Sunday, October 24, 2021

"I think everyone's pulling the rope" -- 2021-22 Blues displaying true definition of what depth means

Despite missing three key forwards in Buchnevich, Saad, Sundqvist, 
team is getting contributions from everyone, fueling 4-0-0 start

ST. LOUIS -- You hear it all the time that it almost becomes a cliche.

Players and coaches always talking about how much depth they have, they have a deep team, a deep roster. 
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Kyle Clifford (13) and Mrco Scandella (6) celebrate the first NHL goal for
Jake Neighbours (left) in Saturday's 7-3 Blues win over the Kings.

It's been preached around the Blues for a while now, but when assessing the 2021-22 St. Louis Blues, and yes, it's only been four games, such words couldn't be more accurate.

The Blues won 7-3 over the Los Angeles Kings on Saturday, starting a season 4-0-0 for the first time since 2017-18, but look at who they didn't have at their disposal.

Let's take Oskar Sundqvist out of this equation, because the Blues knew he would miss time to begin the season rehabbing from a torn left ACL. That's a big enough loss as it is as important as Sundqvist has been since the Blues acquired him from the Pittsburgh Penguins.

But the Blues were without their two biggest forward acquisitions in Pavel Buchnevich, acquired in a trade from the New York Rangers who was serving the second of a two-game suspension, and Brandon Saad, the top free agent acquisition who was out due to COVID-19 protocol, for the game.

And didn't skip a beat.

Think about that for a moment.

When the Blues played the Colorado Avalanche and they were missing Nathan MacKinnon (COVID-19 protocol) and Gabriel Landeskog (suspended), it certainly hurt the Avs not having two of their world class players. And when the Blues played the Vegas Golden Knights, they were missing top forwards Mark Stone and Max Pacioretty (each with a lower-body injury), and certainly it affected Vegas. And on Saturday, the Kings were without the injured Drew Doughty.

While those players are important to their respective teams, Buchnevich and Saad are equally as important to the Blues.

Saad was playing on the top line with Ryan O'Reilly and David Perron. Buchnevich was skating with Brayden Schenn and Jordan Kyrou on the second line. These players are of great value to the Blues.

But as often as it's been said, the Blues can plug-and-play with the best of them. They're used to it, and they have the players that can do it.

Klim Kostin, playing in just his ninth NHL game, moved up to play with O'Reilly and Perron. Veteran James Neal skated with Schenn and Kyrou. And another veteran, Kyle Clifford, comes in for the first time this season. Rookie Jake Neighbours keeps shining. Kyrou and Thomas continue to dazzle. 

Everyone knows their roles, and the Blues tend to absorb the hits as well as anyone.

"Just depth. That was pretty clear evidence that we're a pretty deep team," defenseman Torey Krug said after collecting three assists in the game. "When one guy goes out, the other guy steps in and does the job to the best of his abilities. We're great up front with that depth right now. Any line can do some damage. It's fun right now, it's rolling and obviously we've got to continue to work at it."

"It's a good sign," Blues coach Craig Berube said. 'We've got to just continue to push and work and keep trying to get better. We've got to keep improving and keep the hammer down. You can't let your foot off the gas. We all know that. We've got to keep pushing."

It just shows how deep this Blues team really is, especially at the forward position. Nobody plays out of place, nobody expects too much from anybody. Each player contributes what is needed of them regardless of role, minutes and certainly, how much money they make.

"I think everyone's pulling on the rope," said right wing David Perron, who scored his sixth NHL hat trick in the win. "We're all trying to keep getting better at details. We changed some stuff in training camp that are coming along. They keep coming along and I think we can get better at some stuff too. Definitely it's great to see. I think guys are excited in their roles for the most part this year. Everyone's pulling the rope."

When James Neal scored a power-play goal, the Blues' fourth of the game, in the third period, it means every skater that's played in at least one game this season, has contributed at least a point.

"I think that we're playing a good team game and getting everybody involved in it," Berube said. "Four good lines and the D are doing a good job of moving the puck. It's good to see that everybody's contributing offensively."

It helps when guys like Kyrou, Thomas, Neighbours, Kostin, Jake Walman, Neal, Clifford, all guys that at one point in time have contributed in ways that have helped the Blues have success. They'll need it over the long haul.

"It's a jolt of energy," Krug said. "It brings a different dynamic to the team that we had last year and I'm sure they've had in years past. A little bit more dynamic offensively with speed off the rush. Now we're a little bit more dynamic off the rush and that's what those guys do."

So for those saying the Blues have played quality teams with a less than stacked deck, yeah, that may be true, but they have to play the hand they're dealt with, and no matter the situation.

"If that's what people are saying, then they're expecting us to win and we're taking care of business," Krug said. "We're doing our job and it doesn't matter who's in and out of the lineup for other teams. We just try to play to our ability and we measure our game against ourselves. Obviously there are some good tams out there, but we're feeling confident."
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues forward Kyle Clifford (13) battles with Kings forward Arthur Kaliyev
during Saturday's 7-3 Blues win at Enterprise Center.

Buchnevich will return to the lineup Monday, so someone (likely Clifford) will come out. Saad, depending on his COVID situation, will also return in the short term, and Sundqvist will also return in the not too distant future. 

Neighbours certainly looks like a lock to stay beyond the nine-game trial, Kostin doesn't look like he wants out, neither does Neal or even someone like Tyler Bozak.

But Berube will have to make those decisions, and even though they won't be easy, they're good problems to have.

"Yeah, it's always tough decisions I think. But on the other side of it, it's important to have depth and guys know that," Berube said. 'You've got to understand the situation. It's not easy. Things happen over the course of the season and we need everybody, trust me on that."

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