Thursday, January 4, 2018

(1-4-18) Golden Knights-Blues Gameday Lineup

ST. LOUIS -- The Blues are going to stick with the Carter Hutton train.

It's been an impressive one for the Blues' backup goaltender, who will make his third straight start when the Blues (25-15-2) take on the hottest team in the NHL, the Vegas Golden Knights (27-9-2) today at 7 p.m. (FS-MW, KMOX 1120-AM).

Hutton has helped the Blues win two straight games. He's coming off a 3-2 win over Carolina and on Tuesday, helping the Blues to a 3-2 win over New Jersey via shootout.

"I don't think it changes a whole lot," Hutton said. "I've always tried to be pretty confident in what I do and when I get in there, play hard. It's a little different getting some starts in the same week, but it's good. It's playing well and hoping to keep it rolling against a really good hockey team over there."

Hutton leads the NHL in goals-against average (1.70) and save percentage (.944).

"I think I've played pretty well since I've been here," Hutton said. "Not trying to pump my own tires or anything, but I think you look back at the end of last year and this year, I think I've found a lot of consistency here. David [Alexander] has helped me a lot and when Marty came in, he helped me a lot, too. I think me and Jake have a really good relationship, too, and I think working with Jake has helped me a lot too, the way he plays, I've learned a lot from him, too. It's been a good dynamic here for sure."

Blues coach Mike Yeo wants to keep riding the hot hand, and playing against a Vegas team that's win eight in a row and is on a 12-0-1 run shows the utmost respect and confidence going back to Hutton rather than go to Jake Allen, who is 1-6-0 his past six starts.

"I think he's forcing us to put him in," Yeo said of Hutton. "This is about 'Hutts' and the job he's doing, the performance that he's giving us night after night. Right now he's a competitor and he's winning games. He deserves to play again tonight."

Yeo has spoken with Allen, and feels the line of communication and the path the Blues have chosen here currently is fine for all involved.

With back-to-back games in Philadelphia on Saturday and Washington on Sunday, Allen will get one of those games.

"Jake's a competitor, Jake wants the net and wants to play, but again, I think it's pretty hard for anyone to argue that 'Hutts' doesn't deserve to get in again," Yeo said. "... It's just communication. For the majority of the season, 'Hutts' has had to serve as the backup. There's a lot of games where he's played very well and he understands that Jake is going to get back in the net in most cases and Jake is handling it fine right now, too. I don't think he could argue that 'Hutts' doesn't deserve this opportunity, so it's an opportunity for Jake to continue to work in practice and with back-to-back games this weekend, Jake will get back in and I'm sure he'll be ready for that.

"The reason we played Carter last game didn't have anything to do with Jake. It had everything to do with Carter. That message was relayed to Jake that 'Hutts' is playing well and he deserves that opportunity and we'll put him in."

"There's nothing wrong with a little bit of internal pressure and competition," Yeo added. "It's a long year and there's going to be times where one player's up, the next player's down, whatever the case is. There's times where both guys are right on top of it. I think that when we've been at our best this year, we've had internal competition from the forwards, from the defensemen to the goalies, everything. The idea is you have to come to the rink and you have to be on top of your game, your spot or your slot is not just anointed to you, (and) it's not a bad thing. Looking at our group when we've been at our best, it's when we've had probably some extra bodies up front, probably some extra bodies on D. Not that there's necessarily pressure, but there's certainly a reason for players to be coming to the rink and being prepared to be on top of their game."

Teammates feel fortunate that the Blues can turn to two goalies they believe in.

"Each night, we're getting that from each guy," Blues center Brayden Schenn said. "They work so well together, they're close, they battle for one another, they're competitive and making sure they're better. Coming to St. Louis, I've played with Jake a little bit before, but when you play these guys only once or twice a year, you realize how good they actually are. It's not only how good they are, it's all the extra work that they put in. They want to get better and they're doing their off-ice stuff before practice and stuff. That's obviously gone a long way for them. When you see guys work that hard, it only makes you want to follow them."

"They've both been outstanding," Blues defenseman Colton Parayko said. "I'm not sure what our goals-against is, but they've given us a good chance of winning every single night. I know that throughout the last little stretch there, we weren't scoring a lot, but with that being said, they were still giving us a chance to win with one or two goals against. It's impressive. Now it's kind of our turn to flick the switch and turn this around to them because they've put in their effort for us obviously. We've got to start helping them out and putting the puck in the net for them."

- - -

Blues forward Zach Sanford made an appearance on the ice, the first with teammates during an optional morning skate since sustaining a dislocated left shoulder the first day of training camp on Sept. 15.

Sanford was taking part in drills, without contact obviously, and then was put through the gamut of cardio sprints by head athletic trainer Ray Barile.

"Obviously it's a tough break," Sanford said. "Nobody likes to get hurt, but it happens. I think it's been a good process for me recovering. Things have gone really well. ... It's good to get it under my belt early and know how to deal with it and know what to do and what's best for me coming back.

"It's been a while since I touched the ice or anything. To get out there a little bit with 'Otter' [assistant coach Steve Ott] and get out there on the optionals with some of the guys, it's really good. It's like a light at the end of the tunnel. It's kind of the home stretch here. I'm just excited to get back."

Sanford was scheduled to be reevaluated in 5-6 months, which would put him on  timeline from surgery sometime at the end of February to the end of March but didn't want to put a time frame on when he will return.

"I don't know if I could pick a percent," Sanford said. "It's feeling good for where it's at in my recovery and everything. I'm just taking it day by day, kind of stepping it up a little at a time. It's all been good."

The Blues had big plans for Sanford, acquired from the Washington Capitals in the trade on Feb. 27, 2017 that sent Kevin Shattenkirk to the Capitals. Sanford was expected to be in the mix for a top nine role.

"You talk about injuries, he's a guy that I'm disappointed got hurt in training camp," Yeo said. "I had high expectations for him. I believe this kid's going to have a real good future. A real strong player on both sides of the puck, but he's got speed, he's got hands, and he's got a real good hockey sense.

"... We're still a ways away, but when you see steps like that, when you see him clear a hurdle ... it's difficult. I've been in those shoes before when you go through a big injury like that. There's work that needs to be put in, there's the pain he went through, but it's an emotional grind. For him to be able to get back out on the ice, I'm sure he's feeling pretty happy about that."

And having the support of teammates, particularly Patrik Berglund, who just most recently went through the same injury, and Alexander Steen, who went through something similar, is comforting.

"I've talked to 'Bergy,' 'Steener' a lot, those two guys," Sanford said. "Especially 'Bergy' was going through the end of his when I was at the beginning of my surgery and recovery. They've had a lot of good things to say, how to deal with this, how to deal with that. I think that's been a lot of help."

- - -

The Golden Knights have been setting marks at a record pace for a first-year expansion team.

Vegas has the longest winning and point streaks by an NHL team in its inaugural season. Its the longest winning streak by a first-year pro team since the 1976-77 Denver Nuggets of the NBA won eight in a row.

For a group that was picked from an expansion pool, including former Blue David Perron, it's an incredible run the Golden Knights are on.

"I think pretty surreal in a way," Perron said. "Just the way kind of everything came together from the start. It's been unbelievable obviously the whole year. The fan support is extremely crazy right now, probably the best in the league. I'm not joking. The fans are really into it right now, it's crazy. We're really fortunate for that. The success that we've had, we kind of feed off the energy of everybody.

"I don't think we believe ourselves still. I think we're still in the mode that we're going day by day. As long as we keep doing that, we'll have success. If we start thinking that we're too good or something, then it's not going to do any good for us. We've got to make sure we put in the work every night. I think the adversity we went through with all the goalie situations is pretty impressive for us and we've got to keep working hard."

Speaking of Perron, who has nine goals and 22 assists in 32 games, the sting of being left exposed by the Blues is long gone with the way he's been treated in Vegas, the prosperity of the team and the lifestyle he and his family now enjoy.

And now players are more noticeable in the Vegas community.

"It's been like the last six weeks, eight weeks," Perron said. "You go out and everybody recognizes you now. I think with everything that happened, we tried to do our best to heal the community with the shooting that happened. If it wasn't for the fans, it wouldn't be as fun an experience. Obviously winning will bring everyone in, but they've been unbelievable.

"I love it, love it. I didn't expect it to be that way obviously when I got picked, but I'm extremely happy and hopefully it's not for just this year."

As for his love of St. Louis .. 

"I always love it here," Perron said. "It's always fun for sure."

- - -

Vegas coach Gerard Gallant, a lock right now for the coach of the year if voted on today, likes his team's approach every game, and knowing the Golden Knights face another tough challenge tonight, he speaks admirably for the Blues and the ability to overcome the injuries they've sustained to be among the Western Conference's elite.

"A good challenge," Gallant said. "They're a real good hockey team obviously. 'Yeozy' does a good job with them. They play with a lot of confidence and we played them quite a bit earlier in the season in our building and it was a quite a wild game, it was a good hockey game. They're one of the best teams in the National Hockey League and it's going to be a big challenge tonight.

"Every time you come into these games, you're looking at the teams you're playing. They're a real good test and the way they've played all year, they deserve to be near the top. It's a good challenge tonight for both teams."

When the Blues went through their lull in December, mainly a lack of scoring, they feel they're gearing things back the right way.

"I just feel you start to build more confidence together," Parayko said. "You start to feel good and you're playing off your instincts more, not gripping your stick as tight. You're just playing. I think that's the main thing. I think that's kind of the big thing, and you just get the feeling obviously. No one likes to lose and when you lose, it kind of beats you up. When you're on the winning side, it's one of those things you come to the rink and you win. I think we expect to win every night. We have a good team."

What the Blues have been able to maintain all along is their ability to keep pucks out of their own net. They're fourth in the NHL allowing 2.48 goals per game.

"One of the things that we're proud as a group is our goals-against is among the tops in the league," Yeo said. "Obviously we've got two guys that have contributed to that."

- - -

Defenseman Vince Dunn did not skate today again. Yeo said he's still sick and was not at the rink and won't play for a second straight game after being a healthy scratch Tuesday.

- - -

The Blues' projected lineup:

Vladimir Sobotka-Paul Stastny-Tage Thompson

Scottie Upshall-Brayden Schenn-Vladimir Tarasenko

Patrik Berglund-Kyle Brodziak-Alexander Steen

Dmitrij Jaskin-Ivan Barbashev-Magnus Paajarvi

Jay Bouwmeester-Alex Pietrangelo

Joel Edmundson-Colton Parayko

Carl Gunnarsson-Robert Bortuzzo

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

Halthy scratches include Chris Thorburn and Oskar Sundqvist. Jaden Schwartz (ankle), Sammy Blais (lower body), Zach Sanford (shoulder), Vince Dunn (illness) and Robby Fabbri (knee) are out.

- - -

The Golden Knights' projected lineup:

Jonathan Marchessault-William Karlsson-Reilly Smith

David Perron-Erik Haula-James Neal

Brendan Leipsic-Cody Eakin-Alex Tuch

Tomas Nosek-Oscar Lindberg-William Carrier

Brayden McNabb-Nate Schmidt

Shea Theodore-Deryk Engelland

Jon Merrill-Colin Miller

Marc-Andre Fleury will start in goal; Malcolm Subban will be the backup.

Healthy scratches include Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, Brad Hunt and Ryan Carpenter. Oscar Dansk (lower body) and Luca Sbisa (lower body) are out.

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