Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Tarasenko scores twice, including game-winner in OT

Blues down Blue Jackets 3-2; players, coaches talk of 
importance to adjust to slashing calls after eight were made Wednesday

By LOU KORAC
ST. LOUIS -- The rest of the league had its fair share of slashing and faceoff infraction penalties, players and coaches were chiming in on the abundance of them even though it's early in the preseason.

The Blues didn't see many of them in their preseason opener Tuesday in Dallas. They still haven't seem a ton of faceoff infractions -- one was called Wednesday -- but the slashing penalties were plentiful, and the consensus is that they are going to be an adjustment.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues players (from left) Magnus Paajarvi, Vladimir Tarasenko, Paul
Stastny and Colton Parayko celebrate a goal Wednesday against Columbus.

Vladimir Tarasenko scored twice, including the game-winner in overtime of a 3-2 victory against the Columbus Blue Jackets Wednesday at newly renovated Scottrade Center, but the talk after the game was the amount of slashing penalties called -- eight of them in all including one on Alex Pietrangelo in overtime and another on Columbus' Matt Calvert that led to Tarasenko's goal.

Pietrangelo was especially displeased with his, saying it was more "a one-handed touch to the pants where the guy has double the pads.

"It's questionable to say the least."

It's safe to say that the league and the players are going to have to adjust to the new set of rules, which are meant to protect the players from injury due to slashes to the hands/wrists. 

"Slashes to the hands, yeah they're dangerous, they're trying to protect us," Pietrangelo said.

But ... 

"That's a very thin line that we're talking about," The Blues' captain said. "... That's a lot of power plays and penalty kill, especially for the guys that play one or the other. It's kind of taking the flow out of the game. It's the preseason and hopefully everyone gets to see to get the kinks out and see if it lasts.

"It's going to be tough to adjust. You're talking about some grown men playing a fast game. I agree that slashes to the hands that are dangerous, we've got to get those out of the game. But if you're hitting a guy's pants, it should always be the ref's discretion as it always is. Maybe they can be a little more thorough like the ones right on the hands, but like I said, if you hear pants or shin pads, then it's pretty questionable."

Blues coach Mike Yeo saw firsthand what a slashing call -- or non-call in this case -- can do to a hockey team.

Alexander Steen was slashed at Dallas, a call that wasn't made, and Steen will now miss a minimum of three weeks with a hand injury, so Yeo isn't one that will call out the new approach being taken.

"It can be frustrating, but at the same time, they're letting us know what the standard is going to be," Yeo said. "So it's up to us to make sure we react and start building the habits. If they're going to call it, then obviously the special teams are going to be a huge focus and a huge key to every hockey game. Obviously it was tonight. We win the game on a power play and we had to kill a 4-on-3, a full two-minute 4-on-3 in overtime. It's going to be a huge focus for us to make sure we build the right habits right now. If that's the way it's going to be called, let's make sure we adjust to it.

"There's a reason why they're doing it. Players got hurt last year. You look at what happened to 'Steener' this year, I understand why they're doing it, so I'm not going to sit up here and complain. Those are the rules, so it's up to us to adjust to it."

Tarasenko, the recipient of slashes often, also said the adjustment will need to be made.

"I can't comment on referees, but just ... it's a little bit different for the first time," Tarasenko said. "It gives more power plays more opportunities. You just need time to get used to it. You need time to get used to everything. It's not our decision. We just play hockey.

"It's still not going to change. They can't call all the calls, but not never cry about it. It's still hockey and there's supposed to be toughness in the game. Whatever they decide, we just play. We just listen to our coaches and we go out and play."

As for the game itself, there were good moments and then some others that Yeo can tell can be cleaned up. The Blues' coach acknowledged that there's still some summer hockey to get out of the system.

"We did a lot of good things," Pietrangelo said. "Momentum changed a bit there in the second. We had some good stuff going, then it was penalty after penalty on both sides and our power play kind of bled into our 5-on-5 where we thought we had more time than we actually did that kind of changed the game around. It's Game 2 of the preseason at home. A win's a win."

Forward Samuel Blais continues his good play in the preseason; he got a second straight game after playing Tuesday in Dallas as did defenseman Vince Dunn, who was paired with Colton Parayko. Blais was on a line with Jaden Schwartz, who scored a shorthanded goal in the game and Brayden Schenn made his Blues debut.

"'Blaiser,' I thought big improvement," Yeo said. "I thought with the puck, outstanding. There were only a couple moments tonight where he kind of reverted kind of back to some of the things we talked about. I can see a greater focus in his game without the puck and that's what we're looking for. 

"'Dunner' I thought was an improvement as well. A little more control to his game, but with Dunner, I think still he's got to get a little more ... I don't know if it's respect for the level that we're in. You have to manage the game a little better and that's young defensemen and that's the conversation we'll have tomorrow. I'm not down on him and certainly that doesn't take him out of the mix here. Just looking for improvement. I saw a little bit from last game and would like to see more the next game."

Dunn got the text from Yeo after landing from Dallas that he would play again.

"I was a little surprised finding out last night, but it's a good feeling coming in for a first game in my own rink," Dunn said. "It was a good feeling. I was a little more comfortable getting that first game out of the way.

"(Yeo's) just looking for consistency. With my style of game, I can't be trying to do too much. I think today I took over the game a little bit more than last night. I controlled the play a little bit more, so I think just being consistent there and letting the puck do the work. ... Tonight, I felt more comfortable. I was moving the puck a little better. 'Pary' helped me out being his partner out there. It's a good combo for me and him."

Schwartz made his preseason debut and picked up where he normally leaves off: making his teammates better, according to Yeo.

"I don't know if that's going to be the combination," Yeo said of the pairing with Schenn. "Obviously with 'Schwartzy,' you wish you can clone him with every line because he makes players around him better. I think he got one shift with 'Vladi' tonight and was able to set up the game-winner and those guys obviously have great chemistry. It gives us options though. It's hard not to have chemistry with a guy like 'Schwartzy.' His work ethic and his hockey sense and his skill combined, he's a guy that makes players better."

Ville Husso, who relieved starter Jake Allen at the start of the third period, made a strong debut making nine saves.

"I think he played really well," Yeo said of Husso. "He seems like he's a gamer to me. He covers a lot of net. He's got a good presence in the crease. He's talking, he's engaging players on the ice and to me, that's a good sign."
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Jaden Schwartz (17) scores a shorthanded goal, beating Columbus goalie
Brad Thiessen in a 3-2 overtime preseason victory on Wednesday.

Tarasenko, who scored both Blues power-play goals, found himself in the high slot after getting Schwartz's feed and beat Jackets backup Ivan Kulbakov on a puck that was deflected at 2:58 of OT.


It wasn't necessarily designed that way.

"No, not really, but there are no bad goals," Tarasenko said. "It happened by accident, so I just decided to shoot. It's nice to start at home with the win. We will keep improving and we will be ready for the season 100 percent.

"It's good we have a win. I think everyone was excited to play the game." 

Blues lose Steen to injury

Forward sustained left hand injury Tuesday, will likely miss start of regular 
season, be re-evaluated in three weeks; tonight's lineup against Blue Jackets 

By LOU KORAC
ST. LOUIS -- Another injury bug has hit the Blues.

Blues forward Alexander Steen is expected miss the start of the regular season after injuring his left hand in a 5-3 preseason loss at the Dallas Stars on Tuesday.

The Blues said Wednesday that Steen will miss the rest of the preseason and will be re-evaluated in three weeks. 

Blues coach Mike Yeo said the injury occurred when Steen took a slash behind the net.

"We knew on the bench right after it happened," Yeo said. "We saw it, first of all and then when he came back to the bench, we knew it was an issue. The trainer Ray (Barile) came down and talked to me and told me that it had happened, it was sore and he was going to give it another shot. Tough news."

Defenseman Jay Bouwmeester is also sidelined with a fractured left ankle and will be re-evaluated in three weeks. Forward Zach Sanford will have surgery to repair a dislocated left shoulder and will be out 5-6 months.

"It's been an interesting week in that regard," Yeo said. "A tough injury for sure (to Steen), but we'll move forward."

Steen, 33, is entering his 10th season with the Blues. He had 51 points (16 goals, 35 assists) in 76 games last season, and seven points (three goals, four assists) in the Stanley Cup Playoffs before St. Louis lost the Western Conference Second Round in six games to the Nashville Predators.

- - -

The Blues will give two young players who played in Dallas a second look on consecutive nights.

Both Samuel Blais, who has a goal and assist last night, and Vince Dunn will be in the lineup when the Blues open the home portion of their preseason schedule against the Columbus Blue Jackets (7 p.m. on KMOX.com and on HD radio on Y98 HD3).

"We kept a couple spots," Yeo said. "Initially, 'Bouw' ws going to play this game. Then when we knew he wasn't going to be available, we kept a couple spots open. We wanted to see what happened in the game last night. There were a couple other guys that were in the conversation to come into tonight, but we settled on these guys."

Blais will play on a line with Jaden Schwartz and newcomer Brayden Schenn will make his Blues debut. Dunn will partner on defense with Colton Parayko.

"I had a good chat with (Blais) this morning," Yeo said. "There's a lot of parts to his game that say NHL hockey player and there's some parts that are still saying American League hockey player. For me, I want to see the progress and development from now until the end of training camp. If he can continue to do that, a lot of the things that you're seeing with the puck have been very impressive. He's really put himself on the map here and in the conversation to push for a spot. But we'll see. I've said it before, the level's going to continue to go up. We saw that level went up last night and some guys had a tough time adjusting to it and it'll continue to go up. The ones that can make sure that they keep their head above water and keep rising with that level, they're the ones that give themselves the best chance.

"... (Dunn) was another guy I chatted with this morning. I thought there was some inconsistency to his game. Defensemen at this level, they have to play with a sense of control that they control the game and that's how they play with and without the puck. He's got a lot of wild moments. He's got a lot of really good moments and he's got some moments that he can rid of on the other side. I've seen a lot of progress from him. We were real happy with what we saw from him last year in Chicago. He's a guy that one game, two games is not going to seal his fate right now. We want to continue to see how he keeps pushing forward right now."

- - -

Another skater making his debut tonight is 2017 fourth-round pick Alexey Toropchenko.

Yeo has been impressed with his game and what the 18-year-old has provided in training camp.

"He was not a high pick this year. For me, he's looking for a guy at 18 years old, he's been impressive," Yeo said. "Sometimes you're not getting those guys in games, and he's earned a spot into a game. I think that there's more depth from young players and more young players are pushing. What it does is it means those guys before were real long shots to make it and our development team does a good job developing those guys. It also puts a little bit more heat on those higher picks to make sure that they're holding their own because there's a lot more competition."

- - -

Speaking of Schenn, Yeo has liked his camp as well.

"I think he's had a really good camp," Yeo said. "I'm excited to see him in some game action here. I think he's looked really good at center ice, which is huge for us right now. He's a character guy. You can tell as a coach he's going to be a fun guy to work with. and a leader for our group.

"He's moving well, he's skating well, he's picked up our systems very easily and he's got a very good presence on the ice with the puck. This will be good for him tonight."

- - -

Yeo spoke about Robby Fabbri, who was expected to play in Dallas but was a late scratch; he did not make the trip.

Fabbri is coming off surgery on his left ACL and was held out as a precaution.

"We decided to keep him out last night; we figured lets give him a couple more days here," Yeo said. "We had this lineup (tonight) scheduled as it is, so we decided not to change it. I'd be very surprised if Robby didn't play in our upcoming weekend games. Obviously anything can change, but I'd be surprised."

Yeo was asked if there were any setbacks.

"No, no, no," Yeo insisted. "Like anything, when you're dealing with an injury like that, sometimes there's scar tissue, sometimes there's a little pain here and there but nothing that we didn't anticipate and we didn't expect."

Yeo said he'd like to get Fabbri a minimum of four preseason games.

"Getting five might be a stretch but four minimum," Yeo said. "Obviously that depends on how he's feeling and how things are going forward." 

- - -

Blues president and CEO of business operations Chris Zimmerman spoke about tonight's game and how it would impact things regarding to the recent protests going on in downtown and the surrounding communities.

Zimmerman said it's important to "begin to move on" and there wasn't  consideration to cancel tonight's game because "we have a lot of people that depend on these jobs."

"For tonight's game, we've been obviously working with the St. Louis police and a number of other security partners and insuring that our fans are going to be confident and it's going to be safe to come down to the building," Zimmerman said. "As is often said, sharing all the resources that we have is probably not the appropriate thing, but there's significant focus in recognizing, particularly around the perimeter of the building as well as inside the building that we've got to be more conscious, sensitive and provide additional support. 

"We know we have the right numbers. We have more resources that we would typically have for a game, a regular preseason game. A lot of this is helping St. Louis get back to normalcy and get back to business as usual and we recognize that this is just a hockey game and this is just an opportunity for people to want another outlet to come together. Our efforts will all be focusing on creating the safest environment that we can."

- - - 

The Blues' lineup tonight:

Magnus Paajarvi-Paul Stastny-Vladimir Tarasenko

Jaden Schwartz-Brayden Schenn-Samuel Blais

Dmitrij Jaskin-Oskar Sundqvist-Beau Bennett

Alexey Toropchenko-Adam Musil-Chris Thorburn

Joel Edmundson-Alex Pietrangelo

Vince Dunn-Colton Parayko

Chris Butler-Niko Mikkola

Jake Allen will start in goal and play the first two periods; Ville Husso will come on in relief and play the third period.

Extras: Dmitrii Sergeev, Ty Loney

- - -

Columbus' lineup:

Forwards: Matt Calvert, Cam Atkinson, Jordan Schroeder, Sonny Milano, Oliver Bjorkstrand, Zac Dalpe, Joe Pendenza, Jordan Maletta, Paul Bittner, Justin Scott, Bobby MacIntyre, Calvin Thurkauf

Defensemen: Scott Harrington, Jack Johnson, Ryan Murray, Brady Austin, Andre Benoit, Ryan Collins

Goalies: Brad Thiessen, Ivan Kulbakov

Blais shines in Blues' 5-3 preseason loss to Stars

Forward scores goal, assists on another; young players have 
good moments, teachable moments according to coach Mike Yeo

By LOU KORAC
DALLAS -- If Samuel Blais continues to perform in this manner, the Blues are going to have a hard time telling the 2014 sixth-round pick he's going back to the American Hockey League.

Blais has been given a great opportunity in camp thus far, and the 6-foot-1, 181-pound right wing is making a better case for himself playing in the Blues' first preseason game Tuesday in Dallas.

Blais scored a goal and added a pretty assist on Klim Kostin's goal in the Blues' 5-3 loss to the Stars at American Airlines Center.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Defenseman Jake Walman (46) led all Blues skaters in ice time on Tuesday
with 24:15 in  5-3 preseason loss to the Dallas Stars.

Blais started off camp playing with Paul Stastny and Vladimir Tarasenko, then coach Mike Yeo moved the Quebec native to play with Alexander Steen and Robby Fabbri for Tuesday's game. But Fabbri wasn't on the trip and didn't play (Yeo said after the game Fabbri is fine and they decided to hold him back at home), but Blais made the most of playing with Vladimir Sobotka and Jordan Kyrou, giving the line plenty of speed, finesse, grit and flashes of skill.

"I'm seeing progress from him," Yeo said of Blais. "There's some parts of his game that he's got to show us that he can improve on through the course of training camp. In all honesty, a lot of veterans are like that, but some of the plays that he made with the puck, some of the poise that he had, I felt like he was trying to make a difference out there and offensively, he obviously found a way to contribute. It was a real strong game from him."

Blais, who had 26 goals and 17 assists last season with Chicago of the American Hockey League, worked both sides of the ice and was able to be effective even without the puck. He blocked a shot on the first, darted out of the zone and drew a penalty, then drew another one on Alexander Radulov by using his strength to fight the Russian off a puck and then picked the pocket of Julius Honka in the neutral zone and nearly getting a breakaway before drawing his third penalty of the game.

"Just moving my feet and that's what I think made them take penalties on me," Blais said. "I think when I move my feet, I think that's when I'm at my best. I feel like that's what I did tonight.

"I've got to be good on the little details. Tomorrow's another day so we're starting all over again. I've got to be ready for the next couple days."

The Blues young players also showed some flashes of good play, and there were moments with some where the NHL game is different than anything they've seen before.

Some of those younger guys were not afraid to attack the Dallas veteran group with their speed and stickhandling. 

Especially when the puck was on the sticks of 2017 first-round picks Robert Thomas and Kostin, 2016 first-round pick Tage Thompson, 2016 second-round pick Kyrou, Blais and 2014 second-round pick Ivan Barbashev, they attacked into the Dallas zone with speed and ready to make plays.

"I think I was a little more ready for it (the NHL game)," said Thompson, who had one shot off the post from the high slot. "There's still another level. It's preseason. It's a good step in the right direction, but there's definitely another step. It was a good first taste.

"Just play my game. When I make a play through the neutral zone, just go quick and not hold onto it too long. It's another level. Use your speed and move pucks quick is how you're going to get past them." 

The goal of the night was Kostin's goal that put the Blues ahead 2-0; he got a behind the back backhand pass into the slot from Blais after he took Barbashev's feed down low near the goal line.

"I looked over on the other side and I saw him," Blais said of Kostin. "I knew he was there, so just put the puck there."

Wade Megan scored one of two power play goals for the Blues, who were 2-for-11 with the man advantage, including a pair of lengthy 5-on-3's. Blais scored with the two-man advantage after Thompson nearly scored a highlight-reel goal on a two-man advantage in the second period.

The Blues led the game 2-0 in the first and 3-2 after two periods against a Stars team loaded with regular NHL players before Dallas rallied with three third-period goals -- two off backup Jordan Binnington and one into an empty net.

Carter Hutton started and played the first half before Binnington jumped in with 9:29 remaining in the second.

Defenseman Jake Walman led all Blues skaters in ice time with 24:15, but Yeo said there were ups and downs to his game.

"I thought there were some good moments, but too much inconsistency," Yeo said. "That was very similar to the rest of our group. We'll talk to Jake. It was a first step. He's a young kid, so kind of expect that. You can see some of the good things that he does when he's on top of his game, his skating ability, puck movement, his shot, his instincts. There's some things we can correct as we move along here. It was a first step and we'll move forward."

Thomas, who one might think had a bad game because he was a minus-3 on the sheet and won just four of 13 faceoffs, did play 19:50 and most of the night, drew the toughest assignment playing against the Stars' two best players: Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin.

Thomas centered the top line with Alexander Steen and Thompson.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues defenseman Vince Dunn (29) battles for a puck with Dallas' Mattias
Janmark during preseason action Tuesday.

"That's what we want to do," Yeo said. "We want to out guys in a tough environment and see how they can handle it. That's obviously a pretty tough matchup there.

"I felt like he did OK. A lot like the young kids, the first four days of camp, they did really well and then they don't quite realize what another step it is. When you start getting into games and you start playing against the big boys and they start dialing it up. It took him a little bit of time to realize that, but I thought he had some good moments tonight. I'm not concerned. I know all these guys will figure it out as they go. That's why you give guys more than one game. It takes them some time to adjust."

* NOTES -- With the NHL officials already beginning the crackdown on slashing infractions and faceoff violations the first few days of preseason, the Blues and Stars didn't face many issues in that department. 

There were only three lashing penalties called in the game (two on the Stars) but no faceoff infractions. 

However, the Blues were on the power play 11 times. Dallas had eight man-advantages.

Some players have already voiced their displeasure with the abundance of calls in those two areas, but Yeo thinks it's something everyone will have to adjust to.

"I think it's good," he said. "It's going to force us to get ready. ... I know there's going to be a lot of special teams, and so that's OK, I'm good with the work for both the power play and the penalty kill, it's an important part to get ready for the start of the season. Through preseason what we'll see, every team is about learning habits, these are going to be habits. For me, it's always about stick on puck, to slash on the hand, you get a good player, you're slashing on the hands, he's still going to be able to make a play. He's still going to be able to make a pass and put the puck in the net. The stick on puck is going to be crucial as far as staying out of the penalty box. Faceoffs will be a good challenge for our centermen. If you want to win faceoffs during the year, you better get ready for it right now.

"We had them watch the league video this morning and we spent the last couple days talking about that. A lot of those things are part of our system anyway. We're very strict about making sure you're stick on puck. I think the best defenders through time have always been phenomenal with their stick. It's a habit we really stretch with our players."

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Bouwmeester, Sanford sidelined with injuries

Defenseman to be re-evaluated in three weeks with left ankle fracture; 
forward sidelined 5-6 months with dislocated shoulder that requires surgery

By LOU KORAC
ST. LOUIS -- The injury bug has bit the Blues hard even before their first preseason game.

The Blues will open the preseason today at American Airlines Center against the Dallas Stars (7:30 p.m. on KMOX.com and on HD radio on Y98 HD3) but found earlier in the day that defenseman Jay Bouwmeester will miss at least three weeks with a left ankle fracture and forward Zach Sanford will have surgery on a dislocated left shoulder that will sideline him 5-6 months.

Bouwmeester, 34, was injured in the team's scrimmage on Sunday when he took a puck off the ankle; he did not skate on Monday when coach Mike Yeo said his veteran defenseman was to see a doctor. Bouwmeester will be re-evaluated in three weeks.

"I think you come into every training camp expecting injuries and knowing that injuries are part of it," Yeo said. "Obviously that's a tough one for us. 'Bouw's been a part of our group. Part of the reason we were talking about (Jordan) Schmaltz, (Nate) Prosser, (Jake) Walman, (Vince) Dunn is we knew you always need depth and you need guys that are going to have to come in and play games for you, whether it's in September, October or later in the season. It's up to these guys who's going to solidify their position. Obviously some of the guys we have in our group are going to have to step up. If it's a guy like 'Gunny,' maybe he's going to have to bite off a little bit more, or maybe someone else jumps in there, I'm not sure. 

"No different than last year. We saw a lot of that last year. Injuries are part of the game and we have capable players, so we'll get through it."

Sanford, 22, was injured on the first day of training camp on a drill at the Ice Zone inside St. Louis Outlet Mall on a check onto the corner boards from teammate Dmitrij Jaskin.

Sanford was down for several minutes being attended to by head athletic trainer Ray Barile before departing immediately off the ice favoring the shoulder.

"That one's tough," Yeo said. "I feel really bad for him. He worked hard this summer. You can see physically he came in, he looked more ready, more prepared for the NHL game. He looked bigger, stronger. Yeah, tough break. First day, you put all that work and you have these high hopes and expectations and I was really excited about his potential for us this year. Now he's got some work ahead of him, but his season's not over. If he can put in the work and get through surgery and rehab properly, then you never know. I don't know exactly the time frame and obviously we don't know how thing could play out, but certainly a big blow."

What this does is open the door for players like Schmaltz, for Walman, for Dunn, guys who have been or are starting to knock on the door of perhaps possibly finally cracking this roster.

Schmaltz had a cup of coffee with the big club at the end of last season, but both Dunn and Walman are themselves right on the doorstep.

Both will be in the lineup tonight:

Alexander Steen-Robby Fabbri-Samuel Blais

Vladimir Sobotka-Robert Thomas-Jordan Kyrou

MacKenzie MacEachern-Ivan Barbashev-Tage Thompson

Wade Megan-Kyle Brodziak-Klim Kostin

Jake Walman-Robert Bortuzzo

Vince Dunn-Nate Prosser

Carl Gunnarsson-Jordan Schmaltz

Carter Hutton will start in goal; Jordan Binnington will play in relief.

Extras: Justin Selman, Thomas Vannelli

Find the Stars' lineup here: https://sportsday.dallasnews.com/dallas-stars/stars/2017/09/19/morning-skate-update-stars-loaded-roster-preseason-opener-tuesday

"I don't really changes anything that I do," said Dunn, who will be playing his second-ever preseason game (he played one two seasons ago in Columbus). "I came in here with the same attitude as I still now with 'Bouw' being out for that long, but I think it's obviously another spot that could take up some room or if they need a couple guys for the start of the season, I've got to work towards that. I think it's something to work towards, but it doesn't change my attitude about much.

"It's  exciting to get the first game in. I'm pretty anxious to get it going here. I'm looking forward to the first shift here, getting out there for the first time with this group of guys."

Walman, who will be making his NHL debut of any kind tonight, agreed.

"I honestly haven't really heard much about (Bouwmeester's injury) to be honest," Walman said. "I've been doing my own thing. A bunch of the younger guys agree with that, we have to focus on what we have to do out there and not worry about the situation. The whole summer and this whole camp, I've been thinking about just battling for myself. I know there's an opportunity and there's competition for it, but my biggest opponent is myself and I'm going to work as hard as I can."

Monday, September 18, 2017

Bennett hopes signing with Blues is right fit

Former first-round pick of Penguins looking to 
build off strong last season, trying to stay injury-free

By LOU KORAC
HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- New Blues right wing Beau Bennett hasn't tweeted often, but when he does, it's usually in good humor.

A California native, when Bennett first arrived in St. Louis after signing a one-year, one-way contract for $650,000 on July 1, he was in the market for a rental car at the outset.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Beau Bennett gets off a shot during training camp on Saturday. Bennett
signed a one-year contract with the Blues.

"There was like a (GMC) Denali, a (Chevy) Tahoe and I was just like, 'Ah, I like that Chrysler Pacifica,'" Bennett said Monday at the team's practice facility after practice. "... You know what, sometimes you've got to do something like that to be a little funny and earn the respect of your teammates. I just chose to go with the mini van."

Yes, a mini van.

Probably not the wisest choice as a professional hockey player, considering the razzing Bennett was about to get, which prompted the following tweet from Bennett (https://twitter.com/BeauBennett19/status/909091847062073344) that reads: This is what I get for renting a Chrysler Pacifica mini van during training camp

It's in response to one of the players leaving a written note on the steering wheel that says: Nice car loser Go back to Cali

Playful indeed, and does Bennett have any suspicion who the culprit was?

"I did not. No one will stake claim to that. I don't care who did it," he said. "My suspects would be (Paul) Stastny, (Robert) Bortuzzo ... he'll actually pawn it off on anybody, but I think it's Bortuzzo actually."

Bortuzzo would be the wise choice since Bennett is staying with the Blues defensemen. They're good friends from their days of playing together in Pittsburgh for two seasons.

Luckily for Bennett, 25, he doesn't have to drive to the Ice Zone inside St. Louis Outlet Mall. Bortuzzo does the honors here, but ... 

"I'm gonna ask to borrow his car when I'm gonna have to drive to the game tomorrow if I play so I don't have to roll up in the mini van," Bennett said. "It's been parked at his house. He makes me drive to dinner and what-not, but it's all good. Everything's been good so far."

Things have been good for Bennett, who's looking for a fresh start after playing last season with the New Jersey Devils, scoring a career-high eight goals, matching a career-high with 11 assists and setting a career-high in points with 19 in 65 games, the most games Bennett's played in any of his five previous regular seasons.

Bennett is a first-round pick (No. 20 overall) by the Penguins in 2010, and he never quite lived up to expectations there, for one reason or another, but mainly, injuries have hampered the 6-foot-2, 195-pound forward.

Among them, wrist surgery; knee injuries that at times needed braces just to practice, shoulder pain that comes and goes, two lacerations that were a result of cuts from skates and believe it or not, he even injured himself celebrating after scoring. 

Crazy to think, isn't it?

"It sucks, but it's all about your mindset," said Bennett, who has 24 goals and 40 assists in 194 career regular-season games. "You can feel bad about yourself and ask why me, but you've just got to take those things and roll with them and try to get better. It's no one's fault other than just bad luck or being at the wrong place at the wrong time. It's when you get injured, you maybe just modify your play where you can improve and improve from there."

And that's what Bennett hopes to do with the Blues, who signed him as a depth forward giving him the opportunity to crack the lineup as a bottom-six forward.

And even though he understands the depth and competition of this hockey team, Bennett saw an opportunity and more importantly, a good fit.

"They play a puck-possession game, they make plays, they're positionally sound," Bennett said of the Blues. "I feel like those are the foundations of my game. Last year I started to build more holding onto the puck and making the smart, right plays and I think working in a little more even calculated risks here. It's something I worked on a lot this summer and being healthy going into the offseason. I actually got to skate a fair bit. 

"I thought I gradually improved throughout the year. For whatever reason, it didn't work out going into this year, but I'm thrilled with the opportunity here in St. Louis. It's been great so far."

Bennett said the transition to the Western Conference for the first time (he spent four seasons in Pittsburgh before joining the Devils last season) has been a smooth transition, and getting to know his new teammates has been a pleasure.

Besides being close friends with Bortuzzo, Bennett said he's faced Jaden Schwartz from their days in college and knows Chris Butler and professional tryout attendee Ty Loney from their days at the University of Denver.

"It's been an easy transition in terms of guys off the ice," Bennett said. "I've been with Bortuzzo for two years in Pittsburgh. Just knowing him as well as I do, he's kind of got me in the little group here. As far as on the ice, I just want to come in and build on what I did last year as far as playing positionally sound while trying to contribute a little more offensively and try to be the player I'm supposed to be when I first got drafted.
(New Jersey Devils photo)
Beau Bennett set career highs in goals (8), assists (11) and points
(19) with the New Jersey Devils last season.

"I'm not like the quickest player. I just try to think the game, out-think the opponents. It's a very ... like a little more methodical. Someone like a Kyle Turris, when you watch him, you're like you almost think he's not trying, but he's so positionally sound. He just finds a way to get the puck and make the right play. That's a guy that maybe I try to play like."

Bennett won't be in the lineup when the Blues play at Dallas on Tuesday; he's likely to make his debut Wednesday night at home against the Columbus Blue Jackets.

But in the meantime, Bennett's other objective is to get to know St. Louis better.

"Bortuzzo's been driving everywhere, so I haven't looked at a map at all," Bennett said. "I don't know where I am really right now. With everything that's been going on downtown, we haven't ventured out that way. We've been just sticking to Clayton and just golfing a ton, working out and skating so it's been good."

Blues set to open preseason schedule at Dallas

Bouwmeester sustains lower-body injury 
in scrimmage; camp roster trimmed by four

By LOU KORAC
HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- The beauty of NHL training camp is that once it opens, it's not long after that preseason games follow.

The Blues opened Friday, and after four days of practicing and drilling sprinkled in with a scrimmage on Sunday, it's time for players to oppose different competition, and the Blues will open their eight-game preseason schedule on Tuesday against the Dallas Stars in Texas at 7:30 p.m. (it can be heard on KMOX.com and on HD radio on Y98 HD3).

It will be a matchup against former coach Ken Hitchcock.

The Blues will take a mix of veterans and young players. The lineup includes:

Alexander Steen-Robby Fabbri-Samuel Blais

Vladimir Sobotka-Robert Thomas-Jordan Kyrou

MacKenzie MacEachern-Ivan Barbashev-Tage Thompson

Wade Megan-Kyle Brodziak-Klim Kostin

Jake Walman-Robert Bortuzzo

Vince Dunn-Nate Prosser

Carl Gunnarsson-Jordan Schmaltz

Carter Hutton will start in goal; Jordan Binnington will play in relief.

Extras: Justin Selman, Thomas Vannelli

"As far as looking at our first couple games, I think that we've balanced things out well between guys that we need to make sure that they're prepared for Game 1, and guys that we want to get a look at and see if they can crack our lineup for Game 1," Blues coach Mike Yeo said. "... Priority one is making sure that your team is ready and so obviously in that, you have to look at your veterans and determine what they need as far as amount of games and personnel they play with. The other part of it is making sure that Game 1, the lineup that we out on the ice is the best one that we can. I think that we have a good group going in. Part of that is we want to see how they react in a tough building. You know in home games, they're going to play a lot of their top guys in their lineup. We have some guys that are going to get some real tough matchups tomorrow."

Among them, 2014 sixth-round pick Samuel Blais, who has worked with Paul Stastny and Vladimir Tarasenko the first few days of camp, spent Monday on right wing with Robby Fabbri at center and Alexander Steen on left wing. It gives Blais, who scored in Sunday's scrimmage, another opportunity playing with proven veterans.

"I knew yesterday that I would be with these two (Monday)," Blais said. "I'm playing tomorrow with these two in Dallas, so we try to get some chemistry during the practice and I think we did some good plays and it was a good practice.

"They're both real good players. Steen and 'Fabs,' they working really hard and I think they are good on offense, too. We'll try to build on that for tomorrow. ... I'm looking forward to a real game. I'm going to try and do my best and show them the same player I was last year in Chicago."

* Bouwmeester injured -- Blues defenseman Jay Bouwmeester sustained a lower-body injury on Sunday and will see a doctor on Monday afternoon or Tuesday to determine the severity and if he will miss any length of time.

Yeo said Monday that the 34-year-old Bouwmeester was injured during a scrimmage.

"He's going to have an appointment here today or tomorrow. We'll have more of an update after Wednesday's game," Yeo said.

Asked if he thought the injury was serious, Yeo didn't want to speculate.

"I don't think so, but I don't want to say it is or it isn't," Yeo said. "It's serious enough that he has to go see a doctor and serious enough that it kept him off the ice. I definitely don't want to try to get into any kind of time frame right now, especially knowing 'Bouw.' He's a pretty tough customer."

Bouwmeester has been a mainstay on the Blues' top defensive pairing with captain Alex Pietrangelo; he played in 81 games last season, had one goal and 14 assists and averaged 22:24 ice time per game.

Bouwmeester has played in parts of five seasons with the Blues; he was acquired from the Calgary Flames on April 1, 2013 for a conditional first-round pick and two prospects.

* Blues trim roster by four -- The Blues assigned four players to their respective junior teams on Monday, trimming the camp roster down to 47 active players and 49 including injured Patrik Berglun and Luke Opilka.

The Blues assigned forward Tanner Kaspick (Brandon – WHL), defensemen Trenton Bourque (Owen Sound – OHL) and David Noel (Val-d’Or – QMJHL) and goaltender Evan Fitzpatrick (Sherbrooke – QMJHL) to their junior teams.

Steen heathy again, wants to be factor this season

Veteran forward coming off broken toe sustained in playoff series against Wild

By LOU KORAC
HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- If you're a fan of the Blues and you've seen Alexander Steen's smile on the ice in the first few days of training camp, there's a good reason.

The simplest things can be reason to feel good, and for a hockey player, putting on the skates pain-free and just taking a twirl on the ice is enough reason to be happy.

The last time Steen, 33, was in competition for the Blues for keeps, it was during the Stanley Cup Playoffs in May. It was also one of the most painful times for Steen, who played the entire postseason with a broken big toe on his left foot.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Alexander Steen played virtually the entire postseason last year with a
broken foot, is healthy again.

But he's back twirling around at the Ice Zone again, free and clear of pain, healthy, married (Josefine) in Sweden over the summer and reinvigorated.

"It's been good. It's been energetic," Steen said of camp. "Seems like everyone's excited to be back.

"It took a while after the year, but I got back to training about a month and a half into the summer. I feel good, I feel energized and ready to go."

Steen, who had 16 goals and 35 assists in 76 regular-season games, delivered another seven points (three goals, four assists) in 10 postseason games, but just to get ready for each game was a challenge in itself.

After injuring his foot in Game 1 of the Western Conference first round series against the Minnesota Wild, Steen was a broken skater.

After the game, there was a definitely limp in the locker room but not one to confirm that he was hurt. It got progressively worse and Steen was to the point where he was taking injections to numb the foot in order to get his skate on and be able to play. Only once did the throbbing, searing pain get the best of him, Game 5 of the second round series against the Nashville Predators.

Taking injections on gamedays was a chore in itself.

"It's weird. You just take it sort of day by day," Steen said. "I knew that our off-days are the days we weren't playing, I was not going to be able to aggravate it and get some rest on it. Gamedays were the days where you got up in the morning and you knew you had to get ready and prepare your mind. But it was good. The doctors were great in helping me out as much as they could. The team was great, too. The team pushed together and we had a really good vibe going, a good push in our group and played a tough Nashville team and they got the best of us."

Steen wasn't wallowing in his pain, which could have been very easy to do.

According to a former player who experienced a similar injury, he said the injections to the foot are some of the most painful experiences one could imagine. And Steen had to do it at least 10 times.

But now the pain is gone, and this cagy veteran said the patience paid off before feeling good again.

"It took about close to two months," Steen said. "I'd say six weeks, eight weeks, somewhere in there. I was able to really start pushing again. 

"I've had a good summer. It's been productive and last summer, the shoulder obviously took a lot of the summer and preparations, I was hopeful of making it to the World Cup and trying to push for that deadline. There was a lot of focus specifically on that shoulder. That feels great, and now this summer, when I took that little time to heal up, I felt like I had a good summer of getting everything ready."

Ready for a new season, one in which Steen is anxiously looking forward to after helping the Blues transition to a new coach with Mike Yeo taking over for Ken Hitchcock midseason.

"I like our group, I like our moves," Steen said. "Obviously we've made some changes this summer. Our young guys have gotten a year older, a little more experienced. Our goaltending's so solid. The way that the system that we started playing from February on was a big change even though it was small details that happened. I'm obviously excited to get going. Big key is early starts to the year. You want to get off to a good start and start feeling good about your game. Last year was pretty much the opposite. We got off to a rough start, were almost playing catch-up there for a while and then came together and really grew the second half of the year. I was really impressed how we played in the second half. Now's a new year and we want to get off to a great start.

"... 'Schenner's' (Brayden Schenn) going to come in, I like the style of game he plays. It fits in very well with the type of game that we want to play. Thors, same thing thing. Perfect guy for us. We've gotten to know him a little bit before camp; he showed up a few weeks early. They're going to be great fits for the club."
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues forward Alexander Steen battles for a loose puck against a Toronto
skater last sesaon. 

Adding an influx of youth to go with the veteran players make the Blues a darkhorse in the Western Conference. They'll have to take a wait-and-see approach but in doing do, there's encouragement is to have fun.

"The biggest thing is for them to enjoy these moments when you get to play and practice at this level and push yourself but also to see the pace. "I if we're able to push them pace-wise so that they understand where we're at and where they need to get to. The young guys are great. I haven't watched the other group as much, but our group has been good, have been on pace the whole time. It's been good.

"You see how the young guy have developed over the years when they come into camp in shape and everything. They're 18-22 and they all look like they're ready to go. They definitely push us veterans."

At this point, if it means being on the ice, Steen wouldn't mind being poked and prodded.