Tuesday, March 9, 2021

Despite OT loss to Sharks Monday, depleted Blues put together solid trip

Went 4-0-2, earned 10 of possible 12 points, continue to plod 
along and bank points while key players out is impressive in itself

It's not exactly the way the Blues would have liked to close out a marathon six-game California trip with another overtime loss, but all things considered, taking 10 of 12 points is not a bad way to look at the big picture.

For the second straight game, the Blues allowed a lead to get away, and again, fell in overtime, 3-2 against the San Jose Sharks at SAP Center on Monday that concluded their trip 4-0-2.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Torey Krug (47) and the Blues battled San Jose Monday but fell 3-2 in
overtime, their second OT loss in a row.  

Getting points in every game of a six-game road trip is nothing to scoff about, especially with the Blues (14-8-4) playing a lineup straight out of a M*A*S*H scene.

Yes, they did get Vladimir Tarasenko back these past two games, but all things considered, there are eight regulars missing from the lineup, and yet somehow, the Blues are finding ways to plod along and grab points along with them.

"The last two games, they're right there to win, especially with the leads," Blues coach Craig Berube said. "We could have maybe done a better job there, but overall, coming out of this trip the way we did is pretty good. A lot of guys injured, we had a lot of guys step up and played really well and come in and do really well, call-ups and things like that. Our guys did a good job.

"... It was a great trip, It really is. We got points in every game, which is outstanding. I would have liked to close these last two games out. We didn't do it. We've got to dig down a little bit more and find a way to close these games out."

Running down the lineup, Jaden Schwartz (upper body), Colton Parayko (upper body), Robert Thomas (broken thumb), Carl Gunnarsson (knee), Ivan Barbashev (hairline fracture in ankle), Jacob de la Rose (lower body), Tyler Bozak (upper body) and Oskar Sundqvist (undisclosed). That's a pretty good injured lineup, and the Blues don't have them at their disposal, and won't have Gunnarsson, who is out for the season.

And in their place, there's Nathan Walker, Dakota Joshua, Mackenzie MacEachern, Niko Mikkola, who scored his first NHL goal Monday, Jake Walman has stepped in. Guys that wouldn't have been on the radar for nothing more than the taxi squad, perhaps, are on the main roster trying to help the Blues stay afloat, and succeeding. Even though at times it doesn't appear that way.

Their .615 points percentage is third in the West Division, but as long as they keep banking points, they'll not be as focused on who is out of the lineup as they should be who's out.

"You can't look at who's out of the lineup, you have to look at who's in the lineup and guys have stepped up and made most of the opportunity," Blues center Brayden Schenn said. "We're playing with two natural centers right now and we're grabbing points. Once we get guys back and healthy and the guys that have missed time are going to be fresh and that's great for us. We're going to be fresh and full of energy and hopefully we get everyone back at the same time and down the stretch and I think this experience of missing guys and guys stepping up will hopefully help us in the long run.

"We've battled hard to this point, but we all know, you guys all know that our toughest games are yet to come with playing a lot of Colorado, Vegas and Minnesota, teams we haven't played a whole lot of, but at the same time, we are ready to get bodies back. We're going to get some of our star players back and I think this experience with what we've gone through, this far with guys being in and out of the lineup, guys stepping up, guys given an opportunity and guys taking advantage of it and knowing that we have to work and compete and bring 60 minutes to the rink each night in order to get two points each night. I think this is going to help us down the road, down the stretch and into the playoffs."

The Blues' record with some of their key pieces out includes 5-4-2 without Schwartz, 5-3-2 without Parayko, 7-4-3 without Thomas, 4-1-2 minus Gunnarsson, 4-3-2 without Barbashev, 3-0-2 without de la Rose, 10-6-3 without Bozak and 0-0-2 without Sundqvist.

Not too shabby without some of these key cogs, which is why the Blues continue to focus on the next game, no matter who is available or not.

"I just think it shows our depth and guys coming in and making an impact for the team," Blues captain Ryan O'Reilly said. "I think it just shows we've got so many good pieces here and the more we get healthy, the better. I think we've got some great guys that are out of the lineup that have big roles. When we get healthy, it's going to be even better."
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Niko Mikkola (77) gets congratulated from teammates after scoring his
first NHL goal on Monday.

Sundqvist is expected to return this weekend against Vegas. Bozak was on the trip and skated but won't likely be ready to go, and there was the outside chance that somebody else could get back on the ice, something Berube wouldn't acknowledge.

The Blues, who arrived early Tuesday morning from California, will get three days to rest the bodies before a back to back with Vegas here before going back on the road for six.

"This (three-day) break is going to be nice for us to kind of heal up and get recharged," O'Reilly said. "It's been a lot of hockey. We've had guys come in, step up and play, make a big impact. It's really showing our depth, which is great to see. We've got a lot of work left.
"It's good points (on the trip). It's tough, there's another point available tonight, could have held them off, a couple little things that hurt us and you end up losing. All in all, we ended up doing some good things. Some guys played very well tonight. We just got to get this much-needed rest here and get refreshed for our next little stint coming up."

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