Friday, March 12, 2021

(3-12-21) Golden Knights-Blues Gameday Lineup

ST. LOUIS -- When the news broke of the Blues' commitment to Jordan Binnington for the next six seasons after the netminder inked a $36-million extension, there was a lot of happiness reverberating from the locker room on Friday.

The Blues (14-8-3), who host the West Division-leading Vegas Golden Knights (16-6-1) in the first of back-to-back games beginning today at 7 p.m. (FS-MW, ESPN 101.1-FM), were first on hand to congratulate their No. 1 tender upon learning of the news that he will be their backbone in goal for the next six years and resoundingly feel he deserves the reward and commitment the Blues put in him.

"First of all, I'm happy for the person," said defenseman Marco Scandella, who plays in his 600th NHL game tonight. "He's a wonderful person, great locker room guy, great friend and an absolute pillar of this team. He's a game-breaker and it's just a great move by the organization and I'm really happy to be playing with him for the next few years.

"He's special. He has something special. He has that confidence that's motivating to the team. It's contagious."

Binnington is in the final year of a two-year, $8.8 million contract signed in a bridge-type contract after the Blues won their first Stanley Cup, with Binnington leading the charge, in 2019.

"He's obviously one of the best goalies in the league and he's giving us a chance to win every night when he's in the net," center Oskar Sundqvist said. "Obviously a lot of excitement yesterday getting this news. I think we all were very happy that he decided to sign a long-term contract. We're lucky to have him, can't wait to spend a couple more years with him. 

"He's a winner. He's very relaxed. He's very relaxed outside the ice, easy-going, fun guy to be around and joke around and all that stuff. On the ice, he's very competitive."

It's got to be relief, too, for Blues coach Craig Berube knowing that he's got his top tender on hand for the foreseeable future.

"It's obviously important for him personally, I think," Berube said. "That's not easy to go through that. I don't know if it's on a daily basis, but I'm sure he's thought about it a lot and getting that off his mind for sure is important, but it's important for the organization to have him locked up here. He's been a great player for us obviously, big part in us winning a Cup here, a big part of this hockey team and this organization. I think that it's great that he's locked up and everybody's happy.

"It wasn't easy for him to be honest with you. I think it took a little time and he had to get through some tough stretches in his career and life and he persevered. It showed his character and what type of person he is to be able to do that. It's not easy to do all the time, but he's done it and he's a mentally strong person."

Selected by the Blues in the third round (No. 88) of the 2011 NHL Draft, Binnington moved up from fourth on the Blues depth chart as a rookie in 2018-19, when he was a finalist for the Calder Trophy, awarded to the player voted the NHL rookie of the year. Binnington was 24-5-1 with a 1.89 GAA, a .927 save percentage and five shutouts in 32 regular-season games (30 starts), and then signed a shorter contract rather than a long-term deal. He's 63-24-11 with a 2.38 GAA, a .915 save percentage and eight shutouts in 102 NHL regular-season games (99 starts), and 16-15 with a 2.79 GAA, a .904 save percentage and one shutout in 31 playoff games.

Basically, Binnington bet on himself and won.

"I don't know. I guess signing the two-year with the option of heading to free agency, yeah, I think I still had more to prove," Binnington said. "I'm happy with how it turned out."

So is general manager Doug Armstrong, who believes the goalie won a bet not many believed he would win.

"Yeah. You take the championship season, that was a short window," Armstrong said. "I don't think either side were comfortable on what the future was going to hold. He came back in last year and had a great regular season. We were the second-best team when the pandemic hit. He didn't have the playoffs that he wanted and we didn't have the playoffs as an organization that we wanted and he came back this year and has given us a chance to win every night. Our team is a team that probably gives up a little bit more than they normally do right now just with the number of transactions that we've had with our lineup on a nightly basis. I think he's been good and I think a six-year deal hopefully gives him another kick at the can at the end of this one too, but it probably secures he and his family moving forward."

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Sundqvist will mark his return to the lineup after missing the past two games with an undisclosed injury.

The Blues' versatile center will return to play the third line between Zach Sanford and Sammy Blais.

"I feel good," Sundqvist said. "I'm excited for tonight and be back out there with the guys. I'm really excited."

Berube has been dealing with injuries galore throughout the season, and now that he's got Vladimir Tarasenko back, getting Sundqvist back is another small step in solidifying the lineup.

"He's a very versatile player," Berube said. "We use him in a lot of situations obviously, different lines. He plays center, wing, different lines, different roles. He's been on the power play this year, penalty kills on a nightly basis for us, good checker, but he can also bring some offense. Very important player for our hockey team."

Sounds like Sundqvist's injury is something that's been lingering and something he's going to have to monitor moving forward.

"It's kind of tough to say," he said. "Just basically taking it day by day and see how it feels and just need to keep going. I know what to do and how to contain this injury and be able to be ready to play every night. I'm going to just keep doing that and we'll be fine."

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As for other injured players, Tyler Bozak was skating and being put through the gamut of conditioning drills Friday morning. 

Bozak has missed roughly six weeks since he was injured after a blindside hit from Vegas captain Mark Stone on Jan. 26.

"Bozie's making some real good progress," Berube said. "It's good to see him out there and working. He's going to get some work here in the next few days and he could be available soon, I believe."

As for Jaden Schwartz and Colton Parayko, each dealing with an upper-body injury, Schwartz has begun doing some skating, Parayko hasn't. But Berube said, "Schwartz is making progress, and Parayko I believe is making some progress too. They're all good signs with the guys here that are injured."

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The Blues are expected to see rookie Logan Thompson in goal for the Golden Knights after veteran Marc-Andre Fleury was placed on the league's COVID-19 protocol list Thursday, and veteran Robin Lehner continues to remain out with an upper-body injury.

"Not much to say. He's on the list," Vegas coach Peter DeBoer said of Fleury. "People have to keep in mind that list doesn't necessarily mean you have COVID and you're out for two weeks. There's been a number of false positives out there. ... We're working through that process right now."

Thompson will be making his first NHL start after he came on in relief of Fleury Wednesday in a 4-3 loss at Minnesota.

"We always run some goalie stuff for our players to see," Berube said. 'Well definitely get some tape on him and take a look at him."

"We're going to check out some video and take a look, but I feel like they have a great team," Scandella said. "Sometimes when a goalie comes in for a first game, they're just hot and they play really well and they rise to the occasion, so you can't look at who's in the nets. We know who we're playing tonight. We're playing Vegas, very good hockey team, a very fast team. We're going to have to contain them in the neutral zone. When it comes to beating them, we've just got to figure out a way at home to start bringing our energy that we bring on the road. ... I feel like when we play on the road, we play a little bit tighter, we get pucks deep, we're more responsible and we definitely need to figure that out. It's definitely going to go a long way once we get to playoffs."

* UPDATE -- Fleury received a false positive, has rejoined the team and could start tonight for Vegas.

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With Sundqvist's return, Nathan Walker will be the healthy scratch after playing the past six games.

Dakota Joshua will remain in to anchor the fourth line as the center on that unit.

"His size for sure and it looks like to me, he's played really smart positionally, understands the game," Berube said of Joshua, who has a goal in five games. "He contributes in both areas of the ice. Defensively he's been solid and in the face-off circle he's been good. And then offensively, he's getting opportunities. He got a goal. That line's been good together and I felt like I wanted to keep it together."

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It was one year ago today that the NHL shut down because of COVID-19 and the start of unprecedented times.

And that means it's been a year since the days of working locker rooms and having daily conversations with whoever you wanted to in the locker room have been vanquished and the days of Zoom interviews have taken over, players having to follow a strict protocol to remain positive-free, among other things.

"It's not easy," Berube said. "I think the players have done a great job. I know last year it abruptly ended. We were having a tremendous season, but that's the way it goes. The bubble wasn't great for us, we all know that and I think we've gotten past that and kind of taken on a new life. I think our players are really understanding what's entailed in this COVID season and going about it, and they're doing a great job. That's not easy. There's not a lot you can do. You're at the rink, you're in a hotel or at home. It gets monotonous after a while, but our guys have stayed focused and they're doing a good job."

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This was supposed to be the homecoming for former Blues defenseman and captain Alex Pietrangelo, who left the team after 12 years during the offseason to sign a seven-year, $61.6 million contract with the Golden Knights.

But Pietrangelo is not on the trip with Vegas after being sent home earlier in the week with an upper-body injury sustained last Saturday when he was hit on the wrist area by a puck against San Jose.

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The Blues' projected lineup:

Jordan Kyrou-Ryan O'Reilly-Vladimir Tarasenko

Mike Hoffman-Brayden Schenn-David Perron

Zach Sanford-Oskar Sundqvist-Sammy Blais

Kyle Clifford-Dakota Joshua-Mackenzie MacEachern

Torey Krug-Justin Faulk

Vince Dunn-Marco Scandella

Niko Mikkola-Robert Bortuzzo

Jordan Binnington will start in goal; Ville Husso will be the backup. Nathan Walker and Jake Walman will be the healthy scratches. Colton Parayko (upper body), Jaden Schwartz (upper body), Robert Thomas (thumb), Tyler Bozak (upper body), Ivan Barbashev (ankle), Carl Gunnarsson (knee) and Jacob de la Rose (lower body) are all out.

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The Golden Knights' projected lineup:

Max Pacioretty-Chandler Stephenson-Mark Stone 

Jonathan Marchessault-William Karlsson-Reilly Smith

Alex Tuch-Cody Glass-Nicolas Roy

Tomas Nosek-Keegan Kolesar-Ryan Reaves

Alec Martinez-Shea Theodore

Brayden McNabb-Dylan Coghlan

Nicolas Hague-Zach Whitecloud

Marc-Andre Fleury could start after being cleared to rejoin the team following a false positive COVID-19 test; Logan Thompson, who was projected to start in Fleury's absence, would be the backup then. Nick Holden is the healthy scratch. Alex Pietrangelo (upper body), Robin Lehner (upper body) and William Carrier (undisclosed) are all out.

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