Wednesday, August 5, 2020

Blues, Golden Knights set to face off in pivotal round-robin game

St. Louis needs win to remain alive for top seed in Western 
Conference; MacEachern, Kyrou could make postseason debuts

Pete DeBoer has gotten to know the Blues quite well.

The Vegas Golden Knights coach, formerly of the San Jose Sharks, has gone up against the Blues in some high stakes postseason series in recent memory, including the Western Conference Final in 2016 and last season as coach of the Sharks.

He got the best of the Blues in 2016, but not last year, and if there's one takeaway the Vegas coach comes away with before the Golden Knights and Blues square off in their second round-robin games, respectively on Thursday, it's that that you know what you get going against St. Louis.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues goalie Jordan Binnington (50) makes a save on Vegas' Max Pacioretty
(67) as Blues defenseman Alex Pietrangelo defends on Feb. 13.

"The one thing about the Blues, what makes them Stanley Cup champions is you know what you're going to get and they consistently bring that to the rink and give that to the other team," DeBoer said Wednesday. "There's no real surprises. I think it's going to be who can get to their game the quickest and who can impose their game on the other team for longer stretches. Goaltending and special teams are always going to matter when you get two good teams together. It's a great test for us."

It'll be a great test for the Blues too, who look to rebound from a demoralizing 2-1 loss to the Colorado Avalanche in their round-robin opener on Sunday when Nazem Kadri scored a power-play goal with 0.1 seconds remaining in regulation.

It was a better game from an execution standpoint compared to the 4-0 exhibition loss to the Chicago Blackhawks on July 30, and even though the games technically don't matter until next week, the fact is, the Blues have managed one goal in 120 minutes in Edmonton, and it was a power-play goal from David Perron.

"Our offense more than anything, our puck movement and just what we're doing with the puck ... if you go back and watch the first period, I know Colorado came out hard and they have some really good players on that team, but when you watch the game again, we just gave the puck back to them," Blues coach Craig Berube said. "When you give the puck back to a team like that, Colorado, that can skate and can counter quick, you're going to be on your heels the whole period. 

"We got better as the game went along. The second period, third period, we started making plays coming out of our zone, advancing the puck through the neutral zone, and then just controlling it more in the offensive zone. We're not where we need to be in that area yet. We need to get a lot better in the offensive zone and controlling the play, shots, traffic, things like that, creating more opportunities offensively. That's going to be big for us to get going down the road here. We worked on quite a bit of that and we're just going to continue to do that."

The Blues and Golden Knights have had some entertaining games this season, including a 6-5 overtime win for Vegas on Feb. 13, two days after Jay Bouwmeester's cardiac episode and a game in which Zach Sanford scored his first four-goal game in the NHL.

"Obviously the matchup's a little different," Blues defenseman Alex Pietrangelo said comparing to prepping for Vegas as opposed to Colorado. "If you look at Vegas, they're a little bit heavier. Up front, they're a little bit bigger. Obviously Colorado has that speed, especially their top guys. Vegas is a little more straightline, play like we do. It's a little bit of a different challenge, but I think we've played them well when we've played them. We've had good games against them. Two teams kind of built the same way. It'll be a little bit of a transition, but we've played them before and we know what to expect."

The Blues could see the postseason debuts of two forwards (Mackenzie MacEachern and Jordan Kyrou).

MacEachern is expected to slot into the lineup alongside Alexander Steen and Oskar Sundqvist, replacing Ivan Barbashev, who left Edmonton presumably on Monday and returned to St. Louis for the birth of his first child.

"It's definitely pretty exciting," said MacEachern, who had 10 points (seven goals, three assists) in 51 regular-season games. "First taste for me personally to get playoff, or postseason, experience. So I'm definitely pretty excited to get things going there.

"(Last year), I saw how much they had to do to get to where they were, a lot of little things and how hard they had to work. Just take what I learned last year and kind of put it into my game moving forward."

With Barbashev gone, at least for the time being, Sundqvist said nothing really changes slotting MacEachern in his spot.

"We know what Mac brings to our line and what he can do," Sundqvist said. "We're going to be a little bit more faster-skating fourth line and the same as always, try to get it in and go to work and frustrate other teams' top lines."

Kyrou could replace Robert Thomas, who Berube said "possibly will not play" as a precaution.

"He's fine. He'll be fine," Berube said of Thomas. "Nothing serious."

If Thomas doesn't play, Kyrou, who had nine points (four goals, five assists) in 28 games this season and has 12 points (five goals, seven assists) in 45 NHL games, will likely play in a line with Tyler Bozak and Sammy Blais.

"He had a good (training) camp," Berube said of Kyrou. "I think he did some good things. He's looked good up here in the bubble in practice. I think the last two days, he's been really good in practice, showing his speed and his ability offensively. I'm excited to see him play."
(St. Louis Blues photo)
The Blues are searching for offense in Edmonton but would love a repeat
performance from Zach Sanford (right), who scored four goals the last time
St. Louis played Vegas on Feb. 13 in a 6-5 OT loss.

The game becomes make or break for the Blues if they have any shot at the top seed. They must win in regulation against Vegas, and then hope the Golden Knights beat the Avalanche in regulation on Saturday and win on Sunday against Dallas in order to get the top seed. The Blues own all tiebreakers in any situation based on having the best points -percentage (.662) during the regular season.

"Going into that game (Thursday), we really want to try and get a lot out of it because we don't have a lot of games to prepare and I just want our team to play good, consistent hockey tomorrow," Berube said.

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