Friday, March 19, 2021

(3-19-21) Blues-Sharks Gameday Lineup

The band is back together, and it couldn't come at a better time for the slumping Blues.

Jaden Schwartz is set to return to the lineup after missing 14 games with an oblique injury and will be reunited on a line with Brayden Schenn and Vladimir Tarasenko.

Schwartz, who has nine points (two goals, seven assists) in 14 games this season, is the second player in as many games (Tyler Bozak on Monday) to return from injury, and with the team on a five-game winless streak (0-2-3), Schwartz's return couldn't be timed better.

"Very excited," Schwartz said. "It's been tough sitting out and not very much fun, so I'm happy to join the team again. I've kind of got butterflies thinking about it. Just really happy to be able to play again and do what I can to help this team and be a part of it.

"Kind of an injury I've never really had before. It was kind of a weird injury and a little bit rare, so you kind of heard different timetables. Just kind of a frustrating little freak accident. That part was tough, but I feel like it's come a long way the last little bit and I'm feeling really good.

"It happened in that Arizona game (Feb. 13). It happened like maybe early or the middle of the second period, so I knew something was wrong right away but didn't know how serious it was. We didn't know for a few days until I got some more tests on it and had the docs look at it a little bit more."

Blues coach Craig Berube said when a player is ready to go back in, they don't go in with restrictions, and putting Schwartz with Schenn and Tarasenko can hopefully ignite a stagnant offense that's scored just twice in the past two games.

"We'll get him back there on Schenn's line and go from there," Berube said. "... He looks good. He's an energy guy, got great wheels. That's all looking good. He's skating well, moving, and he's going to play with energy.

"I think they can make plays off the rush, they're a good rush team. They feed off each other, and I think they've been together for quite some time now. You've got Schenn and Schwartz are good guys to get in on the forecheck and get loose pucks, and Vladi's a shooter. Obviously he scores goals with his shot and the chemistry's there, it's been there for a while and hopefully they can have that chemistry tonight, get it back quickly."

One of the words brought about these past few games has been trust, and these players seem to trust one another and have in the past.

"That's how we're going to start off. Pretty pumped to play with those guys again," Schwartz said. "We've had a lot of success playing together and it's been a little while, so I'm pretty excited to get that going again and hopefully get a good start right away, but something we're going to build on for sure.

"It helps when you're playing with guys you've played with for a long time, especially sitting out a little while. I think we're all excited to reunite and get that opportunity to play with each other again. It's going to be fun.

"I just think those two players are smart. Obviously Vladi's vision and his shot is one of the best in the league and Schenner's good two-way game and can make plays off the rush, he can make plays down low, just reading off each other and trusting each other. I just try to use my speed and two-way game to complement those guys. We all move the puck and like to find each other."

Schwartz is a driving force when he plays with his tenacity and effort that certainly rubs off on his teammates, and they'll be looking to feed off his energy.

"It's really big for us to have him back," forward Oskar Sundqvist said. "He's a big part of this team and he's one of the big engines that's getting us going with his speed and his skill, and especially his work ethic. It's contagious out there and we need that right now so we're happy to have him back."

With Schwartz back in the lineup, the Blues have sent Dakota Joshua back to the taxi squad, but Joshua's initial impression at the NHL level is certainly favorable, and his eight-game stint will go a long way in determining when he could return.

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One of the areas the Blues (14-10-5) must, and will focus on against San Jose (11-13-3) today (8 p.m.; FS-MW, ESPN 101.1-FM) will be the start of the game.

In their past three games, they've fallen behind 3-0 Monday at Los Angeles, and 1-0 against Vegas last Saturday and 2-0 last Friday against the Golden Knights.

And when the Blues' visited SAP Center and won that wild 7-6 game Feb. 27, they fell behind 1-0 just 17 seconds in on a wonky goal.

"It's just a mindset of being ready when the puck drops," Sundqvist said. "Obviously we've got to do a better job with that and I'm sure that we will do better tonight."

Berube feels the Blues need to, "Control the game. Just understand that there's times you're going to be in other people's buildings and teams are going to start fast and you've just got to have composure. I think that we were on our heels for a few shifts there and we took a penalty for no reason and they got on the power play and they get a goal. I mean, we've got to have composure. You can't just bat pucks around and you've got to control the play by controlling the puck, but also you've got to defend better than we did in the first start of that game. We didn't get into people, we were soft around our net and goals go in. It's just a matter of being prepared to start a game obviously with composure and discipline, doing all the right things right away."

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Defenseman Jake Walman will remain in the lineup tonight in place of Niko Mikkola, who will be a healthy scratch for the second straight game.

Walman played a career-high 16:07 in just his third career game Wednesday at Los Angeles and led the team with four shots on goal.

"He works extremely hard when he's not playing, in the gym and on the ice," Berube said of Walman. "He's a well-prepared player that way. I think it paid off him going in that game. He looked like he kept up with the pace right away and obviously his skating is his strength for him. Hopefully he can put another game together tonight.

"I think just giving him an opportunity. Mikkola's played a number of games and I think it's OK for a young guy to watch a few games."

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The Blues' projected lineup:

Jordan Kyrou-Ryan O'Reilly-David Perron

Jaden Schwartz-Brayden Schenn-Vladimir Tarasenko

Zach Sanford-Tyler Bozak-Mike Hoffman

Kyle Clifford-Oskar Sundqvist-Sammy Blais

Torey Krug-Justin Faulk

Marco Scandella-Vince Dunn

Jake Walman-Robert Bortuzzo

Jordan Binnington will start in goal; Ville Husso will be the backup. Niko Mikkola is the healthy scratch. Colton Parayko (upper body), Robert Thomas (thumb), Ivan Barbashev (ankle) and Mackenzie MacEachern (upper body) are out. Carl Gunnarsson (knee) is out for the season.

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The Sharks' projected lineup:

Evander Kane-Logan Couture-Kevin Labanc

Matt Nieto-Tomas Hertl-Timo Meier

Ryan Donato-Dylan Gambrell-John Leonard 

Marcus Sorensen-Patrick Marleau-Kurtis Gabriel

Mario Ferraro-Brent Burns

Nikolai Knyzhov-Erik Karlsson

Radim Simek-Marc-Edouard Vlasic

Martin Jones will start in goal; Devan Dubnyk will be the backup. Healthy scratches include Antti Suomela, Fredrik Handemark and Christian Jaros. Rudolfs Balcers (upper body) is out.

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