Thursday, October 31, 2019

Blues in good spot one month into season despite mixed results

Defending champs are on pace for 107 points, feel there's another 
level to their game; left behind remnants of last season's slow start behind

ST. LOUIS -- When the month of October came and went for the Blues in 2018, it wasn't the worst hockey played, but it wasn't the rip-roaring start everyone expected after general manager Doug Armstrong retooled and revamped in the summer months.

The Blues were 3-4-3, which wasn't all that bad, but it was the start of the demise of Mike Yeo as coach but ultimately, and unbelievably, culminated into the franchise's first-ever Stanley Cup.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Alex Pietrangelo, getting congratulations from teammates after scoring in
the third period Wednesday, said feels like the Blues have more to give.

Fast forward to 2019, and the Blues are one month into the season as defending Cup champs. They sit at 7-3-3, which is an improvement over a year ago and on quite the point pace, 107.2 to be exact, which would surpass last year's 99 points, and even though they are in a good spot right now, there's a sense that there is another level and a greater need for improvement in a lot of areas.

Armstrong said goalie Jordan Binnington has "been OK" with a 2.52 goals-against average and .918 save percentage; the Blues are bringing along newly acquired defenseman Justin Faulk, who is off to a so-so start with just four assists in 13 games; veteran center Tyler Bozak has no goals (four assists) in 13 games while playing with a multitude of wingers. But there are players who have started well, including David Perron, who is tied with Brayden Schenn for most points and is at a point-per-game at 13 in 13 games; Schenn is off to a flying start with nine goals after signing an eight-year, $52 million extension; Jaden Schwartz, despite just one goal, has 10 points in 13 games, Ryan O'Reilly is also at a point-per-game pace with 13, defenseman Alex Pietrangelo has five goals and nine points already, and Sammy Blais has four goals in his first 11 games this season.

But ... bave the Blues been at their best?

"Not overly," defenseman Colton Parayko said. "I feel like we have at certain times, I would say. I think that we get results because we dig deep when we need to and we know how to dig deep. I think the beauty of it is right now that we still have a lot more to give. Obviously we talked about our points and we have a lot of points in the bank. We have a good team. We know how to bear down when we need to. That's just what good teams do.

"October's over and teams are going to start pushing a little harder. Points-wise, they know where they're at. I think we're going to get a lot more Central Division games coming up, too. Those are always huge for the points and those are tough games that we obviously have to be dialed in for. ... I think we have to touch on the two-goal thing. We've had a lot of two-goal leads that we kind of continue to not finish out. Things like that, if we can finish those out, that's a big thing. Just make sure we can play the full 60."

It speaks volumes that the Blues, who host the Columbus Blue Jackets on Friday before heading to Minnesota for a rematch with the Wild after beating them 2-1 on Wednesday, are in a position to surpass the century mark in points and feel there's still more to give.

"If we're on pace for whatever you said, we still feel like we've got more," defenseman Alex Pietrangelo said. "That's a good thing when you've got those high expectations. It's not so much putting pressure on yourself, it's just for us, it really is small things, things that we can fix, things that we're doing to ourselves that can allow us to get better and make the game easier on each other to have more success."

Craig Berube, who took over for Yeo on Nov. 20 when the Blues were 7-9-3, and the Blues have gone through a lot in October, from answering lingering questions about last season to finishing up Cup dates, getting their rings, to a banner-raising ceremony, a trip to the Hockey Hall of Fame and a visit to the White House, among other side details. All the while, the Blues have had to focus on playing games in a new season and being the hunted instead of the hunter.

"I don't feel we're in a bad spot," Berube said. "I think we've played pretty good hockey considering a lot of stuff went on in October, different things, road trips and stuff that we had to do and we're involved in. But I feel like we're in a pretty good spot right now, but we can play better. We can play more consistent. We've got to manage our energy. I think that's really important here going forward. 

"It's going out shift to shift and getting everybody playing the same way all the time. That's what we're looking for. It's a little bit of everybody. It's just not consistent enough. ... That's on the coaches too, ice times, practices and all that stuff and the players doing their part outside the rink. Things like that, it's really important. It's only going to get harder and harder. We played a long time into the spring. It's important."

The biggest difference this season moving forward? The Blues are playing with a significant injury to their lineup. Vladimir Tarasenko, their leading scorer the past five years averaging 36 goals and 35 assists), will miss at least five months after sustaining a dislocated left shoulder. He won't be there for the duration of this season. The Blues know this, so it'll be up to the rest to keep the wins coming.

"I think we've kind of found our game more recently as far as knowing how to play solid to have success most nights," Perron said. "Obviously losing somebody like Vladi, that hurts, but we stopped talking about that and we have guys keep stepping up at the right time, whoever it is. It's like the Stanley Cup thing, he's going to be out for the next five months, four months, six months, whatever it is. We have to find a level that's going to give us success most nights. It won't be perfect all the time, but we have to find ways to win. I thought [Wednesday] night was a good example. It wasn't great at all times, but it was solid in certain moments. 

"We had games where it was right there. Last night, I don't think we were there, but we were close to it. There's just got to be times when we find a way."

The Blues have coughed up four two-goal leads in games, losing three of them (two in overtime and one in a shootout, costing them three points) but have also played games in which they found a way to win despite not being at their best. They're also finding out firsthand just what it feels like to get everyone's best knowing they're at the top of the mountain.

"We've been a good team for a long time, so we've always got the best of everybody," Pietrangelo said. "This year's obviously a little bit different. There's nothing better than saying you beat the defending champions. We're up to the challenge. I think it helps make us better.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Colton Parayko (55) feels the Blues learned their lesson from last start. 
Said it wasn't fun coming to the rink. Blues are 7-3-3 to start 2019-20.

"I think it's a sense of confidence too, going through what we went through last year. Any time you can play at the level that we played at, you're going to feel confident, especially when you feel like you're building throughout a game. We've obviously given up a couple two-goal leads, but last night was a big one for us holding onto that lead and winning a late game."

The Blues have learned that while last season was a Cinderella year in terms of going from worst to first, it's not the ideal way to build a team and a winner.

"It's no fun losing. Nobody likes to lose," Parayko said. "I remember how frustrating it was last year and it doesn't help at all in your locker room. But we made sure we knew we had to dial it in. I think this year we understand that that was no fun for nobody for those months. Nobody's really excited to come to the rink when we're playing like that. We know what it was and we want to make sure that we continue to just push forward and not put ourselves in that spot again."

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Blues didn't play cleanest of games, find way to prevail in 2-1 win against Wild

Without leading scorer Tarasenko, defending champs simply must 
find a way; winning lower-scoring games best course to take for success

ST. LOUIS -- The Blues know Vladimir Tarasenko is not coming back, and he won't be around -- at least on the ice -- for a very long time.

The news was not good on Tuesday when general manager Doug Armstrong announced Tarasenko, their leading scorer, would have surgery on his dislocated left shoulder that will sideline the Russian sniper for at least five months. 
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues defenseman Alex Pietrangelo (27) scores past Wild goalie Devan
Dubnyk and defenseman Ryan Suter in a 2-1 win on Wednesday.

So moving on without an average of 71 points (36 goals, 35 assists) the past five seasons will not be easy, so the Blues will have to win more of the types of games they won Wednesday, 2-1 over the Minnesota Wild at Enterprise Center.

It was not pretty by any means for the Blues (7-3-3), who at times struggled against of the Western Conference's worst in the Wild (4-9-0), who are now 1-8-0 on the road. But much like a 5-4 overtime win at Detroit on Sunday, the Blues are still finding ways to win.

This is how it's going to have to be at times when it doesn't look pretty, when the Picasso doesn't come out the way they want it, simply find a way.

On Wednesday, they found a way.

"I said it to you guys in Detroit, this is a couple games in a row, we just found a way to win, but I think it's time for us to start stringing things together here," said Blues defenseman Alex Pietrangelo, who scored the tiebreaking goal 1 minute 39 seconds into the third to break a 1-1 tie.

"A team coming off back-to-backs. I think we had moments where we controlled the game, but I think we can be a little more aggressive when we have teams that come in late and play. We know what it's like playing those back-to-backs. It's not easy."

The Blues, even with Tarasenko in the lineup, simply never struck you as the kind of team that will win 5-4, 6-5, 7-6 types of hockey games. That's reserves for the McDavids, the Draisaitls, the Crosbys, the Malkins, those kinds of players. They're more of the muck-and-grind, forecheck you to death, chip pucks, position themselves correctly, and most importantly, which they got on Wednesday from Jordan Binnington with 35 saves, get great goaltending.

"We've got to step up and we've got to be there for each other," Binnington said. "It was a big loss, [Tarasenko's] a great leader for us. At the same time, we've got to keep moving forward and hope for the best for him. He'll be around us to help guide us. I think we did a great job tonight stepping up and scoring some goals.

"I think that was a solid team game. I think the wingers did a good job getting pucks out. They had a lot of pressure from the 'D' pinching. We stuck to our systems and I think it paid off. We know that they played last night and we had to come hard at them because we know that they're a little tired. We just built off that the whole game and stayed strong until the end."

The Blues got a goal from Sammy Blais, who took his audition playing on that top line vacated by Taraseko with Brayden Schenn and Jaden Schwartz. They didn't play a clean game by any means against the Wild, but if this is how they're equipped to play, this is how they're going to have to win, this is where they mold themselves to be battle-tested.

"We're not going to step over everyone," said right wing David Perron, who set up the Pietrangelo goal with a pinpoint seam pass to the slot. "There's really good teams in this league. I thought it was a good performance by us. Pretty solid play for the most part. There's always ways to improve and it's nice to come away with two points and we'll keep looking at ways to improve.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues right wing David Perron (57) gets off one of his 12 shot attempts past
Wild defenseman Ryan Suter in a 2-1 win on Wednesday. 

"I always think this team, our structure is to forecheck, play deep and really low down on teams. ... At the end of the day, we're also better equipped if there's situations like Detroit, we can score some goals too. It's not like maybe in the past a few years ago where maybe it always had to be 2-1 or whatever."

When asked if this is how they have to win without Tarasenko, Perron had the best response: "I don't care, as long as we win."

(10-30-19) Wild-Blues Gameday Lineup

ST. LOUIS -- The Blues will look for their fourth win in five games when they entertain the Minnesota Wild for a brief two-game homestand at 7 p.m. (NBCSN; ESPN 101.1-FM).

St. Louis (6-3-3) will get a rather angry Wild squad, which fell to 4-8-0 on the season after coughing up a 3-0 lead in Dallas Tuesday, losing 6-3 by allowing five third-period goals.

"They're the same they've kind of always been with that team," Blues coach Craig Berube said of the Wild, who have won three straight at Enterprise Center. "They've had a core group of guys there for some time, [Mikko] Koivu, [Ryan] Suter, [Zach] Parise, [Eric] Staal. They're a hard-working team. They do a good job defensively in their own end. Offensively, they do a good job of getting to the net, throwing pucks there. 

"We've just got to focus on our game tonight. They played last night, so we've got to take advantage of the travel they had and stuff like that."

- - -

The Blues have talked about tightening things up in the defensive end, and the numbers prove it to be the case.

Entering Wednesday, the Blues are 16th in the league in goals allowed at 3.17, which is a far cry from the 2.68 goals-against last season, which was fifth.

It's been a slow start, which isn't uncommon, and this has been a group in the past that has really tightened things up as the season progresses, and will need to do so moving forward.

"Some games have been good, some games not so good," said defenseman Carl Gunnarsson, who will replace Robert Bortuzzo in the lineup tonight. "We won last game but gave up a lot of chances. It wasn't great, we've got more to work on, but that's certainly one of the area we've got to get better in.

"It's a five-man unit out there. Everyone's got to pitch in. It's not only the d-zone where everything happens. You can take a look at the sequence before, two sequences before, what you do with the puck and how you get back. If we have forwards that play our style, it's easier to play tight for us as d-men. It's the whole thing."

The players know they need to get better. Cutting down the shots against will help. The Blues are 10th in shots against at 30.3 compared to 28.6 last season, which was fourth in the league.

"Yeah, I think so. It feels like we've been kind of rushing a little bit too much in the defensive zone so far," forward Oskar Sundqvist said. "We need to be a little bit more patient, when we're going out on guys, when the second man is coming in and stuff like that. It feels like sometimes we've been rushing it to try to get the puck and they wind up making a couple good plays and get a good scoring chance out of it. We think we have to be a little more patient, but I'm not worried, I think it's going to come."

Berube thinks better puck management in the offensive zone will help neutralize those chances against and quite frankly, what he thinks are too many odd-man rushes.

"I think in my opinion, a lot of it starts in the offensive zone where we're careless with the puck at times," Berube said. "Our forwards are not in good position to check when the puck's turned over or be in position to help our defense out. Last year, I thought defending the rush and defending from the offensive zone, we were really good. A big part of that is our defense being tight and having good gaps, but when our forwards aren't there, it's tough to do that, so we can be a little bit more connected there and just manage the puck a little bit better."

- - -

Sammy Blais looks like will return after missing Sunday's 5-4 overtime win at Detroit and will get the chance to play on the top line with Brayden Schenn and Jaden Schwartz

"I'm ready," said Blais, who has three goals and two assists in 10 games. "I'm going to play tonight. It feels good enough for me to come back. A good practice yesterday and I felt pretty good in the morning skate too. I'm just happy to be back.

"It's another great opportunity for me. Two great players and I'm excited to be playing with these two tonight."

Blais missed the game against Los Angeles last Thursday, returned to play at Boston Saturday but it was evident he wasn't ready.

"In Boston, it was pretty sore but today it feels a lot better and just happy to be back and help my team win tonight," Blais said. "It's hockey, so every guy gets injured, gets banged up and I'm just happy to be back in the lineup."

Alexander Steen (lower body) will be a game-time decision after missing practice Tuesday and leaving the win over the Red Wings in the third period.

Berube said both Steen and Blais are game-time decisions.

- - -

Schenn, who has five points (four goals, one assist) the past four games, will play in his 600th NHL game. 

Blues right wing David Perron has seven points (three goals, four assists) the past five games and needs two assists for 300 in the NHL.

Blues center Ryan O'Reilly has five points (two goals, three assists) the past three games, including his second four-point game of the season Sunday.

Schwartz has eight points (one goal, seven assists) the past eight games.

- - -

The Blues' projected lineup:

Jaden Schwartz-Brayden Schenn-Sammy Blais 

Zach Sanford-Ryan O'Reilly-David Perron

Alexander Steen-Tyler Bozak-Robert Thomas 

Mackenzie MacEachern-Ivan Barbashev-Oskar Sundqvist

Colton Parayko-Alex Pietrangelo

Jay Bouwmeester-Justin Faulk

Carl Gunnarsson-Vince Dunn 

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

Healthy scratches include Robert Bortuzzo and Robby Fabbri. Vladimir Tarasenko (shoulder) is out for a minimum of five months.

- - -

The Wild's projected lineup:

Jason Zucker-Eric Staal-Mats Zuccarello

Zach Parise-Joel Eriksson Ek-Luke Kunin

Marcus Foligno-Mikko Koivu-Ryan Hartman

Jordan Greenway-Victor Rask-Ryan Donato  

Ryan Suter-Jared Spurgeon

Jonas Brodin-Matt Dumba

Carson Soucy-Brad Hunt

Devan Dubnyk is expected to start in goal; Alex Stalock will be the the backup.

The healthy scratch is expected to be Nick Seeler. Kevin Fiala (lower body) and Greg Pateryn (core) are out.

Monday, October 28, 2019

Tarasenko to miss at least five months, needs left shoulder surgery

Injury occurred in first period of Oct. 24 game against Kings; same 
shoulder right wing injured in final game of 2017-18 regular season finale

DETROIT -- The news wasn't good for the Blues on Monday regarding Vladimir Tarasenko, who will miss at least five months after the team announced Monday morning he will need surgery on his left shoulder.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues right wing Vladmiir Tarasenko needs shoulder surgery and will miss
at least the next five months.

Tarasenko, who will have the surgery on Tuesday, was injured with 6:01 remaining in the first period last Thursday in a 5-2 win against the Los Angeles Kings following a partial breakaway in which he got tied up with Kings defenseman Sean Walker. Tarasenko tried to push Walker off his left shoulder and immediately pulled up and turned away from the play. He skated to the bench and didn't immediately react in any pain but left for the locker room and did not return.

Tarasenko was placed on long-term injured reserve and will give the Blues some cap relief. It's the same shoulder Tarasenko injured and needed surgery on in the 2017-18 regular-season finale against the Colorado Avalanche. 

It's a huge blow for the defending Stanley Cup champs, who were equipped to repeat with nearly its entire lineup in tact but takes a severe hit with Tarasenko, who led the Blues before Sunday with 10 points (three goals, seven assists) in 10 games.

"It's tough," Blues center Ryan O'Reilly said after a 5-4 overtime win over the Detroit Red Wings on Sunday. "He's a huge player for our team. It's a tough loss and you can see tonight, it impacts us. We all have to be better for when we're missing him."

Robert Thomas got a crack at the top line with Brayden Schenn and Jaden Schwartz; Oskar Sundqvist started there on Saturday in Boston. It will be a collective effort for much of the regular season now.

What this does is gives perhaps Jordan Kyrou an opportunity after he finally gets going and plays in some games down in San Antonio, or do the Blues thrust someone else from the Rampage, perhaps a Klim Kostin for roster depth? can the Blues deal for a scorer? All t hose things will now be heavily weighed on. Regardless, it's going to be a challenge to replace Tarasenko's dangerous threat to score.

"Yeah, we don't know what really is going on with that situation, but we're going to need guys to keep stepping up and obviously it's a great opportunity for young guys that will probably have better looks, better chances," Blues right wing David Perron said after Sunday's game. "That's what you crave for as a young guy, to have more ice time, better players to play with, things like that. We're looking forward to see what's going to happen and the guys that will step up in those roles basically.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues right wing Vladimir Tarasenko (left) will miss at least five months 
because he will have left shoulder surgery on Tuesday.

"... Here we are, we have a situation where maybe there's going to be some time. Vladi is arguably our best player, so there's going to be some offensive chances for a lot of those guys."

It will fall on guys like Schenn, Schwartz, O'Reilly and Perron to pick up the goal scoring slack. Schenn leads the Blues with nine and Perron picked up his sixth Sunday. O'Reilly scored twice on Sunday.

Sunday, October 27, 2019

There's growing chemistry between O'Reilly, Perron; it starts with trust in one another

Blues forwards have belief in one another, was on full display with each 
putting up four-point games, including Perron's game-winner in OT over Detroit

DETROIT -- When teammates have a certain thing going, when they talk about chemistry playing together, the one key factor that comes to mind when that mojo is going at its best: trust.

David Perron and Ryan O'Reilly have it, and that exuberance continues to grow.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Ryan O'Reilly (90) and David Perron are all smiles Sunday night in Detroit.
The duo each put up four-point games in a 5-4 OT win over the Red Wings.

It was on full display at Little Caesars Arena during the Blues' 5-4 overtime win over the Detroit Red Wings on Sunday night.

O'Reilly tied it late, and Perron won it with an overtime goal 1 minute 28 seconds into the extra session, a pinpoint snipe, a wrister from the left circle high short side past Perron's junior teammate, Jonathan Bernier, with Lewiston in 2006-07.

Each player finished with four-point games (O'Reilly had two goals and two assists, and Perron had a goal and three assists).  It was O'Reilly's second four-point game this season (he had a goal and three assists Oct. 10 at Ottawa) and third of his career and Perron's second (one goal, three assists on Oct. 22, 2016 at Calgary). With his second assist Sunday, Perron reached 500 points in the NHL.

It just seems like when they're on the ice together, it clicks. No mystical potion, no magic wand. They make things happen on both ends of the ice, and they make things happen with trust in one another and a high work rate.

"Yeah, I think so. Even his goal, the first one, he's driving through and he's trusting that if I give him the puck, he won't get blown up by the next guy and he went in there," Perron said. "I had a good angle of it, he didn't have much room and he put it crossbar and in, so that was a really good shot by him."

There good vibes were working in high octane Sunday. As Perron mentioned, he threaded a pass into space for O'Reilly for him to skate into the left circle and snap a shot high short side just like Perron did to Bernier in overtime. 

"He's played a phenomenal game and he's played phenomenal this year," O'Reilly said of Perron. "He's such a threat. Not only can he shoot or one-time anything that comes to him, but also he can make little plays. He's got great vision. He's been a huge spark for our team offensively with what he's been creating. Tonight with a huge goal to get us that extra point and feel half decent coming off the road."

Perron is on pace to break his season totals in goals and points. His previous high in goals was 28 with Edmonton in 2013-14; his best season in assists is 50 with Vegas in 2017-18, and his top mark in points is 66, also with the Golden Knights two seasons ago.

Perron is on pace for 41 goals, 41 assists and 82 points. It has captain Alex Pietrangelo, teammates with Perron for all three of his stints with the Blues, feeling Perron is playing some of his best hockey.

"Yeah it is," Pietrangelo said. "I think he really found his game, especially these last couple years with 'O'Ry', they've really kind of meshed together well playing the game that they want to play."

O'Reilly may not be on his goals pace of 28, done last season with the Blues and in 2013-14 with Colorado, but he's still on pace for 21 goals and a career-high in assists (61) and points (82).

"With his work ethic and all the things he does throughout the game, whether people see it or not, defensively too, he's going to find a way to score," Pietrangelo said of O'Reilly. "He's going to score goals. Sometimes it's just how it goes. Sometimes they come in bunches. We're not too worried about it."

O'Reilly came into the game with one goal, an empty-etter in Ottawa, but was glad to sling that monkey off his back.

"Absolutely. It's nice to contribute something at least," O'Reilly said. "Obviously been struggling to have numbers, but even making plays, it was finally nice to connect with our line just moving the puck well, getting opportunities. We were in the o-zone and got rewarded tonight. It's something we've got to keep building on for sure."

Blues coach Craig Berube will always play O'Reilly and Perron together. The looming question will always be who will be their linemate. It's been Sammy Blais, Zach Sanford, and Alexander Steen. And with a twosome joined at the hip with a strong trust in one another's game, it's an easy call for the coach to make.

And with top scorer Vladimir Tarasenko currently sidelined with an upper-body injury, the Blues will need these high-end players to keep making things happen.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Ryan O'Reilly (90) celebrates with teammate after scoring the tying goal in
the third period of Sunday's 5-4 OT win over Detroit. 

"Yeah, for sure and they know where each other is at on the ice all the time," Berube said. "We put Sanford there tonight. That line's been good at times obviously the last year. It worked out, they were good tonight."

"We have good chemistry," Perron said. "I think all the plays tonight that ended up in a goal for us as a line, they were all just off chemistry basically and trusting that the route that you're taking is going to be the right one."

So far on most nights, it has been the right one.

Saturday, October 26, 2019

Bruins said all the right things, 3-0 win against Blues Saturday took some sting out of losing in Cup Final

Boston can't take back what happened in last season's championship 
series, were able to take some anger out on team that took heir dream

BOSTON -- Yeah right. It was just another game. 

OK Boston Bruins. Keep telling yourself that.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
David Pastrnak (left) and the Boston Bruins gained a level of retribution on
Alex Pietrangelo (right) and the Blues Saturday night in a 3-0 win.

Keep telling yourself that you're still not fretting over losing the Stanley Cup Final to the Blues in June. It was four and a half months ago, so its still fresh in everyone's minds. Saturday night was just a regular-season game, but let's face it, the Bruins were going to send a stern message: we're angry.


And it's understandable. I'd be angry too. Months of hard work to come up a bridesmaid is the worst feeling.

So the Bruins took out a measure of frustration with a 3-0 win on Saturday night at TD Garden.

So for one night, the Bruins (7-1-2) exacted some revenge, but a two-point night can never take away that empty feeling of watching the visiting team celebrate on your ice. So the Blues (5-3-3) will take this trade-off and go into Detroit for a late Sunday afternoon game finally putting the finishing touches on last season to rest.

No loss is a good loss. But playing without one of their top scorers in Vladimir Tarasenko, who missed the game and will not play against the Red Wings because of an upper-body injury, made this a tall task.

It started with a crunching check by Bruins captain Zdeno Chara on Oskar Sundqvist near the Blues' bench, and that may have been for payback for Sundqvist's hit on Bruins defenseman Matt Grzelcyk in Game 2 of the Cup Final that resulted in Sundqvist getting suspended for Game 3 and Grzelcyk being concussed and out of the series until Game 7.

"We were ready for it too," Sundqvist said. "I feel like we kind of got off to a tough start there with their first power-play goal. I think we handled their pressure pretty good there in the first. As usual, 'Binner' came up with some big saves too to keep us in it. We definitely need to be better."

Bruins players kept saying it was behind them, that the Cup Final is in the past and that this was just another game.

OK, and there's beautiful beachfront property in Central Missouri up for sale for any one of the Bruins players looking for a summer getaway.

They wanted this one. They wanted it bad.

No, it won't erase last summer's memory or suddenly bring them the Cup, but there goes a little bit of retribution, some closure, so to speak.

"You expect that going through a playoff series, whoever you're playing in the playoffs and you're playing them a lot," Blues left wing Jaden Schwartz said. "It's aggressive, you get a little 1-on-1 matchups when you know you're against them every night. It usually carries over to the next season."

The Blues expected tight-checking, they expected 17,193 Garden fans to give them the proper reception when they first took the ice and they expected Boston to add some extra emotion to this game, a little more so than your average regular-season game.

"Exactly that," Blues coach Craig Berube said. "They got that power-play goal and then they ended up getting another one. We had looks, we didn't capitalize on them. It just wasn't many looks either way. It was tight hockey all around."

The Blues played their first game without Vladimir Tarasenko, whose upper-body injury has him shelved at least for two games, including Sunday's game at Detroit.

"'Sunny' played there most of the game," Berube said of Sundqvist. "They had some opportunities. I thought they were fine. 

"It was a tight-checking game. We got down 2-0 in the third and I started moving guys around in the third looking for some offense."

David Pastrnak, Anders Bjork and Brandon Carlo (empty-netter) tallied goals for the Bruins, who were outshot 26-24 by the Blues, who seemed to play a decent road game but not enough scoring opportunities on Tuukka Rask.

"It just wasn't consistent enough," Schwartz said. "A little bit on the outside too much. Tuukka saw a little bit too many pucks, but had some chances. The power play, we've got to try and execute on getting more chances. Just a little bit too much on the outside and consistency of our aggressive play wasn't there.

"Not our typical game. Some turnovers and just not filling lanes and coming together and coming with speed and supporting each other enough. We couldn't get on the forecheck and create turnovers because we didn't have enough speed and not enough support."

And not converting on the power play, four of them to be exact, after the Blues were 3-for-4 in a 5-2 win Thursday over Los Angeles, proved to be fatal. The Blues had one midway through the second period where they owned zone time, nearly the entire two minutes but couldn't get enough pucks to the net.

"It was a long one," defenseman Justin Faulk said. "We probably had it in the zone there for about a minute, 50. It's going to happen like that. You take the momentum. 
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Justin Faulk (right) and the Blues were shut out for the first time this season
by David Pastrnak (88) and the Boston Bruins Saturday night at TD Garden.

"I think there's good that can come from having chances and keeping zone time and not breaking the puck out every time. Even if you don't score, you can kind of build off that and try and get a game. Obviously we were in a position where it would have been nice to score and kind of get one back there. That's just something that we need to be better at, too."

The Blues won't see the Bruins again until April 2, the final home game of the season. By then, winning the Cup will be a distant memory, albeit a good one, but by then, everyone will be in playoff mode and ready to take a crack at the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

(10-26-19) Blues-Bruins Gameday Lineup

BOSTON -- With Vladimir Tarasenko out of the lineup for at least the next two games with an upper-body injury believed to be a left shoulder, the looming question for the Blues is who steps in to fill that void on the line with Brayden Schenn and Jaden Schwartz.

From the looks of it, it could be a skater-by-committee, but in the interim, Oskar Sundqvist appears to be the next man up to step in on that line, at least to start, when the Blues (5-2-3) begin a quick two-game trip that starts today against the Boston Bruins (6-1-2) at TD Garden before concluding Sunday in Detroit against the Red Wings.

Sundqvist took shifts with the pair and was on it during the morning skate today and it appears at least to start, he will move up from his customary spot on the fourth line.

"I played with them a little bit last year too, so I'm kind of familiar with how they want to play and what they want to do," Sundqvist said. "I don't think it's going to be any problem.

"Not changing my game too much. Just try to create some space for 'Schenner' and 'Schwartzy'. That's about it, just keep playing my game."

Tarasenko was injured on a partial breakaway in the first period Thursday in a 5-2 win against the Los Angeles Kings; he did not take another shift after 6 minutes 1 second remaining and has been ruled out for the weekend and will be reevaluated again on Monday.

The Blues will at least have to find a replacement for their leading scorer of 10 points (three goals, seven assists) in 10 games.

"No different than when he's playing. Same thing," Blues coach Craig Berube said. "Somebody else will just go in his spot. That's it. There's nothing else that we can do."

Berube rotated players in that spot on Thursday and could do so again.

"[Sundqvist] could start there," Berube said. "We'll see how it goes. Sammy Blais looks like he's going to get going. It's a game time decision. Also we have him too.

"[Sundqvist's] just a good two-way player on that line. He hunts pucks down, gets to pucks, goes to the net hard and has the ability to score. He showed us last year he can put the puck in the net. I rotated guys on that line throughout the game, but he probably got the most looks there."

Sundqvist, who has two goals and one assist on the season, knows Tarasenko's loss is big but that the Blues have to carry on.

"It's a big loss, but our team is not on one guy," Sundqvist said. "It's about four lines. We've shown that in the past and now that Vladi's gone, someone's going to have to step up and score some goals. I'm not worried about us not scoring goals because I think we've got three lines that I think can do that. Just keep playing like we did the last two games here." 

- - - 

The Blues did get some good news, it seems, with the return of Blais, who missed Thursday with a left thumb injury sustained last Monday in a 3-1 win over the Colorado Avalanche.

Blais, who has three goals and two assists in nine games, skated on the fourth line with Ivan Barbashev and Mackenzie MacEachern this morning but could also jump up and play with the Schenn-Schwartz pairing, or even perhaps back with David Perron and Ryan O'Reilly.

"I feel better today so I think I'm going to go in tonight," Blais said. "I'm looking forward to it against Boston. It's going to be a hard game, so pretty excited about it."

Blais blocked a shot with his hand and finished the win over the Avalanche. He was limited in two skates following but seems good to go tonight.

"Just kind of the strength (with the thumb)," Blais said. "It's gotten better the last couple days. This morning was another test and it went pretty well, so I'm going to go tonight and I'm pretty excited."

- - -

Now that the Blues have returned to the scene of the crime, as Boston natives would say, from that memorable June 12 night when they clinched the Stanley Cup with a 4-1 win in Game 7, now they can really put last season to rest after numerous previous attempts.

"It just seems like we were here," Berube said. "We're looking forward here, not in the past.

"I don't think they're looking in the past at all. I think they're looking at it as just another regular season game against the Boston Bruins."

Blais said: "Last time there was a lot of alcohol on the floor. Looks like they cleaned it a little bit, but I'm really excited about tonight. Looks like it's going to be a really fun game to be a part of."

There will be a lot of familiarity between the two teams, with 30 of 40 players who dressed for Game 7 also suited up in each club’s previous game (14 of 20 for the Bruins, 16 of 20 for the Blues).

The Cup champion holds a 51-31-6 record in the first regular-season meeting between Stanley Cup finalists since 1927-28 (runner-up: 32-48-8), including a 5-1-0 mark since 2013-14 when the schedule matrix was changed to include head-to-head matchups between all teams.

The reigning champion has won each of the past four rematches. Defending champions have won five straight rematches just once in NHL history, going 5-0-0 from 1940-41 to 1944-45.

- - -

Schenn has 11 points (eight goals, three assists) in the past nine games and a three-game point streak against the Bruins (four assists). 

Schwartz has a six-game point streak (one goal, six assists) and nine points in his last eight games against Boston (four goals, five assists).

Defenseman Justin Faulk has six points (one goal, five assists) in his past five games against the Bruins as a member of the Carolina Hurricanes.

- - -

The Blues' projected lineup:

Jaden Schwartz-Brayden Schenn-Oskar Sundqvist

Alexander Steen-Ryan O'Reilly-David Perron

Zach Sanford-Tyler Bozak-Robert Thomas

Mackenzie MacEachern-Ivan Barbashev-Sammy Blais

Colton Parayko-Alex Pietrangelo

Jay Bouwmeester-Justin Faulk

Vince Dunn-Robert Bortuzzo

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

Healthy scratches include Carl Gunnarsson and Robby Fabbri. Vladimir Tarasenko (upper body) is out and is day-to-day but not on the two-game trip and will miss Sunday in Detroit.

- - -

The Bruins' projected lineup:

Brad Marchand-Patrice Bergeron-David Pastrnak

Jake DeBrusk-Charlie Coyle-Brett Ritchie

Anders Bjork-Par Lindholm-Danton Heinen

Joakim Nordstrom-Sean Kuraly-Chris Wagner

Zdeno Chara-Charlie McAvoy

Torey Krug-Brandon Carlo

Matt Grzelcyk-Connor Clifton

Tuukka Rask will start in goal; Jaroslav Halak will be the backup.

The healthy scratches are David Backes and Steven Kampfer. David Krejci (upper body), Karson Kuhlman (lower body), Kevan Miller (knee), John Moore (shoulder) and Anton Blidh (shoulder) are all out.

Friday, October 25, 2019

Blues return to scene where first Stanley Cup came to fruition

Rematch with Boston Bruins sets stage for first meeting since last 
season's Final at TD Garden should bring forth emotions from both sides

ST. LOUIS -- It was just four and a half months ago, the day the Blues established the greatest day in their history, finally achieving something that had been missing since their inception into the NHL in 1967.

On that June 12 night, when the final horn sounded and the Blues clinched their first-ever Stanley Cup at TD Garden, it set off a celebration those that took part in it will never forget. 
(St. Louis Blues photo)
The Blues return to the scene where they celebrated their first Stanley Cup
in a rematch with the Boston Bruins on Saturday.

It seems like so long ago, yet the memories are still so fresh. And try as they might, the Blues (5-2-3) can talk about moving on from last season's incredible run, but as they return to the very scene where it all happened then to face the Boston Bruins (6-1-2) on Saturday for the first time in the Cup Final rematch (6 p.m.; NBCSN, ESPN 101.1-FM), those feelings will come flooding back.

"The feelings are going to be with you forever, no doubt about it, especially in that rink, but I think we're there to win a hockey game, grab two points," said Blues center Brayden Schenn, who scored to give the Blues a 3-0 lead in the third period of the 4-1 win in Game 7. "It's going to be hard. They're playing well too. We know they're deep, they're a good team. It'll be a good game.

"I'm sure they're not going to like us too much in that building, but obviously for this group in this locker room, a lot of great memories. Playing the Stanley Cup Final there, having the celebration in the locker room. All that's behind us now. We're looking forward to going there. I'm sure it's going to be a tough game because I'm sure they're not happy."

No, the Bruins aren't happy. They weren't then, they certainly aren't now. To put all that work into winning it all and to fall on the short end of it sticks in a player's craw.

"I think it's going to be an emotional game for both teams to be honest with you," Blues coach Craig Berube said. "They're obviously on a break here, I don't know how many days, maybe three, somewhere in that range, so they're going to be ready. Obviously with the finals last year, I think it's going to be a good game. It's going to be a tough game. They're playing really well. The power play's excellent, that top line's excellent. We're going to have to be ready.

"You're going into that building, we beat that team last year in the finals and they're obviously going to be ready and I think we're going to be ready. A lot of media hype will be made of it and things like that, but that's just part of the game. Our guys just got to focus on the game. That's it, and be ready to go. It's going to be a tough game."

The Blues will be Public Enemy No. 1 at TD Garden. There will be a packed arena full of resentment towards the visitors, and that's OK with them. It only means you took something that they wanted, and can never have back and should serve as a motivator for them as well.

"Probably not, that's OK though," Blues forward Ivan Barbashev said when asked if they'll be received well. "We can handle it.

"We all know about the next game. It's going to be a real emotional game. It's going to be a heavy game. I can't wait for it (and) we're looking good right now. ... I'm excited. I'm sure everyone is excited."

Excited but not expecting any warm welcomes or any red carpet to be rolled out.

"No, they definitely aren't," Blues forward Robert Thomas said of Bruins fans. "You know what, it's going to be a fun game. Last couple games we've been playing really well. They've got some big firepower obviously. Saturday night in Boston, should be a lot of fun."

There's nothing like the silence of the home crowd when the visitors are doing the right things and being in the winning side of it, especially in a Game 7 scenario when all the marbles are at stake. That's what the Blues felt that night.

"Great memories there and some hard-fought battles," Blues goalie Jordan Binnington said. "I don't expect anything less this time."

The White House visit was supposed to be the final tell-all, turn-the-page moment for the Blues on last season. They've won two in a row, played well in doing so, and have been focused in on the new season. But this visit, this soon, will bring a lot of those everlasting memories back. It's only natural.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues players are ready to jump on the ice as the seconds wind down in
Boston on June 12 in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final.

"I don't think it will be too bad," Thomas said. "We kind of turned the page as a team. After the White House visit, that was kind of the end of it. It'll definitely be some emotions walking back in there, but we're ready to go."

"Looking back on it, here we are talking again about the Stanley Cup," Schenn said. "I thought we let it go, but no, it's obviously an incredible feeling being a hockey player, an athlete winning a championship, especially in professional sports, or in any league for that matter and going back into Boston, Game 7, kind of how our season unfolded. I think we're looking forward to getting back there and it's always fun playing the Bruins."

Blues didn't wilt after losing Tarasenko; in fact, they elevated their game

5-2 win over Kings was proof that defending Stanley Cup champs have 
the kind of intestinal fortitude necessary to overcome first bit of adversity

ST. LOUIS -- It was set up as another one of those 'oh-no' moments, the kind where the Blues would have wilted under the pressure in the past.

Not this time, not now. Not the defending champs. 

Maybe in another time, but this time, this team. 
(St. Louis Blues photo)
(From left) David Perron, Alex Pietrangelo and Tyler Bozak celebrate a goal
against the Los Angeles Kings on Thursday night.

When sharpshooter Vladimir Tarasenko left with 6 minutes 1 second remaining in the first period against the Los Angeles Kings with an upper-body injury, it was sudden, and without much hype.

And when the announcement came down quickly at the end of the first period that Tarasenko would miss the remainder of the game, it put the Blues in one of those 'what are we going to do?' moments.

It was a tie game at the time, and when the Blues fell behind early in the second period, that was the moment. Were they going to fold? Would they crumble?

Not a chance. 

Instead, everyone to a man basically said, 'Let's each pick up the slack. Everyone give a little more than what they brought to the table.' It resulted in a 5-2 win, and showed what good teams can do when thrown into some adversity.

After all, Tarasenko and linemates Brayden Schenn and Jaden Schwartz were on an offensive tear (19 points the past five games) and starting to drum it up at both ends of the ice.

But it meant Robert Thomas, who scored his first goal of the season moments after drilling the cross bar, pick it up; it meant Zach Sanford, back in the lineup for the injured Sammy Blais (thumb) after being a healthy scratch for the past four games, pick it up and be a factor; it meant Schenn, who scored twice, and Schwartz, who extended his point streak to five games (one goal, six assists) with two assists, elevate whoever would jump on that line with them; it meant Ivan Barbashev, Oskar Sundqvist, Alexander Steen, Ryan O'Reilly, David Perron, MacKenzie MacEachern and Tyler Bozak, each forward, pick up the slack left by their injured teammate.

"The way he started the game, he was flying out there," Schenn said of Tarasenko. "Hopefully it's not too serious. Obviously he's a huge piece for us, scores a lot of goals, makes a lot of plays. Hopefully it's not too serious.

"That's a tough hole to fill, no doubt about it. He's a lethal sniper in our game. We'll see how long it is, but it's another opportunity for another guy, whether they're power play minutes or some minutes with me and 'Schwartzy' so we'll see what we can come up with."

The Blues (5-2-3) came up with a plan, and it was to get to their identity of forechecking, being relentless on pucks, being responsible with it and not giving it away, occupying zone time, not allowing the Kings, who came into the game as the NHL's top-shooting team with 38 per game, to come at them with speed and filtering too many pucks (shot attempts were 64-44 in favor of the Blues) at the net and occupy the zone with their heavy forecheck.

Every player to a man stepped up his game, and outscored LA 4-1 when Tarasenko went down by putting their stamp on this one, and they did so by rising to the occasion instead of wilting under the adversity.

"Any time you lose a player, it sucks, and a player like Vladi, it's even worse," Thomas said. "I thought we came together nicely and picked up for him when he was gone. Hopefully he's back soon. I think as a forward group, we responded really well.

"We know our formula now to win. We know what it takes for us. We've got to play strong together and when we do that, it looks really good. When we try and be individuals, it doesn't look good at all. Just before that Colorado game, we had a meeting and we just kind of talked about that and snapping back into what makes us successful. We did that the last two games."

And last but not least, along with 17 skaters elevating their respective games, it meant Jordan Binnington elevating his game. Maybe he meant it, maybe he didn't, but what appeared to be a harmless skate into the corner on a delayed penalty call before stirring it up with Kings forward Kyle Clifford that resulted in Clifford bumping into Binnington, and Barbashev and Sundqvist coming to his defense, that's team unity. It's a powerful tool, and it's hard to beat. It's hard to penetrate. It's hard to disrupt.

"I don't think anyone liked that," said Barbashev, who would get into the Blues' first fight of the season in the third period with Austin Wagner. "You always have to step up for your goalie because he's a big part of our team. That's what we've got to do and I'm pretty sure everyone's going to do the same thing.

"I didn't know what happened. I turned around and I saw he kind of cross-checked 'Binner'. I just didn't like it, so I had to get in there."

Alex Pietrangelo scored the second of the Blues' three power-play goals (Schenn and Vince Dunn had the others) to tie the game 2-2, and the Blues kept elevating their game after it.

"We had a good jump after that. I think he got us going," Thomas said of Binnington. "Obviously you don't want to see him getting hit at all, but if he wants to mix it up a bit, then we can get a good laugh at that."

Binnington, who was sharp with 33 saves, was asked what happened.

"Nothing," he said. "We were competing out there. We were getting a power play. I was skating to the corner and we just crossed paths."

Asked if Binnington said anything to Clifford, he said, "No. I don't know, did you see it?"

When told yes, Binnington said, "Well you can make your own review on it then."

Clifford was asked about it, and said, "I don't know what he was doing. He's a mute. Didn't say a word."

Binnington took a good bump from Clifford but wasn't surprised.

"No, I expected that when you're staring at a guy for over five seconds," Binnington said. "Something's going to happen. But it's hockey and they play hard and they like that kind of game. We responded well. Throughout the whole game, we played a pretty solid game."

Whatever works, right?

"Whatever gets him going," Schenn said with a grin. "He even shot for an empty net tonight, so let him have it."

The Blues let the Kings have it instead, in all facets.

"I thought at the time we were playing well," Blues coach Craig Berube said. "Vladi was playing well. It happens. Guys were ready to play tonight, played a solid hockey game. I don't think that had anything to do with it.

"We had good cycles and good puck movement tonight. We really moved the puck well tonight, all around, even from our own end out."
(St. Louis Blues photo)
When Vladimir Tarasenko went down with an upper-body injury, Brayden
Schenn (right) stepped up and scored twice against Los Angeles Thursday.

That comes with an attitude. It comes with some sass. The things that winning can bring to a club goes a long way. This group won a Stanley Cup. There's no greater pressure and adversity than that, and when the Blues needed a reminder last week from Berube that they needed more mental toughness following a tough loss to Montreal, they've responded accordingly.

No individual will replace Tarasenko's production. It will take a collective group effort, and the Blues got it Thursday. Whether they'll need it beyond Thursday, if Tarasenko misses much/if any time, is yet to be determined.

"After losing four in a row there, we've responded as a team," said Schenn, who has 11 points (eight goals, three assists) his past nine games. "We know what it takes to win. Sometimes it's hard and it's not flashy, but we know it's successful."