By LOU KORAC
ST. LOUIS -- Last game, it was Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl. Before that, it was Jack Eichel, and before that Sidney Crosby.
What do they all have in common? Well, two things. They were kept off the scoresheet against the Blues, and chances are they were on the ice getting sealed off against Jay Bouwmeester and Colton Parayko.
When the Blues (38-27-8) host the Detroit Red Wings (26-37-10) at 7 p.m. today (FS-MW, KMOX 1120-AM) looking to get closer to second place in the Central Division and gain separation from the Dallas Stars, chances are that Bouwmeester and Parayko will see a lot of Detroit's top players, including Andreas Athanasiou and Dylan Larkin.
Crosby is fourth in the NHL with 93 points -- zero against the Blues. Eichel leads the Sabres with 73 points -- zero against the Blues. And McDavid, second in the NHL with 105 points and Draisaitl is sixth with 91 -- both held off the scoresheet for the first time since Jan. 19, a span of 24 straight games where either one or the other tallied at least a point for the Oilers.
It's not an easy thing to do, but boy, lining up 6-foot-6, 230-pounds [Parayko] and 6-4, 206 [Bouwmeester] can disrupt an awful lot on the ice.
"They've been great for I don't know how many months now playing together," Blues interim coach Craig Berube said. "We put them out there against a top line almost every night and they do a good job shutting them down.
"They're both really good skaters and they've got big reaches, good sticks. That's a big part of it right there. They're both big guys, with long reaches and they both can skate really well. They have good chemistry together and work well together."
Ask Bouwmeester, who earlier in his Blues career mentored Alex Pietrangelo and was his playing partner, and he said it's inevitable that you will see those players on the ice at some point.
"We don't necessarily match lines like a lot of teams, but you're playing top four minutes, you're going to get those lines," Bouwmeester said. "That's essentially your No. 1 job is to keep those guys' chances to a minimum. You're going to have nights ... those guys are good players, they're going to get their chances. It's more just trying to keep them limited and that sort of thing. It's been going pretty well now for a while.
"For me, my focus has never changed. I've played against a lot of good players for a long time, and that's kind of been the role. When Eddy's healthy, it's four big guys that can move. Essentially, it's our six. It doesn't really matter; we've got six capable guys. It's not like we have just four guys playing all the minutes. Other guys fill them in. You're killing penalties against top players. It's kind of a group effort. Just the way it's lined up, we've played against some top guys, but on the road, you don't get the matches like you do at home. There's lots that goes into it. I think our group as a team, I think we've identified what our game looks like and when we're playing good, it's easier to play defense because you don't give up as many odd-man rushes. Essentially you're not playing as much in your own end. That's probably a bigger revelation than anything since the start of the year, that we're playing better as a team.
"We've had a string of pretty decent games. It's one of those things you don't really want to jinx it or anything like that. [Parayko] skates so good and he's such a big guy that he can play against those guys with speed like McDavid, the Nathan MacKinnons and, Crosbys and those guys. I think that's our game, just have a good gap and use your size and your reach to kind of try to force things by the blue line and not give up things once they get into the zone. It's essential they're going to get chances because they're good players. It's more of you can keep everything to the outside and not give those chances on the inside, that's where those goals are going to come from."
Parayko said it's a matter of getting help on the ice, and with the forwards back-checking the way they do, they get good reads on when to close those gaps.
"It's a five-man unit out there and the goalie," Parayko said. "Especially the forwards do a good job of tracking for us. They made it a lot easier. I can count a couple times in my head just forwards that are intercepting a pass on the backcheck, it's impressive and when you have that, it allows us to keep a tight gap and that just makes it hard on their forwards to generate speed and generate opportunities. Just a good job by our forwards and obviously 'Bouw' is an unbelievable skater and makes it easy on me.
"Obviously when you watch 'Bouw', he's so simple and it makes him so good, as weird as that sounds. The way that he plays makes it so easy on not only me but the forwards. He plays a direct game, he plays a simple game. That's just almost the best game is a game that makes it tough on other teams too to play against and he's been doing it for years. It's fun to watch and it's been fun to play by his size."
Bouwmeester, who has battled a tough hip injury that required surgery last off-season and saw him struggle at the beginning before finally getting healthy and arguably playing the best hockey of his career, sort of laughed at the notion that they can pick up the stat sheet and see zeroes for the opposition's top players.
"Yeah, we can have zeroes next to our names too," Bouwmeester said. "Everybody has their role and takes pride in it and I think everyone in the room recognizes that. Sometimes those jobs with those matchups and killing penalties and that sort of thing is recognized and they're appreciated. Essentially, you know who you're mostly playing against most nights. You don't want them ever to score, but it happens.
"I think that's why me and Petro played together for a long time. It worked right away just because we both skated and both played with a similar mindset. With Colton, it's no different. He's a very similar player. With Petro, he can skate, he can move the puck, defensively. It's just with his size defensively, he can take so much away. He just takes up a lot of space, he's got a really good stick too. He has a knack for knocking down pucks and just getting in lanes and that sort of thing, obviously stops a lot of things before they start. For me, it's fun because I like him. He's a young kid, we're from the same area, there's a lot in common right from the first day he was here. We had things to talk about. That helps too and it helps with the communication. We do communicate well. We'll talk about things that happened on the ice when we get to the bench. He's a smart kid and he's good at parking things if they go bad and just move on. It makes it easy for me."
Parayko averages 22 minutes 42 seconds per game of ice time, while Bouwmeester comes in at 20:33, which is well below his career average of 24:16, but it's made him a much more effective skater, especially down the stretch of a long season.
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Even the best of friends will drop the gloves.
That's what happened Tuesday when former teammates and still friends Pat Maroon of the Blues and Zack Kassian of the Oilers had a heavyweight tilt in the second period of the Blues' 7-2 win.
The Blues were ahead 4-0 at the time, and it smelled of one of those opportunities where the veteran Kassian could pick a time to try and light a fire under his struggling team, particularly after Oilers coach Ken Hitchcock had already made a goalie change.
It was a spirited battle, one in which both threw their share of shots in.
"I talked to him after the game," Maroon said. "We're obviously good friends. We talk every day. We hang out, we hung out a lot in Edmonton. We see each other every summer, we go on vacation with our wives. It is what is. Sometimes, you need to find a way to get the guys going.
"I didn't expect it, but it is what it is. It's over now. No one got hurt, you never want to see your friends get hurt. I'm just glad we won. He's really tough. It's hard to fight lefties. I kind of have to figure out what his strategy is. Obviously he threw heavy. I was just trying to wear him down and see if he can throw and I can throw some. He's a tough guy that fights some heavy boys. I'm just glad no one got hurt. He's a good friend of mine. I'm just glad everyone's OK."
The two had dinner together Monday night, and Kassian said he would reach out to Maroon after the game, which he did.
"Patty's being Patty, stirring the pot out there," Kassian said. "I had dinner with him [Monday] night. It's kind of the way we play. If we're playing against each other, sometimes we're going to butt heads. Trying to get a spark. I know he's a gamer, he's a willing combatant, he's been around for a long time and I respect the hell out of him. It's just the way the game goes sometimes."
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The Blues are going with the same lineup as the one used Tuesday, and that includes Oskar Sundqvist, who left the game with around 6:30 to play after taking a cross-check from behind from Milan Lucic that netted the Edmonton forward a five-minute major and game misconduct.
It also means Mackenzie MacEachern will be a healthy scratch for the second game, and with players returning from injury, there will be players needing to come out of the lineup, and right now, Berube is choosing to play Zach Sanford over MacEachern.
When asked if MacEachern's game has leveled off a bit, Berube said, "A little bit. He's got to get that bite back in his game, forechecking, hitting, being hard on people. He can hunt people down with his skating. So he needs to get back to that."
As for Sanford, it's been an up-and-down adventure, but Berube is keeping a close eye on him.
"He's a smart player," Berube said. "He has very good defensive awareness out there. And he's got a real good stick. He's a good player. He's got a lot of upside to his game. Really good hands.
"I think there's been times when his puck decisions aren't very good. Or he wants to make a play all the time. We need him to just go north a little bit more and make harder plays. I liked that line [Tuesday] night of [Ivan] Barbashev, [Alexander] Steen and Sanford. I thought they were very effective. Did things right. Forechecked hard. And that's what we want 'Sanny' to do, we want him to be a hard forechecking guy, get in there, bang bodies and then use his hands in the offensive zone."
Defensemen Joel Edmundson (lower body) and Carl Gunnarsson (upper body) along with forward Sammy Blais (lower body) all took part in the morning skate but are not ready to play.
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The Blues signed goalie Joel Hofer to a three-year, entry-level contract.
Hofer was drafted in the fourth round of the 2018 NHL Draft.
Hofer, 18, has split this season between the Western Hockey League’s Swift Current Broncos and Portland Winterhawks. In 30 games with the Broncos, Hofer was 6-21-1 with a .904 save percentage. With the Winterhawks, was 9-8-0 with a 3.18 GAA and a .911 save percentage in 18 games.
Hofer began his junior career with Swift Current in 2017-18 and was 8-3-1 record, a 2.61 GAA and a .914 save percentage while helping the Broncos capture the WHL Championship.
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The Blues' projected lineup:
Brayden Schenn-Ryan O'Reilly-Vladimir Tarasenko
Jaden Schwartz-Oskar Sundqvist-David Perron
Pat Maroon-Tyler Bozak-Robert Thomas
Alexander Steen-Ivan Barbashev-Zach Sanford
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. Joel Edmundson (lower body), Carl Gunnarsson (upper body) and Sammy Blais (lower body) are out.
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The Red Wings' projected lineup:
Darren Helm-Dylan Larkin-Anthony Mantha
Tyler Bertuzzi-Andreas Athanasiou-Luke Glendening
Thomas Vanek-Frans Nielsen-Taro Hirose
Christoffer Ehn-Michael Rasmussen-Ryan Kuffner
Danny DeKeyser-Filip Hronek
Niklas Kronwall-Madison Bowey
Brian Lashoff-Luke Witkowski
Jonathan Bernier will start in goal; Jimmy Howard will be the backup.
Libor Sulak (illness) will be scratched after being recalled Wednesday. Trevor Daley (back), Jonathan Ericsson (lower body), Justin Abdelkader (leg), Mike Green (virus) and Jacob de la Rose (accelerated heartbeat) are all out.