Thursday, April 22, 2021

(4-22-21) Avalanche-Blues Gameday Lineup

MARYLAND HEIGHTS, Mo. -- Let the stretch run begin.

The Blues (19-18-6) return to the ice for a three-game set at home beginning today against the Colorado Avalanche (30-9-4) at 7 p.m. (BSMW, ESPN 101.1-FM).

The Blues, who are one point behind Arizona for the fourth and final spot in the West Division, have played just two games in the 11 days after having multiple games postponed and moved due to COVID-19 protocols on other teams but will now finish the season, barring any other changes to the schedule, with 13 games in 22 days.

"You'd like to get into the flow of things and you're hoping you're playing well at the same time so that when that happens, you can keep rolling but we're still at the point where we need to get on that roll," defenseman Justin Faulk said. "Maybe this time off here, a lot of guys have rested up and get healthier and then some practice days to try and work on some things can be good for us because we all know we need to get going here and win a bunch of games as we get down the stretch here.

"It's good for teams to get on a roll. If you're playing well and you're feeling it, it's going to be nice because you're going to go out there every night with the confidence and be ready to win a hockey game. But at the same time, 13 in 22, there's been multiple times this year where we're facing 20 in 35, whatever it might be, it's just kind of the way the season's been this year. I don't think it really changes anything with the mindset."

What this does tell us is that the Blues will have little time to rest and a lot of time to get themselves prepped up for game action.

"We need to get rest obviously between the games," Blues coach Craig Berube said. "You're not going to have much time to practice, got to focus on the games and just dial it in the best we can, focus on tonight's game only right now. That's our task at hand is tonight's game. That's it."

Needless to say, not everyone is thrilled with the current setup but have no other choice.

"It is what it is. It's unfortunate and a little bit disappointing because it really had nothing to do with us, but I guess at the same time, it could have been anyone," forward David Perron said. 'I  think maybe we've added a back to back. That's how it goes."

But on the other hand ... 

"I feel like it's been great for us, rest the body a little bit," defenseman Marco Scandella said. "Just get the team going, hang out together. I think it's been great for us."

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The Blues, who are 1-4-0 against the Avalanche this season, with three straight one-goal losses, including 4-3 here on April 14, hope to be catching the Avalanche at the right time.
Colorado has three key players (forward Mikko Rantanen, goalie Philipp Grubauer and forward Joonas Donskoi) all on the COVID-19 protocol list and are unavailable to play.

"I don't necessarily view it that way," Faulk said. "We've played teams all year that have had injuries, COVID stuff, whatever it might be. There hasn't been too many nights this year where we've seen a team with a full lineup. We can obviously attest to that on our end here. So I don't treat it any differently. They may have been off for how many days, but it's not like we've been playing a ton of games in this stretch either. We're not going to treat it any differently. It's just we need to be ready from the get-go and put the pressure on them."

The Blues can ill-afford to take anyone lightly right now.

"They're a great team, we know that," Berube said. "We can't look at who they're missing. We've got to go put our best foot forward here on the ice tonight. We've got to perform at a high level, that's the bottom line. I don't care who's in their lineup or out of their lineup. We've got to perform at a high level here tonight and be a highly competitive team and do things right."

Needless to say, getting off to a good start for a team that's practiced just twice since last playing April 14 and sustaining that might be a good recipe for success.

"We definitely need to do that," Perron said. "They've got a lot of speed over there though. A lot of times with those guys, their legs will just be there regardless. We do have to have a good start. We've got to focus on that, but more I think from our perspective, not worrying about how they're going to feel or not. But it's definitely something we can think about, yeah."

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The Blues have their fate in their own hands with games in hand on Arizona (four) and San Jose (three), which is just three points in back of the Blues. The Coyotes are 1-7-0 their past eight games, while the Sharks are 0-6-1 their past seven, so the Blues have no excuses.

"It's the best way for sure," Berube said of having the fate in their own hands. "We can take care of our own business. That's a good thing. It's in our hands (but) we've got to go out and perform and get it done."

They'll have to perform at a high level the rest of the way.

"I think when we play 60 minutes of hockey the way we play, I don't think anyone can handle us," Scandella said. "I think it's on us to bring that and to find that in the next few games because it's make or break at this point. We don't have that much time left.

"How can we not be confident? Look at our team. When we put it together, we know what we can do, so now it's about figuring that out. We don't have that much time, but you can see it coming. I know we have certain games where it's not there, but we know that we have it and if we bring that from now until the end of the year, there's no reason why we shouldn't be successful."

When the Blues have success, it usually revolved around bullying or pushing the opposition out of the game.

Granted, their lineup has changed since winning the Stanley Cup in 2019, but in order to have success, if they find that angry mindset and push the opposition out of the game, that's when the Blues seem to have success.

"We do have a different lineup than we've had in other years," Perron said. 'I think we've got to remember that. It is definitely our mindset to come in and take over and keep pushing. Obviously the two lessons that we've got the last couple games is we've got to learn from it. If we do that, it is impressive how our team plays the way we want, we can beat anyone. It's going to be a fun stretch here to end the year. We just keep pushing."

"Absolutely, go after them," Scandella said. "We can't dip our toes in the water going into games. I think everybody realizes we've had a bunch of talks in the last few days since we've only played two games in what, the last 10 or 11 days. I think as a team, we just have to all go out with the same mentality and just play. I think we're thinking a little bit too much. It's got to be fluid. Hockey's got to be an organic thing as a team. Everything's got to work and you just play, go out there and do your thing, work as hard as you can for the guy next to you and that's the secret, it's about finding that again."

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It's been a tough return for forward Vladimir Tarasenko, who missed nearly two seasons with recurring shoulder injuries that have in total, since Tarasenko initially injured his left shoulder, required three surgeries.

Tarasenko has just three goals (11 points) in 19 games this season ad addressed his situation on Wednesday.

"It takes longer than I expect to, get back the timing and everything," Tarasenko said. "... You have to believe your work. There's not many options here. You have to keep working every day. Physically, I feel fine. Timing this is getting there. Just trust myself, trust team and go from there."

Tarasenko will play with Jaden Schwartz, who has also struggled offensively himself with two goals (in the same game April 9 against Minnesota) his past 21 games, and Tyler Bozak centering them both. They've been with Brayden Schenn the last little bit but nothing was going offensively for that trio.

"With Schenn, Schwartz and Tarasenko, not a lot was going on offensively," Berube said. "Just a different look."

Tarasenko recently spoke with Berube regarding his game and his ability to get shots off quicker.

"Coaches always talk with the players, so I have a talk with Chief," Tarasenko said. "If puck doesn't go in, sometimes you need to do this more. That's a good thing to have a conversation, and I think it will be helpful for me.

"When puck doesn't go in, you start thinking about this and aiming. Maybe just need to shoot and do less thinking, the goalie have less time to prepare for shot. That's a confidence question too. I think it's getting better, but it's not good enough."

Schenn will center Mike Hoffman and Jordan Kyrou.

- - -

Robert Thomas, out with a shoulder injury, will miss his fourth straight game tonight but practiced for the second straight day.

"He's getting real close," Berube said. "Probably a good chance he plays Saturday."

- - -

The Blues' projected lineup:

Sammy Blais-Ryan O'Reilly-David Perron

Mike Hoffman-Brayden Schenn-Jordan Kyrou

Jaden Schwartz-Tyler Bozak-Vladimir Tarasenko

Kyle Clifford-Ivan Barbashev-Zach Sanford

Marco Scandella-Colton Parayko

Torey Krug-Justin Faulk

Jake Walman-Vince Dunn

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

Healthy scratched include Robert Bortuzzo and Niko MikkolaRobert Thomas (shoulder) and Mackenzie MacEachern (upper body) remain out.

- - -

The Avalanche's projected lineup:

Gabriel Landeskog-Nathan MacKinnon-Andre Burakovsky

Valeri Nichushkin-Nazem Kadri-J.T. Compher

Brandon Saad-Tyson Jost-Valeri Nichushkin

Liam O'Brien-Pierre-Edouard Bellemare-Martin Kaut

Devon Toews-Samuel Girard

Ryan Graves-Cale Makar

Patrik Nemeth-Conor Timmins

Devan Dubnyk will start in goal; Jonas Johansson will be the backup.

The healthy scratch is Jacob MacDonald. Matt Calvert (upper body), Pavel Francouz (lower body), Erik Johnson (upper body), and Logan O'Connor (upper body). Mikko Rantanen, Philipp Grubauer and Joonas Donskoi are in COVID-19 protocol.

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