Roberto Bortuzzo

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How the Blues overcame a rash of injuries

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Every season, all NHL teams have to overcome adversity. Some lose players to injury, some go through coaching changes, others might hit a long losing streak along the way. Certain organizations crumble when they face difficult times, but there are others that find a way to weather the storm that comes their way.

In 2017-18, the St. Louis Blues have shown the hockey world that they haven’t just overcome adversity, they’ve thrived in it.

The Blues suffered a number of key injuries early on. They lost Robby Fabbri (torn ACL) for the season, Patrik Berglund missed all of October and most of November because of  shoulder issue, Alex Steen missed the first six games of the season because of a hand injury he suffered in the preseason, and Jay Bouwmeester missed a lot of time because of an ankle injury he picked up in training camp.

“I think we did it last year too,” head coach Mike Yeo said of overcoming injuries. “That’s something that’s a quality with this group. They don’t accept excuses. Obviously, losing players like we did heading into training camp- we lost four players that we figured would probably fit into our top nine. And then losing Jay Bouwmeester on the back end too. We weren’t going to allow excuses to dictate how things were going to go for us. So I think we stepped up to that challenge. With that, we also knew that we were going to have to dig in. We started with a lot of games on the road against tough teams, so it really forced us to get to our team game very quickly. And then, when you do that, you build some confidence in it and then we just built from there.”

That’s a lot of important losses to overcome. Not only have they done that, the Blues have been more than competitive in the difficult Central Division. Heading into tonight’s action, the Blues are tied for second in the division with 38 points and 16 regulation/overtime wins (the Jets have the same amount). They trail Nashville by just a single point.

[More: The Blues are starting to get healthy]

So, how have the Blues managed to stay on track?

Star Power:

There’s no denying that certain players have carried them this season. Brayden Schenn has proven to be an incredible draft-day trade acquisition. The fact that they were able to land him from the Flyers at a very reasonable cost proved to be a game-changer for St. Louis. Through 28 games, Schenn has picked up 13 goals and 33 points.

On top of having Schenn, the Blues have also benefited from having young veterans like Jaden Schwartz and Vladimir Taranko. Although Schenn, Schwartz (34 points) and Tarasenko (29 points) aren’t playing on the same line anymore, all three players have come up huge for their team.

“I’ve played pretty much since day one of the season with (Schwartz) and I just feel like he’s an easy guy to play with,” Schenn told PHT before Tuesday’s game against Montreal. “He works hard, he’s good at both ends of the ice, he sees the ice (well), he uses his linemates and teammates, and he’s a great guy in the locker room. He’s a lot fun to play with. And then, whoever is on the other side, whether it’s (Tarasenko) or (Steen), we’ve had a few guys, it’s been fun.”

The star power doesn’t end up front with St. Louis. Alex Pietrangelo has been a monster on the back end for them, as he contributes offensively while playing hard minutes on a nightly basis. The 28-year-old has been mentioned in the Norris Trophy conversation because he already has 21 points in 28 games. He also averages almost 26 minutes of ice time per game.

Depth on D:

Sure, Pietrangelo is the best defenseman on the roster, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t other quality blue liners on the team. St. Louis is loaded at the back, as they also have Colton Parayko, Joel Edmundson, Vince Dunn, Carl Gunnarsson, Roberto Bortuzzo and Jay Bouwmeester.

Unlike the Buffalo Sabres, the Blues have received plenty of contribution from their defense. Of the 92 goals they’ve scored this season (tied for sixth), 21 have come from their blue line.

The NHL is a league that’s become about skating, making quick decisions and moving the puck efficiently, and the group of defensemen the Blues have is certainly capable of accomplishing all of that.

Style of Play:

Yeo has the Blues playing the perfect style for the roster they’ve built. They’re constructed like a typical Western Conference power. They’re big, they can move and are a team that can make life difficult for the opposition with the way they forecheck and limit time and space.

Building a team like that isn’t easy. That’s why general manager Doug Armstrong is close to landing a contract extension. Unfortunately for the Blues, the fact that they waited this long to extend Armstrong might cost them.

They aren’t the perfect team (they don’t exist in a cap world). They could still probably use another forward or two that can contribute offensively, but it looks like they can take a punch and they can dish out a few too. That should help come the spring.

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

Lineup changes for Blues, but Stastny remains out

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There will be a new look for the Blues tonight in Game 2 of their series against Minnesota.

Head coach Mike Yeo will make a couple of changes to the lineup that won — but was badly out-shot — in overtime on Wednesday night. On defense, Roberto Bortuzzo will replace Jordan Schmaltz and, at forward, it looks like Zach Sanford will replace Jori Lehtera.

Lehtera played 16:53 against the Wild two nights ago, while Schmaltz played just 9:18.

Stream Blues vs. Wild on NBC Sports

The one piece St. Louis really hoped to return won’t get back in. Paul Stastny, who missed the final few weeks of the regular season with a lower-body injury, didn’t travel to Minnesota for Game 2 (after missing Game 1).

Related: A remarkable turnaround for Jake Allen

 

In wake of Shattenkirk trade, an opportunity for Schmaltz

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A first-round draft pick in 2012, Jordan Schmaltz has yet to play an NHL game for the St. Louis Blues.

But in the wake of the Kevin Shattenkirk trade, Schmaltz has been recalled from the AHL and could be in the Blues’ lineup soon.

“He is a puck-moving, right-shot defenseman that we are looking forward to seeing at this level,” GM Doug Armstrong said, per the Post-Dispatch.

Schmaltz — the older brother of Blackhawks forward Nick Schmaltz — has three goals and 22 assists in 42 games for the Chicago Wolves this season. It’s only his second professional season after spending three years at the University of North Dakota.

Read more: Have the Blackhawks finally found their first-line LW?

The Blues won’t expect Schmaltz to replace Shattenkirk, but holding down a spot on the third pairing behind fellow right shots Alex Pietrangelo and Colton Parayko is a realistic goal.

The Blues kick off a three-game road trip tomorrow in Winnipeg. If Schmaltz does indeed make his NHL debut, he’ll likely replace 27-year-old Roberto Bortuzzo, also a right shot.

Related: With Blues in ‘precarious playoff spot,’ it was time for Shattenkirk to go

Blues release veteran d-man Weber from PTO

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Mike Weber, the last of several experienced skaters attending Blues camp on a tryout basis, has been released from his contract, the club announced on Friday.

Weber, 28, caught on with the Blues after splitting last season between Buffalo and Washington. He, along with Eric Nystrom, Chris Porter and T.J. Galiardi all attended St. Louis’ camp on PTOs — none of them were able to secure contracts, however.

To be fair, the Blues roster was a tough one to crack, especially on defense.

Weber was looking to work his way into a group that features Jay Bouwmeester, Alex Pietrangelo, Colton Parayko, Kevin Shattenkirk, Joel Edmundson, Roberto Bortuzzo, Carl Gunnarsson and Petteri Lindbohm. Jordan Schmaltz, the 25th overall pick in 2012, was also knocking at the door.

Speaking of Schmaltz, his time with the Blues came to an end today as well. GM Doug Armstrong sent the North Dakota product to AHL Chicago, along with forwards Kenny Agostino, Ivan Barbashev and Samuel Blais, and goaltender Jordan Binnington.

Hitchcock said changes were coming — will Paajarvi make playoff debut?

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Following an ugly 4-0 loss in Game 2 of the Western Conference Final, Blues head coach Ken Hitchcock alluded to lineup changes for when the series shifted back to San Jose for Game 3.

“Changing your lineup has a real impact,” Hitchcock said, per the Post-Dispatch. “We’ve made adjustments all playoffs and everyone of them has worked.

“We’re probably going to have to make a few more [Thursday] and hopefully they work.”

So, what are those changes going to be?

Here are Blues beat reporters Jeremy Rutherford and Lou Korac:

Of the two, Paajarvi would be the biggest move. The veteran Swede hasn’t played at all in the playoffs, with his last action coming on Apr. 9, and he finished the year with just three goals and nine points in 48 games.

That said, Hitchcock has been fond of what Paajarvi brings to the table — calling him one of the team’s best players back in late December — and the move could give St. Louis some more speed, which has been an issue against the Sharks.

“They skate fast,” Hitchcock said, also per the Post-Dispatch. “They skate fast, they support the puck. They might look faster than they are, but they’ve got a lot of quick players. They’ve got a lot of aggressive skating players.”

Jaskin has been more involved than Paajarvi this postseason, though only slightly. He appeared in two games during the Dallas series, but did score the game-winning goal in Game 5 of the series.

There’s also the possibility Hitchcock could shake up his defense as well. Roberto Bortuzzo, who hasn’t played since Game 6 of the Dallas series, could draw in ahead of Joel Edmundson, who was out doing extra work following this morning’s skate.