Friday, October 22, 2021


With Saad, Buchnevich out, Kostin moves up in lineup, Clifford to make 
season debut in home opener; Blues learned plenty from 3-0-0 start

ST. LOUIS -- Klim Kostin, come on down.

You're the next man up on what's becoming a revolving door for the Blues in their top six.

Pavel Buchnevich will be back in the lineup Monday after serving his two-game suspension for head-butting Arizona's Lawson Crouse last Monday, but as far as Brandon Saad, who was put in the league's COVID-19 protocol on Thursday after a positive test, is concerned, he won't be able to resume skating and doing team functions on and off the ice without two consecutive negative tests.

So at practice on Friday, coach Craig Berube had Kostin, a healthy scratch in Colorado for the season-opener, on a line with Ryan O'Reilly and David Perron.

"I've liked Klim," Berube said. 'He's going to keep learning. I thought the penalty was unwarranted, the last one, I didn't think it was a penalty. The one in Arizona, yes, but he's creating opportunities offensively and I think he's ben doing a good job defensively being in the right spots, getting back, working back, tracking back and things like that. We'll see. We'll give him a look there. I think with that line, you know what kind of line it is with Perron and O'Reilly. They want to forecheck, they want to puck possess in the offensive zone. That's their game, so I think what suits Klim, he can get on the forecheck, be physical for them and create loose pucks and go to the net for them. That's kind of how we're looking at that."

Kostin, who scored twice in Arizona, admitted recently that his training camp wasn't as good as he would have liked it to be and that he hoped the regular season would be better than the preseason. 

So far, so good.

"I was happy to read that, that he would say that," Berube said of Kostin, the 31st pick in the 2017 NHL Draft. "That's a good assessment of himself and awareness. I think that's good on the kid. Now yes, he could have played better in camp, but there's potential there and we all know that and we've got to get it out of him. So far it's been pretty good. I think he's done a good job."

"I think knowing is definitely for sure important to change what you have to change to be better and I think he's done that," Blues right wing David Perron said of Kostin. "It's impressive how strong he is that I don't think guys know how strong he is when he gets into the corners with a d-men and he hits them. He had some pretty good hits early on and he keeps learning the game. He's a good young guy. We want him to keep getting better."

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With Saad and Buchnevich out, the Blues will also insert veteran Kyle Clifford into the lineup for the home opener against the Los Angeles Kings on Saturday (7 p.m.; BSMW, ESPN 101.1-FM).

"It's tough," Berube said. "They're good players for us. We all know that. It's unfortunate what happened to Saad." 

Clifford, who will play with Tyler Bozak and Jake Neighbours, has been an extra forward through three games but finds himself in the lineup with two important forwards out.

"He works extremely hard and his attitude's great," Berube said of Clifford. "It's hard to find a guy that works harder on the ice. He keeps himself ready to go and he understands the situation."

Asked if there were any more COVID surprise, Berube said, "That's all been taking care of."
So as of today, which could change at any moment once test results are out, there are no more roster omissions moving forward.

But the Blues have the capability to move some of those young guys like Kostin and Neighbours up the lineup with some comfort knowing two important cogs are missing.

"We knew that coming in too," Berube said. "We knew if we're going to be a good team, these young guys have to help produce and so far it's been good. I think they've done a pretty good job of it."

The Blues haven't been hit like some teams have with players in COVID protocol. But they haven't gone unscathed either.

"Things happen, as we saw with 'Saader,' but we keep pushing forward," said Perron, who missed the postseason series against Colorado last year after testing positive. "We have the protocols in place and the vaccine and all that. We feel confident. Every team is going to have to deal with it. I'm sure it's not our last time, but we're hoping. It's exciting to get going at home."

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The Blues returned home Thursday after being gone for 10 days, which included a team bonding trip to Vail, Colo. followed by the season-opening three game trip to Colorado, Arizona and Vegas, in which the Blues began a perfect 3-0-0.

"It was a long trip obviously with Vail, but it was a good trip," Berube said. "I think we got a lot out of it obviously playing some good hockey and coming home, but I talked to the guys today that it's really important that you've got to recheck yourself after coming home from a long trip like that. You've got the home opener here against LA. You've got to make sure you get that tempo and pace back up right away. It's going to be important, so we tried to push them in practice today as much as we could to get that up and running because it will be important. We all know that after a long road trip, it can be a little bit stale or slow, but it's important we get an up-tempo game going and just play the same way. Take a lot of that Vegas game and we've got to continue to play like that.

"It's more mental than anything. I don't think it's physical. It's mental."

So what have the Blues learned about themselves in the early going?

"That we're deep," Perron said. "You have a guy like Klim come off the bench and come in the lineup and score two goals. But I was impressed with him, I guess two goals for sure, but more than that, his pace was high, he was physical, he made some good plays, he was solid on the forecheck. That's why we need him to be successful in this league. I think he's started to learn that and he understands he needs to do it and it's to do it with consistency.

"I think our d-men have provided offense. I think we've made some little tweaks that can make a difference and I think 'Binner' (Jordan Binnington) has been 'Binner.' I know that he's allowed some goals in the first and second games, but they were kind of goals when the game was over in my opinion, but he made some unbelievable saves in both of those games and in Vegas. It was a pretty good goaltending matchup last game and he came out on top, so that was impressive."

"Our work ethic's pretty good," defenseman Justin Faulk said. "It's where we want it to be. First few games, they can be a bit of a feeling out process. I don't think any team maybe is as sharp as they want to be, but if you have that work ethic and compete level that we think we need to have as a group in our lineup, things will turn in the right direction or go in the right direction and we saw that in the first three games. I think that's all you ask for in the beginning and then you start fine-tuning from there."

They're developing an identity, the kind of identity Berube has been searching for since before the pandemic hit.

It's early, but it's a work in progress.

"I think you do, I think especially the Vegas game. For me, that was an important game, but an identity doesn't get formed in three games," Berube said. "It takes time. We've got work to do and we'll get there."

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Along with some of the lineup changes that we'll see for Saturday includes defenseman Jake Walman getting more reps with Colton Parayko.

It's been a pair used in the past, and with some success, so it isn't the first time that duo has been paired together.

Not that the Marco Scandella-Parayko pair was poor. It certainly wasn't. In fact, it was good, but pairing Scandella with Bortuzzo will ultimately come into play because of matchups and to balance out the defense.

"Wally's gaining the trust of everybody," Berube said. "Maybe we need him to go out there with Parayko or go out there with Faulk at times to play a role against the top line or to shut down somebody. He's getting there to where he can do that."

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