Wednesday, October 27, 2021

Blues configure lineup sans O'Reilly for first time

Schenn moves up to play with Perron, Bozak slides up; captain will miss first 
game since joining Blues in 2018; Sundqvist increasing workload, getting closer

MARYLAND HEIGHTS, Mo. -- Craig Berube needed 24 hours to conjure up what a lineup would look like for the first time without Ryan O'Reilly.

The Blues coach and his assistants found what they wanted and went with balance.

With O'Reilly set to miss his first game since joining the Blues in 2018, a span of 214 consecutive regular-season games, the Blues (5-0-0) had to reconfigure their forward lines, which will be put to the test against the Colorado Avalanche (2-4-0) on Thursday.

Berube slotted Brayden Schenn between Klim Kostin and O'Reilly's running mate, David Perron, while moving Tyler Bozak up between Jordan Kyrou and Pavel Buchnevich, leaving the Robert Thomas line with Vladimir Tarasenko and Ivan Barbashev alone and putting Dakota Joshua, recalled from Springfield (Mass.) of the American Hockey League on Tuesday, in as the fourth-line center between Jake Neighbours and James Neal.

Here's what the projected lineup looked like in practice on Wednesday:

Klim Kostin-Brayden Schenn-David Perron

Jordan Kyrou-Tyler Bozak-Pavel Buchnevich

Ivan Barbashev-Robert Thomas-Vladimir Tarasenko

Jake Neighbours-Dakota Joshua-James Neal

* Injured Oskar Sundqvist and Kyle Clifford were the extra forwards.

Marco Scandella-Colton Parayko
Torey Krug-Justin Faulk
Jake Walman-Robert Bortuzzo
* Niko Mikkola was the extra d-man.

Jordan Binnington and Ville Husso were the netminders.

Instead of overloading the top two lines and perhaps leaving the bottom six vulnerable and/or full of young, inexperienced skaters to try and fend for themselves, Berube has kept a veteran presence on each line with the thought of laying out the experience throughout.

"It's part of it because we've had lines that have been doing really well, but I do want balance throughout the lineup and we've got a significant amount of young guys in the lineup so it's nice to have veterans with those guys, so I do look at that too," Berube said. "The Thomas line has been real effective, so I didn't want to split that line up.

"... I didn't really draw a lot out. I didn't want to change too much, so I tried to simplify as best as I could, talked with the coaches about what they thought. This is what we came up with."

O'Reilly and Perron are joined at the hip, especially on the ice, with each normally coming into the ice together for practices and playing together in games, so it was imperative to find someone that's played with Perron before and done well with him.

Enter Schenn.

"(That's) part of it," Berube said. "They played together last year and probably the year before that at times too. That was always one of the switches that I made when I took Perron from O'Reilly, I put him with Schenn all the time. They do have familiarity with each other. They're going to have to do a good job, they're probably going to be playing against (Nathan) MacKinnon's line quite a bit, as other lines will too but that line's got to be good. They're going to have to be real good for us."

Perron and Schenn are the veterans that will have to pull the rope with rookie Klim Kostin learning on the fly, as he has done in the early stages of this season, and doing well.

"I think with Klim last game, I thought he had a good game," Perron said. "We were playing pretty good as a team and 'Chief' kind of changed things up as a coach would do to ... maybe young guys a lot of times, it happened to me earlier in my career. When things aren't clicking the perfect way, you're trying to find goals, so he made some switches, goes back to it today. I talked to Klim about it just to keep competing the way he does, I think he's doing a pretty good job. I think Schenner and I have also had chemistry in the past. We've made some good plays, good games in the past with him even going back to my first year back here three years ago, four years ago now. I played with him and 'Schwartzy' (Jaden Schwartz) a bunch, played with him last year a little bit as well. It's how it's going to go, we're going to have to adjust and obviously we would like to have our full lineup, but at this point, I think we're looking forward to those games coming up."

Keeping the Barbashev-Thomas-Tarasenko line together made sense, but taking Schenn away from Kyrou and Buchnevich is a bit of a gamble considering that trio was playing well together too. But having the veteran presence of Bozak allowed for that change to take place since Bozak will fill many of the small detail roles O'Reilly occupied.

"Definitely. He's always a guy that we know from the past, he does a lot of different things for us in the lineup, whether he's playing up in the lineup, down in the lineup, different areas, power play, penalty kill," Berube said. "He's a real smart player. That could be a real effective line."

It's no secret why Berube would want to keep the Thomas line together. It's combined for 16 points (five goals, 10 assists) in five games, with Tarasenko leading the charge with six points (three goals, three assists), followed by Barbashev with five points (three goals, two assists) and Thomas with five assists.

And then there's Joshua, who had one assist in five games with the Thunderbirds before being called up to fill in while O'Reilly and Brandon Saad, who Berube said was getting close to returning, is still out. 

"Feels good obviously (to be back)," Joshua said. "This is the place you want to be. So any time you get another opportunity you got to take advantage of it and I'm really excited to hopefully get in.

"... Obviously you just want to put your best foot forward and make sure that you're making a positive impact and that there's no reason that things shouldn't keep going the way are."

As for O'Reilly, who will miss at least the next four games and 10 days while in COVID-19 protocol, Perron has spoken to him.

"I have, I've talked to him a little bit to see how he's doing and all that," Perron said. "Obviously we knew we probably would have to keep dealing with that throughout the whole year. It's kind of a tough bounce, both of my linemates go down. It's a little bit different.

"Well I think obviously it's just a situation that it's almost like more and more normal to get those situations. I think he's doing fine. Kind of some of the stuff, I've got to check up with him again today, see what type of stuff he's got, but it's really for him to talk about that, not me." 

* NOTES -- Forward Oskar Sundqvist was a participant in Wednesday's practice. That's not a secret, since Sundqvist has skated regularly for weeks now.

What is a surprise was seeing Sundqvist taking part in penalty killing duties and absorbing some contact, which is new.

For those that don't know, or may have been hiding in hibernation for months, Sundqvist continues to recover from a torn left ACL that needed surgery; he's been on long-term injured reserve, meaning he has to miss 10 games and 24 days before being eligible for re-activation.

"Yeah, I mean every day I think it's him skating and doing more and more," Berube said. "He's doing some contact now, which is good. 

"We're just going to keep pounding away at it. I don't have an answer for you guys when he's going to be back, but again, he's doing more, the contact, he's feeling better, he's doing his work in the weight room and he's a lot stronger than he was. There's a lot of positive and it's just about him feeling when he's ready to roll and he gets the clearance to play and we'll go from there."

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