Welcome to St. Louis Blues News & Rumors, a weekly article covering all things Blues. The calendar has flipped to December, and with Thanksgiving now in the rearview mirror, the team will need to put their work boots on for the rest of the season to push themselves into a playoff position. The Thanksgiving holiday is usually a good time to get an accurate picture of where a team’s performance level is at this season and where they could be heading. In the case of the Blues, that mark is well below both fan and front-office expectations.
Here’s a look at the news and happenings for the Blues over the past week.
Blues Loan Toropchenko to Thunderbirds for Conditioning
On Nov. 29, the Blues announced forward Alexei Toropchenko would be reassigned to their American Hockey League (AHL) affiliate, the Springfield Thunderbirds, on a conditioning assignment. After undergoing offseason shoulder surgery, he was expected to be sidelined until December but rehabbed in time to play on opening night. After earning the coaching staff’s approval, he entered the lineup immediately, playing in 15 games. However, there was little offensive production from the Russian winger. To date, Toropchenko has just one point in 15 games.
An important note regarding the reassignment and conditioning assignment, Toropchenko can only be with the Thunderbirds for 14 days without needing to clear waivers first. The short loan causes a problem for the Blues as they would likely want to keep him in Springfield longer and offer him valuable playing time on a game-by-game basis. If waived, there seems to be a good chance the 6-foot-6 winger would be claimed.
The 23-year-old has plenty of time to regain his spot in the lineup but will encounter additional hurdles as time moves on. Players like Jake Neighbours, Zachary Bolduc, Nikita Alexandrov, and Jimmy Snuggerud are some of the top prospects in the organization that will push for a starting role sooner than later.
Through 15 games this season, Toropchenko has recorded one goal and a minus-3 rating.
Thomas Avoids Long-Term Injury
The Blues received good news as one of their top players returned to action Thursday night (Dec. 1) against the Carolina Hurricanes. After missing one game due to a lower-body injury, forward Robert Thomas was back, reclaiming his spot on the top forward line alongside Pavel Buchnevich and Vladimir Tarasenko.
Of his injury, Thomas said, “Just kind of a weird play. I went into the boards weird. It (didn’t seem) too promising right away, but the last couple of days have felt a lot better. I think I got pretty lucky, so I’m very fortunate for that.” Through 22 games this season, Thomas has scored eight goals and 20 points and a minus-8 rating.
Neighbours Reassigned After Two Games
To provide one of their top prospects with the best development route possible, the Blues reassigned forward Jake Neighbours to the Thunderbirds after playing in only two games. His reassignment, the second time this season, comes after the 20-year-old was assigned a fourth-line role. In his two games, Neighbours played 11:44 against the Dallas Stars, and 9:08 against the Hurricanes. He recorded two shots on goal and a minus-one rating. In a similar fashion and reasoning to his first reassignment earlier this season, Berube noted playing time as a key factor in the decision.
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“It’s not that he came up and played badly or anything; it’s just maybe not the best situation right now,” Berube said. “We need him to go play and be involved and a lot of times (in) our games right now, it’s hard to keep him involved.”
After earning a spot on the opening-night lineup for St. Louis, Neighbours has played 13 games over two stints with the Blues and seven in one stretch with the Thunderbirds. He has one goal in the NHL and five assists in the AHL this season.
Checking in on the Thunderbirds
Since Nov. 27, the Thunderbirds have been outscored 10-6 as their losing streak has been extended to four games following the 4-2 loss to the Rockford IceHogs on Friday night.
In the team’s 6-4 loss to the Bridgeport Islanders on Nov. 27, Springfield took an early 1-0 lead thanks to defenseman Steven Santini. That lead was quickly taken from them just 31 seconds into the second period on a goal by Paul Thompson, his second of the season. Though the Thunderbirds reclaimed their lead only five minutes later, Bridgeport successfully converted on three shots in only 5:16.
Springfield came back to tie the game only 5:37 into the third period, but a power-play goal by Andy Andreoff with just over three minutes to play in the game shut down their comeback attempt. Goaltender Vadim Zherenko suffered his second loss of the season.
Friday night (Dec. 2), the Thunderbirds kicked off their lone home game in a packed three-game weekend. Springfield played host to the Rockford IceHogs and ultimately allowed the first goal of the game to winger Lukas Reichel, his ninth of the season. His power-play tally was the lone goal of the first period. An action-packed second period saw a combined four goals scored with two goals per team. Rockford forward Buddy Robinson pushed his team up 2-0 just under five minutes into the middle frame.
However, in the final five minutes of play, three goals were scored in a span of 3:47, kicked off by Thunderbirds forward Greg Printz. Goals were also scored by IceHog forward Cole Guttman, as well as Springfield’s Alexey Toropchenko. An early strike, 39 seconds into the third period was ultimately the deciding factor when Luke Philp scored his 12th goal of the season to give Rockford the win.
The Blues will kick off their weekend Saturday against the Pittsburgh Penguins at PPG Paints Arena at 6 PM CST. For more Blues insight and live interaction, get involved in the conversation on Twitter.
Mike is a writer for The Hockey Writers and covers the St. Louis Blues since November of 2021. He has a keen love for statistical analysis, prospects, signings, and trades. Follow Mike on Twitter for further Blues or Central division hockey discussions, interview requests, or to provide content info.