By LOU KORAC
ST. LOUIS -- Carl Gunnarsson sustained a lower-body injury in Thursday's 4-3 shootout loss against the Vancouver Canucks and is day-to-day after not practicing for the Blues on Friday before they entertain the Montreal Canadiens at 2 p.m. on Saturday (FS-MW, ESPN 101.1-FM) in the second of a four-game homestand.
Gunnarsson was not on the ice when the Blues practiced Friday at the Centene Community Center in Maryland Heights and wasn't ruled out for Saturday's rematch with the Canadiens (the Blues lost 6-3 in Montreal on Oct. 12, their lone regulation loss), but it doesn't look like he'll be available.
"He's day-to-day right now, lower body," Blues coach Craig Berube said. "... We'll see how he is tomorrow."
With Gunnarsson not on the ice, the Blues shuffled their top two defensive pairings around, moving Colton Parayko up to play the left side with Alex Pietrangelo and Robert Bortuzzo, a healthy scratch the past three games, paired with Jay Bouwmeester.
"We'll see how it looks," Berube said. "[Parayko] is such a good skater. He does wheel that way a lot in the games. We've got to find somebody that we can fit over there at times in situations like this."
Parayko said he's played the left side before and would look forward to playing with Pietrangelo if called upon.
"I'm not exactly sure what they plan, but if so, he's a good player," Parayko said of Pietrangelo. "Been around for a while. He knows how to play well. He's an elite player. If so, it's obviously an exciting opportunity. Just kind of do the best of my abilities, learn from it and have fun with it.
"... I think sometimes when you're out there too, just with the motion that we have, sometimes you just get stuck out on the left side even if you're playing the right side. Not necessarily on the left side kind of like on paper, but just when you get switched up there. I like it, I'm looking forward to it. It'll be a new challenge, a good way to learn things, and I'm looking forward to it."
If stats are correct, it will be the first time Parayko and Bouwmeester will be split up in a game when both players are playing since Jan. 3 (68 games, including playoffs). Parayko missed the last two regular-season games.
"It's a long season," Parayko said. "I think it's a good chance to do something if you're going to do something. We're playing well. I think we just need to play a full 60. I think the regular season is an opportunity to try different things, to try to find different opportunities. Obviously it's a pleasure to play with 'Bouw', a player of that caliber that's been around forever. I've just been honored to play with a guy like that, to learn so many different things from. I'll just try and take things that I learned and I would assume that we would be back together at some point, if not tomorrow. Jut go with the flow and go out there and do my thing and help the team out."
Berube couldn't recall the last time he split his two tall d-men up.
"It's been a while," he said. "When one of our 'D' is going down here, we need another lefty and we have an abundance of righties, which is kind of unusual. It's the way it is."
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One pair that Berube tried before but didn't last is Justin Faulk playing with Pietrangelo, with each right-hander playing on his off side.
Faulk has been the steady pairing with Vince Dunn in five of the past six games, including past three, and it looks like that duo will remain in tact.
"I thought they had a strong game in Long Island, especially in the offensive zone, their movement," Berube said. "Their puck play is real noticeable in there. They're both similar type players in a way. They're aggressive guys and they're good with the puck, can get up the ice. It's been a pretty good pair so far. Hopefully it grows and they can even get a little more chemistry. It takes some time, but I've liked what I've seen so far."
Faulk, acquired in a trade with the Carolina Hurricanes before the season, is still feeling his way around not only with a new partner but a new system.
"I think it's probably both, right," Faulk said. "We've played four games together? I'm not keeping count on how many games we've played together, but I think it's a process, it takes time. There's definitely things we're doing better than we were game one together probably and get the communication down and get a feel for what each other does in certain situations. It's getting better. I don't want to sit here and say it's been great, but we know there's room to improve and we're going to keep playing together, we'll figure it out and we'll be a good pair."
Dunn, who has a goal and an assist in seven games, said the familiarity continues to grow.
"As the games have been going on here, we've been playing pretty well together," Dunn said. "I think we find each other pretty well on the ice. I think our exits have been pretty good and I think in the o-zone we're very active, we find each other good on high ice. I've really been liking playing with 'Faulky' and I think Mike [Van Ryn's] put us in good spots on the ice to succeed. He knows maybe when there's offensive chances. I think that's kind of how he looks at us. We're the offensive puck-moving pair back there and those are our strengths. We need to be effective defensively too, but obviously our offense can take over."
Faulk, who has just two assists in seven games, shows flashes that the offense will come, and Berube believes it will. The acclimation process simply takes time.
"I think he's still feeling his way, but it's coming," Berube said. "I think it's going to take a little time, but it's coming. Once he feels more comfortable in how we play, it's a new surrounding for him for sure. It's a new team, it's his first time on a new team. It's going to take some time."
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With no morning skate Saturday, the Blues had a full group on the ice Friday, and Berube began the day with a 2-on-2 battle drill in the neutral zone, but it wasn't sending a message but more having players work on the 50/50 battles for pucks that will lead to better puck management.
"It was just a little neutral zone 2-on-2 game," Berube said. "Just get guys going a little bit. Something different.
"It was more situational for me last night. There were a few plays in the second period where it's a little bit too much 50/50. In certain situations we've got to be smarter. Guys are a little bit tired. It's guys being smart, not going for a last rush getting a puck in deep, getting a good line change, putting your teammate in a better spot. But overall, I look at the game and I thought it was a pretty good game. I thought we played a pretty good hockey game; we didn't close it out. That's a little bit of an issue with us this year right now is when we get these leads, closing them out, whether we get the next goal or just making sure we're keeping it out of our net."
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The Blues feel they're building their game in the right direction, and they are, but facts are facts, and there are three losses -- albeit two in overtime and last night in the shootout -- where the Blues lost three points because they've blown a two-goal lead in each of them.
But the fact also remains that they only have one regulation loss in the first seven and the experience factor of last season will help the building process move along.
"I think our puck possession time is good; we're getting better and better," Berube said. "The last two games, I think our puck possession has been a lot better in the offensive zone and overall in the game, but we still have to keep improving. We've got to shore up this 50/50 game. We've got to be 100 percent. That was one of our strengths last year. We were right on top of that stuff defending, not giving teams momentum, and I think we still give teams momentum at times when we don't need to."
So where does the tweaking need to come from?
"We're just not consistent enough," Dunn said. "You see very good spurts and then we kind of get relaxed and maybe we try to get a little too fancy. We're not an overly skilled team. We definitely have our high-end players that can make high-end plays, but overall, I think we're a pretty direct north team. I think our best part of our game is our forechecking, when we're chipping pucks in, we're very good at retrieving them back and working the cycle and then making plays from down there. That's what we need to look forward to is getting it through the neutral zone and into the offensive zone.
"There's no panic in the room. The lines are basically the same. We're not juggling too many things around. What it just comes down to is hard work and dedication and wanting to do that every shift."
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Despite going 0-for-4 on the power play, including a failed 5-on-3 for 1 minute 20 seconds, and being at 21.1 percent on the season, Berube thinks the special teams are going well, but the penalty kill (16-for-17, 94.1 percent, including 15 straight kills) is second in the NHL behind only Vancouver (95 percent).
"I think it's been excellent," Berube said of the PK. "I've liked the special teams to be honest with you. I know we didn't score a goal last night, but there were some good looks in that game where if get a goal, it's the difference in the game, but I've liked the special teams overall.
"... We get a 5-on-3, we get a goal there, that probably ends the game."
As for the erroneous goalie interference call on Robert Thomas in the third period that ultimately led to a second minor, a bench misconduct called on Berube after referee Trevor Hanson made the call on Thomas, Berube said, "That's on me. I've got to do a better job with controlling my emotions back there with the referees. ... That's a tough call watching the tape for sure, that's a tough call. But it is what it is."
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Berube wouldn't confirm it, but it looks like Jake Allen will make his second start of the season. Allen, who made 25 saves in a 6-4 win at Ottawa on Oct. 10, was working with the defensemen at the end of practice, a good indication of who starts before leaving the ice earlier than Jordan Binnington, who got in a full practice before staying on the ice for lots of extra work.
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Center Brayden Schenn will carry a six-game point streak (five goals, three assists) into Saturday's game.
Right wing Vladimir Tarasenko has four points (two goals, two assists) in a three-game point streak.
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The Blues' projected lineup:
Jaden Schwartz-Brayden Schenn-Vladimir Tarasenko
Sammy Blais-Ryan O'Reilly-David Perron
Robby Fabbri-Tyler Bozak-Alexander Steen
Ivan Barbashev-Oskar Sundqvist-Robert Thomas
Colton Parayko-Alex Pietrangelo
Jay Bouwmeester-Robert Bortuzzo
Vince Dunn-Justin Faulk
Jake Allen will start in goal; Jordan Binnington will be the backup.
Healthy scratches include Zach Sanford and Mackenzie MacEachern. Carl Gunnarsson (lower body) is day-to-day and will not play Saturday.
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The Canadiens' projected lineup:
Tomas Tatar-Phillip Danault-Brendan Gallagher
Artturi Lehkonen-Max Domi-Paul Byron
Jonathan Drouin-Jesperi Kotkaniemi-Joel Armia
Nick Cousins-Nate Thompson-Nick Suzuki
Victor Mete-Shea Weber
Brett Kulak-Jeff Petry
Ben Chiarot-Christian Folin
Carey Price could start in goal; Keith Kinkaid would be the backup
Healthy scratches include Jordan Weal and Mike Reilly. The Canadiens report no injuries. Cale Fleury has an undisclosed injury and is out.
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