Tuesday, May 4, 2021

Bortuzzo gaining confidence, making major strides for Blues as season winds down

Defenseman had been healthy scratch from April 7-24, 
has since returned to play strong with Blues' defensemen down

ST. LOUIS -- Robert Bortuzzo was able to put himself in a soft spot in front of Anaheim Ducks goalie John Gibson, take in a Jordan Kyrou pass and whip a shot inside the near post for a lead Monday.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues defenseman Robert Bortuzzo celebrates his goal Monday in a 3-1
win against the Anaheim Ducks at Enterprise Center.

It was Bortuzzo's third NHL game-winning goal during a 3-1 Blues win over the Ducks, inching them ever-so-closer to a playoff berth as the fourth seed in the West Division, and since he doesn't score goals often, it set off a celebration of sorts for the 32-year-old defenseman from Thunder Bay, Ontario.

"Yeah, I think the guys on the bench think it was the right amount, which I'm happy with," Bortuzzo said of the celly. "It's nice to show a little emotion there, especially this time of year. Games and points are huge for us."

They most certainly are, and Bortuzzo is glad to be pitching in doing his part, which he has done since returning to the lineup April 24, or six games ago.

But Bortuzzo has been down this rodeo before, in and out of the lineup during his six-plus years with the Blues.

And lately, the arrow is trending in the right direction for Bortuzzo and the Blues, who are 5-0-1 their past six games and lead the Arizona Coyotes by five points in the division.

Bortuzzo last played April 5, a 6-1 loss to Vegas in which he was a minus-3 in the game, then sat out the ensuing six games. In the six games since, Bortuzzo is a plus-5 on the ice and has been a factor in each game.

Well, it may not have looked like it on the April 29 game at Minnesota in which Bortuzzo played just 4:53 in it, but Blues coach Craig Berube will take Bortuzzo's contributions away from the time on ice with the 22 penalty minutes he earned in that game, mainly protecting teammate Jordan Kyrou.

But that's neither here nor there. 

Bortuzzo has found himself in another comfort zone with his play on the ice. He's averaged over 15 minutes, including a high of 17:05 on May 1 at Minnesota, in time on ice and doing so being responsible in his own end, using his 6-foot-4, 216-pound frame wisely and, as Blues fans saw in the win against the Ducks Monday, pitch in when needed offensively.

"Big goal tonight. Again, he’s been playing good hockey for us," Berube said. "Doing a lot of different things. It was nice to see him get a goal.

"Just reliable and heavy. He’s physical and making real good decisions with the puck. Defending well. Offensively, I think that he really reads the play well. Jumps in the holes and things like that. He’s not a gifted scorer or anything like that. Or gifted puck guy. But he has a very smart brain. Uses his head well out there."

Bortuzzo's individual Corsi-for of seven was the highest on the team Monday, and his individual scoring chances-for of three was tied for second behind Kyrou's four.
Bortuzzo's ice time has grown since his return from 12:00 to 15:14 to 15:45 to 4:53 (due to the 22 minutes in penalties) to 17:05 to 15:31. He's been partnered with Niko Mikkola and Jake Walman.

"I think maybe after being out for a few games, it re-energized him to come in and I think, like when I talked about the simple things, it's being hard to play against, boxing guys out, blocking shots, having a good stick, making hits, really just being a tough defender to play against," forward Brayden Schenn said of Bortuzzo. "As a forward, I know when there's a guy on the other side who's going to make it hard on you each night and he's certainly a guy that's capable of doing that. I think that's what you're seeing as of late. I think as games get bigger, his game only gets better and down the stretch he's been really good for us back there."

The Blues have been dinged up not only with their forwards all season but also their blue line with Colton Parayko, Marco Scandella, Vince Dunn and Torey Krug now all missing a variety of games, and Carl Gunnarsson for the season.

"He’s been playing great and it’s good to see him get rewarded, being aggressive, getting up in the play and he’s got a strong celly too," Blues goalie Jordan Binnington said.
"Celly, it was pretty good," Binnington added. "I haven’t watched the replay yet, but you can feel the passion behind it."

Berube and assistant coach (defense) Mike Van Ryn keep giving Bortuzzo more responsibilities, including his customary role on the PK, and Bortuzzo is thriving with it these days.

"I'm confident in my abilities," Burtuzzo said. "It's nice to get a bit of more opportunity, but we don't take that for granted at the end of the day. It's going to be about playing intense, hard hockey. What I do matches the time of the season. Maybe that's why things have elevated a bit here for myself, but we've got some guys out. That goes for our whole lineup. Guys have been stepping up all year. It was my chance tonight to chip in. Just happy to get this win."
As for scoring Monday, it's been nearly 14 months since he last scored March 8, 2020 in a 2-0 win against the Chicago Blackhawks, so the celebrations don't come often.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues players (from left) Jordan Kyrou, Mike Hoffman and Jake Walman
celebrate with teammate Robert Bortuzzo (second from right) after scoring.

"Yeah, something like that. I'm sure John Kelly let the fans know at home how many games it's been," Bortuzzo said regarding his last goal. "Happy to contribute and get the win here.

"No one made a prediction tonight. Maybe that was the secret sauce. No one had to say anything. Happy to contribute. It's a big game for us coming off a road trip, those games are tough sometimes. A lot of guys stepped up tonight and it's a big win for us."
His teammates have heckled him enough regarding scoring, and at this point, Bortuzzo doesn't care how they come. As long as they come.

"Yeah, guys love when he scores," forward Brayden Schenn said of Bortuzzo. "Obviously G-dub-W (game-winning goal) big goal tonight, and obviously scoring goals is one thing, but I think we all know what he does for our team. He's a team-first guy, brings a ton to our locker room and does the little things on the ice to make our team win. So when you see him get rewarded, guys couldn't be happier for him."

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