Saturday, September 15, 2018

Blues open camp with expectations, business-like attitude

Summer additions at forward, including O'Reilly, Perron, 
Bozak, Maroon have Blues on edge in search of chemistry

HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- Skating onto the St. Louis Outlet Mall's Ice Zone facility on Friday in front of a large crowd, the Blues gave their fans a sneak-peek what the 2018-19 NHL season will be like in these parts.

And the overwhelming response was: they love it.

The Blues opened camp on Friday without any injuries (knock on wood) other than a few small setbacks, including Jake Allen, sidelined 10-14 days with back spasms.
Vladimir Tarasenko

But there was Vladimir Tarasenko, who had surgery on his dislocated left shoulder April 11 and is back on the ice; there was Robby Fabbri, who has not played a meaningful game since initially injuring the ACL in his left knee. And there are defenseman Jay Bouwmeester (hip) and Carl Gunnarsson (ACL tear in his left knee), Pat Maroon (surgery to repair a herniated disk in his back) and Robert Bortuzzo (knee), who ended the season playing through injury.

But there were also new faces [Ryan O'Reilly, Tyler Bozak, backup goalie Chad Johnson, Maroon].

Could any or all of them be ready for the regular-season opener?

"I think it's too soon to say," Blues coach Mike Yeo said. "We'll just keep going day to day. Part of being ready is making sure that you get the work through training camp. Training camp is not overly long, but it's enough time to get the timing, to get the conditioning, all those types of things."

O'Reilly, acquired via trade with the Buffalo Sabres, said there is a noticeable vibe in the Blues' locker room compared to what he's been accustomed to with the Sabres.

"Being on a more veteran team, you can kind of see guys handle themselves and it's a great group of guys in a sense that everyone gets along so well," O'Reilly said. "You can tell there's something already here. That core's already here. Everyone kind of buys into that. It works well together, and it's just cool to see that something like that's already established, come into that, join in and feed off that ad go from there. It's nice to see."

Camp opened with a business-like attitude for the Blues, who are projected by many to make a deep run in the Stanley Cup playoffs after acquiring O'Reilly and signing David Perron, Tyler Bozak, Maroon and backup goalie Chad Johnson.

"We'll go into these first few days and things might bounce around, but we'll keep things consistent," Yeo said. "... The goal right now is we have to work on the pace of play, so things faster than you're used to doing them all summer long. We have to work on the conditioning game. You can be in the gym all you want, but when you get on the ice, it's a different story."

Count Brayden Schenn, coming off a career year with 70 points (28 goals, 42 assists) which led the Blues, as a fan and teammate of the moves general manager Doug Armstrong made.

"Obviously, [Armstrong] put that together," Schenn said. "It's up to us players and coaches to come together, figure out a plan, find chemistry. I think you can feel that excitement around the room and the organization. We feel like we have a chance to win this year, a chance to compete in a tough division. There's not much more you can ask for as a player.

"... We've got guys that bring a lot to the table, a lot of different elements. Just the five guys, we've got a mixture of speed and grittiness with Fabbri and obviously size and hands with Maroon, and obviously O'Reilly and Bozak and Perron, who had a career year last year with (66) points that can make plays and his familiarity with the organization. We're looking forward to all those guys chipping in."

All the players coming off injury are on target for a return but not set in stone when.

"It's only so I feel good. I'm really excited to practice with the team," Tarasenko said. "I've practiced a little bit longer, so I'm ahead of schedule. Just enjoy the time on the ice again.

"I don't think it's fair to compare this team to other teams. I have a really good time five or six years here. The whole time I play here, I'll always enjoy the game here, my partners."

Bozak, who signed a three-year, $15 million contract as a free agent on July 1, has the chance to help the Blues while shedding the skin off his tenure with the Maple Leafs.

"I just want to be a guy who can step up and play anywhere in the lineup," Bozak said. "Obviously you're going to have to find chemistry with certain guys and that's always a tough part and sometimes you find chemistry right away and sometimes it might take a few games but hopefully, find that chemistry with the right guys early and get off to a good start."

The Blues are hoping to find that chemistry when they host an open house to all fans free of charge at Enterprise Center. The first group hits the ice at 9:05 a.m., then there's a scrimmage at 10 before the second group hits the ice at 11:30.

When Yeo was asked about the talent level on this team, he said, "It's up there. I see a lot of competition. That's the one thing." 

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