Thursday, March 28, 2019

March, April games meaningful again for O'Reilly

Veteran center, despite being just 27, savoring opportunity to play 
in games that matter when it comes to competing for a Stanley Cup

HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- Games in late March and April, especially the past three seasons playing for the Buffalo Sabres, meant little to nothing for Ryan O'Reilly in regards to achieving team goals.

Being a persistent observer of the Stanley Cup Playoffs can take its toll on a player. And in the case of O'Reilly, fighting for Lord Stanley's prize quickly became a foregone conclusion playing for the Sabres, who were 31st in the NHL last season with 62 points.

Games in March and April only meant the season was winding down and another round of questions would follow having to explain for another lost season. And early this season, even as late as January 3 when O'Reilly and the Blues were last in the NHL with 34 points, this has got to be the most gratifying feeling.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Games are meaningful for Ryan O'Reilly (90) late in the season again, and
he wouldn't have it any other way.

So if you see O'Reilly, the Blues' No. 1 center, on the streets of St. Louis anywhere or if fans notice his continued perseverance on the ice this season playing in meaningful games for the first time since the last time he was a participant in the playoffs (2013-14 with the Colorado Avalanche), remember those moments because O'Reilly sure is. He's represented Canada on the international level, but it all pales in comparison to this, his first with the Blues.

And now with the Blues (41-27-8) on the cusp of returning to the playoffs after missing out last season for the first time since 2011, O'Reilly may be the most grateful of them all in the locker room.

"It’s awesome," the 28-year-old said, who leads the Blues in points (71) and assists (44) this season. "It’s one of the best things in hockey, when you’re kind of playing these meaningful games and preparing for playoffs. It’s what it’s all about. It’s what you train for in the summer, going the distance. It’s nice to be in this position. It feels good, but there’s still a lot of work left, too. We keep preparing for the next game."

Even going back to his days with the Avalanche, O'Reilly only got to taste playoff hockey twice, including his rookie year of 2009-10. So March and April games for him were usually spent just keeping his game polished for perhaps personal goals, but rarely in the concept of helping the team achieve one of 16 entries into the dance.

"The last couple years, they've been out of it early too," Blues defenseman Alex Pietrangelo said of O'Reilly and the Sabres. "It's not easy to play. You always want to have something to play for and with us last year, even though we didn't make it, those last, whatever, eight or nine games you're pushing to make a playoff spot so at least you gave yourselves a chance and you go into games knowing how big they are. 

"He feels it. I think he's excited about it. He's excited about the opportunity, excited that even catch some teams in front of us. It's an exciting time for us."

When the Blues acquired O'Reilly on July 1, 2018 for a package of forwards Patrik Berglund, Vladimir Sobotka and Tage Thompson, along with a 2019 first-round pick and 2021 second-round pick, it was a heavy price to pay but one that is currently proving its value. 

"I think even not just him, to a lot of guys, they're important games," Blues interim coach Craig Berube said. "I think that there's just a real good feel right now with the guys. They all feel like they're real meaningful games.

"What I look at is, you may not play your best, every game, game in, game out, as a team or as an individual, but these guys are all finding ways to win the game. Not everybody is going to play good every night, but as a team, we're covering up for each other and finding ways to win. That [Ivan] Barbashev line over the past four games or three games, have been excellent. They're doing a good job and they're scoring for us. That's important right now. Without them scoring and producing right now, who knows, right? It's good that we've got everybody coming together and helping out and doing all the little things right and working and covering up for each other."

Not that O'Reilly's play has slipped at any juncture, but the level of intensity is even greater now that the Blues are on the cusp of punching their ticket. 

"We've been around him all year, if you ask him, it's probably more exciting to come to the rink this time of the year now than it was for him in previous years for sure," Pietrangelo said. "You always want to wake up and come here and be excited about it. When you have a chance to do something, make the playoffs and go from there, it's exciting. 'Bouw' probably went through the same thing when he came here, right? It is something to be proud of in this organization. We might have missed last year by one point, but we've been competitive every single year. We've given ourselves a chance and made the playoffs or at least be close enough to give ourselves a good push."

As Berube pointed out, there are a number of players on the roster that have yet to taste playoff hockey, and they are also savoring these pressure cooker games. But when you've been around the league for 727 regular-season games, these moments only come so often, and for O'Reilly, this is exactly what he signed up for when he was traded here.

"Yeah, you constantly have that building mentality, where everyone is just working together, working for each other," O'Reilly said. "It’s just such a collective effort that it’s nice. When you’re not playing in those games and you’re out of the playoffs, it’s tough. You want to win, but you also want to have success and things don’t go your way. So to be on the other end of it and see the way as a group, we’re just constantly working together and still trying to grow our game. It’s exciting and it’s fun to be around."
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Ryan O'Reilly (90) and linemates Vladimir Tarasenko (91) and Brayden 
Schenn (10) have been on fire since they've been put together.

And remember those comments O'Reilly made to general manager Doug Armstrong in that first conversation after the trade? Those powerful words of, "Let's go win a Cup. I'm so excited. ... I won't let you down. I can't wait."

Neither can Blues fans. Neither can they, and the fan base certainly doesn't feel O'Reilly's let them down. 

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Blues sweep homestand, can clinch playoff berth Tuesday after 3-1 win over Golden Knights

Sanford gets goal, assist, Barbashev scores; 
Binnington one win from tying Blues rookie record

ST. LOUIS -- Now that they're on the cusp of clinching a berth in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, it's been an amazing journey for the Blues to get to this point.

Especially when you go back to the start of 2019 and where they came from, it's rather remarkable to think about.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Zach Sanford is all smiles with teammates after scoring in the third period on
Monday of a 3-1 win against the Vegas Golden Knights.

The Blues closed a four-game homestand with a clean sweep, capping it off with a 3-1 win over the red-hot Vegas Golden Knights at Enterprise Center on Monday.

As late as Jan. 3, the Blues were sitting dead-last with 34 points in the league despite playing fewer games than the four teams immediately ahead of them with 35 points, but the fact of the matter is, they were 31st out of 31 teams, and in a span of 82 days, the Blues (41-27-8), who are 5-0-1 the past six games, have gone from 31st to 12th overall.

Confidence is at a season-high, or is it?

"I don't know, when we probably won eight or nine in a row, that's pretty high at that point," defenseman Jay Bouwmeester said. "This homestand's been pretty good. We haven't been great at home all year. I think to have a four-game stretch like this at home, still trying ti push and get ready for the playoffs, that's pretty big because you know that's going to be pretty big in series like that. The last two games, you knew there were really good teams coming in. I thought we played pretty well. You're never going to play a perfect game and they're going to get chances. They are who they are, but I thought we handled it pretty well."

If the last two games in particular have been a test of wills to see how the Blues stack up to teams heading to the playoffs, they pass with flying colors. They halted Tampa Bay's seven-game winning streak Saturday in a 4-3 win, and cooled off the hottest team in Vegas (42-28-6) since the all-star break (10-1-1).

Also, St. Louis has won 11 of 13 at home after starting the season 10-13-2.

"Yeah obviously if you look at these last four games, it’s been good," said Blues center Ryan O'Reilly, who scored his 27th goal of the season. "We’ve found a way to win games and coming into the end of the year, that’s what we want. We want this to be a tough building to play in and it’s good. We’ve got to keep building. We’re not done yet. Get a good day off and get back to work."

On Monday, it was another effort from the fourth line, and making a positive impact on the offensive side.

Zach Sanford had a goal and an assist, and linemate Ivan Barbashev scored his fourth goal -- and fifth point -- in three games. Jordan Binnington made 24 saves to move within one win of tying Jake Allen for most wins in Blues history among rookie goalies (22, 2014-15).

"I think he's been bringing that the last few games," Blues interim coach Craig Berube said of Sanford. "That fourth line, that's what they've been bringing and they produced again tonight for us. Just playing a hard game, going to the net, forechecking, simple game but hard, physical, on pucks, did a great job again."

Barbashev gave St. Louis a 1-0 lead at 18:41 of the first period after Sanford chipped a puck in deep that Golden Knights goalie Malcolm Subban retrieved and turned back over to Sanford behind the Vegas goal. Sanford gave Barbashev a little feed in the low slot, and he beat Subban short side.

"I was a little surprised," Barbashev said. "I was trying to shoot on the short side, and somehow, it got in between his arm and the body and it just went in. I saw the replay and I was a little surprised."

Vegas had some sustained zone time in the second and finally cashed in on a power play when WIlliam Karlsson scored at 15:12, the fourth allowed by the Blues in 47 attempts, to tie the game 1-1.

A heavy shot from the point by Colin Miller produced a rebound, and Karlsson was there to pounce.

But O'Reilly's first goal in nine games gave the Blues a 2-1 lead at 18:14 of the second. 

O'Reilly started the play when he picked off a pass from Jonathan Marchessault near the Blues' blue line, then headed back up the ice and found some open real estate before getting a hard pass in stride from Bouwmeester before a quick snap shot from the left circle that beat Subban glove side.

"Yeah, it was nice to get on the board," O'Reilly said. "I haven’t been shooting the puck very well lately and obviously 'Bouw' made just a great pass to set me up there. 

"The goal came at a good time. It wasn’t a great second period. We defended well, I think, all game and 'Binner' played great defensively. But still, we didn’t get the offense we needed to, so the goal came at a good time, kind of gave us a little spark going into the third."

And Sanford supplied the insurance when he scored at 6:27 for the 3-1 lead by going to the net and knocking in Robert Bortuzzo's wrister from the right point. Subban deflected the puck away, and as Sanford was falling down, the puck hit his neck and caromed in.

"No, not quite like that," Sanford said when asked if he ever scored one like that, his first goal in 16 games. "Maybe a couple other body parts, but not in the neck.

"... That was a funny one. I hadn't had one in a little bit, so for that one to go in, it felt good. It was funny though."

The Blues held down the fort and held Vegas to its lowest shot total (25) in 19 games the rest of the way.

"I think we've gotten off to leads," Bouwmeester said. "All year, when we've been able to get out to a lead, we've been pretty good. That's something that we can probably improve on. But at home, it's important. You kind of get the crowd into it. Everyone says it, but you don't want to make it an easy place to play. We need to come out and establish the kind of game you want to play early. It goes a long way."

The game marked the return of defenseman Carl Gunnarsson, who missed 24 games with a wrist injury. He played 12:00 and was a plus-1.

"I thought he was fine," Berube said. "He's been out a while. Once he got his feet under him, I thought he was pretty good and did his job."
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues fans celebrate Ryan O'Reilly's goal in the second period of a 3-1 win
over the Vegas Golden Knights on Monday at Enterprise Center.

The Blues will not play again until Friday when they head to New York to face the Rangers and the New Jersey Devils on Saturday, but they're in a good place with six games left.

They're just four points behind the Winnipeg Jets for first in the Central Division, two behind the Nashville Predators for second and six ahead of the Dallas Stars for third.

They can clinch a playoff berth on Tuesday if the Arizona Coyotes lose in any fashion.

"I think rest is important," Berube said of the nest three days off. "We've got six games in eight days coming up, I think it's good to get some rest this week."

Monday, March 25, 2019

(3-25-19) Golden Knights-Blues Gameday Lineup

ST. LOUIS -- It'll be another test for the Blues Monday, much like the one they got Saturday.

The Blues (40-27-8) will close out a four-game homestand looking for a clean sweep when they host the red-hot Vegas Golden Knights (42-27-6) at 7 p.m. (FS-MW, KMOX 1120-AM).

The Blues, 4-0-1 the past five games, can move into second place in the Central Division with a win and a regulation loss by the Nashville Predators in Minnesota tonight.

After a 4-3 win against the NHL's top team, the Tampa Bay Lightning on Saturday, the Blues, 2-0-0 against Vegas this season and 3-0-2 in two seasons since the Golden Knights joined the NHL, are anxious for another strong test.

"They're going to come at you a lot like Tampa," Blues interim coach Craig Berube said. "They're a good rush team, they have a lot of skills, they make plays and they put a lot of pressure on you that way. They don't give you much. If you look at shots against in the league, they're one of the top teams. They defend well. (Coach) Gerard Gallant has done a good job with that group, putting in a defensive structure but also allowing them to play and have the freedom to make plays and they score goals."

Vegas is 10-1-1 since the trade deadline when they made the biggest splash in acquiring right wing Mark Stone from Ottawa for a package that included top prospect, defenseman Erik Brannstrom.

"It's tight now," Blues center Ryan O'Reilly said. "We're playing some good hockey, playing some good games and we've got to keep this thing going.

"... We're looking at the teams ahead of us and trying to catch them. It's doable. Obviously we have to win a lot of games coming down the stretch here. We can do it. We're a confident group in here right now. We're finding ways to win these tight games. It's one game at a time."

- - -

The Blues have been getting injured guys back, and will welcome defenseman Carl Gunnarsson to the lineup tonight after missing the past 24 games with a wrist injury.

"It's been pretty quick for the last couple days," Gunnarsson said. "Quick movement, just happy to be back.

"It's been the same (injury) the whole time and a tough one to deal with, but it is what is."

Gunnarsson, who hasn't played since Feb. 5 at Florida and has dealt in the past year with a hip injury, torn ACL and now lingering wrist injuries, has played in just 18 games this season and had to feel if he would ever play this season.

"Yeah, constantly," he said. "It wasn't easy thinking about that, but you always get your hope, right? So every day, coming back, hoping for the best and here we are.

"(patience was tested) a whole lot. It's not over yet. We'll see what it holds for me. It's been a struggle, for sure, I'm just happy to be back. I felt like I played well when I was in. Hopefully can keep that going too and help the boys out."

Gunnarsson will play, at least at the outset, on a pair with Robert Bortuzzo.

"He'll be back, today. We're excited," Berube said. "He's played well this year when he's played. Unfortunately, with injuries, he's missed a lot of time. But we're happy to having back.

"We'll start him there and see how it goes. 'Dunner's done a good job with 'Petro'. We'll leave that for now, but [Gunnarsson's] got a lot of composure on the ice. He does a good job of being in good position defensively and has a good stick and he makes smart puck plays."

- - -

It's been more than a year since he was traded away, but tonight will mark the return of Paul Stastny to St. Louis.

Stastny, who was traded to the Winnipeg Jets on Feb. 26, 2018 for a 2018 first-round pick and prospect Erik Foley, went on and had a run in the Stanley Cup Playoffs with the Jets to the Western Conference Final, where they coincidentally lost in five games to the team Stastny signed a three-year, $19.5 million contract with this past summer, the Golden Knights.

Stastny was injured earlier this season when the Blues played Vegas twice in November, and tonight will mark his first game back. He did not return with the Jets down the stretch last season.

"It's always exciting to come back," Stastny said. "Just to see all the guys, I'm still close with a lot of these guys and then I get to see family and friends, so that's always good. To come back to St. Louis, whether I was playing here or I was living in Colorado when I was in college, this was always home to me and is always going to be a place of comfort."

Stastny, who had 175 points (56 goals, 119 assists) in 193 regular-season games in just under four seasons with the Blues, is close with many players on the current Blues roster still, including closest friend Alexander Steen and paid a visit on Sunday.

"Yeah, I stopped by to say hi to him, say hi to his wife, to see the baby," Stastny said. "You forget how small they are until you see them in person. It was all good, I saw a few of the guys and then went to the parents' house for dinner."

The fit in Vegas has been a good one for Stastny, who has 37 points (10 goals, 27 assists) in 45 games this season, and especially now with the acquisition of Stone, who became a linemate with Stastny and Max Pacioretty.

"It's been good," Stastny said. "I had an injury earlier in the season, so that was kind of hard, I think. It's been nice, I'm good buddies with Pacioretty, so we came into the situation together with new guys. They made it easy welcoming us in. Away from the ice, it's been easy. I tell a lot of people living in Vegas is kind of like living in the Midwest. The Strip is kind of like its own little city, but where we live, it's kind of a tight-knit community and everyone takes care of each other. Off the ice, that was one of my biggest fears for my wife and kids and her biggest fear is on the ice for me. That's how we complement each other well.

"[Stone] complements our team well. More than anything, I think it just adds more depths and depth to our forward lines. We had some injuries this year, still do, everyone does, but I think we were kind of just missing that one player and once we got him, I think it all kind of balanced out with our forward depth. Since then, we've been playing pretty well."

Whether St. Louis will be home for Stastny, who grew up here while his Hockey Hall of Fame father Peter Stastny finished his career in St. Louis, in the future is still up in the air. 

"I don't know, this is where I was raised. To me, it's always home and then that's a million dollar question with the wife and I where we're going to settle down," Stastny said. "That's always out of your control, but yeah, there's always a special place here and having my daughter born here, starting a family here means a lot and that's never going to go away."

- - -

Forward Sammy Blais (lower-body injury) took part in the morning skate again and is progressing, but defenseman Joel Edmundson did not skate with the team for a fourth straight day.

"He's still having a tough time but he's feeling better," Berube said of Edmundson, who hasn't played since March 12 and missed six games. "When he's ready to play, we want him to play."

As for hope he can return before the end of the regular season?

"I hope so," Berube said. "I can't sit here and say that's going to happen for sure, but it sure would be nice."

Blais, who has also missed the past games, isn't on the radar yet either but is progressing.

"A little bit, but he's coming along," Berube said. "He's out there skating and working. That's a good sign."

- - -

The Blues' projected lineup:

Brayden Schenn-Ryan O'Reilly-Vladimir Tarasenko

Jaden Schwartz-Oskar Sundqvist-David Perron

Pat Maroon-Tyler Bozak-Robert Thomas

Zach Sanford-Ivan Barbashev-Alexander Steen

Vince Dunn-Alex Pietrangelo

Jay Bouwmeester-Colton Parayko

Carl Gunnarsson-Robert Bortuzzo

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

Healthy scratches include Robby Fabbri, Mackenzie MacEachern and Michael Del Zotto. Joel Edmundson (lower body) and Sammy Blais are still out.

- - -

The Golden Knights' projected lineup:

Jonathan Marchessault-William Karlsson-Reilly Smith

Alex Tuch-Paul Stastny-Mark Stone

Tomas Nosek-Cody Eakin-Ryan Carpenter

William Carrier-Pierre-Edouard Bellemare-Ryan Reaves

Nate Schmidt-Deryk Engelland

Brayden McNabb-Shea Theodore

Jon Merrill-Colin Miller

Malcolm Subban will start in goal; Maxime Lagace will be the backup.

Healthy scratches include Nick Holden and Valentin Zykov. Max Pacioretty (lower body), Marc-Andre Fleury, (lower body), Erik Haula (lower body) and Brandon Pirri (lower body) are out.

Sunday, March 24, 2019

Blues blitz Lightning in first, hang on for 4-3 win in battle of heavyweights

After 3-0 lead, need review to overturn tying goal; Binnington makes 39 saves, 
Schenn, Tarasenko each get goal, assist; Blues inch close to second in Central

ST. LOUIS -- Who would have imagined that after building a three-goal lead, the Blues would need their video/assistant coach to make the most important call of the game.

It looked easy for the media that got to look at the replays, with plenty of time to use, it looked like an easy call for the 18,127 fans jammed inside Enterprise Center, but for assistant coach Sean Ferrell, he's got to have the eagle eyes locked in in a nanosecond, and the decision has to be firm and decisive.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues players Jay Bouwmeester (19), Zach Sanford (12) and Colton Parayko
(55) come in to congratulate Alexander Steen (20) after scoring Saturday.

The call paid off, and the Blues were able to survive an onslaught by the Tampa Bay Lightning before picking up a crucial victory, 4-3, on Saturday night.

The win for the Blues (40-27-8), coupled with Nashville's 5-0 loss at Winnipeg means the Blues trail the Predators by two points for second place in the Central Division, and also, the Dallas Stars' 3-2 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins means the Blues moved six points ahead of them for third.

"We need to make a push. Whatever other teams are playing, it's seven games left," Blues right wing Vladimir Tarasenko said. "Every point matters, especially after last year and we know this. Just try to focus on our game." 

The call of the night paid off after the best team in the NHL, the Lightning (58-14-4), who had their seven-game winning streak snapped, thought they had rallied from that three-goal, first-period deficit when Steven Stamkos blew a one-timer through Jordan Binnington with 5 minutes 43 seconds remaining to tie it 4-4. But as the fans were nervously awaiting the game to restart, the Blues' bench had other ideas, and Ferrell told Blues interim coach Craig Berube to challenge for offside. 

And as video showed, Lightning forward Brayden Point's right skate was in ahead of the puck before it entered the zone. It didn't take long to make the call, and a gutsy one because if the Blues were wrong, not only would the game have been tied, but the Lightning and their No. 1-ranked power-play would have gone right back on the man-advantage because a wrong offside challenge results in a minor penalty.

"Yeah, he had it pegged right away, so it was good," Berube said of Ferrell. "It was a good call."

The play happened near the Blues bench, but Berube didn't see it.

"Not at the time," he said. "I just looked down at the monitor and saw it. But at the time I didn’t.

"It was an important one for sure. They did a good job of catching it right away. ... It was pretty obvious what we saw … our video guy Sean, he was pretty adamant it was offsides."

And it was.

"It was offsides. It was close but it was offsides," Point said. "We were close to having that PP there. We couldn’t capitalize on a couple of chances late, but I thought our compete was there but you just can’t spot them three goals like that."

Players afterwards tipped their caps to Ferrell for making the game-saving call.

"That's obviously huge," Blues forward Vladimir Tarasenko said. "It's a great job by our guys who run this stuff. When you get a call like this and cancel goal, it kind of change momentum a little bit. It was a great support by the fans too. It's another great moment of the game and really happy with our performance tonight."

Added forward Brayden Schenn: "Great job by Sean Ferrell, our video coach, he knew right away, called it offsides, that's huge, we'll take breaks like that.

"He should (get the Plager Gloves). Sean and our massage guys in there too, Steve Squier. Between the two of them, they were able to make the call."

Tarasenko and Schenn each had a goal and an assist, and Binnington made 39 saves and faced his NHL-high 42 shots for the Blues, who have won three games in a row. Binnington is 12-0-1 against Eastern Conference teams.

"It's huge, it's huge for team confidence," Schenn said. "They're a very good team, playing great hockey, winning a lot of games, scoring a lot of goals. For us to come in and beat them two times this year, obviously gives the team confidence and we know we're a good team in here."

"Obviously best team in the league so far right now," Tarasenko said. "We were preparing for a harder game. We remember how hard it was in Tampa when we played there. We tried to play good defensively and believe good defense lead to offense. Our D's and goalie played great. It's a huge win for us."

Point scored to reach 40 goals in the NHL for the first time, and Andrei Vasilevskiy made 22 saves for the Lightning.

"I thought our compete was there, but you just can’t spot them three goals like that," Point said.

That 3-0 spot the Blues took came in a blitz in the first period. Those three goals came in a span of 1:15.

Robert Thomas scored a power-play goal at 11:30 to make it 1-0. He was on the doorstep and followed up shots by Tyler Bozak and Vince Dunn.

Alexander Steen made it 2-0 at 12:08 with his first goal in 13 games, tumbling into the slot area and chipped a shot over Vasilevskiy, and Tarasenko scored his St. Louis-leading 29th goal at 12:45 to make it 3-0 off a 2-on-1 play with Ryan O'Reilly.

"It was a good push for us, but we slipped a little bit in the second," Tarasenko said. "We should work (on this) and we shouldn't do this, give them feeling of the game. It became a tough match for us, but obviously always a 3-0 lead in the first is always good for us."

The Blues had to know the Lightning were not going to go away and had the chance to put the game away with a power-play to start the second. Instead of making it 4-0, they allowed a goal which Berube said was no excuse to allow.

Alex Killorn scored shorthanded 27 seconds into the period to get Tampa Bay to within 3-1, and it was a trigger of plays that led to it, including Alex Pietrangelo giving the puck away in the neutral zone, then Binnington having trouble with a long range shot that resulted in a defensive zone faceoff, one the Blues lost before Killorn alone slipped a puck in.

"We went out and we had a power play and had a faceoff and you can’t give up a goal like that," Berube said. "We were on our heels after that for eight, nine minutes."

The Lightning outshot the Blues 19-8 in the period, and Point scored at 7:24 to make it 3-2 after O'Reilly's giveaway in the neutral zone, and then the Blues' center didn't cover Point to the net and he slotted in a Ryan McDonagh pass from the half wall.

"It wasn't over," Schenn said. "They score too many goals for them not to make a game of it. They're dangerous, all lines can score, their 'D' are active. They play hard, they make plays, we probably made their job a little easier, letting them back in with the power play to start the second. 'Binner' was great again tonight, making huge saves and fun atmosphere to be part of."

Schenn's goal that gave the Blues a 4-2 lead at 14:24 with a between-the-legs backhand over Vasilevskiy was a momentum-changing goal.

It came as a result of Ivan Barbashev's forecheck and ensuing strip of the puck from behind on McDonagh. He fed Tarasenko, whose shot from the slot was stopped by Vasilevskiy, but Schenn collected it, went to his backhand and waited as long as he could before lifting it just over Vasilevskiy's arm.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Ryan O'Reilly (left) Vladimir Tarasenko and Robert Bortuzzo celebrate a 
goal by Tarasenko in the Blues' 4-3 win over Andrei Vasilevskiy (88) and the
Tampa Bay Lightning.

"I think my goal ... I'll take it back even before that, the penalty kill stepped up," Schenn said. "It was a 3-2 hockey game and the penalty kill killed off a penalty yet again. Then I was able to get the 4-2 goal. Special teams, especially the PK, were big tonight."

"It was a great forecheck by 'Barby' and great pass," Tarasenko said. "Obviously great play by 'Schenner'."

Stamkos did score from the slot to make it 4-3 at 4:46 of the third period, but Binnington was able to hold the fort down after the disallowed goal.

"Obviously, they're an offensively gifted team," Binnington said. "There's a lot of momentum changes in that game. Our fans helped us out a couple times. It was just a battle from the start of the second period on. Thankfully, we had a good first period and kind of built off that and just competed right till the end."

Saturday, March 23, 2019

(3-23-19) Lightning-Blues Gameday Lineup

ST. LOUIS -- The Blues took care of business to open this four-game homestand, beating the teams (Edmonton and Detroit) that they're supposed to beat.

Now comes the real challenge.

The true tests will arrive in the form of the best team in the NHL (Tampa Bay) on Saturday, and the hottest team going (Vegas) on Monday.

The Blues (39-27-8) will look to gain ground in the Central Division when they host the Lightning (58-13-4) at 7 p.m. (FS-MW, KMOX 1120-AM). St. Louis is four points ahead of the Dallas Stars for third in the Central and four behind the Nashville Predators for second.

The Blues have won the first two games of the four-game homestand (7-2 over the Oilers and 5-2 over the Red Wings) but now play a team in search of their third eight-game winning streak of the season; they have won seven in a row for the fourth time in one season, matching only the 1983-84 Edmonton Oilers.

"We played them well last time we were in Tampa, right," Blues defenseman Alex Pietrangelo said. "We know what we're capable of inside this room. We played them well, we looked at it this morning, same type of recipe. We know what we can do."

The Blues beat the Lightning 1-0 in overtime on a Brayden Schenn goal Feb. 7, their fourth straight win during what turned into a franchise-record 11-game winning streak.

"We controlled the pace of play," Pietrangelo said. "We kept them out of our end, for one. They want to play direct, they want to play on the move, so we want to play the game into their end. It's two teams that maybe play a little differently, but whoever can control the pace of the game is going to have the most success."

Them come the Golden Knights on Monday, who are 10-1-0 since the trade deadline when they made the big splash and acquired Mark Stone from Ottawa. 

These are the tests the Blues will see come playoff time, so it'll be a good opportunity to get a gauge on where they're at.

"Both are good teams," Blues interim coach Craig Berube said. "Tampa obviously the best record in the league. Just going on that game we played in Tampa it was just a real competitive game. They've got high-end skill and they compete hard. Vegas has really turned it up since the trade deadline with a couple acquisitions that have really helped them out and they're on a roll.

"That [Lightning] team's focused for sure. Their coach does a good job of doing that and keeping them focused and they've got veterans on that team that have been around and won a lot of games. They know they've got to stay playing and stay focused, so it's going to be a tough game."

The Lightning, 19-2-0 the past 21 games, already have wrapped up the Presidents' Trophy, need four wins from tying the NHL record for most wins in one season (Detroit, 62-13-7, 1995-96). The Lightning also must win their remaining five road games to set the NHL record for most road wins in one season (Detroit, 31, 2005-06). 

"We just want to continue to find ways to win games," Lightning center Steven Stamkos said. "That's what this whole season's been about. We've had some quality opponents the last few games, including this one tonight.

"... It was a 0-0 game if I remember correctly (against the Blues) going into overtime. Both teams defended well, both teams' goaltenders were on. They check well. The second half of the season, they've been one of the top teams in the league to get back into a playoff spot. They're a really good team and we're going to have to stay disciplined. We expect a low-scoring game."

The Blues, 3-0-0 against the Lightning and Golden Knights this season, have done well against the teams at the top of the standings.

"I think the big thing for us is to look at it as another game," Blues forward Zach Sanford said. "Come prepared and come ready to play hard. It is a good test. They're a good team and we'll see how we match up against them.

"Vegas has been hot too and they're a strong team. It's two good tests for us."

With the Predators and Winnipeg Jets set to square off tonight, a win for the Blues means they will gain on someone.

"It's a pretty good test for us," Blues forward Robert Thomas said. "We've been playing up and down a bit lately. We've got to be real sharp if we want to beat these teams. 

"We're still fighting to move up in the standings here. The teams below us are playing real well as well. Every game matters that much more, especially against the top teams. You want to build some momentum going into the playoffs and really elevate your game."

- - -

It'll be an interesting evening in the home of Joe and Eddy Pietrangelo on the Toronto suburbs tonight.

Alex Pietrangelo's parents will welcome the parents of teammate Michael Del Zotto and Stamkos over to watch the game tonight.

Two sets of Blues parents vs. one for the Lightning. 


Well, it goes back to when Pietrangelo, Del Zotto and Stamkos were part of the assembled all-star team known as the Toronto Blues, a group of kids that played summer hockey together.

The team featured Toronto's John Tavares, Tampa Bay's Cameron Gaunce as well as goalie Michael Hutchinson, who's with the Toronto Marlies of the American Hockey League.

Pietrangelo and Del Zotto have spoken of their experiences about it, but Stamkos also remembers it vividly, including the 49-1 record they had.

"We were probably 10, 11, 12, 13, 14 (years old), in that range," Stamkos said. "We had a pretty amazing summer team together. We went like 49-1 in three summers or something like that. It was a lot of fun, a lot of great players that were on that team. My dad [Chris] was the coach and just pretty much opened the doors and let us go. We used to have one practice at the beginning of the summer for everyone to get to know each other, for the parents to get to know each other and that was it. We just went out and played. We had some great times together.

"It was summer hockey so it was a little more fun. Tavares was on that team, Michael Hutchinson was the goalie, so we had a lot of NHLers. Cameron Gaunce was on that team for a little while as well. The fact that we all grew up together, kind of grew up in the same neighborhoods and played with or against each other pretty much our whole lives. Maybe something in the water that birth year, but it was pretty special looking back now seeing guys who have gone on to have great professional careers. We played together when we were seven, eight years old all the way to 15."

- - -

As if Ryan O'Reilly hasn't received enough praise this season for helping the Blues get to where they are, potential Jack Adams winner and Lightning coach Jon Cooper had the experience of coaching O'Reilly for Canada at the 2017 World Championship and had some glowing comments about O'Reilly, who leads the Blues in points (69) and assists (43).

"I think everything I'm about to say here has been said a thousand times about him, but there's not an area on the ice that he doesn't excel at," Cooper said. "It's from the drop of the puck, whether it's faceoffs, penalty kill, power play, in the locker room. He's one of those guys that I think teams that win, he's a big part of that. I just know from that experience at the Worlds, and we ended up losing in a shootout in the end, without guys like Ryan O'Reilly driving the bus for us in that tournament, we wouldn't have gone as far. 

"One of the things about coaching in those tournaments is building relationships with other players not on your team. I was very fortunate to be able to be with Ryan for a couple weeks."

- - -

Blues forward David Perron will take a 17-game point streak (nine goals, 13 assists) into the game, a personal career-high.

The Blues will look to register a hat trick for the third straight game, which would be a franchise record. Jaden Schwartz had one against Edmonton on Tuesday and Ivan Barbashev recorded one THursday against Detroit.

- - -

The Blues' projected lineup:

Brayden Schenn-Ryan O'Reilly-Vladimir Tarasenko

Jaden Schwartz-Oskar Sundqvist-David Perron

Pat Maroon-Tyler Bozak-Robert Thomas

Zach Sanford-Ivan Barbashev-Alexander Steen

Vince Dunn-Alex Pietrangelo

Jay Bouwmeester-Colton Parayko

Michael Del Zotto-Robert Bortuzzo

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

Healthy scratches will be Robby Fabbri and Mackenzie MacEachern. Joel Edmundson (lower body), Carl Gunnarsson (upper body) and Sammy Blais (lower body) are out.

- - -

The Lightning's projected lineup:

Ondrej Palat-Steven Stamkos-J.T. Miller

Tyler Johnson-Brayden Point-Nikita Kucherov

Alex Killorn-Anthony Cirelli-Mathieu Joseph

Adam Erne-Cedric Paquette-Ryan Callahan

Victor Hedman-Mikhail Sergachev

Ryan McDonagh-Erik Cernak

Braydon Coburn-Jan Rutta

Andrei Vasilevskiy will start in goal; Louis Domingue will be the backup.

Healthy scratches will be Danick Martel and Cameron Gaunce. Dan Girardi (lower body) and Anton Stralman (lower body) are out. Yanni Gourde will not play and will serve the first of a two-game suspension.

Thursday, March 21, 2019

Barbashev's first NHL hat trick fuels Blues to 5-2 win over Red Wings

Center was playing in front of parents, brother visiting from Russia; fourth line 
accounts for seven points; Maroon scores in career-best fourth straight game

ST. LOUIS -- Perhaps Dmitry and Marina Barbashev could stay in St. Louis a bit longer.

The parents of Ivan Barbashev made the long trek from Moscow, along with Barbashev's younger brother Max, to visit the Blues center iceman for the first time. They arrived on Monday to see the 23-year-old live and in person.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Ivan Barbashev pumps his fist after scoring Thursday against Detroit. It was
the first NHL hat trick for Barbashev in a 5-2 win at Enterprise Center.

They couldn't have picked a better time since Barbashev gave each of them a treat, a goal for every family member to equal out to his first NHL hat trick in a 5-2 win against the Detroit Red Wings before 18,272 at Enterprise Center on Thursday.

Barbashev's parents arrived in time to see the Blues throttle the Edmonton Oilers, 7-2, on Tuesday to get accustomed to life in America. They'll be here until April 2, prompting Barbashev to joke, "Yeah, I'll let tired of it, don't worry."

But he gave them something to cheer about in a game the Blues (39-27-8) didn't play their best but found a way to grind out two points.

"It feels great," said Barbashev, who became the 11th player to reach double digits in goals with 12. "It's their second game here to watch me and it was unbelievable. It was a good feeling."

It marked the second straight game that the Blues, who moved four points ahead of the Dallas Stars for third place in the Central Division after the Stars lost 3-1 to Colorado and within four points of Nashville for second after the Predators lost 2-1 in a shootout to Pittsburgh, got production from a newly-formed line that came together after a couple injured players came back to give interim coach Craig Berube options.

Barbashev, Alexander Steen and Zach Sanford, the anointed fourth line, accounted for seven points (three goals, four assists) a game after Jaden Schwartz, Oskar Sundqvist and David Perron accounted for nine points (four goals, five assists).

They were needed in a game the Blues weren't necessarily at their best but found a way to grind out goals and grind the Red Wings (26-38-10) in their zone when Detroit came at them with speed and tenacity.

"I thought our first period wasn't really good, but the second and third, we just started playing better," Barbashev said. "We played physical. It was a lot of fun to be out there."

Pat Maroon scored in his fourth straight game, a career-best streak, and Sundqvist also scored. Jordan Binnington made 20 saves to improve to 11-0-1 against the Eastern Conference.

"I thought it was a grind the whole game, pretty much," Berube said. "Not a clean game. Fourth line, excellent game, they're doing a real good job for us."

Steen had three assists, his first multi-point game since Dec. 27 against Buffalo (29 games) and first points in 12 games. Steen’s assist on Barbashev’s second goal was his 600th point in the NHL. He and his father Thomas Steen (817) became the fourth father-son duo to each have at least 600 points in the NHL, joining Gordie (1,850) and Mark Howe (742), Bobby (1,170) and Brett Hull (1,391), and Peter (1,239) and Paul Stastny (678).

"Something to look back on later," Steen said. "Cool names to be in there with and especially to be in there with the Stastnys is a little extra special."

The line was the epitome of what was needed to win on Thursday with its grinding, forechecking, hitting style that created net-front goals and allowed the Blues to establish a lead after falling behind 1-0 just two minutes into the game,

"In the second period, we stopped making turnovers and we just put it deep and we went there and just play physical," Barbashev said. "I think everybody had a helluva game."

"They've been playing extremely well," Steen said of Barbashev and Sanford. "I thought last game we had a lot of chances and could have buried some more. Both guys worked extremely hard, 'Sanny' is very physical and supported the puck. The one goal 'Barby' scored, he was physical but 'Sanny' was the one that the puck stuck. They're playing great right now, 'Barby' to get three tonight was awesome. He's got family in town. It's a good touch."

Thomas Vanek, who scored twice, gave Detroit a 1-0 lead at 2:05 of the first period on a rebound after the Blues were backing in on a 3-on-2. Binnington left a dangerous rebound in the slot and the puck go to the net where Vanek was able to get two whacks at it. But Sundqvist tied it 1-1 at 11:46 when David Perron, chipped a puck in and defenseman Michael Del Zotto, who has an assist in three straight games, read the play and went in and fed Sundqvist a pass off the backhand before he was able to beat Jonathan Bernier high glove side.

Perron had the secondary assist to extend his point streak to 17 games (nine goals, 13 assists). It's the fourth time in Blues history a player has had at least one point in 17 consecutive appearances, joining Brett Hull (25 games in 1991-92, 20 in 1989-90) and Blake Dunlop (19 games in 1981-82).

"The first period was a little slow start, but I thought the second and third, we came on, we played our game," Maroon said.

Barbashev gave the Blues a 2-1 lead at 3:22 of the second period after getting to a loose puck in front and poked it high into the net. Steen hit the post off a 2-on-1 with Sanford initially, but the Blues kept at it. Barbashev made it 3-1 at 8:16 on his own rebound when Sanford's forecheck initially helped make the play and Barbashev made a big hit on Detroit's Michael Rasmussen before getting to the net.

"When I talked to 'Barby' or our coaching staff, we talked about 'Barby' being a power forward more, banging and crashing and getting to the net and scoring dirty goals around there," Berube said. "He's capable of that stuff."

Detroit wouldn't go away when Vanek cut it to 3-2 at 8:48 of the third period on a slap shot from the top of the left circle that the Blues thought about challenging for goalie interference when Tyler Bertuzzi went tumbling over Binnington. But the coaches left it alone since Alex Pietrangelo shoved Bertuzzi in there. But Maroon's goal made it 4-2 at 10:19 to eliminate any Detroit momentum.

He scooped a backhand in when the Blues sent traffic to the net again and converted Robert Thomas' soccer-style kick pass to the right of Bernier.

"I think that's what we've been talking about all year," Maroon said. "Especially on that stretch we had where it's just when someone scores you've got to find a way to bounce back, get the next one. Our line went out there, got back to our game, grinding them down low. Getting high-to-low, screens in front and found a way to get the rebound. [Robert] Thomas made a heck of a play with his skate, making that pass. So we found way to get it done tonight.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Pat Maroon (7) celebrates after scoring Thursday with Detroit's Brian 
Lashoff in the background of the Blues' 5-2 win over the Red Wings.

"... We found ways to go to the net and get some ugly goals tonight. Barby did a heck of a job on his first two goals tonight and got rewarded. They're a hard team over there. They play fast. They're hard to play against. And I thought we did a good job." 

Barbashev completed the hat trick with an empty-net goal to extend the lead to 5-2 at 19:11.

"I actually was trying to put it low in the net but somehow it just went up," Barbashev said. "I just probably got a little nervous."

The Blues, 2-0-0 on this four-game homestand, now will be tested greatly with visits from the league's best team, Tampa Bay, on Saturday and red-hot Vegas on Monday.

"Play hockey. Consistency," Berube said. "We've got the best team in the league coming in here Saturday. We're going to have to play well."

(3-21-19) Red Wings-Blues Gameday Lineup

ST. LOUIS -- Last game, it was Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl. Before that, it was Jack Eichel, and before that Sidney Crosby

What do they all have in common? Well, two things. They were kept off the scoresheet against the Blues, and chances are they were on the ice getting sealed off against Jay Bouwmeester and Colton Parayko.

When the Blues (38-27-8) host the Detroit Red Wings (26-37-10) at 7 p.m. today (FS-MW, KMOX 1120-AM) looking to get closer to second place in the Central Division and gain separation from the Dallas Stars, chances are that Bouwmeester and Parayko will see a lot of Detroit's top players, including Andreas Athanasiou and Dylan Larkin.

Crosby is fourth in the NHL with 93 points -- zero against the Blues. Eichel leads the Sabres with 73 points -- zero against the Blues. And McDavid, second in the NHL with 105 points and Draisaitl is sixth with 91 -- both held off the scoresheet for the first time since Jan. 19, a span of 24 straight games where either one or the other tallied at least a point for the Oilers.

It's not an easy thing to do, but boy, lining up 6-foot-6, 230-pounds [Parayko] and 6-4, 206 [Bouwmeester] can disrupt an awful lot on the ice.

"They've been great for I don't know how many months now playing together," Blues interim coach Craig Berube said. "We put them out there against a top line almost every night and they do a good job shutting them down.

"They're both really good skaters and they've got big reaches, good sticks. That's a big part of it right there. They're both big guys, with long reaches and they both can skate really well. They have good chemistry together and work well together."

Ask Bouwmeester, who earlier in his Blues career mentored Alex Pietrangelo and was his playing partner, and he said it's inevitable that you will see those players on the ice at some point.

"We don't necessarily match lines like a lot of teams, but you're playing top four minutes, you're going to get those lines," Bouwmeester said. "That's essentially your No. 1 job is to keep those guys' chances to a minimum. You're going to have nights ... those guys are good players, they're going to get their chances. It's more just trying to keep them limited and that sort of thing. It's been going pretty well now for a while. 

"For me, my focus has never changed. I've played against a lot of good players for a long time, and that's kind of been the role. When Eddy's healthy, it's four big guys that can move. Essentially, it's our six. It doesn't really matter; we've got six capable guys. It's not like we have just four guys playing all the minutes. Other guys fill them in. You're killing penalties against top players. It's kind of a group effort. Just the way it's lined up, we've played against some top guys, but on the road, you don't get the matches like you do at home. There's lots that goes into it. I think our group as a team, I think we've identified what our game looks like and when we're playing good, it's easier to play defense because you don't give up as many odd-man rushes. Essentially you're not playing as much in your own end. That's probably a bigger revelation than anything since the start of the year, that we're playing better as a team.

"We've had a string of pretty decent games. It's one of those things you don't really want to jinx it or anything like that. [Parayko] skates so good and he's such a big guy that he can play against those guys with speed like McDavid, the Nathan MacKinnons and, Crosbys and those guys. I think that's our game, just have a good gap and use your size and your reach to kind of try to force things by the blue line and not give up things once they get into the zone. It's essential they're going to get chances because they're good players. It's more of you can keep everything to the outside and not give those chances on the inside, that's where those goals are going to come from."

Parayko said it's a matter of getting help on the ice, and with the forwards back-checking the way they do, they get good reads on when to close those gaps.

"It's a five-man unit out there and the goalie," Parayko said. "Especially the forwards do a good job of tracking for us. They made it a lot easier. I can count a couple times in my head just forwards that are intercepting a pass on the backcheck, it's impressive and when you have that, it allows us to keep a tight gap and that just makes it hard on their forwards to generate speed and generate opportunities. Just a good job by our forwards and obviously 'Bouw' is an unbelievable skater and makes it easy on me.

"Obviously when you watch 'Bouw', he's so simple and it makes him so good, as weird as that sounds. The way that he plays makes it so easy on not only me but the forwards. He plays a direct game, he plays a simple game. That's just almost the best game is a game that makes it tough on other teams too to play against and he's been doing it for years. It's fun to watch and it's been fun to play by his size."

Bouwmeester, who has battled a tough hip injury that required surgery last off-season and saw him struggle at the beginning before finally getting healthy and arguably playing the best hockey of his career, sort of laughed at the notion that they can pick up the stat sheet and see zeroes for the opposition's top players.

"Yeah, we can have zeroes next to our names too," Bouwmeester said. "Everybody has their role and takes pride in it and I think everyone in the room recognizes that. Sometimes those jobs with those matchups and killing penalties and that sort of thing is recognized and they're appreciated. Essentially, you know who you're mostly playing against most nights. You don't want them ever to score, but it happens.

"I think that's why me and Petro played together for a long time. It worked right away just because we both skated and both played with a similar mindset. With Colton, it's no different. He's a very similar player. With Petro, he can skate, he can move the puck, defensively. It's just with his size defensively, he can take so much away. He just takes up a lot of space, he's got a really good stick too. He has a knack for knocking down pucks and just getting in lanes and that sort of thing, obviously stops a lot of things before they start. For me, it's fun because I like him. He's a young kid, we're from the same area, there's a lot in common right from the first day he was here. We had things to talk about. That helps too and it helps with the communication. We do communicate well. We'll talk about things that happened on the ice when we get to the bench. He's a smart kid and he's good at parking things if they go bad and just move on. It makes it easy for me."

Parayko averages 22 minutes 42 seconds per game of ice time, while Bouwmeester comes in at 20:33, which is well below his career average of 24:16, but it's made him a much more effective skater, especially down the stretch of a long season.

- - -

Even the best of friends will drop the gloves.

That's what happened Tuesday when former teammates and still friends Pat Maroon of the Blues and Zack Kassian of the Oilers had a heavyweight tilt in the second period of the Blues' 7-2 win.

The Blues were ahead 4-0 at the time, and it smelled of one of those opportunities where the veteran Kassian could pick a time to try and light a fire under his struggling team, particularly after Oilers coach Ken Hitchcock had already made a goalie change.

It was a spirited battle, one in which both threw their share of shots in.

"I talked to him after the game," Maroon said. "We're obviously good friends. We talk every day. We hang out, we hung out a lot in Edmonton. We see each other every summer, we go on vacation with our wives. It is what is. Sometimes, you need to find a way to get the guys going.

"I didn't expect it, but it is what it is. It's over now. No one got hurt, you never want to see your friends get hurt. I'm just glad we won. He's really tough. It's hard to fight lefties. I kind of have to figure out what his strategy is. Obviously he threw heavy. I was just trying to wear him down and see if he can throw and I can throw some. He's a tough guy that fights some heavy boys. I'm just glad no one got hurt. He's a good friend of mine. I'm just glad everyone's OK."

The two had dinner together Monday night, and Kassian said he would reach out to Maroon after the game, which he did.

"Patty's being Patty, stirring the pot out there," Kassian said. "I had dinner with him [Monday] night. It's kind of the way we play. If we're playing against each other, sometimes we're going to butt heads. Trying to get a spark. I know he's a gamer, he's a willing combatant, he's been around for a long time and I respect the hell out of him. It's just the way the game goes sometimes." 

- - -

The Blues are going with the same lineup as the one used Tuesday, and that includes Oskar Sundqvist, who left the game with around 6:30 to play after taking a cross-check from behind from Milan Lucic that netted the Edmonton forward a five-minute major and game misconduct.

It also means Mackenzie MacEachern will be a healthy scratch for the second game, and with players returning from injury, there will be players needing to come out of the lineup, and right now, Berube is choosing to play Zach Sanford over MacEachern.

When asked if MacEachern's game has leveled off a bit, Berube said, "A little bit. He's got to get that bite back in his game, forechecking, hitting, being hard on people. He can hunt people down with his skating. So he needs to get back to that."

As for Sanford, it's been an up-and-down adventure, but Berube is keeping a close eye on him.

"He's a smart player," Berube said. "He has very good defensive awareness out there. And he's got a real good stick. He's a good player. He's got a lot of upside to his game. Really good hands. 

"I think there's been times when his puck decisions aren't very good. Or he wants to make a play all the time. We need him to just go north a little bit more and make harder plays. I liked that line [Tuesday] night of [Ivan] Barbashev, [Alexander] Steen and Sanford. I thought they were very effective. Did things right. Forechecked hard. And that's what we want 'Sanny' to do, we want him to be a hard forechecking guy, get in there, bang bodies and then use his hands in the offensive zone."

Defensemen Joel Edmundson (lower body) and Carl Gunnarsson (upper body) along with forward Sammy Blais (lower body) all took part in the morning skate but are not ready to play.

- - -

The Blues signed goalie Joel Hofer to a three-year, entry-level contract.

Hofer was drafted in the fourth round of the 2018 NHL Draft.

Hofer, 18, has split this season between the Western Hockey League’s Swift Current Broncos and Portland Winterhawks. In 30 games with the Broncos, Hofer was 6-21-1 with a .904 save percentage. With the Winterhawks, was 9-8-0 with a 3.18 GAA and a .911 save percentage in 18 games.

Hofer began his junior career with Swift Current in 2017-18 and was 8-3-1 record, a 2.61 GAA and a .914 save percentage while helping the Broncos capture the WHL Championship.

- - -

The Blues' projected lineup:

Brayden Schenn-Ryan O'Reilly-Vladimir Tarasenko

Jaden Schwartz-Oskar Sundqvist-David Perron

Pat Maroon-Tyler Bozak-Robert Thomas

Alexander Steen-Ivan Barbashev-Zach Sanford

Vince Dunn-Alex Pietrangelo

Jay Bouwmeester-Colton Parayko

Michael Del Zotto-Robert Bortuzzo

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

Healthy scratches include Robby Fabbri and Mackenzie MacEachern. Joel Edmundson (lower body), Carl Gunnarsson (upper body) and Sammy Blais (lower body) are out.

- - -

The Red Wings' projected lineup:

Darren Helm-Dylan Larkin-Anthony Mantha

Tyler Bertuzzi-Andreas Athanasiou-Luke Glendening

Thomas Vanek-Frans Nielsen-Taro Hirose

Christoffer Ehn-Michael Rasmussen-Ryan Kuffner

Danny DeKeyser-Filip Hronek

Niklas Kronwall-Madison Bowey

Brian Lashoff-Luke Witkowski

Jonathan Bernier will start in goal; Jimmy Howard will be the backup.

Libor Sulak (illness) will be scratched after being recalled Wednesday. Trevor Daley (back), Jonathan Ericsson (lower body), Justin Abdelkader (leg), Mike Green (virus) and Jacob de la Rose (accelerated heartbeat) are all out.