Saturday, January 25, 2020

Central Division falls to Pacific Division 10-5 at All-Star Game

Four Blues players, coach Berube all represented St. Louis in annual event 
here for the first time since 1988; Berube starts all Blues in front of home crowd

ST. LOUIS -- It was the easiest coaching decision Craig Berube could make.

And it wasn't even debatable.

Berube, the Blues' coach and coach of the Central Division All-Stars on Saturday night, turned in his lineup card for the matchup against the Pacific Division in the second semifinal of the 2020 Honda NHL All-Star Game at Enterprise Center. The names were familiar: Jordan Binnington in goal, and the three skaters were Alex Pietrangelo, Ryan O'Reilly and David Perron.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues All-Stars (from left) Ryan O'Reilly, Alex Pietrangelo, David Perron
and Jordan Binnington pose before Saturday's All-Star Game.

"He asked me before the game and I said, 'You have one job, don't mess it up," Pietrangelo joked. "Glad he got that one right. Played us against [Connor] McDavid though, so it wasn't ideal."

Berube hasn't messed up too much since he took over as Blues coach, and he wasn't about to mess this up either even in a 10-5 loss to the Pacific Division.

"I think it's awesome. Being here and starting our guys, it's great for them, great for the fans. It's all good stuff," Berube said. "No, no-brainer at all. It's all fun stuff."

The fun stuff started in pre-game when longtime Blues anthem singer Charles Glenn belted out the Star-Spangled Banner for the first time since Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final to raucous cheers, then Blues superfan Laila Anderson was given the honors of introducing the four Blues onto the ice.

"She was really good too," Perron said of Laila. "She had a good voice too and pretty loud. She had fun doing it, and certainly it was special for all four of us. I think for me and Binner to be first time at this game, it was a special weekend and she did a good job."

Perron was the lone goal scorer among the Blues players when he cut the Pacific lead down to one at 3-2 in the first period at 7:04, assisted by none other than his teammates Pietrangelo and O'Reilly.

"It was nice to score for sure because the game was here," Perron said. "We were down 3-, 4-0 early, so I think we increased the intensity sooner than we maybe expected, but that's what we saw from the other game too watching in the room, how it started and how it finished. It's like a different game, and it was a good score."

Berube had Blues great Brett Hull on the bench with him as an honorary captain, while Wayne Gretzky had the same honors on the Pacific bench with Rick Tocchet (Arizona Coyotes).

"He's a great guy and good friend," Berube said of Hull, the Blues' all-time leader in goals with 527. "Having a guy like him on the bench, maybe the best player in St. Louis Blues history, right up there. It's just like Gretzky on the other side. It's great having these guys around, still being part of the game."

In the end, the Pacific again got the best of the Central, with hometown boy Matthew Tkachuk (Calgary Flames) putting on a show with two goals and two assists, along with Tomas Hertl (San Jose Sharks) with four goals and Leon Draisaitl (Edmonton Oilers) getting three goals and an assist.

"It was a tough outcome obviously, but it's a lot of fun being in front of our own fans and seeing that elite talent, players from all different teams just hopping on the ice and being able to connect with each other," said Binnington, who allowed four goals on 12 shots while playing the first 10 minutes before giving way to Winnipeg Jets goalie Connor Hellebuyck. "It's not the result we wanted, but it was fun to be out there and hear the Towel Man making some noise up there. I think the boys had fun and it was overall a fun weekend, but now it's time to get back to business."
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues forward David Perron of the Central Division fends off Edmonton
forward Leon Draisaitl of the Pacific Division in the All-Star Game.

O'Reilly agreed.

"It was great," he said. "I think it was a lot of fun seeing the crowd and how excited they were. It would have been nice to win for them and give them some more to cheer about, but the reception from everyone was electric. It was really cool to be a part of."

All-in-all, the Blues put on a good showing for All-Star Weekend, the first since 1988 and third ever (including 1970).

"Unbelievable, really," Berube said. "It's also the fans. We have great fans here. They supported this All-Star Game and they're very excited about it and having a good time. It's been a great event."

Friday, January 24, 2020

Tkachuk brothers in first All-Star Game is "perfect story"

Hometown's Matthew, Brady Tkachuk return to place where they grew up, 
where dad Keith Tkachuk spent final years of career; Brady gets surprise call

ST. LOUIS -- Brady Tkachuk knew his older brother, Matthew, was going home to play in his first NHL All-Star Game. 

Brady Tkachuk had planned on being there all along to support his brother, but in the meantime, he, like many players around the NHL, were taking a hiatus, on break to rest up for the second half of the season, jaunting to different areas of the globe for some fun and sun.
Brady Tkachuk (7) had to cut trip to Bahamas short when he received call to
take part in All-Star Game in hometown of St. Louis.

For Brady Tkachuk, it was the islands of the Bahamas, a trip that had an abrupt ending.

There was a call from his dad, Keith Tkachuk, which went unanswered for a few hours because as Matthew put it, "Brady was having some fun, so he wasn't around his phone," but once he got the news that he was going home not just to be a supporter of his brother, Ottawa Senators teammate Anthony Duclair and a host of other players that are friends through the hockey circuit, Brady Tkachuk got word that he would be joining Matthew as All-Stars.


In their hometown for the first time.

"I wasn't around my phone and I got a bunch of calls and looked down and said, 'Call me ASAP' from a couple of people," Brady Tkachuk said. "I can't even tell you the emotion. Just immediately thought of sharing this with Matthew and of course in front of the parents (Keith and mom Chantal), my sister [Taryn] as well. Honestly, just super surreal."

And immediately, the pictures started circulating throughout social media, on Twitter, Instagram and all, with shots of a Blues-clad Keith Tkachuk, a five-time All-Star, along with his two young boys, Matthew and Brady, with dad on the ice soaking in what any kid would do.

"Those are some pictures we've hung up in the house too," Brady Tkachuk said. "I've seen those. It's pretty cool. It's pretty fitting."

Yes, fitting that the two of them will participate in their respective first All-Star Game in the city they grew up in, the place they call home.

"It's exciting that we get to share this moment," Matthew Tkachuk said. "We both went to that a rink a lot when we were growing up. Now our parents get to enjoy their sons being All-Stars here."

These were the same boys that after Blues games, you would find them in the locker room with their toy hockey sticks whacking Nerf balls or soft pucks around, and doing so around the likes of guys they will suit up with and against in the next couple days.

"Chantal and 'Walt' have to be proud," said Washington Capitals forward T.J. Oshie, who was with the Blues and a teammate of Keith Tkachuk's for two seasons (2008-2010). "For them to both make the All-Star Game together back here, and for me to play against them, not only in the NHL but in the All-Star Game makes me feel pretty old. But it's pretty cool to see the success that they've had from coming into the locker room and playing ball hockey after games to making it to an All-Star Game. It says a lot about their parents and their family. I'm really happy for those guys."   

Brady Tkachuk, who has 27 points (15 goals, 12 assists) in 48 games with the Senators, his second in the NHL, was going to come home anyway. He just hadn't planned on cutting his vacation a day or so short but was glad to do so. He is a replacement for the injured Auston Matthews of the Toronto Maple Leafs.

"I was coming here anyway to support Matthew and see 'Duc' and see guys I know," Brady Tkachuk said. "There was a little wrinkle in the plans, but I'll take that and I'm very happy. It was just a whirlwind yesterday.

"Honestly, it hasn't hit yet. It's going to hit a lot during these next couple days, but honestly just trying to take it all in and have as much fun as I can. For it to be with Matthew and in St. Louis, it's just a blessing. I just have to take it all in, have fun and it's going to be some great family time as well.

"It's going to be so much fun. I think just kind of being here and being in St. Louis, it's just been awesome. It's so much fun. It's been the best 24 hours I could ask for."
Matthew Tkachuk called it a "perfect story" when brother Brady
got the call to join him in St. Louis for the All-Star Game.

As for Matthew Tkachuk, who is tied for the Flames lead in points with 38 (15 goals, 23 assists) in 49 games, it adds some spice to an already memorable time for him knowing weeks ago he was coming home.

"It's kind of like that perfect story," Matthew Tkachuk said. "For myself and for Brady to be here, for our family to be here, friends, and from what I've been told, me and Brady are competing against each other in the skills competition, this is so cool."

The brothers will indeed not only potentially compete against each other in the All-Star Game, but they will be opponents in the Gatorade NHL Shooting Stars competition.

Thursday, January 23, 2020

Oshie to savor first All-Star experience where it all began

Former Blues first round pick in 2005 still among fan 
favorites in St. Louis, holds city and supporters in high regard

ST. LOUIS -- It may have ended badly, his tenure in St. Louis ending with a trade to the Washington Capitals after another quick playoff exit in 2015, but for Blues 2005 first-round pick T.J. Oshie, he will always be a fan-favorite in his first NHL home.

Washington forward T.J. Oshie is all smiles to be back in his familiar
stomping grounds, his first NHL home in St. Louis in his first NHL
All-Star Game.
And how fitting that the 33-year-old, who has grown into a man after spending much of his 20-something years in St. Louis living on the edge at times, is a first-time All-Star in the spot where it all began.

And don't think for a second when Oshie's name is announced inside Enterprise Center Friday and Saturday, that the reception won't be loud and boisterous, as if he never left.

And the No. 74 Blues Oshie jerseys will be out in full force.

"It's pretty surreal and it's a pretty special feeling to come back to a place where I haven't played in a while," Oshie said Thursday at media day inside Stifel Theatre. "... Plenty of chances to get new jerseys and there's still a lot of (No.) 74 Oshie jerseys out there.

"I think it goes to show you the loyalty of the fans here. I put in a lot of work to try and win a Cup here. I feel like they respected that, they respected my work ethic and I respect their support through thick and thin."

The Blues had just been eliminated in six games against the Minnesota Wild in the first round of the 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Everyone knew general manager Doug Armstrong would shake up the lineup or make a coaching change at the time. As it turned out, Oshie, whose oldest daughter Lyla was born in St. Louis, was sent packing. He was shipped to the Capitals for Troy Brouwer, goalie Pheonix Copley and a 2016 third-round pick.

It ended a seven-year run in St. Louis for the University of North Dakota alum, where Oshie had 310 points (110 goals, 200 assists) in 443 regular-season games and nine points (five goals, four assists) in 30 playoff games.

It was a shock trade at the time, trading away one of the more popular Blues in some time, but in the long run, Oshie went on to accomplish with Alex Ovechkin and Co. what he couldn't do here: win a Stanley Cup in 2018. He watched on as many of his friends and former teammates accomplished the same last season.

"I've won a Cup in another city," Oshie said. "They won a Cup with a different team."

Oshie was part of the boy-band group, if you want to call them that, along with Patrik Berglund, David Perron, David Backes, even Alex Pietrangelo coming up later after those guys. They were the new faces that were the promise of finally putting the Blues over the hump. It didn't materialize that way. They all disbanded in some shape or form except for Pietrangelo. Even Perron left twice, only to return in his third stint.

But Blues fans never got over the fan-favorite Oshie being used as a scapegoat at the time, and still to this day, regret that he's not here.

"I got in a little trouble here when I was younger and no one turned their back on me," Oshie said. "They've always been so great to me and I think that's why it makes it so special to be back here in St. Louis and play in my first All-Star Game here."

Oshie was voted in part of the Metropolitan Division in the 'Last Men In' campaign. He has 34 points (18 goals, 16 assists) in 49 games for the Capitals, his fifth season in Washington and 12th overall.

Oshie brought 20 of his family and closest friends with him for what should be a memorable weekend.

"He deserves to be here," Pietrangelo said of Oshie. "He plays all of those games here and the seasons, comes back and this is his first one. It's funny how sometimes things work. Here we are."

Sunday, January 19, 2020

Blues in good position heading into break

With 68 points, they're first in the Western Conference and 
displaying no Stanley Cup hangover after winning it all last season

ST. LOUIS -- The result may not have been what the Blues were looking for heading into a week-long all-star break, but the overall body of work for the defending Stanley Cup champions proved one important aspect.

There's no Stanley Cup hangover in St. Louis.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
The Blues, including (left to right) Alex Pietrangelo, Vince Dunn, Tyler
Bozak, Mackenzie MacEachern and Robert Thomas are in a good spot.

The Blues were hopeful of a win against the Colorado Avalanche, which would have extended their lead not only in the Central Division to 12 points but in the Western Conference as well.

Instead, a 5-3 loss sent the Blues into their bye week and break with a 30-11-8 record, good for 68 points, and feeling good about setting the bar high once again and sending the message that they're not a one-hit wonder.

"Got to be proud of where we are," said Blues captain Alex Pietrangelo, who is on pace for career-highs in all offensive statistical categories with 13 goals and 27 assists in 49 games. "Everyone’s going to agree on that. We wake up tomorrow and the standings are still in a good spot. So I guess it’s time to regroup and get ready."

Pietrangelo, along with forwards Ryan O'Reilly and David Perron along with goalie Jordan Binnington as well as coach Craig Berube, get four days leading into the all-star festivities that begin Thursday. 

The break comes at a good time for some guys, who are dealing with predictable bumps and bruises with such a rugged season, and as much as the Blues played into last summer, but for others, like Perron, not so much.

"I'm not sure. Personally I feel good," said Perron, who's played in the past two Stanley Cup Finals with the Blues last season and Vegas in 2018. "I want to keep going. I'm going to go home and take those next five days to obviously rest but sharpen up on certain things that are nagging or whatever and then onto the All-Star Game. I think that's going to be a cool experience for the four of us and 'Chief' and the trainers coming in. I think it's really cool. I think for our trainers to meet all the stars around the league, that's pretty cool for them too. They're not paid extra to do it, they're doing it because it's in St. Louis and hopefully they have a good experience."

Perron, who leads the Blues in goals (21) and points (49) in what has been a terrific season for the player voted into the All-Star Game as part of the 'Last Men in,' has been a key part in helping the Blues overcome some noteworthy injuries, namely filling in for Vladimir Tarasenko, the Blues' leading goal scorer in each of the past five seasons who's played in just 10 games after dislocating his left shoulder Oct. 24.

"Yeah, I wish we got the two points [Saturday] so that we can be tied again with Washington (atop the NHL standings), so that's the frustrating part for me," Perron said. "It's definitely a good start and more to this season and let's see where we can finish and hopefully we can take it to another level."

The Blues are getting balanced scoring from their top players with Ryan O'Reilly, despite his goals being down (nine), he's second in points with 43; Brayden Schenn (17 goals, 24 assists) and Jaden Schwartz (16 goals, 24 assists), the emergence of Robert Thomas (eight goals, 19 assists) and emerging as a quality center, Tyler Bozak  (11 goals, 13 assists) picking up his offense lately, Oskar Sundqvist, Ivan Barbashev, Mackenzie MacEachern, Alexander Steen and all supplying the necessary depth, and the rock-solid defense with Pietrangelo, Justin Faulk, Colton Parayko, who's been injured the past seven games but is expected to return after the break, Jay Bouwmeester, Vince Dunn, Robert Bortuzzo and others that have filled in admirably.

And then there's been the 1-2 punch in goal of Jordan Binnington and Jake Allen 

"Our guys are dialed in," Berube said. "A breaks OK right now and then we come back and we’ve got a tough schedule. We’ve got to be ready to go."

The Blues will most definitely be ready to go, and continue to take everyone's best shot, just like they have for 49 games, as Stanley Cup champs will do. It won't be perfect all the time; it never is, but they are in a good position, barring some sort of collapse, which seems unlikely, to be one of the top teams in the West.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Oskar Sundqvist (70), Alexander Steen (second from left), Niko Mikkola 
(second from right) and Robert Bortuzzo (41) have Blues first in the West.  

"Yeah, we're in a good spot," said Binnington, who's tied for second in the league in wins with 22. "Obviously you want to win every game and this one would have been a big win, but at the same time, we're in a good spot. Got to look at the big picture here and just take care of what we can control.

"It's been a lot of hockey, but we have a lot of fun. We'll miss each other a little bit, but we'll get back to work soon."

"Everybody, myself included, I think any time you can spend a week, regroup, people with families kind of spend sometime with their families, and enjoy that," Pietrangelo said. "Then get ready for a second half push."

Saturday, January 18, 2020

Mistakes costly for Blues in 5-3 loss to Avalanche

Team frustrated to come away without a result after Colorado scores three 
times in second; Binnington pulled for second time in this building this season 

DENVER -- It changed quickly on a dime.

And for the Blues, the change was for the worse and sends them into the All-Star break on a down note.

Playing a pretty decent road game, actually, against the Colorado Avalanche, the Blues were priming themselves for a big win heading into the All-Star break. They were gaining lots of zone time, creating chances and pinning the quick-strike Avs on their heels.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues defenseman Alex Pietrangelo fires a shot against the Avalanche on
Saturday. He had a goal and assist on his 30th birthday in a 5-3 loss.

But what Colorado does in Colorado fashion, the Avalanche thrives off mistakes, and they took advantage of the ones the Blues gave them, and Jordan Binnington was pulled for the second game in a row at Pepsi Center in a 5-3 loss Saturday afternoon.

The Blues (30-11-8) limited the Avalanche (27-15-6) to 18 shots, which matches a season-low for both the Blues in shots allowed and for the Avalanche, shots for, and it's a season-low for Colorado in this building.

But the ones the Blues did allow were prime scoring opportunities, and the Avalanche cashed on them, and in the end, when the Blues made their push, seemingly on the doorstep of tying the game, they weren't able to overcome a two-goal deficit in the third period and go into the break on a down note.

"I thought it was a lot of good efforts tonight but it's disappointing not getting the result for sure," said Blues forward David Perron, whose power-play goal tied the game in the first period. "I think we're up 2-1 at some point and we've got to find a way to keep that and certainly not go down 4-2. It is what it is at this point. I'm very frustrated and disappointed about the result tonight for sure, but we've got to move on here, take the break and come back fresh."

The second period proved to be the Blues' and Binnington's undoing. Colorado scored three times in nine minutes, including two in a 22-second span to go up 4-2 and end Binnington's day after allowing four goals on 11 shots. He was pulled in a 7-3 loss here 16 days ago after giving up seven goals on 41 shots.

"I wanted to win tonight. It's frustrating," Binnington said. "I was pretty pissed off, but it is what it is. Just try to keep building, keep your head down and keep working.

"... It was more of a quality over a quantity game tonight. They capitalized on their chances. I've got to be there to make some big saves for the boys when we needed it. Unfortunately, it's a tough way to go into the break for me, but it is what it is. Just get some time away and come back regrouped."

Jake Allen came on and made six saves the rest of the way.

"Change the momentum," Berube said. "We needed a break. Instead of calling a timeout, I switched."

The Blues were playing a decent road game when Perron scored a power-play goal at 18:04 to tie the game 1-1, then took a 2-1 lead on Oskar Sundqvist's goal at 1:06 of the second period.

But Tyson Jost scored to tie it 2-2 at 7:48 after Jaden Schwartz was pinned along the wall just outside the Blues zone with the puck, it got loose and Vince Dunn overskated it to create a break-in alone for Andre Burakovsky. Binnington made the first save, but Jost followed up the rebound.

Then the Blues failed to clear a puck when Robert Thomas rimmed it around too strong for Alexander Steen, and Cale Makar circled from one side of the blue line to the other and beat Binnington with a snap shot through traffic at 16:26 to make it 3-2, and Binnington's night came to a close when Burakovsky beat him with a wrist shot short side from the right circle at 16:48 to make it 4-2.

Nathan MacKinnon scored Colorado's first goal in the first period off a turnover by Jay Bouwmeester.

"Everything they scored, we kind of gave them," said Blues defenseman Alex Pietrangelo, who celebrated his 30th birthday with a goal and an assist. "It seems we play them well at home, they play us well at their rink, it’s just two good teams going at it.

"We gave them a couple good chances. A couple bounces didn’t go our way. Usually we can find a way to win these games, but we fell a little short tonight. We poured a lot in, a lot of guys worked hard. It’s always different in an afternoon game, but we poured a lot in there and guys were focused, especially going into the break. It’s going to happen."

The Blues pushed in the third and pulled within one when Pietrangelo scored off a beautiful feed from Perron at 7:23, but as the Blues pushed and came close, they succumbed in the end when Gabriel Landeskog scored into an empty net with 1.8 seconds left after the Blues had ample zone time but couldn't find an equalizer.

"We had a lot of looks that we didn't put in, but they're a good team over there too," Perron said. "It's a tough building with the altitude and all that. I don't know if you guys realize or not, but as soon as you get your heart going or whatever, it seems like it catches you right away. We did a team decision probably early too to change early in the first period and I thought that worked out, we had a good first period and could have been better in the second."

"I felt like we had some chances, even 6 on 5 we had some pucks in there for a while, I thought we had a couple chances," Pietrangelo said. "We had a couple looks, a couple plays we wanted to get to and we just didn’t find a way to score.

"Mine dipped and got lucky when it hit the guy’s pants and 'Perry' had a stick, went over the net. Maybe the next game those go in for us. We’re drawing plays we weren’t running and we ran them."

Blues coach Craig Berube, although not happy with the result, liked that his team competed.

"They capitalized on some plays," Berube said. "I thought we took too many penalties again against these guys because last time we did too. But I liked our game. I thought our guys competed hard, they played hard, it was a playoff style game. We just came up short.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues forward Ivan Barbashev (49) tries to fend off Avalanche defenseman
Erik Johnson in Saturday's game in Colorado.

"We don’t want to lose any game, whether we’ve got a break, it doesn’t matter. But it is what it is. We made a couple mistakes, they capitalized on them. We were right there but we just couldn’t tie it up.

"I thought we played a great third period. Would have liked our power play in the third to get a few more looks. I thought we played a real good third period."

Blues forward Mackenzie MacEachern sustained a lower-body injury in the second period and did not return. He played just four minutes, including one 15-second shift in the third.

Friday, January 17, 2020

Blues want to empty tank, gain redemption against Avalanche

Last game before break chance to gain separation in standings, atone for 
7-3 loss in Denver on Jan. 2; Gunnarsson to return after missing 15 games

MARYLAND HEIGHTS, Mo. -- The last time the Blues were faced with a break, they emptied the tank out and picked up a 4-1 win against the Los Angeles Kings.

That was right before Christmas, then had three days off before getting back to work.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues defenseman Alex Pietrangelo (27) and forward Brayden Schenn 
celebrate a goal against Colorado on Jan. 2. 

They'll be in the same situation Saturday afternoon but get an entire week, except for four all-stars, in a key Central Division matchup against the Colorado Avalanche (2 p.m.; FS-MW, ESPN 101.1-FM), returning to the scene of the crime in one of the more lopsided losses, 7-3, 16 days ago.

Going into a building where the Blues, until the last visit, had recent success in and knowing they'll get the chance to empty the tank again will be motivation in itself.

"Yeah, and then you've got a lot of time to recover," said Blues defenseman Alex Pietrangelo, one of four all-stars along with Ryan O'Reilly, David Perron and Jordan Binnington. "It was the same thing at Christmas, and I think part of it too is we're all competitors. We want to finish on a good note. You want to play good games and you're sitting there for six days, you're not thinking about what you didn't do. You want to think about what you did do well and always leave on a good note."

"It is nice to know to leave it out there and give everything you have," O'Reilly said. "It's really not to get ahead of ourselves but focus on the details, the little things, all those things away from the puck, make it difficult for the other team."

That will be key against an Avalanche team that wants to play in transition and do so quickly. 

The Blues tried playing that game in the Pepsi Center on Jan. 2 and got wiped out doing so.

"They handed it to us there pretty good," Blues coach Craig Berube said. "It's a big game.

"... Empty the tank and we talked this morning about the importance of the game, division rival, take the same approach we took in that L.A. game right before the Christmas break. I thought we were real good in that game, especially in the first period. I think it's just about preparing yourself and not taking the break too early. We've got to be tight and we've got to be tight on individuals because of their speed and their talent. We've got to play a real smart game with the hockey puck, be patient with it and play our game, and if we do that, we'll be OK. You don't want to get in a track meet going back and forth because we won't be able to keep up."

Playing in the altitude air is different than anywhere else, but the Blues are equipped to handle the style because of their ability to utilize all 18 skaters.

"It's a challenge," Pietrangelo said. "The advantage for us is we have good depth and we can play everybody. When you're in that rink, you want to make sure you use everybody because it certainly does have an impact on you.

"You've just got to be smart with your shifts. There's no slow decline on your shift. It's like you've got the energy and all of the sudden it hits you. You've got to prepare and then take shorter shifts and manage those a little bit differently."

"The altitude, that really plays into the game," Berube said. "You don't have air, so you've got to keep your shifts short and it's important that we're managing the puck properly to get line changes and get fresh people out there. ... We need everybody to play a good game. We can't have anybody not perform at their highest level in this game."

That shouldn't be a problem considering hat happened last time.

"They took it to us. They outplayed us," O'Reilly said. "They got us away from our game and that's something that can't happen, especially divisional games are big points. We want to keep these guys down. It's going to be tough. We need a response, even (from) last game. We got away from a lot of things that we normally do. It's a good opportunity to go into the break with a big win and feeling good about ourselves."
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues forward David Perron takes a shot in a recent game against Colorado.
The Blues hope to head into the All-Star break with a win in Denver.

The Blues come in on a six-game point streak (4-0-2) and lead Colorado and Dallas each by 10 points in the division. It's a huge swing.

"You've got to keep winning and you've got to keep gaining, getting points," Berube said. "It's really important. I think we're in a good spot here, but you've got to keep going and keep getting better."

* NOTES -- The Blues will have Carl Gunnarsson back in the lineup after the defenseman missed the past 15 games, including being on injured-reserve the first 14, for a left arm injury.

Gunnarsson, who has four points (one goal, three assists) in 17 games this season, has been healthy enough the past handful of games to play but will replace Niko Mikkola, who filled in quite nicely after being recalled from San Antonio.

"It's been a while, yeah. Now I've just been sitting around waiting. It'll be fun," Gunnarsson said. "It's what it is. The team's playing well and we're winning. So you're just sitting, waiting for your time."

Berube said MIkkola going to the press box Saturday has nothing to do with his play, although he only managed 9:35 in a 4-3 overtime loss against Philadelphia on Wednesday, but more so to get Gunnarsson, who will start off paired with Robert Bortuzzo, some game action.

"He's been out a long time," Berube said of Gunnarsson. "Up to this point, he hasn't played a lot of hockey this year. It's unfortunate, but he's ready to go now, which is good.

"... Gunny needs to get in there and he did a great job, Mikkola. He's going to be a good player for us going forward."

- Blues goalie Jordan Binnington is one that may have something to prove in this building after being pulled with 5:34 remaining on Jan. 2. He had allowed seven goals on 41 shots in the loss.

- Blues defenseman Colton Parayko will miss seventh straight game today with an upper-body injury.

Parayko hasn't played since the Blues' last visit here but has practiced every day, and Berube said he's "pretty confident" Parayko will be back after the All-Star break.

"He is close, but we want him 100 percent," Berube said.

The Blues' first game after the break is Jan. 27 at Vancouver. 

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Mindset of a champion instilled in Blues

Overcoming two-goal deficit in third period against Flyers not enough 
for these players in 4-3 OT loss, snapping nine-game home winning streak

ST. LOUIS -- The Blues' home winning streak came to an end on Wednesday in a 4-3 overtime loss to the Philadelphia Flyers.

All good things are bound to end sometime, and it did on this night for the Blues, who couldn't set a franchise record with their 10th straight home win and sweep a homestand of at least five games for the first time ever.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues forward Jaden Schwartz (17) pursues Flyers defenseman Ivan
Provorov in a 4-3 overtime loss on Wednesday.

What is paramount regarding this group is its propensity to never fall out of contention, and it could have happened when Travis Konecny scored a power-play goal 26 seconds into the third period and make it 3-1.

What's even better is that even though the Blues battled back and got a point to move into first overall in the NHL standings, when all things pointed to another of those improbable comebacks that didn't materialize, they're not satisfied with anything but the ultimate result.

They finished the homestand 4-0-1, nine of a possible 10 points, but ... 

"It's a great homestand, no doubt about it," Blues coach Craig Berube said. "But listen, we want all of it. We're not happy with this performance, but I'm happy with the battle back and getting a point."

This is the Blues (30-10-8) of today. They have this perfection mindset, and this is how winning teams -- championship teams -- think.

The execution over 60 minutes is not always going to be perfect. There's an opponent with the same goal in mind, but achieving the end result is always what they're thinking no matter what the situation.

The Blues don't care that they had won nine in a row here, they don't care that they had won the first four on this homestand and had a point in five straight. This is a team with tunnel vision, and a reflection of their coach, the past is the past, and looking at the next game is all that matters.

"I don’t reflect too much on previous games. It’s this one," said Blues center Ryan O'Reilly, whose goal made it 3-2. "This is frustrating. We’re a better team than what we showed tonight. It’s disappointing. We could’ve had an extra point. I don’t think anyone’s happy. We need a response going into next game. Tonight wasn’t good enough."

Most teams would be gushing about making such a comeback, and don't get a misconception that the Blues aren't happy they were able to come back. They were, but once again, this is an end-result mindset that they've created, and they always feel they should be leaving the ice with a win.

"It's a good homestand, but we feel we could have played more solid throughout the 60 (minutes) tonight," said Blues forward Alexander Steen, who had a goal and an assist to give him eight points (four goals, four assists), "so we'll look at that tomorrow and our main goal is to improve every day and take it day by day and we've got a big one against Colorado coming up."

What ailed the Blues tonight was some sloppy play from the midpoint of the second period to the conclusion of it when the Flyers (25-16-6) took a 2-1 lead on goals by Tyler Pitlick and Michael Raffl. Their power play was only 1-for-6, including another poorly executed 5-on-3 that lasted 1:41, and one final sloppy line shift in the OT that led to Jakub Voracek's goal.

It wasn't the bad line changes that ultimately were the cause of the defeat. It may have been the final nail when Jaden Schwartz inexplicably left on a line change and the Blues got caught on a 2-on-1, but the inability to make smart decisions with the puck is what built up to a plethora of errors in the extra session.

"Three-on-three, we really didn't have the puck enough," Berube said. "... Some not very smart plays with the puck, I'll tell you that. You've got to control the play and you've got to be patient 3-on-3 sometimes. Sometimes it takes two or three line changes before you get a good look and we didn't do that. We forced it and forcing plays, they protected it and got it back and then you give it to them. They're a good overtime team. They've got some pretty skilled guys out there. We've just got to be smarter about that."

As for the 5-on-3, which is in a ridiculous drought of 22:45 of since Dec. 9, 2016, it was more of the same: move the puck around the perimeter and not being direct towards the net.

"Tonight for me, there was no assertiveness in what we're doing," Berube said. "You've got a 5-on-3, but what did we have, one shot on it? Petro shot one, missed the net. You've just got to read what the other team's doing and you've got to just take what they give you and shoot pucks. I've said it before, we do not shoot enough on the 5-on-3, and we did not shoot again tonight. That's it. That's all I have to say about it."

"We have to make some adjustments," O'Reilly said. "I know myself, I have to find a way to be better, create more and be more of a threat. Yeah, that could’ve changed the game for us and gave us the momentum we needed. It’s disappointing and I’ll take responsibility for it."

The Blues, who had a 1-0 lead on Justin Faulk's first-period power-play goal, had multiple opportunities to make it 2- or 3-0 but failed to capitalize and left it at a one-shot game. The Flyers became more assertive and when they grabbed the lead, it was game on.

"Yeah, I thought the first half of the second period we were good," Berube said. "We got that penalty and then after that penalty, I thought they were better than us in the second period."
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues defenseman Alex Pietrangelo (27) battles with Flyers forward Michael
Raffl for a puck in Wednesday's game at Enterprise Center.

But all in all, most teams don't overcome such deficiencies. This Blues group tends to find a way, and bottom line, they found a way to salvage something, and that's what we'll say in this space, salvage, because that's their mentality.

It was good, but not enough.

"Yeah, definitely, we’ll take that," said Blues forward Robert Thomas, who had two assists. "It would’ve been nice to close it off with a win here, going into break and kind of keep that momentum going. But we’ve got a big game in Colorado and they’re fighting and trying to catch us, so we’ve got to be sharp."

(1-15-20) Flyers-Blues Gameday Lineup

ST. LOUIS -- The Blues have a chance at more history when they close out a five-game homestand against the Philadelphia Flyers.

The Blues not only can sweep a homestand of at least five games for the first time in franchise history, they can win their 10th straight on home ice, which would also be a franchise record previously set Jan. 26-Feb. 26, 1991.

The Blues have the most wins in the NHL on home ice (17) and continue to thrive here in ways they haven't done so with authority since the 2011-12 season when they went 30-6-1, and even then, they weren't able to accomplish such feats as they have in front of them tonight.

"We’re just trying to win another game at home," Blues coach Craig Berube said. "We’ve played well at home for quite some time now. It’s our last home game before the break. 

"We’ve got to keep doing what we’re doing. It doesn’t really change. We’ve been playing really good 200-foot hockey and defensively we’ve been solid at home and I think the north-south game at home, before we were playing too much of an east-west game at home compared to the road, but I think that’s changed and we’ve played the north-south game at home and a more direct game at home and the result of it is we’ve had more wins."

The Blues (30-10-7), who have outscored their opponents 36-15 during their nine-game home streak, will want to keep forging on with two games remaining heading into their bye week and subsequent All-Star break.

As if a reminder needs to be given, they're doing this without leading scorer Vladimir Tarasenko and top defenseman Colton Parayko, who will miss his sixth straight game tonight.

"It's just a team mentality," Blues center Brayden Schenn said. "We rely on everyone, rely on four lines. Whoever's going well that night is doing the job for us. We know that's a lot of goals missing in the lineup with Tarasenko scoring at least 30 a year. Other guys have to step up and they have. Everyone's chipping in."

- - -

Speaking of Schenn, it was June 23, 2017 when the trade with the Flyers was consummated, on draft night in Chicago to be exact when the Blues acquired Schenn from the Flyers for two first-round picks in 2017 and 2018, in which the Flyers drafted Morgan Frost with the 27th pick in 2017 and Joel Farabee with the 14th pick in 2018 along with Jori Lehtera.

Needless to say, things have worked out tremendously for Schenn, who got the top-line role here that he was seeking in Philadelphia, won a Stanley Cup and signed an eight-year, $52 million extension during training camp.

"I'm very happy here," Schenn said. "Very happy to be part of this organization. I think what they've built in this room with the culture, whether it's guys like Steener or Petro or Vladi or the list of guys that have been here for a long time, they've built a heck of a culture here and winning culture. It's fun to be part of.

"Yeozy [former Blues coach and current Flyers assistant Mike Yeo] gave me the opportunity since Day 1 to try and be a top player here for St. Louis and put me with good players. Very thankful for that and very thankful for the opportunity I've been given since Day 1 here."

So does it mean something to face the former teammates?

"There's meaning, no doubt about it," Schenn said. "It's always fun playing friends and former teammates, but it's been three years now and I enjoy playing in St. Louis. I don't really think about Philadelphia too much anymore. ... I don't really worry about the trade and stuff like that too much anymore. A lot of guys get traded throughout their career and I happened to be a part of that one."

- - -

Blues defenseman Vince Dunn has been one to be impacted quite a bit, along with rookie Niko Mikkola, in the absence of Parayko.

Dunn has been thrust up in a role with Alex Pietrangelo, and naturally he will get more ice time and more responsibilities, but what it did was allow Dunn, who's played 18:53, 21:35, 19:06, 17:12 and 20:03 in the games Parayko has missed.

"He’s been a good player, I feel, because he’s taken a physical approach," Berube said of Dunn. "We talked to him about that, being more physical and getting involved physically and he’s done that. He’s the type of guy, if he can play with that edge a little bit, he becomes a better player. I found that since the injury to Parayko and his movement up there, his game has elevated, and that’s a big part of it, being more direct, more physical."

Dunn has a goal and is a plus-3 in the five games since Parayko has been out of the lineup. Focusing on balancing his offense and defense has been a priority, especially on the defensive side of it.

"In saying that, it’s being more aggressive and more physical," Berube said. "He's done that and he’s done a good job there and they’ve been a good pair.

"It’s the conversations we’ve had with him. When he does play like that, he’s a better player and he just has to find more consistency in doing it all the time. That’s all. Nothing more than that."

- - -

A couple of former Blues will be in the Flyers lineup tonight with goalie Brian Elliott, who holds the franchise record with the Blues for shutouts with 25, and forward Chris Stewart, who was coincidentally placed on waivers but will be in the lineup since the Flyers had to load Farabee to Lehigh Valley of the American Hockey League to recall goalie Alex Lyon, who comes in under emergency conditions since Carter Hart sustained an abdominal strain in practice Tuesday.

Stewart, who spent four seasons here from 2010-14, cheered for many of his former Blues teammates last summer en route to winning the Cup.

"I still got a lot of good friends on that team," Stewart said. "I think I put something on Twitter how this is a great city, a great place to play and a lot of people behind the scenes who deserve the recognition. I was happy to see that they got their chance to raise the Cup and I was proud of them."

Stewart was teammates with Pietrangelo, Jake Allen, Jaden Schwartz, Jay Bouwmeester, Alexander Steen, David Perron and Vladimir Tarasenko.

"I was watching every game," Stewart said. "It's the best hockey of the year and the most exciting time and that's what you dream about is winning. It was good to see them get it.

"I was at [Kevin] Shattenkirk's wedding and there was probably 13 (former Blues teammates) there. It's a tight-knit group over there and I'm happy for them."

After a year out of the NHL, Stewart has found himself back in the league with the Flyers after a professional tryout. He has one assist in 15 games.

- - -

The Blues' projected lineup:

Jaden Schwartz-Brayden Schenn-Oskar Sundqvist

Zach Sanford-Ryan O'Reilly-David Perron

Alexander Steen-Robert Thomas-Tyler Bozak

Mackenzie MacEachern-Jacob de la Rose-Ivan Barbashev

Vince Dunn-Alex Pietrangelo

Jay Bouwmeester-Justin Faulk

Niko Mikkola-Robert Bortuzzo

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

Healthy scratches include Carl Gunnarsson, Troy Brouwer and Jordan Kyrou. Vladimir Tarasenko (shoulder), Colton Parayko (upper body) and Sammy Blais (wrist) are out.

- - -

The Flyers' projected lineup:

Claude Giroux-Kevin Hayes-Travis Konecny

Michael Raffl-Sean Couturier-Jakub Voracek

James van Riemsdyk-Scott Laughton-Nicolas Aube-Kubel

Tyler Pitlick-Connor Bunnaman-Chris Stewart

Ivan Provorov-Matt Niskanen

Travis Sanheim-Philippe Myers

Robert Hagg-Mark Friedman

Brian Elliott will start in goal; Alex Lyon will be the backup.

The Flyers report no healthy scratches. Carter Hart (abdominal strain), Nolan Patrick (migraine), Oskar Lindblom (Ewing's sarcoma), Justin Braun (groin) and Shayne Gostisbehere (knee) are out.

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

"He's been a machine lately" ... Blues teammates loving play of teammate Jaden Schwartz

Blues forward playing his usual puck-hounding, harassing self; scoring is back 
up as a result of all-around play being "one of the engines for our hockey club"

ST. LOUIS -- One thing those that surround themselves around Jaden Schwartz learn quickly is that the Blues forward isn't one to talk himself up.


His teammates, on the other hand, well, that's another story.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues forward Jaden Schwartz (17)  moves the puck in a recent game
against the Arizona Coyotes. Teammate Jake Allen said Schwartz has 
"been a machine lately."

"He’s been a machine lately," Blues goalie Jake Allen said of Schwartz. "He’s always been one of the engines for our hockey club up front. Just the way he works. He’s not always on the scoresheet but just his tenacity around the net down low, backchecking, we see him coming back, stripping a lot of pucks, turning pucks the other way, holding pucks in. He’s playing with a lot of confidence and playing well. He never had the offensive year he wanted last year and his complete game this year is second to none. The goals are coming as well. Good on him again and he’s one of those team leaders that doesn’t really let too many guys off the hook."

To which Schwartz replied, "I don't know, I don't really think about it that way. If Jakey thinks that, then I'm happy."

And that's all teammates really need to know about the man they call 'Schwiz' or 'Schwizzle Schwartz.' 

Another thing those will learn quickly, especially opponents, is that it becomes a tiresome adventure following Schwartz around -- or in some cases, trying to shed him off of you -- can be a chore. One that's downright tiresome.

"I only have to do it for very short stints in practice, so that’s nice," admits Blues defenseman and teammate Justin Faulk.

Well, there are those that have to do it throughout a game, and watching Schwartz play these days makes him a tough out. An exhausting one.

If a skater has the puck in the defensive zone, chances are Schwartz is there swarming in every direction harassing and hounding the puck handler doing everything humanly possible to disrupt one's flow, getting a stick on a puck or stripping it away. Or at the very least, skate you to death and wanting to get to the bench as soon as possible.

Chances are he's in a similar form in all three zones, and when the puck's on his stick, good luck trying to get it away from him as he twists, turns or corkscrews his way out of a phone booth.

It's not a lot of fun having to play against Schwartz, but it sure is fun having the 27-year-old on their side. Just ask the Blues.

"You can see he’s ready to go, but I think if you watch the face-offs, every time the puck drops he jumps so hard, he’s on it right away, he’s getting into guys but at the same time, he’s almost beaten their guys off the mark and being able to get on their D right away," Faulk said. "When you see that and a guy’s ready to go off the face-off, you know it’s going to translate and carry over to the rest of his game. He’s been real tough for other teams and we appreciate that."

Schwartz has already surpassed his goal total (16) and point total (39) in 47 games this season than he had in 69 games last season (11 goals, 36 points) and is just two points off of matching his assist total from last season (25). He also had 20 points (12 goals, eight assists) in 26 Stanley Cup playoff games to help the Blues win their first title.

Schwartz is the prototypical player for a coach like Craig Berube, who's all about guys that grab their lunch pails and put in a work-based, blue-collared effort.

"It's effort. He's always tracking the puck and breaking plays up," Berube said of Schwartz. "He's just a hard-working guy. When he's on the ice, it's work, hounds pucks and he's going to the net hard, and he's getting rewarded with goals."

And that type of play is rubbing off on especially the younger players like Ivan Barbashev, Mackenzie MacEachern, Jacob de la Rose, Oskar Sundqvist, among others that have to survive on this kind of play to make it in the NHL.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues forward Jaden Schwartz (right) moves the puck past Blackhawks
defenseman Erik Gustafsson in a game on Dec. 14 in st. Louis.

"They see how hard he works all the time," Berube said of Schwartz. "I think there's a few guys on our team that really (see) from a work ethic standpoint. Guys see that and it rubs off on everybody. We're a work-based team. We've got to work."

Schwartz's work ethic was never questioned since the Blues drafted him with the 14th pick in the 2010 NHL Draft. Now, he leads, but does it more by example.

"We've always had good leaders here," Schwartz said. "Good guys to follow, good guys to lead the way. It rubs off on the younger guys and younger guys are obviously pulling their weight and they're learning and they're doing a good job of picking that up as well."