Tuesday, February 19, 2019

(2-19-19) Maple Leafs-Blues Gameday Lineup

ST. LOUIS -- Whoever saw this coming in October, November, December, even in January, raise your hands.

Nobody? Well, that would probably be the majority, but the Blues (31-22-5) have a chance to establish history with a win against the Toronto Maple Leafs (36-19-3) at Enterprise Center today (7 p.m.; NBCSN, KMOX 1120-AM).

The Blues, four points ahead of the Dallas Stars for third place in the Central Division, six behind the Nashville Predators for second and nine behind the Winnipeg Jets for first, have set some mighty impressive numbers in winning 10 in a row, which ties a franchise record only done one other time (Jan. 3-23, 2002).

St. Louis has outscored its opponents 40-14, including three straight wins via shutout (187:16 shutout streak). The Blues haven't trailed in a game since Feb. 5 at the Florida Panthers (433:08), goalie Jordan Binnington, who will start tonight, set a rookie record with his eighth straight win Sunday against Minnesota, and the Blues can establish an NHL-high with their 11th straight win tonight (they're tied with the Buffalo Sabres, Nov. 8-27).

"It's special," Blues defenseman Colton Parayko said. "It's been a good little stretch here for us. It's definitely showing in our work ethic and our game that we're playing the right way and we're doing the right things that winning teams do. It's been fun. Obviously it's going to be a good match tonight, so we've got to make sure we continue to do our thing the right way and bring our best game and hopefully, we can make history.

"... Everything is kind of going our way. A lot of those things go from just us being in the right spots and just being there with our work ethic. I think when you put that together, it's a deadly combo. I think that we're smothering teams with the way we're tracking, the way we're forechecking, the way we're getting pucks deep and just making it hard on them."

Considering where the Blues were on Jan. 3, last in the NHL with 34 points at 15-18-4, to where they are now with 67 points, it's quite remarkable that they've been able to put this 16-4-1 stretch together.

"Obviously struggled at the beginning of the year, and I think we all expected something different," said Blues center Ryan O'Reilly, who has 18 points (six goals, 12 assists) the past 15 games. "But that's the way it was. It took us a while to find chemistry, but we kept fighting, we kept clawing away at it and now we're back in a much better position. 

"We're still not satisfied. We want to keep this thing going as long as we can. We are taking it one game at a time. We have a really good team coming in here tonight that we want to beat. We want to prove that we're the better team. That's really all that matters is this game tonight.

"... To be honest, we're just looking for two points (tonight). Toronto obviously is a great team with tons of firepower and we have to be on. From the outside looking in, it would be really cool to set something like that, but for myself, I'm just worried about the matchup that I have tonight and playing hard that I'm going to be facing."

For defenseman Vince Dunn, it's a unique situation and one he's never been a part of.

"It's not  too often you get a streak going like this," Dunn said. "Obviously we know we had a good road trip and now we've got to move on from that. We know we've got a tough team coming in our building tonight. We've just got to be ready for them.

"But it's just taking the positives from every game whenever we can. There's no easy teams you ever play. Once you win one, you've got to forget about that and get ready for the next one coming in. The confidence is definitely there with the team, there's a lot of positive energy in the room and on the ice."

The winning streak has been maintained because of a mindset that the players believe in.

"We want to continue on building, continually getting ourselves better," O'Reilly said. "You look at the goaltending, these guys have been standing on their heads for us making it easy. When we put the puck in the net, it's a good recipe, but we continually want to get our system better, continually grow our game and we are. We're not playing perfect, but we want to get up there and get to that next level."

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There was a sigh of relief from not only the Blues locker room, but from anxious fans wondering how the left leg of right wing Vladimir Tarasenko held up after his awkward fall to the ice on Sunday.

Tarasenko was battling with Wild defenseman Jared Spuegeon for a puck along the offensive zone wall when he suddenly lost an edge and fell backwards in an awkward spot falling with his left leg pinned behind him.

He was on the ice on all fours being attended to by head athletic trainer Ray Barile and after skating off and staying on the bench, Tarasenko finished the game and played 16 minutes 41 seconds. He had a goal and two assists to extend his career-high point streak to 12 games (11 goals, 11 assists).

There were unconfirmed reports of Tarasenko wearing a protective boot on Monday, but he was on the ice at Tuesday's morning skate and will play tonight.

"That's tough going into the boards like that," Blues coach Craig Berube said. "A lot of bad things can happen, but fortunately for us and for him, it was all good."

Since Jan. 5, Tarasenko has 29 points (15 goals, 14 assists).

"He's obviously a special player. He's a leader for us," Parayko said of Tarasenko. "Seeing him get up was a big sigh of relief. Obviously it was tough to see him go down, but he's a battler, he's the one that wants to be on the ice, wants to produce for the team. Whenever you have that, that's huge and we're looking forward to watching him continue his success."

- - -

Blues defensemen have found a way to pitch in with offense from their defensemen.

They have accounted for 25 percent (10 goals) in this winning streak and it's by no coincidence that they're finding ways to filter into plays and making calculated risks that are paying off.

"When we can be active from the backend, that's really helping the forwards out, but they've done a really good job of scoring goals," Dunn said. "Lots of the goals haven't exactly been pretty, but a lot of credit to them getting in front of the goalies banging in the dirty ones."

- - -

Defenseman Carl Gunnarsson (upper body), who has not played since Feb. 5 at Florida, skated again and looks like he's close to returning, but forward David Perron (upper body), believed to have a concussion, did not skate with the team.

Berube said Perron obviously won't play Tuesday but there is some light there.

"He's making progress. He's still not ready," Berube said. "It is what it is, and when he's healthy, he'll play."

- - -

In going 8-0-0, Binnington has a 1.41 goals-against average, .949 save percentage and three shutouts in those eight starts.

Blues forward Brayden Schenn has six points (one goal, five assists) in a four-game point streak. Combined with O'Reilly and Tarasenko, that line has 44 points (16 goals, 28 assists) the past 10 games. Schenn has 13 points (two goals, 11 assists), O'Reilly has 11 points (four goals, seven assists) and Tarasenko has 20 points (10 goals, 10 assists).

Blues forward Alexander Steen, who missed the past two games for the birth of his daughter, will return tonight and go in for Robby Fabbri.

- - -

The Blues' projected lineup:

Brayden Schenn-Ryan O'Reilly-Vladimir Tarasenko

Jaden Schwartz-Tyler Bozak-Alexander Steen

Zach Sanford-Oskar Sundqvist-Pat Maroon

Mackenzie MacEachern-Ivan Barbashev-Robert Thomas 

Joel Edmundson-Alex Pietrangelo

Jay Bouwmeester-Colton Parayko

Vince Dunn-Robert Bortuzzo

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

Healthy scratches include Robby Fabbri and Chris Butler. David Perron (upper body) and Carl Gunnarsson (upper body) are out.

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The Maple Leafs' projected lineup:

Zach Hyman-John Tavares-Mitchell Marner

Patrick Marleau-Auston Matthews-Kasperi Kapanen

Andreas Johnsson-Nazem Kadri-William Nylander

Par Lindholm-Frederik Gauthier-Connor Brown

Morgan Rielly-Ron Hainsey

Jake Gardiner-Travis Dermott 

Jake Muzzin-Nikita Zaitsev

Frederik Andersen will start in goal; Garret Sparks will be the backup. 

Healthy scratches include Tyler Ennis, Justin Holl and Igor Ozhiganov. The Maple Leafs report no injuries.

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