Saturday, November 25, 2017

(11-25-17) Wild-Blues Gameday Lineup

ST. LOUIS -- Sammy Blais will play on Saturday when the Blues (16-6-1) host the Minnesota Wild (11-8-3) in the second of back-to-back games for both teams.

Blais, who has an assist in four NHL games this season, will replace Magnus Paajarvi, the Game 5 hero of last spring's first round postseason series with the Wild who coach Mike Yeo said took a puck off the foot in a 2-0 loss to the Nashville Predators on Friday.

"He took a puck off the foot, but we expect him to be fine," Yeo said of Paajarvi. 

Blais, who had a really strong training camp, made his NHL debut on Oct. 14 against the Tampa Bay Lightning and will be inserted onto a line -- initially -- with Oskar Sundqvist and Dmitrij Jaskin

Blais was recalled from the San Antonio Rampage of the American Hockey League on Thursday.

"We didn't have a plan," Yeo said of when Blais would play. "We wanted to make sure he was here in case we felt that somebody needed to come out or if somebody needed to come out based on injury and so obviously we made that decision.

"We talked about it after the game [Friday] and felt that it would be a good time to get him in."

The knack on Blais, though, has been his play away from the puck and Yeo wants him to be more predictable to his linemates.

"That's what's preventing him from being an every day player," Yeo said. "It doesn't mean that it's not going to happen. He's got life-long habits that need to be changed. We want to see his creativity, we want to see his instincts with the puck, but our success this year is because we play as a five-man unit. We've got to make sure that guys are fitting into that. We're also just not going to bury him if he makes a mistake. We want to make sure that we keep developing him in the right way. We don't want him to be a good player, we want him to be a great player."

As for Blais' other elements and if they've gotten better with time?

"It's tough to say," Yeo said. "Obviously, they're going to have a different system down there (in San Antonio). What we talked about with him is we know what he can do offensively. He's a guy that can make plays, he's a guy that be sneaky-competitive, can win battles, moves his feet and execute and either shoot pucks or create shots by his passing ability. What he needs to do is his play without the puck. He has to be easier to read off of from his teammates. If you're not making the players on the ice that you're playing with better, if it's too difficult for them to know where you're going, then obviously there's a lot of times when you're in between and in between is death in this league. That's what we've been talking to him about and that's what we're hoping to see some improvement and talking with him and talking to people that have been watching him, then yes, he's definitely had a strong focus there."

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Yeo had one distinct takeaway after Friday night's loss.

"Our execution was very poor all night," he said. "That's a team that they've got guys that defend hard and heavy down low and I thought we as opposed to fighting through that hard checking style, we skated away from it, and when you do that, you end up either high in the zone or on the outside. We had odd-man rushes where we had a chance to shoot the puck and we're missing the net. We have an odd-man rush where we have a chance to make a pass and we're putting it in somebody's feet and odd-man rushes where you just end up flat-out just losing the puck. We've got to be sharper there."

One particular area is a porous power play that's been inconsistent all season and ranks 27th in the NHL at 16 percent. It was 0-for-3 on Friday with two shots and little momentum generated.

Since scoring two power-play goals against the Calgary Flames on Oct. 25, the Blues are 5-for-38 in the past 13 games.

So what would Yeo like to see?

"Goals," he said. "Obviously momentum, that's the biggest thing. Our breakouts and our entries, just way to slow and I think that our in-zone matched that, too."

Nashville played a diamond formation near the blue line and made life miserable for the Blues, who didn't help themselves with poor execution.

"I think teams always want to try to stack the line and prevent clean entries, but if you're making right decisions at the line, if you have speed, then there's no defense for that," Yeo said. "You're either going to gain with possession or you're going to have to put it in, but with that speed, you're going to be able to get it back. I think that we were just too slow and that's just too easy to defend."

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Blues goaltender Jake Allen, who will start Saturday, will face the Wild for the first time since the Western Conference First Round series last season, won by the Blues in five games. Allen was 4-1 with a 1.48 goals-against average and .956 save percentage.

The Blues will have to be mindful of Wild left wing Nino Niederreiter, who has scored in six straight games and has seven in all during the streak.

Blues center Brayden Schenn saw his career-best eight-game point streak stopped but still has 19 points (seven goals, 12 assists) the past nine games.

Blues defenseman Carl Gunnarsson will be a healthy scratch for the third straight game.

The Blues are 18-2 in the previous 20 games in the second of back-to-back games, including 11 wins in a row.

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The Blues' projected lineup:

Vladimir Sobotka-Paul Stastny-Alexander Steen

Jaden Schwartz-Brayden Schenn-Vladimir Tarasenko

Dmitrij Jaskin-Oskar Sundqvist-Sammy Blais

Scottie Upshall-Kyle Brodziak-Chris Thorburn

Joel Edmundson-Alex Pietrangelo

Jay Bouwmeester-Colton Parayko

Vince Dunn-Robert Bortuzzo

Jake Allen will start in goal; Carter Hutton will be the backup.

Healthy scratches include Carl Gunnarsson and Nate Prosser. Patrik Berglund (shoulder) is day-to-day, Zach Sanford (shoulder) is out indefinitely, Magnus Paajarvi (foot) is day-to-day and Robby Fabbri (knee) is out for the season.

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The Wild's projected lineup:

Jason Zucker-Eric Staal-Charlie Coyle

Nino Niederreiter-Mikko Koivu-Mikael Granlund

Daniel Winnik-Zack Mitchell-Chris Stewart

Marcus Foligno-Matt Cullen-Tyler Ennis

Ryan Suter-Jared Spurgeon

Jonas Brodin-Matt Dumba

Kyle Quincey-Gustav Olofsson

Devan Dubnyk will start in goal; Alex Stalock will be the backup.

The healthy scratch is Mike Reilly. Zach Parise (back) is out indefinitely.

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