Thursday, December 27, 2018

(12-27-18) Sabres-Blues Gameday Lineup

ST. LOUIS -- A multi-player reunion of sorts will commence today here at Enterprise Center when the Blues (14-16-4) play host to the surprising Buffalo Sabres (21-11-5) at 7 p.m. (FS-MW, KMOX 1120-AM).

For the Blues, it will be Ryan O'Reilly facing his former Sabres teammates for the first time since the big, blockbuster trade on July 1 that sent O'Reilly to St. Louis for a package of forwards Patrik Berglund, Vladimir Sobotka and Tage Thompson along with a conditional first-round pick in 2019 and a second round pick in 2021.

"It's always weird," said O'Reilly, who leads the Blues in goals (13), assists (19) and points (32) in 34 games this season. "Having a lot of good buddies over there, it's weird playing against them, but at the end of the day, it's two points that we need. We're coming off a big game, the break's always tough, but we've got to be the team that's more disciplined and I'm excited for it."

At the time O'Reilly was traded to the Blues, the buildup was that the Blues were going to break down the door and make a big push back into the Stanley Cup Playoffs while the Sabres, who have been floundering neat the bottom of the NHL standings for the past 5-10 years, were in an extended transition period and stockpiling young assets.

Well, it's been the complete opposite and the Sabres have vaulted up the standings while the Blues have been the team to get off to a slow start. But it's one O'Reilly doesn't regret.

"It's been a good place to live," O'Reilly said. "Hockey-wise, it's slowly starting to turn around for us. It's good. I think we had a rough start, but it's a great group of guys here. It's a great city and I'm happy here. We've just got to win a lot more games and I think we're on our way to it.

"I think with a lot of new faces, we've struggled to have some consistency and things, but we're slowly working through them. Guys are working so hard for each other. We're starting to build something. Tonight's a good test for us, but there was just a lot of inconsistency off the bat, but I think we're feeling better about our game. We're coming closer. We're excited going forward here."

O'Reilly, who helped mentor many of the young Sabres, isn't surprised by their quick rise in the Eastern Conference standings.

"Not really," he said. "You look at the talent that they have and some of the pieces that they've added, they've deserved it. Watching a few of their games; not a ton, but they're playing good hockey. I've obviously got a lot of friends over there. It's nice to see. I just hope tonight, they don't have any (success) here."

It's also a reunion for Sobotka, Thompson and Sabres No. 1 goalie Carter Hutton, who teamed up with Jake Allen here in St. Louis the past two seasons.

But Hutton left as an unrestricted free agent this past summer and signed a three-year, $8.25 million to become the No. 1 goalie for the Sabres for the first time in his career.

"It's good, it's great," Hutton said of his return. "A little, friendly arena. I've played here enough times. I'm on the end of her here now. It'll be fun, it'll be a tough challenge for us here today.

"... It was tough leaving St. Louis. I loved it here. I had a great relationship with the guys. Me and Jake, we had a great relationship. It's the business side of it takes over. Contracts and opportunities, there's so much that goes into it. It wasn't a decision that was made quickly. There's a lot to process and I had to do what I had to do and they had to do what they needed to do."

Hutton was 30-15-5 in his two seasons in St. Louis and led the NHL in goals-against average (2.09) and save percentage (.931 last season) and was a big reason why the Blues made it to the final day of the regular season with a chance to make the playoffs.

"I loved it," Hutton said. "Obviously some ups and downs, but I thought it was an amazing city. People were great, our son was born here and stuff so it's obviously something that's going to be close to us. Moving forward, we saw a lot of the great relationships with players. I keep in touch with a lot of the guys. It's one of those things where I felt at home here, but you move on. It's tough, but something you've accepted, but it's the business of it."

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The long-awaited return and likely subsequent video tribute of Berglund, however, was put on shocking hold last week with the turn of events of Berglund being placed on waivers and subsequently having his contract terminated by the team for failure to report to the team.

Berglund, who had two goals and two assists in 23 games with the Sabres that included no points in the last 10, was initially listed as out with illness by the team before the strange turn of events that included forfeiting the remainder of this year's contract and three more at $3.85 million per season.

There's no real rhyme or reason for Berglund's sudden departure, but in an interview done in this space on Aug. 31, he seemed eager to join the Sabres and begin a fresh start.

"You get the guys from the Blues in there and Jeff Skinner," Berglund said then. "I think overall the Buffalo Sabres organization is probably really excited about this upcoming year. I am, I think all are as players too. Everybody as players are excited to get together now and to get to know each other and to start building for the future."

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The Blues, who won two of three before Christmas in Western Canada, including an impressive 3-1 win at Calgary last Saturday, are 4-2-0 the past six games and will keep their lineup together for a fourth consecutive game.

That means the anticipated arrivals of Alex Pietrangelo (hand/wrist), Robby Fabbri (separated shoulder) and Carl Gunnarsson (wrist) are on hold, at least for tonight.

"They're pretty close," Blues interim coach Craig Berube said. "Not ready yet. Fabbri could go but we're going to stay with the same lineup tonight. 'Petro' and 'Gunny', not quite there yet.

"... With the way the group's been playing, I just don't see a reason to change it as of right now."

"We've been a little more consistent," O'Reilly said. "Starting the game on time and when we do have little breakdowns, little dips, we've been able to regroup quickly and not be affected.

"Earlier in the year I think we were too inconsistent with that. Something bad would happen and we'd kinda fall, and it was tough to climb out of. I think now, I guess, we have a little bit more maturity. We're responding quicker and in the right way. It's keeping us in games and it's maintaining a lead in games. It's always little things that gives us a better chance to win."

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Berube also said that Larry Robinson will return to his consultant's role and not return to the bench.

Robinson has been on the bench with Berube and assistant coaches Steve Ott and Mike Van Ryn since Berube was hired to offer a helping hand and assist in the transition, but this was planned all along.

"Larry's been around for a long time, coaching, playing, had great success over the years of his playing and coaching career," Berube said. "He brings a lot of insight on the game for us, he was very good for us. As coaches -- and players -- we really enjoyed him. We'll miss him for sure."

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The Blues' projected lineup:

Alexander Steen-Ryan O'Reilly-David Perron

Jaden Schwartz-Brayden Schenn-Vladimir Tarasenko

Pat Maroon-Tyler Bozak-Robert Thomas

Jordan Nolan-Ivan Barbashev-Oskar Sundqvist

Joel Edmundson-Colton Parayko

Jay Bouwmeester-Robert Bortuzzo

Vince Dunn-Chris Butler

Jake Allen will start in goal; Jordan Binnington will be the the backup. 

Zach Sanford and Jordan Schmaltz are the healthy scratches. Alex Pietrangelo (hand/wrist), Carl Gunnarsson (wrist) and Robby Fabbri (shoulder) are out.

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The Sabres' projected lineup:

Jeff Skinner-Jack Eichel-Sam Reinhart 

Remi Elie-Casey Mittelstadt-Kyle Okposo

Conor Sheary-Vladimir Sobotka-Evan Rodrigues

Zemgus Girgensons-Johan Larsson-Tage Thompson

Lawrence Pilut-Rasmus Ristolainen

Marco Scandella-Zach Bogosian

Rasmus Dahlin-Jake McCabe

Carter Hutton will start in goal; Linus Ullmark will be the backup.

The healthy scratch will be Matt Hunwick. Jason Pominville (undisclosed), Nathan Beaulieu (upper body), Casey Nelson (upper body) and Scott Wilson (ankle) are all out.

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