Tuesday, October 19, 2021

Blues kids lead way in 7-4 win over Coyotes

Kyrou, Kostin, Thomas, Neighbours, all 23 or younger, combine for four goals, 
five assists in sign Blues will rely on them for a lot of heavy lifting this season

The Blues have relied on a veteran core for such a long stretch that it ultimately helped them win the ultimate prize of the Stanley Cup in 2019.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues forward Klim Kostin celebrates one of two goals he scored on Monday
during a 7-4 win over the Arizona Coyotes at Gila River Arena.

To try and continue such success again, the growing crop of kids will need to take on more responsibilities, more key roles, more prominent ice time in order for the Blues to get back to the top.

It was a glimpse, yes, and it was against the Arizona Coyotes on Monday, but the Blues got a good look at the future in the present, and it looked really good.

With Jordan Kyrou, the elder statesman leading the way at the tender age of 23, the Blues got key contributions from Kyrou, 22-year-old Robert Thomas, 22-year-old Klim Kostin and the baby of the group, Jake Neighbours as the lone teenager at 19. They combined for nine points (four goals, five assists) in the 7-4 win over the Coyotes Monday at Gila River Arena.

Whether it was Kyrou dazzling and weaving his way to a four-point night to give him six in two games to begin the season, or Thomas finding teammates with his pinpoint passing, or Kostin using his mass muscle to throw his weight around and also pop in two goals or Neighbours putting in another workmanlike effort, the Blues (2-0-0) are not having to rely on their heavyweights to carry the load all the time.

The kids are ready to raise the weight bar over their shoulders to do some of the heavy lifting.

"It's a great young core there," Blues coach Craig Berube said after the win Monday. "They look like they're growing this year and have gotten better. It's great for obviously our team and our organization. It's going to help us win hockey games, which it did tonight."

It all happened so fast on Monday, and the young guns were right smack in the middle of it.
Five goals in five minutes, 5:07 to be precise, and it was a pair of Kyrou and paid of Kostin goals that ended the bushel of goals, turning a 2-1 deficit into a 6-2 lead in the second period.
Game. Set. Match. 

Although there were a few tense and careless moments for the Blues in the third period, for all intents and purposes, it was over in that stretch, and all off former Blues goalie Carter Hutton.

It actually started with Kyrou, who ended the game with two goals and two assists, looking off a defenseman (Conor Timmins) and finding Pavel Buchnevich for his first goal as a Blue in the first period that tied the game 1-1 at 7:05.

As for Kostin, he got himself involved early. Berube spoke during the morning skate that he wanted to see Kostin, playing in his seventh NHL game, on the forecheck and playing physical.

Don't tell Arizona's Travis Boyd that, who wad the recipient of a hard, thunderous Kostin check near the Coyotes blue line in the first period. Kostin also was effective forechecking in the early going, perhaps giving him the confidence to make such offensive contributions later in the game.

"I thought he had a solid game all-around," Berube said of Kostin, the 31st pick in the 2017 NHL Draft. "I know the goals, but he worked hard and he did some real good things on the forecheck, in-zone, d-zone coverage, he blocked some shots and closed some plays out. I thought he had a solid game. 

"Any time he can be physical and get in on the forecheck, he's going to feed off that and feel confident about his game. He did a good job with it tonight."

After Justin Faulk tied the game 2-2, off a Kyrou primary assist, Kyrou's first of two gave the Blues the lead for good, a shot from the right circle beating Hutton under the bar at 12:46 of the second period. Then it was Kostin with two in 47 seconds. The first came as he was coming off the bench on a line change, stepping into a feed from Thomas, who laid it on a platter for the 6-foot-3, 215-pound Kostin to rip into for a 4-2 lead at 14:40.

"'Tommer' made a great play," Kostin said. "I saw just a lot of skates in front of me and closed my eyes and shoot."

And on Kostin's second at 15:27 to make it 5-2, he found himself in a soft spot in the slot after some terrific work by Neighbours down below the goal line before the 2020 first-round pick found Kostin in the slot for another one-timer.

"'Jakey' made a great play behind the net, protect the puck and gave me a great pass," Kostin said. "I was alone in front of the net and just shoot top shelf."

The coup de grace for the Coyotes came in the form of Kyrou's second of the game at 16:17 to make it 6-2. He weaved his way through the neutral zone, into the Coyotes zone, unlaced defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere out of his skates before deking past a helpless Hutton.

"Elite skill," veteran center Tyler Bozak said of Kyrou. "Something we get to see every day in practice and in the games. It's fun to watch. He can do a lot of amazing things withe puck and find ways to score, make something out of nothing. We're lucky to have him. It's fun to watch."

Thomas got in on the act again himself in the third when he pinpointed a pass in the slot for Ivan Barbashev's one-timer that made it 7-4 and helped stop Arizona's pushback.

"We got some great offense for sure," Kyrou said. "I think we're really deep. I think our defensemen are deep too. Our goaltending's awesome. We can definitely get a lot of goals for sure."

Kyrou and Thomas are pretty much mainstays in the lineup these days, and with each passing game, they get to showcase themselves. All that's needed is the night in, night out consistency.

"I think both of them are really doing a great job with the puck," Berube said. "Also without the puck, the tracking part of it and just playing solid in their own end and doing good things. We need them to continue to do that for us to have success. There's real upside to both of them."

As for Kostin, the Blues have been patient with him in bringing him along, which is why this was more of a showcase game for him.

"I can't be more excited to help the team win the game," said Kostin, who played 10:58 and had a team-leading three hits along with Brayden Schenn. "That's the way to play.

"I always try to prove that I always want to play my best game. I always want to help the team to win."

And for Neighbours, who played 11:04 in the game, it was the second of nine games for the Blues to audition him and he's proving his worth and giving the Blues another reason to keep him beyond the nine games.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Robert Thomas (18) moves the puck away from Nick Schmaltz of the
Arizona Coyotes on Monday. Thomas had two assists for the Blues.

"Solid on the goal line again, bringing pucks to the net, strong on the puck," Berube said. "He did a good job again for me."

Thomas, who also won nine of 13 face-offs (69 percent) for the game, led the "kids" with 17:09 ice time, followed by Kyrou's 13:06. They combined for four goals and five assists and Kyrou led them with a 13-4 ratio in Corsi-for/against for the game.

Oh and by the way, Kyrou is tied for second in the league with six points (two goals, four assists) in just two games, one off the NHL-leading pace. But he chose to praise his teammates instead.

"It's great to see Klim get two there and obviously Jake gets his first NHL point," Kyrou said. "Obviously all of us were happy for him. It's great to see that."

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