1) Except for defenseman Robert Bortuzzo, who is close to returning from the COVID list, the Blues have a full queue of players available for Wednesday night’s game in Pittsburgh.

It’s been a long time coming. We’ve been waiting to see what the Blues can do with the roster that they assembled for the season. Only three Blues have appeared in all 33 games so far, and two others have played in at least 30 contests. They’ve had to make do with fewer than 12 forwards in 10 of their past 14 games, and that’s pretty crazy.

According to Hockey Injury Viz, the Blues have the NHL’s seventh-highest total (156) of man games lost this season. Under the circumstances the Blues (19-9-5) have performed remarkably well, ranking second in the Western Conference with a points percentage of .652. And their points percentage of .750 is tied for third best in the NHL since Nov. 26. And that 9-2-3 stretch has coincided with the heaviest injury-illness hit to the roster, which makes their points-collecting consistency even more impressive.

After enduring their worst of injury-illness turbulence of the season – or so we hope – the Blues have an edge in the remaining schedule. It isn’t dramatic, but by playing 33 games the Blues have a more reasonable path to 82 games. Beginning tonight in Pittsburgh the Blues have 49 games remaining. Excluding Nashville – which has 48 games to go – the Blues’ Central division rivals will be busier the rest of the way, having to cram more games in: Colorado and Dallas each have 53 games left, followed by Minnesota (51) Arizona (51), and Winnipeg (50.)

The Blues got through the adversity by relying on their quality organizational depth, and they move ahead with more confidence. This team can handle anything you smack them with. This team doesn’t cower. By never slowing or falling down through the hard times, the Blues turned a potentially negative situation into a strength. They reaffirmed something important: they’re a team stacked with personnel options.

After playing the Penguins the Blues will return home for a stretch of five scheduled games at the Enterprise Center – COVID chaos permitting. And at 12-3-2 in their barn this season, the Blues have the league’s fifth-best home points percentage at .765.

Now comes the challenge of maintaining intensity and implementing the simple but highly effective style that enabled the Blues to rise above the bad stuff. It’s nice to see this roster return to a normal state – for at least a while, depending on the good fortune of team health and stability in a berserk NHL season.

2) I’m pleased with the choice of South African Bradley Carnell as the first coach of the MLS expansion club St. Louis City SC, which launches in 2023. Reasons: (1) His international experience as a player; (2) his familiarity of the MLS after spending five years as an assistant and interim coach for the New York Red Bulls; (3) his mentorship under the respected Ralf Rangnick, who took over as manager of Manchester United earlier this season; (4) personal and stylistic compatibility with St. Louis sporting director Lutz Pfannenstiel. The qualifications are strong.

3) I also like the idea of St. Louis City having a young coach who believes in an aggressive, pressing, entertaining style of play. Speed. Daring. Goals that pop from a fast-paced transition game. Gegenpressing in The Lou, passed down the generational line by the esteemed Rangick. This is how Pfannenstiel wants the game to be played, and it’s always a plus when the coach and club director are on the same philosophical wavelength.

4) I like this as well: Pfannenstiel and Carnell believe this style of soccer will establish an instant networking connection with the vast St. Louis soccer family. STL synergy. As Brian Straus wrote at Sports Illustrated: “Part of that identity will revolve around mining the area’s legendary youth soccer riches and introducing youth players to the club’s tactics … There is already is a meeting of minds concerning what those (St. Louis City) players and coaches will offer, and it stems from years steeped in similar soccer traditions.”

5) Ah, but what about hiring a celebrity coach to create buzz? Pfannenstiel had no interest in doing the easy and predictable thing. For instance – and this is just my opinion – thanks but no thanks on a coach like Bob Bradley.

“I don’t believe in signing marketing names to make us better. I believe in a structure—a way of playing—and a philosophy,” he told Straus of Sports Illustrated. “I want to have a long-lasting success story. I want to have a club where we have a long-term plan in place. … We want to stand for an identity, for a style. Big names are not necessary for that.”

6) Outstanding. St. Louis is a living soccer museum with a rich history and love for the beautiful game. Gimmicks aren’t necessary. It is an intelligent soccer town with fans that will enjoy watching a young coach grow as he nurtured the development of a new team. Our team. Welcome to the family, Bradley Carnell.

7) Welcome back Brayden Schenn. He’s played in only 19 games this season, but in those 19 tilts the Blues have outscored the other side 22-14 with Schenn on the ice.

8) Our Town’s Bradley Beal made headlines by finally getting vaccinated after two bouts with COVID. He was scratched from the U.S. Olympic team, then missed regular–season time with his Washington Wizards. Beal cited his father’s poor health as his motivation for agreeing to be vaccinated. “I’m more concerned about my father and my family,” Beal told reporters. “The last thing I want to do is see him in the hospital on a table. If that helps, then I’ll do it. But I still have a lot of questions and concerns about it (vaccinations) for sure.”

Beal didn’t mention this part: he wouldn’t have been allowed to play in home games once the Mayor Muriel E. Bowser’s vaccination mandate went into effect in Washington D.C. starting Jan. 15. Without his vaccination, Beal would be barred from playing at the team’s home arena.

Washington Post columnist Candace Buckner praised Beal for doing what he needed to do: “This is the bare minimum, and yet still there are too many people with outsize platforms who would rather complain about the consequences of their words and actions instead of accepting that leadership comes with accountability,” she wrote.

9) Why do so many sports fans claim to be bored in advance by Monday’s college football championship game bout between SEC bullies Alabama and Georgia? Probably this: including the upcoming game on Monday night, five of the last seven national-title games have featured three matchups pitting Alabama and Clemson and two matchups between ‘Bama and Georgia. Or maybe it’s because this will be the sixth championship-game appearance in the last seven seasons for Alabama and coach Nick Saban.

10) Let’s just say the Cardinals had a center fielder who plays Gold Glove defense and has performed 16 percent above league average offensively over the last two seasons. A center fielder who leads the NL with 31 defensive runs saved over the last three seasons. A center fielder who last season led the NL in 15 defensive runs saved at his position – and who also ranked third at his position in homers and slugging percentage and was fourth in OPS among the 12 players that appeared in at least 100 games in center field. Wouldn’t it be nice to have a guy like that? Yes, it sure would. And the Cardinals do have that fellow. Name is Harrison Bader. Can we be happy about this, or are you one of the peoples who wants Joc Pederson in center instead? FYI, Joc has cost his teams 19 runs with lousy defense in center over the last four years.

11) You’re probably aware of this, but for those who don’t know: The 2022 Winter Classic broadcast by TNT on New Year’s Day became the most-watched regular-season game on cable in NHL history. The Blues’ 6-4 win over the Minnesota Wild attracted 1.4 million viewers. It was the most-watched NHL game of the season to date – be it cable, or standard network.

12) The Athletic advanced-metrics analyst Dom Luszczyszyn, who loves trolling Blues fans, is beginning to take the Blues seriously. This is part of what Luszczyszyn wrote about the Blues in a piece that appeared on The Athletic site on Wednesday:

“One reason to be extremely optimistic about the Blues is the team’s forward depth. When fully healthy, few teams have a scarier top nine, one that’s projected to be worth 15.9 wins. That may only rank 12th league-wide, but that’s due to some other teams being carried by superstars, creating a top-heavy lineup. From one to nine, the Blues have some real skill on their roster. It might not quite be superstar caliber, but they have arguably six top-line caliber players and that’s something they share with only three other teams: Colorado, Florida and Minnesota.”

13) Luszczyszyn mentioned a few issues and problems, including the play of center Ryan O’Reilly and defenseman Colton Parayko. He also cited the team’s below-average expected goals rate – which is something I’ve written and talked about. The Blues continue to outperform their metrics. Can they sustain that? It’s a legitimate question. Dom wrote a fair and thoughtful piece on the Blues.

14) Our Town’s Jameson Williams has moved up to No. 6 on Todd McShay’s list of top NFL Draft prospects at ESPN. The Alabama wide receiver (and Cardinal Ritter alum) has emerged as a star this season, and his NFL future appears bright.

“Williams is a big-play threat with elite speed and shiftiness as a ball carrier,” McShay wrote. “When he plucks on the run, he accelerates away from defenders. Williams is still working through the nuances of route running, and he can occasionally be a body catcher, but he tracks and adjusts well to balls in the air.”

15) The last five quarterbacks to win the college football championship were Deshaun Watson, Tua Tagovailoa, Trevor Lawrence, Joe Burrow and Mac Jones. If you believe that Georgia will defeat Alabama on Monday to avenge ‘Bama’s victory in the SEC championship game this season, then you also believe that Dawgs quarterback Stetson Bennett IV will defeat Alabama’s Heisman Trophy winning quarterback Bryce Jones. That didn’t happen – not even close – in the SEC showdown, which Alabama won by 24 points. So why do we think it will happen in the rematch? The money is coming in on Georgia, a 3-point favorite as I write this on Wednesday afternoon.

16) If Jim Harbaugh really does leave Michigan for an NFL job, please let it be the Chicago Bears.

17) Hello, is this the police? I have reason to believe that commissioner Rob Manfred and the MLB owners are trying to kill baseball. Can you stop these people, or should I call the FBI?

18) I like the bleeding-heart peoples who keep telling us that Antonio Brown needs help. Virtue signaling at its finest. Brown is promoting his new rap album. There’s apparently a Netflix documentary about Brown on the way. Now that he’s all but crushed his own NFL career, the tumultuous NFL wide receiver is a performance artist.

19) Well, Brown does need help – with publicity. And he’s getting plenty of free pub after stripping above the waist, jumping up and down in the end zone, and quitting on his team (Tampa Bay) in the second half of Sunday’s game at the NY Jets. Oh, and by the way … I think Brown’s No. 1 fan and enabler, Tom Brady has learned that it’s tough to be a team’s general manager and coach and run the show. That’s among the reasons why Bill Belichick was so valuable to Brady in New England. Belichick and the Patriots wasted no time in dumping Brown a couple of years ago, before the diva wide receiver’s looney-tunes routine imploded.

20) If anyone needs help, it’s Rob Manfred.

21) Hey, Bill DeWitt Jr. – how about an intervention? Don’t be a part of the problem Bill. Be part of the solution.

22) Fontella Bass. “Rescue Me.” The song never gets old. And I need to be rescued from the post-holiday blahs.

23) Granted, the defensive pairing of Colton Parayko and Niko Mikkola passes the so-called eye test, and they are getting better while working together, but let’s calm down a bit. The Blues have been outscored at five-on-five, and at all strengths, when the Parayko-Mikkola pairing has been on the ice this season.

BTW, I gotta bring back The Calm Down List.

24) As of 2 p.m. Wednesday, retired Cardinals third baseman Scott Rolen had a voting percentage of 72.3% on the 137 ballots shared with the Baseball Hall of Fame Vote Tracker. Rolen (and all other candidates) must be approved on 75% of the ballots to gain induction into Cooperstown. Roger Clemens, Barry Bonds and David Ortiz are tracking very well, each running above 75%. Two things on that (1) Only 35 percent of the distributed ballots have been shared with The Tracker, so the in-progress totals can be misleading. (2) A year ago, Bonds and Clemens did much better on the publicly-shared ballots – and not nearly as well on all other ballots. They came up short in the voting. This is the final year of eligibility for Clemens and Bonds on the Baseball Writers Association of America ballot. It isn’t looking good for Curt Schilling, either.

25) The Pittsburgh Penguins have won eight consecutive games and are 13-2-1 since Nov. 18. During that 16-game stretch the Pens have outscored opponents 56-30. How do the Blues stop them?

“Keep playing the same way,” Blues forward Oskar Sundqvist said Wednesday in a video conference after the morning skate in Pittsburgh. “I think we’ve been playing our game the last couple of games and that’s what made us successful … To be able to beat them, we need to play our game again. We need to be physical on them and play to our strengths. That’s when we are successful. I think everyone understands that now. We just need to keep doing the same thing.”

Thanks for reading …


Bernie invites you to listen to his opinionated sports-talk show on 590-AM The Fan, KFNS. It airs Monday through Thursday from 3-6 p.m. and Friday from 4-6 p.m. You can listen by streaming online or by downloading the “Bernie Show” podcast at — the 590 app works great and is available in your preferred app store.

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