Saturday, February 22, 2020

No Pietrangelo, no Bozak, no problem for Blues in 5-1 win over Stars

Defending champs keep taking hits to key players, overcome losses with 
impressive responses, including one against team nipping at heels in standings

DALLAS -- Depth.

It's a simple word. One that gets used quite a bit in sports, especially in hockey.

The Blues in particular. They've touted it for years in the organization, more so in recent years.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
With Alex Pietrangelo missing from the blue line Friday, Colton Parayko
(55) stepped in and filled the void with a goal and two assists in the Blues'
5-1 win over Dallas at American Airlines Center.

Heading into a Central Division showdown with first place on the line against the Dallas Stars without your captain and one of your underrated forwards -- and already missing your top goal scorer -- isn't a recipe that sets up well.

But these resilient Blues, who recently came off a rough patch in their season, overcame the losses of Alex Pietrangelo and Tyler Bozak. And it's already been known how they've persevered without Vladimir Tarasenko and have overcome the sudden loss of Jay Bouwmeester, who nearly suffered a tragic fate right before their very eyes just over a week ago.

Pietrangelo was a late scratch against the Stars due to illness, Bozak has a lower-body injury that coach Craig Berube said will be reevaluated on Saturday.

A loss, you say? Say again. They not only went into Big D and whipped the Stars, 5-1, on Friday night at American Airlines Center, they emphatically announced that just because the Blues can be a wounded animal at times, it doesn't mean they can't come to the battle front unprepared and without weapons.

The Blues plugged Robert Bortuzzo and Mackenzie MacEachern into the lineup and continued their string of good play since last weekend since a home-and-home with Nashville.

And who better to exude confidence in the players than Berube, who before the game wasn't the least bit worried that his leading minutes muncher (Pietrangelo) and veteran leader who is underrated in many things he does (Bozak)?

"We've had guys out all year," Berube said. "Like our top scorer's been out all year. We just play, go play. Guys will fill in and do the job. I thought Bortuzzo did a great job tonight coming in, physical, did a great job, penalty killing. He was solid all-around."

Bortuzzo, who took a back seat again when the Blues acquired Marco Scandella on Tuesday to fill a void left by Bouwmeester. Bortuzzo stepped in with Pietrangelo out and played 18:19, the second-most ice time on the season (18:32 vs. Anaheim on Jan. 13), and Parayko stepped into the top-pair role and along with Scandella, who was terrific for a second straight game, was a beast. Parayko matched a career-high with three points (one goal, two assists) in the game and was a one-man wrecking crew every time he stepped onto the ice.

"I think we have a next man up mentality," Parayko said. "Whoever's in, just make sure that they step up and just kind of fill the void and play that role. We've done a good job all year of that, even since I first got here, but it's just a next up mentality. Everyone kind of knows where they fit in their role and if everyone's doing their job, then we're going to set ourselves up for success.

"... It's not easy to take up those kind of minutes. Petro plays a lot of minutes. He plays obviously special teams, he logs a lot of minutes, which is tough to kind of fill that void. Kind of like I mentioned earlier, it's kind of a group effort back there from all six of us, and I thought we did a really good job. We did a good job. We rolled pretty much six deep for the whole game and it's nice when you can do that."

Oskar Sundqvist, who is referred to as one of the engines that drives the Blues, moved up to fill Bozak's role while MacEachern filled the role of a fourth-line guy, as he typically does. Don't overthink things, just be a complementary piece and things will fall into place, which is what happened.

But that next man up mentality has driven the Blues (35-17-10) to great heights.

"It's opportunity," said goalie Jake Allen, who made 18 of 19 saves and was 3:33 from the Blues' third straight shutout. "It's all about opportunity in this league. You've got to make the most of your chance if you want to stay in it. I think a lot of young guys are taking that chance. [Jordan] Kyrou, [Sammy] Blais, [Robert] Thomas, [Zach] Sanford, they've been playing great the last three or four games. Credit goes to them. Opportunity doesn't arise for everyone in a perfect spot, but you never know when it's going to come and you've got to make the most of it. When they do that, that benefits our team from myself out. It's been great to see."

Kyrou took advantage with a highlight reel goal an assist in limited minutes (9:21), Thomas had two assists, including one on Kyrou's goal where his backcheck and trip of the puck of Stephen Johns to set up the play, and Blais and Sanford keep setting their marks. Oh, and Jaden Schwartz joined the 20-goal club with David Perron, who scored his first in 10 games and 24th of the season Friday, and Brayden Schenn (20) with a goal and assist and Ryan O'Reilly had two assists.

How many teams out there can overcome the losses to such key guys that the Blues have? Not many, but it just speaks serious volumes to how the organization has built up a cache of players that go beyond those that are here. It goes to those that can come up from the American Hockey League, those that are drafted and groomed and those that are brought in from outside the organization that buy into the team concept.

"I think the way that we've been structured over the last few years has been our consistent game and the way we approach the game and how we've played with everybody on the squad and everybody knows the importance of their individual effort for the group to succeed," said Blues veteran forward Alexander Steen, who opened the scoring Friday 5:48 into the game. "Nothing really changes when guys go out. Obviously you don't want to see that, but when they do, we try as best as we can to adjust and keep moving forward."

In other words, there's no pity party, there's no oh woe is me attitude. Just step it up, put thw work boots on, come together and get a job done.

It's what championship pedigree is made of.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Jordan Kyrou (right) had a goal and an assist to help offset key players
missing from the Blues' lineup in a 5-1 win over Jamie Benn (14) and the 

"It's a good win," Berube said. "We knew what was on the line. I didn't have to tell them, they just show up. They know."

Yes, the Blues do know. They knew perfectly well Dallas was nipping at their heels in not only the division but the conference, and disposed of them -- at least for one night -- by banding together. And they held an opponent to fewer than 20 shots for the third straight game.

"Obviously these are big games," said Parayko, who finished with 23:06 of ice time. "These are the fun ones. We kind of knew what was up for stake here. Obviously big game. They came into our building and beat us, so we wanted to make sure we got off to a good start and give ourselves a chance to win."

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