Saturday, November 30, 2019

11-30-19) Penguins-Blues Gameday Lineup

ST. LOUIS -- The Blues received some good news on the injury front for a change.

Forward Oskar Sundqvist, who sustained a lower-body injury against the Tampa Bay Lightning Wednesday, won't be off the ice as long as the Blues had envisioned, according to coach Craig Berube.

Sundqvist, who was in a walking boot on his right foot for the remainder of the trip, was suspected to have an injury that possibly could have required surgery or miss considerable amount of time, but after being evaluated today by Blues doctors, the news was encouraging.

"It's better than we thought," Berube said. "It's not going to be long term. It looks like it should be a lot better than what we thought."

When asked if Sundqvist, who has 12 points (eight goals, four assists) in 26 games, including two goals in a 4-3 win against the Lightning before getting hurt when he was checked by Luke Schenn, was week-to-week, "Yeah, that's a pretty good term," Berube said.

Sundqvist was placed on injured-reserve on Thanksgiving, which means he has to miss at least a week, and puts him out tonight against the Penguins, Monday at Chicago and Wednesday at Pittsburgh, but now can return as early as a week from tonight against Toronto.

"He might, it just depends. I'm hopeful that he might come on this trip with us and he might go on the ice," Berube said. "We'll see. It was good news. He's not going to be long term."

Also, forward Alexander Steen skated today for the first time since sustaining a left high ankle sprain Nov. 6 against Edmonton.

Steen was to be re-evaluated in four weeks, which would put a re-evaluation time early next week.

"Not very long," Berube said of Steen's skating session today, "but he was out there."

- - -

The Blues' projected lineup:

Jaden Schwartz-Brayden Schenn-Robert Thomas

Zach Sanford-Ryan O'Reilly-David Perron

Ivan Barbashev-Tyler Bozak-Troy Brouwer

Mackenzie MacEachern-Jacob de la Rose-Nathan Walker

Vince Dunn-Alex Pietrangelo

Jay Bouwmeester-Colton Parayko

Derrick Pouliot-Justin Faulk

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

The healthy scratch will be Austin Poganski. Vladimir Tarasenko (shoulder), Alexander Steen (ankle), Sammy Blais (wrist), Oskar Sundqvist (lower body) and Carl Gunnarsson (illness) are out. Robert Bortuzzo will serve the final game of his four-game suspension.

- - -

The Penguins' projected lineup:

Jake Guentzel-Evgeni Malkin-Dominik Simon

Dominik Kahun-Jared McCann-Patric Hornqvist

Zach Aston-Reese-Teddy Blueger-Brandon Tanev

Alex Galchenyuk-Sam Lafferty-Joseph Blandisi 

Brian Dumoulin-Kris Letang

Jack Johnson-John Marino

Marcus Pettersson-Chad Ruhwedel

Matt Murray will start in goal; Tristan Jarry will be the backup. 

Healthy scratches are expected to be Zach Trotman and Juuso Riikola. Sidney Crosby (core muscle), Nick Bjugstad (lower body), Justin Schultz (lower body) and Bryan Rust (lower body) are all out.

Sunday, November 24, 2019

Bortuzzo suspended, Walker, Pouliot recalled

Defensemen to miss four games as a result of cross-checking incident 
Saturday against Nashville; pair called up from San Antonio as reinforcements

ST. LOUIS -- Robert Bortuzzo will have some time to think about his cross-check that sidelined Nashville forward Viktor Arvidsson Saturday night.

Bortuzzo will also be lighter in the pocket as a result when the National Hockey League's Department of Player Safety handed the Blues defenseman a four-game suspension.
Robert Bortuzzo

Bortuzzo, a repeat offender, was penalized for a cross-checking incident on Arvidsson 6 minutes 8 seconds into the first period of Nashville's 4-2 win; based on his average annual salary, Bortuzzo will fork over $67,073.16. The money goes to the Players’ Emergency Assistance Fund.

On the play, Bortuzzo, while killing a penalty, cross-checked Arvidsson initially into the Blues' net, and when he looked over to see he was being penalized for it, thus putting the Blues down two men, perhaps he felt Arvidsson embellished the official into the call, and this got in an extra cross-check to Arvidsson's backside while he was on the ice.

Arvidsson left the game with a lower-body injury and did not return to the game, and the Predators announced on Sunday he would be sidelined 4-6 weeks as a result of the play.

As was noted in the 2:35 video by the DoPS, it is said that "Bortuzzo's second cross-check however, is not a hockey play. ... This is a forceful cross-check delivered away from the puck on a vulnerable opponent, and for no other reason than frustration." 

Bortuzzo has twice been fined twice in his career for cross-checking, and the combination of his action Saturday and history that brought forth the suspension.

Since it was a phone hearing, meaning with no in-person hearing, the most Bortuzzo could receive was a five-game suspension. In-person hearings start at six games.

So Bortuzzo will miss games at Nashville on Monday, Tampa Bay on Wednesday, Dallas on Friday and at home against Pittsburgh Saturday. He's eligible to return Dec. 2 at Chicago.

It also means Carl Gunnarsson, a healthy scratch the past four games, will return to the lineup, but the Blues made a couple subsequent moves in recalling forward Nathan Walker and defenseman Derrick Pouliot from San Antonio of the American Hockey League.

Also, forward Troy Brouwer was designated as non-rostered and will be activated once his working visa is approved. Brouwer signed a one-year, two-way contract for $750,000 last Wednesday after coming in on a professional tryout.

Pouliot, 25, was signed by the Blues as a free agent on July 1. Originally drafted eighth overall by the Pittsburgh Penguins in the 2012 NHL Draft, he's played in 20 games with the Rampage this season and leads all AHL defensemen with 18 points (four goals, 14 assists). Pouliot has 48 points (eight goals, 40 assists) in 200 regular-season games with the Penguins and Vancouver Canucks.

Walker, 25, was also signed by the Blues as a free agent on July 1. A third-round pick by the Washington Capitals in 2014, Walker has also played in 20 games with the Rampage this season and is third among AHL forwards with 22 points (12 goals, 10 assists).

Walker has played in 12 regular-season games with the Capitals Edmonton Oilers and has two points (one goal, one assist).

Saturday, November 23, 2019

Blues fail to match Predators' desperation in 4-2 loss

Nashville came in winless in six, played hungrier, more urgent; should be
lesson learned for St. Louis to park it, because it was not pretty from puck drop

ST. LOUIS -- The Blues were able to keep a wounded dog down on Thursday and were faced with the same dilemma once again on Saturday.

They blitzed the Calgary Flames and kept that team in their doldrums to the tune of a six-game winless streak, and with the Nashville Predators coming in, another wounded animal on a six-game winless streak of their own (0-5-1), this was different. This was a divisional opponent that rose to the challenge of facing the defending Stanley Cup champs.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues forward Tyler Bozak's shot is blocked by Nashville defenseman Ryan
Ellis, one of 18 Predators blocks Saturday in their 4-2 win over the Blues.

And it was evident from the drop of the puck which team played with more urgency, more desperation in Nashville's 4-2 win Saturday at Enterprise Center.

The Predators, who improved to 10-9-3, were quicker to pucks, won the 50-50 battles, forechecked harder, forced the Blues into mistakes, and it all amounted to the Blues looking slower, disengaged and the inferior team on the night. The Predators were driving the net, working for second and third chances.

"They got a couple bounces early, but even saying that, that's not our brand of hockey," Blues center Brayden Schenn said. "Turn over the puck too much, sat back, didn't take care of the puck and (caused) them to (have) good chances and break out with the puck. Our turnovers led to their offense and we have to clean it up for the next game.

"... Regardless of how they've been playing, we knew they were going to give us a good test tonight and they did. They played us hard. We knew that going in and we didn't match that early on."


The Predators scored three goals in the opening period, spent much of the time in the Blues' zone, had a 10-0 shots advantage and led 2-0 before the Blues even got their first shot on goal at Juuse Saros, and finished with a 22-9 shots advantage. It finished 43-26 for the game, the second time in as many games the Blues have allowed 40 or more shots.

"They were more desperate and definitely came out harder than we did," Blues coach Craig Berube said. "(Breaks) happen. Things happen in games. We didn't play good enough to win the game.

"I think a lot of the puck management tonight was losing the 50-50 battles, soft plays with the puck, more than puck management. We weren't heavy enough tonight."

Had it not been for Jordan Binnington, who made four -- yes, four! -- breakaway saves in the game, including two while the Predators were shorthanded along with a host of other Grade A scoring chances, this would have been a far wider margin of victory for the visitors.

"Just turnovers, taking care of the puck," Schenn said. "They did a good job of clogging up the neutral zone, when do get into their end, they have that guy sitting back, waiting to break out the puck, so we've got to make an adjustment for next game and find ways 1, take care iof he puck and 2, get pressure on the forecheck.

"[Binnington] made big saves, the three that he let in, he couldn't do much about it, he made big saves for us tonight and we have to be better in front of him."

The lone bright spot on the night was Klim Kostin, who scored his first NHL goal in his fourth game, and it was a beauty.

The 31st pick in the 2017 NHL Draft got the puck at his own defensive circle, drove with speed 1-against-3 but had no fear. Instead of pulling up to wait for help or perhaps just dump it in and go on the forecheck, Kostin peeled to his left and in the blink of an eye, whipped a wrister past Saros to give the Blues life in a period where they showed none and made it 2-1 at 13 minutes 55 seconds of the period.

"Feels great," Kostin said. "I just see the net and just shoot. ... I was lucky a little bit today. I'm happy to score first goal.

"It's just unbelievable. No words to explain the feeling."

Instead of using it to their advantage, and instead of using a big penalty kill, including one for 1:12 with David Perron in the box for hooking and Robert Bortuzzo in the box for cross checking Viktor Arvidsson (oh, and Bortuzzo will have a hearing Sunday from the Department of Player Safety and will likely receive a suspension and/or fine), the Blues finished the period much like they started it.

Oskar Sundqvist turned the puck over at the red line in a simple dump-in and Nashville restored its dominant period.

"I just think in general we didn't take care of the puck, which led to us playing in our own end, too many turnovers, which led to goals, and I think we'll be better next game," Schenn said. "We've got to be better. It's tough playing in Nashville, they always come hard there and you can't let them generate offense off us turning over the puck the whole game."
(St. Louis Blues photo)
One bright spot for the Blues was Klim Kostin (middle) scoring his first NHL
goal Saturday. He's congratulated by Alex Pietrangelo (27) and Mackenzie

The Blues seem to find ways to recover from stinkers. This was one of them. The schedule makers did them no favors the rest of this month with a three-game trip at Nashville Monday, Tampa Bay Wednesday, Dallas Friday and back home next Saturday against Pittsburgh.

"A couple bounces that are just fortunate their way," said Blues captain Alex Pietrangelo, whose power-play goal with 3:08 in the third cut the deficit to 3-2 and gave the Blues a chance. "I'm not going to make any excuses, but chances of the first one going right to him and second one goes off 'Faulker,' but other than that, I thought we ... we could have played a lot better. We could have been more aggressive. I thought we weathered the storm a bit there in the first, got a handle of it, but we need to play better if we want to beat a team like that."

(11-23-19) Predators-Blues Gameday Lineup

ST. LOUIS -- The paperwork isn't complete, so veteran Troy Brouwer's debut will wait another day and Klim Kostin stays in.

Brouwer was hopeful of making his debut Saturday when the Blues (14-4-5) close out a four-game homestand against the slumping Nashville Predators (9-9-3), who are 0-5-1 their past six and allowed 31 goals, after signing a one-year, two way contract for $750,000 on Wednesday. 

The 34-year-old would have made his debut in Thursday's 5-0 win against Calgary but can't get the paperwork finalized for his working visa and thus will have to wait yet again.

Kostin, who has played in three games, has had moments where you can see the talent he can bring, but there's also the learning curves that a 20-year-old still is working through, and will get with more ice time.

"He's still young," Blues coach Craig Berube said. "I haven't minded him to be honest with you. He's got to do things at a quicker level out there and that comes with time. I don't think he's quite there yet with doing things as quick as you have to at this level, but he's a big body, he's got skill, he can skate and he's got a good shot, but it's just about processing things quicker out there for him."

There was a power move Kostin made from his right to left in the third period Thursday that offered a glimpse of his size and skill level that took a solid save by Flames goalie David Rittich to keep Kostin from his first NHL goal.

"That's the stuff he can do and he has to do, a big body like that, but it's a lot of little things that take time to learn," Berube said. "He's up here doing it and he's getting some time, which is great.

"I think he's improved every year (since turning pro)."

- - -

Don't think for a second the Blues will take another struggling opponent lightly, but the schedule has certainly been in their favor when it comes to struggling teams seeing the Blues on their schedule.

Calgary came into town on a five-game winless streak and got bamboozled here, and the Predators come in having allowed five or more goals, including nine once, seven once and six once, in four of their past six games. And on top of that, goalie Pekka Rinne has been pulled in three of his past four starts and will give way to Juuse Saros tonight.

What's hurt Nashville recently is a struggling penalty kill, particularly in two games against the Vancouver Canucks in which they've allowed an astounding eight power-play goals on nine chances. The Predators PK is four for its last 12.

"They're a high-scoring team 5-on-5, third in the league in goals-for," said Berube, whose squad is 9-1-2 the past 12 games. "They're a good 5-on-5 team. They probably are looking at their goals-against aren't great.

"They're a good team. We all know that. They're just going through something right now. It's going to be a tough game for sure. They play us hard."

The Blues won four of five matchups, including all three at home, against the Predators on home ice last season.

"They're more of a forecheck team than I would say," Berube said. "They come hard on the forecheck. They work extremely hard in the offensive zone, grinding it out, a lot like us. They play a lot of similar style like we do. They've got some real good players. [FilipForsberg's a real competitor out there, he's hard to handle, Josi, Ellis on the back end. They're good offensive defensemen, play a lot of minutes, 26 minutes or more, and they've got a lot of workers on their team that are going to come hard and play hard."

Predators coach Peter Laviolette said his team's misfortunes are attributed to being "something different every game. The target seems to be moving a little bit. When it happens, we address it and try to get better with what we're doing. There's some good things that we're doing and there are some things where we're shooting ourselves in the foot."

As for facing the Blues?

"They're tight, they don't allow a lot and then it's almost like they get you into a game where they're just playing good defense and they're tight and they're opportunistic," Laviolette said. "They're able to chip one in and then you're chasing against the team that's playing tight. We're going to have to be ready for them, I think just try to make the most of the opportunities that we get and be battle-ready against them. They're doing a good job defensively."

- - -

Jordan Binnington will make his fourth straight start and sixth of the past seven; he's 2-0-0 with a 1.00 goals-against average, .960 save percentage and one shutout in two starts against the Predators.

It wouldn't be at all surprising to see Jake Allen get the start in the second of the home-and-home between these teams on Monday in Nashville.

Forward Zach Sanford, after doubling his season point total with four (one goal, three assists) Thursday, has five points (one goal, four assists) his past three games.  

- - -

The Blues' projected lineup:

Jaden Schwartz-Brayden Schenn-Tyler Bozak

Ivan Barbashev-Ryan O'Reilly-David Perron

Zach Sanford-Robert Thomas-Oskar Sundqvist

Mackenzie MacEachern-Jacob de la Rose-Klim Kostin

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 Troy Brouwer. Vladimir Tarasenko (shoulder), Alexander Steen (ankle) and Sammy Blais (wrist) are out.

- - -

The Predators' projected lineup:

Filip Forsberg-Ryan Johansen-Viktor Arvidsson

Calle Jarnkrok-Matt Duchene-Mikael Granlund

Rocco Grimaldi-Nick Bonino-Craig Smith

Austin Watson-Colton Sissons-Mathieu Olivier

Roman Josi-Ryan Ellis

Mattias Ekholm-Dante Fabbro

Dan Hamhuis-Matt Irwin

Juuse Saros will start in goal; Pekka Rinne will be the backup. 

Healthy scratches will be Kyle Turris and Yannick Weber. The Predators report no injuries.

Friday, November 22, 2019

Bortuzzo quietly playing his best hockey for Blues

Veteran defenseman said challenge of mentally being ready to 
play higher than physical game because "playing the games are fun"

ST. LOUIS -- The stat line shows that Robert Bortuzzo played just under 18 minutes Thursday and was a plus-3 in a 5-0 win against the Calgary Flames.

Ho-hum, right?

Well, they're the kinds of numbers everyone would like to see next to their name. It just shows the ways a player can contribute on a nightly basis for the defending Stanley Cup champs.

(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues defenseman Robert Bortuzzo (41) goes to block a shot from Calgary's
Sean Monahan on Thursday at Enterprise Center.

For Bortuzzo, the 17 minutes 52 seconds played Thursday surpassed his season-high by exactly four minutes (Oct. 19 vs. Montreal, 13:52) and were the most since he played 20:06 against the Philadelphia Flyers on April 4, 2019.

But for the past number of seasons, it's been a mental merry-go-round for Bortuzzo, being the sixth or seventh defenseman on a loaded blue line.

And that's where the real challenges come in.

Bortuzzo has been rock solid the past three games since re-entering the lineup for Carl Gunnarsson, another solid veteran blue liner doing his part to keep his spot in the lineup, but when Bortuzzo re-entered after being a healthy scratch eight straight games, it comes down to giving the coaching staff the best possible reasons to keep you in the lineup.

"Any time you get in there, you approach it with the mentality you've got to make it very, very difficult for them to take you out," Bortuzzo said. "As understanding as the circumstances I am with all the circumstances here, it's no secret that we want to play every night, every d-man or everyone wants to be in there every night contributing, but at the same time, you've got to carry yourself like a pro, prepare when you're not in the lineup and be ready when called upon. I don't want to say I've got it down to an art, but I know what I need to do to take care of myself and to focus and take information for when I'm not playing to be able to execute it for when I am in there."

Bortuzzo, who has one assist in 10 games this season and is a plus-3, won't overwhelm you on the stat sheet. He'll normally be paired on the defensive pairing, not playing 20-25 minutes as, say, an Alex Pietrangelo or Colton Parayko would do, or even a Jay Bouwmeester or Justin Faulk. Bortuzzo will normally be paired with high-flying Vince Dunn, and that's OK by him. He'll just be the physical, sandpaper and grit that is required to execute the Blues' defensive style and game plan.

And he may be at his best since arriving via trade from the Pittsburgh Penguins on March 2, 2015 along with a 2016 seventh-round pick for Ian Cole.

"I think over the last couple years, I don't want to say I've come into my own, but I just feel more confident out there with the puck, puck play," Bortuzzo said. "Confidence is higher. Playing in our team system, it makes us all look better and I think we all realize that. It's just fun and once you're confident in your abilities and you know you can contribute every night, it makes it easier knowing that when you are called upon, you can contribute."

Right now, it's making it tough for Blues coach Craig Berube to take the grizzled veteran out, a problem Berube agrees is good to have along with Gunnarsson.

"He's hard to play against," Berube said of Bortuzzo. "He's just in your way and he's hard on the opposition and he doesn't give them any room. He's physical. He does the little things right that maybe go unnoticed by a lot of people, but it's the little things he does. Obviously on the PK, blocking shots, he's one of the best, front of our net boxing people out, being hard on people around our net. Just mucking and grinding and getting in the way. He's a smart player. He knows how to play, he's been a pro for quite some time now. He is a smart player. He knows what's going on. He knows what to do."

Bortuzzo is in the first year of a three-year, $4.125 million contract signed on Dec. 15, 2018. He had the chance to play out his previous contract, hit the open market and look elsewhere and bank on signing somewhere else with the hopes of playing every night. Sometimes, winning and being part of an organization one is comfortable with trumps all other options. It's the mindset the Blues have built and the players are all in unison playing here.

"My mentality coming into this league and being in the Blues organization is I just want to win. I want to be on winning teams," Bortuzzo said. "This is a place that's had success in the past when I got here and we've had some success through my time here and we were able to get things done last year. At the end of the day, it's about contributing to winning hockey. If you ask anyone in here, it's a blast coming to the rink every day. Yeah, it's tough when you're coming in and out of the lineup, but to know you're behind a good team and a strong, strong d-corps, it takes a little bit of the sting away when you are coming into the lineup. For me at the end of the day, it's just about winning. 

"I'm 30 now. At the end of the day, personally I would find it just very tough missing playoffs. This is your life. You're coming into the rink every day and you want to enjoy things. Very happy with where we're at. Confident in your abilities. You should be playing every night, but at the end of the day, it's about winning hockey teams and whatever it takes to do that, I'm happy with."

Each and every blueliner the Blues have contributes in their own respective ways, and while Bortuzzo may not dazzle with the offensive numbers, helping keep pucks out of his own net is equally as important.

Need a shot blocked? Bortuzzo, who averages a block per game, will be your guy. Need minutes killing a penalty? Bortuzzo is your guy. He'll stand right there looking to get in the way of an Ovi-bomb like no other. Need someone to check and throw their weight around? Bortuzzo's your guy. It's the little things, as Berube said, that go a long way.

"He's a guy that nobody wants to play against," Parayko said of Bortuzzo. "He's tough to play against, he's making plays. When you see him in the d-zone facing the puck, he makes plays under pressure. We saw it numerous times yesterday. He just has a good sense for the game overall. He's big, takes up a lot of space and nobody wants to go up against him. He plays a hard style of hockey too. He'll go up against anyone. He'll give anyone a run for their money.

"Everyone wants to play every game, but it's impressive. These guys continue to come to the rink every day, keep motivating the team, keep motivating themselves. They're just playing so well, but not everyone gets the chance to play. It's impressive to watch these two guys go at it. They're both really good team guys and good to be around."

It's what makes the Blues' group as mentally tough as anyone. Being on the outside looking in is as challenging as being able to execute on the ice, or harder.

"It's hard mentally for sure. It's hard for any player," Berube said. "They've been real good at it since I've been here. Both really good pros, both really good team guys. From that standpoint, that's why they can do it and get through it and perform at a level that's needed when they get in there because they're good pros and they're good team guys and they understand the situation."

Bortuzzo said, "It's a balance. I'd say physically, it's easier because that's just put your head down, put your work in, in practice, and working after practice. I think the mental side of the game is something I've been able to strengthen over the years. It's a major part of this game that kind of goes a little bit unspoken about. It's not easy. 

"I'll just go back to wanting to be there every night and enjoying the game. Playing the games are fun. It's something you grew up loving and being around your teammates. When you've been separated from that a little bit, it's hard, but you've just got to approach it with the mentality of you know what your abilities are and when you are in there, you can contribute and you can't veer away from that."
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues defenseman Robert Bortuzzo (41) defends Calgary's Milan Lucic
during action on Thursday at Enterprise Center.

Bortuzzo, who has 53 points (14 goals, 39 assists) in 345 NHL games in his ninth season, hasn't come close to veering away from that, especially this season.

"Just kind of doing what we do. We don't try get outside ourselves," Bortuzzo said. "I think that's when I have most of my success out there is keeping to my game, keeping things simple. I work well with Vince and he's a world-class player. He makes things easy on me and I think as a defensive group together, we do a good job of communicating out there and that's what makes the game come easy is when you're communicating and you're in the right spots. Our team makes everyone look like they're playing well."

When your goalie, Jordan Binnington, goes out of his way to thank you for your solid play, things are going right, and for Bortuzzo, things are going really good.

Next man up mentality has Blues winning despite key players missing

Thomas, Sundqvist, Sanford lead way with nine points, providing depth as third 
line in 5-0 win against Flames; St. Louis winning without Tarasenko, Steen, Blais

ST. LOUIS -- Next man up.

It sounds cliche-ish and it can be heard around coaches in all shapes, sizes and forms. From hockey to soccer to basketball and baseball and football, injuries happen and someone will have to step in and be effective in whatever role they're placed in.

The Blues are minus three key forwards due to injury with Vladimir Tarasenko, Alexander Steen and now, Sammy Blais. Each has and will be missing significant time, and in one form or another, Craig Berube has to march a lineup out on a daily basis.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Zach Sanford (right) had the first four-point game of his NHL career with
a goal and three assists in a 5-0 win over Calgary Thursday.

Counting on your go-to guys is one thing, but for a second straight game, the production and chemistry of Robert Thomas centering Oskar Sundqvist and Zach Sanford is something worth noting. Their production in a 5-0 blitzing of the struggling Calgary Flames is worth noting, and out of someone else's misfortune, maybe something developing and good can come to another.

The trio combined for nine points (three goals, six assists), with Sanford leading the pack with his first four-point game in the NHL (one goal, three assists) and Thomas (three assists) and Sundqvist (two goals) all helping the cause.

That line was a menace for the Flames, who are 0-5-1 their past five games and have been outscored 23-5, including being shut out in a franchise record three straight road games.

And making the difference is Thomas, who has been thrust into his natural position of center when the Blues drafted him with the 20th pick in the 2017 draft. Thomas has been primarily used as a wing, but with the Blues in dire need of a change and some shuffling around in light of some recent goal struggles, Blues coach Craig Berube moved some parts around and may have found themselves a little gem here.

"It's two games, but so far, so good," Berube said. "They're all working pretty well together. Good chemistry. Sanford and Sundqvist are hard workers and they forecheck. They do a good job at that and you've got Robby Thomas, who's a quick player and makes good plays. It's been a good combination."

Each player was a plus-4 Thursday, and each is making the kind of plays that provides the necessary scoring needed from a top-nine.

The first goal by Sanford was a perfect example of everyone chipping in. When the Blues gained the zone, Thomas had the puck on a string, was able to cut on a dime before finding Sanford in a soft area for a one-timer. 

"Yeah, I think so," Thomas said when asked if playing center is bringing out his best. "I think it allows me to kind of control the play, exiting the zone, and controlling it coming into the zone a little bit more. For me, I'm just trying to make clean exits, so that [Sanford] and [Sundqvist] can get some space off the rush. We're really finding each other and staying connected, and it's shown the last two games."

Sundqvist was doing the necessary forechecking and creating space, and Thomas and Sanford were doing the rest.

"Very impressive," Sundqvist said. "[Thomas] seems like he;s not losing any speed when he's doing his cutbacks there back to the forwards. It's impressive to see. Me and Sanford just need to get open.

"He's doing almost everything out there. We're trying to get him the puck to carry it up and me and Sanford are trying to create some space and get open. You saw he's a really good passer and he showed that tonight. Just try to get open and he will find you."

Thomas said recently that playing the middle allows him to touch the puck more, from the d-zone to the o-zone, and it enables him to make plays and distribute more rather than me the go-to finisher, which was obviously something he was having a hard time adjusting to when they tried him on a wing with Jaden Schwartz and Brayden Schenn.

"He's getting on the puck," Berube said of Thomas. "He's skating more because he's in the middle of the ice. A little more freedom for him there. He's a good skater, strong skater, he gets there, he's quick and he can make plays in the middle of the ice."

Sundqvist has been usual checking, hounding, sneaky scoring self that is making another line go. Wherever the Blues put the Swede, he gives it a fresh, strong look.

"They were really good with the production they got," Berube said. "They made some nice plays and scored some nice goals."

Sundqvist's breakaway came off Sanford's backhand dump out of the d-zone that Sundqvist got a strong read on and jumped the defenseman with a chip and go. He would score again in the third period when both Sanford and Thomas went to work behind the net to forecheck the puck to the slot.

"They supported the puck well," said defenseman Vince Dunn, who benefited from a Thomas pass to score his fourth of the season in the third. "It wasn't just off the rush. They cycled the puck down low and they took care of our own end. That's something that we really talked about is making sure we do our job there and I think our offense comes when we're reliable and responsible defensively."

The look of Sanford, Thomas and Sundqvist is a good look for a third line, and Mackenzie MacEachern, Jacob de la Rose and Klim Kostin provided good minutes off the fourth line because the Blues moved Ivan Barbashev off the fourth line and added him to Ryan O'Reilly and David Perron.

They tout their depth often, but it's more evident now that it's there, and it's enabling the Blues, 9-1-2 in their past 12 games and 14-4-5 overall, to persevere without some of their top guns and being led by young guns.

"It's really tough. Guys go down and that's part of the game, and it's not always easy to fill in those roles, but I think we've done a pretty good job so far," Dunn said. "Goalies have been playing great and forwards that have been up in the lineup and guys that have came into the lineup have done a great job."
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Oskar Sundqvist (left) moves in to defend Flames forward Derek Ryan in a
5-0 St. Louis win on Thursday. Sundqvist scored twice.

Berube added: "All the young guys are coming along. They've got more experience now and they're doing a good job now, that's how I look at it right now. We've just got to keep building and keep getting better. Whoever's in there, you've got to do the job. That's basically how we look at things. We've got Troy Brouwer sitting still here now when he's ready to go, so that's a good thing. We've got depth. It's important to have depth. We've got guys in the minors, good players down there that could be used. It's good that we have a lot of depth.

"They were a different group of guys last year that were used as depth guys and it's a different group this year. Our organization has done a great job with young guys drafting and all that. You need them, you need them in today's game. You need young guys to step in and play and do a good job. They've been doing that."

The Blues are finding out that teams will be quick to focus on Schenn, O'Reilly, Perron and Schwartz but have others that can step into needed roles.

Winning a Stanley Cup can do that, even to the lesser experienced skaters. 

Thursday, November 21, 2019

(11-21-19) Flames-Blues Gameday Lineup

ST. LOUIS -- Troy Brouwer was all set to play his first NHL game this season fresh off signing a one-year, two-way contract with the Blues on Wednesday for $750,000 but has to wait at least a couple more days.

Brouwer, 34, was signed after the Blues put Sammy Blais on the shelf when they announced he would need surgery on his right wrist and be re-evaluated in 10 weeks.

Blais was injured in the second period of a 3-1 win against the Tampa Bay Lightning but returned to finish the game.

Brouwer, who played one season with the Blues in 2015-16, was in on a professional tryout along with Jamie McGinn but earned a contract now with the Blues down three forwards (Vladimir Tarasenko, Alexander Steen and Blais) due to injury.

Brouwer, who played last season with the Florida Panthers and had 21 points (12 goals, nine assists) in 75 regular-season games but was let go after the Panthers ran into cap issues and roster space of their own, was supposed to make his debut tonight against the Calgary Flames (7 p.m.; FS-MW, ESPN 101.1-FM) but will have to wait as his visa/immigration paperwork is ironed out.

"From my understanding it was supposed to be tonight," Brouwer said of his debut. "We've come into slow immigration problems, which is how it goes. I came to the rink expecting to play this morning. Another skate today, one more tomorrow with the team and then hopefully I'll be in this weekend.

"Everything else is kind of taking care of itself. We're just waiting on the immigration stuff. I've had visas that have taken a few days, I've had ones that have taken a little while. It depends on how much emphasis they put on the process at the customs office.

"The guys met [Donald] Trump a couple months ago and I bet they can ask him."

Regardless, Brouwer, who had 39 points (18 goals, 21 assists) in 82 regular-season games and another 13 points (eight goals, five assists) in 20 playoff games in his only season with the Blues, is excited to be back and can provide that veteran presence.

"I am. I had so much fun when I was here the last time," said Brouwer, who played for Ken Hitchcock then. "The guys are awesome, the city's great. Just the chance to be able to prove myself in the NHL again, I'm really looking forward to it, especially playing for the Blues.

"That's part of the reason I was brought in to begin with. It's a comfortable situation for me, it's something I've been used to the past couple years, I'm also used to this locker room and most of the guys. It's been an easy transition so far, I'm not coming in and stepping on anybody's toes but just to add a little more veteran presence in the room. That's always a helpful thing."

Blues coach Craig Berube confirmed Brouwer won't play tonight but knows what to expect when he does.

"Just a lot of the same things he's done over his career," Berube said. "He's a good two-way winger, goes up and down, plays a hard game, he's a smart player. He can play in all situations, penalty killing. If we need a power-play guy, he's been a power-play guy in his career too. It's nice having a guy like that with experience. He's won, a good locker room guy. I think it's a good thing having him here, especially with our injuries."

Brouwer got the news Wednesday afternoon to unpack his bags.

"When I left the rink yesterday, I knew they were having a meeting about me amongst other things," he said. "Army [Blues GM Doug Armstrong] gave me a call about 3:30 or 4 o'clock, somewhere in there, and finalized all the contract paperwork and moved on to the immigration stuff. I knew yesterday around dinner time when it was all finalized and was able to call the family and friends and tell them I was back in the NHL."

When he came in, Brouwer knew there was a leg up for him just with the familiarity he had with playing with a number of current Blues players that were in the roster in 2015-16.

"I think so," Brouwer said. "That comfort factor of me coming in and knowing the guys, having to learn a couple new guys, but even a guy like [Brayden] Schenn, I played with him in the world championships, a lot of the other guys I've played against for quite a few years. [David] Perron, you have that mutual respect between each other. I didn't really know him personally, but it just makes it easier to integrate into the dressing room. I've been through a lot of situations in my long career and this is a new one for me.

"I had confidence in myself, does that count? I had a little bit of an indication but nobody told me what it was going to be or how it would play itself out. I was real happy with my camp and how I played, well, how I practiced, I should say, over the week and a half and had good confidence in myself and was hoping that they saw it the same way."

The fact that Brouwer has a two-way contract doesn't mean he's accepting of n assignment to San Antonio. 

"We'll cross that path when it comes," Brouwer said. "Hopefully I can play myself into a regular in the lineup and we don't have to worry about that. As for right now, I'm here to make sure I'm helping out with the holes they do have in the lineup and try to work myself into being a regular every night."

- - -

As for Blais, who has eight points (five goals, three assists) in 20 games, it's a tough pill to swallow all things considered. He had played himself into a top nine role, most in the top six, and had himself a really nice game against the Lightning before being shoved into the offensive zone boards by Lightning defenseman Erik Cernak.

Blais used his right hand to brace himself for contact and on replay, it can be seen his hand was bent in an awkward position. He also sustained a cut above his right eye.

"That kind of an injury, it's a tough injury," Berube said. "It takes a lot of time to heal. You can't play with it, though. He came back with it. It was obviously bugging him.

"He's playing well this year, especially with the puck. He does a lot of things with it individually, beats people one-on-one, creates scoring chances on his own, physical player. He was a good player for us."

- - -

The Blues will be wearing their retro jerseys they wore from 1994-1998 for the first of three dates tonight.

The uniforms were from the days when Brett Hull, Wayne Gretzky, Chris Pronger, Al MacInnis and others were toting around with the red designs in them.

"They're pretty cool," Blues defenseman Alex Pietrangelo said. "I don't know if I'd wear them as a regular jersey anymore, but I guess any time the nostalgic stuff comes out, it's pretty cool. They've done a good job with the equipment to kind of match it. I saw it in the summer. We've all seen them, I think it's a great thing the league's done with the retro stuff."

Added Schenn: "They're awesome. I remember Gretzky, Hull, guys like that wearing those jerseys, especially when it's Wayne Gretzky, even though I was young and stuff like that, you always follow him to see what he's doing, and when he was in St. Louis, you definitely remember what he was doing wearing that jersey. It's funny how it comes full circle and you get a chance to wear it."

Perron shared similar sentiments: "It's cool. Obviously Gretzky wearing it, Hullie and all those guys. I like our jersey, but I think it's nice to wear it a few times."

The Blues will also wear the retro jerseys Feb. 27 against the New York Islanders and March 31 against the Detroit Red Wings.

- - -

The Blues' projected lineup:

Jaden Schwartz-Brayden Schenn-Tyler Bozak

Ivan Barbashev-Ryan O'Reilly-David Perron

Zach Sanford-Robert Thomas-Oskar Sundqvist

Mackenzie MacEachern-Jacob de la Rose-Klim Kostin

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 Troy Brouwer. Vladimir Tarasenko (shoulder), Alexander Steen (ankle) and Sammy Blais (wrist) are out.

- - -

The Flames' projected lineup:

Johnny Gaudreau-Mikael Backlund-Elias Lindholm

Matthew Tkachuk-Sean Monahan-Andrew Mangiapane 

Milan Lucic-Derek Ryan-Dillon Dube

Zac Rinaldo-Mark Jankowski-Michael Frolik

Mark Giordano-Rasmus Andersson

Noah Hanifin-Michael Stone

Oliver Kylington-Brandon Davidson

David Rittich will start in goal; Cam Talbot will be the backup. 

Healthy scratches include Alexander Yelesin and Tobias Rieder. Sam Bennett (upper body), Austin Czarnik (lower body), Travis Hamonic (lower body) and TJ Brodie (medical episode) are all out.

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Blais to have wrist surgery, to be re-evaluated in 10 weeks

Third forward out due to injury; Brouwer brought back on one-year, 
two-way contract worth $750,000; McGinn released from his PTO

ST. LOUIS -- Another injury has forced the Blues' hand, and brought back the return of a familiar face.

The Blues announced Wednesday night that forward Sammy Blais will undergo surgery on his right wrist and be re-evaluated in 10 weeks, and they've signed veteran Troy Brouwer, who will be in his second stint with the Blues, to a one-year, two-way contract for $750,000.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
The Blues brought back Troy Brouwer, signing the veteran forward to a
one-year, two-way contract worth $750,000.

Blais, 23, was injured in the second period of a 3-1 win against the Tampa Bay Lightning when he was in the offensive zone and was shoved from behind by Lightning defenseman Erik Cernak. No penalty was called on the play, but Blais was on the ice before skating off on his own. He would return to finish the game but did not practice on Wednesday. 

After practice, coach Craig Berube called Blais, who has eight points (five goals, three assists) in 20 games, day-to-day. 

Blais marks the third significant injury sustained by the Blues this season; he joins forwards Vladimir Tarasenko (dislocated left shoulder) and Alexander Steen (left high ankle sprain) on the shelf.

With Blais' injury, there was a shortage of experience at forward, and Brouwer, who was brought in on a professional tryout, he reunites with the Blues after spending the 2015-16 season in St. Louis when he had 39 points (18 goals, 21 assists) in 82 regular-season games. 

Brouwer, 34, helped the Blues to the Western Conference Final and finished with 13 points (eight goals, five assists) in 20 playoff games.

Brouwer left the Blues as a free agent and signed a four-year, $18 million contract with the Calgary Flames, and his contract was bought out after the second season after two unproductive years in Calgary. He spent last season with the Florida Panthers and had 21 points (12 goals, nine assists) in 75 games but was released from a PTO in September after trying to earn a spot with the Panthers for this season but fell victim to a numbers game and cap issues.

Brouwer and forward Jamie McGinn, who was released from his PTO with the Blues on Tuesday, came on board last week.

"We'll keep 'Brouws' for now and that's just the choice we made," Berube said after practice Wednesday of the choice of Brouwer over McGinn.