ST. LOUIS -- The Blues are getting healthier, and just in the right time.
Two games after getting David Perron (concussion) back after missing 24 games, the Blues (37-27-8), who begin a four-game homestand against the Edmonton Oilers (32-33-7) at 7 p.m. today (FS-MW, KMOX 1120-AM), welcome Vladimir Tarasenko back after their leading goal scorer missed five games with an upper-body injury.
The Blues, who went 1-2-2 without Tarasenko in the lineup, are getting their weapons back with 10 games remaining and fighting to keep hold of third place in the Central Division (two points ahead of Dallas) and still trying to hunt down Nashville (five back with a game in hand), getting 58 points (28 goals, 30 assists) is a shot in the arm.
"Great news, he'll be in tonight," Blues interim coach Craig Berube said of Tarasenko. "That's great news for us. He's fine. He obviously never had a lot of practice time. He looks fine. He'll be alright.
"We're getting to where we got a full lineup, getting close anyhow. Not quite there yet, but it's nice to get these guys back from injury for sure."
The only guys missing from the lineup are defensemen Joel Edmundson (lower body) and Carl Gunnarsson (upper body) and forward Sammy Blais (lower body), who is still wearing a walking boot on his left foot.
"They're all making progress," Berube said. "I thought Gunnarsson had a good day today and so did Edmundson. They're coming along nice, which is good.
"[Edmundson] skated yesterday and today, rehab skates."
Tarasenko will rejoin Ryan O'Reilly and Brayden Schenn, one of the hottest lines going in the game.
When the three have played together the past 13 games, they have combined for 56 points (21 goals, 35 assists), an average of 4.3 points per game.
Tarasenko leads the way with 24 points (11 goals, 13 assists), Schenn comes in at 17 points (three goals, 14 assists) and O'Reilly has 15 points (seven goals, eight assists).
"It's very exciting," O'Reilly said. "Obviously we've had some good success together. We know when we play the right way how effective we can be. To get healthy, to get Vladi back, that gives us a big spark. When we're doing things the right way, we're leading the charge and we're hoping every line follows. That's big, that's big for our team. We want to go out there and play a hard, heavy game."
Berube had no issues reuniting them.
"They were so good before," he said. "Injuries happened to both of those guys, so we're hoping that continues. They were a dynamic line, I'll tell you that. They've put up a lot of good numbers and all-around play was excellent. It's great for us that they're back together here playing. Hopefully they can continue where they left off."
What it did was slide Perron, who is on a personal career-best 15-game point streak (seven goals, 11 assists), to a line with Jaden Schwartz and Oskar Sundqvist.
"Good offensive zone time for sure," Berube said of the newly-formed line. "I think that's three guys that can hang onto the puck in the offensive zone. Sunny's proven this year that he's capable of producing offense. He's got pretty good stats and obviously very good defensively too. It's a very good all-around line that you can use anywhere.
"It's been a pleasant surprise coming in this year and [Sundqvist] elevating his game and providing that offensive side of things. We all knew he was a good checker and a good penalty killer and things like that, smart player and good stick, but the offensive stuff was new for sure and he's proven this year that he can provide it."
Berube didn't want to mess with the chemistry of Tyler Bozak centering Pat Maroon and Robert Thomas.
"They've been playing really well," Berube said. "They've given us good games throughout the season. We moved them around a little bit and stuff, but every time we put them back together, they seem to produce. They've got good chemistry together. I thought they played well in Pitt and Buffalo, both games."
Maroon has goals in back-to-back games and three of the past five. He looks refreshed and like that back injury and whatever lingered from past off-season is a thing of the past.
"Just being harder around the net, taking the puck to the net more, things like that," Berube said of Maroon's game. "That's where he scores his goals and produces around the net. I just think he's doing a better job of being in front of the goalie and staying there, being more patient and also bringing the puck to the net himself a little bit more."
To walk into the room and see the board and the names on it spread out and to see it on the ice had to be a sight for sore eyes.
"Looking at the board this morning, it's good," O'Reilly said. "It's a dangerous board. We've got a lot of firepower and that's what it's going to take. Obviously we want to go far, we want to get into the playoffs and be in a good spot. We need everyone going right now. We've got the depth. We show up and work hard, we're going to be in a good place.
"I think it's huge. We have some key games coming down the stretch here and if we can get healthy, it's good. It obviously helps our team dramatically being healthy and having these guys back in our lineup. We need these points; we need them bad. ... These are key games coming down. Teams are nipping at our heels. These are big points we need. To get healthy is a huge advantage. We've got a great team, got a lot of depth. The more consistent we can be with our game, it's going to be huge for us."
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Perron returned against Pittsburgh and had an assist before scoring the Blues' second goal, a big goal in the second period, Sunday to help the Blues get a point in a 4-3 shootout loss against the Sabres.
"The first period, I felt pretty good right away, but my lungs were a little tired," Perron said. "Then I kind of settled in there. My game's going to never be about speed, so if you guys are looking for that, you're probably mistaken. It's about poise, it's about patience, it's about making plays. and being strong on the puck. I felt like I was doing that. The next day was a little bit tougher. The first back-to-back, I think I made some plays. I had a good amount of shots against Buffalo, but you'd like to have a couple more of those back and maybe put one more in the net when you lose a game. But I felt like even practicing the power play this morning, that's huge for me. I haven't played power play in 24 games. ... This morning, I felt a lot sharper."
"I think there's improvement still for sure," Berube said of Perron. "You can ask him that and he'll tell you the same thing. That's not easy to come back, but he's a good player. He finds ways to get open in the offensive zone and get that shot off. He hangs onto the puck very well down there. He's going to get to another level yet."
-- (I'll have more on Perron and battling another concussion in another piece) --
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The Blues are playing two more games (tonight against the Oilers and Thursday against Detroit) against teams that are on the outside looking in. When asked what does he need to see from his team when preparing for those opponents, Berube wasn't messing around.
"Wins," he said.
"I'm not inside every guy's head, but you've got to prepare for every game," Berube added. "This league is so good and every team is so good. I know teams that aren't in the playoffs, but they're dangerous and they're good teams. We're playing one tonight. They've got two of the best players in the National Hockey League on their team. When you're playing a team, you've got to prepare the same way. It doesn't matter who you're playing, and that's just preparation."
The Blues seem to get revved up playing the upper echelon teams.
"Probably, but you've got to find ways to get yourself motivated top play every team," Berube said. "You want to be a real good team in this league, that's what you need to do."
The Blues will close with a stretch of seven of 10 at home, and it's been better of late (7-2-0 the past nine), but the Blues need to make Enterprise Center a tough building to play in.
"We don't want to get too ahead of ourselves," O'Reilly said. "It's taking it one game at a time, but it's getting back. Obviously Buffalo, we didn't play a great game. We're disappointed with that, but coming back home, it's a great opportunity for us to get back up and gain some ground again. This is a building we struggled with in the beginning of the year but have found our way, but now it's time to prove our point that we're a legit team and we have to make this a tough building to play in."
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The Blues' projected lineup:
Brayden Schenn-Ryan O'Reilly-Vladimir Tarasenko
Jaden Schwartz-Oskar Sundqvist-David Perron
Zach Sanford-Ivan Barbashev-Alexander Steen
Vince Dunn-Alex Pietrangelo
Jay Bouwmeester-Colton Parayko
Michael Del Zotto-Robert Bortuzzo
Jordan Binnington will start in goal; Jake Allen will be the backup.
Healthy scratches include Robby Fabbri and Mackenzie MacEachern. Carl Gunnarsson (upper body), Joel Edmundson (lower body) and Sammy Blais (lower body) are out.
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The Oilers' projected lineup:
Leon Draisaitl-Connor McDavid-Zack Kassian
Jujhar Khaira-Ryan Nugent-Hopkins-Sam Gagner
Joseph Gambardella-Colby Cave-Alex Chiasson
Milan Lucic-Kyle Brodziak-Ty Rattie
Oscar Klefbom-Adam Larsson
Darnell Nurse-Kris Russell
Andrej Sekera-Matt Benning
Mikko Koskinen will start in goal; Anthony Stolarz will be the backup.
Healthy scratches include Josh Currie, Alexander Petrovic, Kevin Gravel, Brad Malone and Tobias Rieder. Jesse Puljujarvi (lower body) is out.