Monday, March 28, 2022

Tarasenko, Husso do heavy lifting, help Blues get back on track

Forward reaches 500 points with two goals, assist; goalie bounces back with 
35-save effort in 4-1 win over Canucks, vault Blues back into third in Central

ST. LOUIS -- Craig Berube had one of his Mano a Mano chats again on Monday. This time, it was with Vladimir Tarasenko.

Unlike the recent talks he's had with players either struggling (Pavel Buchnevich) or playing poorly (Jordan Kyrou and Ivan Barbashev), that conversation with Tarasenko was more, perhaps, about beginning to put the team on his shoulders.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Vladimir Tarasenko (middle) celebrates with teammates Brandon Saad (20)
and Brayden Schenn after scoring Monday night in a 4-1 win.

And with the Blues struggling in the month of March, it was a good time for Tarasenko to dent the scoresheet and dent it a couple times; he scored twice and assisted on another, reaching 500 points in the NHL, helping the Blues to a much-needed win, 4-1, against the surging Vancouver Canucks at Enterprise Center.

Tarasenko tied David Perron, who also scored Monday, in goals with 23 but could have many more, at least 30, according to Berube. He's had chances, great scoring chances. Sometimes goalies have made great saves on him, sometimes it's been bad luck, sometimes he's too cute and tries picking a corner, only to miss the net from Grade A scoring areas.

Regardless of how one puts it, the Blues (36-20-9), who leapfrogged the Nashville Predators back into third place by a point and three behind Minnesota for second in the Central Division, need their top gun down the stretch.

Berube wanted him to know that.

"I was talking to him about a few things, but Vladi's been around this team a long time," Berube said. "He's a leader of this team, he's won here. We were just talking about some things that what we see, what's going on.

"Vladi's played well. He's probably not happy in the number of goals that he has because he's had a lot of opportunities. He gets a lot of good opportunities. He was very good tonight. That line was very good. They were on pucks, they possessed pucks, they were heavy. A lot of our guys did it all night. For two periods, I thought that we were really good at possessing pucks and being hard on offense and doing a good job. We've got to continue to do that."

Tarasenko was part of a line with Buchnevich and Robert Thomas that played with a physical edge, helping the Blues to a 28-17 edge in hits. Tarasenko had two hits ot go with eight shot attempts (five on goal), Buchnevich had four hits to match Ivan Barbashev and Brayden Schenn for the team high.

"It helps, that's for sure. You've got to be physical," Berube said. "This game, when you're physical and you're heavy and you got good sticks and you're checking, it's hard to play against you. We need to be more consistent at that."

Tarasenko helped put the Blues on his shoulders on this night; he helped them get out to a lead when Marco Scandella -- yes, Scandella! -- gave them a 1-0 lead at 6:37 of the first period when he was on the doorstep to tap in a Tarasenko shot from a severely sharp angle that caromed over former Blues goalie Jaroslav Halak's shoulder and off the knob of his stick with Scandella crashing the net.

Tarasenko would score a big goal 49 seconds into the third period, knocking in his own rebound to make it 3-0 after a solid cycle and puck-possession shift with his linemates, then capped off his 500th NHL point by wiring a wrister bar down into the open net.

Tarasenko has 241 goals and 259 assists in 589 regular-season games. It's a heck of a feat for a player who came into the season not knowing whether he would be wearing a Blues jersey or not considering the way things went in the off-season due to a trade request following multiple shoulder operations that limited him to 34 games the past two seasons.

"It's a great accomplishment," Berube said. "He's been a very good player for quite a while. He's continuing to be a good player. He's actually a more well-rounded player than when I first got here, seeing him now. His opportunities this year he's had to score goals, he could at least have 30 because he gets a lot of good slot shots."

And when Tarasenko wasn't called upon, goalie Ville Husso was, and after his rough outing against Carolina Saturday in a 7-2 loss, it was a big bounce-back game for the Finnish netminder.

"It's nice to play and it was nice to get a win and after that Carolina game," Husso said. "Wasn't good enough from my myself and it was a good bounce back and 4-1 win.

"A couple soft goals and didn't make those saves when I usually have to make those, but it was nice to get a start right away today and it wasn't easy like after a game like that. But my mindset was good today and got a good morning skate, so I was good to go."

Husso was especially sharp in the second period when he stopped all 17 Vancouver shots (35 for the game) when the Blues were pinned in their zone for longer stretches. They were solid in leading 2-0 after one but killed a penalty to open the middle frame and relented to the Canucks' pressure, which was a combination of their own doing with poor puck decisions and Vancouver's ability to hunt down pucks.

"Yeah, the second he was good," Berube said. "He was good all game but in the second, we weren't that great. They had their power play at the start, but then it kind of just carried forward where we didn't get the puck out, we didn't get the puck out and then when we did, we made a puck play that wasn't very good and then they went back at us so we kind of played a little bit of that style where we didn't have enough o-zone time in the second period and Husso was really good."
(St. Louis Blues/Scott Rovak)
Blues goalie Ville Husso (35) makes one of his 35 saves on Canucks forward
Tanner Pearson Monday during a 4-1 victory at Enterprise Center. 

Husso, who had allowed four or more goals in three of his previous five starts, said, "As a goalie, you want to make those saves & help the team at good times. And today I made a couple good saves in the second period and kept the game 2-0 and then we score right away in third. That was like pretty much game over."

The Blues needed to bounce back. They had been 3-6-3 in 12 previous games this month, and now they embark on a three-game Western Canada trip, including a rematch with the Canucks on Wednesday, looking to continue to solidify their standing for the playoffs.

"I felt like the forwards played really well tonight," Scandella said. "'Vladi' had a big game. 'Huus' again had a great game. We just weren’t waiting. We were attacking. We were playing kind of in rhythm. One guy was going, we were all reading off of him and getting pucks deep. We weren’t turning it over and giving them odd-man rushes like we have in the last couple games before that. That’s our game. Playing below the goal line. We’re a heavy team. We have a lot of skill. And tonight we put it together."

(3-28-22) Canucks-Blues Gameday Lineup

ST. LOUIS -- Three wins in the month of March would be a sour taste in everyone's mouths for the Blues, considering the month is almost over.

The Blues have played 12 games this month and are 3-6-3, and coming off back-to-back poor losses at home (5-2 against Philadelphia and most recently, 7-2 against Carolina), the Blues find themselves in a wildcard position when they woke up on Monday morning getting set for a back-to-back set beginning today at 6:30 p.m. at Enterprise Center against the surging Vancouver Canucks (32-26-9), who have played consistently well since they hired Bruce Boudreau as coach.

"Guys are irritated right now, they're not happy for sure," Blues coach Craig Berube said. "That's normal when things aren't going well. They're not going to be happy. They want to win, but I think that we went out and had a good practice. I think guys understand if we play a certain way, we'll be OK. You've got to bring that for 60 minutes for sure. That's the bottom line,. There's no tricks when you're in a little bit of a slump or when things aren't going well. You've got to work your way out of it. It's about doing things right for 60 minutes. 

"I don't think accountability is the problem. I don't think that's a problem. I think that this team has been a close team from Day 1. I think they've been through a lot together this year and have done a good job. They're obviously not in a good spot right now. You work and compete and you work together as a team and you get out of these things. That's the bottom line."

The Blues were not too long ago firmly holding onto second place in the Central Division, but with this recent slide of games, the red-hot Minnesota Wild, winners of six in a row, are suddenly five points ahead of the Blues and even on games, and they're one point behind the Nashville Predators for third place with two games in hand. And looking at the wildcard picture, the Blues hold the first wildcard, three points ahead of second wildcard Vegas Golden Knights and four points ahead of the closest team chasing them, the Dallas Stars.

"It's been a tight race, even when we were up in that second seed there, even when we were winning, we were on a win streak and teams were all winning, so you can kind of see our division's tight," forward Brandon Saad said. "It seems like every night that teams are winning on our division and kind of creeping up in our conference. We've got to get back on track here, focus on us primarily. We still have some hockey to get back on track and every game's important for us, and that's how our mentality has to be."

It's been cliche to say it, but the Blues keep saying it, and they feel that they have to just accomplish one simple feat.

"I think play a full 60 minutes," Saad said. "There's been stints where we're playing well and playing our game and other times, whether we're scored on and we kind of let down, but we've got to play consistently for a full 60 minutes. It's been too often where we get scored on and the air gets deflated out of the tires and we take a while to regroup. If you don't play a full 60 in this league, you're not going to win, especially against good hockey teams. Down the stretch we're playing a lot of good hockey teams."

- - -

Berube will make a couple line changes ahead of tonight's matchup.

Mackenzie MacEachern will jump back in after being a healthy scratch the past two games and replace Logan Brown, and Calle Rosen will play his first game since Jan. 13 and seventh of the season, and he will replace Robert Bortuzzo on defense and be paired with Niko Mikkola.

"I wanted to get 'Mac' in there, I don't want him to sit out too long," Berube said. "He provides speed and energy for us, and then Rosen is up here, I wanted to give 'Borts' a break tonight and then get Rosen in there. He's a good puck mover and a good skater.

"I think 'Borts' gives us what he's got, but he's an older player and just going to give him a rest, that's all."

Ville Husso will once again get the nod in goal and be opposed by former Blue Jaroslav Halak.

- - -

The Blues' projected lineup:

Brandon Saad-Ryan O'Reilly-David Perron

Pavel Buchnevich-Robert Thomas-Vladimir Tarasenko

Ivan Barbashev-Brayden Schenn-Jordan Kyrou

Mackenzie MacEachern-Nathan Walker-Alexei Toropchenko

Nick Leddy-Colton Parayko

Marco Scandella-Justin Faulk

Niko Mikkola-Calle Rosen

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

Healthy scratches include Robert Bortuzzo and Logan Brown. Torey Krug (hand), Tyler Bozak (lower body) and Scott Perunovich (upper body) are out.

- - -

The Canucks projected lineup:

Tanner Pearson-J.T. Miller-Conor Garland

Elias Pettersson-Bo Horvat-Brock Boeser

Vasily Podkolzin-Juho Lammikko-Alex Chiasson

Nic Petan-Brad Richardson-William Lockwood

Oliver Ekman-Larsson-Tyler Myers

Quinn Hughes-Luke Schenn

Travis Dermott-Brad Hunt

Jaroslav Halak will start in goal; Thatcher Demko will be the backup. 

The Canucks have no healthy scratches. Matthew Highmore (upper body), Nils Hoglander (lower body), Jason Dickinson (lower body), Kyle Burroughs (upper body) and Tucker Poolman (head) are out.

Saturday, March 26, 2022

(3-26-22) Hurricanes-Blues Gameday Lineup

ST. LOUIS -- It's no secret how the Blues have had their issues against lesser opponents, more notably as of late.

Tonight will not be the case. The Blues (35-19-9) face one of the top teams in the league in the Carolina Hurricanes (42-15-7), and there is no other choice than to get up for such an opponent.

And these are the teams the Blues usually are able to go toe-to-toe with.

The Blues and Hurricanes will will square off at 7 p.m. today (BSMW, ESPN 101.1-FM), and the good news for the Blues is they're facing the team with the third-most points in the league. They tend to rise to the occasion against quality opponents.

"You've got to be ready to work for sure, very hard-working team, puck pressure everywhere," Blues coach Craig Berube said of the Hurricanes. "They've obviously been real good for a couple years now. It'll be a hard game. We played them well there though in Carolina. It was a close game. We lost it late (3-2 on Nov. 13).

"You've definitely got to skate, you've got to win your puck battles. There's not going to be a lot of clean plays out there. You've got to be willing to chip and chase and go to work."

Carolina, despite their strong run of the season, have dropped five of six (1-3-2) after a 4-3 shootout loss against the Dallas Stars on Thursday, a game they clearly were the better team, outshooting the Stars 47-15 but had the game really stolen from them by the goaltending of Scott Wedgewood. 

The Hurricanes have outshot their opponents 132-62 the past three games, eclipsing 40 in each game.

"I haven't broken so many of their games down, but they're not in their end very often," Berube said. "They pressure the puck so hard in the offensive zone, they forecheck hard and they reload and their D are down on walls. You don't get out of your zone a lot. I don't believe that they're in their end that much.

"We've got to get to the offensive zone, but we've got to make sure we're getting the puck out of our zone with people skating and supporting and be able to get into the offensive zone and go to work and try to get some opportunities. You've  got to get pucks behind them."

But the Blues' unpredictability continues after their poor result on Thursday, a 5-2 loss against the Philadelphia Flyers, their sixth loss this month (0-3-3) against non-playoff opponents compared to their 3-2-0 record in March against playoff-eligible opponents.

"It seems like when we play certain opponents, we seem unpredictable at times," Berube said. "I think that record speaks for itself that we talked about. That's something that obviously needs to change."

As Berube put it postgame, arrogance seems to be the theme when it comes to how the Blues are viewing their opponents.

"Well he's right, yeah," forward David Perron said. "I think that's how it looks certainly, but for us, we've had meetings, we keep having meetings and we will until we figure it out, but it's pretty black and white. We talked about it again (Friday) what we need to do to have success. I think we've got to find a way to be excited for the next game like we will (today) and start to bring it, start building our game, realizing that we've got 19 games before playoffs. That's the only way we're going to have success. There's many little things that we can do better. I think it's pretty obvious watching, but now it needs to start happening."

- - -

The Blues are fifth in the league in goals per game at 3.52, which is good, but now that games are getting tighter and more meaningful, perhaps they need to get used to playing lower-scoring games and be comfortable doing so.

"That's a good point. You're not going to score four goals all the time," Berube said. "You've got to win 2-1, 3-2. That's really the league, this time of year for sure.

"Boring, but just predictable more than anything from game to game. You put that Washington game together (a 5-2 win Tuesday), it's really a 60-minute really good game in a tough building against a good opponent that's been playing really good hockey. We come home and we go out in the first period and don't have much to really get anything positive out of it, right? Not a very good period. That's where this team's at a little bit."

- - -

After a hard practice on Friday, Berube had a couple of one-on-one chats with a couple guys looking for a jumpstart, they include Ivan Barbashev and Pavel Buchnevich

Barbashev for different reasons, since the forward only played a team-low 7:52 on Thursday and his low for the season by roughly five minutes; he didn't play the last 13 minutes of the third period Thursday.

"Big part of our team, even when we won," Berube said. "We all know 'Barby' and how he played. He can play the game with his forechecking ability, the physical play and things like that, really drives our team. It did back then and I believe it does now. He has the capabilities to do that and that's what we need from him."

Barbashev's role has changed offensively, with 19 goals and 25 assists on the season, but after scoring 15 goals his first 38 games, Barbashev has just four in his past 24 games.

"It has changed to a certain extent, but it doesn't mean he still can't do that stuff," Berube said. "Yeah, he's producing for us, he's done a great job. He's an all-situational player right now for us, but that doesn't mean he can't bring that other stuff that we need."

For Buchnevich, since a stretch when he had nine points (three goals, six assists) in a five-game point streak from Feb. 10-19, he has one goal and two assists his past 11 games.

"He does a lot of good things still, even though he may not be producing," Berube said. "He's a very smart player, good defensively, has a great stick, killing penalties and things like that. Players all go through this confidence thing because they're not producing, right? He just needs to be more direct. He can get more pucks to the net. Like I told him, confidence will come, you've just got to work your way out of it. You've got to work and that's the bottom line. A player like himself, he takes it personally. He's not very happy right now with himself. He wants to help more and do more, and sometimes when you try to do too much, you do less. Just simplify your game and make sure you're working and doing the right things and be more direct, shoot more pucks. Sometimes he gets too cute."

As for Jordan Kyrou, who played 12:34 Thursday and was benched for the final 14:27, it's more direct that anything from the coaching staff. However, he did not get one of those chats Friday. He's had one previously in the near past.

"No, I left him alone," Berube said. "I think he realizes it. I think he'll respond and have a good game (tonight). That's what I believe.

"Just him using his assets to the best of his ability more than anything. Using his speed and attacking, doing things with the puck. He's just not engaged enough. That's the bottom line. He was in Washington. I thought he had a good game. He was skating, he competed and worked. Last game, he didn't reload hard, didn't use his speed, didn't attack. He's got to be more consistent that way."

- - -

* Perron will put an eight-game point streak (10 goals, four assists) in the line tonight.

* Blues forward Brayden Schenn has five points (one goal, four assists) his past three games.

* Blues center Robert Thomas has six assists in four career games against Carolina.

- - -

The Blues' projected lineup:

Brandon Saad-Ryan O'Reilly-David Perron

Pavel Buchnevich-Robert Thomas-Vladimir Tarasenko

Ivan Barbashev-Brayden Schenn-Jordan Kyrou

Nathan Walker-Logan Brown-Alexei Toropchenko

Nick Leddy-Colton Parayko

Marco Scandella-Justin Faulk

Niko Mikkola-Robert Bortuzzo

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

Healthy scratches include Mackenzie MacEachern and Calle Rosen. Torey Krug (hand), Tyler Bozak (lower body) and Scott Perunovich (upper body) are out.

- - -

The Hurricanes' projected lineup:

Teuvo Teravainen-Sebastian Aho-Seth Jarvis

Andrei Svechnikov-Vincent Trocheck-Martin Necas

Nino Niederreiter-Jordan Staal-Jesper Fast

Max Domi-Jesperi Kotkaniemi-Derek Stepan

Jaccob Slavin-Tony DeAngelo

Brady Skjei-Brett Pesce

Ethan Bear-Ian Cole

Antti Raanta will start in goal; Frederik Andersen will be the backup. 

Healthy scratches include Brendan Smith and Steven Lorentz. Jordan Martinook (lower body) is out.

Friday, March 25, 2022

Blues fall to another inferior opponent, one veteran had enough following 5-2 loss to Flyers

Faulk calls out teammates, himself for lack of worth ethic, compete 
level, intensity; O'Reilly had chance to make similar remarks, didn't

ST. LOUIS -- Justin Faulk was not in the mood to mince words.

It's about time someone on the Blues called out this infuriating play against inferior teams.
(St. Louis Blues/Scott Rovak)
It was not a good night for defenseman Nick Leddy (4) and the Blues in the
defenseman's home debut of a 5-2 loss to the Philadelphia Flyers.

It was on full display once again in a head-scratching 5-2 loss against the woeful Philadelphia Flyers at Enterprise Center on Thursday.

Yes, against the very same Flyers that cast off their captain and heart-and-soul player, Claude Giroux, of the past 15 years and one missing several regulars in their lineup, a team playing out the string with no chance at the Stanley Cup playoffs.

Sound familiar?

It should, because the Blues (35-19-9) have had similar results against teams with equal or worse ground as of late. They're 3-5-3 in March and lost to a team that hadn't tasted victory away from Wells Fargo Center this calendar year. In fact, the Flyers (21-32-10) had lost 13 straight away from home (0-12-1), with their last victory coming Dec. 29, 3-2 in overtime at Seattle. But they dusted the Blues aside Thursday like a cheap suit.

This, on the heels of a solid 5-2 win at Washington on the road. A chance to build off a solid outing against a solid opponent in their barn.

Yet it was another clunker for the Blues, and Faulk had enough of it.

"I think we just didn't play our game at all," Faulk said. "The work ethic wasn't there, the compete level and intensity wasn't there from a lot of guys -- I'm very much in that group (being a minus-3). Didn't have a good game by any means. But that's just not acceptable. We've kind of had that. It's been a little bit of a theme, starting slow and thinking we can score our way through in the seconds and thirds and finding ourselves back in games and then win. Sure, certainly at times that's going to happen. To think that that's going to continually happen and think you're going to be at the right side of things more times than not, it's not true. Every team in this league, whether it's the Flyers who are out of the playoffs or a Colorado, guys are going to play hard and make it tough on you and we got what we deserved tonight."

About that work ethic, compete level and intensity being a problem? 

"That’s all it is. One-hundred percent, because when we do it, we did it tonight at times, for a lot of the game, but we're down 2-0 again," Blues coach Craig Berube said. "You can’t just give teams a 2-0 lead. We're not starting a game that way."

With 20 games left in the season, a chance to start using these games to fine-tune one's game and a chance to push an opponent with nothing to play for this season out of the game early, the Blues once again laid a first-period egg.

They were outscored 2-0 and outshot 9-4 and looked disjointed all over the ice. From giving the puck away too easily in the offensive zone or not shooting when shot opportunities were presented, instead looking for the highlight-reel play or over-passing, Philadelphia, got to work. The Flyers, who were outscored 57-29 (allowing an average of 4.38 goals per game in their 13-game road skid), were given life and the Blues were playing catch-up because of a mindset of not worrying about falling behind. They'll just outscore the opponent and find a way, which is not the mindset to have this time of season.

"I don't know if it's arrogance or what it is," said Berube, who benched Jordan Kyrou and Ivan Barbashev for much of the third period. "But you don't compete in the game, you don't work you can get embarrassed like we did tonight.

"... At the start of the game, we didn't shoot, that's for sure. We had some real good opportunities early and just passed them up. And then, you know, what I saw was just a team that skated and outworked us in the first period, that's the easiest way to put it."

The Blues have 17 come-from-behind wins this season. That's good from the perspective of never giving up no matter the circumstances when trailing. And for a team that is fifth in the NHL at 3.52 goals-per-game, it's natural to feel confident even when down.

But that's when players can get into bad habits, thinking they can get away with things instead of making the correct, and what may seem like the boring play. Maybe instead trying to finagle their way out of loopholes, instead maybe they should work for them.

But therein lies the problem. The Blues have that run-and-gun mentality that may win a lot of late summer pond hockey games but ever the ones that count.

"Well, we're good at scoring goals," Faulk said. "There's no lack of confidence with that in our room and that's definitely not a bad thing. I think at times we take for granted that that's a possibility in our group. It's going to get tough and it is tough and we're seeing it more so now that games are tighter. As you get down the stretch and into the playoffs, they're way tighter than what they are right now. We just have to be prepared to be alright with a 0-0 game going into late some nights and winning 1-0, 2-0, 2-1, whatever it might be, those low-scoring games. We've got to be OK with that."

Right now, they're not, and that has to become a mindset, or the playoffs will be a short memory.

"It can be yeah, it's boring," Faulk said. "It is what it is. It's not a fun brand of hockey to play but it's winning, and winning's fun. We're not sitting here feeling like this a lot of nights when you do that. 

"Everyone likes to score and get points and what not, but we have to be committed to just playing a hard way of hockey, chipping pucks in, chipping pucks out, tough defensively, just being real stingy and not thinking that it's OK we can score a bunch of goals. But that's just an overall theme that we need to kind of clean up a little bit. That's definitely not ... tonight was a little bit different. We just didn't have anything really.

"We just didn't have a high enough commitment to playing a hard game, making things hard on them. We didn't have a shot for the first 10 minutes of the game. What did we have, two at the end of the first, it was low, four maybe. We made the game super easy on them. We have a chance to see who's committed to playing those games. They're not in the playoffs and it's an opportunity to kind of push them out and see if they really want to play a hard game because sometimes they don't. I've lived it, seen that plenty of times. You can push a team out that's not really playing for much, but we just let them get a jump on us and gave them some energy and we had nothing to slow them up really essentially."

Thursday was one of those rare occasions that a player stepped to the mic and offered harsh criticism of the Blues' play. Not naming names, which is something the Blues normally don't do, but calling out the team for its poor play, probably something long overdue showed Faulk's passion. And it came from a veteran, sure, but one without a letter.

Which is why the comments made by captain Ryan O'Reilly were somewhat disappointing.

O'Reilly isn't one to normally make brutally honest comments, particularly in a negative light, unless he's calling himself out. That's never been an issue when O'Reilly critique's his play. But if there was ever a time when the leader wearing that 'C' could have -- and should have -- been more vocal, more angry and voicing his displeasure with the team's recent shoddy play, it was Thursday.

Instead, O'Reilly chose the more diplomatic route, something that won't sit well with a fan base angry that the Blues aren't more angry.

He certainly does his job behind closed doors, but from a public perspective, the fans maybe want to see some more of that passionate energy.

"You can tell we're fighting it," O'Reilly said. "We didn't take care of the puck like we need to. It's a frustrating two points that we didn't get tonight. 

"We'll be alright, we'll keep working and get through it."

OK, that's great, you'll keep working and get through it. But when? Time is running out and the Blues went to bed being leapfrogged by the Minnesota Wild into second in the Central Division. Nashville lost, so they remain one point back of third place but don't look now, but the Dallas Stars are suddenly four points behind the Blues, and Vegas is five points back. 

And if it isn't feeling a little panicky around Blues headquarters knowing the rear view mirror is suddenly becoming crowded, it should. Perhaps that 11-6-3 record against the league's 10 worst teams would have provided a bigger cushion, but with the chance to grab two more obtainable points Thursday, the Blues allowed them to wither away, another example of playing down to their competition.

"It sure looks like it, right," Faulk said. "I could sit here and say it's not, but if that's our record against the bottom teams, I didn't know it until you said it. That sure shows it, right? You can argue it to a certain extent, but if this is the product we put on the ice, it sure looks like we play down to it, yeah."
(St. Louis Blues/Scott Rovak)
Ryan O'Reilly (left) and the Blues turned in another dud performance
against Travis Konecny and the Flyers Thursday at Enterprise Center.

"Arrogance. For sure, is part of it," Berube said.

The Blues coach benched a pair of forwards for much of the third period, making an example of Jordan Kyrou, who didn't see the ice for the final 14:27, finishing with 12:34 of ice time with two shot attempts, and Ivan Barbashev, who played a mere 7:53, didn't see the ice for the final 12:52.

But it's more than just those two. It's everyone. Veterans included.

"Yeah, for sure. But it's not just on the vets, it’s on everybody," Berube said. "It's on everybody. This time of year, we talk, we play well against good teams, like in Washington the other night, and then we come home and we're playing against the Philadelphia Flyers."
Somebody the Blues should be beating rather handily.

"We have to be better at (the commitment) for sure," O'Reilly said. "It wasn't there, to see that we needed tonight. It cost us. It took us way too long to get going. Two points that we desperately needed with how tight the west is. We're back to work tomorrow."

Thursday, March 24, 2022

(3-24-22) Flyers-Blues Gameday Lineup

ST. LOUIS -- There's good news, bad news for the Blues, who begin a three-game homestand today at 7 p.m. (ESPN+, HULU, ESPN 101.1-FM) against the reeling Philadelphia Flyers.

Forwards Vladimir Tarasenko and Robert Thomas return to the lineup, but defenseman Torey Krug will not play and is listed as week-to-week.

First on Tarasenko and Thomas, they return after not playing Tuesday in a 5-2 win against Washington.

Tarasenko has actually missed the past two games with illness, and Thomas has missed three of the past four games.

"We miss them when they're out of the lineup," Blues coach Craig Berube said. "It's good to have them back."

As for Krug, he was injured towards the late portions of the second period when he took a stick to the left hand by Capitals defenseman Nick Jensen going back to retrieve a puck on the power play. 

It was immediately visible that something was wrong when Krug took his left hand off the stick and dropped it back before immediately going to the bench and off the ice.

"It's really tough," Berube said. "Valuable player for us. It is what it is, but it is a tough loss for sure. That's when it happened. It didn't look like much, but obviously it is."

"He's a good player, big part of our defense," defenseman Colton Parayko said. "I guess we do what we've done all year, next man in. I think obviously down the stretch, we've got a lot of games. There will be a lot of maintenance for us all. But tough to lose Krug obviously, to have a player that brings a lot of value to our team. Tough to see."

- - -

Krug's loss makes the timing of the acquisition of Nick Leddy from the Detroit Red Wings on Monday all that more important.

Leddy, acquired at the trade deadline for Oskar Sundvqvist, Jake Walman and a 2023 second-round pick, had a favorable impression for the Blues paired with Parayko in the win at Washington.

"Obviously like you said, good timing, very good player," Parayko said of Leddy, who will be his partner tonight. "Didn't see a ton of him in the East. We only played him a few times a year when he was with the Islanders. I just knew he was a really good skater, really smart, really efficient and playing with him the first game, you can see that right off the bat. He just skates real well, always in the right position, makes the little plays. Maybe you don't notice, but those are the ones that add up, make like on everyone else out there so much easier. Very nice to see. I'm just excited to play with him.

"Obviously just one game in, but obviously he's been around a long time. He's a really good player, is super smart. I can't imagine it will be any other way."

Leddy played 20:50 in his Blues debut.

"He's an experienced guy that's been around and played in a lot of situations," Berube said. "He'll be able to do the job, I believe. He's played power play a lot in his career. We'll see how it goes. We might have to do some mixing and matching here. We'll see how it works out with the PP. 

"He can really move, got good composure with the puck. The experience, right? He's been around."

Going down the stretch, and if the Blues continue to use Leddy with Parayko, communication will be imperative more than anything.

"That's going to be big, especially with 20 games here now heading into playoffs," Parayko said. "That's just going to be the biggest thing, maybe lose an assignment or you think your partner is going to be somewhere else. Just guys have different tendencies and kind of communicating and letting a guy know where you're going to be or if someone's open. It also helps your teammates out. That's going to be big for us obviously as a pair right now just as we learn each other's tendencies right now. Last game was great.

"You can just tell how calm he is out there too. Just the way he plays. I think he just makes the game easy on himself and the way he skates, if you watch him skate, he's so effortless. It's incredible to watch a player like that skate like that, it's pretty cool. He's been there, won a Stanley Cup, has a lot of games in the league, he's been a part of a lot of winning teams. Whenever you add guys like that, it's always a bonus."

- - -

Nathan Walker, who scored his fifth goal in just 10 games upon his recall from Springfield of the American Hockey League on Monday, will remain in the lineup, and Mackenzie MacEachern will sit out tonight.

Walker seems to provide a boost every time he's in the lineup for the Blues, who are 7-2-1 when he plays.

"I like to think I do the little things right, whether it's stopping on pucks, going to the net and being able to stop in front of the net," Walker said. "I think if you stop in front of the net, a lot of those little pucks and little breaks come to you that way. I'd like to think if I keep doing that, then I can keep scoring some goals.

"I like to think I play the same way no matter where I slide into the lineup. I think if I keep that mentality, I'll keep having some success."

Walker will play with Logan Brown and Alexei Toropchenko.

"He's played really well," Berube said of Walker. "Every time he's up here, he's played well in my opinion and his work ethic and his details out there as a player are really good. That work ethic and that relentlessness from him rubs off on our team. He goes to the right spots. He's around the net all the time. He's always an intense player, he doesn't take shifts off."

- - -

Jordan Binnington will get the start in goal, just his second start in seven games and first in four.

Binnington, who is 13-12-4 with a 3.11 goals-against average and .903 save percentage this season, beat the Flyers 4-1 on Feb. 22.

"'Binner' has done a pretty good job even before this," Berube said. "I don't think we've helped him out enough as a team personally. He's obviously going to be hungry to get in there and do well."

- - -

* Forward David Perron carries a seven-game goal streak into tonight's game. He has 13 points (10 goals, three assists) during his current streak and can tie Wayne Babych (Dec. 23-Jan. 10, 1980-81) for the third-longest goal streak in Blues history with eight if he can score tonight.

* The Flyers are 0-12-1 their past 13 road games. Their last road win was a 3-2 overtime win against the Seattle Kraken on Dec. 30.

- - -

The Blues' projected lineup:

Brandon Saad-Ryan O'Reilly-David Perron

Jordan Kyrou-Brayden Schenn-Pavel Buchnevich

Ivan Barbashev-Robert Thomas-Vladimir Tarasenko

Nathan Walker-Logan Brown-Alexei Toropchenko

Nick Leddy-Colton Parayko

Marco Scandella-Justin Faulk

Niko Mikkola-Robert Bortuzzo

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

The healthy scratch will be Mackenzie MacEachern. Torey Krug (upper body), Tyler Bozak (lower body) and Scott Perunovich (wrist) are out.

- - -

The Flyers' projected lineup:

James van Riemsdyk-Joel Farabee-Cam Atkinson

Max Willman-Kevin Hayes-Travis Konecny

Hayden Hodgson-Morgan Frost-Owen Tippett

Patrick Brown-Zack MacEwen

Ivan Provorov-Cam York

Travis Sanheim-Rasmus Ristolainen

Keith Yandle-Nick Seeler

Kevin Connauton

Martin Jones will start in goal; Carter Hart will be the backup. 

The Flyers have no healthy scratches. Ryan Ellis (lower body), Nate Thompson (shoulder), Scott Laughton (concussion) and Oskar Lindblom (undisclosed) are out.

Monday, March 21, 2022

Blues boster blue line with addition of Leddy, wouldn't mortgage future for rentals

Team pays price for trade acquisition, losing Sundqvist, Walman, pick for 
veteran d-man, Witkowski; Armstrong wouldn't part with top prospects for rentals

MARYLAND HEIGHTS, Mo. -- The Blues were certainly one of those teams on the burner for a defenseman, particularly one that can play a top-four role on the left-hand side.

It's been an obvious need for some time.

As the market heated up the past few days for the likes of Hampus Lindholm, Ben Chiarot, Mark Giordano and others that fetched first-round picks and/or prospects, it was clearly evident that general manager Doug Armstrong wasn't going to part with any of his for, particularly, rental players. 
(St. Louis Blues photo)
The Blues acquired former Red Wings, Islanders, Blackhawks defenseman
Nick Leddy on Monday to help bolster the blue line for the stretch run.

But on Monday, they were finally able to fetch one in 31-year-old veteran defenseman Nick Leddy from the Detroit Red Wings along with depth defenseman Luke Witkowski but the price via trade was big. In return, the Blues sent forward Oskar Sundqvist, defenseman Jake Walman and a 2023 second-round pick to Motown.

Leddy, who has a goal and 15 assists in 55 games with the Red Wings this season, is in the final year of a seven-year contract he signed with the New York Islanders on Feb. 24, 2015 that carries an average annual value of $5.5 million, and $7 million in salary this season. 

The Red Wings are retaining 50 percent of Leddy's remaining cap hit ($2.75 million) to make the deal work for the Blues, thus the heftier price tag sent back by the Blues.

Maybe this trade doesn't woo and wow Blues fans who currently clamor for more splashy moves for a team that, prior to Monday, was second in the Central Division at 34-18-9 and third in the Western Conference (behind Colorado and Calgary), but it does offer a boost and a need in the here and the now and with Leddy being a potential unrestricted free agent after the season, it could free up some cap space should the Blues look elsewhere, or need it to sign some of their own free agents.

"Our focus is on the rest of this year, but we've cleared up some cap space for next year," Armstrong said. "We have some young players that we think are coming. By not going in with multiple first-round picks or first and seconds and a lot of future assets, we do have some ammunition to play if we decide to at the draft or free agency."

The Blues are not tied to Leddy beyond this season, and who knows, if the Eden Prairie, Minn. native performs well and is a fit, perhaps the sides consummate a contract for beyond this season. And no, $2.75 million in free cap space doesn't sound like much with a team that spends to the ceiling regularly every season, but $2.75 million here, $2.75 million there starts to add up, and the Blues certainly have their eyes on more with this deal than just this season.

"This is a wait and see," Armstrong said. "You look at the salary cap, it's going to be flat (or) increased by $1 million ... right now, we have eight of our nine forwards coming back with David Perron being the only UFA. As I said, we have (Jake) Neighbours coming in here. A flat cap, when you don't have many expiring contracts, things are going to be tight. So we're focused on now until the end of the season, and then we're going to reassess our whole group on how we played -- what the final result was and how we can make sure we're a very competitive team next year."

So what does Leddy bring now? He can solidly and fluidly transition the puck, one of the better defensemen at retrieving pucks and moving it up ice without disruptions. He's been a player with tremendous playoff experience (121 games) and someone that's played for winners that go deep, including four conference finals.

Selected by the Minnesota Wild in the first round (No. 16) of the 2009 NHL Draft, Leddy has 352 points (66 goals, 286 assists) in 831 regular-season games for the Red Wings, Islanders and Chicago Blackhawks and 33 points (seven goals, 26 assists) in 121 Stanley Cup Playoff games; he won the Stanley Cup with the Blackhawks in 2013.

"I think Nick brings experience," Armstrong said. "If you look at the last couple playoff years, his team has played into the semifinals (with the New York Islanders). His ice time last year, he was in the top three and I think the ice time between him and the other two were 12-second differentials, and the year before, he was in the top three on a team that went to the semis. He's a guy that can log big minutes in important times of the year for teams that play deep. He's a skater, he's a puck mover. I think it's a dimension that will add to our group with Scandella and Mikkola and Borts there, it's very similar players. Walman's also a skater but doesn't nearly have the experience of a player like Nick. I think it gives us an option to potentially play Nick. We have seven experienced players. Mikkola's played deep into the World Championships and won it, so he's an experienced player internationally getting experience every day. Obviously Scandella and Borts have played a lot of NHL games and the four above them with Leddy in that group now have played a lot. It gives us a different look that the coach can use depending on who he wants to pair Nick with and maybe during situations within the game."

Leddy will boost a top-four unit; he's someone that's averaged 20:37 ice time for his career.

"I think as the season progressed and we started to look for a defenseman, he was on that list of players that we've scouted intensely over the last couple of months," Armstrong said. "He's not an unknown player to the Western Conference and us, where he's played prior to the Islanders and watching him play last year. This has been a difficult season as far as the cap. If you look at the NHL salary cap, well over half the teams are at the cap or played the whole season on LTI. Our situation this year was dollar in, dollar out. When you bring a player like Nick in, we had to move out $5.5 million dollars in cap space. Detroit was able to assume half of that and the Sundqvist portion equaled 5.5 and we were able to make a deal where dollar in, dollar out."

It was apparent that the prices were too steep for some of the top defenseman that went prior to the deadline, prices Armstrong wasn't willing to pay.

According to multiple sources, Neighbours, Zach Bolduc and Scott Perunovich, three of the top prospects in the Blues' pool, were inquired about in trade talks that the Blues simply did not and do not want to part with. And Armstrong said there were others people around the league value in their system that may not have garnered much attention on the outside world.

"We rate all of our prospects and then I re-rate them after now and after the draft because people call about your guys, you know you have good players," Armstrong said. "There's been a few players this year that I got calls on that excited me. I don't want to give specific names, but we have some prospects that a lot of people might not know a lot about that do have value around the league."

The Blues could have stood pat and not done a thing and it would have been OK because realistically, unless the roster as it's constructed as is can suddenly catapult itself into the Stanley Cup conversation with improved play, one trade isn't going to realistically change that landscape. But if it does give those chances some life and a boost, then by all means give it a shot, and if it doesn't work out, then there's no commitment beyond this season.

By Armstrong doing something now is a vote of confidence by management that they feel a boost could help.

"I think it's interesting because, and this is a real positive quite honestly," Armstrong said. "I take it as a badge of honor. We're sitting here second in the division, third in the conference and the question you gave me acts like we're an awful team. We're third in the conference and we have a good team. We're not playing particularly well right now (0-1-2 the past three and 2-4-3 in March) and we have to get through that, but I believe the guys are going to get through that. And then it goes back earlier to the ... and I do read what all you guys write. I find it fascinating. We should be all-in now, and then you're going to write an article next week that they got no prospects. You can't be all-in on everything all the time."

And this is why the prices for some of the higher-end rentals was too much.

"Well, I think you want to be involved in everything," Armstrong said. "It's hard ... you wish you could play at free agency and then you wish you could play at the draft, trading capital, and you wish you could play now, trading capital. But at some point, you just can't do everything all the time. We've been a competitive team for the better part of a decade now. We were able to keep our first-round pick (in 2020) and get a good prospect in Neighbours, a player that we think should be pushing very hard for our team next year. Bolduc seems to be a very good, young player. We wanted to add to that. You can't always play in that market of giving up future first-round picks all the time, and this was a year that we didn't feel that it was important to do that. That being said, we've done it in the past for a player like (Jay) Bouwmeester, who had this playoff run and another one and then we were able to sign him. So giving up a first-round pick for a rental this year didn't seem to make (sense). And quite honestly, the quality of player in our opinion, we didn't view first-round assets as something that we wanted to give away at this time."

The Blues are losing a valuable piece to their forward group in Sundqvist, who unfortunately has not been playing healthy this season following surgeries to both hips and left knee last off-season but was a valuable piece to their 2019 Stanley Cup champion season.

But will he ever be the same again? That's a tough question to answer after three major surgeries to get back to that high-octane motor Sundqvist played with after the Blues acquired him from the Pittsburgh Penguins at the 2017 draft, along with a first-round pick (Klim Kostin) for Ryan Reaves.

Sundqvist will be due a new contract after the 2022-23 season.

"Sunny's been one of my favorite players quite honestly," Armstrong said. "He's always got a smile on, I've always enjoyed being around him. The last couple of years, we've spent a lot of time at the practice rink as he's been coming back and working hard from his injuries. A really good player, always going to have a great memory here as a Blue. 

"What we've seen with David Perron and other players in the past, hockey's a small world, you never know when you'll reconnect with somebody, but it was, partial was, you have to create space to make these deals, and also the role that he was playing on our team right now, with the flat cap, he wasn't in our group of nine this year and a $2.75 million cap hit, we have to make sure we're spreading that out in ways that we can put a top team on the ice. But all in all, obviously Oskar Sundqvist is going to be remembered fondly here on and off the ice. I wish him nothing but the best on the ice. Health-wise, I wish him speedy recoveries from the surgeries that he's had. I think he's going to be a good player for a long time and this organization was having him part of it than before he got here."

Sundqvist has 15 points (four goals, 11 assists) in 41 games this season. The 27-year-old has 87 points (36 goals, 51 assists) in 270 regular-season games with the Blues and Pittsburgh Penguins since he was selected by Pittsburgh in the third round (No. 81) of the 2012 draft. He has 10 points (four goals, six assists) in 36 playoff games.

Walman has scored six points (three goals, there assists) in 32 games this season. The 26-year-old has scored eight points (four goals, four assists) in 57 regular-season games since he was selected by St. Louis in the third round (No. 82) of the 2014 NHL Draft.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Oskar Sundqvist (70), part of a Stanley Cup-winning season in 2019 with
the Blues, was traded on Monday to the Detroit Red Wings.

It's weird. You just feel for the guys that get moved, whether they're with an organization for a while or it's a short stint," defenseman Torey Krug said after Monday's practice. "It's tough for guys to move to other cities and get acclimated into a new group. As far as our group's concerned, you obviously feel confident that the guys in here can do the job. We have a great team and a chance to win the Stanley Cup if we can figure some things out here. It's an anxious day for a lot. For some teams making additions or subtractions, it can be a little exciting or nerve-wracking."

Witkowksi, a 31-year-old defenseman, has seven points (three goals, four assists) in 44 games with Grand Rapids of the American Hockey League, and has played in one game with the Red Wings this season.

Selected by the Tampa Bay Lightning in the sixth round (No. 160) of the 2008 NHL Draft, Witkowski has scored 13 points (two goals, 11 assists) in 132 regular-season games with the Red Wings and Tampa Bay Lightning and no points in two Stanley Cup Playoff games.

Witkowski will report to Springfield of the AHL.