ST. LOUIS -- Robert Thomas will play in Game 3 of the Western Conference Final against the San Jose Sharks today (7 p.m.; NBCSN, KYKY 98.1-FM).
Thomas, who missed a highly-populated optional practice on May 9 along with five other regulars, skipped today's morning skate and interim coach Craig Berube confirmed it was for maintenance purposes and Thomas will be good to go tonight.
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It seems like beating a dead horse, but the Blues used some different personnel to try and jumpstart an ailing power play, which is 1-for-26 in its last eight games and has been outscored 2-1, believe it or not.
So what Berube did was change up some of the personnel, giving it a different look, one that had a similar feel to it from the start of the season when the Blues were on fire.
One unit featured Vladimir Tarasenko with Ryan O'Reilly, Pat Maroon, Tyler Bozak and Colton Parayko on the point. The other featured Jaden Schwartz, Brayden Schenn, David Perron and Vince Dunn and Alex Pietrangelo manning the point.
"Yeah, I think it helps simplify," O'Reilly said of the new looks. "I think it's guys we started the beginning of the year with the unit that we have now. I think we work real well. We have to compete and we have to shoot the puck. When we do that, that's when we get the confidence and the little things start opening up and giving good looks on both ends.
"When we have a chance to shoot the puck, we have to shoot it. They're pressuring so hard, we're getting caught on our heels a bit. Instead I think we've got to be a little more aggressive and just be shooting it. From there, that's when the plays will come out."
Thomas could be put into the mix somewhere here, but if the Blues are giving the look that they presented early in the season, perhaps Thomas is on the outside looking in for now.
"At the beginning of the year, we had a lot of success with these units, so I think that being said, you have to find ways to just be positive and generate momentum off the power play," Maroon said. "You don't have to focus on scoring a goal. First, you have to start with generating some momentum and getting momentum when the next time a line goes out there, we have momentum and it's a momentum shift. Their penalty kill's just taking away so much momentum and it's kind of like, 'Jeez, how do we get through this?' We've got to find ways to just create momentum and get shots through, work hard, out-compete their penalty kill, and I think we'll have success. They're out-competing us right now. We can't really worry about scoring, focus on the little things, what we can do, shoot the puck, winning our puck battles, getting it back up, making plays because all that creativity will kind of open up, get the box moving a little bit. The puck will start doing its work. We've got to find some ways to flood some pucks to the net and hopefully we get lucky here."
That consistency has not been nearly enough.
"No there hasn't. It's not enough," Maroon said. "We're not shooting the puck enough. They're getting the momentum when we should be getting the momentum. When they kill off a PK, then 5-on-5, they're getting opportunities, getting chances and they feed off that. So we've got to just find ways to create momentum off of that. One power play at a time, stick with it, stay positive and we'll start to click here."
Berube understands it's about momentum, and the Blues, who are 0-for-6 in the series and 0-for-18, need it.
"Just momentum. Just some sustained pressure on our power play," Berube said. "Gain some opportunities and some momentum out of it. We obviously want to score on the power play, but we're not getting enough sustained pressure and momentum from it right now."
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The Sharks, who are expected to insert Michael Haley into the lineup and replace Marcus Sorensen, have been opportunistic with their sticks, and that's created turnovers, which in turn has created goals in this series.
Of San Jose's eight goals scored, six of them have come as a direct result of the Blues turning the puck over, and it comes from the Sharks having good sticks in lanes all over the ice.
"They're really good with their sticks," Parayko said. "Their neutral zone forecheck is similar to a 1-4. It's kind of like they're waiting for you to make a mistake. It's not as pressure full as other teams. A 1-4 seems to be a system for them ... you look at their second goal the other day, we have a turnover and they spring a guy on a breakaway. That was a forward that got back to break up the pass. It's just one of those things when you have guys like that, their transition game is effective. You have to make sure you're mindful of it. Their transition game is really strong, which is a big part of their neutral zone."
The Blues flipped their defensive pairings around mid-game in Game 2 and it seemed to calm things down, and they certainly cut down on those turnovers. But Berube will go back with the pairs that got them to this point, and they are comfortable in whichever way they play.
"That's what's so good about our d-corps," Parayko said. "We're all interchangeable and we're all available to play with each other, bring a different dynamic that sometimes in a game you need things to kind of be switched up, changed up and I thought that was good. With our defensive corps, we have that ability to do that, which is impressive and not everybody has that ability. We can continue to roll six d-men all game long and when you do that, it's hard, especially this deep in the playoffs to continue to manage ice time, manage play for everybody. When you're able to switch things up and control it a little bit that way, it makes things a little more effective instead of throwing guys out there and doubling guys up and stuff like that.
"... It's got us here. We're here for a reason. It's one game and sometimes games are played differently and different things are done throughout the game. You've got to play it by ear almost each game. It was impressive that mid-game, all of the sudden you go out with a different partner and it seems like it's a smooth transition and just seems like you can continue to play."
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The Blues defensemen have produced scoring all season long, and after a dry spell of 11 straight games without a goal (four to end the regular season and the first seven of the playoffs), they've been rolling since Game 2 of the second round.
The Blues have scored seven goals the past eight games, including one each from Robert Bortuzzo and Dunn that helped in a Game 2 win in this series.
"They've been doing it all year," Berube said. "We encourage our defense to be part of the offensive side of things, getting up in the rush, being in the offensive zone activating. They've obviously been a big part of our success, not only in the regular season but in the playoffs."
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* Blues goalie Jordan Binnington is one win shy from becoming the 10th rookie goalie in NHL history with at least 10 wins in a postseason (record is 15, co-held by Patrick Roy, MTL, 1986; Ron Hextall, PHI, 1987; Cam Ward, CAR, 2006 and Matt Murray, PIT, 2016). Binnington is also one win from setting the Blues record for most wins in one postseason (tied with Brian Elliott, 2016 and Roman Turek, 2001).
* Blues defenseman Alex Pietrangelo (2-10-12) needs one point to set the Blues record for points by a defenseman in a postseason. He's tied with Joe Micheletti (1-11-12 in 1981), Jeff Brown (2-10-12 in 1990 and 3-9-12 in 1991) and Al MacInnis (4-8-12 in 1999).
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The Blues' projected lineup:
Jaden Schwartz-Brayden Schenn-Vladimir Tarasenko
Sammy Blais-Ryan O'Reilly-David Perron
Pat Maroon-Tyler Bozak-Robert Thomas
Ivan Barbashev-Oskar Sundqvist-Alexander Steen
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 will be Robby Fabbri, Michael Del Zotto, Zach Sanford, Mackenzie MacEachern, Chris Thorburn and Ville Husso. Carl Gunnarsson (lower body) is still day-to-day but skated again Wednesday.
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The Sharks' projected lineup:
Timo Meier-Logan Couture-Gustav Nyquist
Evander Kane-Tomas Hertl-Joe Pavelski
Melker Karlsson-Joe Thornton-Kevin Labanc
Joonas Donskoi-Barclay Goodrow-Micheal Haley
Marc-Edouard Vlasic-Brent Burns
Brenden Dillon-Erik Karlsson
Joakim Ryan-Justin Braun
Martin Jones will start in goal; Aaron Dell will be the backup.
Healthy scratches include Marcus Sorensen, Dylan Gambrell, Tim Heed, Lukas Radil, Radim Simek and Antti Suomela. The Sharks report no injuries.
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