Tuesday, December 21, 2021


Blues get final practice in before extended break; Olympics all but out of 
the question for NHL players; team in good position heading into Christmas

MARYLAND HEIGHTS, Mo. -- Instead of going through what would have been a normal day with a morning skate in Ottawa to prepare for a game Tuesday against the Senators, the Blues instead were home, home on the practice rink instead one final time before the Christmas pause, a longer pause than what was originally planned.

The Blues got in one final practice before dispersing for the break, some staying here and others perhaps like goalie Jordan Binnington, heading back North of the border to spend time with his family.

The NHL decided to instead play out the remaining games, except for one tonight in Vegas between the Golden Knights and Tampa Bay Lightning, between now and Thursday, the pause in the season began for all teams on Wednesday through Saturday.

"It's definitely unexpected," forward Brandon Saad said. "There's obviously been a lot of talk and a lot of things going on around the league, so for us, it's just being prepared and having a good practice day going into break here. Obviously with games canceled, it kind of is what it is. I understand it. Just enjoy the holiday and get back and be prepared.

"There's pros and cons. Any time you can get some rest for some guys and get a healthy team, you feel good about that, but at the same time when you're rolling, you kind of want to stay on that role and stay hot. But like I said, it kind of is what it is and we're going to regroup here and be ready to go."

The Blues were supposed to face the Senators, then end their pre-Christmas schedule with an afternoon date against the Toronto Maple Leafs on Thursday before dispersing to their final destinations for a couple days. They were expected to get reinforcements of injured players back, whether it was David Perron (upper body injury) Robert Thomas (lower body), Jordan Kyrou (upper body), Jake Walman (upper body) and/or Ville Husso (lower body) but it gives them all a few extra days to be ready for when the schedule resumes, and for the Blues, that's Monday at home against the New Jersey Devils.

"I guess you could look at it that way," coach Craig Berube said. "I thought that a lot of them would have returned for the trip, who knows. But yeah, we get a little more time for sure, that's one way of looking at it.

"... We would have liked to finish the road trip out in Ottawa and Toronto, but it is what it is. We want to play, but the league's got to try and get control of what's going on and that's their way of trying to do it."

When the Blues schedule does resume and impact players do return, some of the reinforcements from the Springfield Thunderbirds that have been called into action to keep the boat afloat, players can look back and realize just how much the likes of Logan Brown, Dakota Joshua, Nathan Walker, Matthew Peca, Alexei Toropchenko and Charlie Lindgren have meant to helping the Blues in what has been a 7-2-3 run the past 12 games.

"It's been unbelievable," Saad said. "The way they're playing, we really found a good team game playing the right way and they're a big part of that. We had a lot of success. Obviously getting our healthy guys back is exciting as well, but I think over that group of time, we really buckled down and got into playing a good team game.

"Any time you have a healthy team, we really haven't had one all year, I think we're really excited to get those guys back. We have some good players coming, we're excited to see what we can do with a full roster."

Peca and Toropchenko were assigned back to Springfield on Monday when the Blues recalled and activated Klim Kostin, who was in Springfield on a conditioning assignment, off long-term injured reserve, and when others return, Walker and Joshua could go back, but it will be a tough choice for Brown, who will have to clear waivers to get reassigned because he played in 10 games and/or spent 30 days on recall. But nonetheless, it won't be their last chance to play up here.

"They meant a lot and they're going to mean a lot going forward I think," Berube said. "You're always going to need people and we have quality guys down there. 

"I think the one thing with them coming up gave us a little bit more of an identity with how they play. They play a heavy game, they're physical, it was north hockey and I thought that inspired our team. They did a great job going forward. We're going to need guys. It's really good to know that we've got some real quality guys down there."

One player who wouldn't mind staying on the ice and keep playing is Binnington, who returned Sunday in a 4-2 loss at Winnipeg after missing seven games being in COVID-19 protocol.

"It's almost a full month with one game. I've skated nine out of the last 10 days so it's good in that regard," Binnington said. "Just do what you can, get some workouts in. We'll be fine. It's not a big deal. Just a little extra rest and do what you've got to do to feel good come return."
And as for that return, Binnington made 30 saves.

"I felt all right," Binnington said. "First period I was pretty good. I felt strong, solid. They were all stoppable pucks. They were good chances, some of them. So I'd like to obviously get a win every game but for the first game back, I felt pretty good. I'm still building that energy. ... I would like to obviously play some games, but it is what it is. And we'll adapt."

* No Olympics -- A formal announcement hasn't been made official (yet), but it's almost at the finish line that the NHL and NHLPA will make it a formality that NHL players will not participate in the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing, China.

There are a number of Blues that would have been in consideration to represent their respective countries, but in light of 50-plus postponements of NHL games and the uncertainty of overseas travel, plus the risk of testing positive in China and abiding by the restrictive protocols there, it's too much a risk.

"It sounds like there’s some tough decisions to be made there obviously," said defenseman Colton Parayko, the Blues player rep. "And some tough protocols that we’ll have to meet. Especially going down there (to Beijing) if suddenly it were to happen with you being sick.

"It’s just kind of where we are right now in the world with everything changing. We’re still learning a lot. Obviously playing in the Olympics is something special and something that every kid kind of dreams of playing in the Olympics growing up. It’s one of your dreams. It’s one of those things where it’s cool to get a chance to go if we were to go. At the same time, you've got to just kind of roll with what’s going on."

"It's tough," Saad said. "Any time you can get a chance to represent your country, I know a lot of guys would like to do that, but at the same time, I understand that side of it too. We have a lot of games to make up and for whatever reason they have, it's tough for players to go, but it's tough. Obviously you want to play for your country. It's a great opportunity, but at the same time, it kind of is what it is and it's kind of been that way for the past few times."

Binnington was one of a few Canadian goalies that was gaining serious consideration.

"Obviously, still unknown about the roster but I think it's always an incredible opportunity to represent your country," Binnington said. "Something that makes you proud, your family proud, playing for a country. So if that opportunity was this year, it's unfortunate. But obviously there's a lot of things going on the world. They're going to make the best decision for the situation, I think. If that's what it is, it's put your head down and work for four years from now."

It also means Blues general manager Doug Armstrong, also Team Canada's GM, won't have to juggle putting an NHL roster together for Canada and will focus on his duties with the Blues.

"I think it's disappointing, but it's reality," Berube said. "To go to the Olympics, the guys that are going, our general manager managing the team, it's disappointing for me to think about some of our guys not going or our general manager not being able to participate in the Olympics. It's a great honor to be able to go and to be involved in it. But the fact is, this COVID is everywhere and the NHL's got to do what they've got to do."

* Trio don't practice Tuesday -- Besides Brayden Schenn (upper body), James Neal (upper body) and Oskar Sundqvist (COVID protocol) not on the ice Tuesday, defensemen Torey Krug and Marco Scandella, along with forward Nathan Walker were absent from practice but for different reasons.

"Krug and Scandella are maintenance, and Walker, we just told him to go see his family," Berube said. "He hasn't seen his kids and he's got a little baby and one on the way and a wife, so we let him go home early."

Walker's wife and daughter have spent the time this season in Springfield but for much of last year, Walker didn't get to see them much with him here in St. Louis as a member of the taxi squad and his family in Australia. So the Blues have him a couple extra days to go be with his family in a nice gesture.

"Doug understands and does a great job with that," Berube said. "You feel for the guy a little bit. We weren't playing and it's an opportunity to get some extended time with his family."

* Blues in good position -- Despite the injuries and multiple players going in and out of COVID protocol, at 17-9-5, the Blues are in a good position in the Central Division and in the Western Conference.

They sit one point out of first place in the division behind Minnesota and in the conference behind the Wild, Vegas and Anaheim and are in position to get multiple players back once the season gets going again.

The Blues are fifth in scoring with 105 goals, or 3.35 goals per game, which is seventh in the NHL; they're 11th in goals-against at 2.68 per game; their power play is third at 29.6 percent; penalty kill is eighth at 82.9 percent; their Russian trip of Vladimir Tarasenko (29 points), Pavel Buchnevich (29) and Ivan Barbashev (25) lead the charge with 83 points in 31 games; Tarasenko leads four Blues in scoring with 12 goals (Buchnevich, Barbashev and Saad each with 11) and they have 12 players with 10 points or more sharing the wealth.

"I think the team has done a lot of good things so far this year," Berube said. "I think our special teams have been good, pretty consistent throughout the season so far. I think we're right in there with goal scoring and goals against in the league. What we've got to make sure in getting everyone healthy and we're back is that we continue to play the way we played in the month of December is the hard hockey, the leavy hockey, the north style, managing the puck better, understanding how we need to play to win games. That'll be what we need to understand here going forward here getting healthy.

"You're always talking about it. You're always trying to get that message through to everybody. That's just part of coaching. That's part of the job and our job as coaches is to get that message across through to everybody."

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