Monday, March 15, 2021


Some good news on injury front with Bozak, Schwartz on cusp of breaking 
back into lineup; assessing first half of season; Monday's game postponed

The injury front is beginning to take shape for the Blues.

In a good way for a change.

Mackenzie MacEachern may disagree, but there's some encouraging news on a grand scale of things after the Blues practiced on Monday instead of faced the Los Angeles Kings after the game was postponed because of weather-related issues for the Kings returning home from Denver amid a blizzard snowstorm.

Tyler Bozak is expected to return after missing 21 games with an upper-body injury.

Bozak, who was hurt Jan. 26 in Vegas following a hit from Mark Stone, took part in practice Monday and coach Craig Berube deemed him ready.

"Bozak skated today and he looks like he's a go," Berube said. "Yeah, I would say so, yes (for the next game).

"He's been a good player for us. He's been a two-way player that's a versatile guy we could use in a a lot of different roles. Penalty kills for us, power play, face-offs, he's a good player, you guys know that."

Jaden Schwartz, who's missed 13 games with an upper-body injury, also took part in practice Monday and could be ready for Wednesday.

"Schwartz is making great progress," Berube said. "I'll know more tomorrow on him for Wednesday, but he practiced with us today, he was on a line, he looked good. So we'll see."
Defenseman Colton Parayko, who's missed 12 games with an upper-body injury, is not on the ice but according to Berube, Parayko is "making progress, has not skated yet."

Center Robert Thomas, who's missed 16 games with a broken left thumb, Berube said he's, "skating again today with the extra guys making good progress. Might be in a team skate tomorrow, not sure yet." No timetable on his return as of yet.

As for center Jacob de la Rose, who's missed seven games with a lower-body injury, he, "practiced with us today in the team skate, looked fine, probably available if we needed him," Berube said.

MacEachern, who was placed on injured reserve on Sunday with an upper-body injury, was hurt some time in the loss to Vegas on Saturday, but Berube said he had, "No idea. I didn't see anything happen. I don't know, I didn't look that closely."

* No makeup date for Blues-Kings -- The league announced the postponement of Monday's game on Monday, but the Blues knew Sunday night when they arrived that they would not be playing.

"We knew that last night, so we had time to digest it," Berube said. "Obviously we want to play the games but it is what it is, so we've got practice time today, get practice tomorrow and get prepared for Wednesday.

"Right now, I'm not sure when it's going to be played, to be honest with you."

So the Blues will use another practice day Tuesday after getting one Monday to hone in on some detailed things that have certainly been flawed.

"We need to work on our breakouts and some defensive situations, but I wanted some good pace, which we got, breakouts, five guys getting back for pucks and breaking pucks out better than we have the last couple games and just d-zone coverage stuff," Berube said.

"We're used to it, I guess," defenseman Justin Faulk said of the rearranged schedule. "It's a different circumstance for sure, but with the way the year's been going, obviously it's nothing that hasn't been done before it can't be figured out. So it was good for us to get on the ice to practice today too, give us another day. Obviously it just means we're probably a little bit more compressed on the back end of the schedule again, but you've got to take these days to your advantage or use them to your advantage right now and go ahead."

Zach Sanford can make good use of his time, apparently.

Now that the Blues will be spending three nights in Los Angeles with only one game instead of two, Sanford can make use of the time wisely.

"I don't know, maybe watch some movies, I don't know, maybe hang out with some of the guys," Sanford said. "I think I got a little bit of homework to do. I don't know what other guys are up to, but maybe try get going on that so I don't have to worry about it later on."


That's right.

"I'm taking a class trying to finish up my degree at school," Sanford said. "My mom was all over me. If I left early, I had to finish. Just trying to plug away. 

"It's persuasive communication, so it's kind of just all sorts of communication, how people are persuaded and think and stuff like that."

Sanford said he's not the only one working towards his degree.

"There's a few actually. Johnny Gaudreau's in my class," Sanford said of the Calgary Flames forward. "There's one for you there. I saw a couple other guys that have been taking classes this year. I think in the past year it was tough to do, but I think this year, there's so much down time on the road and kind of being locked into your hotel I guess, I figured I might as well do something productive."

Since Sanford gets on Zoom conference calls regularly with the media, he was asked if he can use his persuasive skills on us.

"I've still got to learn it a little bit more," he said. "Then maybe I'll break it out on you guys."

* Assessing the mid point -- Now that the Blues have reached the mid point of the season, how do they feel about it?

Well, they have 33 points out of a possible 56, which is OK. It's not great, but a repeat of 33 points in the final 28 games gives them a good shot at making the playoffs. But even with the massive amount of injuries they've gone through, they still feel like there's more to give, but the schedule will only get that much tougher.

"I don't think you can't assess it. We're still playing games," Faulk said. "You've got guys out of the lineup and it's tough and we've got a lot of them, but, like big deal, who cares? Who on another team is sitting there looking at us going, 'Man, that stinks for St. Louis. They've got six, seven guys out of the lineup, whatever it might be.' Every other team is battling, whether it's COVID or injuries or whatever this year. It's tough. No one feels sorry for us. I think you can assess it that it hasn't been good enough and we know that. We need to be better this next 28 games, second half here has to be a lot better than the first half. We're going to have to start bearing down and winning tight hockey games and making the games tight. The group inside that room knows that and we've got to get ready to bear down and push to the end of the regular season and into the playoffs."

One glaring improvement must be results on home ice, where the Blues are 4-7-3 and have been outscored 48-37 in non-shootout results. Eleven of a possible 28 points on home ice won't cut it.

"I think obviously our home record is not good enough for sure," Berube said. "That plays into it. We've lost too many overtime games. We've got to try to be better there for sure, and a few of them are at home. And just like at home, our goals for (2.6) and against (3.4) isn't good enough at home. We've definitely got to be better. On the road, we definitely had a good first half for sure, have done a great job of playing and doing the right things on the road, but definitely at home (it has to be better).

"When you look at the first half of the season, I think our goal scoring is not bad (3.11, 11th in the NHL). Power play was struggling early, it's picked it up for sure (19.8 percent, 18th in the league). I think we could still score 5-on-5 more consistently (55, 13th in the league), I think we're still OK throughout the league with the 5-on-5 scoring. Goals against is too high (90, or 3.21 per game, which is 25th). Penalty kill is some of that for sure, but the penalty kill's been better too (74.2 percent, 25th in the NHL), but 5-on-5 defensively, we've got to be better. You can't win in this league and you're not going to do well in the playoffs if you're not good defensively and you're not able to shut teams down.

"I'm not going to get into all of them because there's no reason for that. I get you guys want to know every little reason why and all that and I understand that part of it, but I'm not going to sit here and explain every little part. The bottom line is that we've got to be better, OK. We've got to be better defensively. Our home record's got to be better. So the first half of the season, that's what I look at and come up with."

The players definitely know it. And playing Vegas five more times, Colorado seven times and Minnesota eight times, 18 of the final 28 games are against the top three teams in the division right now.

"With a shortened season, I think every game matters even more, especially this second half with how tight the race is in our division, getting those (injured) guys back and playing those teams every night, playing those teams matters the rest of the way out here," Sanford said. "For our team, it's playoff hockey starting now and every shift, every play matters. We're excited for the challenge and getting these guys back is going to be huge. It's going to be an exciting second half of the year.

"(Injuries happen). It's hockey. There's injuries, and stuff happens. It's unfortunate how many guys we had out at the same time. I think just our consistency has to be better as players, as a team. We've had some really great stretches, we've had some not so good stretches. Every point matters, every play matters. For the second half of the year, I think we're going to have to keep having that mentality and keep our foot on the gas the rest of the way through."

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