Wednesday, January 8, 2020


Blues tighten up defensively, an area of focus; Perron misses practice; 
Parayko still day-to-day; Kyrou returns to good results; Bozak producing

MARYLAND HEIGHTS, Mo. -- Shaking off a three-game winless streak, the Blues were ready to nip things in the bud any which way they would.

And although it wasn't always the cleanest of execution in a 3-2 win against the San Jose Sharks Tuesday to open a season-long five-game homestand, one area coach Craig Berube was pleased with was the defensive execution after allowing 15 goals in three losses on the previous road trip.

"A lot of good stuff. I think that we were pretty solid defensively," Berube said Wednesday. "I think we didn't give them a lot of room out there. I thought we played pretty tight. That was one area we wanted to hammer down after the road trip. I didn't feel we played very tight defensively. I thought we moved the puck well last night. We played a fast game, I thought. It was a tight game. We made it tight on ourselves giving up a shorthanded goal, which was unnecessary, but I thought pretty solid."

The Blues (27-10-7), who host  the Buffalo Sabres on Thursday, didn't help themselves with an ineffective power play that was 0-for-3, went shotless and allowed a shorthanded goal late in the third to make things a bit dicey at the end.

San Jose does have the top-rated PK in the NHL at 88.6 percent, but it was the aggressive nature of the Sharks' diamond formation that gave the Blues fits with zone entries, and when they were finally able to enter, pucks weren't in there long.

"You've got to move the puck extremely quick and you've got to shoot it and get it to the net," Berube said. "We just didn't get set up enough on that power play last game. Our entries weren't great and when pucks are on the walls, they're very good. Obviously No. 1 in the league for a reason. You've got to get it off the wall and we didn't do a good enough job of that."

EVen with the off night, the Blues still rank fifth in the league on the power play at 24.4 percent, behind Edmonton and Tampa Bay (29.2), Boston (27.5) and Vancouver (25.5).

* Perron, Parayko, Gunnarsson updates -- Blues forward David Perron was the lone skater to miss practice Wednesday, but no fear of him missing time.

Perron, who scored the game-winner Tuesday, his seventh of the season that ties him with Edmonton's Leon Draisaitl for the most in the NHL, was given the day off.

"Oh yeah, just a maintenance day for him and we kept him off. Nothing," Berube said. "He's good to go."

Perron, who leads the Blues in goals (18) and points (44) in 44 games, has 14 points (six goals, eight assists) the past 10 games.

As for defenseman Colton Parayko, who took in St. Louis University's 63-58 win over George Washington at Chaifetz Arena Wednesday night, he practiced again after missing the past two games with an upper-body injury. 

"He's still day-to-day," Berube said. "We'll see tomorrow. He's coming along. I think it's still too early."

If Parayko, who has missed just seven games in his five NHL seasons, is unavailable, it is likely that Niko Mikkola, who made his NHL debut Tuesday, will remain in the lineup.

That's because it's not certain that Carl Gunnarsson (arm) isn't guaranteed to return, although Berube said he's ready.

"He's probably available, yeah," Berube said of Gunnarsson. "He looked pretty good today. I thought he practiced well today. He looked good to me."

Gunnarsson has missed the past 11 games, but Berube has said he wants to get him into more practice time to get his timing and rhythm down even though the veteran appears to be healthy enough to play.

As for Mikkola, who played 12:31, keeping his game simple was the best course of action in his debut.

"I just tried to keep the puck moving quick, stay on the right side," Mikkola said. "If I have the opportunity to go up, I'm going up. Just try to bring my whole game, pretty simple."

When the coaches approve, it's a good thing, and Berube said it's a "big possibility" Mikkola stays against the Sabres.

"He played his game," Berube said of Mikkola. "I thought he was aggressive. He closes on people. He's a good skater and he's got a long stick and reach. He's an aggressive player and he did that. I thought he played a good game. Obviously puck movement's something he's got to keep working on, but he made some plays. There's some plays he didn't make, but that's what's expected."

* Kyrou returns to good results -- Forward Jordan Kyrou, a healthy scratch for two games before returning against San Jose Tuesday, had his first competitive goal wiped out to a challenge for offsides in the third period that would have made it 4-1.

Kyrou was cutting through the middle with speed when he was led into the Sharks zone off a Brayden Schenn feed before quickly snapping a shot over Aaron Dell's right shoulder.

"I thought it was close, and then I watched the replay and you can obviously see I was a little bit offsides," Kyrou said. "It's unfortunate, but it happens. It was a great pass by Schenner and I've just got to try and drag my foot a little bit more."

Kyrou played 14:13 and registered only one shot on goal and blocked a shot, but Berube felt Kyrou improved in the areas they wanted to see him elevate: the defensive side of the game and managing pucks better.  

"He's a good rush player and he's got speed and skill," Berube said. "I thought he played a good game. I liked his game. I thought he was responsible with the puck. I thought he worked hard without it, was in the right spots and did some good things. Unfortunate the goal was offsides because it was a real nice play all around. That's just his speed and shot, and he was a good player for us last night."

* Time to head East -- The Blues just finished a stretch of 12 straight games against Western Conference foes, finishing 9-2-1 to improve to 20-4-4 overall on the season. Now they'll play East teams in three of the next four games, including Buffalo tonight, the New York Rangers Saturday and Philadelphia next Wednesday sandwiched with an Anaheim game on Monday in between.

The Blues, notoriously good against the East, including 19-9-2 last season, are just 7-6-3 against the East this season, including three straight defeats.

"They're quick. I think the East has got some quick teams," Berube said. "They play a little bit of a different game than the West. I think we've got to do a better job against the East teams of just controlling the play. Looking back at some of the games, we probably tried to play to their style more than to ours and when we play the West teams, we know what the expect. We play our game, puck possession, heavy, and I think we've got to do a better job against the East. Last year we did. I don't know our record, but I thought it was pretty good against Eastern teams. This year a little bit different, but we've got to change that. It's just a mindset for us, that's all."

* Bozak quietly producing -- A center iceman by trade, Tyler Bozak's move to the right wing to allow Robert Thomas more time in his natural center position has actually paid tremendous dividends for the Blues.

Bozak and Thomas will rotate positions and each will take face-offs, but after scoring his ninth goal to open the scoring Tuesday, his sixth goal the past 10 games after just three in his first 33, Bozak is on pace for 17 goals this season, which would surpass the 13 he scored last season.

"I don't think it matters to him, to be honest with you. I think that he probably plays the game half in the middle and half on the wing depending on face-offs if he takes the draws, but really in today's game, being in the center ice position, only in your own end really is the biggest thing," Berube said. "In the neutral zone and in the offensive zone, you're just going to a spot. You've got to go to a spot. He's been fine, scored a nice goal last night. He's got what, nine now? How many did he get last year, 11? Probably a good chance he's going to pass that. So I think he's doing alright.

"I like Robby in the middle. He's got really good speed with the puck. He might be our fastest player on the team with the puck. When you can get him in the middle of the ice with that puck, he can make plays, which is good."

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