Friday, July 31, 2020

Blues didn't completely disregard exhibition loss to Blackhawks, hope to apply things for round robin

4-0 loss Wednesday yielded film session, things were applied to 
Friday practice; open next stage of games Sunday against tough Avalanche

The biggest takeaway for the Blues after playing their lone exhibition game before the Western Conference round-robin games begin: not much.

The Blues, who fell to the Chicago Blackhawks 4-0 on Wednesday, took the day off inside the bubble in Edmonton on Thursday before getting back on the practice ice Friday with one more skate Saturday in preparation for their round-robin opener against the Colorado Avalanche on Sunday (5:30 p.m.; FS-MW, ESPN 101.1-FM).
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues coach Craig Berube (top) said he didn't take a whole lot out of  
Wednesday's 4-0 exhibition loss to the Chicago Blackhawks. 

The Blues weren't the only round-robin squad to lay an egg. Boston, the top seed going in in the Eastern Conference, were overwhelmed by Columbus, 4-1; Dallas, the fourth-seeded in the West, was smothered by Nashville 2-0.

The teams that have to play in the best-of-5 qualifying rounds, which begin today, have more of a sense of urgency to get their respective games in order. 

"I don't take a whole lot out of that game," Blues coach Craig Berube said. 'It was a meaningless game, an exhibition game. I think it was just good to get guys out there playing a game. 

"There's a lot of areas where we're going to have to improve for sure and we worked on today. We watched video on that game, from that game, a little bit of video. There's a lot of areas that we have to improve on and get better. Our guys know that. They know what it's going to take to be successful in the playoffs. I think our guys, going back to last year, understand how hard you've got to play. To me, those are the biggest things. When you get into playoff hockey, it's about how hard you compete and how hard you play and how well you play as a team."

Under normal circumstances, a team may just take film from a 4-0 loss and toss it in the trash. Who could blame the Blues if they did so in this case? But since it was an exhibition and since there was nothing to gain or lose from it, why not take some things away and try to apply moving forward?

"We watched film," defenseman Robert Bortuzzo said. "Any chance we can take information in and learn from stuff, we're doing it. We looked at things we needed to tighten up, maybe take in some straight lines and cleaner routes, forechecking. You take what you address in video and roll it over into practice and we had a great practice day. I thought the intensity was high. We definitely took information and took what we needed. We have a veteran group that knows what it takes. It wasn't a game that looked like a Blues hockey game by any means, but we looked at the film and made some corrections."

Even though the round-robin games won't make or break the Blues, they are playing for seeding moving forward, and even though there's technically no home ice advantage to play for, there's the opportunity to build their game back to where it was pre-pandemic and to a level that won the Blues their first-ever Stanley Cup in 2019.

"It's important," Bortuzzo said. "Any game you go out and play, you're trying to win, but I'd say the biggest thing is getting your game right and where it needs to be. The seeding's important, but I think in any playoffs, the team that continues to get through it all is the team that's going to have the most success. We're just going to look to build and play the right way. We're obviously going to try and win every game and things usually work themselves out from there."

Goalie Jake Allen likes the Blues because of experience the close-knit this groups exhibits on a daily basis.

"It's a mentality for our group," Allen said. "We have a lot of experience and a lot of leadership. If you can get back to the little things that make our team successful for the next three games before the playoffs hit for our group, doing the right things the right way and trying to get better every game, I think leading into the playoffs, it's important to try to go out there and win these games. These games are meaningful games, they're important and we want to go into the playoffs on the right foot."

As far as practice Friday, Vladimir Tarasenko did not skate with what Berube called a maintenance day. Wednesday was Tarasenko's first game action since he dislocated his left shoulder Oct. 24 against the Los Angeles Kings; he had surgery five days later.

Also, forward Alexander Steen and defenseman Vince Dunn, who did not play in the game against the Blackhawks, were back at practice.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues defenseman Robert Bortuzzo (right) moves in to retrieve a puck as
Blackhawks forward Alex DeBrincat moves into defend Wednesday.

"Practice was fine. A lot of team stuff," Berube said. "It's important in the playoffs to get to playing well as a team. We did a lot of five-man units today, a little bit of controlled scrimmage stuff, but I just want to see us playing the five-man unit hockey right now, so we reallty focused on a lot of that stuff today.

"I don't think the first exhibition game was much of a test, to be honest with you (for Tarasenko), but going forward here in the round robin, he's going to really have to get after it, trust his shoulder and trust himself and really push himself so he's at a very high level when it's over and we're starting the playoff round. That's what I'd like to see him do. I haven't really sat down and talked to him about it, but I'm sure he's thinking the same thing."

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Blues fall 4-0 to Blackhawks in exhibition return to play

Team's first game since March 11 looks was a clunker; Blues say they 
just needed to play a game; Tarasenko returns for first time since October

Let's everyone take a deep breath and calm down.

It was only an exhibition game.

It meant nothing.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues goalie Jordan Binnington makes one of his 11 saves in two periods of
work on Wednesday in an exhibition loss to Chicago.

Yes, it's understood that the Blues played a hockey game for the first time since March 11, against an opponent other than themselves, and yes, it was against their archrivals, the Chicago Blackhawks.

And a 4-0 loss might not sit well on any other day, but this one, a tune-up for when the real games begin for the Blues on Sunday when they get -- for all intents and purposes -- three more tune-up games in the Western Conference Round-Robin to determine seeds 1-4 for the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, this one didn't matter one bit.

The Blackhawks, who needed to have more sense of urgency because they will have to play the Edmonton Oilers beginning Saturday in the qualifying round, showed more of a sense of urgency playing the Blues at Edmonton's Rogers Place, in front of empty stands of the West's bubble hub city due to COVID-19. 

Chicago, which was swept by the Blues in all four games during the regular season for the first time in this matchup's history, exhibited more jump, more life and more execution.

The Blues, who will play the Colorado Avalanche Sunday at 5:30 p.m., will have a couple days on Friday and Saturday to prep for meaningful games, and they wanted to escape injury in a game that meant nothing.

"I thought we did (have structure) in spurts," defenseman Alex Pietrangelo said. "That's why you play an exhibition game, right? You can't prep for a game unless you play a game. We play against each other, but that really doesn't do a whole lot. Obviously we're ot happy with the result. You still want to win the game, but something to work off of. Going into Sunday, we'll certainly feel a lot better structurally just to kind of get in it. The hardest part to prep for was the defensive game because playing against each other, you can't be quite as physical. I think we'll be alright on Sunday. It was just good to get that first one out of the way."

Center Ryan O'Reilly agreed.

"At times you could see (structure), but it just obviously wasn't enough," he said. "That happens with the first game. It's going to take a bit of time. It's a completely different situation for all of us to come in and nothing's going to be perfect right away, but there's lessons to take out of us. It's a good wake-up for us to go into Sunday. We know it's going to be tough.

"You can tell the puck was bouncing quite a bit. We weren't clean. When it's like that, you have to take care of it, not force turnovers. We had way too many turnovers, but it's an opportunity for us to sharpen up and realize it's going to be tough and we have to find a way to work though those nuances of the game."

Vladimir Tarasenko played his first hockey game since dislocating his left shoulder Oct. 24 and having surgery Oct. 29, so exactly nine months after surgery. He played 15:07 with seven shot attempts (four on goal) and two hits.

"For Vladi, it's extremely tough to go that long without playing competitive (hockey), missing so much," O'Reilly said. "I thought he did a great job. As the game went along, he made some great plays. With him, you know he's only going to get better and more comfortable. It's good to see him back out there. His presence on the ice is just a threat automatically."

Jordan Binnington played the first two periods and was sharp despite giving up two goals on only 13 shots. He was especially sharp in the first period, making seven saves.

"Binner was fine for me," Blues coach Craig Berube said. "He let a couple backdoor plays happen, which shouldn't have happened. He made some nice saves in the first period there. Binner looked sharp to me. I thought he played the puck extremely well tonight, got out on pucks and stopped them behind the net early on in the game, which was important."

Special teams didn't get the job done either, with the power play going 0-for-4 with only two shots on goal, while the penalty kill allowed two third-period goals.

"On the power play, we didn't shoot the puck enough and we didn't get it to the net enough," Berube said. "We had a couple chances, but not enough. And then on the (penalty kill), the one's a bad break and the other one we got caught coming into the zone and they're off an entry play we didn't cover the middle of the ice enough and they scored. There's some good things for sure on the PK and there were some good things on the power play, but we've got to get better."

The Blues mustered up just 21 shots on goal against a Chicago defense that surrendered a league-high 35 shots during the regular season. The Blues play a heavy, physical, puck-possessing game and in a game that meant nothing, it's difficult to sacrifice the body knowing there were no stakes.

"You could tell the way we create offense is putting the puck in and chasing it," O'Reilly said. "We weren't clean at the offensive blue line. Our timing was off. You could see we weren't tight and connected and we had to work so hard to get the puck back. That's something that comes. There's times that we did it and it looked good and we were able to generate a bit. In order to win, we have to be more consistent with it and keep building it. It's tough to forecheck, but we have to be smarter."
(St. Louis Blues photo)
The Blues' Robert Thomas (18) gets to a puck as Chicago
forward Patrick Kane moves in.

It's just the fact the Blues needed to play a game, any game, to sort of wade into competition and prepping themselves for when the games count. While it may have looked like they didn't care how the outcome came about Wednesday, they'll certainly care come Sunday. 

They better be against the high-flying Avalanche.

"It's just kind of getting into the groove of the game," Pietrangelo said. "There's no way to play a game and get your timing down unless you do this. Usually you play six or seven, right, to get ready for the season. It'll be important for us to get off on the right track in practice on Friday and Saturday to get ready for Sunday. My biggest thing was probably the puck movement, just the small plays that we probably could have made and we didn't have the confidence to make them, communication, all the things that come with playing the game and practicing."

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Blues ready to finally play a game, will face Blackhawks in exhibition Wednesday

Plan is to use both Binnington, Allen in goal; Dunn 
skates with second group, not likely to play in game

The Blues haven't played a game since March 11, and following two-plus weeks of training camp skating against one another, it's time to drop the puck against someone else.

That someone else will be the rivals from the North, the Chicago Blackhawks, in the lone exhibition game for both teams on Wednesday (5:30 p.m.; FS-MW Plus, NBCSN, ESPN 101.1-FM).
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Even though it's an exhibition game, tensions should be high when the Blues
and Blackhawks play on Wednesday at Rogers Place in Edmonton.

And in a game where both sides will want to get in as much as possible ahead of their respective games rolling into August (round-robin games for the Blues and a best-of-5 qualifying series against Edmonton for the Blackhawks), the Blues will utilize both Jordan Binnington and Jake Allen in goal for the game.

"The plan is to use both goalies," Blues coach Craig Berube said Tuesday afternoon from the J.W. Marriott Hotel in Edmonton via a Zoom conference call. "We'll see how it goes, but probably 'Binner' two periods and Jake one."

It's a good idea to utilize both guys considering there's a chance both will get some time -- or maybe not -- in the three-game round-robin series when the Blues will fight for seeds 1-4, beginning Sunday against the Colorado Avalanche, then the Vegas Golden Knights on Aug. 6 and Dallas Stars on Aug. 9.

"I'm not really sure what to expect, to be honest with you," Berube said regarding Wednesday's game. "What I hope to see is we play within our structure, we play the right way. I would like to see the pace up high, I would like to see intensity up. 

"We've got get ready to play and it's our only game before we play meaningful games starting August 2nd."

It should help raise the intensity level knowing the NHL scheduled rivalry games for the 24 teams who are playing just the one exhibition game.

"Obviously we know the rivalry we have with Chicago and obviously they're always intense games, they're always fun, but I think just in general, where we're at here, how we have to get prepared for these round-robin games, it's going to be a game no matter who we're going to play, it's going to be important for us to just learn from it, just do whatever we can to put our best foot forward and get ready for these round-robin games," defenseman Colton Parayko said. "They're important, and it's going to go into a lot of what we worked towards to get into the playoffs. It's definitely important no matter who we're playing, but obviously with it being Chicago, it's always fun to play against them and a good rivalry."

The Blues, under a normal training camp format, would get anywhere from 6-8 preseason games to work the kinks out and as Brayden Schenn said, "ease" into the regular season. But this is anything but simplistic. You get one game, and it's hit the ground running, or skating.

"The NHL did a good job to put the rivalries and make the games as intense as they can off the bat," Schenn said. "This is one game for us to get ready for our qualifying games, and it's not a lot of time. Usually you have eight or nine games, or seven or eight games of exhibition to ease into it, but you've got to use this game to get ready for the qualifier in the playoffs."

The Blues skated a full group again Tuesday according to Berube, including defenseman Vince Dunn and center Oskar Sundqvist, but Dunn, who missed most of training camp with a presumed COVID-19 positive test, skated a second straight day with the second group and isn't likely to play against the Blackhawks.

The Blues won all four matchups with Chicago this season, the first time in their history they've swept a regular-season series against the Blackhawks.

Monday, July 27, 2020

Dunn, Sundqvist return for Blues in Edmonton

Defenseman's been out since July 14 after presumably for testing positive for 
COVID-19; forward was injured in practice Friday; O'Reilly nominated for award

The Blues got some good news on Monday when forward Oskar Sundqvist and defenseman Vince Dunn returned to the practice ice in Edmonton.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues defenseman Vince Dunn (right) returned to practice on Monday. He
has not skated since July 14.

Sundqvist, who missed practice Saturday after leaving midway through practice Friday when he took a spill hard into the corner boards during a drill favoring his back. He needed some assistance to the bench and received some sort of treatment, or was stretching, behind the bench with head athletic trainer Ray Barile, and after taking a quick twirl on the ice, he departed and walked off under his own power.

But Sundqvist took part in practice Monday and skated with the main group. Dunn, who hasn't skated since July 14 presumably for testing positive for COVID-19, was part of a smaller second group and coach Craig Berube didn't know how long it would take him to get up to speed.

"That'll be up in the air to be honest with you," Berube said. "I really couldn't give you a timetable on that. He was out there today in the second group and I'm expecting him to be back Wednesday in the big group, but I'm not sure yet. That'll be up in the air, so we'll have to see how that goes.

"All 31 players were out there today. We had two groups, but most of them were in the first group and I thought practice was good."

The Blues will have one more day in Edmonton before taking on the Chicago Blackhawks in their lone exhibition game on Wednesday (5:30 p.m.; FS-MW Plus, NBCSN joined in progress, ESPN 101.1-FM) at Rogers Place.

They will then have Thursday-Saturday to put work in before facing the Colorado Avalanche on Sunday (5:30 p.m.; FS-MW, NBCSN, ESPN 101.1-FM) in their first Western Conference Round Robin matchup.

"I don't think it changes the mentality," forward Alexander Steen said. "It will be important for us to get up to speed as quickly as we can. Obviously for the seeding, there's importance for that as well. It doesn't really change our mindset. Our focus is obviously here in the beginning on ourselves for the most part, tweaking our game and things that we see in these practices and we'll obviously see a lot more when we get some competitive games here. That'll be the main focus, I think."

Bubble life has begun for the Blues, who arrived in Edmonton at roughly 11:30 p.m. St. Louis time.

"I think everyone's pretty comfortable," Steen said. "We're used to being around each other a lot. I think there's some things that are going to be a little bit different. Obviously with our fans in the stands and things like that, but I don't see once the puck drops, I think the competitiveness comes out of you and you just start focusing on what you do, and as far as the bubble and things like that is concerned. We've spent a lot of time in hotels. Especially to start here, I don't think it will be much different."

Also, Ryan O'Reilly was nominated for his third NHL award on Monday when he was announced as the Blues' nominees for the King Clancy Memorial Trophy, given to the player who best exemplifies leadership qualities on and off the ice and has made a noteworthy humanitarian contribution in his community.

O'Reilly is a finalist for the Lady Byng Trophy and Selke Trophy.

Saturday, July 25, 2020

Blues wrap up camp portion in St. Louis, leave for Edmonton Sunday

Team feels ready, accomplished a lot in two weeks here; 
31-man roster set for travel; Steen practices, Sundqvist does not

MARYLAND HEIGHTS, Mo. -- Ready or not, here they come.

After two weeks of training camp as part of the Phase 3 of the NHL Return to Play Plan, the Blues spent their Saturday afternoon and evening with family and loved ones one final time before embarking on a never-before-seen journey that will be the Stanley Cup Playoffs, to be played in two cities (Edmonton hosting the Western Conference and Toronto hosting the Eastern Conference), to determine a Stanley Cup champion in 2020.
The Blues wrapped up training camp 2.0 on Saturday and will leave for
Edmonton Sunday to try and defend their Stanley Cup.

And the Blues, unlike their magical and marathon run last season that culminated with the franchise's first Stanley Cup, will look to repeat as champions in the unlikeliest of ways in a 24-team tournament format that will likely never be done in such a manner again but is being played out as such because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

And after wrapping up another intense, yet fun-filled practice that was highlighted by mini games of 3-on-3 hockey, the Blues put in the necessary work here before jetting off to Edmonton on Sunday, getting in another couple practice days before facing the Chicago Blackhawks in an exhibition game Wednesday (5:30 p.m.; FS-MW-Plus, ESPN 101.1-FM) and then beginning the Western Conference Round-Robin against the Colorado Avalanche on Aug. 2 (5:30 p.m.; FS-MW, ESPN 101.1-FM).

"I thought we would have a little competition, but a little fun at the same time today," Blues coach Craig Berube said. "We need to get these guys out of here, get to the families and hang out with them before we leave. That 3-on-3 stuff is good, in zone there, timing, competition, you make quick plays, you've got to think quick. I think it was good to do.

"They're ready to get going, we need some games, right? I think we got some practice time up there in Edmonton too, so we're going to still work on things obviously. We've got to keep getting better, that's the way I look at it. We've got to work yet to do and get to another level."

Once the players get to Edmonton and away from their families, it's bubble life all the time as long as they're alive in the tournament. It could last a couple weeks, it could last a couple months. Regardless, they'll have to be well-prepared.

"There's going to be a lot of obstacles in this," goalie Jake Allen said. "There's going to be a lot of things that aren't the normal for us, but that's the times we're in right now and we have to embrace it. I think our group's really good at that. I got a lot of confidence in this group, a lot of optimism and it's going to be fun going to Edmonton here with them.

"... Things are different outside the arena obviously but when we're inside doing our normal things here at the rink, the mentality seems great and I'm looking forward to see that progress as time goes on. We get to spend a lot of time with other these next couple months. I think that's a good thing because of the way our group is structured, made up. We bond very well, are very tight-knit and I think hanging out at a hotel for a couple months is going to be a good thing for our team."

* NOTES -- Forward Alexander Steen, who missed the past three practices with an unknown ailment, was back on the practice ice Saturday.

"I think it was good that he got out here today and tomorrow he can have off again and be back on the ice Monday, but he felt pretty good so it was a good sign," Berube said.

Forward Oskar Sundqvist, who took a spill in practice Friday and left roughly midway through the practice, was not on the ice Saturday, and neither was defenseman Vince Dunn, who hasn't skated since July 14 and is presumed to have tested positive for COVID-19 and has been in quarantine. Dunn will travel with the team Sunday.

The Blues set their 31-man roster that will travel to Edmonton, and there are no surprises:

Ivan Barbashev, Sammy Blais, Tyler Bozak, Troy Brouwer, Jacob de la Rose, Klim Kostin, Jordan Kyrou, Mackenzie MacEachern, Ryan O'Reilly, David Perron, Austin Poganski, Zach Sanford, Brayden Schenn, Jaden Schwartz, Alexander Steen, Oskar Sundqvist, Vladimir Tarasenko, Robert Thomas

Robert Bortuzzo, Vince Dunn, Justin Faulk, Carl Gunnarsson, Niko Mikkola, Colton Parayko, Alex Pietrangelo, Derrick Pouliot, Marco Scandella, Jake Walman

Jake Allen, Jordan Binnington, Ville Husso

Goalie Joel Hofer and defenseman Tyler Tucker were left off the roster, as expected, but gained valuable experience with the big club these past two weeks.

"He'll be ready and he'll stay ready the best he can," Berube said of Hofer, who could get called into action should one of the three goalies not be able to participate. "That's all we can do with him.

"Get to know the players is important. You feel more comfortable when you come into camp and playing against NHL shooters here the whole camp. He did a tremendous job along with Tucker."

Friday, July 24, 2020

As practices remain intense, players' energy level is impressively high

Blues training camp comes to close Saturday before team departs for 
Edmonton Sunday; Sundqvist hurt; Dunn will accompany team to hub city

MARYLAND HEIGHTS, Mo. -- If it's been written here before, it'll be written here gain: practice for the Blues on Friday was done at a feverish pace.

The intensity was high, the energy level -- again -- was up there, and most importantly, guys were laughing and having fun doing things.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues defenseman Alex Pietrangelo (top) said the Blues have been working
on things long enough that their brains "are back into it."

The Blues can see the light at the end of the training camp tunnel, and for two weeks, coach Craig Berube has had players focus on working themselves into that playoff mindset before departing for the Western Conference hub city of Edmonton on Sunday.

"I think everybody's excited to get going here," Berube said. "We'll have one more day tomorrow and head out for Edmonton on Sunday. I really liked practice today. I thought it was our most competitive practice that we've had. Pace was really good. That's good to see. Hopefully we can keep ramping it up here.

"... I haven't seen energy drop, to be honest with you. Obviously there's certain players that have days where they're not as sharp or maybe not as much energy day to day, but overall, the team, it looks good. Their energy's good, their spirit's good and they're getting anxious to play some real games."

What's been as equally impressive is the energy level hasn't fallen off on any given day. The longer a hard training camp goes, it's only natural for some levels to fluctuate, but it doesn't seem like it with the Blues.

There really haven't been any low-level practices since Phase 3 of the NHL Return to Play Plan began on July 13, but the fact that the Blues have maintained a high level of energy throughout is impressive.

"You have to," center Brayden Schenn said. "We've been off for four months, guys have been looking forward to playing again. Obviously we knew once the CBA (collective bargaining agreement) was agreed upon, we knew we had a chance to try and win another Stanley Cup.

"I think towards the end of camp here, you realize it's close to playing real hockey games again, even exhibition games against other teams, you're ready to just start playing some games. I think you can feel the energy level come up here."

Berube and the coaches have done a good job of mixing things up, getting players to focus on other areas and not hammering away at the same concept day after day. 

"I think the last couple days when you scrimmage, you do power play, you're just trying to find ways to change up things too, you do a little 3-on-3, maybe a little competition just to change things up, but when you have two weeks of practice, there's only so many drills you can do, there's only so much skating you can do," defenseman Alex Pietrangelo said. "It's trying to keep each other interested too and try to change things up and work on different scenarios. I think we've been practicing long enough that the brain's kind of back into it, and now it's just kind of tweaking things and working on small systems stuff when we get into that first exhibition game, it feels as normal as possible."

After the Blues depart for Edmonton, they will be able to begin skating again on Monday and Tuesday before facing the Chicago Blackhawks in an exhibition game Wednesday at 5:30 p.m. Then the Western Conference Round-Robin kicks off a week from Sunday, Aug. 2, against the Colorado Avalanche at 5:30 p.m.

"As we get closer, I think every day, you feel like you're ramping up practice and kind of mentally too," defenseman Carl Gunnarsson said. "It's going to be a little bit fun getting things going again. I think right now, we're so close, we're just waiting for the next step here. We're kind of anxious to get going."

* NOTES -- Center Oskar Sundqvist became the first injury casualty during this training camp when he crashed into the boards roughly midway through Friday's practice.

The Blues were in a heated drill when Sundqvist appeared to perhaps collide with a teammate, Ivan Barbashev, and slam backside into the corner boards. He stayed on a knee before needing help to the bench from assistant coach Mike Van Ryn. 

Sundqvist stayed on the bench before head athletic trainer Ray Barile seemingly had Sundqvist behind the bench on the floor, perhaps stretching something out. Sundqvist would take a twirl on the ice, headed off and to the dressing room.

Per league policy, Berube had no update on Sundqvist's status.

Berube did say that defenseman Vince Dunn, who hasn't skated since July 14 and was absent for an eighth straight day in on-ice activities, will travel with the team to Edmonton Sunday.

Forward Alexander Steen missed his third straight practice, with what Berube called "rehab stuff" and called the veteran "day-to-day" on Wednesday.

Thursday, July 23, 2020


Scandella "found a home here right away" with Blues; Schwartz, 
Schenn, Tarasenko looking to get going; Kostin, Tucker getting valuable time

MARYLAND HEIGHTS, Mo. -- From the moment Marco Scandella put on a Blues jersey, it felt right.

That day came on Feb. 18, and less than a month later, the 30-year-old defenseman acquired from the Montreal Canadiens for a second-round pick in the 2020 NHL Draft and a conditional fourth-round pick in 2021 was leaving the potential for unrestricted free agency behind.

When Scandella signed a four-year, $13.1 million contract ($3.275 million average annual value), he was doing so with the thought that he could be sacrificing a bigger pay day on the open market.

Then again, it may not have been as such, so when the Blues acquired Scandella from the Canadiens because they were filling the void left by Jay Bouwmeester, who had a cardiac episode during the Blues' game at the Anaheim Ducks on Feb. 11 and was placed on long-term injured reserve, they made sure they secured him immediately.

And Scandella was thinking the same, because things couldn't have worked out any better for him being paired with Colton Parayko.

"I don't think so," Scandella said Thursday. "I feel like I found a home here right away when I got to St. Louis. I knew a bunch of guys in the locker room and as soon as I got here, I felt comfortable. I felt like this organization is a proud organization with a winning attitude. I think I fit in pretty well here. I'm just really happy I got the opportunity to sign a four-year deal, be here for the foreseeable future. I think we're going to have a lot of success. If you look at the team, it's build to win. At this stage of my career, I'm 30 years old, all I want to go is win. I'm putting myself in the best position. It's a winning culture, love the guys here, love the city of St. Louis, back in the Midwest, back in the Central Division. So many positives coming out of it."

Scandella had an assist in 11 regular-season games with the Blues but fit in so well paired with Parayko. It was his third team this season after starting it with the Buffalo Sabres before getting traded to his hometown in December.

"As soon as I got here, it felt like home. It felt right," Scandella said. "I was telling my mom back home, my friends at home and I was like, 'This is it. I don't want to leave St. Louis. I found a home here.' 

"I feel like the last couple years in Buffalo were a little bit difficult mentally too. I want to win. It's so much more fun to win and be a part of that culture, and I feel like we have it here. We practice hard every day. It's important and I feel like that's what drives me and to be a part of something like this is really special."

* Schwartz, Schenn, Tarasenko looking to get going -- As the Blues are on the cusp of concluding training camp 2.0, they continue to formulate their lines and roster accordingly.

It also includes making sure top players are in position to peak at the right time, including top forwards Vladimir Tarasenko, Brayden Schenn and Jaden Schwartz.

There have only been two actual scrimmages during this camp, but that trio has combined for one goal out of 19 scored in the two games.

Of course, the intensity is different playing against teammates, but if the Blues are going to repeat as Stanley Cup champions, they'll need this unit to set the tone.

"It's a little bit different," Schwartz said Thursday. "I think all of us need to get up to speed again with that long break, so it's just not Vladi. He's had a little bit of a longer break, but I think he looks good. He's strong on the puck like he always is. He's starting to make plays and see the ice just like us, getting used to having guys around us again and just kind of getting the timing going. The legs are feeling pretty good and I think everyone is just anxious to get going and get to Edmonton. Now that we have a schedule and there's been so much uncertainty, but now that we know what's going on, it gives you a little bit more excitement to get ready."

Tarasenko has not played in a game since Oct. 24, so it will be more than nine months since his last action against an opponent when Tarasenko dislocated his left shoulder against the Los Angeles Kings that required surgery Oct. 29.

"It's been a long time since they've played together with Vladi being out," Berube said. "They're moving it and working it, and I think they look good. I think they all have good jump right now. These guys, they're big-time players and they do big things in games."

* Camp Kostin -- Klim Kostin's game-winning goal in the scrimmage on Wednesday was an example of how the 2017 first-round pick will thrive in the NHL.

Drive the net, look for rebounds and hammer home a rebound using hat big 6-foot-3, 212-pound body.

Getting the call to be with the Blues during these unprecedented Stanley Cup Playoffs, even if the Penza, Russia native doesn't get to play in them, is another step in the development of someone the Blues have invested heavily in.

"Klim's an up and down winger, big guy. He's got to play a physical brand of hockey," Berube said. "He's got a good shot, use his size down low in the corners, getting to the net, make sure you're physical and make sure you're being a simple player for him, he'll find success a lot quicker if he just does that. He's got good speed. He's doing well. He's a young kid still. He started at a young age in the American Hockey League. That's not an easy league to play in when you're 18 years old. Klim's on the right path right now and he's just got to keep improving and keep working at his game."

Kostin, who scored in his fourth NHL game (Nov. 23 against Nashville), is in his third year in the organization after spending the past three seasons with San Antonio of the American Hockey League, and one of his teammates thinks this is an important time for the 21-year-old.

"It's a really big step for him this year and next year because I think it's time for him to make some moves and try to get on the roster," Blues forward Ivan Barbashev said. "He's been good. Vladi (Tarasenko) talks to him a lot, helps him out on the ice, off the ice. You can see that Klim is progressing."

Kostin had 30 points (13 goals, 17 assists) and was a plus-1 in 48 games with the Rampage this past season after 24 points (10 goals, 14 assists) and was a minus-28 in 66 games in 2018-19.

"Klim has been back for more than a week (before the start of camp) and we see him every day in the locker room," Barbashev said. "He played last year a couple games and he's growing."

* Tucker time -- Another player the Blues wanted to get here for this abbreviated camp was 20-year-old defenseman Tyler Tucker, who was their seventh round pick in 2018.

Tucker, who had 56 points (17 goals, 39 assists) in 55 games split between the Barrie Colts and Flint Firebirds of the Ontario Hockey League this past season, in a perfect world, could make the jump to the Blues' new AHL affiliate, the Springfield (Mass.) Thunderbirds next season but was likely destined for the ECHL before Tulsa jumped ship on the Blues and became affiliates with the Anaheim Ducks.

Regardless of where Tucker plays next season, and it won't be in the OHL, this gives him a great chance at seeing what NHL life looks like.

"Experience. He's going to be in camp here with us and get some experience," Berube said. "It's going to help him at training camp for next year for sure.

"He had a tremendous year this year in junior. I think that he's a solid defenseman, a big guy, plays a physical game, tough kid. He's the type of guy we like."

* Steen, Dunn still out -- Forward Alexander Steen and defenseman Vince Dunn were not on he ice for Thursday's practice again.

Steen missed his second day to what Berube Wednesday was "rehab stuff" and then on Thursday, said there was no change in his situation, which is as day to day. 

Dunn has been out since July 16 with what is speculated to be a positive test for COVID-19.

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

From scoring threat to NHL wrecking ball, Blais continues to ascend up ladder for Blues

Forward having quite the noticeable training camp, focusing on being 
well-rounded in hopes of helping St. Louis win back-to-back Stanley Cups

MARYLAND HEIGHTS, Mo. -- The Blues had just gone over 16 minutes without a shot on goal in the opposition's building in the most important game in their history in need of a jolt.

Whether it be a hit, a shot on goal, a goal actually, anything to provide a spark, it was needed badly.

Sammy Blais provided it with a thunderous check on Boston Bruins forward Noel Acciari along the boards that created a turnover and loose puck with 3 minutes 25 seconds left in the first period of Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Sammy Blais (9) skates with the puck with Florida's Jonathan Huberdeau
in pursuit during a Blues game March 10 at Enterprise Center.

Twelve seconds later, the puck was in the net, courtesy of a Ryan O'Reilly redirection to make it 1-0, and you know the rest, as the Blues celebrated their first Stanley Cup with a 4-1 win.

The goal was nice. It was needed, but what about the play that set it all up? The Blues' human wrecking ball has laid his hits wisely and made them timely.

Make no mistake, the hit laid by Blais on Acciari was, in fact, not a mistake. This is who the Montmagny, Quebec native has become in the NHL. This is what was needed from Blais to make his name in the league. But it wasn't always like that.

Coming from the junior ranks, specifically, the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, where offense rules and defense and playing a physical nature more or less takes a back seat, Blais was indeed a scoring wizard in Victoriaville but had to adjust to make a consistent living in the NHL.

It wasn't easy.

A sixth round pick in the 2014 NHL Draft, Blais changed his game to be more of a physical, forechecking forward that creates time and space for his teammates. The learning curve was challenging in the beginning, and the pipeline between St. Louis and San Antonio, Blais was the expert at it.

Fast forward to 2020, and judging by training camp 2.0 here at Centene Community Ice Center, Blais is forming into a well-rounded player again, focusing as much of his time on offense as he does on the physical part of his game.

He's been one of the more noticeable players in the first week and a half playing alongside Tyler Bozak and Robert Thomas and scored three times in a team scrimmage on Wednesday.

"I feel really good," Blais said. "I missed a lot of time last year. I kind of feel like I was last year at training camp. I feel confident out there and just playing with 'Tommer' and 'Bozie' in camp it's been really good. I think we have some good chemistry. I feel really good and I'm just trying to get ready for playoffs right now. It's going to be a tough ride there in Edmonton and I think the boys are ready there."

Blais was sprung out of a chute at training camp at the start of this 2019-20 season but had his season a bit derailed by a right wrist injury Nov. 19 that required surgery and forced the 23-year-old to miss 10 weeks; he started off with eight points (five goals, three assists) in 20 games before getting hurt and finished with 13 points (six goals, seven assists) in 40 games.

"I thought that at the beginning of camp this year too, I thought he was tremendous, one of our better players at camp this year," Blues coach Craig Berube said of Blais. "Had a great camp and he started off the season really well and he got hurt, so it was unfortunate, but he's back to that level again. He looks really good out there for me, competing. His hands look really good. He's a competitive guy."

Blais, who has 20 points (nine goals, 11 assists) in 83 NHL games over three seasons, isn't necessarily mistaking teammates for opponents in drills and scrimmages thus far but isn't holding back either; he had 155 hits this season, or 18.48 hits per 60 minutes, which ranked third in the league this season for players who played at least 40 games behind Vegas' Ryan Reaves (26.32) and New York Islanders' Matt Martin (25.32).

In fact, scouts from around the league have taken notice in Blais' ability to check to force turnovers and hits that lead to goals. He's been touted as the best on the Blues in both categories.

"A ton of skill as we see every day in practice and in the games," Bozak said. "A big body who's hard to move off the the puck and a guy who's a lot of fun to play with, creates a lot of plays from 1-on-1's, which is not an easy thing to do. He can beat a lot of defenders 1-on-1 and then make good plays after that. 

"We're still learning, us three, how to play as a line. I think that takes time. We haven't played a ton together in the past. We'll just keep trying to improve and get better and then when the games start meaning stuff, hopefully we'll be able to chip in and be a big part of this success."

Blais has 263 regular-season hits in the NHL spanning 83 games, and in at least 33 of those games, he had four or more hits, including six or more 11 times and a career-high nine Feb. 13 at Vegas.

"It's my teammates out there. I'm not going to run anybody over, a little bump here and there, trying to play my game and get ready for the playoffs," Blais said of his preparation. "I'm pretty sure when playoffs are going to start, I'm going to be playing my game and I'm going to try to be playing my physical game like I've been playing here."

But imagine Blais getting some of that scoring touch back he displayed in Victoriaville, and even Chicago and San Antonio of the American Hockey League? How well would that bode for an already deep lineup?

Blais isn't a stranger to potting goals; he had 34 in 61 games in 2014-15 with the Tigres and 33 in 63 games in 2014-15 with the Tigres and Charlottetown. Blais also scored 26 goals under Craig Berube in 2016-17 with the Wolves and 17 in with the Rampage in 2017-18.

"Blaiser's actually really good at getting pucks off the walls," Berube said. "He's got really good hands in tight. He's got a good shot. He's got the ability to beat a goalie with his shot. That line's looked good for me. I think they have pretty good chemistry. You've got Bozak out there. He does all the little things right for that line, protecting them, doing the right things, making sure he's in the right position and Tommer and Blaiser, they have the puck a lot and make a lot of plays."

It's seemed like everything Blais has touched in training camp has turned into good things. It was like that last season too when Blais made his playoff debut with the Blues facing elimination in the second round against Dallas. He stepped into Game 6, trailing the series 3-2, and scored the dagger goal in a 4-1 win in Dallas.

That offense has been put on the back burner a bit until Blais was able to get comfortable and familiarize himself with a more physical style in his 6-foot-2, 205-pound frame.

"Before I got hurt last year, I think I was playing my game offensively and with being physical, I had a really good start to the season and I got hurt," Blais said. "Right now, I'm feeling really good, I feel like I can help the team win and I'm just going to try and work hard every day and get ready for another long run."
(St. Louis Blues photo)
The Blues' Sammy Blais (left) chases Florida's Frank Vatrano during a game
March 11 at Enterprise Center.

Vladimir Tarasenko may have benefited most with the four-month layoff and healing from a dislocated left shoulder, but the hiatus may have helped Blais heal that wrist completely and add him to a mix of underrated potential scorers.

"It was not bothering me too much, but I was playing with something on my wrist and it was not that comfy," Blais said. "Now everything's fine. I'm 100 percent and just going to try and help team win another Stanley Cup.

"I feel pretty good. I was here two weeks before camp, so I had the chance to get some skating in and we're all just trying to get ready for playoffs right now. Every day is important and I think guys are looking good. I think we're going to be ready when the playoffs are going to start."

That two-year, $3 million contract Blais signed April 15 could prove to be a bargain for the Blues.

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

"My personal game wasn't all that good," Faulk motivated at second chance

Defenseman, acquired from Carolina in September, feels opportunity in 
playoffs can help him forget regular season that wasn't up to his standards

MARYLAND HEIGHTS, Mo. -- Justin Faulk wasn't going to shy away from the inevitable.

His first interview in a media scrum, well sort of, because it was done in Zoom format, was going to include questions about his first season with the Blues after spending his entire career with the Carolina Hurricanes, and by the 27-year-old's own admission, it wasn't good enough.

(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues defenseman Justin Faulk is anxious to get another shot at fixing a 
season he said where he "didn't play well at times" during the playoffs.
Faulk, acquired Sept. 24 from the Hurricanes along with a fifth-round pick in the 2020 NHL Draft for Joel Edmundson, prospect Dominik Bokk and a seventh-round pick in the 2021 NHL Draft, came to the Blues with expectations that he could be that offensive driving force that was his staple with the Hurricanes for eight seasons and help fortify a Blues defensive unit even more.

But for a variety of reasons, including moving to a new team already firmly set with a lineup that just won the Stanley Cup, along with a new system and new style that didn't bring forth immediately some of those loftier aspirations, things just didn't play out the way Faulk and even Blues fans had hoped.

"I just didn't play well at times," Faulk said Tuesday. "I'm not scared to admit that. It would (have been) nice to get a couple (more) goals. I've been in a situation where, or you see other guys in situations where just because you're scoring, it means you're playing well, and that's not always the case. I've been on that side where I've scored goals and also not played very well at the same time. I personally just think I didn't play all that well. I've got a nice chance to rebound here and finish up this season and keep going forward. Obviously I'm supposed to be doing this for a long time here, so we want it to be well."

If there is one player that appreciates the fact he gets a reprieve and a chance at redemption, it's Faulk, who finished with just 16 points (five goals, 11 assists) in 69 games this season, or just 0.23 points per game, the lowest average point total in any season. It's his lowest point total since his second year in 2012-13 when he had 15 points (five goals, 10 assists) in just 38 games.

Faulk, who returned to his home state of Minnesota immediately after the NHL pause and spent roughly four months up north, had plenty of time for reflection.

"I went to Minnesota pretty much right away and was there the whole time until things got rolling here. The gym opened up there sometime in June, the ice opened up, so it was pretty much the standard that I normally have in the summers that I can go and work out and skate in the same place and have the same access to the facilities. At that point, I was able to do that. The first couple months was a lot of sit on the couch, a lot of sit on the couch, a lot of fishing. Not much different than what everyone else was doing, just laying low."

When Faulk was acquired, the Blues wasted little time signing him to a seven-year, $45.5 million contract extension ($6.5 million average annual value); this season was the final of a six-year, $29 million contract ($4.833 million AAV) signed with Carolina March 24, 2014. 

The Blues signed him to make sure there was someone in place as security should captain Alex Pietrangelo move elsewhere when he becomes an unrestricted free agent at the conclusion of this season, but finding the right fit for Faulk seemed, at times, to be challenging.

With Pietrangelo and Colton Parayko as the top 1-2 right-handed defenseman on the team, how much more time could there be for Faulk, who was playing the right, then put on the left at times out of necessity. He started the season on the power play but with little to no production (one goal, two assists) on the man advantage, was phased down the ladder, and Faulk, who averaged 23 minutes 16 seconds of ice time with the Hurricanes for eight seasons, played a career-low 20:34 in his first season in St. Louis.

This is a guy that was used to getting top everything in Carolina.

"I think just getting used to how things work in a different situation," Faulk said of the adjustments to St. Louis. "I was in one place for eight years and I was kind of in a position to not necessarily dictate how things go, but have a say in stuff so you kind of walk into a new situation and you get a feel for the guys and how their life is in the room and how things work. Just getting used to that is probably the only thing. It's hockey, the guys are great. You walk in any room, there's always ... I would say 99 percent of the guys in this league are good dudes. They make it easy on guys all the time. That part was pretty easy.

"I don't know the exact stats on what the power play time was, but I would have assumed it was probably towards the lower end, but I had opportunities. I was on it at the beginning there for a while and just didn't perform or produce anything. When you have guys that can step in and produce and have filled that gap when someone's not playing up to par, that's a good thing to have and we have that. We have multiple guys that can play on the power play. That's what should happen if you're not playing well. Someone else should get a chance and step in and hopefully they play well when they get that opportunity. It's no different than the 5-on-5 game. I'll just attitude it to myself not playing that well."

Faulk, who is currently paired with Robert Bortuzzo during training camp while Vince Dunn (undisclosed) is not on the ice, has been paired with Pietrangelo, Dunn, Parayko, Jay Bouwmeester and Carl Gunnarsson at times. 

Different roles at different times at a moment's notice, all in an effort to find the right niche.

That's why coach Craig Berube said Faulk, who had 258 points (85 goals, 173 assists) in 559 career games with Carolina, will be important come playoff time.

"Huge piece," Berube said. "I think 'Faulker' has really come into his own on our team. He's a great team guy. He does what we ask of him, playing the left side at times, right side, power play, penalty kill. He's a huge piece for us, he's a real good defenseman. We're going to need big minutes out of him.

"Listen, when you come to another organization after you've been one for a long time, he was slotted a certain way in one organization, it's not easy a lot of times to come to a new organization and jump right in. We have a real good d-core here and he knew that coming in, but he's fit in nicely. I think his play has gotten better and better all year. Sure, he's not happy with his points and that'll improve for sure. His power play time will improve for sure, but when you have a team that's already set and you've got to a new guy coming in, it's not an easy situation. I think he's done a good job, I really do. He's a great team guy, he does what we ask of him and his play has improved as the season went along."

Faulk, who spent a lot of his pause time in Minnesota crappie and bass fishing, wasn't the type to mope or pout. He understands the situation he was dealt to and has made the most of things that weren't up to his standards as far as his play on the ice is concerned.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Justin Faulk (left) averaged just 20:34 time on ice per game this season, the
lowest of his nine-year career. 

Unless the Blues leave him exposed in the Seattle Expansion Draft and he gets selected, Faulk will get a plethora of time to get even more acclimated with St. Louis and the Blues. 

As for the immediate future, what better spot to get on a roll than in the playoffs trying to help the Blues defend the Stanley Cup?

"It was fun, a fun group," Faulk said of his first season. "Obviously the team's in a good spot, first in the conference and it doesn't really matter too much now as long as we're in the top four in this situation. It was fun, it was good to be here and I like it here. I've enjoyed my time. Personally obviously, my personal game wasn't all that good, but at least I get a good chance here to build off it a little bit going into the playoffs."