Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Lehtera placed on IR, Schwartz close

Center was injured Saturday against Rangers; 
left wing has missed four games with elbow injury

The Blues have placed Jori Lehtera on injured-reserve after the center sustained an upper-body injury Saturday against the New York Rangers.

Jori Lehtera
Lehtera, 28, was injured midway through the second period retrieving a puck in his defensive zone corner when he was checked into the boards by Rangers forward Jimmy Vesey; he finished his shift and never returned.

Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said Monday that there was a chance Lehtera would join the team in the latter portion of the three-game trip but would not join them initially.

The Blues are home next week for three games.

The move to put Lehtera on IR is a good indication the Blues are about to activate left wing Jaden Schwartz, who's missed the first four games with a hyperextended left elbow sustained in practice on Sept. 29.

Schwartz accompanied the Blues on their three-game Western Canada swing and is likely to return Thursday against the Edmonton Oilers.

Center Kyle Brodziak and defenseman Carl Gunnarsson, who also left Saturday's 3-2 victory with upper-body injuries, accompanied the team and continue to be day-to-day. Both missed Tuesday's 2-1 overtime loss to the Vancouver Canucks.

Monday, October 17, 2016


Schwartz close; Brodziak, Gunnarsson on trip, Lehtera 
could join later; all three day to day; Reaves left hanging

HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- The Blues are on the cusp of getting left wing Jaden Schwartz back in their lineup sooner than expected, and centers Jori Lehtera and Kyle Brodziak and defenseman Carl Gunnarsson, who all departed last Saturday  with upper-body injuries, are all considered day-to-day.

That was the news that came after practice Monday before the Blues, 3-0-0 for only the fourth time in franchise history, departed for a three-game Western Canada road trip that will take them to face the Vancouver Canucks on Tuesday, Edmonton Oilers on Thursday and Calgary Flames on Saturday.

On Schwartz, who sustained a hyperextended left elbow during practice Sept. 29, was expected to miss a minimum four weeks. But Schwartz, who missed 49 games last season with a fractured left ankle, has been skating on his own for days. On Monday, he practiced with the team in full for the first time and was part of all drills.

Schwartz hasn't been ruled out for Tuesday against the Canucks but has a very strong chance of returning Thursday in Edmonton.

"I don't know, it feels better," Schwartz said. "We don't have a game circled yet, so just trying to get the timing and feel more comfortable, but it's feeling better.

"Just (want) to feel more comfortable, feel the strength out and be able to get the timing down, just feel confident making plays and in the dirty areas. Going from practice to games is different obviously. I've got to realize that and make sure that it's ready to go. It was good having everyone out there. That was the first time I practiced with the full team and was able to do all the drills. That's obviously a good step in the right direction."

As for Lehtera, Gunnarsson and Brodziak, each are listed as day to day; Gunnarsson and Brodziak accompanied the team on the trip, but Lehtera did not and could join up later on in Alberta. 

"Two are on the trip; Gunnarsson and Brodziak are on the trip. Lehtera isn't going to join us," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. "We'll see when he joins us, what period of time, but he's not going to go on the first leg of the trip to Vancouver, so he'll stay away. The other two guys are on the trip with us, so we'll see how they are. All three guys are day to day, but we don't think that Lehtera's in a position to play right now."

As for call-ups from Chicago of the American Hockey League, Hitchcock said there is no need, which lends to believe that most will play at some point.

"No, we've got (21) guys here. Schwartz is skating full time, so he's available in the next few games hopefully," Hitchcock said. "I'm not sure; we'll talk to him after [Tuesday] and then these guys by obviously making the trip, they've obviously got a chance to play on the trip. We've got lots of bodies.

"I'm not ruling out [anything]. None of these guys we're ruling out anything. They're on the trip. It means if you're on the trip, you have a chance to play whether in Vancouver, Edmonton or Calgary or all of the above. We'll see."

Getting Schwartz, who had eight goals and 14 assists in 33 games last season and was originally expected to miss the first nine games, would be a big boost for the Blues, especially their top six.

"He's an important player," Hitchcock said. "Even at 80 percent last year, he was a good player. Close to 100 percent, he's going to be a real help for us. He's exactly what we need. We saw it at practice today his ability on the rush and his tempo, his compete level is very impressive. When he's back and he's ready to go, it's going to be a big help.

"We knew this ahead of time. We knew this three or four days ago that this was the practice he was going to join us. ... From a conditioning level, when we tested him on the weekend, he was fine and he was up to speed. This is a whole different thing than the ankle injury. That was something where he wasn't able to skate for an extended period of time. So by being able to skate, his conditioning level is right up to speed and he'll be able to hit the ground running."

Schwartz was able to keep up his skating and not miss a beat. That, he felt, was important.

"I think an injury like this, everyone's different," Schwartz said. "There wasn't an exact time frame, but just tried seeing how it feels day to day and working on it. When it feels like it's good to go, then I'm going to go, whether it's before or after the time line they said. ... I'm happy with how the rehab and process is going."

Schwartz was skating on the left wing on a line with Alexander Steen in the middle and Vladimir Tarasenko on the right.

Here's how the lines looked today at practice:

Robby Fabbri-Paul Stastny-Ty Rattie

Jaden Schwartz-Alexander Steen-Vladimir Tarasenko

David Perron-Patrik Berglund-Nail Yakupov

Scottie Upshall/Magnus Paajarvi-Dmitrij Jaskin-Ryan Reaves

"What you saw today, I would throw it in the blender and throw it out if I was you, but this just gave us a look at some other things," Hitchcock said. "I would definitely throw all these lines out. We'll definitely be in a different format tomorrow."

* Western Canada calling -- In recent seasons, the Blues have departed St. Louis for trips to Vancouver, Edmonton and Calgary and come away with plenty of points.

Last season part of a season-long six-game trip, the Blues went on the three cities and came away 3-0 before winning one of two in March. But in recent history, they've been good stops.

"It's great for us to all get out on the road and just be together for an extended period of time," Shattenkirk said. "A lot of guys have been here since almost August and we haven't had any road trips. No one's really left and spent time away from home and we haven't done it together. It just help keep guys around each other a lot and in that sense, you get to know the team better."

"Sometimes it can be good, and sometimes it can be revealing," Hitchcock said. "I think it can be both. I think we're going to get some good play and I think it's going to be revealing for us, too. We're a different team because we know each other so well. I just think it leads to quiet time where the leaders can lead. I think this is a great opportunity where the leaders can have the team, make it their own. That's what we're looking for, too, is to make it where the leaders grab it. They grabbed it at the meeting today, they grabbed it on the ice at practice today. It's real good to see. I think that's going to be a real focus for us. This is the leaders' time. This is the time for the players to follow the appropriate direction that we need to go on and off the ice and I think we're going to do that."

The Blues will have the opportunity Tuesday to start a season with four straight wins for only the second time in franchise history; they started 4-0-0 in 2013-14.

* Reaves left hanging -- For those that didn't see the clip, Blues right wing Ryan Reaves had a playful close to the Salomon family as they came off the ice Saturday.

Carol Salomon, wife of the late Sid Salomon III, who along with his father Sid Jr. were poineer owners of the Blues from 1966-77, along with her three children, dropped the ceremonial first puck prior to the Blues' 3-2 win against the New York Rangers.

As the Salomon's left the ice, Reaves was on the bench offering a hand of thanks for the Salomon family as they were coming off, and when there was no return, Reaves playfully shook his own hand.

"I thought I was there," Reaves joked. "I guess maybe I was just there in spirit, but usually when those guys come across and they drop the puck, they give everybody a fist bump or handshake. I figured a couple girls walking by, figured thank you and stick the hand out, but no dice. I guess they didn't want it.

"I don't know what I did, but I was left hanging. I'm glad 'Shatty' jumped in because my feelings were hurt for a couple seconds."

Shattenkirk was next to Reaves and offered a handshake instead.

"You know what, they left my boy hanging, and that wasn't right, so I had to fill up that hand for him," Shattenkirk said smiling. "I was standing right there. I was watching the whole thing and I knew he needed some love."

To which Reaves responded: "I think he saw there was a single tear drop coming down the right eye and he didn't want that to keep coming so he threw the hand out and all smiles after that."

For the record, this writer shook Reaves' hand in the locker room today, because ... you know ... you can never get enough nice gestures in a day.

* Quick hitters -- Hitchcock said after the Rangers game that the coaching staff would be able to get enough information to get a better outlook on the early stages of the season, and came away with a glaring thought.

"Our 5-on-5 play has to be way better," he said. "We've gotten points because of goaltending and special teams. Our 5-on-5 play has to improve a lot. I think the players recognize that. They were right on board with it. We had a meeting before the practice today. They were really good with the communication on what they felt like they needed. They were right on the same page as us. We have to get better 5-on-5, our checking has to get better, puck support has to get better. Every aspect of our 5-on-5 game has to improve."

Hitchcock didn't disclose a starting goalie but when asked if it would be Jake Allen, he said he didn't know but was leaning that way for the game against the Canucks.

Carter Hutton was fabulous in his Blues debut Saturday, stopping 33 of 35 shots, including all 15 in the third period.

If Shattenkirk plays with Robert Bortuzzo tomorrow, like they were today in practice and like they opened the season last Wednesday in Chicago, Shattenkirk is on board.

"When we played in Chicago together, we never played a second together before, both in practice or in a game," Shattenkirk said. "I thought we handled that really well. We played very well in Chicago, especially him playing on the offside. I've had experience playing there. It's a tough transition, but he did it very well. Even today in practice, it felt like we just knew each other that much better. I think that's the key is to get more and more reps."

Stastny off to good start, would like to keep points coming

Top Blues center will have to pick up some 
of the offensive slac Backes, Brouwer vacated

ST. LOUIS -- Taking both David Backes and Troy Brouwer out of the Blues lineup heading into a new season meant there would be a void in the lineup unless someone else helped pick up the slack.

From an offensive standpoint, the Blues would need not just one person but multiple people to each increase their numbers a little bit to make the 45 points and 39 points Backes and Brouwer, respectively, brought to the table, a seamless transition.

Paul Stastny has been down this road before; he jumped out of the gates quickly his first season in St. Louis in 2014-15 when he started off with four points in two games before a shoulder injury sidelined him eight games that saw the 30-year-old get one goal in 10 games.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Through three games this season, Blues center Paul Stastny leads the
team with six points (two goals, four assists) is tied for the league-lead in
points and assists.

It's a small sample size, yes, but Stastny is at it again. His six points (two goals, four assists) through three games after a goal and assist in a 3-2 victory against the New York Rangers on Saturday puts him on a pace for 164 points, which is ridiculously good in a Gretzky/Lemieux-like way and will all but never happen (never say never).

But seeing as Stastny, in the third year of a four-year, $28 million contract he signed in 2014 to "come home," is anchoring the top line with Robby Fabbri on left wing and Alexander Steen on the right side, the Blues are going to need a larger influx of points from Stastny and others.

But it's not just the points Stastny is supplying; he's also important on both sides of special teams, wins a high percentage of faceoffs and play's Ken Hitchcock's 200-foot game.

"Everyone's chipping in," Stastny said. "There's nights when I'll chip in more than others, and then there will be nights when other guys are chipping in more. 

"Everyone's kind of creating chances. We're getting touches on the power play. We're all feeling it. We're moving the puck well. When we play as a unit of five, especially on the power play, and everyone is moving around, it makes it a lot easier on everybody."

Nothing was easy on Stastny and Co. on Saturday.

After losing two forwards and one defenseman for the entire third period, the Blues still managed a way to win a game (thanks to Carter Hutton in goal) despite being outshot 15-0.

But it was Stastny and Steen, who played defenseman-like minutes at 23:30 and and 23:31, respectively, that picked up a bulk of the load to help the Blues win their third game in as many nights in four days.

And that doesn't even account for the historically solid faceoff numbers Stastny, who has 188 career goals and 559 points in 679 NHL games, possesses; he's at 53 percent for his career.

"Him and Steen, they're doing everything for us right now," Hitchcock said. "They're killing all the penalties, they're on the power play, they're out against the top line, they're doing everything for us. They're playing huge minutes. 

"Both guys for me are carrying the day for us. I think for us, what we need is more participants up front. We need more people giving us better minutes up front because we can't just keep relying on the same two or three guys all the time."

Stastny scored the game-winner in the third period against the Chicago Blackhawks on opening night, then set up Alex Pietrangelo for the eventual game-winner Saturday.

"He's our go-to guy right now," Pietrangelo said of Stastny. "He's obviously putting big numbers up now; he has since the end of last season. 

"He's great. He's playing the way we need him to be. He's playing in all situations. Him, 'Steener,' 'Vladi' (Tarasenko), all our forwards are playing great right now, but obviously Paul's leading the charge and he's on top of his game."

Stastny had lots of success playing with Fabbri and Brouwer late last season and into the Stanley Cup Playoffs; he finished last regular season with 19 points in 15 games and a carryover effect of playing with at least one linemate of beneficial.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Paul Stastny has been a key contributor in the Blues'
3-0-0 start to the season this year.

"I played with 'Fabs' all second half of the season last year, played with 'Steener,' and then played in playoffs, it was either me, 'Fabs' and 'Brouws,' and then it me, 'Brouws' and 'Steener,'" Stastny said. "We haven't played together, but now we're getting more and more comfortable playing together because we only had two preseason games together. As individuals, they're easy to play with, but now as a line, I think every game it gets a little more and more comfortable when we're starting to support each other from the D-zone all the way to the O-zone.

"Looking at the schedule to start the season, there's no easy games anymore. Division games are all tough, and then you almost want to take your foot off the gas when you play an Eastern Conference team, but then you're playing a team like the Rangers, who have been one of the top Eastern Conference teams four, five, six years in a row now, They're all tough games. For us to come out with three wins, that was big, especially in four nights."

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Hutton backstops shorthanded Blues to 3-2 victory over Rangers

Netminder's debut a success after St. Louis 
loses three to injury, played third period shorthanded

ST. LOUIS -- Playing without two forwards and a defenseman in the third period, the Blues turned to their new goalie and asked him to win a game.

And true to form in his Blues debut, Carter Hutton came up with critical saves, including a total of 15 of them in the third period and 33 for the game to preserve the Blues' 3-2 victory against the New York Rangers on Saturday before 19,197 at Scottrade Center.

Hutton, who by his own admission gave up a bad second goal to Mika Zibanejad, more than made up for it in the third period with four clutch saves to preserve the lead. 

But it was evident the game would fall squarely on Hutton's shoulders.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues goalie Carter Hutton makes one of his 33 saves in a successful
debut during a 3-2 victory against the New York Rangers on Saturday.

"You never think like personally like that. You're just in the moment; you're just like playing, you're just battling," Hutton said. "You know how much the guys and their blood, sweat and tears go into it, right? At the same point, you're just in it, you're just battling. It's just a constant mindset of keep competing and do what I do best and battle. Tonight that was the difference."

Paul Stastny and Vladimir Tarasenko each had a goal and assist for St. Louis, which was held without a shot in the third period, the fourth time in franchise history they were held without a shot in a period, with the most recent being Feb. 16, 2008 in the third period against the Nashville Predators.

Alex Pietrangelo scored for St. Louis, which won its third in a row to start a season for the fourth time in its history (1969-70, 1993-94, 2013-14).

The Blues played the third period without centers Kyle Brodziak (who played in his 700th NHL game) and Jori Lehtera and defenseman Carl Gunnarsson, each departed with upper-body injuries and left St. Louis with 10 forwards and five defensemen.  

"The goalie was outstanding in the third period," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. "He won us the game, which was great. We needed it. Whether it was three in four nights or the injuries or whatever that depleted us, we needed our goalie in the third period and he came through for us."

Chris Kreider and Mika Zibanejad each had a goal and assist for the Rangers, who defeated the New York Islanders 5-3 at Madison Square Garden in their season opener Thursday. Henrik Lundqvist made 15 saves.

The Rangers felt they threw everything they had at Hutton but could not get one past the Blues goalie when they needed to most.

"Let's find a way to win. 'Hutts' came in," Pietrangelo said. "We knew he was going to make some big saves. I’m really proud of this group of guys. That’s a tough way to start the season. We found a way to win. That’s just type of character we want."

The final 20 minutes had to feel like an eternity for the Blues, who played with virtually three lines. Stastny (23:30) and Alexander Steen (23:31).

"To me it wasn’t bad," Stastny said. "I think having playing with three lines, five 'D' ... the big adjustment I think for us was guys not used to playing that many minutes. We all played more minutes than normal. But guys that normally play 10, 11, 12, 13, 14 minutes playing 18-19, it’s completely different for them. It’s almost like that one shift you try to have good puck possession, other than you almost have to play unified and play smart. At times we did, at times we didn’t. 'Hutts' played unbelievable for us, made those big saves and totally earned first star of the night." 

Tarasenko scored his third goal to put St. Louis ahead 1-0 at 1:13 after Colton Parayko blocked a J.T. Miller shot, getting the Blues out in transition. 

The Rangers tied it on Kreider's goal at 5:25 after he collected a loose puck in the slot and beat Hutton with a wrist shot to the short side. 

The Rangers were outshooting the Blues 8-1, but the Blues finished the first with the final 10 shots, and Stastny got his 100th point with St. Louis when he scored on a rebound of a shot from Robby Fabbri in the slot with 2:28 left. 

Pietrangelo scored on the power play with a one-timer from the slot at 2:28 of the second to make it 3-1. Stastny had little time to make up his mind when he got the puck in the corner to start a power play but quickly found Pietrangelo in the slot to give the Blues a 3-1 lead.

But Zibanejad scored 30 seconds later to drain the momentum.

It was a shot Hutton wanted back after allowing Zibanejad to slip a backhand from a tough angle inside the near post.

"That was definitely not a good goal obviously, right? But that's hockey; it happens sometimes," Hutton said. "You can take one and roll it into two or three and make it a bad night. But for me at that point, what's done is done and I try and move on. Obviously being able to approach that style was the difference for me tonight."

And it was a difference because Hutton made what Hitchcock would call "10-bell" saves; he Hutton came up with four dandy ones. One on Miller with 17:51 remaining, a second one on Kreider with 17:15 left and a third on Miller while shorthanded with 12:41 left to preserve a 3-2 Blues lead.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues forward Scottie Upshall (10) tumbles over Rangers defenseman
Ryan McDonagh during action Saturday at Scottrade Center.

"It's always tough when you're shorthanded, right," Hutton said. "Watching their PK, you knew they like to get up ice. I kind of had an awareness that he was there and most of the time, you're kind of loaded to that back pass. I was able to get across and tracked it well. I was able to keep it out and put it into a good area too after that. Sometimes those hit you and end up going in or sitting there for the next rebound and stuff like that and held onto it. That was important.

"Sometimes it goes quick when you're getting peppered. It was one of those ones where we knew they had speed and they were trying to open it up. We lose a couple guys there, and three games in four nights was showing there a bit. We stuck with it and were able to ... early on, it was a big power play goal and it proved to be the difference tonight."

And opening the season with three wins in as many games in four nights, the Blues are going to enjoy a day off on Sunday.

"'Sunday Funday,'" Stastny said with a grin.

(10-15-16) Rangers-Blues Gameday Lineup

ST. LOUIS -- Playing their third game in four nights, the Blues have a leg up on the rest of the NHL.

Two teams (Arizona and Colorado) will make their season debuts, respectively, tonight, but the Blues are looking to win three straight games to start a season for only the fourth time in franchise history when they host the New York Rangers, who opened with a 5-3 win against the New York Islanders on Thursday, today at 7 p.m. (FS-MW, KMOX 1120-AM).

The Blues have wins against Central Division foes Chicago (5-2) and Minnesota (3-2) to begin the season and will turn to backup Carter Hutton tonight against the Rangers.

"It's a challenge, it's a big challenge," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said of the three games in four nights to start the season. "It's also coming off of eight exhibition games, not six. Yesterday normally would have been a practice day this early in the season, but we only had (nine) guys on the ice. I think managing our time and managing our rest is going to be as important as our work. As I said to the players, the month of October, I don't even see us having three hockey practices. It's going to be managing rest. You're going to have to do a lot of work on video, a lot of teaching on video and that's just the way it is, but if you want the energy on the ice, you better make sure you get the proper rest to get it out there."

The Blues have also started 3-0-0 in 1969-70, 1993-94 and 2014-15.

"We don't look at that stuff at all," center Patrik Berglund said. "We just kind of take it one day at a time and setting up a game plan for tonight and hopefully we can go out and execute it. Rangers are a tough team to beat and it's going to be a real tight game."

The Blues are 1-3-0 against the Rangers, including two losses last season, against New York, since the start of the 2014-15 season.

"The speed game is there obviously," Hitchcock said of the Rangers. "It's not the speed … everybody's got players who skate. It's their puck movement speed. They use the width of the ice better than anybody and that's something we have to defend, you're defending the width of the ice as well as the depth where as most teams you're just defending depth With the Rangers, you've got to defend both the 85 foot area plays and the 200 foot plays. It's a challenge. You've got to be great positionally. For us, it's about our positional game and if we're strong in our positional play then hopefully we don't get burned like the Islanders did."

- - -

The Blues like the start of the fourth line and hope to get them more ice time.

Scottie Upshall, Kyle Brodziak and Ryan Reaves, when they're going, it typically bodes well for the Blues. They've been going, and it's no coincidence the Blues are 2-0-0.

"They've been better than what we anticipated," Hitchcock said. "They've had a great preseason, they've had a great start to the regular season and if they stayed out of the box we'd give them more ice time, which is a real focus. It's a very effective line. There's speed, they put the puck in right places so they're able to forecheck, they've got three tough guys on the line, they know how to play the right way. I really trust them but I've got to get them out there more and I've got to get out of the special teams game that goes on in the second half and put them out there more."

Upshall, who has a goal this season although he never actually put the puck in the net himself in Chicago, said the unit wants to complement what the top three lines are doing rather than being the exception to the rule.

"Jeez, you look up and down lineups now, it's four lines made up of ... fourth line guys now, you're not seeing enforcers or whatever," Upshall said. "You're seeing guys that can move and can penalty kill and even tonight, we're seeing Brandon Pirri is playing center but he's on the power play. There's really no fourth line anymore. You've got to be a third line. I find our line gritty, fast, we're playing with the puck. As you put trust into the coaches that you can be a third line, which I think we're showing, that just benefits your team. It gives guys who play too many minutes, gives them a little break, you can fill in a couple extra minutes, play them well, play them hard and hopefully produce for your team.

"... You see the way our line gets used. When we're playing well, we get played. When we get off games, it's more of a look at video, see what we need to do better. That's why we're just pushing right now to continue to get better and put trust in the coaches. The guys in this room really see the benefit of four line, deep kind of mentality and what that does for our team. It's good. We're having fun. We're a good line. We're having fun battling together.

"(Reaves) definitely throws it around. I benefit from getting a little extra space, maybe a second or two from him creating room and from defensemen kind of knowing who's on the ice. I've always finished checks and made that part of my game and Brodziak always plays the game the right way. It's a balanced line, it adds to our group who we need guys to go out and hit and play physical because a lot of our physical players are on the back side. It's good. The chemistry's there, we get along great as three guys kind of knowing where each other is on the ice. In scrums, we're all together. It's a good group."

- - -

The Blues' special teams is off to the kind of start they're accustomed to.

The Blues have converted on 3 of 8 power play chances -- albeit all three came at Chicago -- which is good for sixth in the league, and the penalty kill is 8 of 9, which is 14th in the league, but 13 teams are at 100 percent right now.

"We're competing," Hitchcock said. "We're really competing at a high level in both respects. I thought our power play after the first game was better in the game we didn't score than the game we did score. I thought we were excellent and we didn't score. WE had bang-bang plays at the net. We're working for chances, we're going to the hard areas, there's real good continuity killing penalties, we're using eight penalty killers not six which is a good sign. I like the start, but tonight is a whole different challenge. This is the best team of the three we've played so far so this will be a big challenge for us."

- - -

The Blues won't make any other roster changes for tonight other than Hutton.

That means defenseman Carl Gunnarsson, a healthy scratch in the opener, will stay in the lineup and Robert Bortuzzo will sit a second straight game.

"He was quick in thought and quick in his feet," Hitchcock said of Gunnarsson. "He moved the puck quickly, he got us out of trouble, he was quick to check, all in all he played a very sound game.

"That's why he wasn't playing. He's picked up the pace and that's a good sign."

- - -

Brodziak will skate in his 700th NHL game tonight, and if one asked him, he wouldn't make a big deal about it.

Brodziak was so quiet about it, the question was never posed to him; typical of the attention -- or lack thereof -- he wants, but Hitchcock loves his presence.

"A quiet leadership, in a good way," Hitchcock said. "He supports, he's been through programs that have had great captaincy support. He supports the captaincy of the team, the leaders of the team, the leaders of the team in av ery good way. He's a very calming influence inside the locker room when things are spinning a little bit. It's a good fit for us right now. He plays an honest game, has an honest attitude toward team play and he has a real high level of support for the leaders in the locker room, he's a glue guy."

- - - 

The Blues will honor members of the Salomon family tonight, the original owners of the franchise.

Carol Salomon, the former wife of original owner Sid Salomon III and her children Sid Salomon IV, Tim Salomon and Patti Salomon will drop the ceremonial puck prior to the game.

Sid Salomon Jr. and his son Sid Salomon III were a part of the Blues’ original ownership group from 1966 to 1977. The Salomons spent $2 million to buy the franchise and another $4 million to acquire The Arena on Oakland Ave, which turned out to be the first home of the team.

Under the Salomons' direction, the Blues made trips to the Stanley Cup Final in each of their first three seasons. 

- - -

The Blues' projected lineup:

Robby Fabbri-Paul Stastny-Alexander Steen

David Perron-Jori Lehtera-Vladimir Tarasenko

Magnus Paajarvi-Patrik Berglund-Nail Yakupov

Scottie Upshall-Kyle Brodziak-Ryan Reaves

Jay Bouwmeester-Alex Pietrangelo

Carl Gunnarsson-Kevin Shattenkirk

Joel Edmundson-Colton Parayko

Carter Hutton will start in goal; Jake Allen will be the backup.

Healthy scratches include Robert Bortuzzo, Ty Rattie and Dmitrij Jaskin. Jaden Schwartz (elbow) is on injured-reserve.

- - -

The Rangers' projected lineup:

Jimmy Vesey-Derek Stepan-Mats Zuccarello

Chris Kreider-Mika Zibanejad-Pavel Buchnevich

J.T. Miller-Kevin Hayes-Rick Nash

Michael Grabner-Brandon Pirri-Jesper Fast

Ryan McDonagh-Dan Girardi

Marc Staal-Nick Holden

Brady Skjei-Adam Clendening

Henrik Lundqvist will start in goal; Antti Raanta will be the backup.

Josh Jooris and Dylan McIlrath will be healthy scratches. Oscar Lindberg (hip) and Kevin Klein (back) are out.

Yakupov to get second chance on, off ice in St. Louis

Blues willing to work with former No. 1 overall pick, 
help him adapt to new culture as hockey player, person

HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- He arrived in St. Louis last Saturday and already, Nail Yakupov feels like his new hockey family has built inroads for him in the Gateway City.

The distance from Yakupov's hometown (Nizhnekamsk, Tatarstan in Russia) and St. Louis is 5,560 miles, or a 19.5-hour flight, measurable from one end of the globe to the other, it seems.

It's a bit farther than the 4,854 miles it takes to get from Nizhnekamsk to Edmonton, where Yakupov resided during the NHL season the past four seasons as the No. 1 overall pick in the 2012 NHL Draft.

When looking up details of where he's from, it shows Nizhnekamsk as an industrial city and largest oil refinery and chemical plant in all of Europe. No big deal right? What does that have to do with Yakupov?
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Nail Yakupov, who had a goal and assist in his first home game with the
Blues, hopes to resurrect his career and life in St. Louis after trade.

Well, Nizhnekamsk, with a population of roughly 235,000 -- or nearly the size of St. Louis -- is considered a large Muslim population and community, and Yakupov is devout in his religious faith.

But this was a hockey talent that made his way to North America and play for the Sarnia Sting of the Ontario Hockey League as a 17-year-old and put up tremendous numbers (80 goals and 90 assists in 107 games). The word was out that this was a man among boys, so the Oilers drafted him first overall, and with that comes the pressure of having to perform like a top-billing player.

But Yakupov, who played 22 games in his hometown for Nizhnekamsk Neftekhimik of the Kontinental Hockey League (10 goals, eight assists) before joining the Oilers during the lockout year of 2012-13, contributed 17 goals and 14 assists in 48 games. Not bad, but not exactly lighting the world on fire as -- again -- a No. 1 overall pick.

And living in a hockey hotbed like Edmonton, which had its share of top overall picks in recent years (Ryan Nugent-Hopkins in 2011, Yakupov in 2012 and Connor McDavid in 2015), high performance wasn't a wish, it was expected.

However, with each passing season, Yakupov's numbers fell, and he seemed to fall out of sorts with his teammates. On-ice performance seems to go hand-in-hand with how one interacts with teammates off the ice, and Yakupov, who eventually brought his parents and sister from Russia to Edmonton, wasn't one to socialize in ways professional athletes normally do. It may have given him a bad rap with his Oiler teammates, and his lack of "having a good time" didn't get the blessing from teammates, and eventually it affected Yakupov's performance on the ice.

After slipping to lows in goals (eight), and points (23) in 60 games last season, it was clear that for Yakupov to resurrect his career was through change, and the Blues came calling. After failed attempts to deal away Yakupov in the off-season, Oilers general manager Peter Chiarelli struck a deal with Blues GM Doug Armstrong. The Blues gave up prospect Zach Pochiro and a conditional third-round pick in 2017 (second round pick in 2018 should Yakupov score at least 15 goals this season) for the labeled underachiever.

The Blues heard all the negative things that perhaps scared other potential teams away from Yakupov, who has shown to have high character at a young age (he paid for dinner and a night of lodging for a homeless man in Edmonton when he was 21) but could never live up to the hype of a No. 1 overall pick despite flashes of brilliance. The Blues didn't care.

"It all goes hand-in-hand, but for us, we want him to just tune out all the noise," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said of Yakupov, who scored a goal and had an assist on the game-winner Thursday in a 3-2 victory against Minnesota. "What he was, what he's supposed to be, what he's going to be, we just want him to be what he is and let us decide how much we're going to play him and when we're going to leak him into other spots on the team, special teams, whatever. Just let us leak that all in, but what he is is what's important to us. 

"For us, he's a hockey player. Where he was drafted, who drafted him, how much money he makes is not relevant to this coaching staff. We just want a hockey player, and so we're trying to develop a hockey player. If you've got a young guy that's a good hockey player -- because he is a good player -- you build a foundation. No different than we did with (Robby) Fabbri, no different than we did with (Jaden) Schwartz. We tried to put in a foundation. Well we're trying to do the same with 'Yak.' Just put a foundation in there. Where you were before doesn't matter one bit because what's important is where he's at now. What I like about him, maybe somebody else doesn't like, but the part that I like about him is he's got an element in his game that we need, which is team speed. He's a quick player. He's got a lot of agility, he's got a lot of get-up-and-go, he plays at a high pace, and I think that's going to really have a positive affect for him and for us, and that's a good thing."

The old saying is that perhaps a change of scenery does a player good. And the Blues, who have experience dealing with No. 1 picks and expectations when they drafted Erik Johnson, who they later traded to Colorado, with the No. 1 overall pick in 2006.

The Blues will bring Yakupov along carefully, and Yakupov can ingratiate himself into more responsibility by executing what is asked, not necessarily wooing and wowing.

He performed well in just his second game with the Blues and fourth time overall with them on the ice. But when asked if he finally felt comfortable, Yakupov's response sounded like it came from the heart and of a young man who had lost soul in Edmonton.

"I tried," he said after the win Thursday. "Honestly, it was really tough this week because it's not that easy. Doesn't matter what team you're on. I know (the) Blues are a really good team, really good guys that are really friendly. It's a really good family here. When you've been away for a long time, live in different country, different city and different friends, you pretty much have nothing outside. It's really good here, but as soon as you go outside after practice, you're just alone. You're lonely and those kind of things get into your brain and in your mind and you have to fight that. I'm fighting, and now it's going to be much easier. I'm happy to get two points tonight and it's going to be much easier for me to sleep tonight."

Off the ice, Yakupov is starting over. He's learning a new country, a new city and new teammates, who seem more than willing to give him the support needed of a young man reaching out in ways he obviously didn't get in his recent past.

"All the guys have been trying to help him out, whatever it is, about the town or our systems or the coaches," said teammate Magnus Paajarvi, who played with Yakupov in 2012-13 in Edmonton. "So far he's been coming in really good."

Fellow Russian Vladimir Tarasenko, who was the first to text Yakupov to wish him happy birthday last week, knows the player the Blues are getting, but it's clear Yakupov's new teammates want him to feel comfortable off the ice as much as on it.

"He has a great personality," Tarasenko said of Yakupov. "I don't really look on the hockey stuff. It's more important for me what kind of guy he is in the locker room. He's a great guy, great person."

Said fellow newcomer Carter Hutton: "Obviously I'm new too, but at same time, I've been through so many different situations and maybe a little more experience with … I came a long road to get here too, so I've learned to deal with a lot of things and your mind is a powerful thing. You learn to deal with stuff that goes on throughout your career. It's hard, but at times, if you can control that, he obviously has the skill and the production. 

"You come from an organization where everything is magnified. You're the first overall pick, there's so much to deal with and obviously in their eyes, it didn't work out the way they wanted, but at the same time, he has a lot of potential and a lot of greatness. I think guys here have done a good thing of, we're not worried about the past, just worry about the future. I think all the guys have done a good job of helping him fit and feel comfortable and I think he's going to be an integral part of this hockey team."

The Blues know there will be mistakes along the way, but they're willing to be patient and teach Yakupov along the way. Edmonton obviously felt it had run its course with Yakupov, and he obviously felt a discord within the organization. But Yakupov, who will also feel better once he's able to bring his family to St. Louis, seems willing to learn and just be "one of the guys" instead of "The guy."

"Yeah, I think everything's teachable, but I look at teachable months in months, not days, not weeks," Hitchcock said. "I look at it in months. So I look at the things we want him to get better at, it might be 4-6 months before he's where we want. And in the meantime, what he's really good at, we want him to do that daily. So that's our focus right now. What he's good at, we just want him to bring that every day. The rest we'll teach him. We'll let it leak in and bleed in and well keep touching it every day, but we're not in any hurry for that. What we want him to not lose is what he's really good at. Don't be discouraged by the things you need to get better at. We've got a long-term outlook on it and hopefully he does, too.

"I think what (Yakupov accomplished Thursday) is it makes him part of the team. He feels like he's a contributing member of the family. It gives him another level of confidence. The points matter; they obviously matter, but he had a lot of good play. There was, again, a lot of special teams because of it, but he had a lot of good play. He's a much stronger player than people realize. In time, it looks like he might be a real good fit for us for the way we're playing. ... I like his tenacity to play offense. He's not looking for easy ice. He's going into hard areas all over the rink. It's a good sign for us. Hopefully he catches up to what we're trying to do here quickly and keeps contributing because he's got great skill, he's got great speed. He's strong as heck on the puck and (Wednesday) night, I said I was surprised by how good his conscience was. Now he's starting to extend himself more and more so hopefully he can keep it up."

Yakupov, who had 51 goals and 61 assists in 252 NHL games prior to arriving in St. Louis with a combined minus-88 with the Oilers, has begun anew with an organization that's used to a winning culture, something he never experienced in Edmonton.

"I had some good days and bad days and I had a lot of pressure on my head and a lot of thoughts," Yakupov said. "Especially with the way things were going every day. It affects you in the game and your life, but I tried my best to not think about it. Now I hope this is over and this is a team where I can be and play and do the best I can. I believe it's a really nice team and a top team in the league. 

"... This is the first time I'm going to play on a really good team, a team that play pretty much every year in the playoffs. To feel that winning, I think it's awesome because I don't know what winning is and I'd like to feel that. This is a team where you can feel it."

Certainly in more ways than just on the ice.

Friday, October 14, 2016


Hutton to start Saturday; Schwartz skating; Blues get 
early test; third-line success; too many penalties; will Rattie play

HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- Playing three games in four nights would certainly mean that both goalies would at least get to play.

And for Carter Hutton, he will make his regular season debut for the 2-0-0 Blues on Saturday against the 1-0-0 New York Rangers.

But not for the reasons one might think.

Jake Allen, who backstopped wins over Chicago (5-2 on Wednesday) and Minnesota (3-2 on Thursday in the home-opener), naturally deserves a rest after playing on back-to-back nights, but Allen could have been considered for a third game in a row based on facing only 40 shots in two games, which would be considered a pretty light workload.

Not so, said coach Ken Hitchcock.

"Well, he might not have had a lot of shots, but what he did have, he's had a lot of quality shots," Hitchcock said of Allen. "... He had three breakaways yesterday, he had two the game before. He's had a lot of really high quality scoring chances that he's turned back. I just think playing off back-to-back, three games in four nights under normal circumstances, if this was the middle of the season, we'd be playing Carter anyways so why not start it up now? I just don't want to see a guy like Hutton get too far away from the action here. I want to see him part of this team as quickly as possible. And you can't be a part of it unless you're playing in games."

Hutton, signed as an unrestricted free agent on July 1 to back up Allen, had a solid training camp, and Hitchcock wants to reward him with games early and to keep him involved and feeling like part of the team.

"We made the decision with the three games that we're playing, we wanted to take a look at guys and if we saw some chemistry, we'd lock in on it, but also on Hutton, it's an early reward for a job well done in training camp," Hitchcock said. "He did a great job during training camp; he was outstanding. And he's part of our team moving forward. We've got to get him in the action as quickly as possible to be honest with you."

The 30-year-old Hutton is looking forward to the opportunity.

"Obviously excited, what a crowd last night, what a fun win and obviously a big one to start in Chicago," Hutton said. "I'm just excited to get in there and looking forward to it.

"... You can get into every little detail but sometimes less is more in my world and just excited to get in there and play. Control what I can and play my game.

"It can be (rough watching) but it's something I've dealt with in my career a lot, especially with the minutes I played in Nashville. Two years ago, there was some three- or four-week stints and I struggled with it at times and last year I learned to deal with it and last year I found ways through practice with the goalie coach to deal with it. Same thing here. Just habits. It's like anything as a player, you develop and learn ways to make things work. At the same time, playing on a consistent basis is what we want."

* Schwartz on ice -- The Blues held a minimal optional skate on Friday, which consisted of defensemen Carl Gunnarsson and Robert Bortuzzo, Hutton and forwards Nail Yakupov, Dmitrij Jaskin, Magnus Paajarvi, Ryan Reaves, Ty Rattie and some guy named Jaden Schwartz.

Schwartz, who hyperextended his left elbow in a practice injury Sept. 29, was originally scheduled to be re-evaluated in four weeks, which would put him at the end of October. 

Schwartz, who Hitchcock said will travel on the upcoming three-game road trip through Western Canada next week, is still on that time frame but it looked good for the Blues to see him skating hard, and more importantly, stick-handling and shooting pucks with no restrictions on the elbow.

"It's good news. It's a step, it's the next step in progression," Hitchcock said. "We're somewhere around the two-week plus window, so was anticipating he would start to skate and participate. 

"He's not ready to play yet, but it's a good sign, good feeling to have him out there. Can't really give you a date. I think we were looking at four weeks. To be out there practicing in two weeks is a good sign, a real good sign."

Schwartz has been skating on his own for days, but Friday was his first practice with teammates.

* 2-0 Blues tested early -- Two wins against Central Division foes is reason for optimism moving forward, but for the Blues, it's a bit of evaluation time.

Playing against the Rangers on Saturday to give them three games in four nights to start couldn't have been a tougher test for the Blues to start, but it's one that has Hitchcock feeling good about the prospects moving forward.

"I think what you find out in this league is ... you find out in this league real quick the first 10 games, home and away, so really the first 20 games of the season are exactly as the playoffs," Hitchcock said. "Everybody's clawing and fighting, everybody's enthused, for the most part, everybody's healthy and teams just go at each other like crazy. That's what we're experiencing right now. It is really evident in the emotional level and the feistiness of veteran players. That's what you see is that the veteran players know what's going on and they're already locking in fighting for space on both sides, both teams, and they understand the importance of getting off to a good start. They also understand of having a real competitive framework in your culture and I know our guys are trying to set the tone and I know other teams' best players and top players are trying to do the same thing. It really has been evident these two games."

Why is that?

"You don't want to get off on a bad foot," Hitchcock said. "You don't want to start playing catch-up on the emotional level of your team. You want it up there, and the sense of urgency in our leaders is filtering down to the rest of our players. All of us understand that this is as important time as the middle of the season. You can really set the competitive tone of your team, and that's what our veteran guys are trying to do right now is set the competitive tone for our team."

So what has Hitchcock liked about the first two games?

"Our competitive level at the puck has really stood out for me," he said. "The games haven't been clean, they've not been perfect, but our competitive level at the puck has been good. The other thing is, I talked to the coaches about it, every thing that we've spent time with on the ice in practice, we've showed good execution. Anything that we haven't spent enough time on still needs work. We have elements of our game that still needs a lot of work, but we haven't spent as much time on those items. We've talked them through, but we haven't spent physical time doing it because we haven't had our team together. Everything we have done, pops out as, 'Man, we're doing a decent job here,' so moving forward, things that we need to get better at, we need the physical plan going, too. We need to make sure that we're doing those things physically because there seems to be ... the more we've repeated, the more we do it, the better we get at it quickly."

* Need more discipline -- Now to some of the bad points, and penalties seem to be at the crux of the issues that have led to some inconsistent play for the Blues.

Through two games, the Blues have been shorthanded nine times but have fortunately been able to kill off eight of them after a perfect 5-for-5 on Thursday.

"It's a concern that ... there's two things that need to get better for sure. No. 1 is our stick foul discipline. I said that last night, we've got to clean that up," Hitchcock said. "No matter what happens, you can't take penalties in the offensive zone of you want to be a good team because it takes us out of our rhythm. We end up overplaying people because of it. It hurt us a lot. Second part for me is, the scoring chances we're giving up, they're not earned. They're us, and with a lot of cases, it's us with the puck and that's an element of our game I want to see us clean up. That's continuity, that's just being strong on the puck. The chances we gave up yesterday in most cases were us with the puck, in either forcing a puck or being slow to move to it. The nice part is the things that we really need to get better at quickly are things we're in complete control of. Us with the puck, we're in complete control of."

Being on the penalty kill more often than not is also taxing other players and not getting the third and fourth lines more involved, which is something Hitchcock wants to see more of considering the way Patrik Berglund and Kyle Brodziak's lines have started.

"It's really tough for both the third and fourth line, because our fourth line's playing as well as anybody's fourth line right now," Hitchcock said. "Our fourth line (with Brodziak, Scottie Upshall and Ryan Reaves) has a chance to be one of the top lines in the league because they all know how to check, because they all know how to play their positions, they all play with the proper conscience, but it doesn't work if you're taking poor penalties because of two-thirds of the line plays or the line doesn't get on as a line, it doesn't work. We've played two games and we've got to cut down on those penalties. We've got to cut down on the stick fouls on the other side of the red line. We've got to cut down on that, we've got to get down to zero and be proud of being at zero, because it's not going to work if we don't.

"... The whole (fourth) line is (bringing it). We've got highlight video clips to show how to play the proper way. The whole line does it. We need it on the ice more. The only way we get it on the ice more is if people stay out of the damn box."

* Five for three -- A five-point night Thursday from Yakupov (goal, assist), Berglund (two assists) and Paajarvi (game-winning goal) is cause for optimism and reason for Hitchcock to leave the trio together.

It was their first time on the ice after Paajarvi made his debut in place of Jaskin, who played Wednesday in Chicago.

"That's the goal," Hitchcock said. "But any time we see it, we want to stay with it. We saw a little bit of it yesterday, so we're considering staying with it."

Paajarvi is one fighting to stay not only on the line but in the lineup. 

"I've been in and out of the lineup," Paajarvi said. "I'm trying to bring my game, but (Thursday), it was good except their second goal. I should have been a step ahead. But all-in-all, our line did good. 

"If more guys than the first and second line contribute, then you're a dangerous team."

Hitchcock, who's opened the competition to multiple wingers, called it an important step for Paajarvi.

"I think it's important because somebody's going to take that spot, and like we said after the Ranger game, we'll put something a little more solid together," Hitchcock said. "Right now, everybody's going to move it around. He's like a few other guys, he's competing for not just a spot on the team, but he's competing for a spot to play every night. When you've got a good team like we've got, people want to compete every night. They want to be on it, they want to be on the ice every time and contributing."

* Sheriff Berglund? -- Berglund has been the mainstay, along with Yakupov, on the third line through two games, but Berglund has been the catalyst that's brought positive elements to the unit.

"He's great on the faceoff dot. He can keep the puck against anybody," Paajarvi said of Berglund. "He's like a sheriff out there almost. It's nice to play with him."

In simpler terms, more of a leader.

"What he's done is he's organized, whoever he's played with, he's organized the line in a good way because he's really playing strong in the middle of the ice," Hitchcock said of Berglund. "He's playing in the middle where you can be a winger and know where he is all time time. He's there, he's down low in our zone. Like I said, his separation skating is as good as he's ever done. He's pulling away from people out of trouble and it's really helping us exit. Whoever's on that line, he's making it an effective line by the way he's controlling the middle of the rink."

* Where's Rattie? -- Rattie has yet to get in a game this season, the only player on the active roster to not play.

After receiving a one-way contract this past summer, Rattie hasn't been able to crack the lineup, and with the acquisition of Yakupov, it will be even tougher sledding.

But Hitchcock hasn't ruled Rattie out for tomorrow, although it's more probable he makes his season debut sometime on the trip next week.

"We're not sure. Whether it's early on the road trip or tomorrow, we're not sure yet," Hitchcock said. "We're just talking about it. We did like Bergy's line from yesterday, so we might keep that line together, but we're going to get Ty in. Obviously going back to Western Canada where he's from, we'll get him in there, too, probably."

Hitchcock was asked if Bortuzzo, who played Wednesday, would get back in the lineup. The coach said he liked Gunnarsson's game Thursday but didn't rule Bortuzzo out.