Monday, March 22, 2021

(3-22-21) Blues-Golden Knights Gameday Lineup

It's not for certain, but the Blues are on the cusp of getting another injured player back.

An important one too.

Robert Thomas will be a game-time decision when the Blues (16-10-5) play the third of a five-game road trip, a make-up game, against the Vegas Golden Knights (21-7-1) at 9 p.m. (FS-MW, ESPN 101-1-FM) at T-Mobile Arena.

Thomas has missed the past 19 games with a broken left thumb sustained Feb. 6 against the Arizona Coyotes.

"He's possible tonight," Blues coach Craig Berube said. "We'll take a look at it tonight, so he's possible. ... Just practicing today and the other day with us and doing things. He feels comfortable. We'll see how it goes."

Should Thomas, who has six points (one goal, five assists) in 12 games this season, be able to go, he will slot in as the third-line center between Zach Sanford and Mike Hoffman.

"We know how good he is and just the speed he brings to our hockey team and puck possession and making plays," Berube said. "It's a big boost.

"... 'Tommer,' if he can play tonight, he'll be put in a good situation."

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Speaking of Sanford, who missed Saturday's 5-2 win at San Jose after being placed in COVID-19 protocol, he will be back in the lineup tonight after receiving a false positive and arriving in Las Vegas Monday morning.

"He's good to go, so that's a good thing for us," Berube said.

Sanford was left behind by the team and had to self-isolate in his hotel room before receiving back-to-back negative tests and given the green light.

"It's one of those crazy years and stuff happens, but luckily it all got sorted out," Sanford said. "... Just a false positive, got two negative tests and it's good to go.

"I was kind of confused. I had had (COVID-19) in December, so I didn't have to test for a little bit and two weeks after I started testing, all of the sudden they say I'm positive again, so I was a little confused. Obviously you're frustrated having to miss a game and then stay behind on the road. But things happen and luckily it's all sorted out now, so it's all good."

- - -

There will be another shakeup at the forward lines.

Sammy Blais will be a healthy scratch tonight, and Tyler Bozak, who returned last Wednesday after missing 21 games with a concussion, will miss a second straight game with an upper-body injury unrelated to the concussion.

For Blais, Berube said it's a good time for Blais to hit the reset.

"I find he's playing without any emotion out there," Berube said. "When I say that, I don't want it to be taken in the wrong text. I don't want penalties and running around and that kind of thing, but you've got to have emotion when you play the hockey game. You've got to be involved in all areas of the game. I find he's a little bit disconnected right now in his play and just not showing enough emotion and it's not giving us enough. Sometimes a reset's important for a player. That's what I talked to him about today, having a watch and watch the game and hopefully he finds some mojo back here again. He's been a good player for us over the last couple years. I know it's not always consistent with injuries and other things, but we do need Sammy Blais and we need him to be a good player for us, so that's what we're looking to get back."

- - -

Defenseman Jake Walman will stay in the lineup for the fourth straight game.

Walman, who has played in five NHL games, has played well in the three games he's played in this season with defensive partner Robert Bortuzzo.

"He's using his feet very well and that's his biggest asset is his feet," Berube said. "And he's defending well. I think he's strong in the battles right now, he's doing some penalty killing out there, which is important and he's just got to be responsible defensively and use his feet as much as he can. He's the type of player that can get the puck in your own end and carry it out of your own end, which is important."

It's been a long and tough road for Walman, sort of along the lines of what it took for goalie Jordan Binnington to get here.

A third round pick in the 2014 NHL Draft, Walman has toted on the minors the past four seasons after being at Providence College the previous three seasons.

"It feels good," Walman said. "Obviously being out of the lineup's tough. It's tough staying with it, but everyone does a good job, including everybody, and getting in the lineup's huge. It's a big confidence boost.

"It's all mental. I remember talking with 'Binner.' I trained with 'Binner' in the summer and sticking with it's the biggest thing. You've got to believe in yourself. Times are tough for everybody. Everybody goes through it at some point. Sticking with it and believing in yourself and that's what we did."

- - -

Two games in, the band is back together but looking for its mojo.

Nobody thought that Jaden Schwartz, Brayden Schenn and Vladimir Tarasenko would come on like world-beaters from the moment the puck dropped after Tarasenko and Schwartz returned to the lineup following lengthy injuries, especially Tarasenko, but they seem to be building their game at times, and there have been a few valleys, and that's to be expected.
Berube called their game thus far, "Okay."

"I think they've had opportunities," he said. "They've done some good things, but I think there's more there for sure. I think Schwartz and Vladi have been out a long time. I know Vladi's come back and played seven games, but he's been out a long time. There's going to be some bumps in the road here, but I find once that chemistry gets back between the three of them and they're working better together, I don't find that they're working together as good as they can right now, in my opinion. They're a little bit too stretched out at times, so it's about them getting on the same page working together both defensively and offensively."

- - -

The Blues' projected lineup:

Jordan Kyrou-Ryan O'Reilly-David Perron

Jaden Schwartz-Brayden Schenn-Vladimir Tarasenko

Zach Sanford-Robert Thomas-Mike Hoffman

Kyle Clifford-Jacob de la Rose-Nathan Walker

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 and Sammy Blais are the healthy scratches. Colton Parayko (upper body), Tyler Bozak (upper body), Ivan Barbashev (ankle) and Mackenzie MacEachern (upper body) are out. Carl Gunnarsson (knee) and Oskar Sundqvist (knee) are out for the season. Robert Thomas will be a game-time decision, and if he doesn't return tonight, Dakota Joshua is expected to slot in as the third-line center and come up off the taxi squad.

- - -

The Golden Knights' projected lineup:

Alex Tuch-Chandler Stephenson-Mark Stone

Jonathan Marchessault-William Karlsson-Reilly Smith

Nicolas Roy-Tomas Nosek-Tanner Glass

William Carrier-Keegan Kolesar-Ryan Reaves

Alec Martinez-Shea Theodore

Brayden McNabb-Dylan Coghlan

Nicolas Hague-Zach Whitecloud

Robin Lehner is expected to start in goal; Marc-Andre Fleury would be the backup. 
Nick Holden is expected to be the healthy scratch. Alex Pietrangelo (upper body) is out. Max Pacioretty (lower body) is questionable for tonight.

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