Thursday, November 18, 2021

Blues find another identity line with Saad, Sundqvist, Barbashev

Unit leads charge in so many aspects that helped Blues snap four-game losing 
skid with 4-1 win over Sharks; Saad leads way with two goals, Husso sharp

ST. LOUIS -- Craig Berube has seen this combination before, and the Blues coach wasn't hesitant then to use it.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Brandon Saad (20) and Ivan Barbashev (49) worked as two-thirds of the
identity line for the Blues on Thursday in a 4-1 win over San Jose.

When the Blues won the Stanley Cup in 2019, Berube was used to calling out the starting lineup ... "Sunny, Steener, Barby," and whoever the d-pairing was and the goalie, and finished it with, "Let's go!"

Yes, it was one game, but could the Blues and Berube found a similar trio?

Oskar Sundqvist and Ivan Barbashev are the norm, forming what Berube called the 'Identity Line.' Brandon Saad joined it on Thursday against the San Jose Sharks, and that trio led by example, with Saad scoring twice in a 4-1 win at Enterprise Center.

The Blues (9-5-2) were in dire need of a win after going winless the past four games (0-3-1), including a woeful 3-2 loss to the Arizona Coyotes on home ice Tuesday.

The Saad-Sundqvist-Barbashev line started the game Thursday and although they didn't score on the first shift of the game like Alexander Steen, Sundqvist and Barbashev did a number of times during that magical playoff run, they set the tone with a good, solid shift of puck control, driving offensive zone time and leaving teammates coming on for them in good positions.

Remember that?

Well, it's one game, but this was a good blueprint of how and what the Blues need to get back to. The line had a Corsi-for, Corsi-against of 13-11 and 7-5 advantage in shots for. Not whopping numbers by any stretch, including an 8-8 even number in scoring chances for, scoring chances against, but it's a start.

Saad had his two goals on six shots on goal and eight attempts in 16:09; Sundqvist, playing in just his second game since March 19, had an assist with three shots on goal (four attempts) and three hits in 14:42; and Barbashev had an assist on three shots on goal and one hit in 15:35 while winning seven of 10 face-offs. 

"I think just getting momentum," said Saad, who led the Blues in expected goals at 0.769, according to "There's situational play where we want to go out there and make right decisions and play with the puck. Whether that's a big shift after a goal or trying to get momentum the momentum getting the pucks in deep getting in one the forecheck. I think that's something as a line we can play smart like that, possess the puck and create o-zone time. That's going to help the momentum in the game.

"Yeah, that's something where I like to possess the puck and hold onto it and grind teams down. So regardless of what line you're on, it's something I try to do and we had some success here tonight."

It takes a special someone to play the style of game Sundqvist and Barbashev like to, being poised with the puck, putting it into smart areas on the ice and go in and get it whether they grind, forecheck or hound. Berube needed to find the right fit, and he has it in Saad.

"He plays in straight lines," Berube said of Saad. "He’s a good skater, but he plays in straight lines. And that’s how they play. He’s a straight-line player, has a good shot, and he goes to the net."

Saad wears No. 20. Steen wore No. 20. Coincidence that's why Berube went to?

"Similar players," Berube said. "Pretty similar."

The Blues controlled the puck for much of the game and had the Sharks (8-7-1) playing on their heels for much of the game. Their puck decisions were much smarter in this game, and turnovers were fewer than we've seen in recent games.

"We moved the puck really well," Berube said. "I thought our 'D' moved the puck well in transition. The forwards made good decisions for the most part and that’s important. We’re a puck possession team. We got a lot of guys, they want to hang onto pucks and make plays, and we’re all for it. But it’s about managing it.

"Sometimes it’s there; sometimes it’s not. Got to make good decisions and I thought we made good decisions tonight and it led to a lot of O-zone time and a lot of opportunities offensively. It was good to see that we drew power plays because we were in the offensive zone working."

The Blues pumped a season-high 48 shots on Sharks goalie James Reimer, their most since they put 49 on Vegas Oct. 12, 2017, which was an overtime game, and their most since putting 50 on the Vancouver Canucks March 19, 2016 in a 3-0 win. It was because of that puck possession time, cycling it, working it and getting it back when it was off their stick.
The loss to Arizona wasn't good. The Blues know it. They had the chance to do something about it and at least for one game, did it.

"I think it's a bit of a wakeup call," Saad said. "Sometimes you just look at the result, but I think for us, it's something we just want to focus on how we can play every night. Regardless of how the result ends, it's something that we had to be better as a team and it's something we talked about getting better every night playing a full 60 minutes, that kind of thing. It definitely felt good getting a win tonight.

"... I think me and the team, I think we played a little bit simpler, played with more pace, getting pucks in deep better, making smart decisions. Still had some turnovers we want to clean up, but it's, I think, our main focus as a team. We were kind of shooting ourselves there with turnovers."

It started with practice Wednesday and carried over.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
The Blues' Oskar Sundqvist (70) and San Jose's Mario Ferraro battle for
a loose puck during action Thursday at Enterprise Center.

"Businesslike. Practice the next day was businesslike," Berube said. "I don’t know if I really talk in terms of business to the players like that. But if we can become a businesslike team night in, night out, in practice and all that, that goes a long way. And you know you’re gonna be prepared to play the right way if you get that mindset."

Ville Husso did the rest in goal with a 26-save performance, giving him a 3-0-0 record in his past three starts with a 0.33 goals-against average and .989 save percentage.

"Yeah, it was a big win for us and guys played pretty well and after the first period, there was not much going on my end," Husso said. "So the guys played pretty well and the defense well and got some goals, so it was nice to see."

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