By LOU KORAC
ST. LOUIS -- Craig Berube will mix up his forward lines when the Blues (9-13-3) host the Edmonton Oilers (13-12-2) at 7 p.m. (NBCSN, KMOX 1120-AM).
The Blues, 1-3-0 their past four games and 2-6-0 the past eight, will see rookies Robert Thomas and Zach Sanford get a crack at playing with Ryan O'Reilly on the top line, Jordan Kyrou, recalled from San Antonio of the American Hockey League on Monday, will get on a line with David Perron and Brayden Schenn and Berube will give Tyler Bozak a crack with Vladimir Tarasenko.
"Sanford and O'Reilly have played together before and have had good success," Berube said. "Gotta good playmaker there with them (in) Robby Thomas. Speed on Schenn and Perron (line). They've been playing quite a bit, just put some speed there with Kyrou, and Vladi with Bozak and [Pat] Maroon. Bozie's a good rush player, get some shots off the rush for Vladi and big Patty Maroon going around the net, being around the net."
Some have scoffed that Tarasenko, who has scored in three of the past four games, is getting dropped to Bozak's line, but Berube said it's an effort of getting him with a center with a pass-first mentality.
"He's scored some goals the last few games, not last game obviously but before that it was three in a row," Berube said of Tarasenko. "I think he's on the right track here. He's getting good looks. He's just got to keep getting those good looks and he's got to keep shooting. The worst thing that can happen is he starts aiming the puck. The key is just to get the shot off quick, don't aim it, just shoot it and it will go in.
"Last year, [Bozak] was on a line with [James] van Riemsdyk and [Mitch] Marner (in Toronto) a lot of the time. They were a good rush line. He's a good rush player."
Bozak, who has no points the past eight games and one assist the past 11 after eight points (two goals, six assists) the previous six, is looking forward to the opportunity.
"Just create space for him, get him the puck in good areas to shoot with a guy like that," Bozak said. "I've played with [Phil] Kessel for quite a few years. Pretty similar with different kind of hands but just the way they shoot the puck, they both can really score from anywhere on the ice. They're so good at getting open, I think whoever we're with -- I think it's Patty -- if it's that tomorrow, we'll try and create as much space and time for him and get him the puck as much as we can and in positions to shoot.
"We've personally got to produce more offensively. Maybe trying to spark that putting me with a guy like Vladi. Hopefully that does that. You've just got to find chemistry with guys, I think. The games we've been losing, I don't think chemistry's really been there with some lines. We're just kind of changing it up and hopefully it works out."
Bozak is adjusting to life of juggling linemates, something he's not used to after a steady stream of playing with van Riemsdyk in the past and Alexander Steen here this season.
"I'm not really used to it," Bozak said. "I've stuck with the same guys for quite a long time. I've played with JVR for probably seven years straight. We got to know each other. I thought me and 'Steener' were working well together, finding some chemistry and then some injuries happen and things switch. Sometimes it takes a little time to find chemistry. Sometimes you just don't have it with certain guys. It's been a work in progress, but hopefully we'll find something here and get on a little roll."
But make no mistake about it. Bozak will defer to Tarasenko when it comes to shooting pucks.
"I'll be telling him to shoot it as much as he can," Bozak said. "That was the same with Kessel honestly. He always wanted to pass the puck. I don't know, I always say if I had a shot like theirs, I'd be shooting it every time I have the chance. He's a very unselfish player and wants to pass it whenever he can, but I'm going to try to get into his head to shoot it every time."
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Jordan Nolan will make his Blues debut tonight.
Along with Kyrou and Chris Butler, Nolan was also recalled on Monday after the Blues were hit with the injury bug even deeper with the losses of Alex Pietrangelo (hand), Robby Fabbri (shoulder) and Steen (concussion) to go with Jaden Schwartz (hand) and Carl Gunnarsson (upper body).
Nolan was leading the Rampage in points with 15 (seven goals, eight assists) in 24 games.
Nolan was signed to a one-year, two-way contract in the offseason after spending last season with the Buffalo Sabres.
"It's been great. It's been a lot of fun," Nolan said. "When you get sent down, you're not sure what the situation will be. It's been seven years since I've played down there. To get sent down is a little disappointing and your ego takes a little bit of a hit. But we've got a good group of young guys and older guys. Just kind of learned to accept being down there and if I wanted to get back here, I needed to play hard and earn my way back up. I feel like I've been playing well and I earned a shot back up here.
"I was really enjoying my time down there. You're playing a lot and you're getting an opportunity. You're playing power play, playing penalty kill. But this was the main goal to get back here and I feel like I belong in this league. To have St. Louis call and rewarding me with this is pretty special. I'm excited to hopefully wear this uniform. ... I hope to come here and bring some energy. It's not easy to turn it around. It takes a lot of hard work and you have to realize what your role is."
Nolan will slot in on the fourth line with Ivan Barbashev and Oskar Sundqvist.
"I'm not sure it was a scoring role, but he was producing," Berube said of Nolan. "He's a pretty simple player, north-south player. He did score some goals down there. He just goes up and down his wing. Pretty predictable player. We need predictability. I like the size. He gets there and makes contact."
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Blues defensemen Jay Bouwmeester has been the subject of criticism for his play to begin this season, and in many ways, it's been justified. But Bouwmeester, who is coming off of offseason surgery to his left hip, by his own admission said it hasn't been the greatest start to a season for him but has been feeling better and getting back to himself as of late.
Bouwmeester, who has three assists in 21 games and has the second-worst plus-minus on the team at minus-10, has played better of late and admits the hip is finally starting to feel good again.
"I feel the last number of games, I've felt a lot better," Bouwmeester said. "Skating a lot better. I'm not going to lie, at the start of the year, I didn't feel very good. I didn't know what it was going to get back to, to be quite honest. I'd say the last couple of weeks maybe, you turn the corner. I just feel better.
"Before, it was to a point where I could play but it certainly wasn't comfortable with everything, moving the way you normally would, but I think we're past that. There's still a little ways to go, but now everything is ... the worst of it's probably behind you. There's still little things, but it's not like that's really affecting me as much as it was."
Bouwmeester's 23 minutes 22 seconds time on ice Saturday was his second-longest of the season behind his 23:59 played in a 4-3 overtime loss at Chicago on Oct. 13.
"He's definitely coming around," Berube said. "He's moving a lot better out there. We all know 'Bouw'. His game is skating. He was a great skater for years, he's starting to get that stride back so his game's coming around."
Bouwmeester, who will play in his 1,128th NHL game tonight, was also candid on how the Blues can get back on the rails despite missing some key players.
"Where do you start? You start with your next game," Bouwmeester said. "That's the way the world works. It's not going to stop for anybody. Everybody knows that. We've got some guys hurt, there's always guys hurt (on) every team. You go up and down the league, you're going to have injuries. It's the same old story, an opportunity for other guys and chances for guys to step up and fill those holes. ... You take it a day at a time and you don't look too far down the road."
And it starts with a belief in the room.
"Yeah, there better be because you're past a quarter of a year, you've got three quarters left," Bouwmeester said. "I think our focus now is we just have to dumb it down. Just shorten your focus a little. Just look at it as what's in front of you, what game you have to win and to approach. Don't look at the big picture because if you look at that, then it doesn't look pretty. I think everyone realizes that. If we're going to claw back into it, then that's what we're going to do. We're not going to gain 10 points overnight. We're going to have to put a real solid stretch here. We have a lot of games against teams in our division. We haven't played a few teams. Those games become much more important, but tomorrow's the most important one."
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Ken Hitchcock's reunion tour commences here tonight, another of his former stomping grounds.
Hitchcock, who was hired by the Oilers to replace Todd McLellan one day after the Blues fired coach Mike Yeo, returned here last season when he coached the Dallas Stars for the second time in his career.
Hitchcock coached the Blues from 2011-2017 and now gets to put his hands on the career of Connor McDavid but still has emotional ties with the Blues, who he coached for 413 regular-season games and was 248-124-41 with two Central Division titles and five playoff appearances, including a trip to the Western Conference Final in 2016 where they lost to San Jose in six games.
"What went on here for six years, there's still a lot of players left over from when I was here in St. Louis and I'm proud of that too because we built something pretty special and you're proud of that," Hitchcock said. "You want to get the two points (tonight), but it's a stranger feeling for me as a coach because there's a real emotional connection to probably seven or eight players here with St. Louis that we were very close (with). That probably is the most confusing part to me because of the respect that both sides have for each other."
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Steen, Schwartz and Gunnarsson all took part in the morning skate but are getting closer.
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The Blues' projected lineup:
Zach Sanford-Ryan O'Reilly-Robert Thomas
David Perron-Brayden Schenn-Jordan Kyrou
Pat Maroon-Tyler Bozak-Vladimir Tarasenko
Jordan Nolan-Ivan Barbashev-Oskar Sundqvist
Joel Edmundson-Colton Parayko
Vince Dunn-Robert Bortuzzo
Jay Bouwmeester-Chris Butler
Jake Allen will start in goal; Chad Johnson will be the backup. Healthy scratches include Jordan Schmaltz and Sammy Blais. Jaden Schwartz (hand), Alex Pietrangelo (hand), Alexander Steen (concussion), Robby Fabbri (shoulder) and Carl Gunnarsson (upper body) are all out.
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The Oilers' projected lineup:
Leon Draisaitl-Connor McDavid-Alex Chiasson
Jujhar Khaira-Ryan Nugent-Hopkins-Jesse Puljujarvi
Milan Lucic-Kyle Brodziak-Zack Kassian
Patrick Russell-Ryan Spooner-Ty Rattie
Oscar Klefbom-Adam Larsson
Darnell Nurse-Kris Russell
Kevin Gravel-Matt Benning
Cam Talbot will start in goal; Mikko Koskinen will be the backup.
Healthy scratches include Jason Garrison, Chris Wideman and Valentin Zykov. Drake Caggiula (hand), Andrej Sekera (Achilles) and Tobias Rieder (upper body) are all out.