Monday, December 10, 2018


Bortuzzo-Sanford altercation pinnacle of heightened frustrations surrounding 
Blues; Schwartz could play Tuesday; Binnington in fold, Johnson put on waivers

HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- It's been a frustrating season for the Blues thus far in every fashion, and that frustration boiled over to teammates on the ice Monday.

A day after another embarrassing result, a 6-1 loss to the Vancouver Canucks on home ice, the Blues were on the ice Monday and it got heated towards the end when defenseman Robert Bortuzzo and Zach Sanford exchanged pleasantries at the end of a goalmouth drill.

The two exchanged punches and had to be separated by assistant coach Steve Ott, with Bortuzzo storming off angry and Sanford hurling his glove and stick as a result.

Coach Craig Berube gathered the players near center ice for a quick chat, they reconvened on ice for a few brief moments and practice was done.

Neither Bortuzzo nor Sanford were available for comment, but teammates downplayed what happened. 

Among them, forward Pat Maroon said it's not the first time nor the last time it will happen.

"You've got to enjoy it," Maroon said. "That's part of hockey right? We're still teammates. Sometimes people get heated and frustrations build up. I love that stuff. I think it's great. That's me though. I don't know if anyone else likes it."

Is Maroon speaking from experience?

"Yeah, I've been beaten up before in practice," Maroon said. "My rookie year in the North American Hockey League, Colby Jones grabbed me and whipped me up. After, we were hanging out laughing together talking about it. That's just frustration, I think. Everyone's frustrated in here. You guys are frustrated because you're looking for answers too and we're looking for answers. All that buildup and and playing a game 3 on 3 and battling hard and doing the little things, sometimes things happen and they happen fast. Obviously it's unfortunate that they fought, but sometimes it's good for guys. It's frustration. I don't think 'Bobo' meant to, I don't think 'Sandy' meant to. It's part of the game and just working hard and being frustrated."

Defenseman Chris Butler, who said he's seen them in happen in both Calgary and Buffalo, said that it's something that can bring a frustrated group together.

"Sometimes little things like that bring you together," Butler said. "Maybe they can laugh about it, maybe they can go for lunch. It's over and it'll be alright.

"There's always one or two a year, I feel. Right now, it's probably over and done with. Guys care, and things boil over. A lot of us maybe aren't the best communicators, so you're not going to maybe sit down and hash things out after practice. Push comes to shove and a few punches are thrown. You hope nobody gets hurt in something like that, but it's out of the system and over with now probably."

Maroon is in agreement that this could very well bring the Blues together, kind of a us-against-the-world mentality.

"Yeah, I think that does bring teammates together," Maroon said. "It brings everyone together. Sometimes it's an eye-opener for some guys around the locker room. It's like, 'Whoa, that could have been me on the other end.' They could be best friends tomorrow. They could be texting each other and even be joking right now in the cold tub or hot tub, so you never know. It's part of it, it's part of working hard, it's the competitiveness that we've been talking about, just being engaged and being aggressive and being there for each other. Obviously you don't want to see it. You never want to see your teammates fight, but sometimes it's good for the guys."

It's not really a surprise that tensions boiled over for the underachieving Blues (10-14-4), and as forward David Perron, who was a healthy scratch Sunday, put it, "No one's safe when you have a season like we have so far."

* Schwartz ready? -- Blues forward Jaden Schwartz was a full participant in practice today and could be available for a return Tuesday against the Florida Panthers.

Schwartz, who broke a finger on his left hand Nov. 16 getting hit by a Vladimir Tarasenko shot, skated on a line Monday with Brayden Schenn and David Perron and was not limited in his participation.

"I'm feeling better. This last week, I'd say I've made strides," Schwartz said. "We'll see how it feels in the morning, but I feel like I'm getting close. ... We'll see how it feels in the morning and try a couple more things out and then probably make a decision right after that.

"It just hit me in an unlucky spot again. Not much you can do."

Schwartz was parked in front of Vegas goalie Marc-Andre Fleury when Tarasenko's shot on the power play in the third period struck his hand. Schwartz didn't immediately leave but was in discomfort before leaving after a couple shifts.

"He's got a pretty hard shot and he felt bad and apologized," Schwartz said of Tarasenko. "There's not much you can do. It's a hockey play and you're standing in front of the net. It was just bad luck.

"I knew it stung, I didn't know how bad it was. I tried, I think a couple more shifts. We were up 4-1 late in the game, then I thought, I should get it checked out, it wasn't like it was a tight game late in the game."

Berube acknowledged for the first time Schwartz could be available.

"He's close," the Blues coach said. "We'll see tomorrow. But he got through practice and it was all good. We'll know tomorrow."

Seeing Schwartz skate on a top-six line is a pretty good indicator he will be good to go.

"It's never fun to watch," Schwartz said. "It's an ugly feeling when you find out you can't play and do your job and do what you love to do. It's frustrating. Anyone will tell you that who gets injured. It's not a lot of fun. I've been looking forward to being able to practice with the team and getting to play. This is what we do and when you're not able to do it it sucks."

* Binnington recalled, Johnson on waivers -- With Jordan Binnington in the fold for practice Monday as Jake Allen's backup, the Blues put veteran Chad Johnson on waivers, and by all indications since the San Antonio Rampage recalled Evan Fitzpatrick from Tulsa of the ECHL, Johnson's days with the Blues appear to be over.

Signed to a one-year, $1.75 million contract in the offseason to back up Allen after Carter Hutton's departure, the Blues seen the best and worst of Johnson.

He had a 1.83 goals-against average and .941 save percentage in his first five appearances, but in the last five, including a relief stint in which he allowed three goals on 15 shots against the Canucks Sunday, Johnson had a 5.06 GAA and .832 save percentage.

After the game, Berube said goaltending needed to be better, and the Blues called up Binnington, who was fourth in the American Hockey League with a 2.34 GAA to go with a .914 save percentage. He was 8-4-0.

"I was out for lunch with a couple guys and got the call from Doug [Armstrong] and and he told me I had a flight later that night," Binnington said. "I didn't ask too many questions.

"... I'm just going to be myself and continue what I've been doing and see what plays out."

Binnington, a third-round pick in the 2011 NHL Draft, really burst onto the scene with his play at Providence of the AHL, where he had a 2.05 GAA and .926 save percentage.

"I realized I put myself in a tough position," Binnington said. "There's a couple ways you can handle that. I just decided to stay quiet and be patient and work hard. This is where I am now.

"I think it's kind of a day by day thing. Day by day I'm feeling better and just becoming more of a pro and being more confident and consistent. I can tell, I can feel it. It's exciting."

Binnington's teammate Jordan Schmaltz is happy to see his friend thrive and get the chance.

"'Binner's one of my really good friends and I was roommates with him in Chicago," Schmaltz said. "I still keep in touch with him a lot, probably once every day. 

"He's a good goalie. I think he definitely deserves a chance. He's been playing well, especially last year and continuing this year. Hopefully he can get in here at some point and show what he can do."

Binnington, 25, decided it was time to get his game in gear and make improvements if his career was ever going to blossom. Things finally clicked with the Bruins last season in an organization where he would go minus fellow Blues prospects.

"I think a couple years ago, it was in the summer and I sat back and saw where I was and I didn't like where I was," he said. "I just wanted to prove to myself and for my family that to live up to my potential, I believed in myself so yeah, it's been an ongoing process."

* Where do Blues go? -- It's an age-old question: where do the Blues go from here?

The Blues show signs one night they can beat anyone, then flip the script and be beaten by anyone. It's beyond frustrating, as evidenced by the Bortuzzo-Sanford fight, and maddening all in one, and players were asked about their all-or-nothing plight.

"Obviously it seems that way, right," Maroon said. "You guys are looking for answers. As players, we're trying to figure that out ourselves, why we do it, why we shoot ourselves in the foot every day. I just feel like for us right now, we just got to find ways to play hard, play hard for each other, play hard for the guy beside you, take care of each other. Right now, we're fighting the puck. When we get down a goal, we just need to start pushing the puck or slapping the puck and pawn it off on someone else and it's his problem. But I think we need to find ways to play for each other, stick up for each other. This is our family in here. These are the guys we're going to go with here. We've got to find ways to get moving. We know we're a good hockey team. We've beat two of the best teams, one 1-0 and one in overtime. We know we have the guys in here to do it, it's just doing it every night."

When it comes to playing for each other, Maroon was asked why is that such a challenge when this is a tight-knit group.

"I just think when you're losing and things aren't going your way, maybe selfishness, I don't know if that's a word for it, but I just think guys want to do it, they want to play for the guy beside him, but sometimes are frustrated and they're not going, maybe they pawn the puck off on someone else and then it's their problems," Maroon said. "It just comes down to willing to work hard every single night, and if you work hard by losing, then we're not having these conversations right now. You know what I mean? We're not working hard, we're just getting outworked. We're just getting out-competed. Every stick battle, every puck battle. It's just not there. If we work hard and compete hard and do the right things and focus on the task at hand, and you do that working hard and you say you lost, at least you can say you put your equipment on and you worked your ass off. Right now, I just think we've got to find ways to work hard, compete and find ways to string some games together. Listen, there's 54 games left. I'm a firm believer in comebacks and comeback years and some way to figure this out, but we've got to focus on one game at a time. Yesterday was a good opportunity to capitalize and move up in the standings with Vancouver and we didn't capitalize on it, so we've got to find ways to play hard tomorrow, put a good game together and then go from there."

The word "fragile" was used in the locker room by Schenn in the locker room after the game Sunday and again by Butler after practice, and that's the ultimate barrier that will be toughest to break.

"It's just mentally, I think guys are at a point right now they're so frustrated with how things have gone that, you then start sitting back, you start lacking that aggressiveness to your game, where if you're going to make mistakes, you have to make them being aggressive," Butler said. "...Guys are afraid of making that second mistake, that turnover, that bad read that may lead to something. 

"It's a fragile group. It's hard to go out there and just play and have fun and enjoy the game when things aren't going your way. How do you get back to that point? I'm not sure but it's something we're going to continue to stress, that mental toughness that you have to show up every single day, every single shift, and find a way to contribute in a positive way."

* News and notes -- Perron, a healthy scratch Sunday, did not want to comment on it Monday, saying only he'd rather look ahead.

Defenseman Joel Edmundson missed practice with a maintenance day, according to Berube. 

Defenseman Carl Gunnarsson (wrist) did not skate with the team again on Monday and there is no indication of when he will he close to returning.

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