Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Fourth line forwards giving Blues strong play at both ends of ice

Barbashev, MacEachern, Thomas have formed a solid line since 
start of February, turning in solid offense after five-point game Tuesday

HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- When Robert Thomas returned to the Blues lineup Feb. 2, the thought was he would pick up where he had left off.

Thomas had a good run of games centering the third line flanked by Robby Fabbri and Oskar Sundqvist or Pat Maroon, even getting some time on the wing with Brayden Schenn and Jaden Schwartz.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Ivan Barbashev (49) tries to move the puck past Devils forward Kenny
Agostino on Tuesday in St. Louis' 8-3 win.

But Blues interim coach Craig Berube chose to bring him back in a different role, one that would use him in a fourth-line role, and open himself up to criticism to Blues fans.

How could they do this to the No. 1 pick in 2017 after Thomas was finally gaining steam in the NHL playing up in the lineup? How will Thomas ever grow if he's playing 10 minutes a game?

Those are the risks a coach has to take, but an even more calculated risk was putting the 19-year-old Thomas with a 23-year-old [Ivan Barbashev] and 24-year-old [Mackenzie MacEachern] who's still getting his feet wet in the NHL?

A fourth line is simply supposed to provide limited, quality minutes, those of the checking variety and being more or less defensively responsible, get off the ice and allow the top-heavy guys to do their thing.

Not this fourth line, not on this team. Especially when this line can be dangerous offensively, which it was in that 8-3 thrashing of the New Jersey Devils on Tuesday.

Barbashev had the first three-point game of his NHL career with two goals and an assist, MacEachern scored a beauty of a goal off a breakout attempt from the defensive zone, his third goal in just 12 games, and Thomas had an assist, giving him four in his first three-game point streak in the NHL.

They've been together now for six games, and judging by the results, not only offensively, but getting responsibilities when called upon in all areas, let the confidence continue to grow, as Berube is doing.

But one has to like the fact that after feeling like their games weren't the best Sunday in Nashville, they were determined to make an impact on the next game moving forward, a good sign of maturation, and that it allows that confidence to grow.

"A lot to be honest, but I think our last game in Nashville wasn't really good," Barbashev said. "I think it wasn't a really good game for us, but it was a good bounce back for my line. I think we did a really good job out there.

"... It's good to be honest. [Thomas] is a really smart player, he can make plays and he can score some goals. I think he's doing a real good job. [MacEachern] brings a lot. He's been working hard for a long time. I think he's playing really physical. He's playing smart. It's really simple for me and 'Thommy' to be honest. It just feels good."

The 10 minutes 11 seconds played Tuesday was a career-high for MacEachern, who has scored in two of the past three games.

"I think this is like our fifth game together … the first couple we got a lot of chances, but the puck wasn't going in," MacEachern said. "We kind of talked and kind of built off that and the last couple of games it seems like it's going in.

"(Confidence) is getting there definitely. It's nice to see the puck go in the net. Obviously that's not my game, but it's nice to see. I'm just going to continue being hard and being physical and hopefully contribute however I can."

What Berube sees is players who can create, players that can utilize their speed and players who can be confident in their respective roles, and he's allowed them to do what's necessary.

"They're just young guys who are playing and enjoying the game and having fun," Berube said. "Lot of good skill there with Robby Thomas, his skill level with the puck and what he can do with it and his smarts and Mackenzie MacEachern, speed, Barbashev's overall play in the middle of the ice. They gel together pretty well."

Thomas was coming off a shoulder injury that forced him to miss even games, so instead of throwing him back into the fire, Berube allowed him to settle in gently. The results have been better than one figured.

"When he came back from the injury, I didn't want to get him jumped right in there too high in the lineup, I wanted to see how he was looking with his shoulder," Berube said. "We started winning, we were winning and we kept the lineup the same. They've been a good line."

It was a fourth line kind of goal in the first period Tuesday and all played a part in it.

Barbashev scored after MacEachern forced Devils goalie Keith Kinkaid into turning the puck over with his forecheck one way and Kinkaid playing the puck the opposite way. Thomas picked it off and nearly scored himself, but the puck hit the post. However, Barbashev got two whacks at it before making it 2-0.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Mackenzie MacEachern (62) battles for a puck with a Devils player on 
Tuesday. He scored his third NHL goal in the Blues' 8-3 win.

"Yeah. Our line had a lot of chances in Nashville and today was the day we scored some goals for it," Barbashev said. "It feels good to be honest."

And then how about MacEachern's goal against Nashville Saturday? Thomas races over to intercept an errant pass, throws it at the net, Barbashev there to take a couple whacks at it before MacEachern sneaks in on the rebound to hammer it home, and it turned out to be the game-winner in a 3-2 win.

"It's the fourth line," Barbashev said. "That's what we do. We're just mucking out there."

Barbashev seems to be enjoying this the greatest, finally being able to settle in with linemates on a consistent basis after a variety of players stopping in.

"I actually enjoy playing with everyone," Barbashev said. "You guys know I played with a lot of guys this year."

It looks like unless there's an injury/injuries, both Thomas and MacEachern will be temporary residents on Barbashev's line, and that's OK with the Blues, who are riding a seven-game winning streak because, it's best to not fix what's not broken, and this line certainly isn't broken.

No comments:

Post a Comment