Monday, May 17, 2021

(5-17-21) Blues-Avalanche Game 1 Gameday Lineup

DENVER -- Next man up.

How many times have we heard it from the Blues?

Well, hear it again, because as the Blues open their first round playoff series against the Colorado Avalanche today at 9 p.m. (BSMW, NBCSN, ESPN 101.1-FM) at Ball Arena, they'll likely be doing so without their top point producer of this season with forward David Perron on the shelf because of COVID-19 protocol.

Perron, who led the Blues in assists (39) and points (58) during the regular season, will miss at least the first game of this best-of-7 series and possibly more, depending on how testing goes moving forward, but for the time being, he helplessly sits out along with defenseman Jake Walman and taxi squad forward Nathan Walker.

"We kind of knew that coming into this season, it's going to be a season like no other with a lot of uncertainty," Blues forward Brayden Schenn said. "You never know what's going to be thrown your way on a day to day basis and it is the next-man-up mentality. You can't worry about who's out, you have to focus on who's in and I think we have lots of guys in our locker room that are willing to step up, grab more ice, more opportunity and make the most of it.

"Yeah, it's no secret he's a good player, leading scorer for us, puts up a ton of points, does a lot of good things. But what I've been saying is you can't worry about who's out. You have to focus who's in our lineup and who's ready to play tonight. We're ready for the test of the challenge. Obviously people are writing us off, but in our locker room, we believe in ourselves.

"There's no sense worrying about him being out. Obviously he's a huge piece for us, but we don't worry about that. We focus on what line combinations look like, what our power play looks like, who's slotted where and thing change throughout a series as well. It's just initial, but we'll worry about one game being without David Perron tonight and focus on getting a win tonight."

It doesn't take the sting out of losing Perron, 32, who had arguably his best all-around season, his 14th in the league.

"Yeah, obviously he's a big part of our team, great player, works hard," Blues defenseman Colton Parayko said. "Obviously puts up a lot of points, but with that being said, it is what it is and we've got to make sure that we put our best foot forward with the group that we have here and that's our main focus right now, is doing our best job with the guys that we can put on the ice right now. That's just the main focus obviously."

Blues coach Craig Berube isn't one to solicit the sorry card, and he won't be in this situation either.

"Listen, we've been fighting injuries all year," Berube said. "It's no different right now. It's another player that's out. We just got to keep going and somebody will step in and do the job.
"He's a top scorer on our team this year. We'll miss him in a lot of areas. He's been a real good player all year, 5-on-5, power play, but we're getting Vladi back so that's great news."

Berube chose to dwell on the positive that Vladimir Tarasenko will return after missing the past six games and eight of nine with a lower-body injury.

"He's been a good playoff performer for the Blues in the past (49 points in 74 playoff games) and we'll need him tonight for sure," Berube said. "He looks fine to me and he's moving well, so it's good to see."

Tarasenko was on a line for the morning skate with Tyler Bozak and fellow Russian Ivan Barbashev.

"I'm sure he's ready to go," Schenn said. "Obviously missing some time recently, but he's a guy that can change a game with a flick of a wrist. We're looking forward to having him back. We're losing Perron, but at the same time, we're getting Vladi back. Hopefully it's a huge boost for our team."

Parayko agreed.

"He's unbelievable," Parayko said of Tarasenko. "He's dangerous any time he touches the puck. He can score from anywhere. When you have that kind of lethal threat, it opens up opportunities for other players too. Guys always have to be aware where he's at on the ice in the o-zone. When you have that, it opens up opportunities for other players too. Just having him on the ice is obviously dangerous. It's a good decision to our lineup."

Other player-development news includes defenseman Marco Scandella, who will play after missing the morning skate with what Berube called, "just a maintenance thing," and defenseman Vince Dunn (upper-body injury) will miss his 12th straight game. 

Dunn did skate in Scandella's spot with Parayko after being held out of practice on Sunday with what Berube called "a little bug."

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Colorado won the Presidents' Trophy with 82 points and the Avalanche were No. 1 in the league in goals-for (197) and average goals per game (3.52).

A lot of that comes from the top line of Nathan MacKinnon, Gabriel Landeskog and Mikko Rantanen, who combined for 183 points (70 goals, 113 assists) on the season.

Chances are that Parayko and Scandella as well as Torey Krug and Justin Faulk will be seeing a lot of that trio and will be cast with the task of trying to contain them.

"I think just getting in their way," Krug said. "They're obviously a line that likes to generate time and space and when they do get that space, they get that speed and they put you on your heels. If you continue to get in their way, have good gaps, deny the blue line. You're not going to do it just as one or two guys, you need a five-man unit that does that. It's obviously a great test, one of the best lines in the NHL. Whoever gets that matchup, it'll be fun for them to go out there and what a great challenge that is. You want to be that teammate that slows them down."

Rantanen led the Avalanche in goals (30) and points (66) in 52 games, MacKinnon was first in assists (45) and just behind Rantanen in points (65) in just 48 games, and Landeskog had 52 points (20 goals, 32 assists) in 54 games. 

"It's just going to be getting in front of them from their D-zone, making sure we're tight, not letting them generate speed coming out of their zone I think is going to be the biggest thing," Parayko said. "Obviously they're going to get chances, they're going to get opportunities in the o-zone, so it's just limiting those, making sure we know where they're at at all times. It's going to be a collective five-man job. They're good players, they create a lot of offense and they create a lot of opportunities. It's going to take everybody on the ice to know where they're at and defend well and play well against them."

Parayko and Scandella will likely be cast as the shutdown d-pair during these playoffs and it bodes well for Parayko, who said he's feeling really good despite battling a back injury for a good portion of the season earlier on.

"I feel great again," Parayko said. "I'm looking forward to getting these playoffs started. It's exciting obviously when you've kind of turned the corner and started feeling good again. I'm looking forward to getting these playoffs going. Just getting it going with the guys here, it's always a fun time of year. Everything gets intensified a little bit, every play matters that much more. We're ready obviously."

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As for that five-man unit needed to contain the MacKinnon line, Berube is putting his chips into a line of Schenn, Jaden Schwartz and Ryan O'Reilly.

O'Reilly has been Perron's partner for much of the season, but will get a pair of 200-foot forwards who will have to balance being reliable on defense while manufacturing offense.

"We played together last year actually before the shutdown," Schenn said. "Played well together. Obviously for me personally playing with those guys, you know what you're going to get out of them night in, night out. Those guys are going to work extremely hard, be good defensively, but at the same time, very capable of making good plays with thep puck. Hopefully the three of us can bring some life to our team and score some goals. 

"Being smart with the puck. They're going to feast off turnovers. They've obviously got a ton of speed and skill. It's not only the three of them that go together, they've got that fourth man up in the rush with their offensive defenseman. Taking care of the puck, we've got to try and get that puck to the goal line, kind of play Blues style hockey, kind of hard and heavy, but at the same time, you have to look to score. You just can't worry about sitting back, sitting on your heels worrying about playing good defense all night. We're going to be counted on to score, so you've got to wait on your opportunities and not try and force things."

O'Reilly has seen plenty of MacKinnon, who had 14 points (six goals, eight assists) in eight games against the Blues this season but eight of them were on the power play, and look forward to the challenge.

"Yeah, absolutely, you kind of said it there, it's an extremely tough challenge," O'Reilly said. "He's a phenomenal player, speed, the way he handles the puck. It's so dynamic. I know for myself I have to play him very hard, make it difficult on him. Even as a group, he's a focus for our team. We've got to make sure we aren't giving him much, keep him to the outside and go from there. I know for myself, it's going to be a tough challenge, but one I'm looking forward to."

Berube wants to make sure the Blues are responsible against Colorado's secondary scorers too, including Andre Burakovsky (44 points; 19 goals, 25 assists), Brandon Saad (24 points; 15 goals, nine assists), Joonas Donskoi (31 points; 17 goals, 14 assists) and Nazem Kadri (32 points; 11 goals, 21 assists).

"Oh definitely. They've got a balanced attack throughout their lineup and they got three 'D' that really produce it offensively for them and skate extremely well and get up the ice," Berube said. "That's all part of it. The whole game, we've got to check well like I said, we've got to manage the puck well, we've got to try and control the game with the puck as much as we can."

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The Blues' projected lineup:

Jaden Schwartz-Ryan O’Reilly-Brayden Schenn

Ivan Barbashev-Tyler Bozak-Vladimir Tarasenko

Mike Hoffman-Robert Thomas-Jordan Kyrou

Kyle Clifford-Zach Sanford-Sammy Blais

Torey Krug-Justin Faulk

Marco Scandella-Colton Parayko

Niko Mikkola-Robert Bortuzzo

Jordan Binnington will start in goal; Ville Husso will be the backup. Healthy scratches include Klim Kostin, Dakota Joshua, Mackenzie MacEachern and Steven Santini. Vince Dunn (upper body) is out. David Perron, Jake Walman and Nathan Walker are in COVID-19 protocol.

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The Avalanche's projected lineup:

Gabriel Landeskog-Nathan MacKinnon-Mikko Rantanen

Brandon Saad-Nazem Kadri-Andre Burakovsky

Valeri Nichushkin-Tyson Jost-Joonas Donskoi

Alex Newhook-Pierre-Edouard Bellemare-J.T. Compher

Devon Toews-Cale Makar

Ryan Graves-Samuel Girard

Patrik Nemeth-Conor Timmins

Philipp Grubauer will start in goal; Jonas Johansson will be the backup. Healthy scratches include Devan Dubnyk, Jacob MacDonald, Liam O’Brien, Jayson Megna, Dan Renouf, Kiefer Sherwood and Carl Soderberg. Bowen Byram (upper body), Matt Calvert (upper body) and Logan O’Connor (lower body) are out.

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