Action-packed third period gives Blues 4-1 win over Blackhawks
CHICAGO — Who said preseason hockey was boring?
The Blues saw the debut of a Russian goalkeeper, and a dazzling one at that. Jake Neighbors made a shorthanded breakaway… without a stick. And Brayden Schenn was penalized for holding and holding a Chicago player’s stick while Schenn was on the bench.
And all this in the third period only at the United Center in Chicago. Obtaining strong goaltenders from Jordan Binnington and Vadim Zherenko as well as power-play goals from Ryan O’Reilly, Justin Faulk and Nikita Alexandrov, the Blues defeated their northern rivals 4-1.
Three of the goals came in the third period to break the 1-1 tie.
They remain undefeated in exhibition play at 3-0, for what it’s worth.
After playing their first three preseason contests on the road, the Blues are playing four of their last five exhibitions in Missouri — with three games at Enterprise Center and a game this Saturday in Kansas City against the Dallas Stars.
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Defenseman Scott Perunovich suffered an upper-body injury in the first period on Tuesday and did not return. The injury appears to come from a hit by Chicago’s Michal Teply, with Perunovich’s arm/wrist possibly pinned against the glass.
Perunovich has been slowed by injuries throughout his young career. Coach Craig Berube and general manager Doug Armstrong said he needs to stay healthy to play a meaningful role with the team this season.
A left shoulder injury and subsequent surgery cost him the entire season during the COVID-condensed 2020-21 season.
Although he returned to play seven playoff games last season, a left wrist injury and subsequent surgery limited him to 19 regular-season games and no regular-season contests after Jan. 15.
After playing one period against Arizona on Saturday in Wichita, Kansas, Binnington played the first two periods Tuesday against the Blackhawks. He was very impressive, stopping 20 of 21 shots. He was almost out of the second period with a shutout, but after a period of sustained pressure, Chicago tied it 1-1 on a rebound in front of Cole Guttman’s net with 1:08 remaining. Guttman played for the University of Denver’s NCAA national championship team last season.
Binnington faced a lot of pressure, especially in the second period – when the Blues were outshot 13-6. There was a brief scare when Chicago’s Colin Blackwell crashed into Binnington with 15 minutes left in the second, but Binnington was unscathed.
The third period belonged to Zherenko, making his hockey debut in the United States. Zherenko had visa issues leaving Russia and did not arrive in the United States until September 14, the day the Blues left for Traverse City, Michigan, and the NHL Tournament of Prospects.
He was stuck for a few months in Georgia trying to get a US visa and couldn’t work at any rinks at that time.
On Tuesday, he walked right into the fire, with the Blues whistling two penalties early in the third period and Chicago applying a lot of pressure. But Zherenko was up to the task, fending off all challenges.
The Blues were just 1 of 7 on the power play in their first two preseason games, with Neighbors getting that goal against Arizona.
On Tuesday, the Blues dispatched five players who should get meaningful power-play time this season after Blackwell was sent off for snagging Blues defenseman Tyler Tucker just 1:41 from the start of the game.
With Perunovich quarterbacking the unit, Schenn sent the puck in front of the net looking to connect with Brandon Saad for a tip. But before the puck reached Saad, O’Reilly deflected it, giving St. Louis a 1-0 lead at 2:23.
Jordan Kyrou was also absent from this unit.
Goals from Faulk and Alexandrov made it 3-3 on the power play on Tuesday.
Six key players made their pre-season debuts for the Blues on Tuesday. Among forwards, Kyrou, O’Reilly, Saad and Schenn played their first exhibition games. This quartet totaled 96 goals and 144 assists last season, each of them scoring more than 20 goals.
On defense, top four defensemen Faulk and Nick Leddy got their feet wet in preseason games.
Five prospects also made their debuts: forwards Brayden Guy and Dylan McLauglin; defensemen Tucker and Griffin Luce; and goalkeeper Zherenko.
Luce scored St. Louis’ third goal with 8:01 remaining.
So of the 52 Blues who started training camp as healthy players, all but five have played in a preseason game so far. Four of those five players are veterans: forwards Vladimir Tarasenko, Robert Thomas and Pavel Buchnevich, who were the club’s top three scorers last season with 82, 77 and 76 points respectively.
And defenseman Robert Bortuzzo, who at 33 is the oldest defenseman on the roster.
Maybe those four won a toss to see which veterans didn’t have to fly out for the team’s first three preseason games — in Wichita, Kan. (against Arizona), Dallas and Chicago.
They’ll almost certainly be in the lineup Thursday against Columbus in the Blues’ home opener of the preseason.
The only other healthy player in camp who didn’t participate in pre-season is goalkeeper prospect Will Cranley, who is being sent back to the juniors. As the sixth goalkeeper in the side, it was going to be tough to get Cranley in a game. But he played in all three Blues team games at Traverse City.