Blues back, ready to endure grind after break; Perron to IR; Thomas returns;
MacEachern recalled; O'Reilly's all-star experience; Blues, ESPN partner up
HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- The Blues were back at the rink Thursday afternoon ready to hit the ground running after their week-long plus break that included the All-Star Game last weekend.
The Blues, who are in the middle of five straight games on the road, including one Saturday at Columbus before hitting Florida for their annual dads trip to play the Panthers Tuesday and Tampa Bay next Thursday, have not played since a 5-1 win at Anaheim on Jan. 23. That means they will have gone nine days off before their next game.
But at 22-22-5, and starting Thursday just three points out of a wildcard in the Western Conference, Blues players feel both mentally and physically that the break was good, but it can also stunt the progress one made, like the Blues had, while going good, and it also compresses the remaining games a team has like the Blues, who have played the fewest games in the West and only one team (Florida, 48) has played fewer.
"We have today and tomorrow, so we don't have to play until the next day, which is a good thing for us," defenseman Alex Pietrangelo said. "We play a lot of games because of the break, but if you use it the right way, which everyone in here does, it gives you an opportunity to make sure you're both refreshed physically and mentally here. We play a stretch of, what, (14) games this month? We've got to make sure we're ready for that.
"We're going to be on the road a lot here now, so it's a good time for guys to stay home and spend time with family and take a break and kind of get away from the game for a bit. This month is going to be grind, it's going to be tough, but it's good that we get this kind of reset."
The Blues will play their remaining 33 games in nine week's time, so the sacrifice of playing those games in a compressed time seems worth it for them to get this extra time off. Management and coaches may not like it, but the players do, and they know it's tough.
"No question it is," goalie Jake Allen said. "Every team has to go through it though. For us, I think it's as much as we can the first game, even the first period, try to salvage a solid first period. We know it's not going to be great right out of the gate. We'd love for it to be, but I think we can get our feet under us quick enough in the first and then keep building throughout that game and hopefully end in a good result. That's sort of the way you have to attack it. You have to attack the practices like the games and make sure we're ready to go at puck drop by Saturday, especially against a team that's already played a couple times.
"The break adds more back-to-backs, adds more flights, adds a little more late nights to our schedule, but that's the way the league's going right now. No question, we all enjoy the time off, but at the same time, if you don't have a huge cushion and we're grinding for every point like we are, it's definitely a little more demanding. That's the way it is, that's what we're dealt with."
Coach Craig Berube put the Blues through what he called a brisk 45-minute practice that seemed much longer. There was a dry scrape between sessions that was intense.
"Forty-five minutes, right? It was good, 20-25 minutes of a good, crisp flow, skating, passing, pace and then I wanted to get them some scrimmage in there to just kind of get them back on their toes and thinking about a game-like situation. Spent about 15-20 minutes on that," Berube said. "... I thought they worked hard, I thought the pace was good. Skating was there. They looked good to me. Obviously the passing and puck skills are a little off from time being away and not on the ice. Overall, we were happy with practice."
It's been a tough climb for the Blues, who had such high hopes coming out of the gate this season, just to get to .500, but they feel like things are coming together at the right time and they're ready to make a push.
"It's been really tough starting the season, things going on around the team," forward Vladimir Tarasenko said. "Now things are getting more positive. Guys start enjoy being here. It's nice now, I'm not going to lie. A lot of stuff, but we just work for each other and this helps us out to get out of the spot where we was, but still not in the playoffs so we have a lot of things to do.
"Nice to get away for a little bit but now we're back here, time to get back to work and time to make a push. Guys feel ready and excited to get together again and wait for game [Saturday]."
When asked why it was so tough earlier in the season, Tarasenko, who has started to heat up himself with points in eight of his past 11 games, didn't want to look back.
"We have to stop worrying about what was in the past," he said. "We have, 30 games left? Every game now is like playoffs for us. I don't want to discuss the start of the year. It's happened already. We need to be focused on our goal and make it happen.
"If we play for each other, I think we can beat any team in this league and we prove it this year. We have to think about the next game and not look too far ahead and just prepare for Columbus right now."
* Perron to IR -- The Blues were hoping to have David Perron back on the ice after an extended break. Perron hasn't played since Jan. 17 at Boston dealing with upper-body injury believed to be concussion-related, and the Blues placed the forward on injured-reserve.
Perron will miss his fourth straight game when the Blues travel to Columbus on Saturday but is essentially day-to-day.
"I think it's up in the air, but he's not going to come with us at the start, that's for sure," Berube said of Perron. "We'll see how he's doing and if he feels like he can come on the trip, he can join us on the trip."
Perron has played in 45 games this season and ranks second on the Blues with 35 points (17 goals, 18 assists), including a 13-game point streak (six goals, 10 assists).
* Thomas back, ready to return to lineup? -- Rookie Robert Thomas was back skating at practice again Thursday, and it appears the forward is ready to jump back into the lineup Saturday after missing the past seven games with a left shoulder injury.
Thomas, who has 14 points (five goals, nine assists) in 37 games, was injured when he lost his footing and crashed hard into the offensive zone boards against the Montreal Canadiens on Jan. 10 in a 4-1 win.
"I'm feeling a lot better," Thomas said. "I think the break was good, good recovery. Things are feeling good.
"I think that's the way everyone's feeling is I have a chance to play. Everything's coming along and I feel a lot better. ... Today was the first one for regular contact. I felt good out there. I think it'll be a decision to be made over the next couple days."
Thomas was skating on the fourth line with Ivan Barbashev, Mackenzie MacEachern and Robby Fabbri and was playing arguably his best hockey before the injury.
"I liked it a lot," Berube said. "His playmaking ability, his vision for the game is high. He was just feeling more comfortable going along, playing with better players, being put in better spots. He was producing and he was doing the job.
"We had him on a line today. He looked good out there. He'll get more of that tomorrow. We'll do some drills in practice and see how he feels with the contact."
Perhaps moving Thomas, a natural center, to the wing helped him get more acclimated.
"A young player like that, he's played center ice most of his career, but a young player like that, being put in the middle of the ice, it's hard," Berube said. 'It's a tough game down in your own end and you've got to have good reads and you've got to be strong. It's easier for him to be on a wing, but that doesn't mean he won't be at center. I had him at center when he got hurt. I thought he earned that to be put in that spot and I wouldn't count on him not being there again."
* All-Star experience good for O'Reilly -- Center Ryan O'Reilly, who was the lone representative from the Blues in San Jose last weekend, made his second all-star appearance one to remember.
Although the Central Division fell 10-5 in the final against the Metropolitan Division after the Central blitzed the Pacific Division 10-3 to start, O'Reilly made the most of his time with seven points (two goals, five assists) in the two games of 3-on-3 hockey.
"It was good. It was fun," O'Reilly said. "It would have been nice to win the games, but still, it was a good time. Get to see a lot of guys and it was nice going to California and get some sunshine there. The NHL did a great job."
O'Reilly was the one player who didn't get the full amount that rest of his Blues teammates did, but he did get to rub elbows with the game's best. Blues fans may not like his choice, but O'Reilly was glad to be on the same side for once with that of Chicago Blackhawks forward Patrick Kane.
"It's pretty casual at those events, but just to kind of be on the same team as him, watching Patrick Kane, that was pretty impressive," O'Reilly said. "You can see when he gets the puck, especially 3-on-3, nobody can get him off of it. It's his puck, he's doing what he wants with it. I was on the ice a few times with him and it's just amazing the plays that he can make. Seeing it from the other end was a lot nicer."
O'Reilly leads the Blues, his first season in St. Louis, in goals (18), assists (32) and points (50) in 49 games this season.
* MacEachern recalled -- Forward Mackenzie MacEachern was recalled from San Antonio earlier in the day on Thursday.
MacEachern, who scored his first NHL goal Jan. 21 at Los Angeles and had his first NHL assist two nights later in Anaheim, has those two points in his six NHL games. The 2012 third-round pick out of Michigan State has impressed in his early stint in the NHL and warranted a return following the break.
"He's played really well," Berube said. "I thought the games he's been up here, he's been effective. His skating is really noticeable for me, being on the puck, physical play. He gets chances too. Last game, he had four shots on net, a couple real good opportunities, but what I like is his ability to get on top of people quickly with his skating and being physical."
* Blues, 101 ESPN partner up -- The Blues are leaving the 'Mighty Mox' after a 12-year run.
The team announced on Thursday they will be leaving KMOX 1120-AM after this season and moving to ESPN 101.1-FM after a four-year term with an option for a fifth year was announced beginning with the 2019-20 season.
"We are excited to enter into a partnership with 101 ESPN to broadcast our games and to create exciting new Blues and hockey-related content for our fans," Blues executive vice president and chief revenue officer Steve Chapman said in a statement. "This partnership will allow us and 101 ESPN to reach new audiences and create numerous content opportunities that will help meet the demands of our loyal fan base. We are excited about what the future holds. As we move forward, our organization would also like to thank the entire KMOX team for both their commitment and partnership to the Blues and fans throughout the region."
Broadcasters Chris Kerber and Joey Vitale are expected to remain in their current roles moving forward, and the Blues and the station will announce more content moving forward.
"It has always been a dream to partner with the St. Louis Blues organization," Hubbard St. Louis vice president and market manager John Kijowski said in a statement. "The Blues management team is a class act and their fans are the best in professional hockey."