Blues back to work on defensive structure; O'Reilly
dominant on dot; Jerabek practices; Edmundson has full skate
HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- Two games in and a day off Sunday, the Blues got back to work on Monday in preparation for their next game, which isn't until Thursday to conclude a three-game homestand against the Calgary Flames.
And the common theme that will be leading into that game: defense, defense, and more defense.
The Blues (0-1-1) have allowed 10 goals in two games, losses to Central Division foes Winnipeg (5-1) and Chicago (5-4 in overtime), and for a team that through all the ups and downs last season, it was still sixth in the NHL in goals-against and has been a staple in the Blues' game for years.
"We've got to to be better defensively, it's as simple as that," defenseman Alex Pietrangelo said. "We've got to be harder, me especially in front of our net. I think a lot of the issues are starting in the neutral zone, they're getting in there, they're getting that extra guy on the rush, so we've got to do a better job of slowing down the pace through the neutral zone so they're not getting these 4-on-3's, 4-on-2, 5-on-3, whatever it is on these rushes. We've got to make sure we're managing that better.
"We know the areas we need to get better. We've just got to go and execute that. It starts in the o-zone with the puck and carries in the neutral zone and eliminating those rushes. It's tough to manage when we don't have good gaps as 'D' and we're not managing the puck. It sounds simple to defend, but it starts all over the ice."
It was written in this space that perhaps the Blues were buying into their own preseason hype, and showboating instead of working was their ticket to success. But two humbling losses to begin has harshly put reality into place.
"There's a lot of room for improvement, and I myself is included in that," center Ryan O'Reilly said. "I felt like at times I got caught running around kind of reaching, not getting engaged in the battle. And when you see a team like that, when they get momentum, the way they move the puck around us, they just exposed us. It's a good lesson for us. I think we have to be sharper defensively and we have to track harder, and then from there, it's being more physical. Just getting in and eliminating guys right away, giving us more time so they can't use their speed.
"It comes down to working hard in the d-zone and everyone being on the same page. ... We've got to build our game from our own way out. The creativity in the offensive zone will come later, but it starts with being strong in our own end and building from there.
"We all want to score goals. You look around the league, it's so high-scoring right now that we might rely on that a bit too much, but the goals will come when we do the right things in the d-zone. We got away from it. It's still early, but a great opportunity the next game to change that. It's got to be a defensive-first mentality."
Coach Mike Yeo out the players through drills with pace on Monday but didn't want to empty the tank with multiple days to work on execution leading into Thursday.
"When you have three days of ice like this, you want to be able to build up to your game and this gives us the opportunity to do that and timing-wise, a good opportunity work some of our 4-on-4 play, 3-on-3 play and our 6-on-5 and 5-on-6 play," Yeo said. "... I just think we need more desperation in our game, more desperation in the little things and when we start doing that, we'll start to see big time benefits from it. This is still a new group, we're still learning our way, still learning our game and I think that's very evident what we're seeing on the ice. You see some quality out there, you see when we're doing the right things and the benefit and the affect that it has, we're just not seeing enough of it, and when we start getting more of that quality, then we'll start getting more results.
"... You don't win games if you're giving up five goals a game. This has been always our identity, we're a good defensive team, we're a team that's tough to come through, we're a team that doesn't give up mich, we're a team that's frustrating to play against. ... We should push teams out of the game, we should take games over and we're not doing that."
So the Blues will work for a couple more days before beginning a set of three games in four nights.
"This is a big week here," Pietrangelo said. "You don't want to really have five days off between games, but if you use it the right way, you can use it to reset and get things going in the right direction. There's some things we can build off of but a good chance to learn here."
* O'Reilly sharp on the dot -- Not only did O'Reilly get three assists on Saturday (he has four of them in two games), but he helped the Blues in an area they were expecting when they traded for him: winning faceoffs.
O'Reilly was a sparkling 20 of 23 on faceoffs (87 percent) and was a perfect 8 for-8 against another faceoff wizard, Chicago's Jonathan Toews.
"It was a good night in the circle. It's always nice," O'Reilly said. "Obviously it would have been nice to have the win, but it was a good thing to build off. ... The other night, I just seemed to find a rhythm. I was taking a lot of them, so it's easily to stay engaged in them. Every night's different. What's going to work last night might not work the next one, so it's always one of those things coming in and taking one draw at a time."
O'Reilly has gotten off to a solid start with his work ethic and has displayed the good tendencies in his game.
" Very pleased. He's been a real good fit," Yeo said. "You can see some of the plays that he's making out there, his faceoffs were a huge factor in the game. As a line, we're still trying to work with those guys to continue to work on their chemistry and making sure we're building a little more consistency shift after shift being a threat idea, but certainly we're getting there.
"It's helpful when you start with the puck. It's a big advantage, no question. You have to work extremely hard to check pucks back in this league and we're willing and able to do that, but at the same time, when you can start with the puck, it's a big advantage."
O'Reilly, who was tied for No. 1 in the NHL in faceoff efficiency last season at 60 percent, said he's not one that works on the craft every day but is mindful of it when needed.
"Not every day, not necessarily, but I think it's something you always feel about and the morning skates, it's something you're always aware of, who you're going to face that night," O'Reilly said. "But it's being strong in there, giving yourself a chance, make sure everyone on the ice knows the game plan from the faceoff and going from there. 'Otter' does a great job preparing us, too. He has different scenarios he has us work on and it gives us an advantage."
* Jerabek practices -- Newly-acquired defenseman Jakub Jerabek finally made his way onto the ice with the Blues on Monday.
Jerabek, who skated on the third pair with Robert Bortuzzo, finally arrived in St. Louis two hours before the puck drop between the Blues and Blackhawks after awaiting the paperwork for his working visa to go through.
Jerabek was acquired from the Edmonton Oilers on Oct. 1 for a conditional 2020 sixth-round puck and has been doing off-ice workouts while awaiting his visa.
"He was moving well, he was moving the puck and handling the puck well," Yeo said. "I think tomorrow will be a better day for him because we'll start to get into some more 5-on-5, team concept play and that'll give him a better chance to kind of show where he's at with all that."
Could Jerabek play against the Flames?
"That's a real possibility here, so we'll get him through the next couple practices, see how he's feeling and go from there," Yeo said.
Jerabek, a left-handed shooting defenseman who played for both Montreal and Washington last season, doesn't know where he fits and will allow that to play out.
"I don't want to talk about it now," Jerabek said. "I'm not that kind of guy, but I just want to help the team to win the games.
"I'm (a little surprised to be traded), but I'm happy to be here. I did my best (in Edmonton), but it wasn't enough. They told me they were going to stay with the young guys, and now I'm here."
Jerabek, who will wear No. 28, has eight points (two goals, six assists) in 36 NHL games. Prior to that in 2016-17, he had 34 points (five goals, 29 assists) in 59 games for Vityaz Podolsk of the KHL but felt the challenge of the NHL was worth it.
"It's a big challenge for every player," said Jerabek, who doesn't know any of his new teammates but spoke with former Blue Dmitrij Jaskin. "Last year, I proved to myself I can be here and I can be a good part of the team. Hopefully, I'm going to fit in here too.
"I don't know if it's a good sign or what (that Jerabek is on his fourth team already), but talking to myself, I'm 27 and I want to stay for a while somewhere."
* Butler assigned, Edmundson practices -- Defenseman Chris Butler was assigned to San Antonio of the AHL despite a pair of solid games, especially Saturday night against the Blackhawks when Butler played 17 minutes, 35 seconds and scored his first NHL goal since March 7, 2015.
"In his eyes, it's very disappointing, but he's helped himself out an awful lot," Yeo said. "It's a long year, a lot of things can happen. For me, it goes to his call-up at the end of the season. I thought he played very, very well for us at that time. He came in, had a real strong training camp. He's showed us the last couple times he's been in the lineup that he can play in this league. I'm really excited about that."
With Jerabek on board and defenseman Joel Edmundson (groin) getting closer, there was a glutton on the blue line.
Speaking of Edmundson, who practiced in full Monday, Yeo said it's a wait-and-see approach.
"We'll just have to wait and see how the week goes on and today, not lot of contact and everything, but obviously a good sign that he was in for us," Yeo said. "We'll get through tomorrow's practice and we'll definitely have a better idea after that."
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