3.12.19

Page 22

HOCKEY

B4 • ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH

BLUES NOTEBOOK

Binnington to start Tuesday Goalie is coming off pair of games below usual performance BY JIM THOMAS St. Louis Post-Dispatch

Jake Allen pitched a shutout Thursday in Los Angeles and helped the Blues steal a point Saturday in San Jose. But interim coach Craig Berube hasn’t forgotten about Jordan Binnington. In fact, Binnington will be in goal Tuesday when the Blues play host to the Arizona Coyotes at Enterprise Center. “Like I said, we’re gonna need both goalies,” Berube said. “And for me, it’s Binnington tomorrow.” Berube made those comments early Monday afternoon, following the team’s practice at the IceZone in Hazelwood. It’s unheard of for Berube to announce his goalie the day before a game. Perhaps he wanted to end any speculation. Perhaps he wanted to show public support for Binnington. Perhaps he just felt like it. Binnington is coming off a pair of so-so outings, allowing seven goals on 47 shots combined in a 5-4 win over Anaheim last Wednesday and a 4-1 loss to Dallas on March 2. (Dallas had an empty-net goal.) But Binnington still leads the NHL with a 1.80 goals-against average. His save percentage of .929 ranks third among goalies with at least 20 starts, and his record is a sparkling 16-3-1.

The fact that Allen’s home numbers are much worse than his road numbers may have factored into the decision as well. Allen has a 3.65 GAA and an .878 save percentage in 21 appearances at Enterprise. Following the Arizona game, the Blues play their next three on the road, where Allen has excelled, including a back-toback Saturday in Pittsburgh and Sunday in Buffalo. So it’s highly unlikely he gets placed in mothballs by Berube. Also, to be considered: March traditionally has been Allen’s strongest month. He’s 30-8-6 over his career in March with a 2.14 goals against average, .924 save percentage and six shutouts. What gives with those March numbers? “Beats me,” Allen said. “I think it’s just a fun time of year. The whole season’s great, but this is when it kicks into gear. February, March, early April and hopefully in the postseason. “So I think the games just mean that much more individually and collectively. Everyone’s playing desperate hockey. ... Everyone’s dying for something. Guys are either playing for contracts or they’re playing for their team to get into the playoffs.”

MAROON SCARE

During practice Monday, forward Pat Maroon went down hard, crashing into the end boards, and had to be helped off the ice while favoring his lower right leg. After practice, Berube said it was just a scare and he thought Maroon would be OK. “It was nothing,” Berube said. “He should be fine. Just a scare, unless tomor-

row he wakes up (and something’s wrong). But I think he’s fine.” Maroon was on a line with Tyler Bozak and Jaden Schwartz in practice before the injury. He scored the Blues’ first goal Saturday in San Jose, his fifth of the season. “Obviously, he went down hard for a big man,” Allen said. “He’s a pretty tough customer. You never want to see a guy go down like that in practice, but hopefully he’s up and running here in a couple days.”

PERRON’S STATUS

Once again, David Perron practiced with the team Monday, something he has been doing regularly for the past couple of weeks when the Blues are in St. Louis. He even took a line rush or two with the fourth line, with Ivan Barbashev and Mackenzie MacEachern. Perron is widely believed to be dealing with concussion-related symptoms. He was in the locker room during the media access period Monday but apparently wants to withhold comment until he returns to the lineup. “He’s skating. He’s fine out there,” Berube said. “So like I said (before), when he decides he wants to play, we’ve got a spot for him.” Berube said he didn’t think Perron needed any additional testing to be cleared for game action. “I think that’s all done with,” Berube said. “So it’s just a matter of when he thinks he’s ready to get into a game.” Jim Thomas @jthom1 on Twitter jthomas@post-dispatch.com

J.B. FORBES • jforbes@post-dispatch.com

Blues forward Robert Thomas has picked up his scoring pace with two goals and three assists in his past five games.

Thomas has big skates to fill on Blues’ top line BLUES • FROM B1

with new linemates Ryan O’Reilly and Brayden Schenn and got some, uh, instructions from Schenn. “He was kinda joking that if I liked points, to get him the puck,” Thomas said, with that 19-year-old chuckle of his. “And he’ll get it back to me.” Of course when you’re both an NHL rookie and 19, you’re going to get your share of razzing from the vets. Thomas gets it. He also realizes there are few players on this planet who can adequately replace Tarasenko, who will miss at least four more games with what’s believed to be an elbow injury. “He’s an elite world-class player,” defenseman Colton Parayko said. “So we’re just gonna have to come together a team. Not necessarily one guy is going to be able to fill that role. It’s gonna be a team thing. We have to work towards that together and get through it.” The Blues must get through it, because they’re almost as close to being out of playoff position as they are to taking over first place in the Central Division. One horrible week minus Tarasenko could put them below the playoff line. “Every game’s crucial for us,” goalie Jake Allen said. “We’re in a playoff spot right now, but that doesn’t really mean anything. We’re still fighting to move up and to solidify that spot and go from there.” Doing so without their leading scorer, even in the short term, contemplates that task. Even Thomas had to chuckle (again) at the thought that he can pick up the slack for Tarasenko, who since the start of the 2014-15 season has more goals than anyone in the NHL not named Alex Ovechkin. So when asked about replacing Tarasenko’s firepower, including a team-high 28 goals this season, Thomas said, “I don’t think I’ve got Vladi’s shot, so I’m not gonna try and do that. “But I think for me, it’s just about keep playing the way I am. They’ve obviously liked the way I’ve played last couple games to give me this opportunity. So I think for me it’s just keep playing my game and try and complement them as much as I can.” Berube has liked Thomas’ recent play well enough to opt for him over veteran Jaden Schwartz, who got the top line as-

BLUES VS. COYOTES

When, where • 7 p.m. Tuesday, Enterprise Center TV, radio • FSM, KMOX (1120 AM) About the Coyotes • With a young, fast team, the Coyotes are making a playoff push thanks to a hot streak over the past month. Entering Monday’s game in Chicago, they had won 11 of their past 14 games. One of those three losses was 4-0 against the visiting Blues on Feb. 14. The Blues got two goals by Vladimir Tarasenko in that game. He’s out with an apparent elbow injury this time. Defensemen Joel Edmundson and Robert Bortuzzo also scored against goalie Darcy Kuemper, while Jordan Binnington stopped all 21 shots he faced. Kuemper got Monday’s start against the Blackhawks, so presumably the Blues see Calvin Pickard, who began the year with Philadelphia and is 0-3 with a 3.41 GAA and .902 save percentage with Arizona. Jim Thomas

signment in place of Tarasenko in Saturday’s 3-2 overtime loss in San Jose. Thomas has two goals and three assists over his last five games, with the two goals coming Wednesday in Anaheim and one of those assists coming Thursday against the Los Angeles Kings. All told, he has seven goals and 18 assists in 56 games this season. He missed four games in October as a healthy scratch under Mike Yeo, a fifth as a healthy scratch under Berube on Nov. 30, and then seven more in January with a shoulder injury. “I really like the way he’s playing,” Berube said. “I think he had a great road trip. His vision with the puck. Making plays. “As a kid coming into the league, it takes a while to get adjusted to the league and how fast it is and how competitive you have to be. And just the all-around game. It’s a lot different than junior hockey. “He’s a smart guy, a hard-working guy and I think the coaching staff’s done a really good job with him, bringing him along.” Thomas’ improvement has been steady and noticeable. Occasionally a step back, but almost always followed by two or three forward.

Take it from Schenn, an NHL All-Star last season, Thomas just hasn’t gotten better ... “He’s gotten extremely better throughout the year,” Schenn said. “You can just tell. He’s stronger in the battles. Better with the puck. Making way more plays now. Has the puck way more.” He’s not there yet; the adjustment and learning process continues. But Thomas seemingly has gotten about three years experience rolled into one as a rookie. He has played all over the lineup, with just about every line combination imaginable. Earlier in the season he witnessed the tension and frustration of being part of an underachieving team. Lately, he’s seen the exhilaration of an 11-game winning streak and the growing confidence that comes with a team making a playoff push and moving up the standings. But when it comes to playing on the first line, he’s had only a couple of bites on that apple previously. “Great opportunity,” Thomas said. “Kinda makes you feel good that all the work you’ve done ... allows you to get this opportunity. It’s just another step in the right direction.” Around Thanksgiving, Thomas was playing on a second line with Schenn and Robby Fabbri. He even got two games with O’Reilly in early December during a period in which both Schwartz and Alexander Steen were both out injured. Additionally, Schenn, O’Reilly and Thomas have had some power play time together in the new year. But this is different. The stakes are higher. The season’s on the line. Thomas is more of a proven commodity, but he is replacing a great player. “Especially over the past month, (Tarasenko’s) been playing some of the best hockey that I’ve seen,” defenseman Joel Edmundson said. “So it’s definitely a big blow to our team.” No pressure, kid. Right? “Every game I feel like I get better.” Thomas said. “It’s just another step up for me, and I just gotta keep building off of it.” And make sure Schenn gets lots of touches. Jim Thomas @jthom1 on Twitter jthomas@post-dispatch.com

M 1 • TUESDAY • 03.12.2019

One line can’t carry the load for the Blues HOCHMAN • FROM B1

especially with how the goaltending is going. But the other lines must create more scoring chances, or the Blues will be a one-trick pony in the postseason. Coach Craig Berube said it himself Monday, when asked about production: “We need scoring from everybody. We need 200-foot hockey from every player. That means you have to be responsible defensively but also have the ability to put the puck in the net, to try to score. That’s what we need. We need all our lines to produce.” Even amid the recent winning, the Blues’ “expected goal shares” have dropped in recent weeks. The same advance stats that, you might recall, predicted the Blues would go on their torrid run have lately been underwhelming. Per Sean Tierney on Hockey-Graphs.com, the Blues have been hovering around league average, meaning the Blues’ choices of shot location haven’t been great, compared to data of previous years of shots. Or you can just see it on the scoresheet. Who’s scoring these days for the Blues? Thomas, defensemen and the three stars on the top line: Tarasenko, Brayden Schenn and Ryan O’Reilly. “I think we can create more fiveon-five (production),” O’Reilly said Monday after practice, as the Blues prepared for Tuesday’s home game against the Coyotes, another team in the playoff hunt. “And the jumbling of the lines and having injuries, yeah, it’s tough. We’re having to find some new chemistry quick. But when we play our game and do our things away from the puck — defensively, if we do that, we have a chance of winning every game. And that’s more important.” When David Perron ever returns, that should supply some scoring and send a Sanford or someone packing. Perron had played so well under Berube for much of December and January. He’s been skating at practice but isn’t yet ready to return. As for the others, the reality is we’re 68 games into this season. It’s hard to believe someone from the second or third line is going to go on a hot streak. But there are other ways to win hockey games, and numerous Blues forwards talked the talk Monday about playing grinding, defensive hockey. Can the forwards, if you will, skate the skate? “This time of year especially, you have to find ways to keep pucks out of your net and play tight defense,” Schenn said. “Yeah, everyone wants to score goals and stuff like that, but this team has always been known as a team that’s hard to play against, and we have to get even more stingier when you lose one of your top goal scorers. … We have to create chemistry with whoever is on that line.” He meant his offensive line, but he could’ve meant chemistry with the blue line players, too. Tight defense that forces turnovers. Tight defense that eliminates time and space. Tight defense that deflates opponents. When the Blues are at their best, it’s not just the defensemen doing this. The 19-year-old Thomas has actually showed a high acumen for playing this game. Listen to the veteran Jay Bouwmeester: “He’s a real smart player. He’s not the tallest guy, but he’s pretty sturdy out there, you could say. The No. 1 thing is – he’s adapted so well because he can think. He can play in a lot of different situations, and nothing has really overwhelmed him, I don’t think. Now he’ll get to play higher up in the lineup and sometimes you’re a little more free to use some of your skills and things like that. He’s earned a lot of trust and rightfully so. He’s a good kid and has real (bright) future.” Not having Tarasenko, on a team without many “Tarasenkos,” is burdensome. But that’s the thing – even having Tarasenko can only mean so much, if your other lines are just gliding out there. And there is, at least, one silver lining with Thomas on the top line with Schenn and O’Reilly. He’s a righty. “It’s nice to have a righthanded shot. Offensively that gives us some different looks that we haven’t really had,” said O’Reilly, who has 66 points in the 68 games, many of the points via the lefty Tarasenko. “Should be a good fit. … It’s a small thing, and we have to do a lot of things great first, and get the puck deep, but hopefully we can be creative.” Benjamin Hochman @hochman on Twitter bhochman@post-dispatch.com

J.B. FORBES • jforbes@post-dispatch.com

The Blues have missed David Perron’s scoring touch.