Saturday, February 29, 2020

(2-29-20) Stars-Blues Gameday Lineup

ST. LOUIS -- Going for their seventh win in a row, the Blues (38-17-10) will have a few changes for their lineup today at 7 p.m. (FS-MW, ESPN 101.1-FM) in the fifth and final regular-season matchup against the Dallas Stars (37-21-6).

Forwards Jacob de la Rose and Sammy Blais and goalie Jake Allen are in, forward Jordan Kyrou is out and defenseman Robert Boetuzzo is out when the Blues play the Stars for the third time this month.

De la Rose, a healthy scratch the past nine games and 11 of the past 12 games, goes in for Kyrou, who is out due to illness.

"Everybody wants to play every game," de la Rose said. "It's the same for me. We're competitive guys that want to be out there every night, so obviously I'm excited to have a good game.

"We have a really good team here so it's tight to get into the lineup. I've got to keep my head up and stay positive and wait for my chance and when I get it, I've got to take it."

Blues coach Craig Berube said it's time to get de la Rose, whose last game was Feb. 8 in a 3-2 loss to the Stars here, into a game.

"I want to get everybody playing here," Berube said. "I don’t want anybody sitting out too long and I’ve probably let him sit out too long. So we throw him in there tonight. Big body guy. He’s a physical guy. And smart player."

And the Blues will incorporate de la Rose, who has nine points (two goals, seven assists) in 48 games, in on a line with Tyler Bozak and Alexander Steen.

"They're good players," de la Rose said. "It's only good players on this team. Wherever you spot in, you know you have good players around you.

"I think everybody knows how important this game is tonight so it's going to be a physical, heavy game. We all know what's at stake tonight so I think it's going to be a good game."

As for Blais, who was a healthy scratch Thursday in a 3-2 overtime win against the New York Islanders when the Blues played 11 forwards and seven defensemen, it was a chance at a reset and get the bearings to his game back.

"Yeah, I mean, he wants me to be better and I think I can be better too," Blais said of Berube. "He wants me to elevate my game and just be better all-around. I think last game was just a little reset and I'm going to be ready to go tonight.

"Maybe just confidence (was lacking) a little bit, but I missed a lot of time because of my (wrist) injury, but that's not an excuse anymore. I just want to be better and be better for the team. The playoffs are coming soon, so I just want to be ready when it's going to start. I know Chief wants me to be better, so I'm going to do everything to be better."

Berube normally gets his point across to his players when he's looking for more and expects Blais, who has 11 points (six goals, five assists) in 34 games, to boune back.

"I think he’ll have a strong game," Berube said. "He’s going to give you effort. He always gives you effort and he always gives you physicality out there, which is a good thing. He just has to manage his game a little bit better. You know, I think he thinks of the outcome more than just the process a lot of times. I’d like him to just focus on playing and not worrying about ... I think what he does a lot of times is every shift, he wants to score a goal. I get that. I did too. But you've got to focus on just playing the game and doing things right out there. Sometimes I think he gets a little caught up in that."

And Blais understands that. Sitting out a game usually gets one's attention.

"Yeah, it's just another chance for me to show them that I got the message and just going to try to play my game and have fun out there," Blais said. "He just wants me to play my game and play like I can play. He wants me to be better away from the puck and just little details like I've always talked about. We've talked a lot and I know what he wants from me and I'm going to try and do it tonight."

Allen gets the start, his second in nine days and both against the Stars. 

He was in goal during a 5-1 win in Dallas a week ago Friday, making 18 saves and coming within 3 minutes 33 seconds of a shutout.

It's a chance with a bit of a break in the schedule to get Jordan Binnington some rest.

After tonight, which will be their 10th game in 17 days, the Blues will play just once over the next five days (Tuesday at the New York Rangers).

"The schedule’s mapped out before that really," Berube said. "It’s just about Jake’s been good and we've got to get him in games. And Binner’s played a lot of games. So, we need both guys.

"A little bit of rest (for Binnington too), yeah."

Allen is 10-5-0 with a 2.10 goals-against average and .922 save percentage with three shutouts in 16 games against the Stars.

He'll be opposed by Anton Khudobin, who is 3-0-1 with a 2.13 GAA and .924 save percentage in his career against the Blues.

- - -

It was another practice day for Blues right wing Vladimir Tarasenko, who continues to gear towards a return to the lineup in the not-too-distant future.

Tarasenko has been skating regularly with the team the past few weeks, but with the break in the schedule and the Blues' ability to finally get some real practice time in, this will be the truest of tests for Tarasenko when he starts getting some physical contact on his dislocated left shoulder.

"He’s working through it," Berube said. "The skating, that’s the conditioning part that takes time. We’re going to get some physicality on him next week, hopefully. And hopefully he feels good through that and that’ll help out a lot and that’ll make him feel more confident, too. But his skating’s coming. I think it’s just going to take some time. But it’s coming."

- - -

The Blues enter play tonight with a six-point lead on the Stars in the standings, and three on the Colorado Avalanche, who play at Nashville tonight.

A win by the Blues all but assures the Stars won't catch them. A loss, and it's anybody's game.

"It’s always a hard game. It’s tight hockey I think," Berube said. "They’re a good defensive team, great goaltending. They play a hard style game, it’s always physical, so we've got to make sure we match their physicality. We've got to make sure we got a good forecheck game going tonight. It’s important to pound that defense tonight. You know, [John] Klingberg and [Miro] Heiskanen, we've got to take the body on those guys. They’re great players that can carry the puck up the ice and make things happen. So that’s going to be a big part of the game for us tonight, is our forecheck and getting in there, controlling the play in the offensive zone as much as we can."

And Stars coach Rick Bowness expects just that type of game.

"I think they're a tough matchup for any team in this league," Bowness said of the Blues. "That's why they're the Stanley Cup champs. They're very well coached, they play a very hard-nosed game. We know the type of game they want to play, it's a forechecking game. They want to spend as much time as they can in our zone and they want to get the puck out as quick as they can in their zone. It's not complicated. It's very simple, but a very, very effective and hard game to play against and that's why they are where the are. They're a very good hockey club over there. Craig and his staff have done a great job with them and regardless of who they play against, it's a tough game. We know that going into the game. We know what they're going to do and we know what we have to do to counter it. 

"We came in here a couple weeks ago and that's how we want to play against them. Last week's game, you throw that out the window. The game we played in here two weeks is more the style of play that we want to play against them."

- - -

The Blues' projected lineup:

Jaden Schwartz-Ryan O'Reilly-Brayden Schenn

Zach Sanford-Robert Thomas-David Perron

Jacob de la Rose-Tyler Bozak-Alexander Steen 

Ivan Barbashev-Oskar Sundqvist-Sammy Blais

Carl Gunnarsson-Alex Pietrangelo

Marco Scandella-Colton Parayko

Vince Dunn-Justin Faulk

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

Healthy scratches include Robert Bortuzzo, Mackenzie MacEachern and Troy Brouwer. Vladimir Tarasenko (shoulder), Jay Bouwmeester (cardiac episode) and Jordan Kyrou (illness) are out.

- - -

The Stars' projected lineup:

Jamie Benn-Tyler Seguin-Corey Perry

Roope Hintz-Jason Dickinson-Denis Gurianov

Andrew Cogliano-Radek Faksa-Blake Comeau

Mattias Janmark-Joe Pavelski-Alexander Radulov

Esa Lindell-John Klingberg

Jamie Oleksiak-Miro Heiskanen

Andrej Sekera-Roman Polak

Anton Khudobin will start in goal; Ben Bishop will be the backup.

The healthy scratch is Taylor Fedun. Stephen Johns (upper body) and Justin Dowling (lower body) are out.

Friday, February 28, 2020


Thomas recounts, laughs off missed empty-net goal since it came in a win; 
Bortuzzo pitches up up top; Scandella fitting in perfectly; Dunn's goal celly 

ST. LOUIS -- Robert Thomas could easily smile about it the next day.

But arguably the easiest opportunity for him to score a goal came Thursday night against the New York Islanders in the third period, but had it not been for a comeback and win in overtime, 3-2, Thomas would have had a different mood about it following an optional practice Friday.

Thomas had a wide open cage staring at him, following a feed from Oskar Sundqvist, with 15:43 remaining in regulation and the Blues trailing 2-1 at the time.

The puck seemed to get caught up in his skates and stick at the same time and Thomas pushed the puck wide of the goal as play continued and he looked up momentarily as if to say, 'How did I miss that?'

"Yeah, I mean, it doesn't get much easier than that," Thomas said. "That was kind of the look on my face.

"[Sundqvist] could only put it through that lane to get it to me backdoor and kind of got stuck between my stick and my skate. It just kind of glanced off both of them and went through the crease."

The Blues would eventually tie it on Vince Dunn's goal with 1:44 remaining before Colton Parayko finished it at 3:23 of overtime.

"Some nights, it doesn't seem to go your way," Thomas said. "It is what it is. It would have stung a lot more if we would have lost the game, but since we won, it kind of makes it all fun and games.

"Sunny and Barby were giving it to me after the game about that one. I'm sure if we lost, it wouldn't be as jokingly as they did. It's all fun and games now."

* Up front Bobbo? -- On normal occasions, Blues defenseman Robert Bortuzzo won't be mistaken for who he is and what position he plays.

Thursday was the exception to the norm, as Bortuzzo was asked to work out of his element and comfort zone against the Islanders.

Bortuzzo only played 4:07 for the game, but he did so as a forward with the Blues going with 11 forwards and seven defensemen in the game,

Blues coach Craig Berube made one concession.

"I thought I should have used him more, and I didn't," Berube said. "That's my fault."

Bortuzzo finished the game with two shots on goal, a blocked shot and two hits in just seven shifts. He didn't play the third period with the Blues chasing the game.

"It was a different experience playing," Bortuzzo said. "I enjoyed it, it was fun, tried to do the right things. Got to play with some very intelligent forwards that made it easy in the few shifts that I had. 

"Yeah, (surprised) a little bit when I was asked. I had a feeling I'd be doing some penalty killing, defensively, which I did get out there for the one PK. We didn't take too many penalties, kept those down, but I would have been happy to do that at the same time. It was exciting. It would be hard-pressed to find any d-men that wouldn't be excited to try it for a game."

Berube inserted Bortuzzo for Sammy Blais (healthy scratch; more on that below) in hopes of adding Bortuzzo's physicality and work on the PK, but the Blues had to kill only two penalties and made player management a bit more tougher.

"It's not that bad to be honest with you," Berube said. "If there would have been more penalty kills, he would have been out there more. Also, if there's more special teams, he would have got out there more because guys on the power play on defense and penalty killing, he would have got some shifts on D but there wasn't, so the ice times were all manageable on the back end. He was fine up front. I thought he did some good things. I can always pop a winger or anybody down there and fill that role. They want more ice time. I can spread it out, which I did last night. I used a bunch of different guys with 'Sunny' and 'Barby,' whether somebody went in the middle of Thomas and took a shift or two in the middle, [Tyler] Bozak, different guys on the wings. Guys like it."

Bortuzzo conceeded that he's played forward "One shift maybe two years ago. Other than that, maybe summer ice." But all in all, he was willing to help any which way possible.

"I think they had an idea I knew what I was doing, knew which places to go," Bortuzzo said. "DIdn't get a chance to play any d-zone, which is always a good thing, but I felt like I would have been pretty comfortable down there. The bench was having a pretty good time with it. I was sucking wind there after I got that backhand shot on net. I think they all enjoyed that, as they tend to do any time I do something offensive. It was fun. I thoroughly enjoyed every shift.

"We're in all these meetings together as a group. When they're talking forward stuff, you're paying attention. I had a good idea of what to do out there. I was going out there with 'Barby' and 'Sunny,' they made it easy and then 'Bozie' and 'Steener,' some veteran guys who made it easy, put pucks in good places that allowed me to forecheck I tried to get some hits in. They did a nice job."

Bortuzzo said he's ready to step in again in whatever role is needed, but a defenseman by trade, probably best to utilize him in that role.

"Anything we can do that they think I can contribute with ... if two goalies go down, I'd happily jump in net if they needed that, EBUG situation or whatever," Bortuzzo said.

* Blais a healthy scratch -- Blais was on the ice as part of 11 skaters for an optional skate working to get back on the coach's good side.

With some mystery as to why Blais was held out of Thursday's game, Berube offered the insight.

"I want him to play better, yeah," Berube said of Blais. "He's got to play better and he's got to do things better. He's got to be structurally better. He needs to play better.

"When he first came back from the injury, these guys that come back after long layoffs, they have good energy  when they come back and they're excited to be back and it's rah rah rah, go go go. That wears off. It's worn off for him and he's got to just get his game back. What makes him a good player?"

Blais' ice time in the past four previous games he played went from 13:04 to 11:30 to 9:40 to 8:46.

Blais missed 28 games with a wrist injury and has 11 points (six goals, five assists) in 34 games. 

"For me, Sammy's got to be a straight-line player," Berube said. "He's got to get into the offensive zone and get the puck. That's his game. When he has the puck in the offensive zone, he's a dangerous player, moving in, hanging onto it, things like that. He's a good player that way, but when he doesn't have the puck, he's got to have more structure in his game."

* Scandella fitting in -- Not only is new Blues defenseman Marco Scandella fitting in and winning over droves of Blues fans, but he hasn't been a part of a loss since his arrival.

The Blues acquired Scandella the day they began their six-game winning streak and he's played in the past five games. 

Scandella, who has an assist and is a plus-6 in five games since arriving from Montreal, saw his minutes increase each game except for Thursday, and that's because it was a game the Blues were chasing throughout.

"He's in a shutdown role with Parayko," Berube said. "They go against one of the top lines on the other team. He's a big guy that closes plays out. His gaps have been really good, his stick's been really good, and we need him to be good on the penalty kill. With [Jay] Bouwmeester out, we needed a lefthander over there on the penalty kill."

Scandella's minutes per game have gone from 19:24 to 20:49 to 21:31 to 22:02 to 16:42. He's fit in as well as can be, probably even shocking the coaches as to how quickly he's fit in.

"You don't know that. When he got here, just his personality for me, it would be easy for him to fit in the locker room here," Berube said. "He's a real personable guy, outgoing, has a lot of energy and life to him, so that's a good thing. He takes it on the ice. He plays with energy out there and life. That's what's needed, so he fits in pretty well with our guys."

* Dunn' celly -- When Dunn scored against the Islanders Thursday, he dropped down to a knee and fed off the crowd with a double-fisted celebration pump.

It was Dunn's first goal in 19 games and came at an opportune time that lifted some of the burden of not scoring off his shoulders.

Dunn's last goal came Jan. 11 against the New York Rangers.

"I don’t usually do that but I was just hoping that we could win the game or at least hold on to the tie for the third period there. I just got a little excited," Dunn said. "I’ve had a lot of chances this year, they just haven’t gone in. That’s how it is sometimes. To see 'Faulker' [Justin Faulk] last game, it was kind of weird shot that goes in for him, and he’s had a lot of good chances too. Sometimes it’s not the Grade A chance that goes in. It’s one that maybe you don’t think is going to go in ... you’re just trying to get pucks on net. Everyone’s trying to score here, sometimes bounces just go your way."​

Six-game winning streak has found different avenues of victory for Blues

With Dallas coming to town Saturday, Blues used end of five-game 
winless streak to fuel current run with stretch run of games looming

ST. LOUIS -- Going back over the Blues' six-game winning streak, it's been a different chapter written in each of them.

There's been goalies standing on their heads before the Blues find a way in the end. There's been playing without a full deck and going into a building of a hot team and taking it to them. Then there's a not-so-complete game in which your goalie needs to be sharp, followed by a run-and-gun style of play before finally breaking through the wall of a team dead-set on allowing you to penetrate their barrier.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
The Blues celebrated their sixth straight win Thursday night over the New
York Islanders at Enterprise Center, 3-2 in overtime.

"That time when we were losing or not playing great stretch of hockey there, we started to find our game in Nashville and build and I think it’s really starting to show now and you have to find different ways to win hockey games," Blues center Brayden Schenn said. "You can’t win 2-1, 3-2 every night and some games are going to have to go to overtime, some are going to have to be high scoring games and I think we have the pieces in this locker room to kind of do whatever."

With the Blues (38-17-10) in search of 'Lucky 7' on Saturday against the Dallas Stars (37-21-6), circling back to the six-game winning streak has stories of their own.

Starting with a 3-0 home win against the New Jersey Devils on Feb. 18, which followed a season-long five-game winless streak (0-3-2) in which the Blues had already been building their game the right way, had it not been for the heroics of Devils goalie Louis Domingue, the Blues win away and hide with that result with relative ease. They outshot the Devils 39-17 and blitzed Domingue with quality scoring chance after another.

Then in a 1-0 win against the Arizona Coyotes on Feb. 20, it was a carbon copy of what t he Blues did to the Devils, only this time, Coyotes goalie Antti Raanta was even better than Domingue was. The Blues peppered and battered Raanta to the tune of a season-high 46 shots, and needed a Ryan O'Reilly goal on their 43rd shot to finally wrestle the victory. The Blues caught Arizona on the second of back-to-back and it showed, outshooting the Coyotes 46-14.

Then it got tricky, and dicey, as the Blues went into Dallas the following night for their second of back-to-back games to face a Stars team that was 5-0-1 going into the contest and ready to wrestle away first place in the Western Conference and Central Division away from the Blues, who played the game without Alex Pietrangelo (sick) and Tyler Bozak (lower body). But the Blues promptly spanked the Stars, 5-1, with a diminant display from start to finish, and Jake Allen was 3:33 away from the Blues' third straight shutout.

Last Sunday in Minnesota, it was more of a find-a-way-to-win kind of game, and Jordan Binnington supplied it with solid goaltending, and the Blues used their opportunistic offense to grab a 4-1 win.

Tuesday came with a label of run-and-gun, and with all the lead changes, being down despite dominating the first 10-15 minutes of the first period, a 6-5 win came in come-from-behind fashion in the third period to overcome some penalty kill deficiencies. Zach Sanford (two goals, one of which was the game-winner and one assist) along with Ryan O'Reilly, Brayden Schenn and Jaden Schwartz made sure it would be five straight.

And on Thursday, the Blues needed another comeback and overtime to slip past the resilient New York Islanders after a slow start, falling behind 2-0, then staying patient and fighting through New York's resistance, tying it late on a Vince Dunn goal and Colton Parayko winning it in overtime. After allowing 12 shots in the first period, the Blues allowed the Islanders five shots the final 45:25 of the game and outshot them 32-17 for the game.

"Yeah, a lot of different ways," Blues coach Craig Berube said. "Good hockey on the defensive side of things for us. Out of six games, we've probably held our opponents to 20 shots or under in four of them. That's good stuff by us defensively. We had the one shootout against Chicago. Again, a good effort by us defensively. We had to work for the goals and we got it done.

"... We've managed to keep shots under 20 in probably four of them. That's playing good defense, doing a good job in four of five of them. Chicago game was a little bit of a run-and-gun game, just back and forth. I thought the Minnesota game, 'Binner' was really good early. They had some good chances in that game. He made some big saves and we capitalized on a couple plays and got a couple goals. I didn't think we were very good in that first period against Minnesota."

The Blues entered Friday with a five-point lead on the Colorado Avalanche and six on the Stars, but the Avalanche (three games) and Stars (one) each gave games in hand, but by winning, the Blues force those opponents to win their games in hand. And in winning, they proved they can win in all facets.

"I think for the most part, we're back to our success where there's someone else is stepping up every night," Blues center Robert Thomas said. "The 'D' had the two big goals last night, the night before, it was 'O'Ry's line, 'Sanny' was good and every night it seems to be someone else. In Minnesota, it was 'Sunny' [Oskar Sundqvist], 'Barby' [Ivan Barbashev]. That's our key to success. Every night, someone else steps up and we get scoring from everyone.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Jordan Binnington (right) and Alex Pietrangelo (27) have been a big part for
the Blues, not only in a current six-game winning streak, but all season.

"We've got the desperation in our game. It comes in those third periods and we're finding ways to win, even though it's not our best game or it's not playing the style that we want to play. We're finding ways to win and it's very important around this time."

With 17 games remaining, the Blues need to keep the pedal to the metal if they want to win a division title and gain home ice. Not that they're incapable of winning on the road, like they showed in the playoffs last season, but with a 22-6-5 record at Enterprise Center this season, gaining home ice would certainly be an advantage.

Blues stick with plan, stay patient against resilient Islanders before pulling out 3-2 OT win

Falling behind 2-0 in lackluster first, St. Louis comes all way back, 
get late goal from Dunn, winner from Parayko to win sixth in a row

ST. LOUIS -- When you're the defending champs, when you're facing an opponent that is dead-set on locking a game down in a playoff-type setting, the notion is to just stick with it no matter how long it takes.

Sometimes patience is tough to hold onto in certain situations, but the Blues did just that against the New York Islanders on Thursday.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Brayden Schenn (10) celebrates with Colton Parayko, who scored in OT to
help the Blues defeat the New York Islanders on Thursday.

A first period that wasn't what the Blues were looking for, spotting the Islanders a two-goal lead, finding a way to win again was going to be tough sledding.

But the Blues got the big goal when needed from Vince Dunn late, then Colton Parayko wins it in overtime to help the Blues win their sixth in a row, 3-2 over the Islanders Thursday at Enterprise Center.

It was the kind of game one would see in the playoffs, but when it comes to the playoffs, who has been better than the Blues (38-17-10) in those situations?

The Blues won for the seventh time this season when trailing after two periods, and for the second straight game. They did it in run-and-gun style Tuesday against the Chicago Blackhawks, 6-5. On Thursday, the Islanders (35-20-8) were more that willing and glad to just lock it down, make zone entries for the Blues as difficult as possible, then chips pucks out and force them to continuously go back and retrieve them.

It's a frustrating way to play, but it's an effective way at times for teams to be successful, and it meant the Blues just had to stay with the plan and not deviate from what worked so well after a lackluster first period.

"They’re stingy defensively, they try and keep you to the outside, they play tight so we kind of knew that coming into this game," said Blues forward Brayden Schenn, whose first-period goal gave the Blues some life. "I think it took a little bit for us to wake up in that game.

"It almost seems boring at times. You have to keep grinding and chipping away and getting chances and eventually hopefully one goes in and that’s what happened tonight."

It did happen when Dunn stepped into a howitzer of a shot on a broken play with 1:44 remaining to tie it 2-2.

The Blues finally were able to penetrate the Islanders' fortress they had built. It was turning into the textbook kind of road game in a tough place: get a lead and batten down the hatches.

"Yeah, they play really well defensively," Parayko said of the Islanders. "They've got good d-men back there. Their forwards play hard. Yeah, they play a really strong defensive game and it's just tough to get behind them, tough to get pucks to the net. We kept pressing. We did a good job. It's tough to get players to the net and pucks there. Just try to stick with it for a full 60.

"That's kind of the style, I feel like. They play that way and it's a hard way to play against obviously, especially if they have the lead. We just wanted to continue to press and try to get our chances."

They finally got their chances, a lot of them.

The Blues played carelessly with the puck in the opening period, prompting coach Craig Berube to say postgame, "They were more into it than us in the first. That's the bottom line."

The Blues were not sharp passing the puck, they made mistakes with it, particularly the second goal that led to Jordan Eberle giving the Islanders a 2-0 lead at 16:34.

"We knew what we did in the first definitely wasn’t enough, wasn’t going to get us the win," Dunn said.

No it wasn't.

But when Schenn scored with 55 seconds left in the first, off a fortuitous bounce when the Islanders were trying to wrap the puck into the Blues zone that turned back the other way, and Ryan O'Reilly feeding Schenn for a one-timer to make it 2-1, that gave them some life in a period that could have easily been 2-, 3-0.

A Jean-Gabriel Pageau power-play goal at 8:20 came as a result of a Jaden Schwartz delay of game penalty.

"That goal at the end was huge and then we got a power play," Berube said. "We got a little momentum from that for sure."

From the second period on, or specifically, the game's final 45:25, the Blues held the Islanders to five shots on goal, or one every nine minutes.

"We didn't give them anything after that," Berube said. "It wasn't a clean game. Puck is bouncing a lot. There wasn't lot of clean plays by us either, but we checked and did the right things and didn't give them anything."

In this six-game winning streak, the Islanders are the fourth team the Blues held to fewer than 20 shots. New York finished with 17.

"That's how we've just kind of been playing lately," Parayko said. "Obviously maybe we can take away that Chicago game, but those previous four before that, we've been playing well defensively. I think that that's a lot of credit to a lot of success with our forwards, forwards tracking, the D being tight and obviously 'Binner' [Jordan Binnington] an Jake [Allen] playing real well."

But New York, fighting for playoff position in the Eastern Conference, made it awfully difficult for the Blues to get to the interior and see many Grade A chances on Thomas Greiss. 

But when Robert Thomas slid a puck on a wide open net early in the third period that would have tied it 2-2, the rest of the time on the clock had all the earmarks of opportunities missed by the Blues, particularly in the second period when they outshot the Islanders 10-1.

But ... patience. They had it, and it paid off.

"That’s exactly it," Schenn said. "They’ve got a lot of skill over there, they play tight defensively, that’s their style of play, we knew that coming in. Especially when they got up 2-1, they may have sat back even more and try to lock it down and did a good job of it and then we were able to get one by them and get it to OT and anything can happen there."

Dunn supplied the late-game theatrics when he took advantage of a broken play, and moments before that, from a puck that stood still on the blue line and was inches away from being offsides. 

It's a game of breaks, and when you're winning, those breaks go your way. But Dunn was aggressive on a pinch, wired one glove side on Greiss using Zach Sanford as a screen.

"I honestly didn’t know it went in until I saw everyone celebrating," said Dunn, who minutes earlier was whistled for interference. "It’s great for me, but it’s also great for the team. 

"We had different guys scoring goals, different guys getting put in different situations. It took everyone to win that game tonight, it wasn’t just one guy. We had some big moments, some big penalty kills."

In the overtime, the Blues found things equally as tough with the Islanders holding the puck for much of the extra session.

"I just feel like that's how overtime is," Parayko said. "Sometimes a team has it for a long time and they score or else a team has it and one turnover, one bounce leads to a goal. Just feel like in overtime 3-on-3, a lot of space out there, a lot of opportunistic players. But yeah, whenever you get the chance, try to finish it."

And Parayko finished it. He was able to get an errant Islanders pass, move ahead with it, looking for Schenn before his pass was deflected by Anthony Beauvillier. Parayko collected the puck, moved down the right side, burst past Beauvillier around Greiss' left side before curling the puck off the Islanders goalie's pad and in at 3:23 to win it and cap off a collective huge two points.

"I don't really get that close the net all the time," Parayko said. "I saw the opportunity I guess and just tried to wrap it.

"I think we had a little 2-on-1 and I tried to chip it by. They got a skate on it and kind of went in the corner. It's kind of man-on-man in 3-on-3. Their d-man, I thought he was going to come at me so I kind of held that front so I just thought it would be a good opportunity to wrap it."

The two points push the Blues' lead in the Central Division to five points on the Colorado Avalanche, who have three games in hand, and six on the Dallas Stars.

These points, when they looked bleak against a worthy opponent, could be the difference in the end at winning a division and losing it.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues defenseman Vince Dunn pumps his fists and celebrates his goal in the
third period that tied the game against the New York Islanders.

"Every win’s a big two points, no doubt about it," Schenn said. "Yes and no. I think we’ve got a lot of hockey left to be played. So we’ll see. There’s a lots of games throughout the year where you say that’s a huge two points and this could be one of them."

"It's one of the games for sure," Parayko said. "I don't know, it's tough to say pick one game in an 82-game season. There's so many different games where maybe we lost one in overtime where maybe we could have said we could have picked up that extra point. That's an extra point tonight. I just feel like there's so many games, so many dynamics, it's hard to pinpoint one point in the season winning and losing the Central Division."

Thursday, February 27, 2020

(2-27-20) Islanders-Blues Gameday Lineup

ST. LOUIS -- The Blues are in search of their sixth straight win when they host the New York Islanders today at 7 p.m. (FS-MW, ESPN 101.1-FM).

But if they do, they'll likely do so with 11 forwards and seven defensemen.

Blues coach Craig Berube said forward Sammy Blais (undisclosed) is a game-time decision but is unlikely to play tonight.

Blais took part in line rushes during the morning skate but was on the ice with Vladimir Tarasenko after the regular lineup was already in the locker room, and defenseman Robert Bortuzzo, a healthy scratch three of the past four games, would jump in as the seventh defenseman.

"I might," Berube said of the 11-7 formation, which would be the first time the Blues incorporated it this season. "I like 'Borts' on the penalty kill for sure and just want some physicality in there."

Blais played only 8 minutes 46 seconds against the Chicago Blackhawks on 10 shifts, five in the first, three in the second and just two in the third. He did take a puck off the hand right after the opening face-off Sunday in Minnesota but finished the game.

If there's an underlying injury, nothing has been disclosed.

- - -

The Blues have outscored their opponents 19-7 during their five-game winning streak, but it comes on the heels of a wild 6-5 win against the Blackhawks on Tuesday.

"Not the ideal game the way we want to play, giving up five and giving up leads and giving the other team leads," Blues captain Alex Pietrangelo said. "Sometimes you've just got to find a way to win. It's a long season. Sometimes things don't necessarily go the way you plan, but good teams find a way to win. 

"You want to be peaking at the right time. Even if you're in first place or you're trying to get into the playoffs, you want to be peaking at the right time. Last year we did that. Even though we're having success right now, we're still trying to build that game that can really help us win another [Stanley] Cup."

The Blues lost 3-2 to the Islanders in overtime way back on Oct. 14, a game in which the Blues blew a 2-0 lead in the final eight minutes.

"We look at recent games more," Berube said of scouting the Islanders, who are 2-0-1 their past three games after losing four in a row. "Not a lot has changed with the way they play. They're a very good defensive team, a structured hockey team. 

"We've got to get on the inside. The past three games we've played them, I think we've had the puck a lot, did a lot of good things, but we ended up losing, not get enough goals. The third period rolled around, we shot ourselves in the foot that last game and didn't play very well in the third." 

Pietrangelo said, "This is a good team. This is a playoff team. They play the right way, they play similar to the way we play. I think it's a really good test for us here, especially this time of the year, especially with the way we're playing. It's a good test playing against good teams to keep us honest."

- - -

Blues general manager Doug Armstrong didn't hide from the notion that they believe Tarasenko, who is regularly skating with the team now, affected the thinking heading into last Monday's trade deadline inactivity.

Tarasenko's salary cap hit, $7.5 million, would all but occupy what the Blues have available, but can't overlook the idea that perhaps management is pleased with the growth and development of young players like Zach Sanford, who had two goals and an assist -- including the game-winner -- Tuesday against the Blackhawks and recently had five goals in two games; Robert Thomas, who has five points (one goal, four assists) his past three games and Jordan Kyrou, who has three points (two goals, one assist) his past three games.

"I'm not in those rooms and hearing what they say," said Sanford, who has 15 goals on the season, fourth on the team. "Our younger guys have really been doing a good job lately of stepping up and contributing a lot more than we have earlier in the year or even last year. It could have helped (sway management's decision), it could have not, I don't know. I think this is such a tight group. I think the friendships we have here and how tight we are, how much we rely on each other, I think that plays a big part in it."

"Every game I feel like I get more comfortable and I gain more confidence," Kyrou said. "That just comes with competing hard and playing my game."

The production the young guys, including Blais, Ivan Barbashev and Oskar Sundqvist, all guys 25 and younger, continues to elevate and they're getting more prominent roles.

"In the summer you're building your lineup expecting these young guys to come in and contribute and they've done that," Pietrangelo said. "I don't think we're going to make a trade just to make a trade. We're going to do something that's going to make us better. I guess they didn't feel like there was anything coming in that was better than what we have the way they were playing. It would be tough to find somebody, especially with the chemistry that we have. It's not easy to take away from that because sometimes that chemistry is making all that work."

- - -

Islanders coach Barry Trotz knows his Blues well, having coached against a number of these players during his days in the Central Division with the Nashville Predators and always offers up positive thoughts when facing St. Louis.

"A real good hockey team. Stanley Cup champions," he said. "Very hard to play against. Four lines that'll grind you. They play the right way. They're physical. They're back is exceptional. Especially the right side with Pietrangelo, [Justin] Faulk, [Colton] Parayko. They all have missiles from the back end. They join the play really well. Real strong faceoff team (with) [Ryan] O'Reilly, [Brayden] Schenn, [Tyler] Bozak."

The Islanders have lost four in a row on the road and have been outscored 11-2.

- - -

* Forward Jaden Schwartz comes into tonight on a three-game point streak (one goal, four assists). 

* Blues goalie Jordan Binnington, who will start tonight, is 4-0-0 with a 1.51 goals-against average, a .936 save percentage and two shutouts his past four starts.

* For the second time this season, the Blues will be wearing their retro throwback jerseys from the 1990's. It's the second of three times they'll be wearing them, with one remaining game March 31 against the Detroit Red Wings. They wore them for the first time Nov. 21, a 5-0 win against the Calgary Flames.

- - -

The Blues' projected lineup:

Jaden Schwartz-Ryan O'Reilly-Brayden Schenn

Zach Sanford-Robert Thomas-David Perron

Alexander Steen-Oskar Sundqvist-Jordan Kyrou

Ivan Barbashev-Tyler Bozak

Carl Gunnarsson-Alex Pietrangelo

Marco Scandella-Colton Parayko

Vince Dunn-Justin Faulk

Robert Bortuzzo

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

Healthy scratches include Jacob de la Rose, Mackenzie MacEachern and Troy Brouwer. Vladimir Tarasenko (shoulder) and Jay Bouwmeester (cardiac episode) are out, and Sammy Blais (undisclosed) is likely out.

- - -

The Islanders' projected lineup:

Anders Lee-Mathew Barzal-Jordan Eberle

Anthony Beauvillier-Brock Nelson-Derick Brassard

Michael Dal Colle-Jean-Gabriel Pageau-Josh Bailey

Ross Johnston-Otto Koivula-Leo Komarov

Nick Leddy-Ryan Pulock

Devon Toews-Scott Mayfield

Noah Dobson-Johnny Boychuk

Thomas Greiss will start in goal; Semyon Varlamov will be the backup.

Healthy scratches include Matt Martin, Tom Kuhnhackl and Andrew Ladd. Andy Greene (undisclosed), Cal Clutterbuck (wrist), Casey Cizikas (leg) and Adam Pelech (Achilles) are out.

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Bouwmeester feeling "pretty good" in first public comments since cardiac episode

Blues defenseman's season is over, career undecided, in doubt; 
if career is over, it's been a terrific 17-year run for 36-year-old

ST. LOUIS -- Jay Bouwmeester walked up to a press conference table for the first time since a near-fatal cardiac episode and declared himself to be feeling "pretty good."
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues defenseman Jay Bouwmeester addressed the media on Wednesday for
the first time since experiencing a cardiac episode on Feb. 11.

There was some doubt on Feb. 11 in Anaheim, which should have been a normal game night for the 36-year-old, but since that night 15 days ago that nearly took his life had it not been for the heroic efforts by training staffs of both the Blues and Anaheim Ducks, doctors, paramedics, players, coaches and anyone else that saved the defenseman's life, Bouwmeester has had time to reflect on a life beyond hockey.

"I was out there (at the UC Irvine Medical Center) for five days, I got back, that’s all you want to do is be around your family and focus on them and make sure they’re doing OK," Bouwmeester said in his first public comments at Enterprise Center on Wednesday. "We’ll get to the point where she’ll (wife Devon) probably want to kick me out of the house but that’s why I can come down here so it’s good."

What is known, and to no surprise, is that Bouwmeester's season is done. He and general manager Doug Armstrong came to that understanding pretty quickly after Armstrong has spoken at length with Bouwmeester the past week or so and came to one conclusion.

"We both understand that he won't participate this year in the regular season or in the playoffs for us," Armstrong said. "We talked about longer term things that may or may not happen and both feel that it's February, 'You don't have to make long-term decisions at this point.' He's going to take time, getting back with his family and be around the team and he'll address those things as the summer progresses.

"It's obviously great to have him back home and back around our team. He's been at the arena the last few days, he's been at a couple games. It's a great presence on our locker room and it's just great to see him here again."

Bouwmeester experienced the episode and collapsed before he was revived with a defibrillator with 7:50 remaining in the first period that Feb. 11 night. The game was postponed and rescheduled for March 11 at Honda Center. It will follow the same 60-minute format of all regular-season games (including overtime/shootout as necessary) and begin with the score tied 1-1, as it was when the game was postponed.

Bouwmeester's season has been decided, but as for his future, well, no decision has been made and no rush to decide either. But he has a wife and three daughters, ages eight, five and two, that need a husband and father more than he needs hockey.

"There's been a lot going on," Bouwmeester said. "I think that's something I'm going to definitely have to evaluate, but to say I've done that, I wouldn't say fully yet. There's decisions I'm going to have to make. That'll come later."

In the meantime, Bouwmeester has been coming around the rink, visiting with teammates and, as Brayden Schenn said, "'Bouw' being 'Bouw.' 

"Yeah, you're not going to get much out of him. There's moments when you get chatty 'Bouw' but not very often. I think the presence that he has in this locker room and throughout the organization is incredible. To see his face, whether it be morning skates or practices, I think it's good to see.

"I think just him being around with his resume and the respect that he has in this locker room. When he's around, guys are listening. If he's talking, guys are listening. Everyone knows if he's here or not. I think just having JayBo here, it means a lot to us just to have him around."

Bouwmeester said he feels as normal as can be.

"I'm at the point right now where I feel pretty good," Bouwmeester said. "That's kind of the weird thing about this whole thing is you go from something that happened totally out of the blue and unexpected to being in a hospital for a couple days. There's some restrictions as to what I can do, but I feel pretty normal, so that's a good thing."

Bouwmeester had an implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD) procedure Feb. 14 to restore his heart's normal rhythm. The Blues placed him on long-term injured reserve Feb. 18, and he visited his teammates for the first time prior to their 3-0 win against the New Jersey Devils.

"From my standpoint, I just wanted to say thank you to Ray Barile and the training staffs of both our team and Anaheim and the doctors and all the paramedics and everybody who's helped me that night and up to this point," Bouwmeester said. "It was a scary thing, but everything has been going pretty good lately. I'll just continue to evaluate things as they go.

"The outreach and the support that people have shown has been pretty overwhelming. The actual where this took place and the people that were around at the time as well as my dad [Dan Bouwmeester] being there on the trip, there were a lot of things that were absolute base-case scenario."

Bouwmeester has nine points (one goal, eight assists) in 56 games this season. He had seven assists in 26 Stanley Cup Playoff games to help the Blues win the Cup for the first time in their 51-season history. 

He was traded to St. Louis by the Calgary Flames on April 1, 2013 and had 124 points (17 goals, 107 assists) in 490 regular-season games with the Blues.

Selected by the Florida Panthers in the first round (No. 3) of the 2002 NHL Draft, Bouwmeester has 424 points (88 goals, 336 assists) in 1,240 regular-season games with the Blues, Flames and Panthers and 13 assists in 75 playoff games.

Bouwmeester's resume is impeccable, and if it were to be written in finality on this day, he would be the envy of many current players and those aspiring to be NHL players, or hockey players in general. It includes a Stanley Cup with the Blues last season, a gold medal with Canada at the 2014 Winter Olympics, a two-time NHL All-Star (2006 and 2008), named to the 2002 NHL All-Rookie Team, played in the 2002 NHL YoungStars Game and part of the 2001 World Junior Championship All-Star team.

"He's been a very good player and fortunate to be involved in as many winning things, Olympics, World Championships, Stanley Cups, played a long time, but he deserves it all," Blues coach Craig Berube said of Bouwmeester. "He deserves it all. He was a real good pro, looked after himself extremely well, trains, does all the right things.

"... I think he's a big influence. Just out of the respect for his career and the person he is for sure. The guy's won everything and been involved in hockey a long time. He can add a lot of insight, not only to the players but to the coaches. We've talked to him too if he wants to come in and tell us what he's seeing, I'm all for it."

Schenn is a Stanley Cup champion and Bouwmeester's teammate since 2017 and said of Bouwmeester's resume that he'd take, "Even half of that. It's incredible. The way he plays the game, whether it's against top players for his whole career, blocking shots, playing hard minutes and then when you add on top of that what he's done with All-Star Games, winning the Stanley Cup last year, World Championship, Olympics, there's not many guys that are part of that triple gold club. Pretty good resume for 'Bouw.' We're just happy to have him around and being in St. Louis and being around the room. You really see what he brings around this locker room and just having guys being around him brings a lot of life to our room."
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues defenseman Jay Bouwmeester (right) defends against Jets forward
Patrik Laine earlier this season.

Bouwmeester will just take things day by day, and that will include coming around the guys and being as hands-on as allowed or feeling the need to. Anything else would just be speculative at this point. 

"It’s been good. We have a good, close group of guys," Bouwmeester said. "I think it’s helped me for sure, to come and see them. I think it’s helped a lot of those guys too to see me back to normal. For me, the incident, I know it happened, but I wasn’t there. There were other people that saw what happened and it was probably more traumatizing for them. I think when they see you up walking around it helps get things back to normal."

Blues go against grain, find way to win wild, wacky game over Blackhawks, 6-5

St. Louis, Chicago took page out of what hockey looked like in the 
80's, 90's, Sanford scores twice, helping Blues gain crucial two points

ST. LOUIS -- Sometimes, you just have to win a game like this.

It's not the way the Blues draw it up, but in a battle for points, the old saying is: a win is a win is a win.

And the Blues got one, their fifth in a row on Tuesday against their old nemesis.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues players (from left to right) Colton Parayko, Zach Sanford and Robert
Thomas celebrate Sanford's third-period goal in a 6-5 win over Chicago.

The Blues' 6-5 win against the Chicago Blackhawks, highlighted by a come-from-behind third period -- the second time this season the Blues have scored four third-period goals against the Hawks to win when trailing after two period -- was one of those subtle reminders of how hockey in the NHL was played back in the 1980's and 1990's.

It was back-and-forth, teams trading punches, open ice, power plays cashing in, goalies ... well, not liking a game like this much. That goes for Blues goalie Jordan Binnington and Blackhawks goalie Corey Crawford.

Everyone else? Depends on which side you're on.

Zach Sanford, coming into his own with each passing game, scored the tiebreaking power-play goal with 6 minutes 25 seconds to play to cap off the second Blues' four-goal third period against the Blackhawks in this building this season.

"It was definitely very offensive tonight," said Blues center Ryan O'Reilly, who had a goal and an assist.

"Those ones are always fun to be part of," said Sanford, who had two goals and an assist to give him 15 goals on the season.

They're fun if you win them, and the Blues (37-17-10) found a way to win a game in a style that goes against every which way they like to play and have success in the way they play.

When the Blues have success, they're tight-checking, puck-possessing, playing tight, working hard in all areas of the ice, getting the key goaltending and taking advantage of their offensive chances.

Well, on this night, the Blues' penalty kill, which came in 16-for-16, was porous. Binnington didn't get the kind of support necessary due to coverage breakdowns and mistakes, and this game had all the makings of dropping points against a nemesis that is hanging on by a thread in the Western Conference wild card and one that would like nothing more than to spoil a rival's chances of perhaps winning a division.

"We obviously showed good resiliency and were able top put the puck in the net at the right times, but we definitely want to be better defensively, especially on the PK too," O'Reilly said. "We didn't help 'Binner' enough and gave them too many good looks. That's not really our style, but I feel at the end of the day, we got two points and a big win for us."

Despite the wide open play of their game Tuesday, the Blues showed they could win a run-and-gun game. It's not a habit they want to get into, but with the amount of chances they created throughout, even when they got down 3-1, there was a sense they were never out of this.

A 3-0 deficit to Chicago (27-28-8) on Dec. 14 in the third period that resulted in a 4-3 Blues win should be proof positive enough.

"Yeah, that went through my head for sure," said Blues center Robert Thomas, who has a goal and two assists. "Even when we were down, I felt like we were taking it to them. They capitalized on some chances there. We knew if we stuck with it and kept on pushing that we’d have success."

Blues coach Craig Berube agreed.

"Yeah, we were getting a lot of chances," Berube said. "We had tremendous puck possession and we were doing a lot of good stuff. You look back to the last time they were in here, we were down 3-0 at one point and came back and won. Guys stuck with it, did a good job."

There never seems to be a time when the Blues are feeling like they're out of a game. There have been games when the score didn't indicate it, and there have been games where they simply didn't have it, but the demeanor is always that there's a chance.

"We gave them a lot that we should have given them and we let them be in that game," Sanford said. "I thought we should have dominated a lot more than we did. But definitely good to come out with two points.

"I think even in the second period, we were holding on to pucks a lot. We were doing a lot of good things in the O-zone and we turned over pucks, especially that O'Ry goal, Schwartzy [Jaden Schwartz] comes back, picks it off and we're going back the other way. It's a lot of those little things like that that are helping us win right now."

The Blues moved five points ahead of the Colorado Avalanche, who have three games in hand, in the standings, and Dallas stayed four points back with their 4-1 win at Carolina, so this win was imperative.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues forward Jaden Schwartz (17) looks to make a pass past the defending
stick of Blackhawks defenseman Olli Maatta on Tuesday.

It's going to be a race to the finish for the Western Conference top seed, and all signs points to whoever gets that will also win the Central. The Blues, Stars and Avalanche are in a three-team race even though Vegas has been coming on the Pacific Division.

"A lot of guys got in on the scoring, that’s always good," Thomas said. "Binner made a ton of big saves to keep us in that when they went up 3-1. All around, good game but need to tighten it up a little bit. We shouldn’t be allowing five goals and that’s on us players."

Brayden Schenn has a goal and an assist for the Blues, and David Perron had two assists. Justin Faulk, who scored the game-winner against the Hawks here on Dec. 14, scored a crucial tying goal in the third period to make it 5-5.

"Not every game's going to be 2-1 or 1-0 even though we'd like it to be," Sanford said. "I think that shows what kind of team we are, we can win any kind of game."