Monday, April 19, 2021

If Blues haven't had sense of urgency yet, they need to find it quickly with season winding down

Team was on outside looking in playoff picture after blowing two-goal lead to 
Arizona Saturday; Berube puts team through intense practice, splits up lines  

MARYLAND HEIGHTS, Mo. -- The end to practice on Monday couldn't have been scripted better by the great Herb Brooks.
(St. Louis Blues/Scott Rovak)
Ryan O'Reilly (90) said Monday every game matters, every point matters
for the Blues.




No, it wasn't to the extent that the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey coach, played by Kurt Russell in the 2004 film Miracle, implemented on his players during a bag skate after an exhibition tie against Norway, but the message was similar in that Blues coach Craig Berube needs more from his team.

That was none more evident after a 3-2 loss against the Arizona Coyotes on Saturday, a game in which the Blues led 2-0 in the first and took the proverbial foot off the gas, something this group has been all too familiar with.

It was a hard, intense practice, up and down the ice with frantic pace and lots of contact. Had that game-like feel to it, only guys on the same team doing it to each other.

"I think it's trying to get the aggressiveness back in our game for 60 minutes," Berube said. "We do come out in the first periods and we've been aggressive and we've gotten leads and we've played well, but then we really don't stay with that aggressiveness for a consistent 60 minutes. That was some of the practice today and the video today. It was just basically our forecheck and neutral zone as being just more aggressive, harder, tighter, forcing teams to make bad puck decisions and bad plays with pucks. That's a big part of our game and it always has been here. That's what's made us a good team here."

And then following all that, it was some good, old-fashioned bag skating. As it goes, the lung capacity diminishes, the breathing gets heavier, the heart races 100 miles an hour. 

The players got the message and the meaning behind it.

"I think just compete on the ice and play hard, just be hard on the forecheck, backchecking hard, all the little details," forward Sammy Blais said. "We've got to dig in for 60 minutes and if we do that, we're going to be in good shape."

"We looked at some video and you could see how we lost the games the way we were forechecking, just not making the right reads that we need to," center Ryan O'Reilly said. "It's just something we addressed and wanted to have a hard, fast practice and be skating and get the feeling back of what it should look like. It was good, I thought we did a good job. Guys worked and it was a good day of work."

The Blues (19-18-6) were in a position to go up three points on Arizona with two games in hand. The next time they hit the ice, Thursday at home against Colorado, they'll have three games in hand, but they'll either be one, two or three points behind instead of ahead.

"Every game matters, every point matters," O'Reilly said. "We've got some tough opponents up coming up here. We've got to take (it) one game at a time. We can play with anyone in this league and we can beat anyone in this league. It's going to be the commitment to the details and putting 60 minutes together. That's our focus."

Despite the negative vibes outside the locker room, particularly from a fan base growing impatient with the Blues' inconsistencies, the feeling in the locker room is still one of belief.

"If you look at the standings, we're battling for a playoff spot right now, but in the locker room, we all believe that we're going to be able to get in," Blais said. "We've just got to keep digging in and just keep working hard. If we play a full 60 minutes like we played last game in the first period, I think we give ourselves (a chance) to win every game. If we just play hard and play our game, we're going to be fine."

There are 13 games remaining to try and get into the top four in the West Division. Colorado, Vegas and Minnesota seem to be virtual locks for Nos. 1-3, respectively, but the fourth position is up for grabs, and it's up to a veteran group to try and grab it despite the tough schedule ahead.

"It's something obviously we've addressed," O'Reilly said. "We're all talking about it. Not going to give those conversations for the full part, but we are. We're for sure discussing it and trying to find our way out of it. We believe in each other. We believe in each other here. We know it's not going to be easy. It's something we talk about that it's going to be tough to get out of it, but when we do, it's going to be worth it. It's just sticking with it and becoming closer as a team and having each other's backs.

"... Playing for this Blues team, it's required that you play hard and you leave it out there every time you touch the ice. Can we say we've done that? Probably not. It's not the way we want to be, but it doesn't mean we can't achieve it. We know what our game looks like when we do it well, the physicality and the intensity. It's just maintaining it. It's a very tough league to win in, but we're going to find our way our of it."

Berube and the coaching staff made some tweaks to the line combinations, swapping wingers to play with centers Brayden Schenn and Tyler Bozak. 

Schenn was flanked by Mike Hoffman and Jordan Kyrou, while Bozak took on Jaden Schwartz and Vladimir Tarasenko, two wingers who have struggled to produce offensively along with Schenn.

"Schwartz, Schenn and Tarasenko ... listen, they've been a good line for us for the last couple years, but right now, they're not getting any production," Berube said. "I just switched the centermen out. Sometimes you just make a little change like that can add a spark to both lines like that hopefully. I thought (Bozak), Hoffman and Sanford and it was Kyrou there sometimes, they did a good job. They've been good on the power play, which has been good right now, but our 5-on-5, I just need to see more from other lines and that's why I made that change. I think O'Reilly's line has been good, they've been producing."

As a line, it wasn't driving much offense, if at all, and the change for Berube is a hope that it can spark all players involved.

The coach had separate talks with both Tarasenko and Schenn on Monday.

"I talked to (Tarasenko) today about just skating and attacking more and just working more," Berube said. "Sometimes I think he probably feels like he's waiting for something to happen and I think you've got to go work for it and you've got to get in there. He's got to get inside the dots more and attack more and be around the net more and all those little things. I think it'll help him and I think he's got to get his nose dirty a little bit. Does that make sense?

"I think (Schenn and Schwartz) continue to get some opportunities to score too and it's that they're snakebit right now. I talked to Schenn today about getting in there and getting your nose dirty around the net. Sometimes you've got to get one off your skate or a rebound, some second and third opportunities around the net, you've got to get some greasy goals. This time of year especially, it's important that you're getting into those hard areas and you're getting some greasy goals. That's really all you can do. They're working hard, I get that, but we do need them to produce."
(St. Louis Blues/Scott Rovak)
Blues center Brayden Schenn was flanked by new wingers at practice on
Monday. He was centering Mike Hoffman and Jordan Kyrou.

And in order to do that, Berube had to split up the Bozak line with Hoffman and Sanford, which was driving offensive chances along with O'Reilly, Blais and David Perron on Saturday and in recent games.

"It's tough," Berube said. "I agree, but some of their production has been on the power play too right? They'll stay together on the power play, and it is (tough to break a good line up), but we need more than that going. We need all four lines going and all our six D's. It's real important right now and down the stretch here that we have everybody helping out and contributing."

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