Monday, November 13, 2017

Blues hit the road looking for rebound results

After 5-2 loss to Islanders Saturday, Western 
Canada swing at Calgary, Edmonton, Vancouver on tap

HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- The drills were intense, sharp, crisp. The pace was brisk.

Sunday's are supposed to be a day of rest, but for the Blues, it was back to work.

Back to work because of one of their least inspiring results of the season during a 5-2 home loss to the New York Islanders on Saturday night.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues center Paul Stastny (26) battles for puck possession with the Islanders'
Calvin de Haan (44) and Johnny Boychuk on Saturday.

The Blues, ho rightfully admitted from players to coach Mike Yeo that they've got to tighten up their starts here a bit after three straight first periods that were less than desired.

"Yeah, obviously you have to respond right away to games like that," right wing Alexander Steen said. "In saying that, I think we've been a little soft at the start of the game the last couple. Last night it bit us and it's tough to come back after a hole like that."

Soft in what ways?

"Just not as aggressive as we've been in the past and I think a couple games ago, we got away with it a little bit," Steen said. "Good goaltending obviously and then last night, we put ourselves in a hole."

The Blues headed north of the border to Western Canada for a three-game trip that will take up the entire week ahead. First, a Monday game against the Calgary Flames, followed by a Thursday game against the Edmonton Oilers before wrapping the trip up Saturday against the Vancouver Canucks.

"It's a long season and it happens sometimes," said center Paul Stastny, who along with Steen were each a minus-4 on Saturday. "A practice like this you can refocus and get ready for Calgary tomorrow."

The Blues wrapped up a stretch of six of seven games on home ice, going 4-2-0 in those games with a road win sprinkled in New Jersey. It's a chance to head out on the road and play what defenseman Colton Parayko called on Saturday night, a more simple game.

"Obviously we stumbled a little the last game, but if we were home or we were away, we'd be looking to bounce back," Yeo said. "As it happens, we're headed on the road here.

"Just get refocused (Sunday). We've been playing some games here in a stretch and we chose to have a couple optionals along the way. We felt it was important to get back on the ice before we headed out on the road."

Yeo acknowledged that they need to get back to the things that had the Blues playing so well in first periods. Before Saturday, the Blues had allowed six goals in the first 20 minutes of games through the first 17; they allowed half that many on Saturday.

"I don't think we can sit here and assume we're going to go out and grab a 3-0 lead in the first five minutes of the game," Yeo said. "That's not what it's about. It's about starting the game with urgency and focus to get to your game and that's been lacking. We've been able to find our game, but you're playing with fire when you do that in the NHL. Too many good teams and when you're digging a hole for yourself, it makes it tough to climb back in your game."

But in an NHL season, these are the ebbs and flows players must endure. The response, which the Blues have historically been good at, is the telltale sign of a good team.

"Yeah, you look at the end of the season, you look at the top teams in the league, you still have 25, 30 losses," Stastny said. "It's not the Golden State Warriors like in the NBA. That's just how it is. You've been around long enough, there's highs and lows. The highs expecting too much and the lows, you forget as quick as you can."
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues right wing Alexander Steen (20) said the Blues have been "a little
soft" at the start the past few games and need to fix those.

According to Steen, the Blues are not complacent.

"No, I don't think so," he said. "It's 82 games. You're going to see things happen throughout the course of the year and the main thing is you keep that steady, upwards curve and try to keep evolving and moving forward as a group and I think we've done a great job of doing that. Whatever the reasons are, it's not complacency. I just think that it's an 82-game schedule and teams are going to come at you some nights. Some nights you're going to have extra jump. If you have that extra jump more than not, you're going to have a successful club. I think we've done a good job throughout the course of the year. That one was obviously we're going to learn from but move on from."


Blues played with heavy hearts Saturday in light of Ari's death; Bouwmeester 
skates, joins Blues along with Berglund on Canadian trip; Yeo shuffles lines

HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- News came fast to the Blues, and it wasn't good.

When they received word that 11-year-old Arianna Dougan has passed away Saturday morning, succumbing to neuroblastoma, a form of nerve cancer, players were faced with having to play against the New York Islanders with heavy hearts.

Ari inspired players last season when 'Ari' accompanied them on a two-game trip late in March through Arizona and Colorado and touched those that got to experience her courage and wisdom.

The Blues fell to the Islanders 5-2, a game in which the team paid tribute to 'Ari' with a moment of silence, and there were two ways to go: play inspired for 'Ari' or be distracted by the news.

"Obviously it was terrible news," said goalie Carter Hutton, who hosted a 'zero to 60' segment with 'Ari,' and Ryan Reaves in Denver. "She was a big part of our team. We got to share a lot of memories with her and stuff like that, but I think for the most part, I can say everyone in this room are professionals. We come to play and there's no excuse for that effort yesterday.

"Me and 'Reavo' obviously had a lot of fun when we did those 'zero to 60's and having her on there was such a unique thing. We always had the guys and for her, us getting to meet her in a different light like that, seeing her personality shine through and just how strong she was for what she was going through and what she's dealt with her life."

Hutton, who just recently became a father, said it puts life in perspective.

"Yeah, without a doubt," he said. "Now obviously as a new father and just seeing my little guy at home and just seeing what [Ari] went through, what her family went through and just how strong she was during the process of what she went through, it's pretty amazing. She's definitely inspiring for us. We're fortunate as athletes to get to do what we do. We have a very fortunate career and life we get to live, so being able to see that definitely keeps things in perspective for us."

It's pretty evident that 'Ari' touched the lives of not only the players but coaches and management alike.

"Very much," right wing Alexander Steen said. "She was part of our family here. It was tough to get the news yesterday.

"Everybody that's felt a loss before knows the feelings, the emotions that you go through. It was difficult."

* Bouwmeester skating, to join team in Canada along with Berglund -- Blues defenseman Jay Bouwmeester was a surprise participant at Sunday's practice.

Bouwmeester, who sustained a fractured left ankle blocking a shot during a team scrimmage on Sept. 17, hasn't played in a game this season and has done little on the ice.

Each time he's skated on his own, there haven't been any positive updates regarding his progress after initially the Blues claiming that Bouwmeester would be re-evaluated in three weeks after the injury.

But eight weeks to the day, Bouwmeester was skating well during drills but not participating in any contact drills yet, but the fact he joined the team to the trip to Canada means progress is being made, albeit a first step.

"Totally," Bouwmeester said of the process. "Frustrating is probably the big thing. At first, you don't know. We thought it would be a four-week thing, usually you're back practicing, at least on your way back at that point, (but) it wasn't the case. It's just, nothing you can do about it. (It's) the way it is. It's starting to come around now. I wouldn't say I fully practiced today. It was more of a lack of ice, but it was good to get out there, good to pass the puck, be out there with other teammates and just get a sense of, more than anything, playing hockey a bit.

"It's just been slow. Just kind of slow. One thing's kind of led to another. We're kind of over the hope now and a matter of I'll probably take more time, but now skating, moving things along that way, at least makes you feel more part of things, that's for sure. You're around the rink, but it's different when you can go out there and skate with guys."

Berglund has been skating for a couple weeks with the team now after sustaining a dislocated left shoulder during a training session during the off-season in his native Sweden.

Both accompanied the team on the trip, and Blues coach Mike Yeo actually sounded encouraged by both being there.

"Both guys will come. You see them out there with the group, we're gone for seven days here, that's some quality time they can get with the team, hopefully push them a little bit closer to being returning players," Yeo said. "[Berglund's] at the point now ... let's say he's not going to be ready for this trip and we'll re-evaluate when we get back."

Berglund was not likely to return until at the very least, mid-December, and he still needs to take on contact, which is the most important sign a player is on the cusp of returning, but the fact he's now traveling, along with Bouwmeester, is encouraging news.

"It doesn't mean [Bouwmeester's] necessarily right around the corner," Yeo said. "It's a step to helping him get ready and he looked good and 'Bergy' looked really good. 'Bergy's coming along real well. It's good."

The Blues were allowed to take their time regarding Bouwmeester considering the way the defensemen have played thus far.

"I'm not playing on this road trip for sure. It's a progression," Bouwmeester said. "I practiced today. Ideally, if we had ice, I wouldn't have practiced. I would have been skating on my own or with other guys. There's steps you have to take. Morning skates, certain things you can't do. Hopefully way things are going, that's progressing, that will turn pretty quick and I'll get back out.

"It's awesome [the Blues' 13-4-1 start]. I think it's a testament to our depth from the start of the year. You look back at camp, we had a number of guys get hurt with 'Fabs' [Robby Fabbri] being done for the year. There's a lot of people questioning a lot of things. I don't think anyone in here doubted what we had. We're a team last year that made the playoffs, won a round in the playoffs, that was supposed to be kind of a down year. It's always exciting. I went 10 years without making the playoffs, so anytime you're part of a good team, you want to enjoy it and make the most of it and not take it for granted. I think this year so far has been real good. It's got a long way to go, but anytime you start good, you have to start good now because all the points add up and it's hard if you get to Christmas and you're playing catch-up. You end up playing your division all the time and it's hard to catch up, so the start of the year is very important in getting those points and we've done a really good job."

The next step for Bouwmeester is to push it more and more each day so as long as there are no setbacks.

"You go out there and do what you can," Bouwmeester said. "You're not going to jump in the deep end right away. There's a bit of a progression but as long as one thing's not bugging you, you can move on to the next thing. Hopefully we move along pretty quick, get over this hump. Because I've missed training camp and a lot of time, there's still an element of timing and skating and conditioning you have to get in there too. Hopefully we'll move that along on this trip and see where we're at."

* Line tweaks -- Yeo moved some pieces around Sunday during practice. Some of it made sense, some of it (playing Scottie Upshall, Chris Thurburn and Magnus Paajarvi during some shifts as a fourth line) did not.

But from most of the matchups, here's what the Blues rolled out:

Alexander Steen-Paul Stastny-Vladimir Tarasenko

Jaden Schwartz-Brayden Schenn-Beau Bennett

Vladimir Sobotka-Oskar Sundqvist-Dmitrij Jaskin

Scottie Upshall-Kyle Brodziak-Magnus Paajarvi 

The defensive six remained the same with Carl Gunnarsson with Alex Pietrangelo, Joel Edmundson and Colton Parayko and Vince Dunn and Robert Bortuzzo.

"Just tyring to spark something," Yeo said. 

Could these be used Monday?

"I think so," Yeo said. "We'll think more about it tomorrow. We wanted to give it a look here in practice. Felt like the last couple of games things were getting a little stale, see what we come up with tomorrow."

As for goalie Jake Allen, who is likely to start against the Flames and pulled from his first game Saturday after allowing the fourth goal early in the second, Yeo likes the fact that his goalie brushes aside -- good or bad -- the previous performance and moves on.

Allen stopped 14 of 18 shots against the Islanders.

"I think that's one of the most important qualities of a starting goalie, and the elite starting goalies, is that reset button," Yeo said. "But at the same time, you hit the reset button with the idea, it's sort of a mentality of let's get it back here. I think he looked focused today. That's what he's done in the past. I wouldn't expect any less."

Saturday, November 11, 2017

We lost a beautiful ray of sunshine ... goodbye Ari


I didn't know Arianna Dougan all that well. Just three days as a matter of fact, I got to spend with this ray of sunshine, frail as she seemed but so full of positive energy, so full of life, such a breath of fresh air.

I remember seeing Ari for the first time at the morning skate inside Gila River Arena in Glendale, Ariz. before the Blues took on the Arizona Coyotes that night in March. She was standing by the tunnel's runway waiting for the Blues to come onto the ice, high-fiving each of them as they came out of the locker room. That was my first sight of her.
Ari and Tarasenko

Ari's smile was rambunctious. She was having the time of her life, and when her favorite Blue (Vladimir Tarasenko) came out, a smile so bright got even brighter.

Tarasenko and his wife Yana are the ones who arranged for Ari and her mother Lori Zucker to accompany the Blues on a two-game road trip to Arizona and Colorado after winning the bid for a trip package at the Blues' fundraiser Casino Night. She turned 11 on Feb. 11 but her best present came six weeks later, but the fulfilled her heart that night when they surprised her with her gift.

Forget any kind of sickness, Ari was counting down the seconds for this trip. That's all that mattered.

I remember sitting there knowing I had a job to do, watching the Blues' lines and who was going to play to report back to Blues fans, as I normally do every gameday. But it was hard to take my eyes off Ari, knowing how much this meant to her.

We all take for granted the smallest things in life, but for Ari, this was larger than life. This meant the world to her, spending time with her favorite sports team and the athletes that welcomed her with open arms. 

Forget the job. I was enamored by this child. Work didn't matter. Because Ari, whose innocent world was rocked by neuroblastoma when she was 3, was all that mattered. I couldn't take my eyes off her. Ari made sure to set a fine example for all those around her to take each precious second of life and make the most of it.

She didn't want anyone feeling sorry for her. She wanted to be treated as any other child would. 

My heart was full when I watched Ari mingle with the players on the bus ride over to the morning skate in Denver, watching her tell jokes to Ivan Barbashev and Jordan Schmaltz, keeping the young Blues guessing; watching Ari sit in with Carter Hutton and Ryan Reaves for a segment of 'zero to 60;' seeing Ari on the video board at each venue getting love and support from the Coyotes and Avalanche alike. That's all that mattered to Ari, not the cruel circumstances placed upon her young and innocent life.

Every time I saw Ari throughout the trip, she would smile and give me a high-five. Who am I to feel sorry for her going through what she was going through? That kid was so strong-willed. So naturally, I felt obligated to make her feel as normal and comfortable as possible.

Ari got to see her beloved Blues play in person, on the road; she was one of them and will continue to be one of them, in their hearts. 

Ari returned from that trip with the Blues with the greatest thank you to the organization for fulfilling her dream. She made up a giant emoji thanking Tarasenko for making this a reality for her.
No Ari, thank you

Today, Ari didn't fail life. Life failed her. She succumbed to her illness, far too young. Life isn't fair. She deserved to have her first crush, her first kiss, falling in love, having children of her own and most importantly, a normal childhood to have friends and play. But it was taken away from her. I can't begin to understand why. She didn't deserve this outcome. 

But I'm glad I got to meet this incredible young lady, because just looking at her helped me remember what's so great about life, what's so great about living. 

Goodbye Ari. Your wings await you in heaven, you beautiful little angel.

Blues lay egg in first, fall 5-2 to Islanders

One night after being called out by coach, New York hits 
St. Louis with three first-period goals, chase Allen from game

ST. LOUIS -- Coach Mike Yeo said the Blues got away with it it the previous two games. They didn't on Saturday.

It was another clunker of a first period against the New York Islanders, who did what the New Jersey Devils and Arizona Coyotes failed to do: make the Blues pay.

The Islanders, one night after being called out by coach and former Blue Doug Weight for having a lack of heart and work ethic, responded accordingly to the criticism of their coach. They scored three times and went on to a 5-2 victory over the Blues on Saturday before 18,761 at Scottrade Center.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues forward Magnus Paajarvi (56) checks Islanders defenseman
Dennis Seidenberg during action Saturday at Scottrade Center. 

The Blues (13-4-1), who came in 9-1-1 in the past 11 games, got goals from Brayden Schenn and Scottie Upshall. Jake Allen made 14 saves on 18 shots before being replaced by Carter Hutton, who made 10 saves, but it was a collection of miscues and some poor puck luck that led to the three-goal hole.

"That's three games in a row now," Yeo said of the Blues' inefficiency in the first period. "We got away with it for two, so we've been playing with fire and obviously, didn't tonight.

"It starts to happen when you start to feel pretty good about yourself. You start to remember the reasons why you were having success and our start tonight, you look at our urgency with the puck and our urgency to defend and obviously just giving them easy goals."

The Blues knew what was coming at them Saturday, an Islanders team that was looking for a response following an embarassing 5-0 loss at Dallas on Friday in a game in which the Islanders mustered 14 shots. They had 12 in the first period Saturday.

"We knew ... a hockey player, when you're embarrassed like that, you don't have much time to think about it," Upshall said. "You come out and you have to turn things around. They've got good leaders over there. (John) Tavares led the way for them, especially their goaltending was superb and they made it really tough for us early in the game.

"... We were second to pucks, I didn't think our changes were as good as they needed to be. They were a hungry team, they came out fast, they got the first goal, then they didn't really look back. They poured three on us quick and before we know it, we're chasing the game and that's not the right way you want to play hockey."

"I don't think our team game was tight as it usually is tonight," Blues defenseman Colton Parayko said. "We gave the a lot of room, that's usually not how we play. We've just got to make sure we come together for the next game and move forward.

"It's tough to win when they score five goals as well. We've got to make sure we limit those goals obviously, but we did have chances, but like I mentioned, five goals is a lot of goals to get the bounces on on good goalies."

Tavares, Casey Cizikas and Jordan Eberle scored in the first for New York (9-6-2), which took a 3-0 lead on 12 shots. The Islanders had 14 shots on goal Friday.

Anders Lee had a goal and assist, and Josh Ho-Sang scored for the Islanders after being an emergency call-up from Bridgeport of the American Hockey League earlier Saturday.

Weight was looking for a spark, and if calling out his players was a way to get the proper response, then his mission was accomplished.

"You always envision, it's easy hindsight right, yeah it's exactly what we were going to do, get the 3-0 lead on the road against St. Louis," Weight said with a grin. "No, it's the way we did it. We took advantage of some plays, but we got pucks in, we made their [defensemen] turn and we were aggressive. We were skating.

"... It’s just that extra work ethic and the tenacity that we were lacking. That was kind of the staple to what we wanted as an effort, and the chorus was exactly that on the bench so that was nice to see."

Tavares said the message was loud and clear.

"I think they always resonate, but certainly I think as players, we know we’re the ones that go out on the ice and obviously have to do the job and execute the system and the framework that they want us to play with," Tavares said. "We weren’t really close to that [Friday] night so we just wanted to get out there and be a lot more competitive like we know we can be. And when we play like that, we know we can play with anyone in the League, so there’s a lot of belief and experience and character in the room.  Guys just competed hard. It’s what this league is. There’s 82 games."

Tavares scored his 13th of the season at 3:21 after outworking Parayko behind the net for a 1-0 Islanders lead.

Cizikas made it 2-0 at 10:07 after Greiss made a save on Paul Stastny at one end, and Cizikas followed up Nick Leddy's shot for a rebound goal.

Eberle made it 3-0 after Greiss again made a save on Stastny at one end, and Eberle converted off a 2-on-1 with Andrew Ladd at 13:18.

Ho-Sang made it 4-0 on a shot through traffic that chased Allen at 3:35 of the second.

"We needed to do something, to change the momentum, to help him out," Yeo said. "The way that we were going obviously, things weren't going the right way."

The Blues eventually found their game and started to pepper Greiss, who made save after save and was the beneficiary of some posts and cross bars.

"We're obviously a team that's not going to go back and forth and run and gun," Schenn said. "When you're down three or four, you need to take chances here. We generated chances tonight, guys hit posts, goalie's making good saves on our guys. I don't think it was from a lack of chances, they didn't go in."
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues center Paul Stastny (left) tries to win a puck battle with Islanders
center Casey Cizikas during the Islanders' 5-2 victory Saturday.

Schenn's fifth of the season made it 4-1 on a wrist shot from the right circle at 11:31 of the second.

Upshall scored at 6:41 of the third to make it 4-2, but Lee restored New York's three-goal lead at 15:33.

"They came out hard, they made some good plays," Schenn said of the Islanders. "I think scoring in the first five minutes gave them some energy, some life. We would have liked a better start tonight."

* NOTES -- The Islanders denied Allen his 100th NHL victory. ... Blues left wing Vladimir Sobotka played in his 400th NHL game.  

(11-11-17) Islanders-Blues Gameday Lineup

ST. LOUIS -- The Blues are fully aware of who they're getting in the building today at Scottrade Center.

The Blues understand they'll be facing a very angry New York Islanders team, one in which was embarrassed 5-0 at Dallas on Friday, managing only 14 shots in the game and being called out by coach and former Blues center Doug Weight afterwards.

"Maybe some heart would be nice to see, some work ethic, maybe following a gameplan and maybe some consistency as far as getting pucks in," Weight said after when asked what went wrong in the loss. "I don’t know, take your pick."

Not exactly words of encouragement and not words a player wants to hear, certainly.

"It's not fun to hear that from the coach, GM, whoever it is," Blues captain Alex Pietrangelo said. "Those guys will be fired up. They've got something to prove. I know they're not happy with their effort as well on the players' side of things."

Blues coach Mike Yeo is aware of what happened to the Islanders, who the Blues defeated 3-2 in a shootout in Brooklyn on Oct. 9.

"Yes, we do," Yeo said. "I know there's a lot of pride inside that locker room. They were challenged pretty hard after the game, so we expect a pretty fiery response from them.

"... It's the National Hockey League, best players in the world, every night you have to be on top of your game."

On the other hand, the Blues (13-3-1), who already set a team record for most wins through 17 games to start a season, can continue that record with their 14th win in 18 games and match the 2013-14 team for most points (29) through 18 games.

The Blues, 9-1-1 the past 11 games and winners of three in a row, started the 2013-14 season 13-2-3 through 18 games.

And the Blues' continued success stems from one aspect.

"I think that we're not satisfied," Yeo said. "That's for me a real important quality for winners and I don't get the sense that anybody here is overly thrilled or overly excited or overly proud of the start we've had. That's not our end goal. Our end goal is to be one of the best, and we want to be the best team in the league. You don't do that by being the best team in October, obviously we've helped ourselves, we've had a great start, but our goal and our mindset is everyday we come back to the rink and try to get better and there's lessons in every game and opportunities in every practice and every meeting to get better and I've seen that from our leaders."

- - -

Tonight's game will mark the sixth time the Blues have faced an opponent playing the second of back-to-back games.

The Blues are 4-1-0 in the five previous situations, with victories over Dallas, Calgary, Carolina and Columbus. The lone loss was to Philadelphia.

"I think we do a good job of making sure we stick with our game plan," defenseman Colton Parayko said. "I don't think we're doing anything special when we're playing teams back-to-back. We stick to our system and I think that that's the key. We're all on the same page, and if we're on the same page, that makes it tougher for teams to generate things. Making it tough for other teams to play against us, especially playing back-to-back can be tough if we're on top of them and playing them hard. That's the key for us."

- - -

The St. Louis Legacy Ice Foundation announced Friday it is now exploring a Maryland Heights location for the St. Louis Ice Center, thereby bringing closure to the original plan for the complex at Creve Coeur Lake Park.

Representatives from the Legacy Ice Foundation and St. Louis Blues today met with and personally thanked St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger and his staff for their vision and commitment to the Creve Coeur Lake Park project, noting that uncertainty due to delays by the National Park Service – coupled with the urgent need for additional ice to answer the demand throughout the St. Louis region – necessitated exploring an alternate, yet very attractive, site in Maryland Heights.

"Our experiences with the National Park Service and the associated delays remain disappointing, but the good news is we have another spectacular site in Maryland Heights here in St. Louis County," Patrick Quinn, President of the St. Louis Legacy Ice Foundation, said in a release. "We look forward to building a complex that we need and deserve.  The location changes, but our vision remains the same."

"County Executive Stenger and his staff were superb partners through this entire process and we appreciate their understanding of our need to keep this project on track and on pace," Chris Zimmerman, CEO and President of the St. Louis Blues, said in the release. "Today’s news represents a continuation of our commitment to support youth and amateur ice sports in the St. Louis region, and we are optimistic that it will be located in Maryland Heights, still in St. Louis County, where it can best serve our region.  It’s good news all around."

Stenger noted that all commitments to improving the former Creve Coeur Park site are being honored and stated his continued commitment of support for the facility.

"Exploring a new location in Maryland Heights has my complete support, as do the people from the Legacy Ice Foundation and the St. Louis Blues who first brought us the opportunity to imagine what might be possible at the Creve Coeur Lake Park location," Stenger said.  "There would only be regret if the project were not to happen at all. But it appears that will not be the case.  Be assured that I will offer any assistance I can as we see this project transition from paper to reality."

The four-sheet, regional recreation center will be the home for a wide variety of ice sports, amateur and college ice hockey uses, youth tournaments and the practice facility for the St. Louis Blues. The development effort on behalf of the Ice Center will be led by Summit Development.

- - -

Blues right wing Vladimir Tarasenko has at least a point in 13 of 17 games this season, including a three-game point streak (two goals, four assists).

Blues center Brayden Schenn has a three-game point streak (one goal, seven assists). 

Pietrangelo has three goals the past three games and leads all NHL defensemen with seven. He's tied for second (with former teammate Kevin Shattenkirk) for the NHL lead in points with 16. Dallas' John Klingberg leads the NHL with 18.

- - -

The Blues' projected lineup:

Vladimir Sobotka-Paul Stastny-Alexander Steen

Jaden Schwartz-Brayden Schenn-Vladimir Tarasenko

Dmitrij Jaskin-Oskar Sundqvist-Magnus Paajarvi 

Scottie Upshall-Kyle Brodziak-Chris Thorburn

Carl Gunnarsson-Alex Pietrangelo

Joel Edmundson-Colton Parayko

Vince Dunn-Robert Bortuzzo

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

Healthy scratches include Nate Prosser, and Beau Bennett. Jay Bouwmeester (ankle), Patrik Berglund (shoulder) and Zach Sanford (shoulder) are out indefinitely. Robby Fabbri (knee) is out for the season.

- - -

The Islanders' projected lineup:

Anders Lee-John Tavares-Josh Bailey

Brock Nelson-Mathew Barzal-Jordan Eberle

Andrew Ladd-Alan Quine-Josh Ho-Sang 

Jason Chimera-Casey Cizikas-Cal Clutterbuck

Nick Leddy-Johnny Boychuk

Calvin de Haan-Scott Mayfield

Thomas Hickey-Ryan Pulock

Thomas Greiss will start in goal; Jaroslav Halak will be the backup.

The healthy scratch will be Dennis Seidenberg. Nikolay Kulemin (wrist), Adam Pelech (upper body) and Anthony Beauvillier (lower body) are out.

Friday, November 10, 2017

Allen to wear military-themed mask Saturday

Gesture is in conjunction with 'Salute to Military' night 
against Islanders; mask to be auctioned off for charity

ST. LOUIS -- Blues goalie Jake Allen will wear a special military-themed goalie mask on Saturday when the Blues host the New York Islanders on Saturday in conjunction with 'Salute to Military' night at Scottrade Center.

Allen's mask, which was created in conjunction with Boeing, will feature both the American and Canadian flag and two soldiers with ties to the Blues (former goalie Ed Staniowski and Bobby Gassoff Jr., son of Blues defenseman Bob Bassoff, who played 245 regular-season and nine postseason games for the Blues from 1973-77.
Blues goalie Jake Allen shows off the military-themed mask he will wear on
Saturday against the New York Islanders on 'Salute to Military' night.

Staniowski, who served in the Canadian Armed Forces and will be in attendance Saturday, along with Gassoff Jr., a former Navy SEAL. The mask will be auctioned at a later date to raise money for H.E.R.O.E.S. Care, an organization that supports military members and their families.

"It'll be a good night for our fans and for our team," Allen said Friday. "Just for all the people in the U.S. and Canada who have done a great job for our countries. I've got a pretty cool little mask. I'll wear it for one game and then we'll raffle it off and the team will their thing with it and raise some good money. I think it turned out pretty well."

Staniowski played for the Blues from 1975-81, appearing in 137 games. After a 10-year professional hockey career that also included stints with the Winnipeg Jets and Hartford Whalers, Staniowski joined the Canadian Armed Forces in 1985. He served multiple deployments with the Canadian Army, which included missions for the United Nations / NATO in the Middle East, Croatia and Bosnia. Staniowski served in Afghanistan as recently as 2010.

Gassoff Jr. played college hockey at the University of Michigan, winning a national championship in 1998. He also played in the Blues' minor league system with the Worcester Ice Cats during the 2001-02 season before joining the Navy and serving in Iraq.

Allen's mask also features a camouflaged version of the Blues' old wordmark on the chin and the iconic silhouette of soldiers raising an American flag after the Battle of Iwo Jima on the back. The mask will be raffled off at at a later date to raise money for H.E.R.O.E.S. Care, an organization that provides support for members of all branches of the military and their families through pre-deployment, deployment, family reintegration and post-deployment.

Tickets for Saturday's Salute to Military game are available now at the Scottrade Center Box Office or online at Fans attending the game are encouraged to donate care package items for troops overseas for a chance to win autographed Blues merchandise. The team will also sell autographed mystery pucks outside Section 114 to benefit H.E.R.O.E.S. Care and Operation Shower.

Blues players will wear camouflage jerseys during pregame warmups, and 20 Army recruits will take an oath of enlistment during the game to officially join the armed forces. In addition, members of the US Army will rappel from the rafters to deliver a puck to Fort Leonard Wood commanding general Major General Kent Savre, who will drop the puck prior to the opening faceoff.

Blues and Islanders fans are encouraged to join in by singing the national anthem in unison with retired Naval Petty Officer, 1st Class, Generald Wilson will start the anthem before the Blues and Islanders drop the puck, then step aside to let fans take over. The gesture, which began with the Blues' military night last season, is intended to proudly honor the contributions, the courage and the heart of all those who have served the country with pride.

Blues "playing with silent confidence," finding different ways to win

Thursday's 3-2 shootout win perfect example of winning when not at 
their best; gaining experience through confidence, tough lessons learned

ST. LOUIS -- Forty minutes were in the books, and the Blues were down a goal against he last-place Arizona Coyotes on Thursday, a game that on paper looked like a total mismatch.

Last season, they likely don't win this game, like the Blues did so this time, winning 3-2 in a shootout and banked another two points.

But these Blues are different. 

These Blues have a different sort of intestinal fortitude.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Goalie Jake Allen, making a save Tuesday in New Jersey, said the Blues
are playing with a silent confidence right now.

These Blues, 13-3-1 and owners of a franchise record for most victories through 17 games to open a season, have a confidence about them that feels it can overcome even those times when play doesn't go according to plan.

It's a change that has the Blues, who host the New York Islanders today at 7 p.m. (FS-MW, KMOX 1120-AM), feeling good about their game and feeling good about the guy they're playing for next to him.

And goalie Carter Hutton said it best after the game, a game in which he was instrumental with a 27-save effort and making both saves during the shootout Thursday.

"That’s what we talked about, good teams trying to get better every night," Hutton said after improving to 4-0-0 on the season with a 1.71 goals-against average and .946 save percentage. "Even if we lose a game, we bounce right back. It’s almost like we come to the rink knowing we’re going to win right now. That’s huge. I thought last year, early in the year, we kind of struggled sometimes, you could feel the (lack of) confidence. Where at this point we never felt, I think from my standpoint and from probably any fan or anyone in the building, there was never a doubt that we were out of that game."

It takes time to feel like that, but the Blues have absorbed enough body blows in recent memory to gain some tough love, that experience of what it takes to be not only a competitor but a winner in all facets.

"I think we just have a silent confidence about us," said goalie Jake Allen, who will start against the Islanders. "I can just kind of tell in the room. I don't think anyone's getting too high (or) too low, but everyone's pretty confident in themselves and what they bring to the table every night. 

"I don't think we played very well for 40 minutes last night. Everyone knows that, but we ended up winning the game. I think that's tough to teach and I think it's a long thing to learn, to be honest. You learn over years of doing that. I think we've just got a good group right now that's jelling well. Teams find ways to win games. I think if you look back in the past four or five years, teams that won the Cup, they might not play great every night, but they find a way to win games and I think right now, that's sort of just what we're doing."

And just how have the Blues gotten here? Well, getting to the Stanley Cup Playoffs six straight seasons gains you the first measure of respect, but then come the growing pains of hard experience when you don't win it all. The Blues were initially their own worst enemy in losing in the first round twice after holding 2-0 series leads, then finally breaking the barrier and reaching the Western Conference Final in 2016 and winning another playoff series last season. All that experience plays a part in moving forward.

"It's a combination of things, but experience, too," Allen said. "For me, some guys have been around longer than I have. Steener's (Alexander Steen) been here for ages. I think it's just years and years of watching other teams do it. I think we're just comfortable in our setting now, our group, comfortable with 'Yeozy' (Blues coach Mike Yeo). I think that comfort level with the coach is at an all-time (high) right now. I think it's easy for everyone. They're just playing their game and not asking anyone to do too much. I don't think there's any panic really. Yeah, there's frustration on the ice. It's part of sports, it's part of what we do, but coming here in the locker room, it hasn't been like years past where there are some frustrated individuals, frustrated lines this year. It's not like, 'Aw, we had four or five great chances but we didn't bury (them). We're going to go there and get one in the third or we're going to get one in overtime,' whatever the case may be. It's nice to see, especially from my end. I know that they're going to go out there in some shape or form and get the job done."

Even earlier in the season when the Blues had their hiccups of losing third-period leads, in Pittsburgh on opening night before winning in overtime, in Brooklyn against the New York Islanders losing a 2-0 third-period lead before winning in a shootout, and even in Las Vegas before losing to the Vegas Golden Knights late in overtime, the Blues found ways to get points. 

It's not always pretty, but effectiveness is what Yeo is looking for, and as long as the Blues are channeling their play in the right direction, Yeo will be pleased with the results.

"I want us to have the expectation that if we play our game and do it for 60 minutes, that we will win, but I don't want us to come in here just to expect or assume that we'll win without putting the work in," Yeo said. "I would say yes and no to that answer. I do think that there's a very healthy belief in our game and what that does for us. ... For me, it comes down to there's a difference between confidence and arrogance. I think that when we have confidence, we're still humble in knowing that we need to put in the work and have the detail.

"You want that feeling. You want the feeling of being in control. I think when things are not going well, we have a pretty good understanding of why they're not going well, and when things are, it's because we're getting the job done."

The biggest bonus for the coaching staff for this type of mindset is that they can't teach this stuff. This is more of an acquired mentality that the players have to buy in to, and they've certainly done it.

For those that have been around like Allen, Steen, Paul Stastny, Alex Pietrangelo, Jaden Schwartz, Vladimir Tarasenko and even the injured Patrik Berglund and Jay Bouwmeester, being knocked out of the playoffs gives a newfound perspective and humbling feeling of what success entails.

"I think the three or four guys that are really stepping up and bringing the other guys into the fight makes them play that much better," Allen said. "The way Schwartzy's playing, his engine. The way Steener just brings himself to the rink every night; guys watch him. It just makes them that much more professional and ready, confident and ready to go and know that there's accountability too. Guys are going to let you know if you're not ready to go at the game, you're not playing well, you're not pulling your weight and I think that's huge on a team. I think you need that. I think you need someone to kick you in the rear end when you need it, and I think that's what's we're having right now and that's what we're seeing.

"It's something that you learn. You learn as a person what you need on and off the ice, what you need and what you don't need and how you can better yourself on the ice. That only goes from experience to playing from the professional hockey ranks from the American (Hockey) League to the NHL or whatever it may be. For me personally, that's sort of what has happened to me and I think probably if you ask everyone else, they can speak the same way. Year after year you learn something new about yourself. It doesn't always have to be as a hockey player. Things could change you off the ice, even away from the game that makes yourself a better player and it's just the little things that go a long way.

"I think the last couple years, we struggled with it; we really did. We'd play well and for some reason, we'd get games to overtime or be up by two or three goals and we only win by one goal. This year, I think we're doing a better job of playing simple. You even see Vladi, who's one of the most skilled players in the NHL who loves to carry the puck, he's dumping the pucks in, he's chipping pucks, he's forechecking. When you see that, I think that goes to show right there that everyone's sort of bought in to what we're doing and it's winning hockey games right now. It might not be the most fun hockey right now for guys, but it's sacrifice that translates to wins."
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Jaden Schwartz (17) is one of those leaders on and off the ice that's leading
by example for the Blues, who are 13-3-1 so far this season.

Nobody knows how this will all unfold for the 2017-18 Blues, but it's surely gotten off on the right foot. Clunker or not, the Blues have managed to learn to give themselves a fighting chance night after night, and building a winner is the reward for the process.

"Yeah, we definitely don’t want to make a habit of that, but yeah it is nice to know," fourth-line winger Chris Thorburn said. "There’s a lot of character in this room. There’s a good mix of older and younger guys. The older guys definitely know how to lead here and it’s great to be a part of that and help out a little bit. They’ve got a great culture here and I think it transforms onto the ice."