Sunday, February 27, 2022

Perron breaks through in place that derailed his season a bit with two goals in 4-0 win over Blackhawks

Blues winger was rolling along before sustaining concussion here Nov. 26, 
had hard time regaining scoring touch; Sunday allowed him to move forward

CHICAGO -- There was a shift early in Sunday's game against the Chicago Blackhawks that David Perron remembered what happened to him earlier in the season at United Center.

"I did think about it, the first time I went into that corner with McCabe again," Perron recalled.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues forward David Perron (57) goes to celebrate with teammate Brandon
Saad after scoring one of two goals in a 4-0 win at Chicago Sunday.

That's Blackhawks defenseman Jake McCabe, who was the one that put a hit on Perron in a game here Nov. 26, one that saw Perron fall back, and he hit his head against the glass.

It knocked him woozy and he would leave, only never to return that afternoon. 

Heading into that game, a 3-2 overtime loss by the Blues against the Blackhawks, Perron was rolling quite nicely. He had 18 points (seven goals, 11 assists) in 19 games heading into it, second only to Jordan Kyrou in points (20) and second to Kyrou and Brandon Saad in goals (eight each).

But then the rails came off. Perron was diagnosed with a concussion and missed 11 games before returning Dec. 29. He played five games and missed two more after contracting COVID-19. It's just been a tough go offensively to get Perron back up to speed.

In the 19 games since he's been back from the concussion and COVID, Perron has nine points (four goals, five assists).

Two of those goals came in a 4-0 win against the Blackhawks Sunday at United Center that displayed all the glimpses of the old Perron, one that was a constant offensive threat.

His eight shots on goal and 13 shot attempts were a season-high, and he hasn't had as many shots on goal since he had nine against the Minnesota Wild on March 25, 2021.

Perron, who has 27 points (11 goals, 16 assists) in 39 games this season, finally felt like he was back.

"It feels good to score a couple for sure," Perron said. "It's been a different go the last three or four weeks. Things have been changing. We have a deep team and all that stuff. It's not necessarily the same way as it was last year or anything, but you've got to find a way to contribute and being physical every night, bringing momentum to the team. Obviously I want to score goals too and make plays."

Perron has played in this building many times. But the last one was one he needed to get out of his system and put a haunting past behind him, considering it's not Perron's first go-around with concussions.

"I was like, 'Alright, time to put it behind,'" Perron said when he encountered McCabe along the offensive zone corner. "It was nice to put a couple (in) and have a good game, good momentum. We're rolling right now, we want to keep getting better. That's the cool thing about our team. I think that we can keep getting better. We have a long ways to go. As we get to those tighter games as we've been talking about the last couple weeks, I still think we can get better, a lot better."

Blues coach Craig Berube has tried Perron on different line combinations to get one of his top offensive threats going, but putting him back with bread-and-butter partner Ryan O'Reilly always does the trick. 

"Yeah, I don’t think that he’s happy with his goal-scoring production," Berube said. "And probably we’re not either. But a guy like that eventually’s going to come around. He just keeps getting opportunities and keeps working. He got two tonight, but I think you could see him getting on a roll."

And why is that? What puts Perron in those scoring areas that make him a threat.

Simple. His ability to possess the puck in the offensive zone where his linemates (O'Reilly and Brandon Saad) can find him in those soft areas of the ice.

"Just getting second-quick on the forecheck if you're not first man in," Perron said. "Second-quick, you get that retrieval puck, you hang onto it, you're heavy. It just kind of creates that extra energy inside myself to want to hang onto it. Not forever, but kind of like not lose it easily, find guys in the middle of the ice. I think that's when you can see 'O'Ry' and I come together a little bit more. It's happened more, it seems like recently. On that trip in Canada, I felt like it was coming along and then we came through together one game in Toronto and we've got to keep going, we've got to keep on building."

Perron's first goal of the game was vintage Perron, wicked shot from the face-off circle on the power play.

The Blues snapped the puck around on a string on their second power play, culminating with Perron's 10th of the season, the eighth Blue to hit double figures in goals.

Perron, Justin Faulk and Brayden Schenn had the puck on a string, with Schenn's quick cross-ice feed to Perron in the left circle. Perron corraled it and whipped a shot top shelf by a sprawled Fleury at 18:08 to make it 3-0.

"Yeah, it's good to see him get a couple goals," Blues goalie Jordan Binnington said. "We know how good he is, how good a shot it is. It was only a matter of time."

And on the second one, he jumped a play in which the Blackhawks won a face-off, stole Dylan Strome's pass back and jammed one from the goal line short side on buddy and fellow Quebecer Marc-Andre Fleury at 3:04 of the third to make it 4-0.

It was the perfect example of staying on top of a puck even though the Blues lost possession of it.

But it's Perron's ability to possess pucks that makes him effective.

"Just his competitiveness on the puck. He’s one of the strongest guys that I know with the puck when he’s got it," Berube said of Perron. "He hangs onto it and he battles and he competes for it. He wins puck battles all over the place. Eventually, he’s going to get a good opportunity to shoot a puck. He’s got a great shot. We all know he’s got a great shot and he can beat a goalie."

Normally, it wouldn't take Perron this long to reach double figures for the season, but with the way things came off the rails there for a bit and the Blues' balance of players that can contribute on any given night, it gives the team a bevy of weapons.

Perron joins Kyrou, who scored his team-leading 21st Sunday, Pavel Buchnevich, who scored his 19th Sunday, Vladimir Tarasenko (19), Saad (17), Schenn (16), Ivan Barbashev (16) and O'Reilly (11).

"So many guys, it's crazy," Perron said. "Even a guy like 'Dak' [Dakota Joshua] jumps in tonight, I thought he played pretty well. He was physical, solid. It's good to get those guys to go out there on the last shift trying to help me there. It was funny. I've never really been in a situation where I'm just the shooter for everyone. I don't know if I even like it. I appreciate the chance to go out there and do that."
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues forward David Perron (middle) scored twice Sunday and was able to put 
behind the concussion he sustained earlier in the season in Chicago.

The Blues tried to get Perron his seventh NHL hat trick and second this season. They tried hard. 

In the final 1:09, the Blues were on the power play, and Perron, Torey Krug, Klim Kostin, Joshua and Tyler Bozak were on hand to try and get those Blues fans in attendance to shower the visiting ice with their hats for Perron.

"I thought he played a helluva game," Berube said. "Competitive all game. Did some real good things. Tried to get him a hat trick. (laughed) He had a lot of chances."

But Fleury wouldn't allow it.

"No, he's a good goalie, gosh," Perron said. "I had a good look there on the far side on the one-timer and on the next one, I think 'Bozie' had a great pass. If I shoot that right away, I probably have it and I just kind of didn't react well to the pass, I don't think, but it's phenomenal to see him go. He's had a bunch of really solid saves. You can tell he still enjoys the game no matter what the score is. He's working as hard as he can. He's an impressive guy for sure."

Friday, February 25, 2022

Kyrou heeds coach's words, leads Blues to 5-3 win over Sabres

All-Star forward prone to costly turnovers as of late, comes up with proper 
response with two goals, assist after chat with Berube post-practice Thursday

ST. LOUIS -- Jordan Kyrou stood toe-to-toe with Craig Berube on Thursday, listening intently to his coach's words.
(St. Louis Blues/Scott Rovak)
Blues forward Jordan Kyrou pumps his fist after scoring against the Buffalo
Sabres in a 5-3 win on Friday at Enterprise Center.

Someone standing toe-to-toe with 'The Chief' doesn't happen often, at least in Berube's playing days. But this was different. This was a coach looking to get a message across to one of his young, rising talents.

Kyrou had gone through a tough stretch of games, including Tuesday in Philadelphia. He had just turned a puck over in the offensive zone that led to the Flyers' tying goal. The Blues won the game but Kyrou just saw one shift the rest of the game.

Let's just say he took Berube's words Thursday to heart on Friday with a three-point night, including two goals and an assist in a 5-3 win against the Buffalo Sabres at Enterprise Center.

The message from Berube to Kyrou was simple: skate.

And skate.

And skate.

And skate ... which he did on a night playing with linemates Brayden Schenn and Ivan Barbashev.

"It's kind of just like a little reset, kind of get your mind back to where it needs to be to be at the top of your game and what you need to do to do that," Kyrou said. "... Obviously you kind of know what’s not going right. For me it’s just move my feet without the puck. That’s the biggest part of my game. And just compete."

There's no question of Kyrou's electricity he provides when he's at his best. When the puck's on his stick and he's moving forward, buzzing in the offensive zone, he's hard to catch and tough to get the puck off his stick. Bu there are those moments when he tries to go for a hope play, make a high-risk pass, or put the puck in a bad spot that allows the opposition to transition with numbers the other way, or not competing for pucks along the wall or protecting it properly that has gotten Kyrou into trouble.

That wasn't the case Friday.

"He was really good tonight from the get-go," Berube said. "He was skating and attacking and he's a dangerous player when he does that.

"... He was going to come out of it, no matter what. It was just a matter of time. It was good to see. That line was very good tonight.

"We're here to help him and he has to help himself, but we're here to help him and work with him. There's going to be times that I'm tough on him and there's going to be times that I'm a father figure to him. I want to help him as much as I can because he's a great player and he's going to help our team. I think since the All-Star Game, he's been a little off for sure and I think he'll find his way."

Sure enough, Kyrou found his way. Case-in-point on Colton Parayko's go-ahead and eventual game-winner.

Barbashev, who had three assists, makes an alert play with a defensive zone poke-check. Parayko pushed the puck up to Kyrou, who was off to the races. Parayko knew if this was going to turn into a 2-on-1 play, he had to get on his horse and giddy-up, which he did.
Kyrou shot the puck that was stopped by Dustin Tokarski, creating a rebound for Parayko to use his clever hand-eye coordination and bat the rebound in for Kyrou's third point of the game, after he scored his 20th of the season earlier.

Kyrou is the fastest skater. No, seriously, he is, and his winning time of 13.55 at the All-Star Skills Competition proved it, even more so than all-world Edmonton captain Connor McDavid.

"He’s the fastest skater," Parayko said of Kyrou. "He’s obviously got good speed. And obviously  good play by him. He had a really good game but he's a fast guy, tough to keep up with for sure."
(St. Louis Blues/Scott Rovak)
Blues forward Jordan Kyrou (25) looks to skate past Sabres defenseman
Robert Hagg on Friday at Enterprise Center. 

In six games since the All-Star Game, Kyrou had just a goal and two assists, not producing at the clip he was going at previously. And when he played a season-low 11:51 at Philadelphia Tuesday, things could only go up for him.

"I think I just tried to refocus on what makes my game go and I got back to that tonight," Kyrou said. "And that's just moving my feet and just competing harder."

Kyrou picked up goal No. 19 on a one-timer from the slot, a power-play goal at 7:06 of the first period to get the scoring started for the Blues and tie the game 1-1, then collected No. 20 with a redirection of Justin Faulk's point shot at 14:23 to make it 2-1.

"It’s definitely pretty cool," Kyrou said. "First time doing it, so yeah, it’s a cool thing."

The Blues hope there's more to come.

(2-25-22) Sabres-Blues Gameday Lineup

ST. LOUIS -- It will be Ville Husso tonight for the Blues, in light of Jordan Binnington's strong start in Philadelphia on Monday.

That's been the plan for the Blues (30-14-6) even in light of Binnington's 25-save effort in a 4-1 win against the Flyers. Husso was the planned starter today at 7 p.m. (BSMW, ESPN 101.1-FM) against the Sabres (16-28-8).

"That was the plan here to get him back in the net tonight against Buffalo," Blues coach Craig Berube said of Husso. "We always think about things, but again, we got a plan before the game in Philadelphia even. Again, we're sticking to the plan."

Forwards Brandon Saad and Brayden Schenn are good to go tonight after each player missed practice on Thursday, Saad because he was feeling sick (non-COVID related) and Schenn due to the birth of his first child, a son named Huxley Michael Schenn who arrived Wednesday.

- - -

The Blues return for one quick game at home before heading back on the road for four.

They spent three games in Canada before playing in Philadelphia, come home for this one, then head back out for a road trip to Chicago, then off the New York to face the Rangers, Islanders and New Jersey Devils.

"It's kind of a different situation with the schedule, being on the road there for nine (days), back home, we get one game at home and then we're back out for four in a row on the road," Berube said. "It is what it is. Guys spend a little time with their families and get this game tomorrow and then we move on.

"It's tricky too coming off a long road trip sometimes that game at home. We discussed it (Thursday) morning. I wanted to push them a little bit in practice (Thursday) with skating and work just to get them ready to go."

- - -

Taking seven of eight points on the recent road trip was a sign of some strong play, something the Blues want to keep going here. What has Berube liked about the recent strong of games?

"I think our play in our own end has been pretty solid," he said. "I think that we're protecting the middle of the ice pretty well right now in our own end and doing a real good job of that. When I think of it overall, I think we are doing a good job of limiting the odd-man rushes and playing them the proper way. That's probably the one thing that stands out to me from the road trip."

Forwards have been more consistent in back-checking and clogging the middle of the ice helping the defensemen, but as Berube said, "Also the 'D' recognizing the situation, staying inside the dots when they need to be, when you can pressure the puck because we have people back in place to help out. There are some reads that have to be made and I think we're doing a fairly good job of it. The d-zone coverage part, we've been stressing it since the break about protecting the middle of the ice more, letting 1-on-1's happen. When our pressure guy's physical and he's killing plays, our support guy gets in there and we get the puck and we go. But if not, it's about protecting the middle of the ice and letting that guy do his job."

- - -

Forward Jordan Kyrou had himself a nice 1-on-1 conversation with Berube post-practice on Thursday. 

Those normally involve a coach and player talking about one's recent play and things the player needs to hone in on.

For Kyrou, it's puck decisions and puck awareness. He's had a rash of turnovers, particularly in the offensive zone, including one against the Flyers that led to the tying goal in the third period. After the gaffe, Kyrou played just one shift the remaining 11-plus minutes in the game and played a season-low 11:51.

"We're here to help him and he has to help himself, but we're here to help him and work with him," Berube said. "There's going to be times that I'm tough on him and there's going to be times that I'm a father figure to him. I want to help him as much as I can because he's a great player and he's going to help our team. I think since the All-Star Game, he's been a little off for sure and I think he'll find his way.

"I think he's just got to start using his speed again. I think the situations he's in, a lot of them, if he's skating and driving, they wouldn't be turnovers, but he's not skating. He's gaining the line, but he's not skating and people back-check and now he's looking for a play without his feet moving. That's what turns into turnovers. The other side of it is it's just him recognizing that you can't always make a play. There's situations where you've just got to put pucks in and then go to work. Young players go through this process, pretty much all of them. That's part of it all. He'll get out of it, he'll be fine."

- - -

Defenseman Marco Scandella (lower-body injury) skated again on Friday after taking part in a full practice on Thursday but will miss his sixth consecutive game tonight.

"He's feeling pretty good now so I think going forward, he's going to be in good shape here," Berube said. "He'll be a player soon."

- - -

* Since Jan. 1, Husso is 9-1-1 with a 1.68 goals-against average, a .942 save percentage and one shutout.

* Despite some recent puck struggles, Kyrou has 20 points his past 19 games (nine goals, 11 assists).

* Schenn has 10 points his past eight games (six goals, four assists).

* Forward Vladimir Tarasenko has six points (four goals, two assists) his past four games and 23 points (11 goals, 12 assists) his past 17 games.

* Sabres center Tage Thompson, the 26th pick of the 2016 NHL Draft by the Blues who was part of the trade for Ryan O'Reilly, leads the Sabres in points (38) and is tied for  the team lead in goals (20).

- - -

The Blues' projected lineup:

Brandon Saad-Ryan O'Reilly-David Perron

Pavel Buchnevich-Robert Thomas-Vladimir Tarasenko

Ivan Barbashev-Brayden Schenn-Jordan Kyrou

Klim Kostin-Tyler Bozak-Oskar Sundqvist

Niko Mikkola-Colton Parayko

Torey Krug-Justin Faulk

Jake Walman-Robert Bortuzzo

Ville Husso will start in goal; Jordan Binnington will be the backup. 

Healthy scratches include Logan Brown and Dakota Joshua. Marco Scandella (lower body) remains out.

- - -

The Sabres' projected lineup:

Jeff Skinner-Tage Thompson-Alex Tuch

Rasmus Asplund-Dylan Cozens-Kyle Okposo 

Peyton Krebs-Casey Mittelstadt-Victor Olofsson 

Anders Bjork-Cody Eakin-John Hayden

Rasmus Dahlin-Casey Fitzgerald

Mattias Samuelsson-Jacob Bryson 

Robert Hagg-Mark Pysyk

Dustin Tokarski will start in goal; Craig Anderson will be the backup. 

The healthy scratch will be Mark Jankowski. Henri Jokiharju (lower body), Jack Quinn (lower body), Will Butcher (lower body), Vinnie Hinostroza (lower body), Zemgus Girgensons (lower body), Colin Miller (upper body), Malcolm Subban (upper body) and Drake Caggiula (upper body) are all out.

Tuesday, February 22, 2022

At least for one game, Binnington found his form again in 4-1 win over Flyers

Struggling goalie had given games, starts to red-hot Ville Husso, found 
solid form in place where he made first NHL start, earned first shutout, win 

If there was ever any doubt with the Blues or their coaching staff about Jordan Binnington, think again.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues goalie Jordan Binnington (right) was back in form in a 4-1 win over the 
Philadelphia Flyers. Here he makes a breakaway save on Scott Laughton.

It's been no secret that Binnington, the Blues' No. 1 netminder, has struggled this season with consistency. Heck, Binnington's results in the postseason can be traced all the way back to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final when he last won a playoff game.

But that's neither here nor there. This is the here and the now, and for whatever reason, it just hasn't happened for Binnington this season on a regular basis.

It's only one game, but the Binnington of old reappeared in a familiar spot, in Philadelphia, at Wells Fargo Center, the site of Binnington's first NHL start and his first win, a 3-0 shutout of the Flyers on Jan. 7, 2019. The stakes were similar, but the circumstances were different, and Binnington flushed the demons down the toilet for one night, making 25 saves in a 4-1 Blues win on Tuesday to eradicate -- again, for one night -- what had been ailing the Six Million Dollar Man for larger chunks of the season.

The Blues (30-14-6), who took seven of eight points on this four-game road swing, going 3-0-1, have been riding the hot hand of Ville Husso, who by his own actions, has rightfully elicited comments and feelings that he should command more of the cage than before simply because he was doing the things that complemented the Blues in their play, things that had eluded Binnington, who was 0-3-0 his previous three starts with a paltry .824 save percentage and an alarming 6.92 GAA.

Remember, this is the guy that once he stepped into Jake Allen's net three years ago, there was no giving it back. He went 24-5-1 with a sparkling 1.89 GAA and .927 save percentage helping the Blues from worst to first in winning the Stanley Cup.

But three years later, Binnington was languishing with an 11-10-3 record, a 3.35 GAA and .898 save percentage, which ranked among the bottom in the league among qualified starters.

And Husso was taking the Blues, and quite frankly, this city and its fanbase, by storm. His 1.97 GAA and .936 save percentage was at the opposite end of the goalie rankings, at the top, and Husso started nine of the previous 11 games going back to Jan. 17.

But as has been the case throughout Binnington's career, it's a one-day-at-a-time challenge. Stay in the present, in the moment, work on the kinks and figure things out. He's been down rockier roads before.

It's one game, but it could be deja vu all over again where Binnington finds the crease in Philadelphia and skyrockets from here.

"Yeah, I guess so. You don't want to look too far ahead. It's a tough league and it takes a lot of work," Binnington said. "You can't let your foot off the gas, so you can't just do enough to get by. You've got to do more. 

"It's tough when you feel you're not doing your part for the team. It just feels good to contribute tonight. I'm just excited to keep working one day at a time and build it back. It happens in life, stuff is not going to go your way and you've got to just keep fighting. That's the mindset and it was fun to get a win with the boys."

Now Binnington knows exactly what Allen was feeling three years ago when he was this year's version of Husso and Allen was this year's version of him. It's a mental grind for a goalie, probably one that takes its toll on them more than it does on any of the other players because the spotlight is constantly on them. But there was never any question from the coaching staff that he would eventually get it back, find it and now, hopefully run with it again.

"I never did not rely on him," Blues coach Craig Berube said. "Listen, every goalie goes through bad stretches in this league. I think he's ready to roll again. He had a really good game and I don't see any going the other way. That's me. I believe in him.

"... I thought he was active playing the puck, he looked sharp all game. Third period, we didn't look that great at the start and he held it together for us."

Binnington was tested a couple times early, and when he made a right pad save on Max Willman cutting to the net 2:46 in and a breakaway stop on Scott Laughton at 5:40, there was the sense that he would be on his game.

"It was a good," Binnington said. "I think it was a good competitive hockey game. We played pretty well and so did (Martin) Jones. I think both teams had chances, a couple power plays. It was a good game.

"You know it's not how you draw it up, but it's about building that resiliency back, just taking it one day at a time and going to work, and believe in yourself. You want to be there for the boys, right? So yeah, it's just focusing one day at a time, and when you get in there, just play your game."

All along, Binnington's teammates felt it would get better. It had to, or this would be Husso's role for the majority of the remaining games. But to think if Binnington can get back to his former self, how lethal this 1-2 punch could be.

"We feel for him," said Blues right wing Vladimir Tarasenko, who scored what would be the game-winning goal at 8:51 of the third period. "It's on us too like previous games, we don't play well when he was in the net. It's a big game for him, big game for us. 

"We understand the responsibility, especially this town still have a lot of good memories from the past. We are really happy for him. He play amazing, thought he was our best player out there. He (made) unreal saves and played well. We are really, really happy."

Binnington was especially sharp in the third period, like he was here three years ago. And coincidentally, he made 25 saves on that night as well.

"Yeah, coming out and seeing my dad and stepmom after the game (three years ago) just around the corner here. You know, kind of a similar style game," Binnington said.

It was one of the factors Berube made in starting Binnington in this building, hoping he could recapture some of that magic.

"He was going to play at some point, but it crossed everybody's mind a little bit, we discussed it," Berube said. "He was going to play at some point, but he did a helluva job tonight."

When the final horn sounded, the Blues, as they do with whoever is in goal, give the winner full congratulations and taps. This one felt good for Binnington, much like the one here three years ago.


"Yeah, it felt good," Binnington said. "I think the boys were happy for me. Everyone is excited, that's a great road trip, that's seven out of eight points. We had a lot of fun being on the road together, so it's just a smooth trip. It's a great group to be around and be successful. Everyone is kind of excited for everyone. Everyone competes and steps up. That's what you want."

"We talk before. You have to know how to be happy for your teammates when they have success," Tarasenko said. "Hockey's a tough sport, people struggle sometimes. It's always nice to see a guy get confidence, get a win when he deserves (it). He work very hard, he's nice in the locker room. We all love him and like I said before, we're just very happy for him."

Berube said he feels Binnington is ready to get on a roll again, and that's the mental confidence a goalie needs to hear from his coach, who's been nothing but supportive. The rest is on the player.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues goalie Jordan Binnington (left) tries to look through Flyers forward
James van Riemsdyk in search of a shot Tuesday at Wells Fargo Center.

"Yeah, it's on me. I'm in this position for myself, on me," Binnington said. "Like I said, it's just about building that resiliency back. It's a competitive league, so you've got to stay on top of yourself. That's my focus now. The team is playing great hockey and we're getting wins, and that's the most important thing.

"Just playing a full 60. Just staying focused and not living in the past. Just be present. Sometimes it just feels like it's not working and you've got to stay with it. It's not going to be right away. It's about building. Just moving forward, like I said, going back to that one-day-at-a-time thing now. We're here and it's how you handle it."

Will Binnington get the start Friday at home against Buffalo? Time will tell, but it would make one great problem for Berube and the coaches if they have two guys going that deserve the net.

"Just take care of myself and it'll play out how it plays out," Binnington said. "We're both great goalies and I think as long as the team is winning, that's what our main focus is. Obviously just taking care of ourselves and pushing each other. You can't predict the future. You've just got to take it one day at a time, and that's the mindset."

(2-22-22) Blues-Flyers Gameday Lineup

The Blues will be back at full strength as they wrap up a four-game road trip.

Vladimir Tarasenko returns for the Blues (29-14-6) today against the Philadelphia Flyers (15-25-10) after missing one game with an undisclosed injury. He is expected to slot back in on a line with Robert Thomas and Pavel Buchnevich, which produced 16 points (six goals, 10 assists) in three games prior to Tarasenko's absence against the Toronto Maple Leafs on Saturday.

Puck drop today is at 6 p.m. (BSMW, ESPN 101.1-FM).

"Yeah, he's good to go, so it's good to have him back tonight," Blues coach Craig Berube said of Tarasenko, who is tied for the team lead with Buchnevich and Jordan Kyrou in goals (18) and with Buchnevich in points (45).

Also, goalie Jordan Binnington will make his first start since a 7-4 loss against the New Jersey Devils on Feb. 10 and just his third start  in the past 10 games.

"It's on us just to defend, defend hard, limit their chances, especially their Grade 'A's," center Brayden Schenn said. "We're not worried about 'Binner'. 'Binner's very capable of getting out of a funk and we expect obviously big things out of him tonight and we're looking forward to him being back in the net. He's a guy that's worked hard kind of when he's been out and I'm sure he's ready for his chance."

Perhaps a stroll down memory lane will fuel Binnington's fire. He made his first NHL start at Wells Fargo Center on Jan. 7, 2019, a 3-0 shutout win that helped start the fire for the Blues in their Stanley Cup run.

But as of late, it's been tough sledding for Binnington, who is 11-10-3 with a 3.35 goals-against average and .898 save percentage on the season but has lost each of his past three starts and allowed 18 goals on 102 shots (.824 save percentage). 

"He's just got to make saves, make the saves he's supposed to make and play the game the way that he normally plays it," Berube said. "He plays the puck really well, he's an active goalie getting out of his net, doing things like that, playing with confidence. That'll be really important, staying with it, staying busy and don't get out of character. Be yourself and just do your job."

- - -

Tonight marks a return of Berube to his roots of where it all got started for him, from his playing days and from the coaching ranks.

Berube began his NHL career with the Flyers in 1986 and spent seven seasons in the City of Brotherly Love spanning two stints and also began his coaching career in Philadelphia, first with the Philadelphia Phantoms of the American Hockey League as an assistant for two seasons beginning in 2004 and as head coach for two seasons beginning in 2006. 

Berube moved up to be an assistant with the Flyers for seven seasons before moving up to become head coach for two years beginning in 2013 before being fired.

He became associate coach of the Blues in 2017 before replacing Mike Yeo, coincidentally the Flyers' present interim coach, on Nov. 20, 1018.

"I've spent a lot of time here over the years as a player and as a coach," Berube said of being back in Philadelphia. "It's always great to come back here. It's been a while since we've been back here obviously. A lot of memories here and really, got my start as a player and as a coach here in this city.

"When I took over as the Flyers head coach, I was myself. I never strayed from that just being myself and being very brutally honest about everything I do and approach with my players, coaches, anybody, management. I think that's what I continue to do. You always learn and try to get better as a coach over the years from other coaches and different people that you can learn from, so you can always take in a little bit here and there on different things to become a better coach. I think over time I've learned to trust myself as a coach and my decision-making. I think I don't second-guess myself and I think the one thing I changed as a head coach from Philly to St. Louis is really using my coaching staff quite a lot here in St. Louis. I rely on those guys where maybe I didn't do that as much here in Philly."

Berube was 75-58-28 in his two seasons with the Flyers, reaching the playoffs once.

"You look at it like you're going to get another chance," Berube said. "Sometimes it takes long(er). The one thing I guess leaving Philly, I really hadn't made too many connections outside of Philly. I'm a pretty quiet ... I don't approach a lot of people, I don't approach a lot of people on other teams. Basically when I was here in Philly, I was with Philly. When you leave, when you get fired, teams are not going to hire you usually unless they really know you a lot of times. That's a big part of it. I get some coaches that don't have jobs that have very good coaching records, won a Cup maybe or whatever. They get another look because of their past. I didn't have a lot of experience as a head coach, but I had Bob Clarke and Paul Holmgren, they did a lot for me. I talked to Doug Armstrong and he gave me another opportunity to get back in the game and Doug gave me another opportunity."

When he became associate coach with the Blues, it came on the heels of one solid season with the Blues' AHL affiliate, the Chicago Wolves in 2016-17. Berube was 44-19-13 with the Wolves that season before getting bumped up to Yeo's staff.

"I didn't know him extremely well, but I knew of him because I was in the minors and he was coaching," Berube said of Yeo. "We chatted and talked. He's a very smart coach, very good guy. I learned a lot of from him just being around him and how he worked the details of the game, he's a very detailed guy, how he approached the game. You always take things from a lot of different people, little things here and there and use them down the road or use them as you go along coaching. It was a tough situation at the time, it really was."

- - -

Not only is it a homecoming of sorts for Berube, who makes his summer home outside of Philadelphia, but it's also a bit of a homecoming for Schenn, who his first six full NHL seasons with the Flyers (2011-17).

"All the focus on 'Chief', make them focus their attention on 'Chief' and 'Chief' coming back is fine by me, but it's always fun coming back here, a lot of good memories," Schenn said. "Played on some teams where I had a lot of fun. Obviously this is where it all got started and I got a good opportunity when I was here. It's always special coming back."

Schenn, originally drafted No. 5 overall by the Los Angeles Kings in 2009, was dealt to the Blues at the 2017 NHL Draft for a package of the 27th pick in that draft (Morgan Frost), center Jori Lehtera and a conditional 2018 first-round pick which the Flyers turned into Joel Farabee.

"For me, the times I've been traded, it's never one you expected," Schenn said. "You get a phone call during the draft from (Flyers general manager) Ron Hextall and I was traded. It came out recently, I don't know who knew and who didn't, but honestly St. Louis has been the best thing for my career. Got a good opportunity, won a Stanley Cup, played on a lot of good teams here, competitive teams. I've enjoyed every minute being in St. Louis."

Schenn moved on to St. Louis and has spent five season, including this one, with the Blues. He put up career years in goals (28), assists (42) and points (70) his first season in St. Louis, won a Stanley Cup in 2019 and signed an eight-year, $52 million contract Oct. 4, 2019. 

"Opportunity and you have to make the most of it," Schenn said of his success here. "That's no secret, but maybe just the style of game I play, maybe being in the Western Conference. There's lots of factors that go into it. But I think from being in St. Louis, it's just always been the mentality, just a piece of the puzzle and everyone buys into the team mentality. Essentially that's winning hockey. That's why they've been successful for so many years.

"I think (the Flyers) were supposed to pick like 12-15 that year. They moved up to No. 2 in the draft and they had the chance to get Nolan Patrick or (Nico) Hischier. I was playing center at the time. It was a little bit wing but mostly center. Both of those kids are obviously players in the league now and are centermen. 'Hexy' felt like he was going to grab one of them and maybe I was just the odd man out for whatever reason that may be. It's all part of the business and there's lots of moving parts and things that go into you being traded. So for me to finger point it, I'm not exactly sure what it was."

- - -

Not only is this a trip down memory lane for Binnington, but it's also one for defenseman Robert Bortuzzo.

Bortuzzo was part of the group that made a visit to The Jack's NYB the night before the Blues played that game in 2019. It's where Laura Branigan's 1982 hit 'Gloria' was reinvented for the team, and they adopted the tunes as their postgame victory song.

"We didn't," Bortuzzo said when asked if he returned where it all began. "You know what, that would have been a real good idea. Those boys were real good to us over the years. Couldn't make it out yesterday, but we spent some time as a team and had some fun.

"... Wow. What is that, three years ago? I don't know, yeah, it really does (sink in). I think that was one of 'Binner's starts here. That does seem like ages ago."

Bortuzzo, Robby Fabbri, Alexander Steen, Jaden Schwartz and Joel Edmundson were the players that made the trek to the club that evening, and only Bortuzzo remains.

"Wow, yeah, I'm getting old," Bortuzzo said. "Lots of good men. That was a great crew that night. Still super-tight with all those guys, but they're missed and they're all doing great things now."

- - -

The Blues are 3-0-1 on their current trip and would love nothing more than to take seven of eight points. They play a Flyers team well out of the playoffs and one that is winless in five (0-3-2).

"They've played a lot of tight games lately, so it's not like they're just out there and they're playing and they're getting blown out," defenseman Torey Krug said. "I think most of the games have been one-goal games late and we realize they have some talent in that locker room, they're really good off the rush and in this league, if you're sleeping against anyone, you're going to pay for it. We've just got to be ready.

"To walk away with seven out of eight points would be important for us, especially this time of the season where everyone's collecting points. You've got to keep your spot in the standings. It would be a big trip for us if we did that."

It's not as if the Blues can afford to take anyone lightly, as evidenced by recent losses to the Devils on Feb. 10 and to the Canadiens (3-2 in overtime) on this trip.

"You've got to come out with urgency and you've got to take advantage of your chances and you've got to bury them," Berube said. "That's where a lot of the urgency for me comes into play. We get opportunities but we don't capitalize on them or execute and that's where we've got to take advantage. When we get our chances here tonight, we've got to bear down and execute and we're going to have to do a good job defensively making sure we're on our toes and reloading hard and just playing the right way.

"We've got to play our game, we've got to focus on what we're going to do in the game. We've got to execute and we've got to be ready with urgency and intensity in the game. That's the biggest thing. If we go into that game and we have urgency right away in the game and we're executing, doing the things we're supposed to do playing our style of game, we'll be in good shape."

"So far, we've had a pretty good trip," Kyrou said. "It would definitely be a big win for us at the end of a road trip."

- - -

* Schenn has nine points in his past seven games (five goals, four assists).

* Tarasenko has 22 points (10 goals, 12 assists) his past 16 games.

* Buchnevich has a five-game point streak (three goals, six assists) and has three consecutive multi-point games.

* Defenseman Justin Faulk has a six-game point streak (one goal, five assists), his longest as a Blue and the second longest of his career. He had a seven-game point streak (three goals, six assists) with Carolina from Nov. 12-25, 2015.

* Binnington is 2-0-1 with a 2.29 GAA and .911 save percentage in three games against the Flyers.

- - -

The Blues' projected lineup:

Brandon Saad-Ryan O'Reilly-David Perron

Pavel Buchnevich-Robert Thomas-Vladimir Tarasenko 

Ivan Barbashev-Brayden Schenn-Jordan Kyrou

Klim Kostin-Tyler Bozak-Oskar Sundqvist

Niko Mikkola-Colton Parayko

Torey Krug-Justin Faulk

Jake Walman-Robert Bortuzzo

Jordan Binnington will start in goal; Ville Husso will be the backup. 

Healthy scratches include Dakota Joshua and Logan Brown. Marco Scandella (lower body) remains out.

- - - 

The Flyers' projected lineup:

Oskar Lindblom-Claude Giroux-Cam Atkinson

James van Riemsdyk-Scott Laughton-Travis Konecny

Max Willman-Morgan Frost-Gerry Mayhew

Isaac Ratcliffe-Patrick Brown-Zack MacEwen

Ivan Provorov-Justin Braun

Travis Sanheim-Rasmus Ristolainen

Keith Yandle-Nick Seeler

Martin Jones could start in goal; Kirill Ustimenko could be the backup.

The healthy scratch could be Kevin Connauton. Carter Hart (eye) could be available after being scratched with an eye infection on Monday. Ryan Ellis (lower body), Derick Brassard (hip), Nate Thompson (shoulder), Kevin Hayes (hip), Joel Farabee (upper body) and Wade Allison (knee) are all out.

Saturday, February 19, 2022

"We came out, we hunted, we got on them"

O'Reilly, Perron, Saad make marks in third period, help Blues take command, 
game over in 6-3 win over Toronto; team responds properly after Montreal loss

Ryan O'Reilly, David Perron and Brandon Saad have been around the block enough to know when it's go time.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues captain Ryan O'Reilly (right) looks to make a pass while being
defended by Toronto's Michael Bunting on Saturday night.

Playing against one of the top teams in the league, in their barn, tie game, one period to go, it was that time.

On the heels of a lackluster loss against the Montreal Canadiens, who happen to be the worst team in the NHL this season, the Blues had the chance to put up the proper response against the Toronto Maple Leafs at Scotiabank Arena on Saturday night, on Hockey Night in Canada.

Each of the other three lines for the Blues had already produced something. The only combo missing was Saad-O'Reilly-Perron, but that line came through with flying colors, producing two goals in clutch situations, one each from Saad and O'Reilly, and the Blues responded from that 3-2 overtime loss to Montreal with a 6-3 win against the Maple Leafs.

It was a 3-3 game, one in which the Blues (29-14-6) had squandered away a two-goal lead, and for three veterans with a combined 2,521 regular-season games' worth of NHL experience, it didn't take much for them to know it was their time to shine.

It may not have been reflective in the numbers (11 shots for and 12 shots against for a Corsi rating of 47.83 percent, and a nine Fenwick-for, 10 Fenwick-against for a 47.37 percent rating), but what mattered was the line had seven scoring chances for and five against, including two high danger scoring chances for.

"We started the game, we weren't really generating a lot as a line," O'Reilly said. "We were working hard and still possessing the puck like we wanted to, but we knew kind of to stick with it and knew that we'd generate more as the game went on. 

"In between the second and third there, we just looked at each other and knew it was time to step up and I thought we did a great job. We came out, we hunted, we got on them and some big plays there that obviously changed the game."

Saad's 200th NHL goal broke the tie and gave the Blues a 4-3 lead stemming from a great high-low pass from Colton Parayko and ensuing cross-crease feed from Perron to set up Saad with his 16th of the season at 4:38 of the third period, and O'Reilly was able to tip home Niko Mikkola's left point shot past Jack Campbell at 10:50 to basically seal the deal.

"I feel it was only a matter of time for those guys," said center Brayden Schenn's whose 100th goal with the Blues gave them a 3-2 lead in the second period. "All three of those guys play the right way every single night. They work extremely hard, good teammates. Nice to see them get rewarded. 

"Great play by all three guys on the first goal with Parayko, Perron and Saad to finish it and then obviously O'Reilly kind of iced it for us with the tip there. Three guys that kind of bring the same attitude and effort to the rink every night. Nice to see them get rewarded."

Coach Craig Berube reunited O'Reilly and Perron back together Tuesday in Ottawa, and Saad complements them with his two-way game and ability to create and score.

"I think it goes back a couple games ago where I thought they were really hard on pucks and controlling pucks in the offensive zone," Berube said. "Obviously they do a good job defensively, but I think it was coming. Personally I do. When you spend time in the offensive zone and you're strong on pucks, you're going to find opportunities to make plays and get some opportunities to score, and that's what they did."

It was a case where the Blues would have felt like they would have left Toronto empty-handed had they not come up with a performance in the third period after the way they sputtered along again the Canadiens on Thursday.

They were much better in all three zones, they put pucks in the right areas and were able to retrieve them properly to be able to execute better in the offensive zone. And they took advantage of Toronto's vulnerabilities off the rush.

"We did a good job of skating and forechecking well and when we did that, we got the puck back and had some good looks," O'Reilly said. "It was nice to score six goals. It's always good, especially against that team, it's very good. To only give up three against them, it's always a tough challenge. Some guys made some big plays for us. It's nice to score.

"I think it just started with everyone on the ice. I thought we did a good job of getting the puck out supporting each other. We put it in and hunted. We hunted them and had a good forecheck. It was a nice play up to the point and it was just kind of get to the net, and I think that's the important thing, especially for myself not scoring a lot of goals lately, that's where they're going to come, by me getting to the net and us as a group getting to those hard areas. It was a great shot-pass by Mikkola and I was able to get a tip on it."

Unlike Thursday, the Blues never trailed in this game. Toronto, which had won seven in a row and scored four or more in each of those seven wins at home, chased the Blues down twice but were never able to get the lead itself.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues players (from left) David Perron, Ryan O'Reilly, Brandon Saad and
Tyler Bozak congratulate Brayden Schenn after scoring Saturday.

"We've been getting contributions all year from everybody and it's got to continue to do that," Berube said. "It was really nice tonight that we got all four lines involved in the offense. [Ville] Husso did a great job in the third period shutting that game down for us."

There was really no other choice since the Blues have eight guys on the roster from Ontario and/or Quebec.

"I think it just all comes with being in Toronto, Saturday night, Hockey Night in Canada, a lot of our guys on our team grew up watching it," Schenn said. "We have a lot of Toronto boys. You knew our guys were going to come to the rink with a solid effort tonight in front of friends and family. I don't think we had the response we needed to, whether it was playing the Canadiens or obviously a little different playing in front of no fans and stuff like that. Coming here, it's always exciting playing here in this arena. Guys stepped up tonight. We knew it was going to be a heck of challenge. They have a lot of lethal players over there that can put the puck in the back of the net. They still had chances, but 'Huus' made saves and I thought we still checked hard and worked hard tonight to limit them."

(2-19-22) Blues-Maple Leafs Gameday Lineup

It would be nice for the Blues going up against one of the top teams in the league in the Toronto Maple Leafs today if they could do so with a full deck on hand.

Unfortunately, they'll be missing one of their key pieces when the Blues (28-14-6) head to Scotiabank Arena to face the Maple Leafs (32-12-3) at 6 p.m. (BSMW, ESPN 101.1-FM) with Vladimir Tarasenko out of the lineup.

Coach Craig Berube confirmed after the morning skate that Tarasenko will be out with an undisclosed injury, sustained in a 3-2 overtime loss against the Montreal Canadiens on Thursday.

"He's out tonight," Berube said. "(Happened) last game. Day to day."

In the third game of a four-game trip, the Blues will shuffle their lineup around a bit, moving Jordan Kyrou up to fill Tarasenko's slot with Robert Thomas and Pavel Buchnevich, Oskar Sundqvist moving up to play with Brayden Schenn and Ivan Barbashev and both Tyler Bozak and Logan Brown re-inserted back in.

For Bozak, it will be his first action since Jan. Jan. 29 against Winnipeg; he's been a healthy scratch the past four games but he goes back into the lineup against the team he spent the first nine seasons of his NHL career with.

"It's obviously exciting, especially being back here (where) I have a lot of history," Bozak said. "It's fun to get back in, feel good and rested. Obviously might be a little rusty the first few shifts. I haven't played a while since before the break, but it's like anything. You get hurt from time to time or you're not playing and you come back, it comes back to you pretty quickly.

"Obviously it's hard (being a healthy scratch). Definitely never a spot you want to be in and never a spot I'd been in my career, so yeah, it was tough, but like I've said many times, we have a very deep team and that's a positive thing, especially when you get late in the season and throughout playoffs. It's inevitable that there will be injuries or there will be guys banged up and you're going to need guys to come in and play different roles at different times. I feel like we have a lot of guys that can do that."

Bozak has nine points (three goals, six assists) in 37 games this season and will center a line with Brown and Klim Kostin.

"When I talked you guys before about 'Bozie' sitting down, really it's not his play," Blues coach Craig Berube said. "He's been a pretty consistent player in his role, penalty killing and playing in that role as a fourth line center. Sometimes he's moved up, it depends on situations, but he's an experienced guy, played a lot of hockey in his career. He gives us a stable guy down the ice. I don't expect anything different out of him than I normally expect."

The Blues assigned Dakota Joshua, who took Bozak's spot the past four games centering the fourth line, back to Springfield of the American Hockey League in order to recall defenseman Calle Rosen, who Berube said, "we'll see" regarding to if he sill play tonight. Rosen wasn't at the skate this morning, but the recall, according to Berube, was so the Blues could have an extra d-man with Marco Scandella sidelined with a lower-body injury.

As for Brown, who's been a healthy scratch the past seven games, it will be his first action since Jan. 23 at Vancouver.

"'Brownie's just got to use his big body obviously," Berube said. "His skill set, he has good hands, he's got a good shot and he's got to get to that offensive zone and hang onto pucks and take them to the net and do the things he does and be responsible defensively. He's got to be strong on the walls in our own end and make good puck plays out of our own end."

With Tarasenko out of the lineup, Brandon Saad will step back into a role on the power play. Saad is tied with Buchnevich, Scnenn and Ryan O'Reilly for the team lead in power play goals with five.

"I think it's just being ready," Saad said. "It's nice to get an opportunity and hopefully we have some success tonight and contribute to a win."

- - -

The Blues will have to do a much better job mustering up energy against a more formidable opponent tonight.

The loss to Montreal, which ended the Canadiens' 10-game skid (0-8-2), was discouraging enough, but it continued a bad trend of dropping points against some of the league's worst.

The Blues are just 3-2-1 against the four division cellar dwellers (Arizona, Montreal, Seattle and New Jersey).

"I think it depends on the situation and what team and things like that," Berube said. "Everybody gets excited to come to Toronto obviously. They're a great team and we all know that. They've got some high-powered offense and great players but coming to Toronto, I think everybody's always energized and excited to play. We have a number of people on our team that are from the Toronto area. I think that there's always good energy."

The Blues are, however, 3-3-1 against the four division leaders this season (Colorado, Calgary, Carolina and Florida. Toronto currently sits third in the ultra-competitive Atlantic Division, three points behind Tampa Bay and six points behind Florida with two games in hand on each.

"They're lethal offensively, so for us it's limiting our mistakes trying to play in their end and make them come 200 feet doing what we do best," Saad said of the Maple Leafs. "They have a lot of firepower out there so being disciplined and then making them work for it."

The Blues and Leafs played Jan. 15 at Enterprise Center, and it was the Maple Leafs that came away with a high-scoring 6-5 win.

"We've got to be disciplined and do our best to stay out of the penalty box for sure," Berube said. "They've got a great power play, a very quick transition, offensive team that does some really good things in the offensive zone with the puck. You've got to check hard. You've got to be on top of people, we've got to protect the slot area, we've got to limit odd-man rushes, be disciplined and understand situations you're out there against. (Auston) Matthews and (Mitch) Marner are playing great hockey right now. We've got to do a good job of taking them away."

This is an opponent the Blues will have to be much better at in puck control than Thursday against the woeful Canadiens.

"I thought early on in the game, it looked like it was going to be a good night there," Berube said. "I think penalties really hurt there in the second period; that was a waste period with penalties, and the first period too. We got back-to-back penalties there too. I think that hurt us for sure. Third period was good. I thought we came out, we had 14 shots on net, we had some good o-zone time, some good power plays. I thought the power play looked better in the third period, but overall for two periods, we weren't on top of our game. I didn't think we were as connected as we were in Ottawa. It didn't seem like we got to the inside enough in Montreal. They did a good job of checking us. I said after the game, I give them credit. I thought they played a strong game. They kept us on the outside too much and we need to do a better job of getting on the inside."

- - -

* Berube is coaching his 400th NHL game, 239th with the Blues which moves him into sixth all-time in team history ahead of Scotty Bowman; Berube coached the Philadelphia Flyers for 161 games.

* The Blues have won four straight games in Toronto, outscoring the Leafs.

* The matchup pits two of the top teams in the league in terms of special teams; The Leafs are No. 1 in power play at 31.8 percent, the Blues are second at 27.1 percent. The Blues rank fifth in penalty killing at 84.5 percent, the Leafs are sixth at 84.4 percent.

* Since Jan. 1, goalie Ville Husso is 8-1-1 with a 1.55 goals-against average and a .945 save percentage with one shutout.

* Schenn has eight points his past six games (four goals, four assists) and needs one goal for 100 with the Blues

* Buchnevich has a four-game point streak (one goal, six assists).

* Defenseman Justin Faulk has a five-game point streak (one goal, four assists), his longest as a Blue; it is tied for the second longest of his career (seven-game point streak in 2015-16 with Carolina, three goals, six assists).

* Saad needs one goal for 200 in the NHL.

- - -

The Blues' projected lineup:

Brandon Saad-Ryan O'Reilly-David Perron

Pavel Buchnevich-Robert Thomas-Jordan Kyrou

Ivan Barbashev-Brayden Schenn-Oskar Sundqvist

Logan Brown-Tyler Bozak-Klim Kostin

Niko Mikkola-Colton Parayko

Torey Krug-Justin Faulk

Jake Walman-Robert Bortuzzo

Ville Husso is projected to start in goal; Jordan Binnington would be the backup.

The healthy scratch is Calle Rosen. Vladimir Tarasenko (undisclosed) and Marco Scandella (lower body) are out.

- - -

The Maple Leafs' projected lineup:

Michael Bunting-Auston Matthews-Mitch Marner

Alexander Kerfoot-John Tavares-William Nylander

Ilya Mikheyev-David Kampf-Ondrej Kase

Pierre Engvall-Jason Spezza-Wayne Simmonds

Morgan Rielly-TJ Brodie

Jake Muzzin-Timothy Liljegren

Rasmus Sandin-Justin Holl

Jack Campbell will start in goal; Petr Mrazek will be the backup. 

Healthy scratch includes Travis Dermott. The Maple Leafs report no injuries.