Friday, September 21, 2018

Power play effective again in Blues' 3-0 win over Blue Jackets

Blais, Maroon score man-advantage goals, giving St. Louis five in three 
games; Johnson gets shutout; Bouwmeester, Tarasenko, Bortuzzo make debut

ST. LOUIS -- Having the 30th-ranked power play a season ago, the Blues could only go up. And granted this is only the preseason, judging through three games, it's certainly looking like the difference is much more favorable, and it continued on Friday night.

Sammy Blais and Pat Maroon scored power-play goals, giving the Blues five with the man advantage in three games, and a more veteran-laden lineup that had the debuts of Vladimir Tarasenko, Jay Bouwmeester and Robert Bortuzzo beat the Columbus Blue Jackets 3-0 at Enterprise Center.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Pat Maroon (left) battles for position with Blue Jackets' Paul Bittner in a 
3-0 St. Louis win in preseason play on Friday. Maroon scored in the game.

Adding new players to the mix, systematically changing the execution and gaining more zone time has been a big difference, and Maroon and Blais have accounted for four of the five with the man-advantage thus far (Dmitrij Jaskin being the other) in three games and the execution has come with a different mindset and different mentality.

"You talk about tactics, but I think probably a little bit more bigger picture identity," Blues coach Mike Yeo said. "There's different types of power plays and so just trying to get a little bit of a different approach, more of a downhill mentality. You look at some of the goals we're scoring, it's quick plays, quick plays around the net, it's numbers around the net. Some good things that we've seen so far for sure."

Both goals scored tonight by Blais and Maroon, in the first period, came off direct plays to the net.

Blais got his by being positionally sound to take Brayden Schenn's pass and redirect it past Blue Jackets goalie Sergei Bobrovsky at 4 minutes, 47 seconds of the first period, and Maroon's came off a direct play of winning a faceoff, going to the net after Taraseko's shot to the far pad produced a rebound at 13:38 of the first period.

"I think we're funneling pucks to the net and doing the right things," Maroon said. "It's been a shooting power play so far. I think getting pucks to the net and getting traffic to the net, that's what we've been talking about, big bodies in front, being strong against the opposition, out-willing them and out-competing them. We've been doing that and I think that's why we've been scoring goals in front of the net.

"Power play is huge now in this game. There are a little more penalties, a little more power plays so I think you're probably going to get three or four and you've got to at least capitalize on at least one of them. I thought the first two were really sharp, but I think the last couple, we were a little sloppy, we were trying to be too cute. We weren't simplifying them much, but that's good. The power play's clicking at the right time and I think we want to have that confidence with our units going into the season."

The power play was 2-for-5 and the penalty kill was a perfect 3-for-3 and got a shorthanded, empty-net goal from Bortuzzo, standing directly in front of goalie Chad Johnson to backhand a puck down the ice and into the net with 1:52 to play and the Jackets attacking 6-on-4.

Defensively, the Blues were good in their end defending.

"I would like to see a little more of it in our 5-on-5 play," Yeo said. "I thought we got a little too cute after the first period. I don't know, maybe thought it was going to be easy or what, but our 5-on-5 game, some good things in the defensive checking part of our game, but offensively, too easy to defend tonight."

Johnson got the 20-save shutout. He was used very little in the first period with three saves and the Blues dominating play, outshooting the younger Columbus squad playing against a more seasoned Blues unit by a 9-3 count.

But Johnson, who has allowed just a goal on 36 shots in five periods of preseason action, was attracted to the Blues' defensive style.

"That's why I was excited when there was interest there to possibly ending up on the team here just knowing how goalie-friendly this team is," said Johnson, who signed a one-year, $1.75 million free agent contract on July 1. "When you talk about good defensemen, really it's all about team defense is what matters. That's a big focus here. It helps us goaltenders here big time with our results. It's exciting to be a part of that.

"I would like to see results. That's what everyone judges you on, but for me mentally and personally, I feel really good. I think I'm tracking the puck well, positioning where I need to be, there's always little things like puck plays, chemistry and the feel of things that can always be a little sharper. But I am pleased with the results."

Blais scored his second goal in as many games and is doing all he can to make it tough on the Blues to send him down to the American Hockey League.

"I was playing with good players like 'Schenner' and [Jordan] Kyrou again," Blais said. "They're both pretty skilled players. I think we did a pretty good job tonight.

"I've always been an offensive player. I know how to score goals. 'Schenner' made a good play on that goal. I just had to redirect it into the net. That was a good play by him. I want to push. I want to stay here, that's for sure. I want to make it as hard on them to keep me here. I'm going to work hard the rest of the camp."

Robert Thomas, a 2017 first-round pick, had the opportunity to showcase himself on this stage and found himself at times playing with more skilled players. He didn't find the scoresheet, but was effective in 15:52 ice time.

"I thought he was better today, especially second half of the game," Yeo said of Thomas. "He was starting to get more puck touches, more times where he's skating with the puck. To me, it looked like he gained some confidence today. I thought he took a step and I would expect him to take another step on Sunday when we get him in the lineup again."

Maroon, Ryan O'Reilly and Tarasenko, a line that could very well start the regular season together, got its first game action.

"I think our line had some times where we played a little more d-zone than we wanted to," Maroon said, "but we found some chemistry towards the end, trying to get used to the game again, banging bodies again, ready to protect pucks, timing of the game, simplifying it, holding onto it and not trying to rush too much."
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Sammy Blais (64) scored for the Blues in a 3-0 win over Columbus on
Friday. He's chasing Nikita Korostelev for the puck here.

And Tarasenko, coming off surgery to repair a dislocated left shoulder, got more involved as the game progressed.

"I would say not mid-season form," Yeo said. "Looked like a player coming off a shoulder surgery."

Bouwmeester, coming off left hip surgery, led all players in ice time at 22:50 and looked more like the Bouwmeester of old, gliding on the ice and looking as healthy as he has in over a year.

"'Bouw' didn't show any affects whatsoever," Yeo said. "I was very impressed. Speaking with Ray Barile tonight, he's pretty amazed with Bouw and where he's at right now."

The Blues will practice on Saturday and then play at Columbus on Sunday at 2 p.m.

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