HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- One day after abruptly closing shop and calling off practice after their season-high fourth straight loss to San Jose, the Blues were back at it Thursday at the Ice Zone after a team meeting was the primary focus 24 hours earlier.
The Blues were expected to practice on Wednesday but instead, used the time together behind closed doors to, in some form or another, discuss their ill-timed 0-3-1 rut, which has dropped them into dangerous waters regarding the top eight in the Western Conference playoff race.
And the schedule for the Blues (34-23-4) doesn't get any easier leading up to Monday's trade deadline (vs. Winnipeg on Friday and at Nashville on Sunday) and the immediate game coming out of the deadline (at Minnesota on Tuesday).
"Practice is one thing, but this late in the season, two days in a row, you're probably not going to practice very hard anyways," defenseman Jay Bouwmeester said. "It was good. We're kind of a crossroads in our season. Our start really carried us, but now we're having a little bit of a tough time. We're not necessarily playing the worst hockey we've been playing all year, but we're running into good teams and it's just finding ways to win. You hear it all the time, whatever it is, it's different every game. A big win against a good team tomorrow night, you try to continue that and you can gain momentum off these games. But for us right now, it's not really about momentum or feeling good about yourself. It's about wins and losses and that's the bottom line."
The abrupt cancellation of practice after a 3-2 loss to the Sharks on home ice that left coach Mike Yeo obviously frustrated surprised some but not all.
"It's not uncommon for us to have a couple days like this to use one of the days as an off-day and to ramp things up for a practice," Yeo said after Thursday's practice. "Got through practice and now we can turn our attentions to Winnipeg."
Talk is one thing, but what comes of the Blues' meeting on Wednesday will only be spoken one way.
"It's going to come through our play," Yeo said. "What matters right now is everybody understands the situation that we're in, there's certainly clarity to that; that's easy. Now it's about us making sure that we come together as a group and rebuilding the trust in our game and understanding that they we go out and do things the right way shift after shift, man after man, that we're going to get the results that we're looking for."
The Blues are down to 21 games remaining, and 14 of them are against teams either in a playoff position or within a fighting chance of reaching the postseason.
"There's no easy games anymore," Bouwmeester said. "We've gone through a stretch where goals haven't come as easy as maybe at the start of the year. Things are a little bit harder, but we're a team that's historically the last few years played a lot of close games, we've won a lot of close games. We should feel comfortable in those situations. One thing that we can maybe focus on is try and get out to a lead, get off to better starts because we do play well with the lead. But you play the game, they're all different and every team's good, so it's a challenge."
Bortuzzo, Blais ruled out; Gunnarsson OK
Both defenseman Robert Bortuzzo and forward Sammy Blais did not skate Thursday and both have been ruled out for Friday's game.
Late Thursday afternoon, the Blues announced that Bortuzzo was placed on injured reserve with a left knee injury sustained Feb. 16 at Dallas.
Blais left Tuesday's loss after taking a big hit from San Jose's Jannik Hansen with 1 minute 51 seconds remaining in the first period, and the team has said he's in the concussion protocol.
"Obviously neither guy was on the ice today, so certainly both are ruled out for tomorrow," Yeo said.
Defenseman Carl Gunnarsson left practice a few minutes early Thursday and appeared to be gingerly walking off with head athletic trainer Ray Barile but Yeo said, "he should be fine."
Forward Nikita Soshnikov, who the Blues acquired from the Toronto Maple Leafs on Feb. 15 for a fourth-round pick in the 2019 NHL Draft, could arrive in St. Louis as early as Friday.
The Blues have been waiting for his visa paperwork to be completed so that he may work in the United States.
"I'm waiting for word today hoping that potentially he can be here tomorrow, but nothing for sure yet," Yeo said.
As for Soshnikov, who has played in three games for the Leafs this season, came off a lower-body injury that required a five-game conditioning stint with the Leafs' American Hockey League affiliate, the Toronto Marlies.
So when he does arrive, Yeo said there's only one way to incorporate Soshnikov into the system.
"We're going to have to get him in. That's the only way," Yeo said. "Obviously you can do what you can in practice, you can do what you can with video, but really the only for him to really get in and to get involved with our group and to show us what he can do is to get into the lineup. What you like is we think he's a guy that can add to our group, not only this year but in the future as well. I think the quicker we get him in, the quicker he'll get up to speed with our group."