Tuesday, March 27, 2018

(3-27-18) Sharks-Blues Gameday Lineup

ST. LOUIS -- The Blues get the chance to be streak busters once again on Tuesday night.

After ending the Columbus Blue Jackets' 10-game winning streak on Saturday with a 2-1 victory, the Blues (42-28-5) get the chance to burst the bubble of the San Jose Sharks (44-23-9), who have won eight straight, when the two teams collide at Scottrade Center (7 p.m.; FS-MW, KMOX 1120-AM).

San Jose (44-23-9), which has beaten the Blues twice this season, including 2-0 the most recent game in San Jose on March 8 and 3-2 on Feb. 20 here in St. Louis, is coming off a 4-3 shootout win at Chicago on Monday and has matched the third longest winning streak in franchise history.

"They've given us two hard games thus far this year," Blues defenseman Colton Parayko said. "They play well. They play connected. They seem to be a team that swarms in a sense that they're always on top of you and they always seem to be close by and good support for each other. That can be tough to play against at times. They're a good team and if we can move the puck quick and play with our speed, it's going to be beneficial and it's going to kind of break down their system as much as possible. It'll be a good game, I think."

Perhaps the loss to the Sharks on March 8 is where the Blues' turnaround has come. Since the Blues lost that game, they've won seven of eight and are 8-2-1 the past 11 games after going 0-6-1.

"We looked at that game, we talked about a lot of things with the group the next day, and really, when I look back at it, it's a little bit of a turning point for us in our season in terms of how we were attacking, the mentality that we had, and a team like this can really make you come to the realization you're not doing some things very effectively," Blues coach Mike Yeo said. "So this is a team that smothers, this is a team that swarms, whether it's on the rush, the way they track, their gap, whether it's in the offensive zone, the way they get numbers in and around the puck. We're going to have to do some things differently and better than we did in that game."

The Sharks have averaged 4.15 goals per game since they acquired Evander Kane at the NHL Trade Deadline on Feb. 26. Kane himself has 13 points (eight goals, five assists) in 12 games since joining the Sharks.

"He's obviously a good player, a great addition to the team," Parayko said. "I think that when you have a player like that that's dangerous on the ice all over the offensive zone, you've got to be aware for sure and you've got to make sure you take charge of knowing when he's on the ice and making sure you don't give those guys room and space. When you add a guy like that, it's going to increase their scoring abilities. A good challenge for us D's tonight to stop that line and stop the rest of their forwards obviously. They're definitely offensively powered and they can score some goals."

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The Blues, on a season-high five-game winning streak, can match a six-game streak they established last on Feb. 6-16, 2017, so they can continue a run of their own. It's also a chance to reach a season-high 15 games over .500.

The Blues are one point behind Colorado for the Western Conference's wildcard, two points behind Los Angeles and four points behind Minnesota for third place in the Central Division with two games in hand on the Kings and one on the Avalanche.

"When you look at the standings and we just crept our way back in, we're not even in the playoffs yet," Parayko said. "It's just one day and you're in, out, in out. It's one of those things where we control our own destiny now. We win the rest of we win X amount, we'll be in, but it's crazy. You have a chance to win six in a row and you're still competing for the second wild-card. It's fun though, I think that's what's kind of bringing our group together We get the chance to come together in a time when we need it the most and we've done that. It's exciting and shows a lot of good stuff so far."

The Blues have reached the playoffs in each of the past six seasons and were able to clinch fairly early or have a good sense that they were comfortably in.

The past six seasons, they clinched in Game Nos. 77, 75, 77, 70, 46 (lockout season) and 73.

"I don't remember last year quite as well but I don't remember feeling too comfortable for quite a period of time," Yeo said. "I know that we did clinch a little bit earlier but I know there was a good amount of time when we felt the season was in jeopardy and we were in danger of missing the playoffs as well. Up to this point, what I think we'd say is that when the season's been on the line, when we've needed to be our best, our guys have found a way to play that way. I think that experience of being in the playoffs for six years, playing in overtime games, playing in elimination games, we have guys that have experience dealing with that pressure and so hopefully that will serve us well down the stretch."

Which is why the players don't feel the pressure of playing leapfrog with teams on a daily basis, something that could happen all the way until Game 82 in Colorado.

"Obviously we've done a good job of our games recently," Parayko said. "I think we understand the position that we're in and what we need to do to give ourselves the best chance of making the playoffs obviously. When you look at it, we pretty much have the same group of core guys that we've had all along. The guys know what to do to get to the playoffs, the guys know what to do when we're in the playoffs anf things like that. We have that in the locker room and numerous guys stepping up each night. It's beneficial and it's very important. I think we're doing a good job of handling it so far. It's a different scenario for our group that we don't necessarily have a cushion to sit back on. We pretty much have to break the cushion and just keep pushing through. It's exciting and we look forward to the challenge."

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Blues goalie Jake Allen will make his 10th consecutive start, which would match a regular season career-best first set Feb. 25-March 16, 2016.

Allen is 7-1 his past eight starts with a 2.12 goals-against average and .919 save percentage but went 3-0-0 last week with a 1.00 goals-against average and .961 save percentage and was named the NHL's Second Star of the Week.

"Confidence is a big part of it," Yeo said. "It's probably a word that all of us as coaches, when it's not there we try to steer clear of it, but when it is there, it's a real thing. I would say it's a big factor inn the difference in his play. When he wasn't winning games, I would say he's not confident and understandably so, and now he is. He looks it. He looks more comfortable, more poised, he's even getting out of the net more, making more plays with the puck. Those are all signs of confidence. When your goalie has confidence, there's not very many nights where that's not going to filter through to the rest of the group."

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Blues forward Scottie Upshall has been declared fit and ready to rejoin the lineup but will not play tonight.

Yeo said it may be beneficial for Upshall, coming off a sprained MCL in his left knee, to get in a few more skates before rejoining the lineup.

The Blues don't play again until Friday in Vegas.

"He was ready to go, I think. I think it's going to help him to have another practice," Yeo said. "He's only had a couple real practices. He's been skating but it's a different story to get out there and have contact and timing wise. The guys that have been in the lineup, it's hard to find someone to come out."

As for forward Nikita Soshnikov, who sustained an upper-body injury last Wednesday against Boston, Yeo didn't sound all too optimistic.

"He's getting looked at right now and maybe in a couple days I'll give you a better update here," Yeo said.

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Forward Nolan Stevens and defenseman Mitch Reinke, signed on Sunday out of college to two-year entry-level contracts, are expected to arrive in St. Louis today.

Stevens, drafted by the Blues in the fifth round of the 2016 NHL Draft, wrapped up his season with Northeastern University on Saturday, and Reinke is a free agent out of Michigan Tech.

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The Blues' projected lineup:

Jaden Schwartz-Brayden Schenn-Vladimir Tarasenko

Patrik Berglund-Kyle Brodziak-Alexander Steen

Dmitrij Jaskin-Vladimir Sobotka-Tage Thompson

Ivan Barbashev-Oskar Sundqvist-Chris Thorburn

Joel Edmundson-Alex Pietrangelo

Vince Dunn-Colton Parayko

Jordan Schmaltz-Robert Bortuzzo

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

The healthy scratch is Scottie Upshall. Nikita Soshnikov (upper body) is day to day. Jay Bouwmeester (hip), Robby Fabbri (knee) and Carl Gunnarsson (knee) are out for the season.

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The Sharks' projected lineup:  

Evander Kane-Joe Pavelski-Melker Karlsson

Tomas Hertl-Logan Couture-Mikkel Boedker

Timo Meier-Chris Tierney-Kevin Labanc

Barclay Goodrow-Marcus Sorensen-Jannik Hansen

Marc-Edouard Vlasic-Justin Braun

Paul Martin-Brent Burns

Brenden Dillon-Dylan DeMelo

Aaron Dell is expected to start in goal; Martin Jones would be the backup.

Healthy scratches include Joel Ward and Tim Heed. Joe Thornton (knee), Joonas Donskoi (upper body), Eric Fehr (lower body) and Joakim Ryan (upper body) remain out.

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