Monday, December 31, 2018

Blues offensive woes continue in 2-1 loss to Rangers

Lundqvist stymies St. Louis with 39 saves; Blues lose second straight, have two 
goals in past two games in 153 shot attempts, close 2018 in frustrating fashion 

ST. LOUIS -- As Doug Armstrong stepped off the freight elevator at the end of the Blues' final game of the 2018 calendar year, it was slow and deliberate.

Almost as a defeated person, much like a death walk.

Easy to feel such misery after the Blues pumped 40 shots at Henrik Lundqvist, including outshooting the New York Rangers 31-5 in the game's final 35-plus minutes.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues center Brayden Schenn (10) can't get a shot past goalie Henrik
Lundqvist during New York's 2-1 win Monday. Lundqvist made 39 saves.

And it still wasn't enough.

The Blues couldn't wait for 2018 to end soon enough after a deflating 2-1 loss to the Rangers at Enterprise Center, another demoralizing game and another way to add to the loss column, dropping to 15-18-4 heading into 2019.

It added to the frustration after the Blues lost to the Pittsburgh Penguins on Saturday, 6-1, in similar fashion in which they threw lots of pucks towards the net (74 Saturday and a season-high 79 shot attempts, of which 40 were on goal, 23 blocked and 16 missed the net).

And as the Blues close the calendar year, they also go out with it tied for last place in the NHL with the Ottawa Senators, each with 34 points.

"It's tough. It's frustrating," Blues left wing Jaden Schwartz said. "Chances are there, but it's not going in. We're just in a bit of a dry spell right now. It's not for a lack of effort or chances, they're just not going in."

They're not going in, and points aren't going in the bank either, and with 45 games remaining and a season sinking by the day, it's going to be a tough climb back up the chain.

"It's tough right now," interim coach Craig Berube said. "They're not going in very easily, I'll tell you that. And it's not from a lack of trying and a lack of getting to the net. I thought guys did a real good job there but come up short.

"It's tough winning with one goal in this league."

The Blues tried to be deliberate with the puck, sustaining ample time in the offensive zone. And after a sluggish first period and roughly five minutes into the second and being outshot 18-9 at that stage, the Blues had 31 of the final 36 shots on goal between the two teams. 

A future Hall of Fame goalie was the difference.

"We had traffic at times," said Blues center Ryan O'Reilly, who scored the Blues' lone goal. "There was times, we had good traffic, he made good saves, at other times, we didn't have traffic, he feels the puck. It's frustrating.

"... It sucks. You've got to put the puck in the net. Especially the power play too. We've got to find a way to bury something. We shot a lot of pucks, and for myself, I had a lot of opportunities and made stupid plays, and not goal scoring plays and play making plays, just throwing it at the net at dumb times when I've got to create more. We had o-zone time, we had chances but sometimes, for myself, I've got to make higher-end plays than just shoveling them at the net."

The first period was a case of getting a lead when O'Reilly and David Perron worked a nice give-and-go before O'Reilly's bomb from the high slot just inside the left circle beat Lundqvist high glove side 10 minutes 8 seconds into the game for a 1-0 lead, but then giving the Rangers momentum with more bad penalties.

Oskar Sundqvist's was the worst and the tipping point that led to Mats Zuccarello's tying goal with 19.6 seconds left in the period after a loose puck from a wrist shot from the point was loose and three Blues (Schwartz, Alex Pietrangelo and Jay Bouwmeester) failed to corral it and out of the zone. Zuccarello was able to keep it alive for Chris Kreider, who found Zuccarello in the right circle.

"Well, penalties again. We took penalties, which gave them a little momentum," Berube said. "They capitalized on one of the goals. That puck's gotta be ours on that PK."

It carried into the second period when Boo Nieves scored what would be the game-winner at 3:11 after coming off the bench, waltzing down the slot and backhanding a shot through traffic.

Adding salt to the wound is Kevin Shattenkirk, the former Blues defenseman playing in his first game in St. Louis since being traded to Washington on Feb. 27, 2017, picked up an assist on the play.

But the Blues began to mount attacks, getting quality looks and quality chances. None were better than Schwartz's golden chance from the top of the crease with 1:21 remaining and the Blues throwing the kitchen sink at Lundqvist with Jake Allen pulled from the 2:35 mark.

"Yeah, I don't know what to say," Schwartz said. "They're just not going in.

"... It's going to turn around. It's just you hope they start coming in bunches. It's just there's lots of Grade A's, there's lots of chances, it's really tough to explain. It's frustrating, guys are mad. Gripping it a little bit. There's not much you can say."

"Chances are one thing, and hopefully they keep coming, but at the end of the day, you have to bear down on your chances and put them in the back of the net," Blues center Brayden Schenn said. "It starts with me and a few other guys. We've gotta start producing and helping the guys win some hockey games."

Shattenkirk played his first game after missing the past seven with a separated left shoulder, as did Blues forward Robby Fabbri, who missed the past 11 (10 with a separated left shoulder of his own).

But now that the Blues have added players back to the lineup and the results aren't any different, it's going to take a miraculous turn of events for this team to be relevant in the playoff race.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Former Blues and current Rangers defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk (22) looks
to move a puck past Blues forward David Perron on Monday night.

And it's become beyond a point of frustration.

"Definitely. That's the hard part," Berube said. "Guys that are used to scoring, that are counted on to score goals, they're gonna be squeezing their sticks and pressing. It's my job, too, to loosen them up, and they gotta relax a little and not press so much."

Too late for that.

"Having that even keel, that consistency all year has been a struggle for us," O'Reilly said. "When one thing is going good, something else falls apart. If you want to throw a run together here, everything's got to be going and you make your adjustments quick and you move on. It's tough right now when we don't."

The Blues' power play was 0 for 4 and finished December in a 3 for 32 funk.

(12-31-18) Rangers-Blues Gameday Lineup

ST. LOUIS -- Robby Fabbri will finally get into the Blues' lineup on Monday when they close out 2018 against the New York Rangers (6 p.m.; FS-MW, KMOX 1120-AM).

Fabbri missed 11 games with a separated left shoulder sustained Dec. 1 at Arizona. He was taken off injured-reserve on Friday but was a healthy scratch in a 6-1 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins on Saturday.

The Blues (15-17-4) went 6-4-1 with Fabbri out of the lineup.

"It's obvious that the boys have been going well and that's great around here," Fabbri said. "I'm just coming in, trying not to mess that up at all, play the way I know how to play, play tenacious on the puck, and bring some energy."

Fabbri will jump in on the fourth line with Ivan Barbashev and Oskar Sundqvist and replace Jordan Nolan in the lineup.

"You see how well (those) two play together," Fabbri said. "Just trying to fit in with that and help them along."

Blues interim coach Craig Berube said it's been an adjustment for Fabbri, who's missed the past season and a half because of two left knee ACL tears.

"It's tough, he's missed a lot of hockey and he comes back and he's starting to do pretty well," Berube said. "He ends up getting injured again, but he's excited and we're happy to have him back.

"We can use his speed and his tenacity in the lineup. He's a good offensive player. ... That (fourth) line's been really good, but you have to make decisions and you want to get guys in. You don't want them sitting out too long when they're ready to go."

Fabbri has four points (two goals, two assists) in 15 games this season.

"It's been a little bit of a different start of the season that I wanted and hoped for," Fabbri said. "That's the game. There's adversity and I'm just going to go out and work hard every time in practice or in a game. I'm confident in my abilities so I just have to go do that.

"I think with that injury there, it's just a hockey injury. There's nothing you can do about that. It's just two guys racing for a puck and there's going to be contact on that play with whoever's going in there. Hopefully it holds up next time."

- - -

Tonight will finally, FINALLY, mark the return to St. Louis for former Blues and Rangers defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk.

Shattenkirk, who has missed the past seven games with a separated shoulder sustained Dec. 10 against the Tampa Bay Lightning, has not played in St. Louis since he was traded to the Washington Capitals on Feb. 27, 2017 for forwards Zach Sanford and Brad Malone, a 2017 first-round pick and 2019 conditional second-round pick the Blues never got because the conditions were not met.

Shattenkirk spent parts of seven seasons in St. Louis and had 258 of his 329 NHL points (59 goals, 199 assists) with the Blues. 

"Still have some good buddies on the team," Shattenkirk told the New York Post after a practice at the Brentwood Ice Rink on Sunday. "This is a place that I called home for a long time and a place I really enjoyed living.

"... It’s going to be a bit emotional but fun to be coming back into the lineup in a place that I’m familiar with."

The Blues played against Shattenkirk early last season in New York but he did not play in the game in St. Louis because of a torn meniscus in his knee.

"I think the fans love 'Shatty' as much as we did," Fabbri said. "It will be different seeing him on the other side but it will be a lot of fun."

- - -

The Blues' projected lineup:

Jaden Schwartz-Brayden Schenn-Vladimir Tarasenko

Alexander Steen-Ryan O'Reilly-David Perron

Pat Maroon-Tyler Bozak-Robert Thomas

Robby Fabbri-Ivan Barbashev-Oskar Sundqvist

Jay Bouwmeester-Alex Pietrangelo

Joel Edmundson-Colton Parayko 

Vince Dunn-Robert Bortuzzo

Jake Allen will start in goal; Evan Fitzpatrick will be the backup.

Healthy scratches include Jordan Schmaltz, Chris Butler and Jordan Nolan. Carl Gunnarsson (hand) is out but getting very close.

- - -

The Rangers' projected lineup:

Chris Kreider-Mika Zibanejad-Jesper Fast 

Vladislav Namestnikov-Kevin Hayes-Mats Zuccarello

Boo Nieves-Brett Howden-Pavel Buchnevich

Cody McLeod-Ryan Strome-Jimmy Vesey  

Marc Staal-Neal Pionk

Brady Skjei-Adam McQuaid

Tony DeAngelo-Kevin Shattenkirk 

Henrik Lundqvist will start in goal; Alexandar Georgiev will be the backup.

Healthy scratches include Filip Chytil, Brendan Smith and Fredrik Claesson. The Rangers report no injuries.

Sunday, December 30, 2018


Fitzpatrick recalled, Binnington assigned to San Antonio; penalty kill needs a boost; shooting accuracy could use more results; Fabbri likely to return Monday

HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- Evan Fitzpatrick thought he had just completed a normal day.

It included a practice with the San Antonio Rampage of the American Hockey League, and the rest of the day would belong to him ahead of a Sunday game with the Texas Stars.

But then Fitzpatrick, the Blues' 2016 second-round pick, got a call into the office from Rampage coach Drew Bannister that he would be heading north on a recall by the Blues, his first in the NHL.

"I practiced in San Antonio and flew up late last night," Fitzpatrick said.

"I was shocked," he added. "I really didn't think anything. Coach called me in the office yesterday and I as just preparing for a game today in San Antonio. I was kind of shocked when he said I was going up. I'm just happy to come up here and be able to practice and just work hard for the team and give the players what they need after practice."

Fitzpatrick was recalled and Jordan Binnington was assigned back down to the Rampage to play, and he made 37 saves in a 4-2 win over the Stars.

"He's got to play games, just keep him ready," Blues interim coach Craig Berube said of Binnington, who came on twice in relief of Jake Allen while he was up with the Blues. "He went down to play a game or two."

And with that, Fitzpatrick, 20, is now here soaking it all in. He started a game and came on in relief of Ville Husso, who sustained a lower-body injury, in another and had a 1.80 goals-against average and .913 save percentage after playing in 14 games with the Tulsa Oilers of the ECHL and had a 3.16 GAA and .880 save percentage while getting used to 20-hour bus rides sleeping and watching Netflix.

"Every time you jump up a level, it's good," Fitzpatrick said. "I was fortunate enough to get to play a game and a few minutes in the AHL, which is nice. I really didn't expect to come up here a day later, but it's pretty special. It's pretty cool.

"I'm just here to work hard and see what happens. Just have fun, enjoy myself and just gain experience and learn, whether it's sitting on the bench, in the stands, anyplace. It's still a learning experience, so I'm just happy to be here.

"Just being here practicing, whether it's one practice, two practices, three practices and so forth, just getting that experience. Shots are coming a little faster than the AHL and especially in the East Coast. The play is a little faster. Everyone is the top players in the world. It's exciting and I'm able to compete against guys like that every day in practice."

But before he boarded a plane, Fitzpatrick had to make a call, to his mother Donielle Briffett, who lives in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

"I gave her a call pretty quick," Fitzpatrick said. "After everything she's done for me, it's pretty exciting. ... She was really excited. She didn't believe me at first, but I called her a second time later on in the day and it kind of sunk in to her."

* PK needs a boost -- After allowing four power-play goals in as many opportunities in a 6-1 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins on Saturday, the Blues' penalty kill has now allowed 10 goals the past 22 opportunities dating back to Dec. 14.

This, after a run of 23 straight kills that vaulted the Blues all the way up to fourth in the league.

But in allowing a power play goal in six of the past seven games, the Blues' unit ranks 18th in the NHL at 79 percent and in need of an infusion.

"Being more aggressive for sure," Berube said. "We were passive last night. When you give good players too much time, they can capitalize on things, and the other thing is we've got to do a better job of being in shooting lanes and blocking shots. That's a mindset.

"You've got to want to (block a shot), but you've also got to be in position to do it. But it mostly comes down to a want."

The Penguins set up shop in the Blues' zone often and scored at will, and it made a 5-on-5 game that was pretty even into a lopsided affair with the Blues attempting to win that elusive third straight game.

"On the PK, when you're having success, it's being aggressive, trusting the reads and everyone being on the same page," center Brayden Schenn said. "That's all it is. If you start guessing a little bit, that's when good players on the other team are gonna expose you. It's all about getting back on the same page and being aggressive again.

"When it's not going your way, you start to second guess it a little bit. That's just the way it goes. But we believe in our structure. It just has to get back to guys trusting one another.

"We know PK has to be better, power play has to be a lot better. Special teams are huge, especially second half of the year. That could be the difference in hockey games."

* Shooting accuracy -- A large sample shows the Blues are very inaccurate when it comes to getting the volume of shots they attempt on goal, whether it be shots get blocked or they just simply miss the net, which they've reached in double figures in 22 of 36 games this season.

Against Pittsburgh, the Blues attempted 74 shots, the most this season, surpassing the 72 they attempted at Detroit in a 4-3 loss on Nov. 28. But 23 of those shots were blocked and 20 of them missed the net.

But a number that doesn't go down on the stat sheet is the amount of shots the Blues tend to pass up, which they did with regularity, as astounding as that sounds despite 74 shot attempts Saturday.

"I did. I've got to do a better job shooting the puck, getting to the net, finding second opportunities," said Schenn, who had a perfect example of it in the second period of instead of shooting from the right circle, tried to make a cross circle pass to Vladimir Tarasenko that was off the mark and not read. "Obviously that's how you score goals. I think as a whole, obviously everyone wants to score, but you've got to be smart about the way you do it too. You can't be getting shots blocked. You've got to give yourself a chance to hit the net and have a chance to go in and as a team, I feel like we can do better than that.

"Just over-thinking it is all it is. Sometimes when you want to score, you've got to simplify and sometimes you go in there and you start to over-think. He maybe thinks something's open or there's an easier option out there. But if you shoot pucks when the opportunity's there, good things are gonna happen. Maybe a lucky one goes in or you get a rebound on it or maybe it's just a good shot overall. Whether it's me or the next guy, when the opportunity's there to shoot the puck and get it to the net, we've got to do a better job of that."

And with those attempts at trying to make the perfect play or not shoot it at all.

"A lot of times that will happen when you're not scoring, and then they go away from what really works," Berube said. "That's kind of where we're at right now with some of our guys."

What it breeds is top-end guys being in slumps.

"Yeah, they're going to press," Berube said. "They've been pressing for a while. In saying that, you've got to keep working, you've got to keep doing what works and you've got to stay with it and eventually you'll come out of it."

* Fabbri to return, Gunnarsson inching closer -- Look for forward Robby Fabbri to get in the lineup when the Blues close 2018 with a home game Monday at 6 p.m. against the New York Rangers.

"Yeah, probably," Berube said of Fabbri's potential return. "We'll see in the morning, but pretty good chance."

Fabbri was removed from injured-reserve on Friday after separating his left shoulder Dec. 1 at Arizona but was a healthy scratch against the Penguins.

Defenseman Carl Gunnarsson, out since Nov. 16 with a hand injury at Vegas, is also close to returning to give the Blues a plethora of bodies and will have to include some decisions on roster positions.

"He's close. He's really close," Berube said of Gunnarsson.

Saturday, December 29, 2018

Penalty kill costs Blues in 6-1 loss to Penguins

Pittsburgh, winners of five straight, scored on all four power plays; St. Louis fails
at fourth attempt this season at three straight wins, have been outscored 21-6

ST. LOUIS -- Before everyone gets all worked up about a 6-1 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins, the score wasn't actually as bad as it looked for the Blues even though on paper, it looks like another in a line of dreadful defeats on the season.

But this one had special teams written all over it, as in a woeful penalty kill for the Blues, and Penguins goalie Matt Murray was a difference maker when the game was on the line, especially early.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Penguins goalie Matt Murray makes a save in front of teammate Jack
Johnson and Blues forward Pat Maroon (7) in a 6-1 Pittsburgh win Saturday.

The Penguins (20-12-6), who have won a season-high five in a row, wasted little time scoring 48 seconds into the game when Sidney Crosby, who finished with a four-point night with a goal and three assists, sniped a power-play goal from a sharp angle after Alexander Steen took a high-sticking penalty nine seconds after the opening faceoff.

It was a sign of things to come. It was the start of four, count em ... four power-play goals in as many attempts for Pittsburgh.

It marks the sixth time in seven games the Blues' penalty kill has allowed a man-advantage goal.

In fact, when the Blues entered their game on Dec. 1 against Arizona, they were ninth on the PK, then went on a run of killing off 23 in a row to vault up to fourth in the league.

Since Dec. 14, they are a paltry 12 for 22 on the PK after the dreadful 0 for 4 performance Saturday and sit 18th in the NHL at 79 percent.

And against a team like the Penguins, game, set, match.

"They got one, but what did they score, four power-play goals," said Blues defenseman Alex Pietrangelo, who returned to the lineup after missing 11 games with a broken right hand. "Penalty kill wasn't good enough. They don't get those chances, you do the math, it's 2-1, a much closer game. Tough to give those guys that many opportunities. Players like that not only get chances, but they feel better about the game with the puck on their sticks and they get that on the power play."

Steen not only takes the high sticking minor early, then gets hit with an offensive zone interference call in the second that leads to Juuso Riikola's first NHL goal at 5:13 of the period to make it 2-0.

"We gave them opportunities on the power play and they capitalized on all of them," Steen said. "The first two were on me, puts us in a hole from the start of the game.

"... I have to find a way to keep the stick down."

But this has been one of the problems for the Blues when things don't tend to go well: they get caught committing infractions, taxing the penalty kill, and lose the game of special teams.

"It slipped about the last five games I would say," Blues interim coach Craig Berube said. "There are just mistakes that are made that can't happen. We have to do a better job of blocking shots in some scenarios. They're just mistakes we've got to clean up.

"Different mistakes on different goals. It's not just one thing that's happening. It's just mistakes. That was ultimately the cause tonight."

And in another futile attempt to win three games in a row, the Blues (15-17-4) failed yet again. It's the fourth attempt at three wins in a row, and they fell to 0-4-0 and have been outscored 21-6 in the process. 

"It shouldn't be," Pietrangelo said. "Especially now, if we want to make the playoffs, that's what we've got to do. Gotta find a way to string some together here."

The Blues actually weren't bad in the 5-on-5 game. They were able to fire off 74 shot attempts, which is a season-high, but once again, a bugaboo is not being able to hit the net. The Blues did that 20 times tonight and they had a season-tying high 23 shots blocked. But how about the times the Blues passed up shooting the puck? That was an issue in this game as well.

"We had a lot of good quality scoring chances," Berube said. "At times, we were too slow in getting the shot off, maybe looking for another play, who knows? There are 60 attempts that didn't get to the net. That's a lot. So we have to do a better job there. We have to do a better job of getting it through and hitting the net."

David Perron was the only one able to beat Murray, who made 30 saves, and it required a video review too when the Penguins challenged for goalie interference. 

"He made some big saves, especially in that second period," Pietrangelo said. "We had a lot of pressure. When you're down by a couple, you're pushing and we put them back on the power play again to start the third. Good chances, just got to limit theirs."

On the other end, Jake Allen was given the mercy pull after allowing four goals on 17 shots, the fourth time he's been pulled from a game. Jordan Binnington made 11 saves on 13 shots.

Kris Letang, who had a goal and two assists, and Evgeni Malkin also had power-play goals in the game. 

"Sometimes they're not great calls, but sometimes stuff happens, but that's the penalty kill's job," Pietrangelo said. "You're going to have to kill three or four in a game to pick those guys up. Some nights the power play might have to win you a game, some nights a penalty kill will have to, so it's on us killers to limit these guys because they feed off that."

This is the eighth time the Blues have allowed five or more goals in 21 home games (9-10-2) and five of those, they've allowed six or more. But in many of those, there was a lot of doom and gloom with a poor effort, playing emotionless or mistakes galore.

This one, again, didn't have that feel.

"I feel like in other games we were going away easy, and the score looked like that," Perron said. "But 5 on 5, there were some things you build on maybe. It felt a little bit different, for sure."
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues defenseman Alex Pietrangelo returned to the lineup Saturday against
the Pittsburgh Penguins after missing 11 games with a broken right hand.

"We weren't bad 5-on-5," Pietrangelo said. "Penalty kill wasn't good enough tonight. There were some good things 5-on-5, but you still lose the game. We took our penalties 5-on-5. We've got to be a little smarter ... but things happen. Sometimes, you take weird penalties. You flip the puck over the glass. You've got to find a way to pick those guys up and kill those penalties."

But when the specialty teams are that bad, this can be the outcome.

"It's hard to take a positive out of a 6-1 game like that," Berube said. "We have to clean up our penalty kill, we've got to get our special teams going again in the right direction. The power play has to be better too."

(12-29-18) Penguins-Blues Gameday Lineup

ST. LOUIS -- Alex Pietrangelo will return to the lineup for the Blues (15-16-4) when they host the Pittsburgh Penguins (19-12-6) in the second of a five-game homestand today at 7 p.m. (FS-MW, KMOX 1120-AM).

Pietrangelo missed the past 11 games with a broken right hand sustained Nov. 30 against the Colorado Avalanche on a check into the offensive zone boards from Colorado captain Gabriel Landeskog.

The Blues, who went 6-4-1 with Pietrangelo out of the lineup, will pair their captain with Jay Bouwmeester, who has played better of late.

"Got the clearance last night from the doctors," Pietrangelo said after the morning skate. "It's relieving. It's not fun to watch, especially as long as I was out. The boys are playing well. It's fun to get back in when we're playing as well as we are."

Pietrangelo has been a regular on the ice since the Blues' trip to Western Canada last week and on Friday, was non-committal on whether he would play.

Interim coach Craig Berube saw enough of Pietrangelo following Friday's practice and that gave good indication that he would be available for selection.

"Obviously it means a lot," Berube said. "He's the captain of the team, he's a great player. It will be nice to have him back. He was missed when he was out of the lineup. He's one of those guys that it's hard to replace him. The guys did a good job while he was out."

Adding Pietrangelo is a welcomed sight in the locker room among his teammates too.

"Obviously we've been missing him," defenseman Vince Dunn said. "On the other side of things, I think a lot of guys have stepped up their games. But you can't replace 'Petro'. He's a one of a kind on our team, but other guys have stepped up. They definitely pulled their own way."

While Pietrangelo was out, veteran Chris Butler played the past 10 games but will be the healthy scratch tonight.

Butler had been paired with Dunn.

"I thought he did a real good job," Berube said of Butler. 'He's a predictable player, he's a veteran guy who's been around a long time. He knows how to play the game."

Pietrangelo said he's welcoming the chance to play with Bouwmeester again, and the two have plenty of familiarity with one another over the years.

"He's been playing real well too lately," Pietrangelo said. "It's been fun to watch. I've got to make sure I can keep up with him the way he skates. ... It should be an easy transition, we've played together before."

- - -

Forward Robby Fabbri was taken off IR on Friday after missing the past 10 games with a separated left shoulder but will be a healthy scratch tonight.

Fabbri, who Berube indicated could have played on Thursday in a 4-1 win against Buffalo, also said Friday that it's up to the coaches when he will step back in, but Berube said that the chemistry of the forward lines is something he doesn't want to mess with right now in light of the Blues winning five of the past seven games.

So that means Jordan Nolan will remain in the lineup on the fourth line.

"I like the chemistry of the forward lines right now but we've got to get 'Fabs' back in there," Berube said. "He's off IR now and he's worked hard and he's ready to go.

"It's nice to get guys back, good players coming back, it gives you options, it's good."

That includes defenseman Carl Gunnarsson, who has been out with a hand injury since injuring it Nov. 16 at Vegas.

- - -

Tonight will be the 4,000th-ever NHL regular-season game for the Blues, who will become the 10th franchise in NHL history to accomplish the feat.

Blues goalie Jake Allen is 3-1-0 with a 1.75 goals-against average and .937 save percentage in his past four starts.

Blues right wing David Perron has four points (one goal, three assists) the past two games. He has seven assists in 11 career games against the Penguins.

- - -

The Blues' projected lineup:

Jaden Schwartz-Brayden Schenn-Vladimir Tarasenko

Alexander Steen-Ryan O'Reilly-David Perron

Pat Maroon-Tyler Bozak-Robert Thomas

Jordan Nolan-Ivan Barbashev-Oskar Sundqvist 

Jay Bouwmeester-Alex Pietrangelo

Joel Edmundson-Colton Parayko

Vince Dunn-Robert Bortuzzo

Jake Allen will start in goal; Jordan Binnington will be the backup.

Healthy scratches include Robby Fabbri, Chris Butler and Jordan Schmaltz. Carl Gunnarsson (hand) is out.

- - -

The Penguins' projected lineup:

Jake Guentzel-Sidney Crosby-Bryan Rust

Dominik Simon-Evgeni Malkin-Patric Hornqvist

Tanner Pearson-Derick Brassard-Phil Kessel

Zach Aston-Reese-Matt Cullen-Riley Sheahan

Brian Dumoulin-Kris Letang

Olli Maatta-Juuso Riikola

Marcus Pettersson-Jack Johnson

Matt Murray will start in goal; Casey DeSmith will be the backup. 

Healthy scratches include Jamie Oleksiak, Chad Ruhwedel and Derek Grant. Justin Schultz (leg) is out.

Friday, December 28, 2018


Fabbri removed off IR, could return along with Pietrangelo against Penguins 
Saturday; Sanford assigned to San Antonio; Berube in tough spot with lineup

ST. LOUIS -- When the Blues go for that elusive third straight win and sixth in the past eight against the Pittsburgh Penguins on Saturday, they could be doing so with some reinforcements coming off injury.

Defenseman Alex Pietrangelo and forward Robby Fabbri could both be in the lineup for the second of a five-game homestand.

Pietrangelo has missed the past 11 games with a broken right hand after being checked by Gabriel Landeskog in a 3-2 overtime win at Colorado on Nov. 30.

Pietrangelo's been skating for the past week or so and worked with both power play units in practice on Friday, a good indication he could very well be back in.

"I'm not going to say yes or no yet," Pietrangelo said. "There are still a lot of things that have to be worked out and people I have to talk to before I say yes or no. But I feel pretty good."

The Blues (15-16-4) have gone 6-4-1 in Pietrangelo's absence and have looked good in recent games with the alignment they have on the blue line, but with the chance of getting your minutes leader back would be a welcomed sight, and interim coach Craig Berube seems to feel he's seen enough of Pietrangelo to feel he looks ready to go.

"He's really close too, he's right there," Berube said. "He had a real good practice today, I thought. Looked really good.

"... Nothing more than I saw today to be honest. I thought he had a real good practice today and he seems ready to go."

Pietrangelo has 11 points (four goals, seven assists) in 24 games and is a minus-8 on the season; he skated with Jay Bouwmeester on Friday.

"I am having fun watching us win," Pietrangelo said. "It's not fun watching, though. It's good to get the feel back in here. There's been a good feel in here for a couple weeks and I feel we've been building and building. We lost a few guys, a couple got hurt, but it's been a good thing to watch these past couple weeks."

Pietrangelo said he knew immediately something was wrong when he went back into the Blues' zone and tried to move the puck forward and had nothing strength-wise in the hand to do so.

"I knew right away," he said. "You know when that one happens, it's not a good feeling. I knew right away. It wasn't a very good feeling. We know our bodies well, we've been through a lot playing the game, as soon as it happened, I knew something wasn't right.

"... Last week in Canada, this week a little bit more, feeling a little bit better (practicing). I'm getting a little more contact. It's been a bit of a progression but overall good."

Also, Fabbri was removed from injured-reserve on Friday and assigned Zach Sanford to San Antonio of the American Hockey League.

Fabbri has missed the past 10 games after separating his left shoulder in an injury against Arizona on Dec. 1.

Berube said Fabbri could have played on a 4-1 win over Buffalo on Thursday but chose to keep the same lineup together because it had been playing well.

"We'll see. He could be (back), but again, it's hard to break it up right now," Berube said. "We'll see tomorrow."

Fabbri switched with left wing Jordan Nolan in line rushes on Friday.

"I'm feeling good, feeling good every day I go out there, no limitations and stuff like that," Fabbri said. "It's going well.

"I think right now it's up to them (if Fabbri is playing). I'm ready for whenever they choose. ... This is the timeline I was aiming for, but you never know. You've got to take it day by day. It's gone well up until this point. ... They make the lineup, I don't, so that's up to them."

Defenseman Carl Gunnarsson (hand) is also close to being available to play. He's missed even longer, the past 18 games since he was injured Nov. 16 at Vegas.

"I talked to him after practice and he felt the best he's felt too," Berube said. "He's close too."

* Breaking up is hard to do -- With the Blues on a consistent run and playing the same lineup the past four games, Berube was asked if inserting any of the injured guys would be difficult considering the way they were playing, including the way they've utilized Chris Butler on the blue line and Nolan on that fourth-line checking role.

"Those lines have been together for a while and when you've been together with someone for a while, you feed off him and you know where they're going to be and you get some chemistry," Berube said. "That's important.

"... I like the way things are right now and the chemistry and so forth, but we'll see what happens."

One line that certainly won't change is the third line of Tyler Bozak, who had an assist Thursday and centers veteran Pat Maroon, who scored for the second time in four games Thursday, and rookie Robert Thomas, who had a goal and an assist Thursday and was the game's No. 1 star.

"You got a guy, Pat Maroon, real good player around the net obviously, and below the goal line is his strength," Berube said. "Bozak has been in the league for quite some time as a center iceman. He does a good job of being in good position in the middle of the ice. And you have a puck transporter in Robby Thomas. He transports the puck up the ice, does a real good job, is elusive carrying the puck up the ice and making real good plays."

One of Thomas' first-season challenges has been to protect the puck, be stronger on it and make good decisions with it in the right areas. It's one of the points Berube has tried making to younger players, Thomas and Sanford included, and Thomas has shown signs he's getting what it takes to succeed.

"Definitely. Way better," Berube said. "His puck protection, he's real elusive, he makes plays quickly and catches people a lot of times. In the offensive zone he'll cut back before the defender gets there and that's how he creates space for himself. He's one step ahead all the time."

And Thomas, who has three goals and nine assists in 30 games, is feeling the success and the confidence is building.

"I feel like every game it's just getting more and more comfortable and confident," the 19-year-old said. "Just taking it game by game and slowly getting to where I want to be and still have a long way to go.

"I think the last five games, especially the western road trip, it felt like we were playing really well and getting a lot of chances and it was only a matter of time before we started to put some in. I think as a line we're working really well together."

* Friday's practice lineup -- The Blues didn't tinker with too much in their lineup that's been playing much better lately, but with the possibility of Pietrangelo and Fabbri returning, this is how things shaked out:




There was no way to predict that Nolan and Butler would be as effective as they have been. But the thought of removing them with the recent pockets of success will be a tough decision for Berube and the coaching staff to make at this point.

Butler has a goal and an assist in 12 games and is a plus-4, while Nolan has two assists in 10 games and is even on the plus-minus.

"I think predictability more than anything," Berube said on what they bring. "Just good leadership on the ice. I know what I'm getting out of them when they go out there every shift and they're simple and they're predictable.

"[Butler's] done a real good job so he should feel (refreshed). He's come in and played really well in a tough situation, not an easy situation, with things the way they were and they are. He's come in and he's been stable back there and predictable and steady."

Thursday, December 27, 2018

Blues string together another solid game with 4-1 win over Sabres

O'Reilly scores against former team; Allen strong in goal with 30 
saves; Thomas has goal, assist; Blues win for fifth time in seven games

ST. LOUIS -- The Blues have been down this path before, winning games in impressive fashion -- and against good teams -- but not being able to sustain any sort of consistency.

It's a sample size again, but in winning five of seven games after an impressive 4-1 win against the Buffalo Sabres on Thursday at Enterprise Center, the Blues (15-16-4) are showing signs of -- dare it be said -- consistency, being on the same page.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Ryan O'Reilly (90) fires off a shot against the Buffalo Sabres on Thursday.
O'Reilly scored playing against his former teammates for the first time in a 
4-1 Blues victory at Enterprise Center.

And getting a grasp of winning is curing a lot of ails that have plagued the Blues throughout this first half of the season. 

The reunion game with Ryan O'Reilly of the Blues and the Sabres' Carter Hutton, Vladimir Sobotka and Tage Thompson went O'Reilly's way. He scored the insurance goal in the third period that sealed the deal for the Blues, who have won three of four and six of their past nine.

"It's a big game for us in general, coming off the break and trying to get back into the hunt here. It's a big game, especially against a team like that being traded from, it always means a bit more. It feels really good to win that one.

"It took us a little while to get going. They had some key opportunities and 'Jakey' [Jake Allen] made some spectacular saves that it could have been messy in that first, but he held on. He made some big plays until we found our legs in the second that kind of took the game over. He's definitely a huge reason why we won that game."

Allen made 30 saves in outdueling friend and partner of the past two seasons in Hutton, who made 24 saves. Robert Thomas had a goal and an assist, Alexander Steen and David Perron each had two assists and Pat Maroon and Jay Bouwmeester scored for St. Louis, which began a five-game homestand and six of eight here.

"It's good to see," Allen said. "Sometimes it's tough to see what you're going to come out with and after four days off, not practicing, you have a heavy belly probably on you. For both teams, I think in years past, this game was a struggle for us a little bit so it was great to see us come out with some jump and find a way to win."

The Blues, who played the same lineup and same lines and d-pairs for a season-high fourth straight game, are getting what it takes and they're getting it from all facets.

"Absolutely. I think when before and things would go bad, we fall back in these tendencies," O'Reilly said. "But now we're starting to get quick out of these little areas that we have. We move forward and we build towards something. It wasn't a perfect game tonight, but we found a way to get it done. We're finding ways to do that more and more and it's important. That's the thing that's going to keep this thing moving forward."

"Yeah. For sure," interim coach Craig Berube said. "I think we're working together. Our puck support's been really good. The last four or five games our puck support's been very good. When you can make those 10-foot plays and passes, and stuff like that, it's good stuff."

The first period was a perfect example of coming off a break where a team hasn't played for five days, come out a little flat and the goalie needs to make saves to keep things at level ground. The Blues came out of the first scoreless and outshot 10-6, but Allen came up large on a handful of saves, including one on Rasmus Dahlin with 5 minutes 32 seconds left in the period.

"I think in a sense, you have to be prepared for anything," Allen said. "We haven't even had a practice. This morning was a 10-minute skate. I think (you have to) be able to be zoned in at the start. I think if they would have got a goal in the first period, it would have changed momentum. Just giving the boys a chance and they plugged away and plugged away and got some greasy goals."

Thomas gave the Blues a 1-0 lead at 2:03 of the second period on one of those greasy-goal efforts where he was able to get a past touch on the puck during a goalmouth scramble before Hutton backed his body onto the loose puck underneath him and pushed it into his net.

"I know I kind of whacked it underneath him," Thomas said. "I heard the ref call goal and I put my hands up. I was pretty excited for us. It was kind of a funny one."

Bouwmeester scored at 10:01 to make it 2-0, and Maroon scored 54 seconds later at 10:55 for a 3-0 lead.

Perron did the brunt of the work by pushing the puck into the Buffalo zone, reverse checking defenseman Lawrence Pilut, protecting it before finding Bouwmeester coming down the slot after he jumped onto the ice following a line change.

"Yeah, it was off a change, it was just kind of … the middle of ice opened up," Bouwmeester said of his first of the season. "'Perry' made a really good pass and you just shoot it.

"... Who knows? We don’t get a lot of shots in practice, defensemen. [Hutton] probably didn’t see that one coming, I guess.

Jack Eichel's power-play goal at 17:25 of the second made it 3-1 and gave the Sabres some life, but the Blues, as has been common these last set of games, stayed on their toes, continued the initiative and put the game away when O'Reilly scored at 13:47 for a 4-1 lead.

"It was kind of nice to put the nail in the coffin," O'Reilly said. "That two-goal lead and kind of getting late there, it didn't solidify the win, but it just kind of as a team, we were like, 'OK, we got this here.' We were putting them away, especially against them too. Finding a way to get a big goal like that to seal the deal, it felt really good."

Putting teams away wasn't a strong suit earlier in the season.

"I liked the third period a lot tonight," Berube said. "I thought we were aggressive and you know, we've been preaching aggressiveness from Day 1 and guys are starting to get more aggressive, and I think there's still another level."

And think, Alex Pietrangelo, Robby Fabbri and Carl Gunnarsson are on the cusp of returning. But the Blues, winning with this lineup of guys that normally would be in San Antonio, is a welcomed sight that depth has been key.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Brayden Schenn (10) attempts to screen Sabres goalie and former Blues
netminder Carter Hutton (40) on Thursday during the Blues' 4-1 win.

"I don't know, I think he's going to make any lineup better, that's for sure," O'Reilly said of Pietrangelo. "Obviously getting healthy and that's a big piece that's going to help us find ways to win games. That's a huge piece of our team and we're excited to get back."

And during the third period, those boos reigning down from the stands when the Blues were at times, getting pummeled and humiliated on home ice, turned to cheers with the effort, hard work and positive results that followed.

"I think we're at the point where we've probably played four or five good games out of the past six or seven," Allen said. "So we've built a little bit of something but we still have a long way to go. We're still a below .500 team right now. We're trending in the right direction, I think we can't take our foot off the gas at all. There's really no time left now. If we can keep this going, we should be able to get back in shooting distance anyway."

(12-27-18) Sabres-Blues Gameday Lineup

ST. LOUIS -- A multi-player reunion of sorts will commence today here at Enterprise Center when the Blues (14-16-4) play host to the surprising Buffalo Sabres (21-11-5) at 7 p.m. (FS-MW, KMOX 1120-AM).

For the Blues, it will be Ryan O'Reilly facing his former Sabres teammates for the first time since the big, blockbuster trade on July 1 that sent O'Reilly to St. Louis for a package of forwards Patrik Berglund, Vladimir Sobotka and Tage Thompson along with a conditional first-round pick in 2019 and a second round pick in 2021.

"It's always weird," said O'Reilly, who leads the Blues in goals (13), assists (19) and points (32) in 34 games this season. "Having a lot of good buddies over there, it's weird playing against them, but at the end of the day, it's two points that we need. We're coming off a big game, the break's always tough, but we've got to be the team that's more disciplined and I'm excited for it."

At the time O'Reilly was traded to the Blues, the buildup was that the Blues were going to break down the door and make a big push back into the Stanley Cup Playoffs while the Sabres, who have been floundering neat the bottom of the NHL standings for the past 5-10 years, were in an extended transition period and stockpiling young assets.

Well, it's been the complete opposite and the Sabres have vaulted up the standings while the Blues have been the team to get off to a slow start. But it's one O'Reilly doesn't regret.

"It's been a good place to live," O'Reilly said. "Hockey-wise, it's slowly starting to turn around for us. It's good. I think we had a rough start, but it's a great group of guys here. It's a great city and I'm happy here. We've just got to win a lot more games and I think we're on our way to it.

"I think with a lot of new faces, we've struggled to have some consistency and things, but we're slowly working through them. Guys are working so hard for each other. We're starting to build something. Tonight's a good test for us, but there was just a lot of inconsistency off the bat, but I think we're feeling better about our game. We're coming closer. We're excited going forward here."

O'Reilly, who helped mentor many of the young Sabres, isn't surprised by their quick rise in the Eastern Conference standings.

"Not really," he said. "You look at the talent that they have and some of the pieces that they've added, they've deserved it. Watching a few of their games; not a ton, but they're playing good hockey. I've obviously got a lot of friends over there. It's nice to see. I just hope tonight, they don't have any (success) here."

It's also a reunion for Sobotka, Thompson and Sabres No. 1 goalie Carter Hutton, who teamed up with Jake Allen here in St. Louis the past two seasons.

But Hutton left as an unrestricted free agent this past summer and signed a three-year, $8.25 million to become the No. 1 goalie for the Sabres for the first time in his career.

"It's good, it's great," Hutton said of his return. "A little, friendly arena. I've played here enough times. I'm on the end of her here now. It'll be fun, it'll be a tough challenge for us here today.

"... It was tough leaving St. Louis. I loved it here. I had a great relationship with the guys. Me and Jake, we had a great relationship. It's the business side of it takes over. Contracts and opportunities, there's so much that goes into it. It wasn't a decision that was made quickly. There's a lot to process and I had to do what I had to do and they had to do what they needed to do."

Hutton was 30-15-5 in his two seasons in St. Louis and led the NHL in goals-against average (2.09) and save percentage (.931 last season) and was a big reason why the Blues made it to the final day of the regular season with a chance to make the playoffs.

"I loved it," Hutton said. "Obviously some ups and downs, but I thought it was an amazing city. People were great, our son was born here and stuff so it's obviously something that's going to be close to us. Moving forward, we saw a lot of the great relationships with players. I keep in touch with a lot of the guys. It's one of those things where I felt at home here, but you move on. It's tough, but something you've accepted, but it's the business of it."

- - -

The long-awaited return and likely subsequent video tribute of Berglund, however, was put on shocking hold last week with the turn of events of Berglund being placed on waivers and subsequently having his contract terminated by the team for failure to report to the team.

Berglund, who had two goals and two assists in 23 games with the Sabres that included no points in the last 10, was initially listed as out with illness by the team before the strange turn of events that included forfeiting the remainder of this year's contract and three more at $3.85 million per season.

There's no real rhyme or reason for Berglund's sudden departure, but in an interview done in this space on Aug. 31, he seemed eager to join the Sabres and begin a fresh start.

"You get the guys from the Blues in there and Jeff Skinner," Berglund said then. "I think overall the Buffalo Sabres organization is probably really excited about this upcoming year. I am, I think all are as players too. Everybody as players are excited to get together now and to get to know each other and to start building for the future."

- - -

The Blues, who won two of three before Christmas in Western Canada, including an impressive 3-1 win at Calgary last Saturday, are 4-2-0 the past six games and will keep their lineup together for a fourth consecutive game.

That means the anticipated arrivals of Alex Pietrangelo (hand/wrist), Robby Fabbri (separated shoulder) and Carl Gunnarsson (wrist) are on hold, at least for tonight.

"They're pretty close," Blues interim coach Craig Berube said. "Not ready yet. Fabbri could go but we're going to stay with the same lineup tonight. 'Petro' and 'Gunny', not quite there yet.

"... With the way the group's been playing, I just don't see a reason to change it as of right now."

"We've been a little more consistent," O'Reilly said. "Starting the game on time and when we do have little breakdowns, little dips, we've been able to regroup quickly and not be affected.

"Earlier in the year I think we were too inconsistent with that. Something bad would happen and we'd kinda fall, and it was tough to climb out of. I think now, I guess, we have a little bit more maturity. We're responding quicker and in the right way. It's keeping us in games and it's maintaining a lead in games. It's always little things that gives us a better chance to win."

- - -

Berube also said that Larry Robinson will return to his consultant's role and not return to the bench.

Robinson has been on the bench with Berube and assistant coaches Steve Ott and Mike Van Ryn since Berube was hired to offer a helping hand and assist in the transition, but this was planned all along.

"Larry's been around for a long time, coaching, playing, had great success over the years of his playing and coaching career," Berube said. "He brings a lot of insight on the game for us, he was very good for us. As coaches -- and players -- we really enjoyed him. We'll miss him for sure."

- - -

The Blues' projected lineup:

Alexander Steen-Ryan O'Reilly-David Perron

Jaden Schwartz-Brayden Schenn-Vladimir Tarasenko

Pat Maroon-Tyler Bozak-Robert Thomas

Jordan Nolan-Ivan Barbashev-Oskar Sundqvist

Joel Edmundson-Colton Parayko

Jay Bouwmeester-Robert Bortuzzo

Vince Dunn-Chris Butler

Jake Allen will start in goal; Jordan Binnington will be the the backup. 

Zach Sanford and Jordan Schmaltz are the healthy scratches. Alex Pietrangelo (hand/wrist), Carl Gunnarsson (wrist) and Robby Fabbri (shoulder) are out.

- - -

The Sabres' projected lineup:

Jeff Skinner-Jack Eichel-Sam Reinhart 

Remi Elie-Casey Mittelstadt-Kyle Okposo

Conor Sheary-Vladimir Sobotka-Evan Rodrigues

Zemgus Girgensons-Johan Larsson-Tage Thompson

Lawrence Pilut-Rasmus Ristolainen

Marco Scandella-Zach Bogosian

Rasmus Dahlin-Jake McCabe

Carter Hutton will start in goal; Linus Ullmark will be the backup.

The healthy scratch will be Matt Hunwick. Jason Pominville (undisclosed), Nathan Beaulieu (upper body), Casey Nelson (upper body) and Scott Wilson (ankle) are all out.