By LOU KORAC
ST. LOUIS -- The good news was that Brayden Schenn was back in a full practice on Saturday. The bad news is it'll be at least another game on the sidelines for the Blues center.
Schenn is doubtful for Sunday's afternoon matchup against the Minnesota Wild (2 p.m.; FS-MW, KMOX 1120-AM) to cap off a season-long seven-game homestand with an oblique strain.
Schenn, who has missed the past two games, was injured when the Wild (10-4-2) visited Enterprise Center eight days ago, a 5-1 Minnesota win.
Schenn called himself questionable for the game, but Blues coach Mike Yeo confirmed that it will probably be better to keep Schenn, who has nine points (three goals, six assists) in 12 games, out at least another game.
"I would say that he's doubtful for tomorrow, but encouraging that he's getting closer," Yeo said after practice Saturday. "He looked good at practice today. I talked to him afterwards. We just have to make sure we're smart."
The Blues (6-5-3) put forth arguably their best effort and outing of the season Friday, blanking the San Jose Sharks 4-0, and keeping that lineup in tact might be the wise move.
"Obviously 'Schenner's a big part of our group and if he's healthy, then I think you're going to find a place for him in the lineup," Yeo said. "But it certainly helps that you don't have to rush somebody. Obviously in the point of the season where we're at, we've got to win hockey games, but you've got to have an eye coming up on what's ahead as well. He's getting closer, but we've got to make sure we're not putting him a position where he's going to come in and hurt himself further or slow down the recovery process here."
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Although Yeo didn't disclose who his starting goalie would be, one would expect that it will be Chad Johnson for a third straight game. (*UPDATE -- Johnson will start).
Johnson has helped the Blues win two straight and done so by allowing just one goal on 72 shots in wins over Carolina (4-1) and San Jose (4-0), which was Johnson's eighth NHL shutout and first in nearly two years.
"We'll announce that tomorrow," Yeo said Saturday.
Even coming off a shutout?
"It's typically been my rule, but we'll wait til tomorrow," Yeo said.
Johnson (2-2-0) has a 0.50 goals-against average and .986 save percentage the past two starts and lowered his season numbers to 1.83 GAA and .941 on the season.
"I don't think it's really complicated," Yeo said of Johnson's success. "The team's played well in front of him. He stopped the puck. It's not really my job to break down or analyze the goaltending position. Obviously we've got a goaltending coach, they work on the technical parts for me. He looks calm, he looks quiet in the net. He's in position and he's making the saves we need him to make and obviously you're going to have to have your goalie rise to the occasion when you're going to give up some scoring chances. Ultimately every team does. He's been ready for those moments. When teams have been slinging pucks and trying to create off rebounds and whatnot, I think he's controlled those rebounds well."
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With the Wild finishing up its franchise-long seven-game road trip here today, the Blues are wanting to put a halt to Minnesota's hot run. The Wild is 4-2-0 on the trip and has won nine of its past 11.
The Blues on the other hand, are 4-2-0 on the homestand (with one of the losses coming to Minnesota) and winners of four of their past five.
"We don't have a lot of time to sit around and think about what we did well last game," Yeo said. "We've got to make sure that we're geared up for tomorrow."
Should the Blues think about how crummy they were against Minnesota last week, getting outshot 45-16 on home ice and booed off the ice?
"Absolutely. That was very frustrating," center Ryan O'Reilly said. "A divisional opponent and ... I was with Colorado playing against them and now here, I don't like them. It's a team that I really don't like. I want to beat them and it's going to take us all. We're going to have to bring our best games and our highest energy, our best performance in order to beat that team that's been playing really well right now."
Yeo said whatever motivates the Blues.
"That's always a factor," he said. "You always search for whatever you need to get motivated. I think as competitors, that's going to come into play. We've got a chance to finish off this homestand the right way. We've got a chance, like last night, to beat two really good teams in a row. We'll have to see if we're up to that task.
"I'd rather that they remember it. The day after that one, we kind of want to wipe it clean, but for sure, why wouldn't you? It's a rivalry and so, I think that's what competitors do."
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When Joel Edmundson entered the San Jose zone with 7 minutes 21 seconds remaining in the second period Friday, little did the Sharks know they were about to go into a minute-plus of backpedaling and getting their ears pinned back and a back-breaking third goal by Jaden Schwartz.
When Edmundson gained the zone along the left wall, he flipped it towards the corner and picked up by Robert Thomas with 7:17 left. Thomas backhanded it around the net with Robby Fabbri hunting down San Jose's Rourke Chartier with 7:13 left. Chartier played the puck up the wall and Melker Karlsson, with his back to the ice, backhanded it up the wall looking to clear but David Perron was there to intercept at the blue line and he kept it in to Alex Pietrangelo, who gave the puck back to Perron along the wall. Perron skated the puck back in and fed Fabbri with 7:08 left down low. Fabbri spun towards the net and tried to jam a shot past Aaron Dell but it was saved. Perron followed the rebound and fought for the puck behind the net. He was able to collect the puck and send it back to the left point to Carl Gunnarsson. Gunnarsson played it to the right to Pietrangelo before getting it back. Now the clock's at 6:58, and Gunnarsson's shot was tipped by Fabbri in the slot but not through to the net. Thomas, though, collected the rebound, and threw the puck into the right corner. Sharks d-man Marc-Edouard Vlasic whacked it up the boards to Karlsson, but his clearing attempt again was intercepted at the blue line by Thomas at the 6:46 mark. Thomas punched it to Fabbri, who backhanded a pass to Perron near the top of the right circle. Perron quick-passed to his right to Pietrangelo and he found a streaking Thomas in the high slot for a quick wrist shot off Dell's left shoulder with 6:42 left. The puck laid in the crease and Fabbri was there fighting with four Sharks (Karlsson, Justin Braun, Vlasic and Chartier) but the puck caromed into the left corner, where Gunnarsson retrieved it again for the Blues. He fought off Chartier's check and slid it up the wall to Fabbri, who moved it to Thomas at the left point. Thomas moved the puck to Pietrangelo at the right point, he waited and moved it back to the left point to Fabbri with 6:29 remaining. Fabbri's slap shot was stopped by Dell before Braun finally retrieved the puck along the right left wall and fired the puck down the ice for icing with 6:20 left.
The puck never left the Sharks zone, the players on the ice were absolutely gassed, and it set up for the Blues to send fresh players out for the faceoff. It was critical for the Sharks, down 2-0 at the time, to win a draw, move the puck up the ice and try to get fresh bodies on the ice.
No dice, as Yeo sent Tyler Bozak, Alexander Steen and Schwartz onto the ice (Schwartz went on the line in place of Nikita Soshnikov) and Bozak won the draw back to Colton Parayko, and he gave it to Vince Dunn, who pushed the puck into the left corner. But Bozak checked Braun's clearing attempt, and Vlasic's backhand clearing attempt was knocked down and kept in by Dunn before Schwartz was able to keep it in the zone to the right. Steen somehow got it down to Bozak in the right corner, and he sees Schwartz breaking towards the net after lifting the stick of Braun to get the puck before sending a pinpoint pass with Karlsson draped all over Schwartz. Karlsson knew he was cooked; he had been on the ice this whole time and even tried to saw of Schwartz's stick but instead broke his in half. All the while, Schwartz was finally able to beat Dell, and it was 3-0. All Karlsson could do was drop his stick and throw up the white flag at that point.
It was textbook puck hunting, puck retrieval and good old-fashioned hard work.
"We were just hunting the puck well and playing off each other," Fabbri said. "Every battle we got into, there was another guy there cleaning up and grabbing that puck. Once they got tired, as forwards, you realize that and you keep going even harder. It was a great shift and 'Schwartzy' followed it up nice with a goal.
"It was one of those shifts where we were hunting, we were getting in on the play and we were in on the hunt again. It wasn't like we were just controlling it. We were just working all over the ice."
"That's our identity," Yeo said. "When we're on top of our game, we're reloading, we're re-attacking, we're hounding pucks, we're hemming teams into their own zone. You might spend 30-40 seconds in the offensive zone, sometimes it doesn't necessarily lead to a goal that specific shift, but what you do is you set the next line up. That's what they did. They had a couple of those shifts, that line for me, is they set the next line up to come out and to be successful. I think we've been doing more of that. We have to make sure we're on top of that."
When the icing was called, there was a shot of a gassed Thomas, too. Being a part of that onslaught was good for the rookie, who played a career-high 15:41 in the game.
"That was his best game this year," Yeo said of Thomas. "He earned the extra ice time, we put him in some extra situations. His work ethic for me, that was where it was most noticeable. Every game, he's finding a way to make some plays, he's got great vision, protects it really well, really digging in on the defensive side of things last night and his work ethic with and without the puck, that was at a new level. I'm anxious to see if he can do it again tomorrow."
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Over the course of the first 12 games, there had been a lot of criticism thrown Pietrangelo's way, and the Blues' minutes leader didn't absolve himself of blame for needing to be better.
Pietrangelo was had one goal and three assists but was an eye-popping minus-9. Some of it was his own doing, but a lot of it wasn't.
The past two games, playing with Gunnarsson as his partner, Pietrangelo seems to have found his game again. He has a goal and an assist and is a plus-4, and playing with a partner he feels he trusts has made all the difference.
"I know that he played very well when he played with him last year," Yeo said of Pietrangelo and Gunnarsson. "I think 'Gunny' is playing a real strong, solid game right now. But I would agree that Petro's last game was his best game of the season. I thought he was very aggressive, he was more physical than he has been in a lot of games. He's getting rewarded offensively right now, but he's not taking any risks. He's on the right side of everything and he's defending, killing penalties. He's doing all the things that you think of in Petro's best game and all the things that we need from him."
In the four games he's returned from after offseason knee and hip surgeries, Gunnarsson's minutes have gone from 13:52 to 16:54 to 18:58 and most recently, 18:41.
"He trusts 'Gunny's game," Yeo said of Pietrangelo. "He knows 'Gunny's not jumping up the ice. He's going to activate and get involved. We saw him get a scoring chance last night in the offensve zone. He'll do those things, but he's always going to do those on the right side of the puck and I think Petro has that confidence that he knows he'll be there and then he can just focus on himself."
The Blues' projected lineup:
Jaden Schwartz-Ryan O'Reilly-Vladimir Tarasenko
Robby Fabbri-Robert Thomas-David Perron
Alexander Steen-Tyler Bozak-Nikita Soshnikov
Zach Sanford-Ivan Barbashev-Oskar Sundqvist
Carl Gunnarsson-Alex Pietrangelo
Vince Dunn-Colton Parayko
Joel Edmundson-Jordan Schmaltz
Chad Johnson will start in goal; Jake Allen will be the backup.
Healthy scratches are expected to be Jay Bouwmeester and Pat Maroon. Brayden Schenn (upper body) and Robert Bortuzzo (lower body) are out.
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The Wild's projected lineup:
Zach Parise-Mikko Koivu-Nino Niederreiter
Jason Zucker-Eric Staal-Mikael Granlund
Jordan Greenway-Joel Eriksson Ek-Charlie Coyle
Marcus Foligno-Eric Fehr-J.T. Brown
Ryan Suter-Matt Dumba
Jonas Brodin-Jared Spurgeon
Nick Seeler-Greg Pateryn
Devan Dubnyk is expected to start in goal; Alex Stalock would be the backup.
Healthy scratches expected to be Nate Prosser, Matt Read and Matt Hendricks. The Wild report no injuries.
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