Monday, April 2, 2018

(4-2-18) Capitals-Blues Gameday Lineup

ST. LOUIS -- The Blues head into their final week of the regular season fighting tooth-and-nail for a spot in the Stanley Cup Playoffs with four games in six nights to try and gain entry into the season season.

The Blues, coming off a rough weekend gaining only one point in losses to Vegas (4-3 in overtime) and Arizona (6-0 on Saturday to snap a seven-game point streak) and currently sit on the outside looking in.

Today, the Blues (43-29-6) host the Washington Capitals (47-25-7), who clinched the Metropolitan Division title on Sunday with a 3-1 win at Pittsburgh, in the second-to-last regular-season home game. 

The Blues are one point behind Colorado for the second wild-card and two points behind the Los Angeles Kings for the first wild-card with a game in hand on both teams. The Avalanche and Kings also play tonight in Los Angeles.

If there wasn't much pressure on games before, now that it's headed down the home stretch should emphasize just how much the pressure will get.

"The players know. If they didn't want it incredibly badly, then three weeks ago … we wouldn't be sitting here today having this conversation," Blues coach Mike Yeo said. "As far as what our players have put in and the investment, the sacrifice, they want this very badly. The pressure's going to be there, it's going to be there for us, it's going to be there with the teams we're battling with. 

"I think the teams that deal with that the best, they're the teams that are going to make their way in. I guess the one thing we have going for us, hopefully we have going for us, I know we have a lot of youth in our lineup but we still have a lot of experience in our lineup, a lot of guys that have played in Game 7s, a lot of guys that have played in elimination games, whatever the case is. As a coach, you like to look at things that can be a positive and could be helpful for you. I believe that could be for us. I like our experience, I like our veterans, our leadership, our young guys are doing well, they don't look overwhelmed by the moment and again, for us, you have to make sure you harness that emotion but you don't let it control you. You use it and you use it properly."

The Capitals technically have nothing left to play for and will be locked into the second seed in the Eastern Conference with three games to play. But the Blues found out on Saturday that nobody is to be taken lightly.

"It's important to be aware of the opponent," Yeo said. "They're 10-2 in their last 12 games. You look at [Alex] Ovechkin, you look at [Nicklas] Backstrom, you look at [Evgeny] Kuznetsov. The offensive players that they have in the lineup. But they also have a lot of honest players, a lot of guys who do a lot of little things hard and very well. We have to be prepared for that. The big thing for me is if we come out and try and run and gun with them then we lose the hockey game. It's going to be our defensive game against their offensive game and it's going to be our attack, when we have opportunities to attack we have to be sharp but we also have to be smart. We're going to have to be very strong on both sides of the puck tonight."

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The Blues found out that they will be without left wing Scottie Upshall indefinitely after he sustained a left kidney laceration in Saturday's loss. 

"He's a penalty killer and an energy guy, brings speed to your lineup, competitiveness to your lineup," Yeo said of Upshall. "A veteran presence. At this time of year, a veteran presence is always appreciated. But, you know what? We've got depth up front, and 'Tommer' will come back in. I've been happy with the way his game has been trending, so I decided to get him back in. He also played real well the last time we played Washington. I thought that was one of his stronger games of the season."

In his place, rookie Tage Thompson will be reinserted into the lineup after sitting out the past two games.

"Back in the lineup. Don't want to see 'Uppy' go down like that," Thompson said. "It's another big opportunity for me and I've just got to make the most of it. 

"I talked with Yeo. It wasn't about my play. It was what was best for the team, what the best lineup was for those two games. We had a couple chats. I got the impression that I had been playing well the past few games before sitting out. I just want to keep that going and carry that into tonight."

Also, veteran defenseman Chris Butler will step in and play and Mitch Reinke, who made his NHL debut on Saturday, will be a healthy scratch.

Butler was recalled under emergency conditions on Saturday and will go down as one of the regular recalls, of which the Blues have two left.

"This is a fun time of the year," Butler said. "If you look at the jockeying in the standings and how tight everything is right now. Every point, every shift, every game's crucial. It's fun. An easy game to get up for, easy game to get excited for."

At this time of year, Yeo wants a more veteran presence.

"A veteran guy. It's a good chance," Yeo said. "I think we got a good look at Mitch, and I think Mitch did a good job last game and we'll get a look at Butts tonight. Obviously a veteran guy. If you talked to 'Butts,' I think he'd be the first one to tell you his last recall didn't go the way he would have liked. The reports that we've gotten have been that he's playing very well and I think quite often that experience for him could help him this go around so that's what we're hoping on and hopefully he has a good game. He's a veteran guy, we've seen him play a lot of games, both in the NHL and American League level where he's a reliable defensive player, he's a guy that can execute, move the puck and play with poise when the game's on the line."

Reinke played 13 minutes, 5 seconds and was even in the plus-minus.

"I thought he got better as the game went on," Yeo said of Reinke. "Obviously the third period, granted it's 6-0, they're not pressing quite as hard, but as the game went on, he gets into the third period, he looked real comfortable out there. I thought his skating was good. That's something you notice right away. He gaps, he does little things in the game that are going to give him a chance to be successful, thinks the game well, and plays with his head up. He made a lot of nice little subtle plays to exit pucks out of our zone. There's definitely something there. I'm excited about what he showed us in that first game. We'll keep working with him, he's a young kid that is very important for us that he gets that experience, but even while he's here in the NHL it's our job to make sure we're developing those guys too."

Also, forward Nikita Soshnikov, who has been dealing with an upper-body injury since March 21, skated for what is believed to be the first time since sustaining that injury against the Boston Bruins but won't play.

"I haven't gotten an update as far as talking to him how practice went for him, but that's obviously a positive step," Yeo said.

Defenseman Jordan Schmaltz, who sustained an upper-body injury on Friday, is still day to day; he did not skate Monday.

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Speaking of the Upshall injury, it was a result of a hard, heavy collision/check with Coyotes defenseman Luke Schenn, Brayden Schenn's older brother, who happened to fight Chris Thorburn as a result and who happened to fight right in front of the Blues' bench ... in front of his brother.

"That was a different situation I've ever been a part of before. It's weird," Brayden said. "You're not really cheering for anyone, you're just hoping no one gets hit too hard in the face. I play cards on the plane with 'Thorbs' pretty much every road trip and yet he's fighting my brother. You see my family after the game and give my mom and dad a big hug. It's funny how the hockey world is. It's a fight on the ice, it's part of the game, but once the game's over, him and my brother talked after the game. It's kind of a weird thing, but no one's mad about it. It's part of the game.

"(Luke's) wife didn't look too happy at the time."

It was a clean hit, but Thorburn knew who it was and what needed to be done.

"I talked to him after the game," Thorburn said of Luke. "I've battled with him in the past, a guy I've got a lot of respect for. Plays the game the right way, the hard way, the old school way. He accepted the challenge, which he never backs down from rarely. It was good on his part. That was the extent of it.

"It's weird, but there's more jabbing than anything. They understand the game. It's an old-school hockey family with the way their sons play. They get it. It was more almost expected because of what had happened and the way the game was going. I left the rink feeling good. I left the rink with a clear conscience."

Thorburn and Brayden are literally locker room buddies but that card game had to be weird, right?

"He tried to get me more often," Thorburn joked. "He tried to kind of screw me a little bit more. That's how he got me back. He was being a little more aggressive trying to get me. He was good."

Brayden said it was all in the spirit of the battle but had hoped to see his brother score his first goal of the season another time.

"'Thorbs,' he knows his role," Brayden said. "He's been doing it forever. He's obviously a great team guy sticking up for a teammate. He knows it's my brother, he knows who he's fighting. It's all part of it. It's not a big deal. I'm not mad at him. It doesn't even cross my mind. My brother competes hard out there, 'Thorbs' competes hard out there. At the end of the day, it's all part of the game. Luke and 'Thorbs' have respect for one another. It's just one of those things that happened out there. It's a hard collision between 'Uppy' and my brother.

"[Luke] could have used better timing on that. I guess it was the game-winner, so it did have an affect on the game. Happy to see him score. I was giving him a little crap after. Maybe just pick a different game."

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Blues forward Robby Fabbri made an appearance at practice today, sitting in on the bench watching his teammates skate.

Fabbri has missed the entire season with a left knee injury, the second ACL injury sustained in two seasons.

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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 

Chris Butler-Robert Bortuzzo

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

The healthy scratches include Nolan Stevens and Mitch Reinke. Nikita Soshnikov (upper body) and Jordan Schmaltz (upper body) are listed as day to day. Robby Fabbri (knee), Jay Bouwmeester (hip), Carl Gunnarsson (knee) and Scottie Upshall (kidney) are out for the season.

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The Capitals' projected lineup:

Alex Ovechkin-Evgeny Kuznetsov-Tom Wilson

Andre Burakovsky-Nicklas Backstrom-T.J. Oshie

Jakub Vrana-Lars Eller-Devante Smith-Pelly

Alex Chiasson -- Chandler Stephenson-Brett Connolly

Michal Kempny-John Carlson

Dmitry Orlov-Matt Niskanen

Brooks Orpik-Jakub Jerabek

Braden Holtby will start in goal; Philipp Grubauer will be the backup.

The projected scratches are Christian Djoos and Shane Gersich. Jay Beagle (upper body) is doubtfl after being injured Sunday.

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