Brandon Saad introduced himself to the St. Louis audience with a goal Saturday in the Blues’ preseason opener against Minnesota. The team’s other key offseason acquisition, Pavel Buchnevich, did the same Monday.
Acquired for Sammy Blais and a 2022 second-round draft pick from the New York Rangers on July 24, Buchnevich opened the scoring for St. Louis with a power play goal late in the second period against the Dallas Stars.
It tied things at 1-1, in a game eventually won by the Blues 2-1 in overtime on a Sam Anas goal. Anas, almost certainly ticketed for Springfield (Mass.) and the American Hockey League, scored the game winner at the 1 minute, 43 seconds of OT. Scott Perunovich, who played very well, got the assist.
As for Buchnevich, Blues defenseman Torey Krug saw a lot of the 26-year-old forward for years in the Eastern Conference while Krug was playing for Boston.
“He’s a big body that can skate up and down the ice with great pace,” Krug said. “Also, tremendous skill — whether it’s one-on-one skill, or in tight around the net — with the ability to see the ice. And a great shot, too.
“So he really does it all. I remember many times in Boston, he used to go to the net really hard. He’s not a perimeter player. He gets inside and he’s willing to go to the dirty areas to score.”
People are also reading…
That was the case on his goal Monday. Playing on the Blues’ second power-play unit, Buchnevich was camped near the slot when Brayden Schenn sent a crossing pass to him from the right wing. With a quick flick of the stick, Buchnevich re-directed the puck past Stars goalie Braden Holtby, which tied things up at 1-1 with exactly two minutes left in the second period.
It was a play Schenn and Buchnevich worked on several times Monday morning at Centene Community Ice Center during some power-play work. You know what they say, practice makes perfect.
In five seasons with the Rangers, Buchnevich didn’t get a ton of consistent power play time — scoring 18 times with the man advantage overall but just once last season. That should change this season.
The Blues lost some oomph from their power play last season — three of their top 10 power-play performers in Vince Dunn, Jaden Schwartz and Mike Hoffman. Hoffman went to Montreal in free agency. Dunn when to Seattle in the expansion draft, and Schwartz went there via free agency.
So there are some vacancies on the Blues’ power-play units, and coach Craig Berube is planning on Buchnenich (pronounced Booch-NAY-vitch) getting some of that time.
“Oh definitely,” Berube said. “He’s got good ability on the power play.”
Jordan Kyrou, who was on the first power play unit Monday, and Robert Thomas — who was not in the lineup — also figure to get more power-play time this season.
“Obviously Kyrou and 'Thommer,' they’re high-end ability guys with the puck, make plays,” Berube said. “And they’ve been power play guys pretty much their whole junior career. So we’re looking for those guys to evolve, power-play wise in the NHL. Become better at it.”
Except for goalies Braden Holtby and Jake Oettinger, the lineup Dallas trotted out for what was its preseason opener was decidedly “junior varsity” in nature.
In fact, nine of the Stars’ 18 skaters in the lineup Monday participated in the NHL Prospect Tournament in Traverse City, Mich., earlier this month. One of those nine, forward Riley Tufte, fought Blues defenseman prospect Tyler Tucker.
The Blues, meanwhile, had a lot of their top hands on the ice, including Ryan O’Reilly, David Perron, Schenn, Kyrou, Buchnevich, Torey Krug and Justin Faulk. With Jordan Binnington in goal.
That didn’t keep the Stars’ kiddie corps from taking a 1-0 lead after one. It was the aforementioned Tufte, a first-round pick in 2016 who has yet to play in an NHL regular-season game, who scored the goal.
For those who saw the Stars’ prospects drub the Blues 7-3 just a week ago in Traverse City, the play had a familiar look to it. Namely a 2-on-1 break against a St. Louis defense caught up ice. And a Blues goalie — this time Binnington — who had no chance on the goal, which came with two minutes left in the first period.
In their first few days of camp the Blues have worked on a ton of things. But not their 5-on-3 penalty killing. Well, they got that chance just eight minutes in Monday when Tucker went off for hooking, and the five seconds later, Justin Faulk sent the puck over the glass for a delay of game penalty.
But the Blues killed off 1:55 of 5-on-3, even though it took six saves by Binnington to do so.
All told, Binnington faced 13 shots in the period. Berube must have felt that was more than enough for the first time out, because Joel Hofer took over in goal to start the second period.
Meanwhile, Holtby was tough to crack until the Buchnevich goal. Holtby, 8-1-0 against the Blues in his career — all as a member of the Washington Capitals — played the first two periods Monday before giving way to Jake Oettinger.
The Blues didn’t face the Stars last season, when they were limited to the same seven opponents in a COVID-condensed season. But things are back to normal now in the old Central Division.
The teams will meet again next Tuesday in preseason play at American Airlines Center in Dallas.
@jthom1 on Twitter