Over the last season and a half, Brayden Schenn spent so much ice time with Jaden Schwartz, it just didn’t seem right when that wasn’t the case.
So when interim coach Craig Berube placed Schenn on a line with Ryan O’Reilly and Vladimir Tarasenko four games ago, it was like a trial separation.
“I absolutely miss him,” Schenn said during the Blues’ just-completed road trip. “This (new line) is one of those things, too, where who knows how long it lasts. Whether we play together a couple more or maybe longer than we expect.
“But at the end of the day, I’m sure I’ll play with (Schwartz) again. Sometimes it’s good to get away from each other a little bit, reset. Makes us more hungry to play with one another in the future.
“It’s working right now, we’re winning hockey games, and as long as we’re winning everyone’s happy.”
By that measuring stick, there has been nothing but happiness lately. The Blues are 4-0 since the line switch, and Schenn, O’Reilly and Tarasenko have been piling up the points.
Members of that line accounted for at least one goal in each of those four games — victories over Anaheim, Columbus, Florida and Tampa Bay. The composite scoresheet for Schenn, O’Reilly and Tarasenko in those contests: five goals and 11 assists for 16 points.
Tarasenko had the game-winning goal against Columbus, while Schenn had the game-winner in Thursday’s 1-0 overtime win over the Lightning.
O’Reilly’s having the kind of season where he makes everyone around him look better, but he’s quick to credit Schenn for the line’s instant chemistry.
“He’s a playmaker. He’s physical. He has great speed,” O’Reilly said. “I think he’s just kinda that Swiss Army knife guy.
“We’ve been able to generate a lot just from the way we’ve been working as a line. We forecheck hard. We get pucks back. I feel like all three of us can make plays and we’re just moving and working. Myself, it’s nice to have another center out there, too.”
In that sense, Schenn’s presence on the wing takes some pressure off O’Reilly, because Schenn also can work low and grind out puck possession and create chances. But truth be told, Schenn would rather be playing center.
“It’s an adjustment,” Schenn said. “It’s a change. But when you play with a good centerman like O’Reilly, it makes it easy on you. I still feel like the natural position for me is center. But at the end of the day, I’ll do what it takes to win hockey games and ultimately make the playoffs with this hockey team.”
It has been a season of adjustment for Schenn. Most notably, he had been on the second power-play unit all season until just recently. Keep in mind, one of the main attractions in the Blues’ trading for Schenn two summers ago with Philadelphia was his power-play acumen.
Last season, Schenn led the Blues with eight power-play goals and over the past four seasons, he has averaged nearly 11 power-play goals a season. Putting him on the second unit, where you might get a minute or two less time a game depending on the number of penalties called, limits opportunities.
“Obviously, you want to be out there with the first power-play unit,” Schenn said. “It’s no different for me or Schwartzy, or whoever.
“We have a lot of good pieces. The thing is, a lot of our guys are lefthanded shots, so you gotta switch up — left and righties — and that’s what we’ve gone with. At the end of the day, when your number’s called, when you’re out there, you gotta make the best of your power-play time.”
Schenn is one of those lefties.
In a sense, Schenn’s situation is a microcosm of the Blues’ season as a whole. It has been a year of adjustment for many, and it has taken awhile to settle into roles, longer than anyone expected.
“It comes down to guys playing together,” Schenn said. “Guys playing for one another. Buying into their roles. Playing hard for one another, getting great goaltending.”
Right now, it’s all clicking. Particularly for the Schenn-O’Reilly-Tarasenko line.
“It’s been very effective,” O’Reilly said. “We’ve generated a lot of offense. With the way (Schenn) works, it just generates. We’re getting tons of pucks back and making plays from it.”
With just 10 goals so far, Schenn is down noticeably from last season, when he scored a career-high 28 times and was an All-Star. The OT score in Tampa was his first in exactly a month, since Jan. 7 in Philadelphia, encompassing an 11-game dry spell.
But he does lead the Blues in game-winning goals (four), and even before the switch to the O’Reilly line, Schenn was contributing with assists. He has seven in his last seven games.
“I feel like the points have been coming lately; the goals haven’t been coming lately, though,” Schenn said. “I owe these guys some goals. Gotta score some goals down the stretch here in order to help the team and hopefully (Thursday’s goal) is a step in the right direction.”
In addition, Schenn’s physical play is an underrated part of his game. Schenn led the Blues with a season-high seven hits Jan. 17 in Boston and shared the team-lead with four hits Jan. 23 against Anaheim. For the season, he’s second on the team with 92 hits, trailing only defenseman Joel Edmundson (95).
“He’s like a power forward for me,” said Berube, who coached Schenn in Philly and used him at forward then. “When he’s on the forecheck and he’s physical and getting to the net and being around the net, he’s a really good player. That’s what he’s doing right now.”