Friday, October 8, 2021

(10-8-21) Blue Jackets-Blues Preseason Gameday Lineup

MARYLAND HEIGHTS, Mo. -- James Neal will put his best foot forward one more time.
The veteran will get one last look in the preseason today for the Blues and hope for the best when it comes to possibly earning a contract.

Neal and the Blues (3-3-1) will play their eighth and final exhibition game when they host the Columbus Blue Jackets (4-1-1) at 7 p.m. (Bally's Sports app, ESPN 101.1-FM).

Neal, 34, has been in camp on a professional tryout and will play on a line with Vladimir Tarasenko and Robert Thomas in hopes of earning himself an NHL contract here.

Rosters have to be set and teams are to be cap-compliant by 4 p.m. (CT) on Monday. 

Neal will be paid $1.9-plus million over the next four seasons by the Edmonton Oilers, who bought out the remaining two years of his contract, so a contract at a league minimum of $750,000 or so could be in the cards for Neal here with Oskar Sundqvist going on long-term injured-reserve, giving them some relief from his $2.75 million cap hit.

"You take nothing for granted for sure," Neal said. "I still got lots to prove here and another good chance tonight. Looking forward to having a good game tonight, but I feel good with the way camp's gone and feel good about my game.

"I've put in a lot of work this summer and wanted to get back to where I know I can be. It's paying off. I'm skating well, I feel confident with the puck and good things are happening out there. I've got to continue to do that."

Blues coach Craig Berube has liked how Neal fits in with the group and has utilized him on different lines and various roles, and Neal, who had a hat trick in his first game with the Blues and playing in fifth preseason game tonight.

"He's good at below the tops of the circles," Berube said. "That's his game. He hounds pucks, he's on pucks, he's got a good stick, he's around the net and he gets goals around the net, which is important. He's been around a long time, he's played a lot of good hockey in his career and scored a lot of goals.

"... Just trying to see him in different roles, if that makes sense. Not roles so much, but different line combinations just to see if we might see something different with somebody else. Tonight I got him with Thomas and Tarasenko to see what he looks like there."

Neal feels the Blues' style fits his style and can help him get back to what brought him success in the past.

"I feel like it's a really good fit," Neal said. "That was a big reason why I wanted to come here too. I knew there wasn't spots open, but I felt if I could come in here and I knew the shape I was in and I had lots of game left. I feel like it's a really good fit and I'm just going to continue to play my game and play it well. I hope things work out because I really like it here."

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The Blues are playing a top-heavy lineup tonight, and one of the reasons is that they won't play competitively again for eight days, the regular-season opener in Denver against the Colorado Avalanche Oct. 16.

It's good to get the main group, or as close to it as possible, to get some game reps in and to continue to work on things they feel are necessary heading into the season.

"I don't really think it's much different than normal," defenseman Justin Faulk said. "Usually the last couple games of preseason are as close to a lineup as you can get. Obviously there's a few guys that are out that will be playing games too and what not. I think you try and get dialed in here at the end and find some cohesiveness as a group and get going because there's nothing after that besides the regular season.

"I think the guys have done a pretty good job. Some of the games have been pretty good on our end and guys feel good. The group feels good as a whole. One more tonight and I think the guys are happy to get going and move on from training camp. I think that's pretty normal too."

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Along with Neal, Berube said some guys in the lineup that will be in tonight are guys the coaches will want to take another look at, and that includes 2020 first-round pick Jake Neighbours, who will play a fourth line role tonight with Ivan Barbashev and Tyler Bozak. But one of the more intriguing defensive pairs tonight isn't that Scott Perunovich and Niko Mikkola are getting another look, but more of seeing Jake Walman and Robert Bortuzzo together again.

That pair played Wednesday in Minnesota and played well, but the fact Berube is wanting to see them again says they've seen enough to make a decision on Perunovich and Mikkola already and want to see Walman in particular one more time.

"Jake Walman's played better and better as it's gone along," Berube said. "His best game was his last game. I think his practice has picked up too in my opinion. He seemed a little off early on in camp and I'm not sure exactly why, but I feel that he's got over that and I thought that he had a really good game in Minnesota, so I was very pleased to see that.

"I thought Borts had a solid game in Minny, did his job. He looks good to me like normal Borts. It's good to see."

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The Blues' projected lineup:

Brandon Saad-Ryan O'Reilly-David Perron

Jordan Kyrou-Brayden Schenn-Pavel Buchnevich

James Neal-Robert Thomas-Vladimir Tarasenko

Jake Neighbours-Tyler Bozak-Ivan Barbashev

Marco Scandella-Colton Parayko

Torey Krug-Justin Faulk

Jake Walman-Robert Bortuzzo

Jordan Binnington will start in goal; Colten Ellis will be the backup.

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The Blue Jackets' projected lineup:

Gregory Hofmann-Kevin Stenlund-Emil Bemstrom

Liam Foudy-Justin Danforth-Tyler Angle

Tyler Sikura-Brendan Gaunce-Carson Meyer

Tristan Mullin-Josh Dunne-Justin Scott

Dean Kukan-Scott Harrington

Gabriel Carlsson-Andrew Peeke

Mikko Lehtonen-Gavin Bayreuther

Joonas Korpisalo will start in goal; Daniil Tarasov will be the backup.

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