Five examples of how Craig Berube continues to push the right buttons for the Blues

This season, St. Louis Blues players are passing around a vintage Keith Tkachuk Jofa-brand helmet as a symbolic award for the player of the game.

There were several worthy candidates in the club’s 3-1 win over the Anaheim Ducks on Sunday. But after a serious stumble in San Jose and another “L” in L.A., the helmet could have been passed around the coaches’ office.

Craig Berube, who was celebrating his five-year anniversary since being promoted as the Blues’ head coach, proved over the weekend that his voice still resonates with the club and his decisions are still making a difference.

The credit should be shared with Berube’s staff, including the video staff, which I’ll address in a bit.

The shocking 5-1 loss to the San Jose Sharks three days earlier could have been season-debilitating. They didn’t just lose. They didn’t show up — against the worst team in the NHL.

For those fans who dealt with the defeat diplomatically, there was still a sense of “they better come out strong” against the Los Angeles Kings on Saturday if they want anyone to believe this season will be worth watching. And they didn’t, down 4-0 after the first period of an eventual 5-1 loss.

L.A. is a good team, sitting No. 5 in the NHL standings after the game. Still, how did the Blues win five of six games, including victories over New Jersey, Colorado and Tampa Bay, and then get demolished in back-to-back games by a combined score of 10-2?

Well, one thing to remember is that this is a retool, but beyond that, these losses happen. Vegas went into the weekend atop the league standings and lost to Philadelphia and Pittsburgh on Saturday and Sunday, respectively. That shouldn’t happen to a team in a full rebuild, like the Sharks, but they do.

But what matters is what Berube and the staff do to make sure it doesn’t turn into a season-high three-game losing streak in Anaheim. It didn’t, and here are five examples of how Berube continues to push the right buttons.

1. Showing faith in Neighbours

Jake Neighbours, 21, has been given the role of an identity player on the fourth line, and he’s embraced it. Berube made a lineup change Sunday, inserting Nikita Alexandrov for some fresh legs against Anaheim.

Neighbours, who scored the Blues’ lone goal in their loss to L.A., didn’t appear to be in jeopardy of being a healthy scratch. Berube continues to believe in Neighbours, and the winger gave the coach another reason with the win over the Ducks.

Neighbours scored the Blues’ first goal on Sunday, marking the first time he’s scored in back-to-back games in the NHL. And it wasn’t just his ripper past goalie John Gibson on the scoring sequence that was impressive. It was his work on the forecheck, too, that set up a turnover and the pass from Oskar Sundqvist to Neighbours for the goal.

It came just 1:11 after Blues video coaches Darryl Seward and Elliott Mondou helped the club successfully challenge an Anaheim goal for offside. So instead of a 1-0 Ducks’ lead, the Blues went up 1-0.

2. Promoting Perunovich to PP1

Torey Krug was part of one of the most productive power plays in the NHL when he was in Boston, but the unit has struggled mightily this season with him at quarterback.

It’s not a difficult decision to change out anyone when the power play ranks last in the league and went a combined 0-for-7 with the man advantage against San Jose and L.A.. But Berube and assistant Steve Ott, who runs the unit, promoted Scott Perunovich to the top group on Sunday against Anaheim, and he factored in a power-play goal that gave them a 2-0 lead in the first period.

Earlier in the period, the Blues had a four-minute power play that produced just four shots, and when it was over, they were 3-for-48 (6.3 percent) this season. But when they got another opportunity, Robert Thomas won a faceoff and Perunovich went to work. He went to the boards, won a puck on the wall from the Ducks’ Sam Carrick and sent it cross-ice to Jordan Kyrou.

Kyrou used his wheels in the open ice to set up Pavel Buchnevich with a backhanded pass, and Buchnevich beat Gibson for the goal. The Blues went just 1-for-6 on Sunday and are 4-for-52 on power plays this season. Buchnevich netted three of the four, but in this game, it proved to be the game-winning tally.

3. Having Hofer’s back

Backup goalie Joel Hofer took the loss in San Jose, allowing four goals on 21 shots before Berube brought in Jordan Binnington to shake things up. The night certainly wasn’t Hofer’s fault, but it still had to weigh on the rookie.

With the Blues playing back-to-back games Saturday and Sunday, it was expected that Binnington would get the start against L.A. and Hofer against Anaheim, and that’s how it unfolded. But that didn’t guarantee it would play out well for Hofer, whose goals against this season had been up and down in his five previous starts — 6, 0, 3, 1, 4.

But he made 30 saves, including 25 stops playing five-on-five. That included five high-danger shot attempts by the Ducks, and he kept four of those out of the net.

The third period was a challenge for Hofer, considering Anaheim had won six of its nine games this season coming from behind in the third period. The Blues were leading the Ducks 3-1 entering the final frame, and Hofer made all eight saves to hang on for the win.

4. Putting Kapanen with Toropchenko, Hayes

In the Blues’ loss to L.A., the absence of offense for the second straight game forced Berube to mix up his line combinations.

After breaking up the top line of Buchnevich-Thomas-Kyrou because they were too perimeter-oriented, he reunited them late against the Kings and then started them together against Anaheim. They looked a lot more lively with a combined 12 shots on goal, and a lot of possession time against the Ducks.

There were obviously changes to the second and third lines, as well, and Berube kept those together, too, on Sunday. Brayden Schenn centered Brandon Saad and Jakub Vrana, while Kevin Hayes centered Alexey Toropchenko and Kasperi Kapanen.

That last line has some intrigue. Toropchenko, who was the most noticeable player on the ice Sunday, had a team-high five shots on goal and gave the Blues a 3-0 lead in the second period. Hayes had possession near the net and helped set up Toropchenko for his third goal of the season. Kapanen had just left the ice, and Vrana was on with Toropchenko and Kapanen, but in 10:06 of five-on-five ice time together, the Toropchenko-Hayes-Kapanen group had a 66.7 Corsi For rating Sunday, per Natural Stat Trick.

5. Berube asked for a better response

After the debacle in San Jose, the Blues desperately needed a good start in L.A. They actually spent a good amount of time in the offensive zone on the opening shifts, but then Nick Leddy took an interference penalty, and the Kings scored on the power play. The Kings added another 19 seconds later, and the Blues were down 2-0 just 2:44 into the game. It was a hard hole to climb out of.

Berube called for a better response from his leadership against Anaheim, and he got it. The Blues had 13 of their 31 shots in the first period and held the 2-0 lead. They backed it up in the second period with 13 more shots and another goal.

However, we won’t know if the Blues will fully respond to Berube’s request until they trail again. He wants his players to have the ability to have an answer when they’re playing from behind, which didn’t happen on Sunday after Anaheim’s initial goal was waved off.

Instead, the Blues got the game’s first goal and improved to 8-0 when scoring first this season. They are 1-7-1 when the opponent scores first. There have been no lead changes in any of their 17 games, which is unfathomable. So while many of Berube’s moves worked on Sunday, and give the players credit for their execution, one win does not mean we’ve seen the last of what we witnessed in San Jose.

(Photo of Jake Neighbours after scoring the Blues’ first goal on Sunday: Debora Robinson / NHLI via Getty Images)

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