Monday, May 31, 2021

Blues coach Craig Berube

ST. LOUIS -- Coming into the 2020-21 season, Craig Berube knew things wouldn't be the same.

And they never are.

(St. Louis Blues photo)
Craig Berube is 107-58-25 in the regular-season coaching the Blues but is
2-11 in the playoffs since going 16-10 and winning the Stanley Cup in 2019.
But at the time, being a year removed from winning the franchise's first-ever Stanley Cup, the Blues coach understood that expectations remained high for a team projected to be in a Cup-winning window.

In the two years removed from winning it all, despite reaching the Stanley Cup Playoffs in each of the past two seasons, the Blues have suffered back-to-back first-round losses, and that doesn't sit well with Berube or the Blues.

The roster has a new look to it, but being a cap-ceiling team doesn't alleviate the pressure of winning again, and Berube and the Blues have gone through some difficult challenges since the Cup win in 2019.

After finishing up his second full season as the head coach, and one as the interim, Berube talks about what went astray, what the Blues need to elevate themselves back into the upper-echelon talk, how things have changed since COVID and can they play the style he wants with a lineup of a forechecking style mixed with more rush attack players:

When you look at this season, what was missing, what wasn't right:
The injuries had a big affect on the year for sure. It seemed like we were never healthy and there was a lot of new faces in the lineup and big players out of the lineup I think that obviously had an affect on a lot of things. I think we were just in between. We didn't score enough, we didn't defend good enough. Our differential wasn't good. Special teams improved over time, but they took a while to get going on both ends of it. Power play ended up sixth in the league, which is good and our PK was still low in the standings in the league percentage-wise, but i thought that it really improved over the last month or so, got better. We didn't score enough goals and in the end, you've got to score goals, especially in the regular season, it's so important to be able to produce and I think scoring got better because the power play got better as it went along.

Think pieces are still in place here to be a Cup contender:
I think our core is really strong here, core group of guys from the Stanley Cup team, plus adding Faulk and Krug to our lineup helps for sure. They're good players. I do believe we have the core. You always have to tinker and do things and find players in the salary cap era and things like that to make your team better and Doug's always done that for us and done a good job of that. I do believe in this team, yes.

How do you blend in style that won you a Cup with some of younger guys who want to play up-tempo:
You can still do both and you have to do both. It's just about decision-making with the puck. We actually were a pretty good team off the rush this year. I think we ended up with 10th or 11th in the National Hockey League in rush opportunities. We did a good job in the neutral zone too. We didn't turn pucks over like I preach all the time. I think we ended up second in the league in that category, so pucks did get deep and I think we did do some good things off the rush. I do believe that you have to score off the rush or get scoring chances off the rush. I think it's important. I know that we got some speed with some young guys on our team that rae good off the rush. I preach both. It's about decision-making for me. As players mature and develop and spend more time in the NHL, they're going to get better at that. I saw improvement. Jordan Kyrou's a perfect example. I thought his game improved over time this year and he had a real good year in my opinion and he's a good rush player.

On record with/without Sundqvist; why does your team succeed when he's there:
He's an energy guy for sure. He brings a lot of energy to our team and he's a role player. Role players are really important on your hockey team. He does a variety of things for us, from penalty killing, we put him on the power play he does well, checking line, you can put him with different lines and move him around, but he's an identity player and they're so important to have. he was missed, for sure.

Was it hard for this team to find an identity/culture:
Yeah, I believe so and I think the injuries obviously were a big part of that. When you're missing Colton Parayko for most of the year and Oskar Sundqvist and Gunnarsson, a lot of guys. There were a bunch of injuries over time, a bunch of players, but just the three guys I mentioned that lost significant time throughout the whole year, they're identity players for us and I saw we were just in between with what we were as a team. We've always been good defensively and we've taken pride in playing good defense and at the same time, from playing good defense, we scored and were a productive team. You look at last year, our scoring was up and was really good and our defensive play was good. We could do both and we were good at it, but we lost that identity this year because neither one was good this year. We didn't score enough goals and we didn't defend well enough this year.

As this group is assembled now, can you be harder around the net:
Yeah, you can get better at everything. I know we lost players, but it's not just on the defense. Defending is everybody, goalie (on) out. It's everybody. You've got to take pride in that. It's an important part of the game. Yes, you can improve it being harder at your net and doing different things. Listen, the d-corps, there's guys that are big guys, it's easy for them to push guys out of the way or be physical around the net and there's a smaller d-corps that's got to do it another way.

Do you have guys on the roster that can be a net front presence or do you need to go get someone:
Getting to the net's got to be on everybody. It's not just, 'Oh, we've got to go get a couple net front guys.' It's an attitude that we've got to go to the net more. We didn't get enough rebound chances because of that. Shooting pucks, we weren't at the net enough for rebounds and things like that or get to the net for rebounds and things like that. That was a problem that we talked about all the time and get our team to do it. For me, it's more of an attitude. If you want to score in this league on a consistent basis as a player and be a good scoring team, you've got to go to the net and get those rebound goals because that's where a lot of the goals were scored, we all know that.

Any subtle differences between you and Avs in this series or glaring gaps:
Listen, they're a very good team, we all know that, but we weren't healthy either, so it's hard to know, right? You're missing David Perron, Vince Dunn, we've got a lot of guys out. I'm not going to mention them all. You all know who was out and who wasn't, so it's hard for me to evaluate that with all the injuries.

On Tarasenko and his season:
Obviously he wasn't happy and neither were we. He didn't get going like maybe we thought or he thought. But listen, he's been out for two years really. It's almost two years that he was out and he's back. I think it takes some time for sure. I know he scored a couple goals in the final playoff game, but overall, I think he needs to get his legs going again and use his body and just play a harder game down low in the offensive zone and get to the harder areas to score goals.

Is Tarasenko capable getting back to or close to where he was after all the injuries:
Well, who knows? Nobody knows that question, but he probably needs more time to get going. This is a big summer for him for sure from a training standpoint and making sure he comes in real healthy next year in training camp and use training camp to get everything going again. I'm sure he's going to be feeling good about everything coming back next year and going through a camp and working on his game in camp. I think you're going to see a different Vladi for sure.

Are you OK with Tarasenko going to Worlds and playing despite groin injury:
Yeah, I'm OK with it.

Able to say what Faulk and Bortuzzo are dealing with and are they OK:
Upper-body injuries and they'll be fine.

On Vince Dunn and coming close to playing:
Again, upper body but he never felt comfortable to play. We never want to put a player in a bad situation. He wasn't ready and he told us he wasn't ready, so that's why he didn't play.

Surprised you slumped when you started getting impact players back from injury or figured it would take some time:
I think that was part of it, for sure, re-establishing chemistry. Vladi was out for a long time, we all know that. I think that before the injuries, we had a lot of young guys in there, hungry guys that did a good job for us, playing a role, role work and then we started getting everyone back so everything like of changed. When injured guys came back, they didn't play as well as we needed them to play. That's a big part of it.

Did Mikkola and Walman open some eyes for you with their play:
Yeah, for sure. I thought they played really well, to be honest with you. I thought Mikkoka came in and played well and then we took him out for a while and then he got got back in there and he needed a little reset button and I thought he performed well again. I was pretty impressed with him overall. He's an aggressive guy, big guy, covers a lot of ice and he's hard to play against. I think he did a good job. Jake Walman, he finally got an opportunity in there and I think he ran with it. He used his feet really well. He's a tremendous skater, he's got a real good shot and it's a different game. It's his first time in the NHL playing significant games and important games and I thought that he came in and grabbed the rope and took off with it. It was good to see.

On Kostin, his two regular-season games and what went into not playing him in the playoffs:
He did fine in the two games there. He looked a little tired with the travel and everything with the season he had. He looked like he got a little winded at times, but he did fine. I just didn't feel for me that, where we were at, I went with the guys that I thought could get the job done.

On O'Reilly's first year as captain and what do you look for in that role:
I thought he did a great job. I thought he got better as we went along the year. Did a tremendous job down the stretch and in the playoffs, in my opinion. I know that we got beat four straight, but from a captain's standpoint, he worked and he leads by example on the ice. I thought that he did a great job in the locker room and on the bench of becoming vocal and preaching the right things. All the stuff that captains do, but first and foremost, captains, what do I look for in a captain is just lead by example on the ice as the No. 1 most important thing. It's hard to find a guy that works harder and competes harder than Ryan O'Reilly.

On Robert Thomas and where he needs to go from here:
Well, I think first from a training standpoint, getting in good condition this summer. I think that's really important. I think he's got to work extremely hard in the summer time, get himself in tremendous shape and then come into camp and I think that's going to help him for sure. There's a ton of upside there, we all know that, but he had a tough time getting going this year with the injuries, that really set him back quite a bit.

Will there be more guys in town with the way Canadian borders are:
That's a possibility. Canada's not a place probably anybody wants to go to right now because of the situation. It could end up guys hanging around here, being around here. We'll see. I know our guys really like it here, so they might want to stay here in the summer too.

On needing scoring more from defensemen and fourth line:
We always score by committee here and we showed that last year throughout the season. We had real good scoring last year and it was by the committee from the defense out. Everybody contributing and our D scoring was down quite a bit this year. Probably our bottom six scoring was down quite a bit. Obviously Vladi had a tough time scoring, Jaden Schwartz and even Brayden Schenn dried up for a while. I think that again, we need everybody to contribute both ends of the ice. That's how we play here. We want to play 200 feet and part of it is scoring.

On the forecheck and if it was enough on a consistent basis:
No. We didn't get enough guys that whether they wanted to do it or didn't want to do it or whatever the reason was, it wasn't good enough for sure. It got better. I thought the last few weeks before playoffs, our forecheck game really came around and the hounding part of it and the work ethic that's needed. It's not just the forwards, it's the D too. The D are really involved in all of it too being aggressive and hammering walls, keeping pucks alive and all that. I thought it came around and it got better as it went along, but it was not good enough for sure.

On how to get that back:
Well, we've got to make sure that we first of all in camp, that we're pushing our for it and we're working on it. That's our identity, that's a big part of our identity. Going forward, we've got to demand it out of our players.

On Colton Parayko's growth, how he's doing, and if he shoots as much as you want him to:
Well, his injury, he's gotten better with his injury. I think he's feeling a lot better and hopefully this summer, he can improve that injury and fix it so he's 100 percent healthy next year. It's hard to evaluate his game this year because of the injury and he didn't play a whole lot. I thought he got better as the year went along. When he came back, it was tough for him, but he worked through it and before playoffs and in playoffs, he was playing a lot better for sure. Does he shoot enough? Well, it's hard to again evaluate that shooting this year with the injury. It's hard for me to say, but we do want him to shoot a lot. He's got a great shot and he has to use it more. This player, he's one of the players that can control the game in my opinion with his size and strength and skating ability. That's something that I think going forward, we've got to be talking to him about that a lot and how significant it can be for the team and for him. He wore the 'A' this year as part of the leadership group, I think he did a good job. Again, his injury, it's hard to lead when you're injured, but he's a guy that can go out there and lead by example, which he does. Does that answer your question?

What do you want from your players this off-season, change anything in terms of how they train in light of all the injuries:
Well, I don't know about that. I don't think that had a lot to do with how they trained in the summer time or anything like that. A lot of these injuries were just injuries that happened. We demand guys are training and getting in great shape, being in great shape. We've got a great strength coach here, does a great job and guys like working with him. I don't think that's going to be an issue. I think guys will come into camp on great shape next year and they'll be hungry and ready to go. Nobody's happy about getting beat out four straight. Next year, they'll be hungry.

On Jaden Schwartz's season and was he playing injured down the stretch:
Well, it was a tough year for him for sure from an offensive standpoint, not producing. He wants to produce and we need him to produce, but that didn't happen. Now, he gives you everything he's got on the ice, hard worker, extremely hard worker, competitive player, real good team guy. He had injuries this year. He was banged up a little bit down the stretch for sure, but nothing that would keep him out of the lineup. 

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