Blues forward crop crowding up with imminent return of Steen, Sanford; Blues
need more from Dunn; close call for Schenn; Blues donate to pair after fire
MARYLAND HEIGHTS, Mo. -- The Blues were back on the practice ice Friday after ending their three-game losing streak with a 4-2 win against Vegas on Thursday.
It was a quick, brisk, snappy practice with what coach Craig Berube called a "pace" practice, one in which was done so with the idea of moving pucks at a rapid pace and one in which groups were working in unison.
"Same as the other day. I just liked the pace and the energy of it," Berube said. "They're quick. The intensity's up right now in these practices, which is good. It's not a long practice, but the intensity is up, and that's the key."
One change from recent weeks is that a near-full group was on the ice, including forwards Alexander Steen (ankle) and Zach Sanford (upper body), both who appear ready to play.
Steen was skating on a line with Ivan Barbashev, Robert Thomas and Troy Brouwer and Sanford was taking shifts with David Perron, Ryan O'Reilly and Tyler Bozak.
"Yeah, we'll see tomorrow, but they looked good today," Berube said of Steen and Sanford. "They'll let us know today how they felt a little bit later."
It creates a bit of a logjam up front, something the Blues haven't had as far as a luxury item. Of course, there's still a huge void missing in Vladimir Tarasenko, who will miss most of, if not all, of the regular season with a dislocated shoulder, but Berube and staff have decisions to make with two players ready to jump back into the fight and others that are not ready to relinquish their spot.
"I guess it's a good thing," Berube said. "It's tough, you're right, but it's a good thing. We've got depth and these guys are good players. We've got to make decisions, but in saying that, nobody wants to come out, I get that, but we need everybody down the stretch. We know that. We need depth. It's tough, but it's part of it all, it's part of being a pro, it's part of being a team."
Players seem to agree.
"Good problem to have," Blues center Brayden Schenn said. "We have good depth. We have important pieces coming back. Obviously Steener, whether he's back tomorrow or the next game, he's a huge piece of our team, huge piece of our locker room, does so many good things for us and we're excited to get him back whenever that is. You see when a guy like Sunny comes back in how much it means to our locker room and on the ice. ... When we got our full lineup in, we feel like we're a deep hockey team and that's a good problem to have. We've had lots of guys step up and played really good hockey. We're going to need that throughout the whole year."
What would be ideal is of Steen and Sanford can have the grand return like Oskar Sundqvist had. Sundqvist returned Thursday with a goal and an assist, his first game after missing six with a lower-body injury.
"If they're anything like Sunny was last night," Berube said. "He did a real good job for us."
With Steen's return imminent, the Blues assigned Austin Poganski to San Antonio of the American Hockey League on Friday. Poganski made his NHL debut this past Tuesday at Buffalo.
The injury bug didn't completely abandon the Blues. They announced late Friday afternoon that defenseman Carl Gunnarsson will go on injured-reserve with an upper-body injury sustained in the win over Vegas, and the team has recalled Niko Mikkola from the Rampage.
Gunnarsson, who did not practice Friday, played 15 minutes 22 seconds and after a tough first period, he finished with a plus-1 rating and three blocked shots.
"He's not available to play. We'll evaluate him tomorrow," Berube said after practice and before the announcement of Gunnarsson going on IR. "... I don't know yet. I don't want to speculate on it to be honest. I just found out today. That's why he wasn't out in practice."
Mikkola, 23, who is a 6-foot-4, 205-pound left-handed shot and a fifth-round pick in the 2015 NHL Draft, had eight points (two goals, six assists) in 26 games with the Rampage this season.
* Blues need Dunn to elevate game -- Before practice, Berube had defenseman Vince Dunn off to the side at center ice, having a tough 1-on-1 conversation with the young defenseman.
Without divulging his exact words, Berube was having one of those tough love conversations with a young player that has had his bumps in the road in recent games.
The tipping point came in the win over the Golden Knights, and one particular play in which Dunn got caught on the wrong side of a play and allowed a breakaway chance to Alex Tuch just eight seconds into the third period protecting a two-goal lead.
Jordan Binnington made the save, his second breakaway save on Tuch in the game, but the message was sent that this isn't who the Blues are. A defensive-oriented team has been giving up a lot of real estate recently. They got away with it Thursday but want to get Dunn, who has four goals and four assists this season, back to playing more responsibly.
"He can't get on the wrong side of things like he did last night and give up breakaways," Berube said of Dunn. "He's got to be on the right side of things defensively. Everybody's got to be responsible defensively. Yeah, you're going to make plays with the puck sometimes. You're not going to always (make) good puck plays on the tape or whatever. He's a real good puck mover and so we want him to move the puck and make plays. There's going to be times where that's not always going to work out, but on the flip side, on the defensive side of things, you've got to be responsible defensively. That's a must. You've just got to be on the right side of things. We want to be a good defensing team all the time."
Dunn was also involved in a play in Buffalo that led to the Sabres' go-ahead goal in the third period where he was in the high slot area while Sabres captain Jack Eichel had the puck behind the Blues' net. Dunn was out of position and forward Robert Thomas, who was closest to the goal line, didn't challenge Eichel and he came from behind the net and scored minutes after Alex Pietrangelo had tied it.
"With everybody, but they're still learning," Berube said. "They're young guys, they make mistakes. That's part of it all. That's part of the process, and then it's our jobs as coaches to work with them and teach them ans show them and do what we need to do.
"I had [Dunn] as a kid obviously and he's still young. He's still learning, but there's still room to grow. He can be better than what he's played at his best right now, in my opinion. He can be even better. ... It's just consistency. It's finding a happy medium. You're not always going to have your A game, but let's have a B-minus game."
* Scary, close call for Schenn -- When Schenn left the ice in the loss at Buffalo Tuesday holding the left side of his neck and ear, there was good reason, and a scary one to boot.
Schenn was cut by the skate blade of Sabres defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen that didn't require stitches, and Schenn was back in the game pretty quickly but was lucky that it happened the way it did.
"No, I got lucky. I kind of chunked a little bit of my earlobe off and then kind of got cut underneath and then kind of scraped down. No stitches but very lucky," Schenn said. "He stepped on my neck with his skate. ... I kind of felt like I was cut. I just didn't know how bad. I guess I got lucky.
"There's facial nerves in there, there's arteries in there. Whenever you see a skate come, you try and get out of the way as fast as possible. Sometimes you just can't. A little chunk of the ear lobe's gone, but we'll figure it out at the end of the year."
Schenn, who moments earlier had ripped a shot off the near post, skated into the corner to win a puck when he was sandwiched by Ristolainen, who tried to hurdle over Schenn, and Brandon Montour.
"Honestly I don't even know how it happened," Schenn said, sporting a bandage on his neck behind his left ear. "I think it just like sliced a little bit of the earlobe off and I got cut underneath and it simply skidded down my neck.
"Training staff did a good job. Taped it up, and like I said, it could have been a lot worse. I got lucky."
* Kyrou close -- It was another solid outing for Blues forward Jordan Kyrou, who played 13:41 on the line with Schenn and Jaden Schwartz for a second straight game.
Kyrou, recalled from San Antonio last week while working himself back to being 100 percent after having surgery on his kneecap in the off-season, feels he's almost at 100 percent.
"I think I'm really close," Kyrou said. "Every day I'm still working on it, getting my strength back. It feels really strong. I feel good.
"I know the biggest thing for me was consistency. Down there (in San Antonio), that's what they wanted me to do. Every game they wanted me to compete and play hard and move my feet whenever I didn't have the puck. I did that and I thought I did well."
Kyrou, who said he was able to work on his upper-body strength in the off-season while rehabbing his knee, had four shots on goal and was tied for the team high on Thursday. He came close to scoring Tuesday on a chance from the left circle and nearly missed on a loose puck Thursday right before Schwartz scored to give the Blues a 3-2 lead.
Kyrou, a 2016 second-round pick, is making a case to stay in the lineup based off initial games of playing off adrenaline. Now the challenge is can he sustain it.
"It's the challenge," Berube said. "You can play on adrenaline for a whole and then that goes away and then you've got to be consistent. You've got to find a consistent base and it's all about consistency. It's tough, but we'll see how it goes. I can't give you an answer on that."
* Blues pitch in to friends who lost loved ones, belongings in tragic fire -- There's more to life for pro athletes than just playing the game, and Schenn and Pietrangelo tried to do their best to help two friends help recoup what was lost recently.
Jordan King and Bobby Moore of Edwardsville recently lost everything to a house fire. King's father and three dogs along with all their belongings perished in the tragedy. And after the win on Thursday, Pietrangelo and Schenn met King and Moore after the game and gave them signed game-worn jerseys and a Blues championship ring paperweight from Jostens to help start a new sports memorabilia collection. Also, they gave Kings and Moore a $10,000 gift card courtesy of Ashley HomeStore to help restore their livelihood when they are able to relocate to a new home.
"It's good by the Blues and Ashley furniture," Pietrangelo said. "I kind of got the background story before we went in there on what happened. Tough circumstance for them. It's good to see not only us, but places in the community step up. That's what makes St. Louis a special place. Being a part of the community is important to us. Anytime you see circumstances like that, you want to make sure you can reach out and help people as much as you can."
Schenn added: "For our team to step up and give 10,000 bucks to those two guys, I think it speaks to what people do for each other in the city and I'm sure you'll see more of that.
"I think there's a number of guys in this locker room that are doing stuff, whether it's for the children's hospital or for different charities around town, around the McDonald House. There's guys just secretly putting their name out there without people really knowing. I just think that athletes in general, hockey players, guys in this locker room, it's important to give back to charity. Fans cheer us on and come support us. I think when people are going through a tough time, you do what you can to try and put a smile on people's faces."
* Pietrangelo in Forbes' 30 Under 30 for 2020 -- Pietrangelo knew he was named to Forbes' sports list of 30 under 30, but to this day, has no idea what it's for.
"Literally I have no idea," the captain said. "I don't know anything about it. Somebody told me about it. I have no idea what it is.
"I read Forbes Magazine. I don't have any idea what it is. My wife [Jayne] showed it to me. I don't even know what it means."
Pietrangelo, 29, joins a list of 30 top athletes under the age of 30 that spotlights the next generation of talent with its yearly lists of 30 industry leaders under the age of 30. He joins a list that includes Patrick Mahomes of the Kansas City Chiefs, Klay Thompson of the Golden State Warriors and Bobby Wagner of the Seattle Seahawks, among others.
"That means I'm not 30. That's nice," Pietrangelo said smiling, noting his 30th birthday is next month. "If they did it in February, I'd be too old."
* De la Rose getting more acclimated -- Forward Jacob de la Rose had one of his better outings since joining the Blues when they acquired him from the Detroit Red Wings on Nov. 6 for Robby Fabbri.
De la Rose had an assist and played 11:54, had two shots on goal and won five of seven draws on another solid night by the fourth line with Sundqvist and Mackenzie MacEachern, who scored on de la Rose's assist.
"Sunny's on a line with him there. They're good friends, so they probably have some good chemistry going, they feel good about playing with each other," Berube said. "But I feel like there's more to grow in him. He's got talent, and I think that's been a challenge so far in his career, pushing through that envelope and getting to another level. He's a good player defensively. He's smart, checks, can do all those things, but he's got offensive ability. He can shoot a puck, he's big, he can skate. We've just got to try and get it out of him and keep pushing him. He's got to work and try to get that out of him because there's more there.
"He should be just bringing pucks to the net more, hanging onto the puck a lot longer in the offensive zone and things like that. He's got good size and ability. It's just about being more aggressive, I guess."
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