Roberto Bortuzzo

Where do ‘fragile’ Blues go from here?

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It’s been quite a week for the St. Louis Blues. Let’s recap:

• After being booed off of their home ice following a 6-1 thrashing by the Vancouver Canucks on Sunday, Brayden Schenn labels the team “a fragile group,” three days after interim head coach Craig Berube did the same.

• Superstar forward Vladimir Tarasenko apologized afterward for the team’s poor play at Enterprise Center, which has seen one Blues victory there since Nov. 11 (1-4-1).

• With tensions high around the team, forward Zach Sanford and defenseman Robert Bortuzzo let some emotions out and engaged in a bit of a scrap during Monday’s practice.

This isn’t the spark that general manager Doug Armstrong envisioned for his team when he fired Mike Yeo and replaced him with Berube. A 3-5-1 record since the change hasn’t helped the Blues climb out of the bottom tier of the Western Conference standings.

Under Berube, the decline that began during Yeo’s time in charge has continued. Their goals per game is down from 2.95 to 2.44; goals allowed is up from 3.11 to 3.78 per game; and the power play went from a 24.2 percent success rate to 20.8 percent. Also, four of those six losses have been by three or more goals, so they’ve been busy fishing pucks out of their net.

Empty seats. Boos. The f-word thrown around. Apologies. Fights at practice. What’s got to change? From Berube’s perspective, nothing. He’s just going to keep hammering home his message until it gets through — if it ever does.

“The way out is the same thing we preach day in and day out,” he said. “You have to go into every game, no matter who you play, and you gotta be committed to giving 100 percent effort and compete as hard as you can, every game. … We’re going to keep at it, we’re going to keep pounding it in their heads until they get it. That’s it.”

What about Armstrong’s point of view? He built this team, which included a big trade to bring in Ryan O’Reilly over the summer. Following Yeo’s firing last month he said his patience with the Blues’ core players was at its “thinnest” and that they were the ones who needed to help get the team out of its funk.

Armstrong also added that there are only so many changes that can be made before that group gets torn apart.

“The core group’s equity that was built up is gone,” he said. “That’s what I have to say. I guess I could say it again that with the next head coach, if we’re having this same conversation, they’ll be players gone.”

(No wonder Alex Pietrangelo’s name popped up in trade rumors over the weekend.)

Speaking with the Post-Dispatch this week, Armstrong expressed his frustration at a lack of consistency in the Blues’ play and their inability to find another gear when needed. When adversity strikes, it snowballs and there isn’t enough resiliency in the group to fight back.

So where do the Blues go from here? Their already thin playoff hopes are hanging by a string and it doesn’t appear that a turnaround is going to happen thanks to some extended winning streak. Fourteen points back in the Central Division and 11 points out of a wild card spot, Armstrong will have some tough decisions to make in reshaping this roster going forward.

If his patience was already thin when he made a coaching change, what’s left nine games later when the move hasn’t shown itself to have made a positive impact?

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

WATCH LIVE: Chicago Blackhawks at St. Louis Blues

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2017-18 season continues on Wednesday night as the St. Louis Blues host the Chicago Blackhawks at 8 p.m. ET. You can watch the game online by clicking here.

PROJECTED LINEUPS

St. Louis Blues
Jaden SchwartzBrayden SchennVladimir Tarasenko
Patrik BerglundKyle BrodziakAlex Steen
Dmitrij JaskinVladimir SobotkaTage Thompson
Ivan BarbashevOskar SundqvistChris Thorburn

Joel EdmundsonAlex Pietrangelo
Vince DunnColton Parayko
Chris Butler – Roberto Bortuzzo

Starting goalie: Jake Allen

[NHL on NBCSN: Blues need to pick up valuable points against Blackhawks]

[WATCH LIVE – 8 P.M. ET]

Chicago Blackhawks
Brandon SaadNick SchmaltzPatrick Kane
Dylan SikuraVictor EjdsellAlex DeBrincat
Tomas JurcoArtem AnisimovAndreas Martinsen
Patrick SharpDavid KampfVincent Hinostroza

Duncan KeithBrent Seabrook
Erik GustafssonConnor Murphy
Jordan Oesterle – Blake Hillman

Starting goalie: J.F. Berube

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

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