Wednesday, April 14, 2021

(4-14-21) Avalanche-Blues Gameday Lineup

ST. LOUIS -- The Blues are hopeful there isn't another change to the schedule.

But after having Monday's game against the Minnesota Wild postponed to May 12 because of curfew implications in and around the Minneapolis/St. Paul area, the Blues (19-16-6) are hopeful that Wednesday's game against the red-hot Colorado Avalanche (29-9-4), who are 16-1-2 their part 19 games, will go on as scheduled after the Avalanche disclosed that a player had a positive test for COVID-19 testing on Wednesday.

Puck drop is slated for 6:30 p.m. (NBCSN, ESPN 101.1-FM).

"I'm preparing like it's going to be played," Blues coach Craig Berube said. "That's all I can do, and our team is. We'll just focus on that until we hear different."

The Blues are riding a three-game winning streak and would like to keep the momentum going after missing out on a game day Monday.

"I hope so. It's been a weird year with things like that, but you have to prepare like you're going to play," center Tyler Bozak said. "We obviously hope to play and I guess we'll see what happens. Kind of out of our control. We'll just prepare like we have a game tonight and assume that we do and go from there."

The Blues, who haven't had any players contract the disease but had two players come up with false positives at different times (Sammy Blais and Zach Sanford), have had their schedule altered at different points this season, including the next set of games against the Avalanche. They host Colorado here four of the next five games.

"We knew what we were getting into at the beginning of the year," defenseman Jake Walman said. "We knew this was always a possibility, but we have a deep team. I think we've shown that this year and anyone can play.

"I think a couple days off, a couple days rest is probably good for us. We're definitely on a high, but we know how to keep it going. Same preparation goes. We're looking to keep it going."

"It's been different for sure, not something that we're used to," Bozak said. "With all the canceled games and uncertainty with a lot of the days. Everyone's dealing with the same thing though. You just got to prepare every day like you are playing. I'm pretty sure everyone hopes that they are playing every single game when they're scheduled, but obviously things out of our control happen. We were prepared for that coming into this season."

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The Blues will be strapped with the challenge of shutting down the hottest line in hockey too, which includes Nathan MacKinnon, Gabriel Landeskog and Mikko Rantanen.

That trio has tore the NHL up to the tune of 80 points (34 goals, 46 assists) the past 18 games, and MacKinnon, who has 30 points (12 goals, 18 assists) his past 18 games, has a 10-game point streak (seven goals, 10 assists).

"You need five guys on the ice that when they get out there, you've got to understand the situation and make sure you manage the puck properly, make them play in their own end as much as you can," Berube said. "They have the puck a lot and when they do, you've got to check hard, you've got to make sure you have numbers around the puck. It's tough, but you've got to have five guys that are doing a good job out here checking them. You need everybody."

"We know they're a good line, one of the best in the NHL," Walman said. "... It's exciting to play against those guys. That's what we like."

Ryan O'Reilly has usually drawn the assignment of trying to stop, or slow down, the MacKinnon line, but when the Blues are going right, Berube won't hesitate utilizing any of his four lines.

"Obviously it's always exciting and fun, a great opportunity to play against the best players in the league," Bozak said. "It's always something that I personally enjoyed. You have to play your best to succeed in those situations and even if you play your best, sometimes they're going to find their ways to create opportunities and score goals. That's what the best players in the league do. It's always a fun challenge, something that I'm pretty sure everyone prides themselves on is playing against guys of that caliber and shutting them down. It's definitely not an easy task. Those guys, you can definitely tell by their points throughout the year that they don't get shut down often. You just want to limit their opportunities as much as you can."

The Blues have done a better job defensively as of late, only allowing four goals during their three-game winning streak, but Berube feels, despite a couple hiccups along the way, it's been coming for some time.

"I believe it's gone back to the San Jose series," Berube said. "I thought our hockey was coming there, played two solid games there. We got a hiccup in Vegas, that game for me the third period, I thought we went to Minny and then the two games with Anaheim at home, they're all winnable games and they're right there to win. I thought we played solid defensively in all those games, but we didn't win.
"You've got to keep checking, you've got to keep playing desperate, hard hockey and doing all those things, blocking shots and all those little things that are needed and then you've got to find a way to get the puck in the back of the net. Our power play got us a goal, which was huge and power play's got to keep producing and helping us win hockey games, that'll be important, and obviously the penalty kill's important. Special teams will be important here down the stretch, and we all know that."

"It's a full commitment," defenseman Torey Krug said. "It obviously starts with our goaltending and our defense, but our forwards have really committed to the backcheck and playing a responsible game. I think when you have everyone from top to bottom playing defense, you're going to limit the scoring opportunities for the other team and ultimately you're going to gain momentum for yourself offensively. I think that's what we've seen over the last few games."

Getting Colton Parayko, who was dealing with an upper-body injury, back on the blue line has certainly helped. He's played the past four games and found a niche playing alongside Walman to balance out the Blues' d-pairs.

"I think obviously missing a bunch of games there, you just want to come in and get your timing and stuff like that sorted out," Parayko said. "It takes a few games to get that all (down), the timing, different plays and all that stuff to just make it click. Slowly things are coming together, just trying to keep improving each game. That's my mindset and just keep trying to do my part to help the team win.

"With each game, my gaps are getting tighter, I'm closing guys out a little quicker in the d-zone. The first couple games, you're just trying to get your feet in there again and you're adjusting and making plays. As each game goes, you want to get more aggressive, get in the play more and keep improving each game. That's where my focus is and what I'll try to continue to do."

And don't think his teammates haven't noticed Parayko back in the lineup.

"It's a big help, I'll tell you that," Krug said. "He does a lot of heavy lifting on the back end and his presence, the way he moves up and down the ice. Last game, I mentioned something to him, it looked like he was closing quicker and he felt a little bit more comfortable to enter the corners and close out plays. When he's doing that, the rest of the game picks itself up. He's a big presence for us. It's exciting to have him back."

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Center Brayden Schenn had to put his 700th game on pause Monday after the cancellation but will do so tonight.

The No. 5 overall pick of the Los Angeles Kings in the 2009 NHL Draft, Schenn has 458 points (191 goals, 267 assists) in 699 regular-season games and 31 points (10 goals, 21 assists) in 59 Stanley Cup Playoff games.

He has 140 points (54 goals, 86 assists) in 184 regular-season games over four seasons with the Blues, and 17 points (seven goals, 10 assists) in 35 playoff games.

"I think that he's the type of guy from a young guy in Philly when we had him, all young guys when they come into the league and they're high draft picks, it's about scoring goals, we know that, points," Berube said. "I think he's moved past that. He understands that it's a 200-foot game now. He's used in a lot of different roles, he's a physical guy, he goes out and he understands where the game's at during games, in-game, goes and grabs a guy and gets into a fight once in a while. It's all those type of things that he does that not a lot of players do, but he does all of them. He's still a very good offensive player. Yeah, he's going through a slump right now. A lot of players do. He'll find his way out of it, but he's really come around as a very well-rounded, 200-foot player now, leader. He's got an 'A' on his jersey for a reason and he cares about the team as much as anybody. He's a team-first guy. He's done a great job of that. He's a very intelligent guy when it comes to hockey and what's needed. Congrats to him, 700 games, a lot of hockey games."

Schenn is in a goal drought, though, currently. Despite his 28 points (12 goals, 16 assists) in 41 games this season, he's been stuck on 12 goals for 14 straight games.

"He's a physical guy, he plays a lot of minutes in different areas and does things like that," Berube said. "He's a hard guy to play against for the other team from his physical play. He does a lot of things out there for that line. He's not scoring right now, but I believe it will come. He's the type of guy that if he gets one, he could score for a number of games in a row. It would be nice if he could get one tonight and get on a roll, but he contributes in a lot of other ways for our hockey team."

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The Blues' projected lineup:

Sammy Blais-Ryan O'Reilly-David Perron 

Jaden Schwartz-Brayden Schenn-Vladimir Tarasenko

Zach Sanford-Tyler Bozak-Mike Hoffman

Kyle Clifford-Ivan Barbashev-Jordan Kyrou 

Torey Krug-Justin Faulk

Marco Scandella-Vince Dunn

Jake Walman-Colton Parayko

Jordan Binnington will start in goal; Ville Husso will be the backup.

Healthy scratches include Robert Bortuzzo and Niko Mikkola. Robert Thomas (shoulder) and Mackenzie MacEachern (upper body) are out. Carl Gunnarsson (knee) and Oskar Sundqvist (knee) are out for the season.

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The Avalanche's projected lineup:

Gabriel Landeskog-Nathan MacKinnon-Mikko Rantanen

Valeri Nichushkin-Nazem Kadri-Andre Burakovsky

Brandon Saad-Tyson Jost-Joonas Donskoi

J.T. Compher-Pierre-Edouard Bellemare-Liam O'Brien

Devon Toews-Samuel Girard

Ryan Graves-Cale Makar

Jacob MacDonald-Kyle Burroughs

Devan Dubnyk is expected to start in goal; Philipp Grubauer would be the backup.

Healthy scratches include Jonas Johansson and Carl Soderberg. Matt Calvert (upper body), Pavel Francouz (lower body), Erik Johnson (upper body), Patrik Nemeth (upper body) and Logan O'Connor (upper body). Bowen Byram is in COVID-19 protocol.

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