Wednesday, December 27, 2017

(12-27-17) Predators-Blues Gameday Lineup

ST. LOUIS -- The Blues are back from their Christmas hiatus and begin another tough stretch of three games in four nights with first place in the Central Division on the line against the Nashville Predators (7 p.m.; FS-MW, KMOX 1120-AM).

The Blues are one of two teams (Arizona) to have played 38 games this season with a front-heavy schedule that included 11 games in 19 days leading into the three-day Christmas holiday.

So the break couldn't have come at a better time for a number of guys dinged and nicked up, including captain Alex Pietrangelo.

"It couldn't have come at a better time," Pietrangelo said. "The schedule comes down. We have three in four right now but after this weekend, we take a pretty good month here, bye week, all-star break just to kind of regroup and re-energize. These days couldn't have come at a better time.

"You don't realize until you take those days off how much you need it, but for us, the mental break, that's a lot of hockey. It's a good chance, especially with that long (western Canadian) trip being in Canada. That's a long time being away from your family leading up to the holidays but it's nice to get back."

Said defenseman Colton Parayko, who spent Christmas in Alberta: "We were playing quite a few games there. Not that we weren't on top, but I think that it came at a good time for us. Kind of take a couple days away and regroup."

It was a chance for not only the players to get away but coaches, too, including Blues coach Mike Yeo.

"It's good for the coaches because it was good for the players," Yeo said. "It was a tough schedule and guys have been putting a lot in for us. I think that not just the travel, but the amount of games that we've been playing. The combination of that and some of the guys we've had out of the lineup, our guys have been competing hard and battling hard. I was happy for them to get a break there.

"I think it's a combination of both (physical and mental) to be honest with you. When you played as many games as we did in that busy of a stretch and it becomes a grind. We had to get through it and now we're looking to get moving in the next part of the season. ... You know it was a good break because you were excited to get back to the rink and get going."

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The Blues (23-13-2) are one point ahead of the Predators (21-9-5), who have three games in hand. The Blues, Predators and Winnipeg Jets are separated by just two points atop the Central Division.

Nashville won the only other game between the two teams, 2-0 here in St. Louis on Nov. 24.

"These are the fun games obviously," Parayko said. "A division rival and these games are always tight, they're always played extremely hard. They're games that you can easily get up for on both ends. They're right behind us, I think they have a few games in hand, too. This is one of those games where you want to try and start spreading yourself away from them a little bit. These are technically four-point games."

The Blues were 1-3-0 in Western Canada but feel like they started to get back on track towards the tail end.

"It's a good opportunity for us kind of, too, to get back," Pietrangelo said. "I feel like we've been building our game here the last couple games. A good mental break and a good mental test for us."

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Rookie Tage Thompson, who scored his first NHL goal in Edmonton Dec. 20, gets another crack at playing on a line with veterans Paul Stastny and Alexander Steen.

Thompson has one goal in seven NHL games, including four at the start of the season before he was sent to San Antonio of the American Hockey League.

"My first time here was a little different role," Thompson said. "Going down to San Antonio helped me out a lot. I think just playing a lot and gaining that confidence back helped me out helped me out a lot. And then obviously being stuck with 'Steener' and Stastny is not a bad thing. I think that helps as well."

Thompson didn't factor in on any scoring in his first four games of the season and was a minus-3 but feels it was beneficial for his growth.

"It was a huge," he said. "Obviously that was my goal, coming out of camp to make the team. I think you need a starting point and my starting point was making the team. Now I have bigger goals to try and help contribute offensively. That first stint showed me what I needed to work on down in San Antonio and get better at in order to be a big piece here."

Yeo likes what he's seen and continues to insert Thompson into the lineup.

"I've seen big improvement from him," Yeo said. "I know he didn't factor in on the scoresteet in Vancouver, but for me, that might have been the best game he played. Just maturity-wise, he looked like a pro. He knew what to do in a given situation, how to manage a puck, how to make sure you don't turn a puck over, how to make sure you're on the right side of things. I felt that he made a lot of really good little plays in the course of the game. I think 'Stas' and 'Steener' have done an outstanding job with him. I can see it on the bench. The communication that they have with him, every shift, regardless of what kind of shift it is, they're coming back, they're talking, they're helping him stay engaged in the game and focused on his next shift. That line's played really well for us."

Thompson, who spent Christmas with his family, said the weight was lifted once he got that first NHL goal.

"That was awesome," he said. "It's nice to get the first one out of the way. It kind of relieves some stress a little bit and kind of helps me relax and just go out and play a little more loose. 

"I went home for Christmas break and I got to hang out with (the parents) for a couple days. They saw the goal on TV so they were pretty fired up."

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Defenseman Jay Bouwmeester and forward Sammy Blais are out again tonight, but Yeo is encouraged that both are on the horizon of rejoining the group.

Bouwmeester has an undisclosed injury that has kept him out the past seven games and Blais was injured Dec. 16 against Winnipeg.

"He skated before practice, him and Sammy both skated before practice," Yeo said. "Word that I got was we should expect them to try to practice with us tomorrow, so we'll see how that goes." 

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The Blues announced Wednesday morning that they have signed general manager Doug Armstrong to a four-year extension that includes a club option for a fifth year that runs through the 2022-23 season. 

Armstrong, in his 10th season in St. Louis, joined the Blues as the vice president of player personnel in 2008. He was named the 11th GM in Blues history during the 2010 offseason, replacing Larry Pleau

"We're certainly looking forward to continuing down and bringing the ultimate prize to St. Louis here in the near future. That's the ultimate goal.

"... This is home now. When I came here a number of years ago, I was 16 years in one organization, I'm not looking to change and it's nice to have stability here." 

Armstrong has led the Blues to a 337-185-56 regular season record, the fourth-best in the NHL since the 2010-11 season.

The Blues have reached the Stanley Cup Playoffs in six straight seasons, one of only four Blues teams to accomplish such a feat.

Conversations between Armstrong and owner Tom Stillman began in September in hopes that an extension would be concluded by the end of the year.

"We talkes about setting kind of a timeline in the fall," Stillman said. "We started in on conversations about an extension in early December. It wasn't like I suddenly had an 'Ah-ha' moment somewhere there. We knew this was what we wanted to do and we wanted to have Doug here long-term. There were discussions that go along the way here as part of that process, but it wasn't a Eureka time there. I think I made that clear all along for Doug and the work he's done." 

"On [Dec.] 23rd when we were in Vancouver, Tom called with one final twist for me," Armstrong said. "It was a great phone call to make and to be able to share it with my family over the holiday season was really special for us all."

During Armstrong's tenure, the Blues have either drafted, traded for or signed core players Jake Allen, Patrik Berglund, Parayko, Pietrangelo, Jaden Schwartz, Steen, Vladimir Tarasenko, Stastny, Bouwmeester and most recently, Brayden Schenn, acquired on June 23 from the Philadelphia Flyers. 

Prior to joining the Blues, Armstrong spent 17 years with the Dallas Stars, including his final six as GM. 

Armstrong has served as assistant GM at the 2002 and 2008 World Championships and GM at the 2009 World Championship for Canada and a gold medal as the associate director of player personnel in 2010 and as a member of the management group in 2014 at the Winter Olympics. Most recently, he served as GM of the gold medal-winning team at the 2016 World Cup of Hockey.

More on Armstrong's extension later -- 

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The Blues' projected lineup:

Alexander Steen-Paul Stastny-Tage Thompson

Patrik Berglund-Brayden Schenn-Vladimir Tarasenko

Vladimir Sobotka-Oskar Sundqvist-Magnus Paajarvi

Scottie Upshall-Kyle Brodziak-Dmitrij Jaskin

Joel Edmundson-Alex Pietrangelo 

Carl Gunnarsson-Colton Parayko

Vince Dunn-Robert Bortuzzo

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

Healthy scratches include Chris Thorburn, Jordan Schmaltz and Ivan Barbashev. Jaden Schwartz (ankle), Jay Bouwmeester (undisclosed), Sammy Blais (lower body), Zach Sanford (shoulder) and Robby Fabbri (knee) are out.

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The Predators' projected lineup:

Scott Hartnell-Ryan Johansen-Viktor Arvidsson

Kevin Fiala-Kyle Turris-Craig Smith

Filip Forsberg-Calle Jarnkrok-Pontus Aberg

Nick Bonino-Colton Sissons-Austin Watson

Roman Josi-Mattias Ekholm

Alexei Emelin-P.K. Subban

Yannick Weber-Matt Irwin

Pekka Rinne will start in goal; Juuse Saros will be the backup.

Healthy scratches include Cody McLeod, Miikka Salomaki and Anthony Bitetto. Ryan Ellis (knee) is out.

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