ST. LOUIS — After a rebound win against the San Jose Sharks, the St. Louis Blues are back in action on Thursday against Buffalo.
It was about a month ago Thursday the Blues fell to the Sabres in Buffalo.
The biggest difference maker in that game? Buffalo captain Jack Eichel. The 23-year-old center has tallied 26 goals and 55 points this season alone.
“They got some good young players,” Blues head coach Craig Berube said. “But Eichel’s the guy. We didn’t do a good enough job against him last game. He ended up getting the game winner. Left him alone. We gotta be tight on him. Take time and space away from him. He’s a smooth hockey player.”
On top of shutting down young talent like Eichel, the Blues will have to make adjustments to improve on the ice as well.
Berube says it’s the first full 60 minutes the Blues have played consistently in nearly two weeks.
Granted, the Blues had been on a three-game losing streak, but they hadn’t looked perfect in the games they were winning before the streak hit.
It wouldn’t be surprising to hear the team struggled on the power player since that’s been an ongoing trend the past two seasons. But, movement and success on the power play has improved as of late. Whether it be a rocket from Blues captain Alex Pietrangelo, or quick wrist shot from Robert Thomas or Jaden Schwartz, the Blues are finding ways to capitalize on the power play.
Ironically, the issues are now surfacing from defense. It’s never easy to play with a different defensive pairing every night, but the real issue in Tuesday’s game was the penalty kill.
“I don’t think there’s a major reason,” Berube said. “I just think there’s mistakes that are being made, and teams are capitalizing on it. You know there’s a lot of times throughout the year that you’re gonna make mistakes on the penalty kill, and you know you get a save.”
That’s definitely true. Blues goaltender Jordan Binnington was a big help in between the pipes. He made 27 saves on 29 of the shots he faced.
Blues defenseman Colton Parayko’s absence from the ice also hasn’t helped the cause defensively.
Berube confirmed that Parayko will miss his third straight game Thursday with an upper-body injury. Parayko typically logs at least 22 minutes of ice time on average, with significant contributions to the penalty kill and power play.
Parayko is considered day-to-day.
Instead, 23-year-old Niko Mikkola will play in his place for the second straight game.
Mikkola didn’t make a massive world of difference against San Jose, but he did provide a big, physical presence as the team desired.
“I thought he had a good game,” Berube said. “I like how he closes on people. I like his size and stick speed. His aggressiveness. Ya know, he just makes it a hard game for the other team.”
Blues defenseman Carl Gunnarsson is also considered day-to-day. Blues forward Sammy Blais was skating Thursday morning, but there’s not set time table on his return.