Sunday, October 31, 2021


Husso latest to join COVID-19 protocol list, Hofer to get recalled from 
AHL; Saad still on target for Wednesday return; Schenn misses practice

MARYLAND HEIGHTS, Mo. -- While one comes off the COVID-19 protocol list for the Blues, add another name to the list.

Brandon Saad was skating for a second straight day on Sunday, which is the good news after Saad missed his fourth straight game after being removed from the protocol list, but add Ville Husso, who was placed on the non-roster COVID list by the team on Sunday.

Husso joins Ryan O'Reilly, who missed his second game Saturday against the Chicago Blackhawks.

Blues coach Craig Berube didn't know as of yet what Husso's status is, whether it's day to day or he misses the minimum 10 days if he's symptomatic.

"I don't know anything right now guys, to be honest with you," Berube said. "It's tough news for sure."

What Berube does know is Joel Hofer is being called up later in the day Sunday from Springfield of the American Hockey League.

So it sounds like as if Husso will not be making the trip to California when the Blues next play on Wednesday in Los Angeles against the Kings. They also play Thursday in San Jose against the Sharks and there's a chance Binnington could play in back-to-back games.

"We'll see how it goes, okay," Berube said. "I'm not going to make that decision right now."
The Blues skated in full on Sunday and St. Louis native Mike McKenna, who has retired from professional hockey, was the extra goalie on the ice along with Binnington.

"It was great," Berube said. "He was awesome too. We had a little 3-on-3 game there and he ended up being the winning goalie."

McKenna's white team did defeat Binnington's blue squad, 3-1.

* Saad revving up for return -- As for Saad, who has a goal and an assist in three games this season, the plan is still to have him ready to return against the Kings unless there is a setback.

"I thought he looked good today, he felt good," Berube said. "We'll get him skating again tomorrow just on his own and then practice with the club on Tuesday."

* Schenn misses practice -- Center Brayden Schenn missed Sunday's practice with what Berube said was precaution.

Schenn was tripped in the 1-0 win against the Blackhawks by Alex DeBrincat and crashed hard into the defensive zone boards. He skated off the ice, returned for a quick shift, then left again due to a concussion spotter mandate but was able to return to finish the game.

"Precaution. He's just sore," Berube said. "He'll be good to go."

* 3-on-3 practice -- The Blues have played seven games this season and have yet to get a sniff of overtime, which means no 3-on-3 play. And no 3-on-3 work.

Well, they haven't worked on it a ton during practice sessions, so they got in some good time with it Sunday.

"We wanted to work on it today," Berube said. "That was part of the plan to play 3-on-3. We ended up going a little longer than we though, but we haven't really worked on it that much and we haven't seen it in the games. It was important to get it in today."

And the Blues chose to do it on Sunday rather than give the player a day off and get back on the ice Monday.

"I just wanted to split practice up too," Berube said. "I didn't want to go two in a row. I think it's important that we have a morning skate in L.A. So that will be three days in a row on the ice and then playing. Now it's one day, then we have a morning skate and then we play."

* Aftermath of Saturday's win -- One area that the Blues (6-1-0) made the game interesting against the winless Blackhawks (0-7-2) was the inability at times to manage the puck properly.

The Blues finished with 14 giveaways in the game, according to the stat sheet, which is too many for the coaching staff's liking.

"I think it is fair to say. I think there's times where we made soft plays with the puck and then there were other times where you just hope pucks," Berube said. "We didn't make the right decision with it when we were confronted by the opposition. I think we've got to do a better job when there's confrontation in the offensive zone, defensive zone, making the right play with the puck. Put it to an area where we can get it back or just make a hard play in your own end and get it out. I think that was more of it than anything else."

One line that helped drive zone time in the offensive zone? The fourth line of Kyle Clifford, Dakota Joshua and Klim Kostin.

"I thought that line was really effective, forechecking hard, they had some good opportunities too," Berube said. "They were a pretty direct line tonight, which was good."

Clifford led the Blues, in just 10:43 ice time, with five shots on goal and seven attempts.

"Offensive zone stuff for sure. I think we had a lot of opportunities off the rush and stuff here tonight, which is good to see," Berube said. "Made some real good plays but (Marc-Andre) Fleury was good, but we stuck with it. And our power play came through for us in the end, which is nice. Special teams was good. We had to kill a few couple penalties, big kills, in my opinion. And then power play came through."

Blues' 1-0 win over hapless Blackhawks proves NHL isn't an easy league

Krug scores, Binnington nets shutout in game Blues had 
to have, found a way to earn the bottom line: two points

ST. LOUIS -- It doesn't matter how you win them sometimes, just so as long as you win.

That's the bottom line.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues goalie Jordan Binnington (50) extends his legs to keep the puck out
of the net off the stick of Chicago's Brandon Hagel (38) on Saturday.

The Blues came into their Central Division rivalry with the Chicago Blackhawks confident with five wins in six games out of the gates, while their rivals to the North were on the brink of futility.

The Hawks were winless in their first eight games, the Blues won five of six. Naturally, the Blues win going away right?

Well, in the words of Lee Corso from ESPN's College Gameday: Not So Fast My Friend.

Yes, the Blues did win, but it was anything but easy, winning 1-0 Saturday night on a power-play goal by Torey Krug in the third period and the 25-save effort by Jordan Binnington.

They did improve to 6-1-0 on the season, while the Blackhawks, who have been hit with an influx of turmoil this past week stemming from the sexual allegations surrounding a video coach from the 2009-10 season and Black Aces prospect Kyle Beach, did set a franchise record with their ninth straight game to begin a season without a win (0-7-2).

The Blues outshot the Blackhawks 37-25 for the game and peppered Hawks goalie Marc-Andre Fleury, who made a number of quality saves throughout the contest to keep the Blackhawks in it and on the verge of possibly their first win, and who better to get it against than their most bitter rivals?

"I mean, Fleury’s playing well, I thought both teams played really well tonight," Blues coach Craig Berube said. "I said to you guys, it's always a challenge against Chicago. They're a competitive team against us."

They sure were on Saturday.

Chicago, which got blown out 6-3 at Carolina on Friday, would have loved nothing more than to get their first win of the season against the Blues and in their barn. Of course, they would have preferred to do this much sooner, but doing it against St. Louis would have really sent the spoils throughout the Gateway City, and given the Hawks the last laugh.

At least for one night.

But instead, the Blues, who have back-to-back shutouts over the Blackhawks the past two meetings and carry a 131:44 shutout streak against them, gutted out claimed what's most important here: two points.

"Obviously it was important for us to get this win tonight," Krug said. "'Binner' played a heck of a game and guys showed up and played pretty well defensively. We had to reward them on the power play and it was good."

Berube warned during the morning skate that this one wouldn't be easy, and for the most part, if not for Fleury, it wasn't easy. 

"It always has been since I've been here," Berube said. "You play Chicago and it's always a tough game. Fleury was really good tonight. Made a lot of big saves and when we need 'Binner' to make one, he made it."

Let's dissect this goalie matchup.

Fleury, the reigning Vezina Trophy winner last season with Vegas before unceremoniously being traded to the Blackhawks in the off-season, came in with a whopping 5.75 goals-against average and an .839 save percentage. Not exactly Vezina-worthy numbers. That's not even NHL backup worthy numbers. That's not even I-belong-in-the-AHL-worthy numbers.

But Fleury made a number of clutch and at times, dazzling saves. From getting to his right to thwarting Marco Scandella to kicking out Jordan Kyrou's effort also in the first period, to almost turning one of his own plays into a blunder but saved that potential mistake by robbing Ivan Barbashev and then Kyle Clifford in tight in the second period, Fleury was finally solved in the third period by none other than Krug, who scored when his thread-the-needle pass to Robert Thomas down low on the doorstep caromed off Blackhawks defenseman Seth Jones' stick and through Fleury's wickets at 7:25 of the third period.

"Sometimes you've got to get lucky to beat a good goaltender like that," Krug said. "He was seeing the puck, he did a great job of keeping his team in it. We just couldn't get too many by him. I was lucky to squeak one in and the power-play showed up and helped the team win.
"... I didn't like the way the power play ... we were just kind of passing the puck around and not getting anything at the net. ... I had to throw it there at the net and make a play."

It was all Binnington and the Blues would need. His best save of the night came when he kicked out the right pad to deny Diminik Kubalik on a breakaway just 1:28 into the second period.

"At that point in the game, Fleury was making some big saves," Binnington said. "We were kind of putting the pressure on them. He’s a goal scorer, coming down. Good shooter. Kind of just came out and challenged and played it. And stopped it. So it was good."

What helped Binnington most in his 25-save effort was not a ton of traffic around him throughout this game. The Blues did a solid job of sealing off the crease and slot area in front of their netminder.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Dakota Joshua (54) and the Blues had a hard time solving Blackhawks
goalie Marc-Andre Fleury (29) on Saturday night at Enterprise Center.

"Absolutely, yeah. I think certain teams are stronger at it," Binnington said. "Tonight I think we did a great job. Even penalty kill, seeing pucks, and 200-foot clears. 

"It’s good hockey right now we’re playing. It was a good homestand. And it’s time to get back on the road and keep winning."

Krug said after the morning skate that anybody can beat anyone in the NHL, and that was none more evident than on this night. Can't take anybody for granted, and the Blues don't feel like they did.

"I don't think we took them lightly," winger David Perron said. "We had a lot of shots, we drove the play for the most part and there are going to be nights like this where you find a way to get a few early, maybe it opens up the game and you end up scoring a lot of goals. Other nights, we have to find a way to win 1-0. I really liked how we stayed with our game for most of the night. We didn't give up that much, a couple chances at the end to kind of scare us there with a few seconds left, but for the most part, pretty good.

"It's not an easy league."

Saturday, October 30, 2021

(10-30-21) Blackhawks-Blues Gameday Lineup

ST. LOUIS -- A familiar face was back on the ice on Saturday.

Forward Brandon Saad, secluded the past nine days in COVID-19 protocol, skated Saturday morning for the first time prior to the Blues (5-1-0) hosting the winless Chicago Blackhawks (0-6-2) today at 7 p.m. (BSMW, ESPN 101.1-FM).

However, Saad, who has a goal and an assist in three games, will miss his fourth game tonight.

"Yeah, he's cleared and he'll skate for the next few days and hopefully he'll be back next game," Blues coach Craig Berube said.

The next game would be the start of a four-game road trip through California and ends in Winnipeg, beginning with Wednesday's game and final meeting this season with the Los Angeles Kings.

"We missed him," Berube said of Saad. "Looking forward to getting him back in the lineup."

- - -

Tonight will mark the season debut for defenseman Niko Mikkola, who will replace Robert Bortuzzo in the lineup.

Mikkola is the last remaining healthy player from the opening night roster to get into the lineup; he will pair up with Jake Walman and play on the right side.

"He's been out and hasn't played," Berube said. "We planned on playing him. We need to get everybody in there."

In 35 career games, Mikkola has five points (one goal, four assists).

- - - 

The Blues will insert veteran Kyle Clifford into the lineup tonight and make rookie Jake Neighbours a healthy scratch for the first time.

Berube wanted to make clear Neighbours, 19, sitting out has nothing to do with poor play but rather more so to just hit the reset button.

"Yeah, a lot of times with a young guy, the game's really speeding up now," Berube said. "It's good to watch a game and get a reset button a little bit. That's all it is with Jake, and it's been a tough couple games because of the way the games have gone and I've shortened the bench early in the games and he hasn't gotten the opportunity. It's been a little tough that way."

The past two games, Neighbours played 7:55 Monday against the Kings and 9:22 in Thursday's 4-3 loss to the Colorado Avalanche. There was one play where Neighbours lost the puck at the offensive zone blue line at the end of his shift that led to Nazem Kadri scoring to make it a 3-1 game.

"I talked to him last night actually. I don't wait," Berube said. "A young kid like that, I want to make sure he's not getting too down on himself. We don't need that. He's done a tremendous job. Sometimes you need to take a game and you watch and the coaches will talk to him about certain things to watch for and players to watch and things like that that'll help him. We'll start over getting to practice and get after practice again and get after the next game."

- - -

The Blues and Blackhawks will renew their rivalry for the first time since March 8, 2020 right before the pandemic rocked the world.

The two teams were in different divisions last season and did not face one another, as strange as that sounds, with the Blues moving to the West Division for one season while the Hawks remained in the Central Division.

The Blues will want to be aware of tonight's opponent, still searching for its first win of the season and a team surrounded by a dark cloud of turmoil based off the news within the past week.

"Very aware," defenseman Torey Krug said. "I think there were a couple games there where they probably deserve to win with the efforts they put in. They play hard. They have a talented group and this is the NHL, so everyone has pride and on any given night, any team can win. I know they're searching for one. We expect a big battle."

- - -

The Blues' projected lineup:

Jordan Kyrou-Brayden Schenn-David Perron

Ivan Barbashev-Robert Thomas-Vladimir Tarasenko

James Neal-Tyler Bozak-Pavel Buchnevich 

Klim Kostin-Dakota Joshua-Kyle Clifford

Marco Scandella-Colton Parayko

Torey Krug-Justin Faulk

Jake Walman-Niko Mikkola

Jordan Binnington will start on goal; Ville Husso will be the backup. 

Healthy scratches include Brandon Saad, Robert Bortuzzo and Jake Neighbours. Ryan O'Reilly is in COVID-19 protocol, and Oskar Sundqvist (knee) remains on LTIR.

- - -

The Blackhawks' projected lineup:

Dominik Kubalik-Kirby Dach-Dylan Strome

Alex DeBrincat-Philipp Kurashev-Mike Hardman

Ryan Carpenter-Jonathan Toews-Brandon Hagel 

Adam Gaudette-MacKenzie Entwistle-Reese Johnson

Calvin de Haan-Seth Jones

Jake McCabe-Connor Murphy

Isaak Phillips-Erik Gustafsson

Marc-Andre Fleury will start on goal; Kevin Lankinen will be the backup. 

The Hawks report no healthy scratches. Tyler Johnson (upper body) and Wyatt Kalynuk (ankle) are out, and Patrick Kane, Henrik Borgstrom, Jujhar Khaira and Riley Stillman are all in COVID-19 protocol.

Friday, October 29, 2021

Binnington doesn't condone stick-swinging incident with Kadri

However, goalie doesn't regret doing it during loss to Kadri, 
Avalanche; not first time Blues netminder has sparked emotions

MARYLAND HEIGHTS, Mo. -- Jordan Binnington woke up less than 24 hours after a stick-swinging incident against the Colorado Avalanche and wanted to clear the air.

The Blues goalie answered "no" when asked if he regrets swinging his stick in the direction of Avalanche forward Nazem Kadri with 30 seconds remaining in the second period of a 4-3 loss on Thursday, but ... 
(St. Louis Blues/Scott Rovak)
Blues goalie Jordan Binnington sparked a feud late in the second period
of a 4-3 loss against the Avalanche with a stick swing at Nazem Kadri.

"I don't condone it," Binnington said Friday. "It doesn't need to happen. I just think getting in the scrum is enough. I didn't need to do the stuff after, but stuff happens out there and you learn and you keep moving forward."

It started when Colorado's Logan O'Connor cross-checked Blues defenseman Jake Walman and a scrum ensued behind the Blues bench after O'Connor and Walman came together hard into the blue paint and knocking the net off its moorings moments before Cale Makar thought he had scored that would have given the Avalanche a 4-1 lead.

But one thing led to another, and Binnington would wire a puck airborne at Avs goalie Darcy Kuemper and get into a war of words and take a jab with his stick towards Kadri, public enemy No. 1 for the Blues who fought defenseman Justin Faulk 47 seconds into the game in response to taking Faulk out of the playoffs last season with his vicious hit to the head.

"Kind of a heat of the moment," said Binnington, who received a 10-minute misconduct on the play along with Kadri. "The scrum started and then kind of carried on and there was a little stuff from the past going on there, but I might have taken it a little too far. I don't want to condone the stick-swinging. Having a guy sit in the box for 10 minutes (Robert Bortuzzo) isn't the play. I definitely don't want kids out there swinging their sticks. It's an emotional situation, emotions were high, it was a competitive game. These are big games and against a big team. We didn't get the win, but we had a good third period and hopefully we can build off that and lead into the next game."

This isn't Binnington's first dust-up with opposing teams, though.

Remember in 2019 during the second round of the playoffs against the Dallas Stars when in Game 4, Binnington took a couple jabs at Stars captain Jamie Benn at the end of the second period, then as he was leaving the ice, took a chop with stick at Stars goalie Ben Bishop?
It was afterwards, before Game 5, that fueled the "Who's Montgomery?" in reference to then-Stars head coach Jim Montgomery, currently a Blues assistant, that said he thought Binnington lost his cool and Binnington responded to a question regarding Montgomery's comments.

Heck, Binnington even sparked a feud with the Stars' American Hockey League affiliate, the Texas Stars, when playing for the San Antonio Rampage earlier that year when he slashed Joel L’Esperance in a game after a goal was scored.

Go back even further to Dec. 26, 2017 when Binnington, with Providence of the AHL, fought -- or wrestled -- his buddy Pheonix Copley of Hersey in a game.

How about the incident Oct. 24, 2019 between Binnington and then-Los Angeles Kings forward and now current teammate Kyle Clifford when Binnington skated over and bumped Clifford before Clifford cross-checked him, prompting Ivan Barbashev and Oskar Sundqvist to jump in and cause a stir?

Clifford in postgame comments called Binnington a "mutant."

Last season in San Jose, there was another incident with Binnington and Sharks defenseman Erik Karlsson and goalie Devan Dubnyk. It started with Binnington getting pulled from the game and perhaps getting some choice words from the Sharks bench, in which Binnington put his mitt in the face of Radek Simek, and as he was skating off, he faked as if he was going to hit Karlsson in the face with his blocker before taking a swipe with his stick at Dubnyk's stick as Dubnyk was trying to tell Binnington to leave the ice.

It's gotten Binnington a reputation nationally as temperamental. It's his subtle way of trying to fire his teammates up.

"No, I'm not crazy. It's an intense game and it's not part of modern-day hockey," Binnington said. "Maybe back in the olden days, but it is what it is."

Binnington sparked the win against the Sharks when the Blues came back from a four one-goal deficits and come out on top, 7-6. He was hoping for more of the same against the Avs, and it almost worked when the Blues, who were down 3-1 at the time, made it a 3-2 game in the third period before falling.

"We were in the game and I really believe we can win every game we play," Binnington said. "It's a competitive league, it's a long year and every game's important. We had a great third period and made it close, but it wasn't enough."

Blues coach Craig Berube said the issue was addressed with Binnington and curbed.

"It was discussed with him," Berube said. "Like we talked about yesterday, he's an emotional guy and he gets engaged sometimes that way. We can't have him swinging the stick."

Emotions run in different circles with players. It was different back in the old days, when players almost unequivocally settled differences with their fists, except for the occasional stick swings that got players in trouble, but Berube said he won't police players' emotions but expects them to keep them within proper channels. 
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues goalie Jordan Binnington (left) makes a save on Vegas' Jake
Leschyshyn in a 3-1 Blues win Oct. 20.

"We let guys handle it themselves, but you can't be stupid," Berube said. "We all know that. You've got to control your emotions. There's times where it gets really heated and you've got to be in control, and if you're not, there's a chance you can do something you shouldn't do and get suspended. You've got to control your emotions, but on the other side of it, you can't play the game without emotion either."

Binnington may want to be on his best behavior considering he's one of the goalies considered for the Canada's Winter Olympic team. And who is the general manager for that squad? None other than Blues GM Doug Armstrong.

"That would be special. It would be very exciting," Binnington said if chosen. "I think the outlook with that is just do the business here and win games for the St. Louis Blues and with the St. Louis Blues and just take care of myself, be present in the moment and let the rest take care of itself. Whatever happens, happens. Just play hard and do the best you can."

Blues finally fall, 4-3 to Avalanche, gave themselves chance despite being outplayed

Penalties, costly mistakes, missed calls all factor into first loss without O'Reilly 
in lineup; bodes well that team can stay in games even without their best

ST. LOUIS -- Well, it had to end sometime.

And even though some of the statistics heavily favored the Colorado Avalanche in their Central Division showdown with the Blues on Thursday, it was still a winnable game for the home team, which was looking to extend it's franchise-best season-opening winning streak to five games.
(St. Louis Blues/Scott Rovak)
Blues forward Jordan Kyrou (25) and Avalanche defenseman Jack Johnson
battle for puck possession in a matchup Thursday at Enterprise Center.

But alas, in the end, the Avalanche got the best of the Blues, 4-3 and dash those hopes of an 82-0-0 season.

Well, that wasn't going to happen obviously, but everyone can dream, right?

It's just the fashion in which the Blues (5-1-0) lost in that was frustrating for them, including playing without their No. 1 center and captain Ryan O'Reilly.

First off, let's start with the penalties.

Justin Faulk decided that Brayden Schenn sticking up for him in the season-opener when he fought Nazem Kadri, who delivered the dirty hit that knocked Faulk out of the first-round playoff series last year, wasn't enough, so Faulk decided to take matters into his own hands and fight Kadri himself 47 seconds into this one.

What ensued was that Faulk was assessed 17 minutes in penalties, five for fighting, two for instigating and a 10-minute misconduct.

Huh? First off, Faulk allowed Kadri to get up and challenged him. It was mano-i-mano, man-for-man. No third wheel, not jumping him from behind, anything of that nature. To get an extra minor and 10 additional minutes was questionable what was an less than stellar officiating crew here tonight assigned to a big boy game that couldn't handle the big boy game, Michael Markovic and Corey Syvret. It was apparent that these guys were out of their league tonight.

"I didn't really know what was going on, but not overly (surprised)," Blues defenseman Colton Parayko said of Faulk. "We obviously all kind of know the history behind it and what happened in the playoffs. It's on him to do that, I think, to stick up for himself. It's good to see."

"I'm not surprised on either one of them to be honest with you," Blues coach Craig Berube said of Faulk and the instigator. "He initiated it, so …"

OK, so the Blues were fine with what happened. Move on. But then came another penalty on Klim Kostin (tripping) in the first, and another on Torey Krug (holding) also in the first. Then Marco Scandella (hooking) in the second, Faulk for a no-excuse delay of game minor in the second. Those are avoidable, and those are execution-killers and take the Blues out of their rhythm and element.

They came into the game No. 1 in the NHL in penalty-killing efficiency, but the Avalanche made the Blues pay on just one of them, a J.T. Compher goal in the second period to make it 2-1.

"I mean there's no point of saying you agree or not but at the end of the day we've got to stay out of the penalty box," Blues center Brayden Schenn said. "Giving that team six, I'm not sure how many (goals) they had tonight one, maybe two? PK did a good job, but at the same time, it just takes our whole bench and rhythm out of it, I think. Guys don't play as much as they need to and stoppages and whistles and TV timeouts, think guys kind of get a little bit cold. So I think as far as the rhythm goes,  PK did a good job killing penalties tonight, but the same time, it takes guys out of it."

So the PK did more than an adequate job, foiling four of five Colorado PP's, which is pretty potent, although it hasn't been all that good this season and was missing Mikko Rantanen (lower-body injury) tonight.

But the Blues had to play this game without captain Ryan O'Reilly due to COVID-19 protocol, his first game missed since his arrival in St. Louis July 1, 2018, a span of 214 consecutive regular-season games and 253 games including the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

It showed often.

"Well, I mean, you miss his full game," Berube said. "But that’s no reason to play the way we played for two periods, in my opinion. Again, he’s out, but we have capable guys of filling the roles. We kept (Nathan) MacKinnon and that line off the scoreboard tonight and we still lost. We have to do a better job as a whole team of understanding how we need to play the game, and we didn’t do that tonight. We didn’t skate and we were in penalty trouble, so we had a lot of guys sitting and it makes it difficult on everybody. We looked spread out tonight. We didn’t look tight like we normally do. Our forecheck was spread out. And then I thought overall they were a little bit more hungry than we were."

The Blues didn't possess the puck a ton tonight. The Avalanche did. It was a case of chasing it for much of the night, and the Avalanche want a track meet. Their game is predicated on it. 

"I think a lot of times you get the puck, but you’re isolated and they close on you quick," Berube said. "This team does not give you any time. You’ve got to fight for space and create your own space. I thought we did a much better job in the third period, but the first two periods we did not do it well enough. Like, even in our zone they just won more battles, and in the offensive zone, our forecheck, they just won more battles for two periods."

It was called no legs.

"You're playing lots in your own end and then it's hard to grab the momentum and turn it the other way," Schenn said. "I don't think we did a very good job of, maybe shifting the tide tonight or changing the momentum, maybe until later in the game. They're a good team over there. They play fast. We knew that. I don't think we had skating legs tonight, I don't think we moved our feet enough and the result was for us to play probably way too much in our own end."

Even though they were outshot 14-5 in the first, the Blues managed to escape tied 1-1 thanks to Avs goalie Darcy Kuemper gifting Parayko's first of the season, a slap shot that Kuemper thought he had squeezed between his pads, but the puck trickled through and in the net.

But Compher's tying goal at 18:12 of the first came as a result of of not winning a puck battle behind the net with Jake Walman and Dakota Joshua.

It didn't get better in the second when the Avs took control with two goals, Compher's second of the game (he tied it in the first) came after Faulk's delay of game, and Kadri's goal to make it 3-1 after Jake Neighbours, instead of dumping a puck into the zone late in his shift, tried to skate by defenseman Ryan Murray at the Colorado blue line, got it stolen and the Avs' transition made the Blues pay. That's a 19-year-old teachable moment for Neighbours. But it's also a goal one would like to see Jordan Binnington, who did make 38 saves, stop on the short side from the right circle.

It got feisty and dicey late in the second when the Avs thought they had the dagger goal, by Cale Makar, with 30 seconds remaining, but the goal was waved off because Colorado's Logan O'Connor had knocked the net off its moorings with Jake Walman draped all over him.

O'Connor took a shot at Walman and a heavy scrum ensued that lasted long enough for Ivan Barbashev and Compher to get matching minors (O'Connor and Walman, who started it all, got nothing), and Kadri and Binnington each received 10-minute misconducts.

Seems that Kadri didn't want to de-escalate the situation and exchanged words with Binnington, who fired a puck towards his counterpart and swung his stick towards Kadri.

"I have no idea. I don't know why I got a 10-minute penalty there," Kadri said. "I stayed out of the scrum. I stayed out. We exchanged some words. I got a stick swung in my face. Then I end up with a 10-minute penalty. I'm not quite sure what it was for. I started skating towards him, but I'm about 50 feet away from the guy. I'm getting misconducts for just talking now. Not quite sure what that's about. What are you going to do?"

Avs coach Jared Bednar understood why.

"I mean I like the play from us. We had a good entry. A good pass across. Put it in the back of the net," Bednar said. "We're driving the net hard and their guy pushes us into the net and it's off. It's off just a split second too early. Sometimes you can count it even with the net off but we weren't in the act of shooting when the net went off. It was the important play to me. After that, it's just guys competing hard. It is what it is. Binnington gets a 10. Kadri gets a 10 for going back and continuing the conversation. It was the right call. That would have been a big goal for us. Kadri, you can't continue to try and escalate an altercation. It's no different from getting into a fight. Sometimes they'll let you get away with it but, that had dragged on long enough. You can't go back and try to fire things back up."

Fair enough, and Berube didn't feel Binnington's actions were unnecessary.

"Yeah, he gets fired up. He’s a fiery guy," Berube said. "He wasn’t happy about things. It is what it is, so … I’m not going to look into it too much."

So, the Blues trailed by two (3-1) after two, a spot they hadn't been in all season long, and outshot 30-12. It was fitting for the time being.

But they found life when Schenn slammed home a one-timer from in tight off Jordan Kyrou's nifty no-look, behind-the-back crease feed, making it 3-2 at 4:13 of the third period against a leaky Kuemper.

Game on, right?

Well ... 

Before the 16,558 at Enterprise Center could get their juices flowing for a frantic finish, the air was sucked back out when Makar scored 38 seconds later for a two-goal Avalanche lead, 4-2.

It started with defenseman Marco Scandella attempting to clear the puck on his backhand off the glass and out of the zone. It fell near the blue line and kept in by Makar instead of Vladimir Tarasenko or Robert Thomas locating it and stayed in the Blues zone before Nathan MacKinnon, who the Blues held in check, found Makar streaking into the high slot that beat Binnington, who seemed to swim too far to his left and was not square to the shooter.

"Yeah, it is. It's obviously difficult," Parayko said. "That was a good goal by 'Schenner' and gave us a little momentum. I think that's where on us we've got to continue to bring that momentum and stick with momentum. Obviously when they get one, it kind of brings it down a little bit. But I got to say, we battled back again and we gave ourselves another chance. Credit to us for that, but at the end of the day, not good enough."

"Yeah, that fourth goal is tough, it’s a killer," Berube said. "That puck has to get out. It’s right at the blue line there, we’ve got to do a better job of getting that puck out, and they ended up capitalizing on it. But we battled back, Vladi scored a great goal and we’re back in the game. Goalie out, we had a couple of looks."

Tarasenko did score, at 16:01, a wicked wrister that whizzed by Kuemper's ear and gave the Blues some life, but their comeback efforts came up just short.

But not without some late controversy, one on a questionable icing call by linesman Kilian McNamara when Kyrou clearly beat former Blues No. 1 overall pick Erik Johnson to a puck with 2:45 left, and then a tripping penalty on Tyson Jost ignored when he took down Parayko with two minutes remaining that would have given the Blues a power-play.

It would have been their first full power play the entire game. They certainly deserved a couple in this game, but Syvret, in full view, completely ignored what was a blatant penalty.

"I don't know. It's tough to call one I guess maybe that late with a one-goal game," the politically correct Parayko said. "I don't know, it is what it is. It's going to come back and we'll get one of those maybe later on in the year. They always seem to even out. It's part of the game and there's nothing we can do about it."

As was stated earlier, these officials were way out of their league. Sorry, a penalty is a penalty whether it's early in the game, middle of the game, late in the game, close game, rout, doesn't matter. A call is a call is a call, period.

Would the Blues have tied it? Who knows, but in fairness, one would like to see them given a deserved chance.

But in any light, overall, Colorado was the better team on this night, but given all the circumstances, the Blues were one shot away from possibly extending their streak.

Berube mixed and matched his lines, other than Tarasenko, Robert Thomas and Ivan Barbahev because, "I’m just trying to find some momentum and guys that had good legs. Looking for legs and things like that, just trying to find some chemistry."
(St. Louis Blues/Scott Rovak)
Blues center Dakota Joshua (left) looks for the puck near the Avalanche 
goal in front of goalie Darcy Kuemper (35) and defenseman Ryan Murray.

Being outshot 42-18 is not optimal. Not only did the Blues miss O'Reilly, but they also missed Brandon Saad, and still gave themselves a chance. 

"Yeah, it obviously was a good game. Central Division game," Parayko said. "They're a good team, we're a good team, so those games are always tough. They're always exciting. Big points between teams within the Central. We have a very tough division. They're always definitely high-emotion games and very good games."

"They’re a very good team, they’re hard to play against and if we want to consistently beat them and compete with them, we have to play for 60 minutes and we only played for 20 tonight," Berube said.

Lesson learned. Now move onto the next challenge and begin anew.

"Got to have your skating legs every night," Schenn said. "There's a lot of fast teams, teams play different styles. We're going to get good teams in the East that play a little bit more run and gun compared to maybe a team like L.A. that we played or Colorado plays fast so, we've got to be ready for every team every night and there's going to be a new challenge. You just can't be happy that you're 5-0. We got to worry about this loss now and get ready for Chicago."

Thursday, October 28, 2021

(10-28-21) Avalanche-Blues Gameday Lineup

ST. LOUIS -- The Blues will be suiting up for a game tonight for the first time without Ryan O'Reilly.

When the Blues (5-0-0) put their five-game winning streak on the line against the Colorado Avalanche (2-4-0) at 7 p.m. (BSMW, ESPN 101.1-FM), they'll be doing so for the first time without O'Reilly in the lineup since they acquired him July 1, 2018, a streak of 214 straight regular-season games.

O'Reilly and forward Brandon Saad will miss the game in the COVID-19 protocol. For Saad, it's his third straight game and the first of at least four for O'Reilly.

So what will the Blues be missing?

"I think it's 200 feet of hockey to be honest with you," Blues coach Craig Berube said. "He does a lot of good stuff for the team, starting in our own end, face-offs, just being a real good shutdown player too, a real good offensive player too, penalty kill, power play. He plays in all situations."

The best way to describe what the Blues miss with O'Reilly is everything. No need going into the singular situations. 

"There's many things we're going to miss about him," forward Ivan Barbashev said. "There's face-offs, there's d-zone. There's way too many things I can say about him. We all know it's a tough loss, but we've just got to keep moving forward and keep playing our best."

The Blues have had to reconfigure their lines, but the one constant that Berube wants to keep together is Barbashev, Robert Thomas and Vladimir Tarasenko, who are off to a hot start with 16 points (six goals, 10 assists) in five games.

"I think they've been really good for pretty much the season," Berube said. "They're creating lots of chances for. I feel like with O'Reilly and Saad out, instead of switching up everything, I'd like to keep some sort of lineup together that's been together and that's the one I really chose."

The chemistry developed between the three has been seamless, and it's been one line that's been a constant to the start of the season.

"I think we're just enjoying the game," Barbashev said. "It's really simple to play with them. They really want to play (in the) offensive zone, but sometimes we've got to do defense first. I think it's been working really good so far, especially it looks like we've been playing a lot of o-zone time and not much defensively, I'll say, but I'll (also) say our last couple games have been a little bit sloppy. So we improve some stuff and move forward the same way."

Barbashev is off to a hot start himself, with a career-high five-game point streak (three goals, two assists).

"It's been a really good start," Barbashev said. "The stuff I did in the summer was more important, especially coming from a tough season last year. It looks like it's been improving. It's been good so far.

"I've been there (before offensively), but for me, it's really important that I play a two-way game, especially d-zone first and then moving to offense. It's been good. I've been enjoying playing with Vladi and Thomas and it's been good so far."

For Berube, putting Barbashev in scoring positions was a no-brainer, considering he had the Russian at the American Hockey League level before with the Chicago Wolves.

"Barby's got the potential to be an offensive player," Berube said. "I think that he was in juniors and I know in the minors he scored a bunch of goals one year. At times he's produced up here when he's put in those situations and roles,. I think that it's just a matter of getting more of an opportunity and he is right now. I think over the last couple years he's been used as more of a checker, I would say, but coming into this year, he had a good camp and we're using him in a different way."

- - -

The Blues will be counting on their veterans more than ever with O'Reilly and Saad out of the lineup, and it's been good that they have had James Neal at their disposal.

Neal has scored a goal in the four games he's played, a power-play goal, but has been an effective player in the four games he's played.

"I feel really good," Neal said. "I probably haven't felt this good in four years. Everything's been awesome here and settling in nice. I like the way our team is trending here."

Neal will be the veteran, at least to start the game, playing with rookies Dakota Joshua, who will make his season debut, and Jake Neighbours.

"I think just the depth of our team, I think that's a really good thing with our club," Neal said. "We're going to have different guys obviously step up here, but we're deep up front there, but we're giving guys different chances here. Colorado's a great team. They were missing their top guys when we played them in their building. I'm sure they're looking to come in here and have a good game and we want to keep our win streak alive here. It'll be a good game tonight."

Even without two of their top-line skaters available, this is still a good and formidable Blues lineup.

"Yeah, it's great. I think we're pretty deep," forward David Perron said. "I think 'Nealer' brings that little bit of energy on maybe a line that's needed to go a little bit more that night. As we saw last game, I thought he had some good shifts in the third with our line. I also think he's a pretty good net-front guy on the power play tipping pucks, bringing the puck to the net, retrievals. Even a guy like 'Dak,' I think he had a phenomenal training camp and numbers game, he gets down to the AHL, he plays his game, gets called up. Now he gets his chance. I don't know if he's playing or not, but it seems he was on the fourth line there quite a bit today. If he gets a chance to play, you got him, you got 'Cliffy', 'Jake' doing his thing too so it's great."

- - -

It's the second meeting of the season between the Blues and Avalanche. 

The Blues won 5-3 on their opening night and Colorado's second game of the season, but the Avalanche were missing stars Nathan MacKinnon and Gabriel Landeskog in that game.

"With those two guys back in the lineup, they're a much more dangerous team for sure, more balanced throughout their lineup having those two guys in there," Berube said. "They're hard to handle. They're powerful and speed, they're tough to control."

- - -

With Edmonton losing 5-3 on Wednesday at home against Philadelphia, the Blues are the lone remaining Western Conference team without a loss. Carolina (5-0-0), which hosts Boston tonight, and Florida (7-0-0) remain undefeated in the Eastern Conference.

- - -

The Blues' projected lineup:

Klim Kostin-Brayden Schenn-David Perron

Jordan Kyrou-Tyler Bozak-Pavel Buchnevich 

Ivan Barbashev-Robert Thomas-Vladimir Tarasenko

Jake Neighbours-Dakota Joshua-James Neal

Marco Scandella-Colton Parayko

Torey Krug-Justin Faulk

Jake Walman-Robert Bortuzzo

Jordan Binnington will start in goal; Ville Husso will be the backup.

Healthy scratches include Niko Mikkola and Kyle Clifford. Oskar Sundqvist (knee) remains in LTIR. Ryan O'Reilly and Brandon Saad are out in COVID-19 protocol.

- - -

The Avalanche's projected lineup:

Andre Burakovsky-Nathan MacKinnon-Mikko Rantanen

Gabriel Landeskog-Nazem Kadri-Logan O'Connor 

Sampo Ranta-Tyson Jost-J.T. Compher

Darren Helm-Jayson Megna-Martin Kaut

Bowen Byram-Cale Makar

Jack Johnson-Erik Johnson

Kurtis MacDermid-Ryan Murray

Darcy Kuemper will start in goal; Jonas Johansson will be the backup.

The healthy scratch is Jacob MacDonald. Pavel Francouz (ankle), Samuel Girard (upper body), Valeri Nichushkin (upper body) and Devon Toews (shoulder) are out. Rantanen left practice early and Avs coach Jared Bednar is not sure of his status for the game, so something to keep an eye on in pregame warmups.

Wednesday, October 27, 2021

Blues configure lineup sans O'Reilly for first time

Schenn moves up to play with Perron, Bozak slides up; captain will miss first 
game since joining Blues in 2018; Sundqvist increasing workload, getting closer

MARYLAND HEIGHTS, Mo. -- Craig Berube needed 24 hours to conjure up what a lineup would look like for the first time without Ryan O'Reilly.

The Blues coach and his assistants found what they wanted and went with balance.

With O'Reilly set to miss his first game since joining the Blues in 2018, a span of 214 consecutive regular-season games, the Blues (5-0-0) had to reconfigure their forward lines, which will be put to the test against the Colorado Avalanche (2-4-0) on Thursday.

Berube slotted Brayden Schenn between Klim Kostin and O'Reilly's running mate, David Perron, while moving Tyler Bozak up between Jordan Kyrou and Pavel Buchnevich, leaving the Robert Thomas line with Vladimir Tarasenko and Ivan Barbashev alone and putting Dakota Joshua, recalled from Springfield (Mass.) of the American Hockey League on Tuesday, in as the fourth-line center between Jake Neighbours and James Neal.

Here's what the projected lineup looked like in practice on Wednesday:

Klim Kostin-Brayden Schenn-David Perron

Jordan Kyrou-Tyler Bozak-Pavel Buchnevich

Ivan Barbashev-Robert Thomas-Vladimir Tarasenko

Jake Neighbours-Dakota Joshua-James Neal

* Injured Oskar Sundqvist and Kyle Clifford were the extra forwards.

Marco Scandella-Colton Parayko
Torey Krug-Justin Faulk
Jake Walman-Robert Bortuzzo
* Niko Mikkola was the extra d-man.

Jordan Binnington and Ville Husso were the netminders.

Instead of overloading the top two lines and perhaps leaving the bottom six vulnerable and/or full of young, inexperienced skaters to try and fend for themselves, Berube has kept a veteran presence on each line with the thought of laying out the experience throughout.

"It's part of it because we've had lines that have been doing really well, but I do want balance throughout the lineup and we've got a significant amount of young guys in the lineup so it's nice to have veterans with those guys, so I do look at that too," Berube said. "The Thomas line has been real effective, so I didn't want to split that line up.

"... I didn't really draw a lot out. I didn't want to change too much, so I tried to simplify as best as I could, talked with the coaches about what they thought. This is what we came up with."

O'Reilly and Perron are joined at the hip, especially on the ice, with each normally coming into the ice together for practices and playing together in games, so it was imperative to find someone that's played with Perron before and done well with him.

Enter Schenn.

"(That's) part of it," Berube said. "They played together last year and probably the year before that at times too. That was always one of the switches that I made when I took Perron from O'Reilly, I put him with Schenn all the time. They do have familiarity with each other. They're going to have to do a good job, they're probably going to be playing against (Nathan) MacKinnon's line quite a bit, as other lines will too but that line's got to be good. They're going to have to be real good for us."

Perron and Schenn are the veterans that will have to pull the rope with rookie Klim Kostin learning on the fly, as he has done in the early stages of this season, and doing well.

"I think with Klim last game, I thought he had a good game," Perron said. "We were playing pretty good as a team and 'Chief' kind of changed things up as a coach would do to ... maybe young guys a lot of times, it happened to me earlier in my career. When things aren't clicking the perfect way, you're trying to find goals, so he made some switches, goes back to it today. I talked to Klim about it just to keep competing the way he does, I think he's doing a pretty good job. I think Schenner and I have also had chemistry in the past. We've made some good plays, good games in the past with him even going back to my first year back here three years ago, four years ago now. I played with him and 'Schwartzy' (Jaden Schwartz) a bunch, played with him last year a little bit as well. It's how it's going to go, we're going to have to adjust and obviously we would like to have our full lineup, but at this point, I think we're looking forward to those games coming up."

Keeping the Barbashev-Thomas-Tarasenko line together made sense, but taking Schenn away from Kyrou and Buchnevich is a bit of a gamble considering that trio was playing well together too. But having the veteran presence of Bozak allowed for that change to take place since Bozak will fill many of the small detail roles O'Reilly occupied.

"Definitely. He's always a guy that we know from the past, he does a lot of different things for us in the lineup, whether he's playing up in the lineup, down in the lineup, different areas, power play, penalty kill," Berube said. "He's a real smart player. That could be a real effective line."

It's no secret why Berube would want to keep the Thomas line together. It's combined for 16 points (five goals, 10 assists) in five games, with Tarasenko leading the charge with six points (three goals, three assists), followed by Barbashev with five points (three goals, two assists) and Thomas with five assists.

And then there's Joshua, who had one assist in five games with the Thunderbirds before being called up to fill in while O'Reilly and Brandon Saad, who Berube said was getting close to returning, is still out. 

"Feels good obviously (to be back)," Joshua said. "This is the place you want to be. So any time you get another opportunity you got to take advantage of it and I'm really excited to hopefully get in.

"... Obviously you just want to put your best foot forward and make sure that you're making a positive impact and that there's no reason that things shouldn't keep going the way are."

As for O'Reilly, who will miss at least the next four games and 10 days while in COVID-19 protocol, Perron has spoken to him.

"I have, I've talked to him a little bit to see how he's doing and all that," Perron said. "Obviously we knew we probably would have to keep dealing with that throughout the whole year. It's kind of a tough bounce, both of my linemates go down. It's a little bit different.

"Well I think obviously it's just a situation that it's almost like more and more normal to get those situations. I think he's doing fine. Kind of some of the stuff, I've got to check up with him again today, see what type of stuff he's got, but it's really for him to talk about that, not me." 

* NOTES -- Forward Oskar Sundqvist was a participant in Wednesday's practice. That's not a secret, since Sundqvist has skated regularly for weeks now.

What is a surprise was seeing Sundqvist taking part in penalty killing duties and absorbing some contact, which is new.

For those that don't know, or may have been hiding in hibernation for months, Sundqvist continues to recover from a torn left ACL that needed surgery; he's been on long-term injured reserve, meaning he has to miss 10 games and 24 days before being eligible for re-activation.

"Yeah, I mean every day I think it's him skating and doing more and more," Berube said. "He's doing some contact now, which is good. 

"We're just going to keep pounding away at it. I don't have an answer for you guys when he's going to be back, but again, he's doing more, the contact, he's feeling better, he's doing his work in the weight room and he's a lot stronger than he was. There's a lot of positive and it's just about him feeling when he's ready to roll and he gets the clearance to play and we'll go from there."