Wednesday, February 13, 2019


If it's up to players, Blues should stand pat come trade deadline in light of 
recent surge; Blues on road looking to gain separation; Perron unlikely to play

HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- It was last year in the month of February, the Blues were trending in the wrong direction, and there were uneasy feelings around the locker room.

The Blues were teetering on that edge of being a wild card team from the Western Conference, but went through a seven-game losing streak Feb. 11-27 that turned the Blues, despite making a late-season push and finishing one point out of the second wild card behind the Colorado Avalanche with 94 points (44-32-6 record), into sellers.

They traded away Paul Stastny to the Winnipeg Jets, much to the dissatisfaction of a number of veteran players, but at the time, Blues management just didn't feel like the roster constructed as it was, was a Stanley Cup contender.

Fast forward to this season, when things went awry from the season's start, it seemed like a foregone conclusion that the Blues would be sellers, since they were at the bottom of the NHL standings as late as Jan. 2. 

But since then, the Blues have gone 13-4-1, including their first seven-game winning streak since 2015, and the feeling with a 28-22-5 record, good for the first wild card in the West and gaining momentum by the day, they have the pieces as currently constructed to stay the course.

Translation for general manager Doug Armstrong: don't fix what's not broken.

"I don't expect really anything to happen," Blues center Ryan O'Reilly said. "It's nice. I think we've earned it. It was a tough start to the season, but we hung on and we stayed in the fight and we battled back. But we're not done. There's still plenty to fight for. There's so many good pieces in this room. If you look at Nashville, Tampa, two elite teams and we were right there with them. You never know what happens and you can never be too sure, but I think we have the pieces in here to win. It's nice to have that."

It has to be especially nice for O'Reilly, the Blues' leading scorer with 57 points (21 goals, 36 assists), who has been far too often on the other end where he's part of a locker room that's in seller's mode.

The past three seasons in Buffalo, where the Sabres have floundered near the bottom of the Eastern Conference and league standings, Buffalo wasn't adding this time of year but unloading, and before that when O'Reilly spent six seasons in Colorado, he tasted playoff competition only twice (2009-10 and 2013-14).

"It can be unsettling at times; you never know, but we're professionals," O'Reilly said. "You understand that. It comes with the territory. If you don't win, you can expect changes to happen. It is a part of the game, but as you get older and have families, it can be tough in that way and for them, it sucks. 

"It's interesting, but I don't expect really anything big to happen here, and that's good. I think we have the group that can get it done."

So, are the players, particularly the veterans OK with the lineup constructed as is?

"Absolutely," O'Reilly said. "I think everyone's kind of bought in here. We have this great mentality and great togetherness that's just making for effective hockey. We're still improving, we're still not playing perfect hockey, but we're finding ways and our staples in our game are really important that we've found. We've still got to keep growing together. You never know what's going to happen, but you've just got to stay with it. Whoever's in here, we've just got to keep working."

The NHL Trade Deadline is on Feb. 25, and the Blues will play seven more games before then. They'll have a better idea leading into it whether they feel like they can be buyers or not, but considering the fact they're pressed up near the salary cap ceiling, it will be hard for Armstrong to buy rentals without sending salary back the other way. The Blues are equipped to make hockey trades, but not rental ones.

"I'll be honest with you, I don't even know when the trade deadline is," Blues captain Alex Pietrangelo said. "I don't think many guys in this room do. We're just going about our business here playing the the way we need to play. That stuff's out of our hands. We've just got to keep going and playing. I know it's coming up soon because you keep asking me. I'm not exactly sure what day it is. We're worrying about what's in this locker room. It hasn't come up in this room. We've got a good thing going."

It's just remarkable how quickly this streak turned the Blues from sellers to potential buyers, or even a stand-pat club this quickly.

"You want to be trending up this time of year," Pietrangelo said. "Last year we were kind of trending the wrong way; we built it back up there and made a push in the end, but you want to make sure you're building the right way. That's what we're doing right now. We have a long ways to go, we have a big weekend ahead of us to hopefully try and create some separation. Tomorrow's a big game for us. Odd one to play last night. We've got to find a way to bounce back with some energy."

* Road warriors again -- The Blues packed their bags again for another trip. This time, they head to Arizona, Colorado and Minnesota, teams directly behind them in the standings and a chance to gain quality separation and continue that climb.

"Big three games for sure," Blues interim coach Craig Berube said. "Arizona, they won last night. They're playing pretty well. Pretty good team. They've got a lot of speed. They're right there. All three teams are, Colorado, Minny, but we've just got to worry about Arizona first."

The Blues are 14-9-3 away from Enterprise Center. They're the only Western Conference team with fewer than 10 regulation road losses, so the comfort level of playing on the road, where the Blues have won five in a row and 11 of 15 (11-3-1), is there.

"Phoenix is behind us there and we're trying to separate ourselves from Minnesota and Colorado," Pietrangelo said. "We're looking up, too. We have an opportunity to gain some points on some teams. We have three or four games in hand on some teams ahead of us, so this is a good opportunity for us to kind of make up some ground."

* Back to work -- Despite an impressive 8-3 win against New Jersey on Tuesday, the Blues were back on the ice at work.

They practiced at the Ice Zone before departing for Arizona to begin a three-game road trip in four days, including back-to-back day games Saturday and Sunday.

"We wanted to have a skate today," Berube said. "It was a good time to have a quick skate, get some pace up there, work on a couple of things. There won't be a lot of practice time on this trip, back to back games, afternoon games. It was a good time today.

"We've got everybody pulling on the same rope right now. It's important."

"These afternoon games, you don't practice," Pietrangelo said. "We travel Friday, so these are opportunities we have to take advantage of. It's not easy to always practice on the road. Sometimes the rink is not available, so you're driving to the practice rink and then you've got to pack up and go right back to the game and it's kind of a pain. So you're better off taking a day getting a workout in and stretch and go over meetings and video and whatnot. When you get an opportunity, especially when you're playing every other day, six weeks in a row we play back to backs. Rest is important. I'm not too worried about not being engaged. We're playing a lot of hockey right now."

There were 22 skaters on the ice, including defenseman Carl Gunnarsson, who is nursing an upper-body injury but will travel. Forwards Alexander Steen and David Perron (upper body) did not skate.

Steen had a maintenance day, but Berube was not optimistic that Perron, who has missed the past nine games, would play on this trip at all.

"Right now, I don't expect him to be on the trip," Berube said.

* Plus-6 magic -- Speaking of Pietrangelo, count him out on all the hoopla of the plus-minus stat.

Pietrangelo became the first Blues player since Rick Lapointe and Bill Stewart to accomplish the feat on Nov. 11, 1980 against the Vancouver Canucks. Red Berenson holds the record of plus-7 in his six-goal game Nov. 7, 1968 against the Philadelphia Flyers.

By being a plus-6, Pietrangelo wiped out his minus status and is now even for the season.

"I didn't even know until I saw the sheet," Pietrangelo said. "I guess it's good. ... Six is a lot. I don't know if I had a whole lot to do with them, but I guess I'll take it. ... I'm not going to complain about it."

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