Friday, December 17, 2021

Blues keep winning, doing it with a makeshift lineup that simply works

St. Louis picked up another win, 4-1 over the Stars on Friday, doing so with 
great goaltending, a workmanlike mentality, their game-changer scoring twice

By LOU KORAC
ST. LOUIS -- How much fun is this?

Ask Blues star winger Vladimir Tarasenko, quite fun.
(St. Louis Blues/Scott Rovak)
Vladimir Tarasenko (left) celebrates with Pavel Buchnevich (middle) and
Ivan Barbashev (49) after scoring in a 4-1 win against Dallas on Friday.

"Winning is fun," Tarasenko said after he scored twice to help the Blues down the Dallas Stars for the second time in four days, 4-1 Friday at Enterprise Center. "I think it's enough to say it's fun. The atmosphere, the mood, the confidence, it's great to keep winning."

It's been asked a number of times but the question begs asking again: how is this happening? How do these Blues, 7-1-3 in their past 11 games, 5-0-1 in their past six and 8-0-1 their past nine on home ice, keep bagging points with a makeshift lineup missing several key pieces?

Well for one, they have a goalie (Charlie Lindgren) that's attracting pucks like velcro or a magnet. Lindgren is the first Blues goalie in their history to win his first five appearances; he's 5-0-0 with a 1.22 goals-against average and .958 save percentage.

"Yeah I just heard that after the game," Lindgren said. "A pretty cool thing. It’s an individual award but again, clich√©, but it's a team award as well. The guys are battling hard for me It's not just isn't just about me it's about the team. Very excited about it but let’s keep it going."

The Springfield Blues continue to do their jobs. Look at what Dakota Joshua, Logan Brown, Matthew Peca, Alexei Toropchenko and Nathan Walker continue to accomplish. Their hard work and energy keeps rubbing off on the veterans and vice versa, the veterans lead by example.

"I think in the third period we had the same mindset with our forecheck and our grind game, physical play," Blues coach Craig Berube said. "The physical play has been huge really for our identity and the way we’re winning right now in my opinion. Joshua, Toropchenko, Walker – it’s rubbing off on everybody in my opinion with the forechecking and physical play."

Brown scored his third goal to give the Blues a 1-0 lead in the second period. 

"I think 'Kerbs' ask me on the radio all the guys who come from AHL, they come with a lot of confidence," Tarasenko said. "They work very hard, they give us positive emotions in the game. They do what they supposed to do and help us win the games."

And when the young guns supply the energy, the veterans take over and do their thing. And on this night, it was the Russian trio of Tarasenko, Pavel Buchnevich and Ivan Barbashev, who combined for six points (two goals for Tarasenko, two assists for Buchnevich and a goal and an assist for Barbashev) to take the game over for the second time against the Stars, who lost to the Blues 4-1 at home Tuesday.

"The more we play together, the more teams will learn how we play," Tarasenko said. "We try and create some plays, try some stuff, some new stuff. We don't make something like one or two plays because it's easier to defend against us. Now we just try to find something new, just communicate where we're going, what we're doing. It's nice when you can talk native language. We are having fun."

They are having fun, and the Blues are having lots of fun.

They're winning, they're keeping pace with the rest of the Central Division, which is ultra-tight and competitive as heck, and the contributions are endless.

Going back to Lindgren, who the Blues brought up when Jordan Binnington was sidelined in COVID-19 protocol and then thrust into action when Ville Husso sustained a lower-body injury Dec. 4 against Florida. Ever since, the 27-year-old has flourished, stopping 113 of 118 shots he's faced.

"It’s been quite the ride so far," Lindgren said. "One thing I want to make sure is there’s no complacency here. I’m very thankful about another win tonight, excellent effort by the guys and wake up tomorrow wanting more."

The greatest dilemma for Berube and the coaching staff will be how do they take this guy out of the cage. They can't right, even with Binnington back and proclaiming himself ready to go?

"I don’t know," Berube said. "You've got to think about things. We’ll figure it out.
"​... He’s answered the bell, that’s for sure. He’s coming in there and he’s doing a great job for us, making saves he’s supposed to make. You know, I can’t really say much more than that."

But his teammates can.

"It's great time for 'Chucky,'" Tarasenko said. "He's playing really well. ... I'm really excited for him. He's playing amazing."

That he is.

And with that decision, one also looms for Brown, who played his ninth game Friday. Should be play a 10th Sunday in Winnipeg, and there's no reason why he wouldn't, the Blues would have to put him through waivers should they return him to Springfield. 

Even though Brown was waived once at the start of the season, he would need them again when you play in either 10 games or 30 days.

"He seems quicker and stronger," Berube said of Brown. "I think he’s doing a good job so far."

On Friday, the Blues left the game on the table when they passed up on some glorious scoring chances trying to make an extra pass or two and sometimes three, but with the game on the line and two points hanging in the balance, the Blues turned to their game-changer, which happens to be Tarasenko. His power-play snipe at 15:37 of the third made it a 3-1 game and Barbashev iced it with an empty-netter sending Dallas to its fifth straight loss.
(St. Louis Blues/Scott Rovak)
Blues forwards Matthew Peca (let) and Alexei Toropchenko go after a
loose puck during Friday's 4-1 win over Dallas at Enterprise Center.

"That’s exactly what he is," Berube said of Tarasenko being a game-changer. "That was a big goal for sure. The power play was huge at that time. They had momentum. They scored. They had us hemmed in our zone a little bit and it changed things. They went out and the power play was really good. They were on pucks, they were making good plays. They were assertive. It was a real nice pass and a great shot.

"Vladi, when he collects it like that and it’s right off his stick, his shot can beat goalies. So it was good to see."

The Blues have a tough Canadian trip upcoming, which will take them into the Christmas break, playing Sunday in Winnipeg, Tuesday at Ottawa and Thursday in Toronto.

"We have a tough trip coming up, so looking forward to next game," Tarasenko said.

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