The Blues are in no position to be picky.
Down four forwards for at least another week, anyone who wants to step in and provide a key goal or go on a hot streak for the team is more than welcome to do that. So if it’s a short guy from Australia scoring a pivotal goal against Pittsburgh or a couple guys from the fourth line teaming up for the clincher, more power to them, the Blues say.
A world in which the Ryan O’Reillys, Brayden Schenns and Jaden Schwartzes go nuts would be great for the Blues. But there’s also more than enough room for Nathan Walker and Ivan Barbashev to do some heavy lifting now and then.
“We need everybody to contribute on our team,” coach Craig Berube said. “That’s the way it’s built.”
In the case of Barbashev, his past three games have seen him making valuable contributions. He started with assists on three of the team’s four goals at Tampa Bay, then had a goal and an assist in a 3-1 win at Dallas and followed that with a goal early in the third period Saturday night that gave the Blues a two-goal lead over Pittsburgh, and the breathing room needed after being on their heels most of the second period.
This is a good chance for Barbashev because not only does the team need goals, it has minutes available for what ever players the coaching staff feels has earned them the most. Barbashev played more than 17 minutes against Tampa Bay, more than 15 against Dallas. And the more minutes the better, Barbashev thinks.
“I think I showed it in the last couple games,” he said. “When I play more, I can give a little more. I just think it’s been great so far.”
He’s sixth on the team in points, with 13 — four goals and nine assists. He realizes this is his chance to step up.
“For sure and I think that’s what I’ve been doing for the last three games,” he said. “I’ve been getting an opportunity to play more, playing on a line with (Tyler Bozak) and (Oskar Sundqvist) and (Troy) Brouwer. Those guys are great, they work hard, they’re really smart players. It’s really a joy to play with them. We’ve got to do a real good job to keep the game good, (we’ve) got to work hard.”
On Saturday, Barbashev was a beneficiary of Berube’s line tinkering.
Berube promoted Walker in the game to the top line, with Schenn and Schwartz, and moved Robert Thomas down to the line with Bozak and Barbashev. It was Thomas who made the pass to Barbashev on a rush for the goal that made it 3-1. Because those lines were productive, there’s a good chance the team will start that way on Monday in Chicago.
“I just thought Schenn and Schwartz needed a guy that can get in with more energy and bang around a little bit and create some loose pucks and that’s all,” Berube said. “’Bozie’ and ‘Thommer’ have played together before. That was my thought process at the time.”
And Barbashev knows that this is a chance for him to do something. After a brief and unsuccessful fling on O’Reilly’s line, he’s settled in well on Bozak’s unit. He has scored a goal in two games in a row for the second time this season and has a chance for a career-best three in a row on Monday.
“I probably just couldn’t get the legs going for a little while,” he said of his brief struggles. “But the last couple games have been really good.”
The Blues’ fourth line hit its groove when Barbashev, Sundqvist and Mackenzie MacEachern were put together, and the question remains for Barbashev as to how high up he can play in the Blues’ lineup. In his rookie season, he sometimes centered Vladimir Tarasenko. But since then, he’s done better on lower lines. Berube, who coached Barbashev with Chicago in the minors, thinks he can play higher, though it’s his versatility that makes him valuable.
“Barby’s a real good player,” Berube said. “Whatever we ask of him: he can play center here, wing here, he does it. He does everything for us. Probably deep down within him he wants to score more and put more points up —everybody does — and he has the capability of doing it and he’s doing it now. That’s what it really boils down to.”
Pouliot send down
With Robert Bortuzzo eligible to play again after serving his four-game suspension, the Blues sent defenseman Derrick Pouliot back to San Antonio of the Ameircan Hockey League. Pouliot was called up as a safety blanket as the Blues began a run of four games in six days with only six defensemen and wasn’t expected to get in a game.
But when Carl Gunnarsson got sick before the Dallas game, Pouliot got in twice. He did well in that game but against Pittsburgh, the team that drafted him in 2012, Pouliot had Sam Lafferty blow past him for the tying goal and then on his next shift, Pouliot was called tripping. That was it for him for the night. He played eight seconds coming out of the penalty and then didn’t play at all afterward.