Greetings, and welcome to another installment of our weekly Blues chat. Having finally escaped the balmy clutches of Arizona -- honestly, I was trying to come home, though for the life of me, I don't know why -- this week's chat originates from St. Louis, rather than Phoenix. In any case, you probably have some questions. In fact, there are already some here. So let's get started.
The big difference between this and the 18-19 run is that team was, for the most part, healthy and not playing well. This team is not healthy and not playing well. Though that's relative. They're not playing well relative to their expectations, but they're still playing well enough to win a lot of nights. What's making it tough now is they don't have the manpower to do it. There is a big chunk of players missing and no team has the depth needed to overcome what the Blues have gone through. Pretty much by definition, depth players are third or fourth line guys. No one has a depth top-six forward. The Blues need to get some bodies back to turn this around.
At his best, yes. Will the Blues see him at his best this season? Seems unlikely. He's been out a long time and has a lot of catching up to do. And the specter of his shoulder will hang over him.
Well, they don't have many more centers at the moment, so that could cause it to happen. Otherwise, probably not. Someone suggested at the morning skate today putting Sundqvist back with O'Reilly and Perron, but if you did that, who centers the third line? De la Rose's best fit is on the fourth line.
Walman is, for the time being, the seventh defenseman, and is likely to get some ice time somewhere along the way here, rather it's trading off with Mikkola or with Bortuzzo, or with someone else getting hurt, because that seems bound to happen. If he does get in in that situation, he will get not serious minutes, but more minutes than the token amounts he has gotten so far. The Blues have liked the progress he has made defensively. "He'll get an opportunity at some point," was what Berube told us yesterday.
Zach Sanford was a healthy scratch 11 times last season, so the team isn't afraid to do it. Right now, they can't, because they don't have the bodies. Sanford has the gift of potential and size and they like his hockey sense. Sanford has shown when he gets his act together, he can score goals. He was among the league leaders in scoring in the second half of last season. (A four-goal game will help that.) That's an upside they like and apparently are prepared to wait for. They have enough faith in his skills to use him on the power play and the penalty kill. He'll be on the second unit power play again tonight. In a normal season, he might well have been a healthy scratch by now. He probably would have had a seat after the second San Jose game, where he was a minus-9 in Corsi. Confidence plays a big part in Sanford's game. When he loses confidence, he thinks too much and his game suffers. Berube thought Sanford played better against Los Angeles on Monday -- his Corsi was minus-4 -- but again, right now, they can't take him out. The Blues like what a good Sanford can provide. But he's shown that can't always be depended on.
Hofer is here because there's nowhere else for him to go and they want the No. 3 goalie in the organization, Jon Gillies, to be getting games in Utica in case he's needed with the big club. Evan Fitzpatrick, the other young goalie in the system, is in Utica and hasn't gotten in a game yet. This way Hofer gets to work with coaches and, as today at the morning skate, come out and face NHL shots. There is no evidence that he is ready to be called on because he hasn't played anywhere this season, and the only way he would be called on is if Binnington and Husso got hurt and Gillies couldn't get here quickly.
Dumb luck for the most part. Thomas got knocked over and landed on his hand. Bozak took a shoulder to the head and fell to the ice. Barbashev took a puck to the ankle. We're still vague on what exactly happened to Parayko or Schwartz -- Parayko's injury first showed up at a practice, and Schwartz left late in a game -- but it's otherwise been stuff that has been in the line of duty.
The Blues are fast running out of options on the power play. There aren't a lot of combinations that haven't been used. Getting some bodies back, Tarasenko, Bozak, Schwartz, would certainly help. Being more active seems to be what's missing. Getting the defenseman cranking shots and putting the puck in the mixer in front of the net would be a start. Just being more aggressive would help things. They're getting back to that mode of passing the puck around the perimeter for a long time, waiting for the right chance, which doesn't seem to come.
If Pietrangelo wanted a no-movement clause and the Blues didn't want to give him one, that was a gap that was going to be hard to bridge. Ultimately, Pietrangelo got a pretty sweet deal from Vegas, with all the money he would have gotten here and the security he wanted. Plus, he got a lot of money in the form of a signing bonus which makes him hard to buyout. I don't think Pietrangelo wanted out, not from the times I've talked to him, and this is how negotiations go sometimes: You draw a line and say, If I don't get this I'm not coming back, and if the other side says, Sorry, you're not getting that, then, well, either you have to change your stance or you sign somewhere else. I think Pietrangelo was a bit surprised that Armstrong moved so quickly to sign Krug -- I was surprised -- and he would have liked to have the Blues still out there if only for negotiating leverage with Vegas. Each side just wanted something they weren't prepared to budge on.
The Blues describe their coaching staff as a collaborative effort. Montgomery may be in charge of the power play, but at a recent practice, it was Steve Ott who was there talking to the unit and explaining what they would try to do. So all voices are welcome. And it's not as if Berube put Montgomery in charge of the power play and walked away from it. Everyone chips in on the suggestions and right now, it would seem that any or all ideas will be listened to. And it's not as if there are all that many different power play approaches. A lot comes down to how you execute, rather than what you execute.
Much depends on where and when it happens. In the second period, with the long change, it could leave the other team with a power play for 10 seconds or so. So at that point, the feeling is having that extra body there is better than having no body there at all. In the first and third periods, with the shorter change, it's easier to get to the bench for a new stick, depending, of course, on which side of the ice you're on. I asked Ken Hitchcock about this once, and he said that when the player with the puck turns away from the goal, facing the boards or center ice, that's when you race to the bench for a new stick. If the other team is applying pressure on the goal, sometimes it's just hard to find a safe moment to get away.
Still no clear cut answer on this. He's more regularly skating with the team in practices, but is only really doing skating and shooting drills. I'd say two or three weeks because he still hasn't started doing any contact work. But that's just a guess.