Blues Weekly: Buchnevich, Absence Updates, Defense & More

The St. Louis Blues finish this week with a record of 1-2-1, with three straight losses to end the week. The team has lost its luster after its hot start, and the schedule has only gotten tougher. Both injuries and COVID absences have caught up with the Blues, and the team just isn’t playing very well. That said, there are definite positives to look at though too.

Buchnevich Finding His Game

Since coming over from the New York Rangers, Pavel Buchnevich had an up-and-down start to his tenure with the Blues, but things have turned around. Since moving onto a line with Jordan Kyrou, he’s been elite in all phases of the game.

Pavel Buchnevich New York Rangers
Pavel Buchnevich, New York Rangers (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

He’s now up to four goals and four assists in 12 games, including five points this week. He recorded two points against the Winnipeg Jets, one against the Carolina Hurricanes, and two against the Edmonton Oilers. It turns out that when you get bumped up with Kyrou and Ryan O’Reilly, you begin to play better, which he has.

This trade still looks like a robbery for the Blues, as Buchnevich is a complete player in comparison to Sammy Blais. You can’t blame the Rangers for trading him, however, as it seemed like their plan all along in their retooled roster. Either way, the Blues’ current top line with these three has been excellent and has driven play for them, even as the team struggles.

Thomas is Finally Breaking Out

Last season was supposed to the breaking out of Robert Thomas, and though that didn’t happen then, it is happening now. Thomas has been a two-way horse with an excellent vision and passing ability. He’s easily emerged as the second-best center on this team, surpassing an injured Brayden Schenn.

Related: St. Louis Blues’ Robert Thomas Quietly Breaking Out

Thomas finished his week off with three straight multi-assist games, tallying a total of seven assists in those games. He’s been struggling to score goals, but he’s had many chances, so hopefully, it comes soon.

Thomas now has over a point per game this season, with one goal and 14 assists for 15 points in 14 games. If he can stay healthy, which has been an issue, he should easily surpass his career-high in points with 42 that he had in 2019-20.

His chemistry with Vladimir Tarasenko has been tremendous, as Tarasenko now has seven goals this season, including some major third-period goals. A healthy Thomas is huge for the Blues and has been the case this season, no doubt about it.

Husso, Clifford, Mikkola, and Krug Remain on COVID List

The Blues have three players on the COVID list, goaltender Ville Husso has been on there since Halloween, but has been skating recently. Joel Hofer has been solid in the absence of Husso, which is great news for Jordan Binnington. The list has been steadily growing every week this season, which is not good for a team that is fully vaccinated.

Kyle Clifford has been on the list since Nov. 2 and may have lost his spot on the Blues’ roster from this, they have too much depth at forward for him to play when he returns.

Kyle Clifford St. Louis Blues
Kyle Clifford, St. Louis Blues (Photo by Bob Kupbens/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Torey Krug and Niko Mikkola have been on the list since Nov. 5, missing a total of five games, which is especially unfortunate for Krug. Krug had emerged as a beast on the back-end with Justin Faulk, he was dominant in his second to last game against the Los Angeles Kings. The most recent report for Krug and Mikkola is good, with the hope that they can return sooner rather than later.

The Blues defense needs them back in the worst way, as I will highlight later in this article that it’s become a major issue. It’s an issue that is partly due to absences and an overall lack of consistency.

Injury Updates

The two major players that have missed time due to injuries this season are Schenn and Oskar Sundqvist. Schenn was injured during the Blues’ game against the Chicago Blackhawks, and re-aggravated it when trying to play through it in the next game.

The Blues avoided a major injury with Schenn, and he is close to returning but still listed as day-to-day. He was playing well prior to his injury and has emerged as a major leader for this team, so they need his presence in the middle six. He should be available to play within the next week, barring any setbacks.

For Sundqvist, he’s been sidelined with a torn ACL since last season in April, when he went down. He’s close to returning, and according to Blues general manager (GM) Doug Armstrong, he could be back in “a week or two.” He has been skating for a few weeks now, so I think it’s a good bet that we see him before the end of the calendar year.

They could use his grit and skill in the middle six, as his chemistry over the last few seasons with Ivan Barbashev is tremendous. Maybe we’ll see Barbashev, Tarasenko, and Sundqvist together.

Defensive Unit is Struggling

This is more of an eye test issue than anything, but the notable absences and poor play is standing out for the Blues defense. Colton Parayko and Marco Scandella are incapable of playing well together anymore, as they have been awful recently.

Colton Parayko St. Louis Blues
Colton Parayko, St. Louis Blues (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

They are clearly missing Krug on the back-end and their cap issues don’t allow them to call up Scott Perunovich. For other players, Faulk has remained solid, while Calle Rosen has expectedly struggled. Jake Walman and Robert Bortuzzo have been decent, but still not enough for a Blues team that has allowed 14 goals in its last four games.

The biggest issue for the Blues is defense, but that can improve with some changes. Mikkola should draw back into the lineup upon his return, as should Krug. I would think that Perunovich will be here soon, which makes for a much better six than they have now. The second biggest issue is the contract of Scandella, who just looks lost out there, and it isn’t totally his fault either.

The Week Ahead

  • Tuesday: vs. Arizona Coyotes, 7 PM
  • Thursday: vs. San Jose Sharks, 7 PM
  • Saturday: at Dallas Stars, 7 PM

While you can’t take any opponent lightly in the NHL, the schedule is certainly more favorable in comparison to this past week. Rather than playing the two best teams in the league, they will play the statistically worst team with the Coyotes. The Blues need to find themselves and this is a perfect week to get back on track.

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