Monday, March 29, 2021

Blues may have hit rock bottom Sunday in 3-2 overtime loss to lowly Ducks

Team blows 2-0 lead to second-worst team in the league, gets 
swept in two-game set, loses seventh straight at home, fourth overall

ST. LOUIS -- Imagine being in a rut already thinking you were about to halt it for a moment, and then this, having to sit on this kind of a loss.

An abysmal loss against one of the worst teams in the NHL for the second straight game, and on home ice for that matter where the Blues have been beyond abysmal this season (4-8-4) losing for the seventh time in a row (0-5-2).
(St. Louis Blues/Scott Rovak)
Blues center Ryan O'Reilly (90) tries to skate away from Ducks forward
Rickard Rakell during action Sunday at Enterprise Center.

But this one speaks volumes, losing 3-2 in overtime to the Anaheim Ducks, the very same Ducks the Blues (16-13-6) slaughtered four times in Orange County earlier in the season.

They came into the weekend set with Anaheim (11-19-6) desperately needing points with the suddenly pesky Arizona Coyotes slowly clawing at their backs, pulling into a tie for the fourth and final playoff spot in the division on Saturday night.

But instead of skating away with four points and perhaps applying some pressure to those above you in the standings, the Blues came away with one, single, solitary point and now go into a week in which they don't play again until Friday when they open a back to back set against the red-hot Colorado Avalanche.

And they get to think about losing a two-goal lead to a team already looking into the future.
Not exactly a confidence booster for a team struggling mightily to score goals lately.

"Yeah, I definitely didn't expect us to be in this position," Blues captain Ryan O'Reilly said. "I know how good we can be and our personnel and how good it is. This happens. I think none of us expected it, but there's definitely growth to be had and we have to find a way out and the only way we're going to do this is together. If we don't, we obviously won't be where we want to, but it's challenging for every one of us, coaching staff, every player, our goaltending. We have to help each other out and it's frustrating right now."

Frustrating may be understating it at this point. If this isn't the low point of a challenging season, it would be hard-pressed to find another one.

The Blues have now scored 12 goals the past eight games. That's a whopping 1.5 per game. And if you take away the 5-2 win at San Jose March 20, that would be seven goals the past seven games, or one per game.

Not exactly brimming with confidence depositing the vulcanized rubber into the back of the net.

Just in the past three games alone, the Blues have made Cam Talbot (Minnesota), John Gibson (Anaheim) and on Sunday, Anthony Stolarz -- Anthony Stolarz? -- look like Vezina Trophy-winning netminders. They've fired 111 shots on goal the past three games, but a good majority of them have been right in the bread basket, or into the eyes of the opponents' respective logos.

"I think it's just the confidence in our scoring ability right now," said O'Reilly, who along with Vladimir Tarasenko scored goals on Sunday. "We're just not scoring enough. Even I felt today some of these passes I gave guys were just on edge. Usually I can get that flat to a guy, give him time where he doesn't have to settle it and he can shoot it right away. It's just little things like that that are kind of not giving us the best chance to score. It's frustrating because we worked hard to get the puck back, put ourselves in a good scoring area and puck's not going in. It's just frustrating for all of us."

On Sunday, the Blues faced a goalie who hasn't won in the NHL in over two years and got off to a solid start when O'Reilly scored off a turnover -- one he created -- 2:27 into the game, and then Tarasenko's power-play goal at 15:59 made it 2-0.

They could go into an extended pause in their schedule with a good feeling, one in which could perhaps instill some confidence and have the team feeling good about itself going into the gauntlet portion of the schedule.

So much for that.

They allowed the Ducks to crawl back into the game with a goal in the second by Cam Fowler after a lost offensive zone face-off by Robert Thomas -- after Brayden Schenn was kicked out of the circle -- followed by Torey Krug not being able to win a puck battle along the center ice wall to create an odd-man rush, and then the second and tying goal by the Ducks' Adam Henrique was a comedy of errors.

The Blues, despite 40 shots in the game, had a particular shift in the offensive zone that saw them pass up at least three or four chances to shoot pucks, but instead, made the extra pass (where have we heard that one before). The last one which Niko MIkkola tried to pass to Jordan Kyrou on the right point never had a chance after Kyrou fell, then Mikkola failed to win a pair of wall battles that allowed the puck to get into the defensive zone, and Robert Bortuzzo, instead of taking the man, he seemed to try and stick-check Henrique off the puck but instead fell down, and Henrique lifted a backhand over Jordan Binnington's glove.

"The tying goal against, we had opportunities twice to probably take the body on the guy and we didn't and my opinion, it's just not a good goal," Blues coach Craig Berube said. "... A 2-0 lead is a 2-0 lead. We got off to a good start for sure with a couple goals. Listen, I thought we played a pretty solid game all around. Put 40 shots on net again, good opportunities, I thought we did a good job of being at the net tonight. We didn't score enough goals. That's the bottom line, but I think that second goal has got to be defended. Maybe we win the game 2-1. 

"Right now a mistake is going in too much into our net and it's hard to play mistake-free hockey. Now, the mental mistakes are one thing, but it's hard to play mistake-free hockey from a physical standpoint. Teams are going to get chances and you're going to make mistakes. We definitely obviously have to generate more goals. Trying to win 2-1 every day is tough."
Instead of applying the killer instinct, the Blues reverted back to recent form, which hasn't been good.

"I think the big thing is we just kind of let them hang around," O'Reilly said. "I think we had a good first and kind of thought we had it going and we just took our foot off the gas a little bit and we let them hang around in the game. Eventually they get a break and put us on our heels. We just lost the urgency for a bit and the desperation. We should have been up a couple more goals or a goal even and make it a little tougher on them. We let them hang around."

The Blues shouldn't have had to try and win that game 2-1. They did drive the net more against Stolarz, who allowed some leaky and loose pucks to be had in the early going, but the Blues just simply don't have anyone that can consistently put the puck in the net for them.

And making things even more of a challenge, Berube scratched $4 million signee Mike Hoffman on Sunday.

"I just want more out of him," Berube said. "I made a decision to not play him, I want more out of him. That's basically what it boils down to.

"... I need more effort and competitiveness from him. He hasn't scored in 10 games (five actually). Basically that."

But this didn't make it any easier for the Blues when they literally made Stolarz look like he was former Ducks Stanley-Cup winning J-S Giguere.

"We have to (play hockey) for 60 minutes," Tarasenko said. "It’s not one or two guys. Every one of us has to find out how to play all 60. Not only win the games but outplay the other team, especially at home."

The overtime session, well, was something rarely seen. 

When Josh Manson, yeah, that Josh Manson, who hadn't scored in 32 games, was able to take a pass from Stolarz on his side of the red line, get to the right edge, around Brayden Schenn and cut to the inside before lifting a backhand over a seemingly bewildered Binnington for the game-winner, it capped off 1:42 of 100 percent puck possession by the Ducks.

Yeah, the Blues never possessed the puck for one iota in the extra session, capping off the downward spiral from a two-goal lead.

And about this home thing. Can we just call this seriously bad?

The Blues are minus-15 in goal differential on home ice. 

Minus-15 in a building that's slowly adding fans to it but having little to no affect.

"There is no excuses," Tarasenko said. "We have to fix the home games. We lose a lot of home games, which is unacceptable. I don't see the reason to find the reasons or excuses for you guys. It's on us and this is unacceptable."

By the time they take the ice again Friday in Denver, the Blues could easily be on the outside looking in, a place they haven't been all season, and it could get daunting trying to get back into the top four with Colorado (six times), Vegas (four times) and Minnesota (six times) left of the remaining 21 games.

"Oh yeah, we know how tight it's going to be," O'Reilly said. "Every point matters right now and we desperately needed that extra one, but yeah, we have to put this behind us and take this little break we have, get rested. It's not getting any easier. We have Colorado next. These are big games, big games for us and big points. We've got to get our rest and shift our focus to them and we've got to take it one at a time. It's going to be a tough, tight race. I believe we can do it.

"It's important to get our rest here. We don't get these breaks often and we have to take advantage of it. We haven't been home much. That would be nice to see families and get away from the game and just kind of get that recharged. Not only physically but mentally too just to kind of get away and maybe not be at the rink as much. It's a good reset for us. We know how tough this playoff hunt's going to be, so it's a good opportunity to completely reset for us."

"Everybody’s schedule is hard," Tarasenko said. "It’s nice to have some days off. We’re going to have a really tough opponent next game. It’s a big game for us. Yeah, it’s always nice to have a day off. It’s time to recharge the batteries and get prepared because next games will be even harder. Nobody says it’s going to be easy. It’s on us, how we handle our days off and how we prepare. I think we will do well next game."
(St. Louis Blues/Scott Rovak)
Blues defenseman Justin Faulk (72) looks to win the puck from Ducks
forward Max Jones during action Sunday afternoon at Enterprise Center. 

The Blues will take two days away from the rink before resuming Wednesday. Maybe they need it, maybe they don't, but when they come back, they better be ready, or this downward spiral could spin out of control.

Using injuries anymore, albeit a couple key guys remain out, is out the window. That excuse is gone. Twenty-one games remain and it's time to buck up after this mini break. 

"​Rest is one thing. And then, approach, we're going to practice and have good practices and work on some stuff," Berube said. "That's how we're going to approach it. I think our guys need to get away here for a day or two to clear their heads a little bit and I think that'll be good for them, not to constantly be thinking about hockey. They've been on the road a lot and played a lot of games. I think it's good that they can get away for a couple days and clear their heads a little bit and come back with some energy and we need to have good practices and work on some things, work on the power play. We know we've got to score more goals, we all know that, but like I said, I think we're generating good chances but you've got to finish, we've got to finish better, so we'll get after that this week."

Saturday, March 27, 2021

Blues not getting enough from their top-end players

Those paid to produce have seen the well run dry during latest 
2-5-0 slide, including a 4-1 loss to the Anaheim Ducks on Friday

ST. LOUIS -- The Blues returned home Friday  to begin what amounts to two-third of the remainder of their season playing on home ice.

It's supposed to be the place that teams rely on as the upper hand against an opponent, especially one considered inferior and when you're supposed to be grabbing points and solidifying a playoff position.
(St. Louis Blues/Scott Rovak)
Blues forward Mike Hoffman (68) moves the puck while being pursued by
Ducks defenseman Ben Hutton Friday at Enterprise Center.

But instead, what we got on was another concerning result, a 4-1 loss to the lowly Anaheim Ducks to drop the Blues to 0-5-1 in their past six home games and 4-8-3 on the season.

Yes, injuries have marred this team throughout the season, but that excuse and the window it sits in is closing, if not closed altogether.

Sure, some key pieces (Colton Parayko, Oskar Sundqvist, among others) are still out of the lineup, but Vladimir Taraseko has returned and been in 10 games now, Jaden Schwartz has returned, Robert Thomas is back in the lineup, Tyler Bozak, although he returned but sat out the past three before returning again Friday, is back in the fold. 

You get the point here?

All of the sudden, the Blues are just two points in front of Arizona, which won 5-2 against San Jose Friday, that's now nipping at their heels.

This is serious business, and a playoff position isn't guaranteed anymore, and when one thing goes wrong for the Blues (16-13-5), then tend to fix it before something else falls off the rails.

Lately, it's been putting the puck in the net.

In just their past seven games, the Blues are 2-5-0, so four of a possible 14 points. And they've scored 10 goals in those seven games, five came in one game. One was shorthanded, another was on the power play, one was an empty-netter and the only goal scored Friday came on a delayed penalty playing 6-on-5.

That's it.

And those goals have come from Sammy Blais, whose been a healthy scratch two of the past three games, Mike Hoffman, Bozak (shorthanded), Vince Dunn (two), Jordan Kyrou (two), Ryan O'Reilly (one on the power play and Friday's 6-on-5 goal) and a David Perron empty-netter.

The Blues have a lot of money on the ice paid to produce, and as the games are getting into crunch time, it's time for the team to get the bang for these players' buck.

"There’s only a couple guys putting it in the back of the net," center Brayden Schenn said. "I’ve gone dry. Got to do a better job personally and help our team produce. I’ve been put in a situation to succeed offensively, and I've got to get back to doing that.

"So I won’t talk about other guys, I’ll talk about myself."

This is who Schenn is, and anyone that questions which side of the jersey he plays for is sadly mistaken, but he makes a valid point. He's paid to produce and right now, the well has gone dry.​

It's hard to pick at Perron and O'Reilly, who have 33 and 34 points, respectively, on the season and are near a point per game, but they will get lumped in with the ineffectiveness of the past seven games in particular.

Of the Blues' top paid players, which includes Tarasenko and O'Reilly each with a $7.5 million cap hit, Schenn at $6.5 million, Schwartz at $5.35 million, Bozak at $5 million, Hoffman and Perron each at $4 million, Justin Faulk and Krug each at $6.5 million, that's $52.85 million in cap space that's produced 18 points (five goals, 13 assists) in that stretch, and 10 of those points came in one game.

It's not as if they're not getting opportunities. Tarasenko, for example, put up six more shots on goal Friday after having seven on Thursday in a 2-0 loss to the Minnesota Wild, and Perron had nine shots and 15 attempts against the Wild, and another three shots on goal Friday.

"It’s not from the lack of trying, or a lack of effort," Schenn said. "When things aren’t going your way offensively, the shots are there but I don’t think we have enough high-quality shots or second chances, and getting guys and pucks to the net at the right time.

"It’s a pretty cliché’ answer of getting guys to the net but usually when that happens, good things do happen. You get a bounce here or two. At times we’re doing it definitely but probably not enough."

That seems to be the biggest problem, which has reared its ugly head these past two games. The netfront presence, and it's been an ongoing issue throughout the season.

First, the Blues made Cam Talbot look good on Thursday by pumping 37 shots at him but how many were really high-danger chances? They were credited with 10 in the game, but with 37 shots and only a goal expectancy of 2.65, one would think that number would be higher. And on Friday, threw 34 more shots on goal at Anaheim's John Gibson but had a goal expectancy of of just 2.36 with 11 high-danger chances according to

"I brought it up the other night, it's traffic. We need more traffic," Blues coach Craig Berube said. "We need to go to the net harder. You've got to make it more difficult on the goalie than we are right now. We're getting good quality, lots of quality, but it's two nights in a row where the goalie out-competed us. That's kind of how I look at it."

And should be looked at it that way, because either the Blues aren't taking the necessary steps to pay the price to score or the opponent simply puts a well-designed game plan together to box them out.

"Well, I think we have to earn our ice out there," Krug said. "It's no secret, a lot of the goals in this league are scored around the crease, and six inches around that crease goes a long way. We've just got to bear down and commit to scoring. You've got to go to the net with a purpose, and you know that it's going to hurt. It hurts to score goals in this league. It hurts to win. We need a little bit more.

"... You're not going to beat a goaltender clean in this league, so we don't have much traffic there. It's pretty clear the last two games. Yeah, we may have outplayed the other team in zone time and held onto the puck on the perimeter, but these goalies are making easy saves. It's not hard on them. We've got to make life more difficult on -- not only other teams' defense -- but their goalies as well. It's just too easy for them. The goalies are too good now."

Berube continues to hammer this message away, and yet it's not translating on the ice. What else can he do at this point?

"Keep telling them, show them," he said. "Put guys in that will go to the net."

Aha! Now we may have found something. 

When a player has his pride hurt and ice time taken away, most of the time it tends to strike a nerve, and in this case, it should.

"Bear down. You've got to have the will and want to be a game-changer and want to help the team," Krug said. "Like I said earlier, it hurts (to go to the hard areas). If you don't want to pay the price, then we're not going to win. You're going to be on the outside looking in, so we've got to bear down."
(St. Louis Blues/Scott Rovak)
Blues left wing Jaden Schwartz (17) has just two assists in five games since
returning to the lineup from an upper-body injury.

In this last stretch, Hoffman has one goal; Tarasenko -- no goals, two assists; Krug has two assists but has just one power-play goal in 34 games this season; Perron has no goals other than an empty-netter, Faulk has one assist, and Schwartz -- no goals, two assists.

There's got to be more from the players paid to provide it, but right now, they're gripping their sticks so tight.

"They're cliches because they're true. When you're feeling the pressure, you're not scoring goals," Krug said. "You grip the stick a little tighter. We've got to do our best to come out of this as a group. We can't put that pressure on any individual player. I know guys want to be that guy and step up and be the guy that changes the game for the team. But we've just got to do it together, come out of this thing together. That's the only way it's going to happen."

Even the late, great Bobby Plager, who was honored before the game after the Original Blue passed away Wednesday afternoon, would expect better -- and more.

Friday, March 26, 2021

Blues come up empty in bid to win for Plager in 2-0 loss to Wild

Team pumps 37 shots on Cam Talbot, 
can't solve Wild goalie to end trip 2-3-0

They wanted to do it for Bobby.

Unfortunately, Cam had other ideas.

Cam Talbot, that is.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues right wing David Perron (57) fends off the Wild's Nico Sturm during
action Thursday at Xcel Energy Center. Perron had nine of the Blues' 37
shots on goal on a 2-0 loss. 

The Minnesota Wild netminder swallowed each and every one of the 37 shots the Blues threw his way, and with Brayden Schenn trying to set the tone from the opening puck drop in the only manner Bob Plager would have done, or wanted, it wasn't enough to overcome Talbot and the Wild, who were opportunistic with each of their 11 shots on goal in a 2-0 win over the Blues Thursday at Xcel Energy Center.

The Blues (16-12-5), who return to action Friday at 7 p.m. in the first of two games against the Anaheim Ducks, concluded their five-game road trip 2-3-0, leaving them with just eight games away from Enterprise Center the rest of the regular season.

But the story Thursday was the Blues' inability to solve Talbot, who was playing the second of back-to-back games and was needed from start to finish.

The Blues were playing for the first time just 24 hours after learning of the death of Plager, who died in a car accident Wednesday. He was Mr. Blue and the loss has hit many of the players, coaches and those in the organization hard. But this was hardly a lack of effort as much it was executing in the offensive zone and not being able -- as former coach Ken Hitchcock used to say -- outwork the other goalie.

"He made some big stops at big times," Blues captain Ryan O'Reilly said of Talbot. "We had some good looks, but we need to be harder on him, maybe have some better screens and such, but got to find a way to put it in the net.

"It's frustrating. We did a lot of things well. We supported each other a lot better tonight and to not get a result, it's frustrating. I'm frustrated. As a guy that sees a big situation tonght, I've got to find a way to create better looks offensively. I made some ugly hockey plays that isn't very high end. If I can do that, I think that filters out and can hopefully spark something and eventually roll there, but in general I thought as a team we were better together and we have a unique opportunity to get back at it tomorrow and throw two efforts together."

According to, the Blues finished with 27-12 edge in scoring chances, 10-3 in high danger scoring chances, which is pretty good for a game and usually spells victory.
The biggest problem was Talbot, for the majority of the night, was able to see pucks, swallow them up and not allow second and third opportunities.

"Not enough," Blues coach Craig Berube said. "There were some, but I guess the one area, maybe we could shoot the puck a bit better than we did, but there were a ton of real good chances. We just weren't real clean with it a lot of times. If you give Vladi and Perron that many shots that they got tonight and that many chances on a normal night, they're probably going to score a couple.

"... I thought it was a solid hockey game by our team. We only give up 11 shots, had 30-something shots. That happens sometimes. The goalie played well down there. You play like that, you're going to win a lot of hockey games in my opinion. I thought our team was really committed tonight. Work ethic was excellent."

The work ethic and effort was never in question, and that was obvious when center Brayden Schenn fought the Wild's Ryan Hartman one second into the game.

It would have made Plager proud.

"What led to it? I guess me just trying to get our team going," Schenn said. "Obviously not happy with the way the road trip's going and we've got to play harder. Sometimes trying to spark guys really. I don't have to fight often, but sometimes it's part of my game. 

"Regarding Bobby, Panger text me before the game (to) get five goals, five shots or five hits, but obviously got none of that so I guess I got a five for Bobby tonight. It's been a tough couple days around the Blues organization with the news and the way he touched players. Most of the guys know him in that locker room and obviously the staff and everyone around us and just what he means to the Blue Note and to the organization. You don't expect to hear news like that yesterday. I know a lot of people around St. Louis are very sad to hear that news and he's an incredible man."

The Blues peppered Talbot with plenty of pucks, but the Wild goalie was having none of it. When the goalie who's making save after save can see pucks, chances are it's going to be a good night for him, as was the case here.

"Yeah, 37-11 in shots. There was obviously some neutral zone play, but we were pretty dominant in the o-zone," Schenn said. "We had chances, we had shots. We had traffic at the net the majority of the time and sometimes you just don't get the bounces hen you're pressing and you're pushing. You want to win so bad, sometimes it doesn't go your way, but if we keep on playing like that, playing together and playing hard and limiting teams' chances, you're going to come out on top most nights. Got to get two points tomorrow night and try to get back in the win column here against Anaheim.

"There's going to be nights like this where you feel like you deserve a couple of goals or at least the win and it doesn't happen. Give them credit, their goalie played well tonight. He's obviously very solid and made the saves he had to and bailed his team out on a back-to-back."

And when the Blues couldn't get pucks past Talbot, they were their own worst enemy managing the biscuit. Two offensive zone turnovers by David Perron and Robert Thomas in the second period led to both Wild goals.

"A little bit. For the most part, I thought offensively at least hold onto the puck and the other team can't score," O'Reilly said. "We fought to get it back, we tracked hard, our D did a great job keeping pucks alive. Just a few little mistakes and they're in the back of the net and it happens. We've just got to stick with it and keep working to improve.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
It was a tough night for the Blues and defenseman Vince Dunn (29), who
tries to fend off Minnesota's Ryan Hartman Thursday in St. Paul.

"It would have been nice to get Bobby a win tonight, but I think he'd be proud of our effort. Guys worked, some big fights. Guys stepped up huge. It's a tough schedule, but it's tough for everyone. The key is just taking it one game at a time. We're disappointed with our road trip, but we don't have time to dwell on it. We have to get right back to work tomorrow and keep plugging away. It's going to be a tough game coming off a back-to-back, but it's two points we need."

This could have been hard emotionally for the players to get into knowing the Plager situation, but they played the right away, aside from scoring, and feel that if they put forth efforts like this in the future, the wins will come.

"Guys played hard tonight, guys played physical, a couple fights, played with emotion," Schenn said. "Not that we have to fight every night, but we need emotion in our game and that's what's going to win you hockey games. Obviously we would have liked to answer the bell with a win, and like I said, we have to get back to the drawing board tonight and we need two points. We've got to be desperate tomorrow night with a well-rested Anaheim team."

Thursday, March 25, 2021

(3-25-21) Blues-Wild Gameday Lineup

David Perron had to fight back the emotion.

He did his best, but for someone that knew Bob Plager as well as he did, probably better than any player on the roster today, it's been a tough 24 hours since Plager's passing on Wednesday.

Plager, who died in a car accident on Interstate 40 in the early afternoon hours Wednesday 13 days after his 78th birthday, was remembered with love and passion by the current Blues, who somehow have to park those emotions and play with heavy hearts when they end their five-game road trip and the first matchup of the season against the Minnesota Wild (7 p.m.; FS-MW, ESPN 101.1-FM) at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minn.

"We woke up from a text from 'Army,'" Perron said of Blues general manager Doug Armstrong. "I woke up from a nap yesterday from that and it took me a while to think about something else. Pretty sad moment for the Blues organization, for the city of St. Louis. He really meant a lot to what we're trying to bring to our game every night as far as the pride and playing for the Bluenote, the city. 

"He's the reason why I love St. Louis so much. Everyone keeps saying, 'Why do you keep coming back?' It's for that type of mentality, that type of guy right there. It's pretty tough.

"The one thing you can do is he'd like us to go out there and get a win for him, play as hard as we can, come together as a team more and more as the season goes by and kind of bring the pride that he's had for the city, for the team. It might not happen tonight or overnight, but that's something that when we won (the Stanley Cup in 2019), that's what we were doing. It's slipped just a little bit. We want that to really be a staple for our team."

One can talk to any of the players, and they can't pick out one memory they have of Plager, an original Blue who finally got his parade and got to hoist the Cup.

"I remember the first time I met him right when I got traded (to St. Louis), we kind of had like a new player reveal in the Ballpark (Village) area and just meeting and talking to him, him telling stories and as nice of a guy he was, how funny of a guy he was, it was just amazing to see that," captain Ryan O'Reilly said. "You could tell how much he meant to the city of St. Louis, everyone he met. You felt special, he gave you the time of day. 

"It's so sad. We lost a huge piece of this organization and a great ambassador for the game. It's deeply saddening.

"It's more than just us. We're playing for guys like Bobby that took so much pride in playing for the Blues and representing the city in a great way. We look at it now and I think all of us feel an obligation. We have to go out there, play for him. He was a guy that loved to watch and I'm sure the greatest times of his life were when he was playing for the Blues. I think we've all got to think about that and go out there and leave it out there for him."

The Blues had to muster up the emotion on Thursday to go to the rink and prepare for a hockey game, in the middle of a playoff race, but coach Craig Berube wanted to make sure those that haven't been around the organization long enough to know Plager just who he was.

"Today I just wanted to talk about Bobby a little bit," Berube said. "I know a lot of our guys did know Bobby that have been here for a couple years and been around Bobby and Bobby's been around the team. Obviously with the Cup run and being around the Stanley Cup and things like that, but there's a lot of guys that didn't know Bobby because of COVID and not being around him and Bobby not being around the team. My message was to just let them know what Bobby was all about to the Blues and to life. I think it was important that they knew about Bobby and what he meant to the St. Louis Blues and meant to a lot of people.

"It's terrible news obviously to everyone that was associated with Bobby. He was a great ambassador for the St. Louis Blues. Obviously been there from the beginning. I knew Bobby pretty well, always enjoyed seeing him and running into him, talking and some stories. He was a great story teller and great guy to be around, a lot of fun for sure. Loved the St. Louis Blues more than anybody. It's terrible news."

So how do the Blues move on?

Simple? Probably not, but the show must go on, and Plager wouldn't want it any other way.

"It's human nature that they will (move on)," Berube said. "They've probably gone through similar situations in life. It's just a job. It's tough, I get it, but in the end, they've got a job to do, we all have a job to do and we've got to move on and do our job."

- - -

The Blues (16-11-5) stand in fourth place in the West Division, four points behind the third-place Wild (20-10-1) but Minnesota has a game in hand.

It's imperative that the Blues start to gain some traction here and climb in the standings, because they sit only four points ahead of Arizona, five ahead of Los Angeles and seven ahead of San Jose for the race to be in the top four.

"With Minny, they're a hard-working team and that's what we have to become more of. We've seen it in spurts and just not enough," Perron said. "That's something the last few days Chief has really hammered home more and more. It's pretty clear that we can raise our level many ways in that regard and we have a big opportunity. We can see it in both ways, but I think the chance to play those top three teams for the last part of the year could be either big or not big, but it could be big if we gain points and we can even hopefully we can raise our standing there."

"They're a very good team," O'Reilly said. "They work very hard, they're playing very well. This is our first look at them this season and I think it's important that we start the right way, that we show these guys that they're going to be in for some tough games. Obviously crucial points for us. We need to get back going and respond after our last game, but I'm excited. It's nice to be playing someone new, but we're going to be playing a lot of these guys."

- - -

Blues defenseman Colton Parayko skated again during Thursday's optional.

Parayko has missed 17 games with an upper-body injury and will not play tonight, but after taking part in a full practice on Wednesday, Berube was anxious to see how he felt after that.

"He's skating again today, so that's good news," Berube said.

- - -

The Blues' projected lineup:

Jordan Kyrou-Ryan O'Reilly-David Perron

Jaden Schwartz-Brayden Schenn-Vladimir Tarasenko

Zach Sanford-Robert Thomas-Mike Hoffman

Kyle Clifford-Dakota Joshua-Sammy Blais

Torey Krug-Justin Faulk

Marco Scandella-Vince Dunn

Jake Walman-Robert Bortuzzo

Jordan Binnington will start in goal; Ville Husso will be the backup. Niko Mikkola and Jacob de la Rose are expected to be the healthy scratches. Colton Parayko (upper body), Tyler Bozak (upper body), Ivan Barbashev (ankle) and Mackenzie MacEachern (upper body) are out. Carl Gunnarsson (knee) and Oskar Sundqvist (knee) are out for the season. 

- - -

The Wild's projected lineup:

Kirill Kaprizov-Victor Rask-Mats Zuccarello

Marcus Johansson-Ryan Hartman-Kevin Fiala

Joseph Cramarossa-Joel Eriksson Ek-Jordan Greenway

Nico Sturm-Nick Bonino-Nick Bjugstad

Ryan Suter-Jared Spurgeon

Jonas Brodin-Matt Dumba

Ian Cole-Carson Soucy

Cam Talbot will start in goal; Kaapo Kahkonen will be the backup. Dakota Mermis and Brad Hunt are the healthy scratches. Marcus Foligno (lower body) and Kyle Rau (upper body) are out, and Zach Parise is in COVID-19 protocol.

Tuesday, March 23, 2021

Blues began their final stretch of games against playoff-bound Vegas and fell flat, 5-1 surrendering three more goals

No Pietrangelo, no Pacioretty as Golden Knights don't 
skip a beat in beating St. Louis for third straight time.

Going into their game Monday against the Vegas Golden Knights, the Blues had 25 games remaining in this regular season.

They had just passed the halfway mark of this different 56-game season playing strictly against divisional opponents, and in the Blues' case, the West Division.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Captains Ryan O'Reilly (left) of the Blues and Mark Stone (61) of the
Golden Knights battle for a loose puck Friday.

Of those remaining 25 games, 19 of them were against the Golden Knights, Colorado Avalanche and Minnesota Wild.


There's no Anaheim Ducks and San Jose Sharks to feast on anymore. 

Well, the Ducks come to St. Louis four more times, but we all know the Blues' home record, which leaves little to brag about.

But talk about a finishing stretch when 76 percent of your remaining games were against the teams directly ahead of you. So that means the easier part of the schedule, if one want to call it that, has been parked in the rear view mirror playing against the Anaheim Ducks, San Jose Sharks, Arizona Coyotes and Los Angeles Kings. 

Judging by Monday's 5-1 collapse in Vegas, in which the Blues (16-11-5) allowed four third-period goals in as many meetings against the Golden Knights (22-7-1) in the third period, this could be an arduous and painful road for the Blues just to survive the top four and get an invite into the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Instead of buckling up and being ready for a bumpy ride that the Blues would have to weather and make better with their own good, solid play, they turned the initial bump ride into muscle-flexing for a Vegas team without two of its stars (old friend Alex Pietrangelo and leading goal scorer Max Pacioretty).

And if Monday's taste of what the final 24 games are going to be like, this could be a ugly ride that can't be fixed.

"Very disappointing, it really is," Blues coach Craig Berube said. "I agree, we won two games in San Jose, played some good hockey there and just came here and didn't look like a confident hockey team tonight.

"... I guess I didn't prepare them good enough. We've got to all be better. We're in this together. I'm included and we've all got to be better."

That's certainly an understatement, even when the Blues were tied 1-1 after 40 minutes and the two points were up for grabs.

The Blues, facing a team that had to play the previous night in Los Angeles, were outshot 15-3 in the third period and outscored 4-0, including a pair of Vegas power-play goals.

"It's the third period and we got caught on our heels. That can't happen," center Ryan O'Reilly said. "Start to finish, it wasn't a great game. We were a lot of one-and-done's. We didn't really build it. Going into the third period, we were 1-1, we've got to find a way to build some momentum and we didn't and they got one and another and it's frustrating, it's very frustrating. I think everyone's upset right now. We have to kind of self-evaluate and regroup here."
He's right, it wasn't a great game, even if the Blues were in a 1-1 tie after the second.
They just camped out in their zone too many times, once again, getting caught on their heels, flat-footed, turning pucks over, succumbing to the Vegas forecheck. It didn't serve the Golden Knights well early. It did in the final 20 minutes when it mattered.

"Even up to that point, we hadn't played that well in my opinion," Berube said. "Basically it boils down to they wanted the game more than us. They dug in more they won more puck battles, made more plays, skated better. That's why they won the game."
So the big question is how does this happen when you're playing against the team you hoped to catch -- no chance that happens now -- for the division crown. A win would have put the Blues two behind Vegas for the top spot -- albeit Vegas has games in hand, but this was the chance for the Blues, who were swept by Vegas less than a month ago at home, that they have what it takes to compete at the highest level.
Instead, they fell flat on their faces.

"Not really much to explain," said defenseman Vince Dunn, whose second period goal tied the game 1-1. "I definitely think we were on our heels in the third and I thought our compete level definitely wasn't good enough overall in the game. We got a couple lucky bounces, but I definitely as a whole we were a little bit too spread out and I definitely think we could have done a better job possessing the puck."
Vegas played the night before, in Los Angeles, and lost 3-1, while the Blues were in Las Vegas waiting for their opponents to arrive, which means the fresher legs, particularly down the stretch, should have been for the visitors.
Instead, Vegas held a 15-3 advantage and it was game, set, match after nemesis Mark Stone made it 2-1 just 1:20 in.

"We kind of fed their transition a bit, their momentum," O'Reilly said. "They got good o-zone possession and we then exhaust ourselves. I got stuck out there a few times and you're just trying to get off the ice and you don't set up your next lines to succeed. We didn't have enough of that tonight. There wasn't enough of building the game for the next line, setting them up, giving them the opportunity to get their game going a bit. It was very sporadic. It's frustrating. They're a team that they play loose when they're connected, they're making plays and we just have to respond better."

Not only were the Blues outshot 15-3 in the third period, the more exhausted team, at least on paper anyway, outshot the Blues 35-16 for the game. The Blues generated more blocked shots (18) than actual shots on goal (16).

"The last three games we played them, we really didn't dictate anything in the three games in my opinion," Berube said. "We hung in there. All the games were tight going into the third period. You have an opportunity tonight. In my opinion, we didn't play well the first two periods, but we hung in there, it's a close game, it's right there and we get outshot 15-3 in the third period. That's just not good enough. There's nothing more I can really say about it. We've got to be better, I've got to coach better and they've got to play better."

It was hard to develop any kind of forecheck when the puck was in your end the majority of the game, whether it be from an errant clearing attempt, pucks getting poked off sticks, losing wall battles, the whole kit and caboodle.

"I know for myself, did not establish a forecheck and get some o-zone time," O'Reilly said on the heels of an 11-point game at San Jose for his line with Jordan Kyrou and David Perron. "We didn't have opportunities to get some shots and kind of get some momentum that way. It's not just chucking the puck on net. It's got to be worked for the right way. I know myself, my line, we have to be much better at it and as a group, we have to establish that part of our game. It's such a big piece and we didn't tonight.

"The exits weren't great. We weren't strong on the walls. We were leaving guys out to dry. Sometimes that happens. Sometimes teams are going to forecheck hard and I kind of reflect on it, as I myself, you have to come in there and stay tighter to the battle and break it out as a unit. We were just kind of hoping the guy would make the play on the wall instead of supporting it and finding a way to establish that part, get the puck out together. It was kind of individual. We didn't see much of our team tonight, but we know it's there. We know it's there. We just have to find a way to be consistent with it."

"I think he's right," Dunn said of O'Reilly. "Our forecheck as a whole wasn't good enough and the D were backing out a little bit and we were kind of one-and-done all over. Against a team like that who's so good off the rush, not only making plays but getting into the o-zone and starting their cycle game, we need to put ourselves in a better spot to be successful and that starts with coming out of our own end as a whole. It's not always going to be a pretty play coming out of our own end. We might not always get a rush opportunity, but just getting the puck and establishing our forecheck is the strength of our game, so we need to do a better job than that."

The end of the game's shot clock read 35-16 in favor of Vegas. And who was the supposed more lock team again?
"We definitely didn't get to the forecheck good enough," Berube said. "What it boils down to me is we spend too much time in our end because we get a puck, we don't make a play under pressure, no composure, don't win enough puck battles. I'll say it again, don't win enough puck battles, so you're going to spend time in your end. That's a good team over there. They do a lot of things right. They come at you in waves, and we were just overwhelmed. I felt we were overwhelmed the whole game."

Ouch! Overwhelmed the whole game, by a team missing two key pieces and the Blues getting Robert Thomas, who missed 19 games with a broken thumb, back.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Offense was tough to come by for center Brayden Schenn (10) and the rest
of the Blues Monday after being outshot 35-16 by the Golden Knights.

"We were playing pretty well in the first two periods," Dunn said.

No Vince, you weren't.

"Even that second goal that came in, it's off my foot," Dunn said. "It's not that much of a defensive breakdown, I guess you'd say. Even then we're still in the game. We've got to find a way to pick each other back up and get ourselves back in the game and we didn't do a good enough job as a whole doing that.

"It's all about us right now and working on our game. It's going to get really hard, especially approaching playoffs and we want to give ourselves the best chance at getting in there and putting ourselves in a good seed. These teams are very good, everyone's playing good hockey right now, so it's about us and making sure our game was better than what it was tonight."

Monday, March 22, 2021

(3-22-21) Blues-Golden Knights Gameday Lineup

It's not for certain, but the Blues are on the cusp of getting another injured player back.

An important one too.

Robert Thomas will be a game-time decision when the Blues (16-10-5) play the third of a five-game road trip, a make-up game, against the Vegas Golden Knights (21-7-1) at 9 p.m. (FS-MW, ESPN 101-1-FM) at T-Mobile Arena.

Thomas has missed the past 19 games with a broken left thumb sustained Feb. 6 against the Arizona Coyotes.

"He's possible tonight," Blues coach Craig Berube said. "We'll take a look at it tonight, so he's possible. ... Just practicing today and the other day with us and doing things. He feels comfortable. We'll see how it goes."

Should Thomas, who has six points (one goal, five assists) in 12 games this season, be able to go, he will slot in as the third-line center between Zach Sanford and Mike Hoffman.

"We know how good he is and just the speed he brings to our hockey team and puck possession and making plays," Berube said. "It's a big boost.

"... 'Tommer,' if he can play tonight, he'll be put in a good situation."

- - -

Speaking of Sanford, who missed Saturday's 5-2 win at San Jose after being placed in COVID-19 protocol, he will be back in the lineup tonight after receiving a false positive and arriving in Las Vegas Monday morning.

"He's good to go, so that's a good thing for us," Berube said.

Sanford was left behind by the team and had to self-isolate in his hotel room before receiving back-to-back negative tests and given the green light.

"It's one of those crazy years and stuff happens, but luckily it all got sorted out," Sanford said. "... Just a false positive, got two negative tests and it's good to go.

"I was kind of confused. I had had (COVID-19) in December, so I didn't have to test for a little bit and two weeks after I started testing, all of the sudden they say I'm positive again, so I was a little confused. Obviously you're frustrated having to miss a game and then stay behind on the road. But things happen and luckily it's all sorted out now, so it's all good."

- - -

There will be another shakeup at the forward lines.

Sammy Blais will be a healthy scratch tonight, and Tyler Bozak, who returned last Wednesday after missing 21 games with a concussion, will miss a second straight game with an upper-body injury unrelated to the concussion.

For Blais, Berube said it's a good time for Blais to hit the reset.

"I find he's playing without any emotion out there," Berube said. "When I say that, I don't want it to be taken in the wrong text. I don't want penalties and running around and that kind of thing, but you've got to have emotion when you play the hockey game. You've got to be involved in all areas of the game. I find he's a little bit disconnected right now in his play and just not showing enough emotion and it's not giving us enough. Sometimes a reset's important for a player. That's what I talked to him about today, having a watch and watch the game and hopefully he finds some mojo back here again. He's been a good player for us over the last couple years. I know it's not always consistent with injuries and other things, but we do need Sammy Blais and we need him to be a good player for us, so that's what we're looking to get back."

- - -

Defenseman Jake Walman will stay in the lineup for the fourth straight game.

Walman, who has played in five NHL games, has played well in the three games he's played in this season with defensive partner Robert Bortuzzo.

"He's using his feet very well and that's his biggest asset is his feet," Berube said. "And he's defending well. I think he's strong in the battles right now, he's doing some penalty killing out there, which is important and he's just got to be responsible defensively and use his feet as much as he can. He's the type of player that can get the puck in your own end and carry it out of your own end, which is important."

It's been a long and tough road for Walman, sort of along the lines of what it took for goalie Jordan Binnington to get here.

A third round pick in the 2014 NHL Draft, Walman has toted on the minors the past four seasons after being at Providence College the previous three seasons.

"It feels good," Walman said. "Obviously being out of the lineup's tough. It's tough staying with it, but everyone does a good job, including everybody, and getting in the lineup's huge. It's a big confidence boost.

"It's all mental. I remember talking with 'Binner.' I trained with 'Binner' in the summer and sticking with it's the biggest thing. You've got to believe in yourself. Times are tough for everybody. Everybody goes through it at some point. Sticking with it and believing in yourself and that's what we did."

- - -

Two games in, the band is back together but looking for its mojo.

Nobody thought that Jaden Schwartz, Brayden Schenn and Vladimir Tarasenko would come on like world-beaters from the moment the puck dropped after Tarasenko and Schwartz returned to the lineup following lengthy injuries, especially Tarasenko, but they seem to be building their game at times, and there have been a few valleys, and that's to be expected.
Berube called their game thus far, "Okay."

"I think they've had opportunities," he said. "They've done some good things, but I think there's more there for sure. I think Schwartz and Vladi have been out a long time. I know Vladi's come back and played seven games, but he's been out a long time. There's going to be some bumps in the road here, but I find once that chemistry gets back between the three of them and they're working better together, I don't find that they're working together as good as they can right now, in my opinion. They're a little bit too stretched out at times, so it's about them getting on the same page working together both defensively and offensively."

- - -

The Blues' projected lineup:

Jordan Kyrou-Ryan O'Reilly-David Perron

Jaden Schwartz-Brayden Schenn-Vladimir Tarasenko

Zach Sanford-Robert Thomas-Mike Hoffman

Kyle Clifford-Jacob de la Rose-Nathan Walker

Torey Krug-Justin Faulk

Marco Scandella-Vince Dunn

Jake Walman-Robert Bortuzzo

Jordan Binnington will start in goal; Ville Husso will be the backup. Niko Mikkola and Sammy Blais are the healthy scratches. Colton Parayko (upper body), Tyler Bozak (upper body), Ivan Barbashev (ankle) and Mackenzie MacEachern (upper body) are out. Carl Gunnarsson (knee) and Oskar Sundqvist (knee) are out for the season. Robert Thomas will be a game-time decision, and if he doesn't return tonight, Dakota Joshua is expected to slot in as the third-line center and come up off the taxi squad.

- - -

The Golden Knights' projected lineup:

Alex Tuch-Chandler Stephenson-Mark Stone

Jonathan Marchessault-William Karlsson-Reilly Smith

Nicolas Roy-Tomas Nosek-Tanner Glass

William Carrier-Keegan Kolesar-Ryan Reaves

Alec Martinez-Shea Theodore

Brayden McNabb-Dylan Coghlan

Nicolas Hague-Zach Whitecloud

Robin Lehner is expected to start in goal; Marc-Andre Fleury would be the backup. 
Nick Holden is expected to be the healthy scratch. Alex Pietrangelo (upper body) is out. Max Pacioretty (lower body) is questionable for tonight.