Wednesday, October 25, 2017

(10-25-17) Flames-Blues Gameday Lineup

ST. LOUIS -- A pair of Blues will make their team debuts on Wednesday against the Calgary Flames (7 p.m.; FS-MW, KMOX 1120-AM).

Defenseman Nate Prosser and right wing Beau Bennett will dress for the Blues (6-2-1) when they begin a stretch of seven of the next nine games on home ice and 12 of the next 17.

Prosser, who the Blues signed a two-year, two way contract on Aug. 2, is the lone defenseman yet to make an appearance this season but will do so tonight replacing Carl Gunnarsson, who welcomed a child into the world along with his wife on Wednesday morning.

"I'm really excited about it," Prosser said. "It makes me feel a little bit more part of the group. I'm ready to get after it. ... It doesn't matter who my d-partner is. I've got to make sure I'm ready at the drop of the puck.

"Nothing like a little Red Bull to activate too. I'm ready to go."

Prosser has seven goals and 31 assists in 282 regular-season games and has paid his dues practicing and being a good teammate.

"We've been kind of looking for an opportunity and hoping to get an opportunity, but the group of defensemen that have been playing have been doing a really nice job," Blues coach Mike Yeo said of Prosser. "We didn't want to mess with that. Typically, you'd like to try and get a guy in a little earlier; he's had to sit around here for a little while, he's had a good camp. Nate knows his game, we know his game. He's a veteran guy and he's a competitive guy. I don't think it'll take him long to get going here.

"I knew him and he does what he does. He's a competitor, he's a defender. You look back at preseason, he'll surprise you from time-to-time with some of the plays that he'll make with the puck in springing a guy in Dallas for the breakaway and getting involved in a couple plays offensively, but his bread-and-butter and his game is his competitive nature and his defensive game."

Prosser feels like fitting into the Blues' defensive scheme won't be an issue because of his prior history with Yeo in Minnesota.

"I've played under Mike for a lot of years. I know his systems like the back of my hand," Prosser said. "I'm not nervous about that at all. I've just got to make sure I'm mentally and physically ready to go my first few shifts and kind of get into the game and make sure I'm ready to go."

Teammates are happy to see Prosser get in.

"I think he's just pretty anxious to get out there," defenseman Vince Dunn said. "He's always been a great guy to me and he's always been a great face to see around the room. He's always a good good kind of vibe in the room. He's done a great job being a good support guy. He's waiting for his opportunity to get in and he's obviously put in his work in practice here and he's obviously proven himself in years before."

As for Bennett, who the Blues signed to a one-year, one-way contract on July 1, he was recalled from the Chicago Wolves of the American Hockey League on Monday after the team re-assigned Ivan Barbashev to the Wolves and Sammy Blais to the San Antonio Rampage.

Bennett had a goal and two assists in five games with the Wolves.

"Even though it's my sixth year, it almost feels like I'm a rookie again," Bennett said. "Just come in, a little bit of nerves and a new year. Just do the things that's made me successful in the past, which is controlling the puck and making smart plays. Just being a little more aggressive than I was in camp. It wasn't the best camp.

"I'm just trying to come in and fit in in that regard. I mean, 6-2-1, they're doing pretty good regardless. I'm just trying to be one of the guys and contribute."

Bennett had a tough start to his Blues career when he was cut in camp.

"That was my first time on waivers," Bennett said. "It stung me at the time, but at the same time, I wanted to play a ton. I went down there (to Chicago) and was playing 20 minutes a night and played a new position, center. I had a great time and the coaching staff was awesome. ... We practiced a ton. We only played five games, so we practiced a ton down there."

But when Bennett, a natural winger, went down at the time, he got to venture into a new position.

"I honestly have never played center in my life," he said. "It was fun through. Just to get a little new spark in the game and coming to the rink and not knowing where to be sometimes on the ice. It was kind of a learning curve like that. I watched a lot of video and I felt I got better as the first five games went on."

Bennett was the talk of camp when he arrived, he had rented a Chrysler Pacifica to move him around town. He was on the joke end of teammates at the time, but has since switched over to a different vehicle.

"I traded it in for a Nissan Rogue," Bennett joked. "It's good. I've got to figure out my car situation. The Nissan Rogue's not cutting it."

- - -

Much talk has been about the Blues' lack of secondary scoring from their forwards. But when the Blues lead the NHL in goals from their defensemen with 10, it offsets some of that chatter and supports the theory that secondary scoring is there.

The Blues have played six defensemen this season, and all of them have at least one goal, with Alex Pietrangelo leading the way with three. His 11 points is tied for the NHL lead (Mike Green of Detroit and Shayne Gostisbehere of Philadelphia) among blue liners.

"First off, I think it always has to start with your structure," Yeo said. "When you're playing good structure, it gives you an opportunity to counter-attack quickly and catch the other teams out of position. I think a lot of the heavy lifting has to be done by the forwards. If your forwards can have clean entries, if they can have possession time in the offensive zone, that's going to open time and space for your defensemen. And then obviously for us, I think it's just sort of a mindset as much as anything else. When we have an opportunity to attack, you know that those opportunities, they don't last long. The way that teams track back, the way that teams get back to their zone with five guys in the picture, so when you have the slight opportunity, you have to take advantage of it quickly."

The Blues don't necessarily look at it as secondary scoring but more so as getting contributions from everywhere on the ice. 

"It's not something we have a huge focus on, but when we can contribute and support the rush, we're going to do that, but guys like 'Petro,' they're going to be contributing and 'Pary' (Colton Parayko)," defenseman Robert Bortuzzo said. "All of us have the ability to make plays when it's there. I wouldn't say that we're all looking to be that option for secondary scoring. We're chipping in right now and it's nice.

"The forwards do a big job, too. They're a part of it. When they're making plays down low, they're getting pucks to us. They protect the puck well in the offensive zone and they make it easier on you as a d-man."

But make no mistake about it: when the Blues' d-men can join the rush and do so aggressively, they will.

"From top to bottom, we just play as a team," Dunn, who had two goals, said. "I think the points can come from anywhere at any second. I think maybe that's it. We're all really accountable. We're close in the locker room. We're not going to try to do too much out there to (upset someone). We're just a strong team top to bottom and we're all so accountable that the points can come from anywhere.

"We want to press hard and we want to be as aggressive as we can. Try to contribute in the offensive zone as much as we can, making sure we're getting shots through and what not. Obviously we want to get the puck in the forwards' hands as quick as possible. I think that's when we're at our best, when we're playing really strong from fast north."

Now that Prosser joins the lineup tonight, the onus is on him to make it a perfect 7-for-7 in blue liners scoring.

"Possibly. You never know," Prosser said. "I felt good my preseason games. I felt like I was getting some good shots on net. My game's more making sure I'm making good, solid, simple plays, getting it into the forwards' hands and getting that puck north. When offense does present itself, I've got to make sure my shots are ready to get to the net."

- - -

The Blues made a lineup tweak late in a 3-2 overtime loss to Vegas on Saturday, moving Vladimir Tarasenko to a line with Brayden Schenn and Jaden Schwartz and playing Vladimir Sobotka with Paul Stastny and Alexander Steen.

Yeo mentioned how the Schenn line was able to produce a goal in Tampa late in that game and how it helped set up Pietrangelo's game-tying goal against the Golden Knights.

Yeo won't commit to the changes beyond tonight but will play them this way against the Flames.

"We definitely don't have any plans beyond tonight," Yeo said. "But that was an adjustment that we made in Las Vegas and 'Vladi,' 'Schwartzy' and 'Schenner' set up that 'Petro' goal. It's something that we adjusted to late in the game in Tampa, they got us a goal late in the game and last game, they got us a goal. We'll make the switch. I thought that 'Sobe' looked  good. We thought that line had us a goal, but it didn't count, so we'll leave it at that. We kind of like the makeup of that. We'll see some more switches as we go along here, but this gives us a chance here coming home tonight to spot in that 'Schenner,' 'Schwartzy,' 'Vladi' line kind of where we choose where we see fit. Stas' line obviously has the ability to create offense for us, but that should be a real good line to play against. 'Sobe's a real good checker, 'Steener's a good checker as is 'Stas.' We need those guys to create offense, but they'll be hard to play against, too."

- - -

Schwartz has a four-game point streak (four goals, two assists) and leads the Blues with 13 in nine games; he's on pace for 118 on the season, which would shatter his career-high of 63 set in 2014-15.

Tarasenko has five points (two goals, three assists) the past five games.

Pietrangelo has three points (one goal, two assists) the past two games.

Flames goalie Eddie Lack will make his first start of the season; he is 6-0-0 with a 1.63 goals-against average and .938 save percentage in six starts against the Blues.

- - -

The Blues' projected lineup:

Vladimir Sobotka-Paul Stastny-Alexander Steen

Jaden Schwartz-Brayden Schenn-Vladimir Tarasenko

Magnus Paajarvi-Oskar Sundqvist-Beau Bennett

Scottie Upshall-Kyle Brodziak-Chris Thoburn

Joel Edmundson-Alex Pietrangelo

Nate Prosser-Colton Parayko

Vince Dunn-Robert Bortuzzo

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

Healthy scratches include Carl Gunnarsson and Dmitrij Jaskin. Jay Bouwmeester (ankle), Patrik Berglund (shoulder) and Zach Sanford (shoulder) are out. Robby Fabbri (knee) is out for the season.

- - -

The Flames' projected lineup:

Johnny Gaudreau-Sean Monahan-Micheal Ferland

Matthew Tkachuk-Mikael Backlund-Michael Frolik

Kris Versteeg-Matt Stajan-Troy Brouwer

Sam Bennett-Mark Jankowski-Curtis Lazar

Mark Giordano-Dougie Hamilton

TJ Brodie-Travis Hamonic

Brett Kulak-Michael Stone

Eddie Lack will start in goal; Mike Smith will be the backup. 

Healthy scratches include Matt Bartkowski, Tanner Glass and Freddie Hamilton. Jaromir Jagr (lower body) is out.

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