on their team and first over the boards. We had to focus on our veteran guys and guys that haven't played a lot of games got a lot of ice time. With that, there was long periods of time where they weren't playing, but they came over the boards and they were ready. They took advantage of their opportunities and generated some good opportunities for us."

The game presented the Blues (3-2-0) a stern reminder that it was a good lesson playing against Washington and some of their big guns, because there were at times timing issues, gaps in allowing odd-man rushes too cleanly up the ice, particularly in the first goal scored by Shane Gersich 10:16 into the first period and a few other kinks that need to be ironed out.

"It's a good reminder that we're not there yet. We shouldn't be there yet," Yeo said. "Obviously we've been off for a long time and we've got to find a way to get up to the level that we need to be at and this will be a good reminder for us there. There's some things that are close, there's some things that every game we get a little bit closer, every day we get a little bit closer, but we're not there yet. The fact that we played that team is good for us because that's a team winning the Stanley Cup, the game that they play at is very fresh in their minds, they're on top of it, they're at the level a little more than we were. We have to find a way to get there."

There weren't many, if any, dejected faces in the locker room.

"Our team was in the game and we've just got to find some chemistry right now," Maroon said. "New faces, news guys. We've got two more games and we can bounce back. 

"We need to clean up some things. It's not a lot, it's just a little. Sometimes you've got to tip your cap. That goalie made some unbelievable saves. The game could have been very different if we busy on those chances. Just clean up the minor details between the ears."

And playing more together as a group would help.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Robert Thomas moves the puck during preseason action on Tuesday for the
Blues in a 4-0 loss to the Washington Capitals at Enterprise Center.

"We've only really practiced with a couple of these guys for two days now," Pietrangelo said. "Not really an excuse, but I think systematically, we can get better. I think we're still kind of hesitant, some of us have never played in this system. Some of us, we've played in for a couple years. I like the effort though, I like sticking up for each other. That's something to build off of. It shows a lot of character right now. Systematically, if that's the issue, we can hammer that into our brains and it should be second nature for a lot of us. The other thing can't be taught and it's good to see."

Nathan Walker, Madison Bowey and Chandler Stephenson also scored for the Capitals (1-3-1). Bowey scored on Chad Johnson just 52 seconds into the third and Stephenson's goal was an empty-netter.

(9-25-18) Capitals-Blues Preseason Gameday Lineup

ST. LOUIS -- The lineup the Blues roll out against the Washington Capitals today (7 p.m. on, 98.1 HD3) will resemble as close to a regular season lineup as can be.

The Blues will roll out most of their veterans, including David Perron and Tyler Bozak returning from sore groin injuries. Perron will be making his preseason debut.

"It's pretty close," Blues coach Mike Yeo said of the lineup. "They're not at their full lineup, but it's a pretty decent lineup we're going to face tonight. Obviously minus a few key guys, but still a pretty good lineup we're going to face. Good opportunity here tonight to kind of gauge where we're at, at this point of camp."

It's a good opportunity for the Blues to see where they are chemistry-wise in game-like situations rather than just the development of guys playing together in practice.

"We obviously have a good lineup in," defenseman Colton Parayko said. "Some changes have been over the past week, so it's good to get to a group where we're just down to one group. We can all just be together and get some chemistry, see each other out there, all that kind of stuff. It's a lot nicer. I haven't skated with a couple of those guys for the first week or two of camp, so it's a little different having two groups going. But it's nice we're down to just enough skaters where we can skate with one group and getting close to the regular season, so we want to see more close to a lineup just to kind of build chemistry and get thing going."

Perron, who played into June with the Vegas Golden Knights, said getting into some preseason action is good but was fine if this particular year, he didn't.

"It's nice; you just want to get the first one out of the way," Perron said. "Obviously struggling with the groin/hip thing, but hopefully it's past us and it's been a good training camp. It's been fun to see some of the guys raise their level of play. You want to get involved in that, just feel the puck on the ice, make the right plays. There's not many games until the regular season and you want to get into the right habits and do that from the get-go.

"... It's a different thing for me this year because it was obviously a shorter offseason. Everything kind of feels different from the training I had this summer to the skating and so many things. I feel like if there's one year I don't need preseason, it's probably this year, but you can ask me again tonight and I'll say something different  so we'll see. But it's definitely nice to get one out of the way."

Goalie Jake Allen also makes his preseason debut and will play the first two periods; Chad Johnson will play the third period.

"Comfortable in the net, reading the plays," Yeo said of what he wants to see. "Obviously athleticism, we know he's got that. Conditioning, he's done all that through the summer. It's seeing how game ready he is, that's the big thing. Him no different than all the players, you have to be able to track the play and read the play and react to it. I'm just anxious to see where he's at with that."

- - -

Tonight's game is a big audition of sorts for rookies Robert Thomas and Jordan Kyrou, who will be playing with Ivan Barbashev and account for the fourth line.

The Blues will throw the kids out there and see how they react to playing with much of the veteran guys.

"It's going to be a little bit of a different role for a guy like Robert Thomas tonight than there was the other night when we were throwing him out there every third shift," Yeo said. "Obviously tonight, that's not going to happen. A little more time in between shifts, how you keep your focus, how you stay ready and how you take advantage of those shifts.

"The young guys are going out, they know their jobs are on the line and the older players are kind of pacing themselves. The older players are at this point in camp are starting to understand that it's time to dial it in, time to start getting ready for the season." 

- - -

The Blues' projected lineup:

Patrick Maroon-Ryan O'Reilly-Vladimir Tarasenko

Jaden Schwartz-Brayden Schenn-Sammy Blais

Alexander Steen-Tyler Bozak-David Perron

Ivan Barbashev-Robert Thomas-Jordan Kyrou

Joel Edmundson-Alex Pietrangelo

Jay Bouwmeester-Colton Parayko

Vince Dunn-Robert Bortuzzo

Jake Allen will start in goal and play the first two periods. Chad Johnson will back up and play the third period.

- - -

The Capitals' projected lineup:

Alex Ovechkin-Evgeny Kuznetzov-Tom Wilson

Chandler Stephenson-Lars Eller-Brett Connolly

Shane Gersich-Nic Dowd-Riley Barber

Liam O'Brien-Travis Boyd-Nathan Walker

Michal Kempny-John Carlson

Brooks Orpik-Christian Djoos

Jonas Siegenthaler-Madison Bowey

Pheonix Copley will start and play the entire game. Braden Holtby will be the backup.

Monday, September 24, 2018


Allen, Perron to make preseason debuts; Bozak expected to play; Fabbri
has groin strain; Blues trim camp roster down to 33, Mikkola impressing

ST. LOUIS -- Jake Allen will make his preseason debut on Tuesday when the Blues (3-1-0) host the Washington Capitals.

Allen was initially diagnosed with back spasms days before the start of training camp and was expected to miss up to two weeks but has been a regular on the ice since Sept. 18 and after putting in a full day's work, including flopping to the ice to make a save during a drill, all systems are go and he will play 40 minutes before giving way to Chad Johnson for the third.

"I'm gonna play two periods tomorrow, just get my feet wet in a game again and go from there," Allen said. "I don't know the schedule moving forward after that, but right now, we're just trying to get back in the swing of things of progressing well and feeling better in practice and things like that. I'm looking forward to getting into some action, just focus on a few things and go from there.

"Things are looking up and I'm glad to be in a game. It feels like camp has been going on forever to be honest because I wasn't really part of it to start and then jumping back in the swing of things and not being able to play the last four games. I'm looking forward to tomorrow and should be fun. ... It's nice to feel a lot more free in there. I was a little restricted before in my movements, but I feel pretty loose, pretty rotational and it feels good."

Blues coach Mike Yeo said there is no set plan for Allen; he'd like to get Allen in as much as possible but will take it day by day.

"He looks good," Yeo said of Allen. "Had a net to himself there today, getting him out there with the big boys. The next step now is getting him into game action.

"We want to get him in as much as we can. I don't have a plan past tomorrow. I just want to see how he does and how he feels tomorrow."

Allen could get the entire game Friday at home against Dallas or at Washington to conclude preseason play Sunday but isn't unsure himself.

"I imagine I'll get as much as I can. That's the plan," Allen said, who feels he'll be ready to go for the season-opener Oct. 4 against Winnipeg. "We didn't want to start off with a full game right away. Most of the guys lead themselves in with a half a game, so this is a start for me. Just (get in) a solid, two periods. It's more of a feel for me and timing and getting my game routine back. It's more those things. I imagine I'll get in at least two of the next three. We'll see where we go after tomorrow."

* Fabbri day to day with groin strain -- Yeo said that forward Robby Fabbri has a Grade 1 groin strain sustained in Sunday's 5-1 win at Columbus. 

Fabbri played the first period but did not return for the final two periods.

Fabbri is coming off two torn ACL surgeries on his left knee and last week, was dealing with a sore back and sore hip flexor.

"Keep him off the ice today," Yeo said. "I can't say we have a hard, set plan yet. It's just a matter of wait and see, how it improves here.

"It's the other side of his body. I can't say if it's connected it not. I guess it's possible he's compensating, but my medical degree did not cover that."

Fabbri will not play Tuesday and the team has the day off Wednesday, so the Blues hope to have an idea how he's progressed the next couple days before deciding a course of action.

* Perron, Bozak return to practice -- Forwards David Perron (sore groin) and Tyler Bozak (sore groin) returned to the practice group on Monday and with both skaters being full participants, the plan is for both to play Tuesday.

Perron hasn't skated since Thursday and has not played in a preseason game yet, and Bozak last skated in the 3-2 win over the Minnesota Wild last Wednesday in Des Moines, Iowa.

"That's the plan that we have both of those guys in tomorrow," Yeo said. "If I go in and find out that they didn't feel great in practice or maybe something arises like it did the other day, then we'll change things up, but the plan is to have them in tomorrow."

* Blues assign seven to San Antonio -- The Blues assigned seven more skaters to San Antonio of the American Hockey League, reducing the camp roster down to 33.

The players assigned include forwards Klim Kostin, Mackenzie MacEachern, Adam Musil, Jordan Nolan and Nolan Stevens and defensemen Chris Butler and Mitch Reinke.

"When you have a roster cutdown, there's always some tough conversations, but I think the guys that went down to San Antonio, very pleased with what I saw from a lot of guys," Yeo said. "I think our organization, we're real happy with the depth and so that's a good thing. It's nice to get the one group, I will say that."

Among those still remaining include forwards Sammy Blais, Robert Thomas, Jordan Kyrou, defensemen Jordan Schmaltz, Jake Walman and Niko Mikkola, the surprise out of camp thus far.

"I thought his last game was very strong," Yeo said of Mikkola. "It's a young player, there's still some things we need to work on, some things we have to kind of coach out. He gets kind of a little too wrapped up in some man on man stuff sometimes. Sometimes maybe he's a little over-aggressive, but at the same time, you like a player as a coach that you have to pull back the reigns on a little bit as opposed to trying to crack the whip. Every time he's on the ice, he's trying to make something happen. He's trying to be a difference maker and he's trying to be a difference maker whether it's his gap, his stick, physicality. You can also see the way he's activating trying to get up in the play. I've been very, very pleased with him. He's been one of the biggest surprises for me. 

"I think for a defenseman, he plays a little bit of a European style. A lot of times those Swedish and Finnish defensemen, they have those tendencies. He's definitely been taught in a lot of different areas. He knows what his game is. He's moving well, he's big, he's rangy, he's physical and he's gotten better every day that he's been here."

Mikkola is a fifth round pick in the 2016 NHL Draft and has played in Finland on a wider European sheet of ice his entire career, but he's had a strong camp that's progressed as it's went on.

"I think I got a slow start because it takes time to get used to this North American rink," Mikkola said. "I feel like I get more confidence and I'm feeling better and better. Last couple games, it was pretty good, I think. A couple mistakes but good things also. 

"You have to pass fast and there's no time and space like back in Finland. I think I'm pretty good at that and I've got used to that pretty fast."

The fact he's still here says what the coaches think of the lanky 6-foot-4, 185-pound blue liner.

"I'm happy for that. Of course I'm pleased," Mikkola said. "It's good for me of course."

"These young guys are pushing right now," Yeo said. "We said we were going to have some competition in camp and we're seeing that. Even in practice, I thought that group looked good together. ... Things are getting a little bit more difficult and a little bit harder each game. We'll continue to see how they react."