Thursday, November 11, 2021

(11-11-21) Predators-Blues Gameday Lineup

ST. LOUIS -- The Blues are hoping to slowly but surely begin to get players back as they are hitting the tough part of their November schedule, including a home date today against the Nashville Predators (7 p.m.; BSMW, ESPN 101.1-FM).

Brayden Schenn, as general manager Doug Armstrong said on Wednesday, is day to day with an upper-body injury but and has been skating, while Oskar Sundqvist (knee) continues to trend upwards towards a return to the lineup.

"He's skating," Berube said of Schenn, who will miss a third straight game tonight. "He's not doing a lot with the puck or anything, but he's skating, so that's a good sign. Other than that, he's day to day right now. We'll keep skating him here and hopefully he keeps improving every day until he's ready to get in there and play. For him to play, he's got to be ready to compete. That's a big part of his game."

Sundqvist did not take part in the morning skate, but Berube quipped, "Because I skated him this morning with the extra guys. You guys weren't up yet. We went out there early with Husso and Sunny and a couple other guys."

Goalie Ville Husso will be the first removed from the COVID-19 protocol list. He, Torey Krug, Niko Mikkola and Kyle Clifford are the four that were the latest to be hit with the COVID bug.

"He skated yesterday and today," Berube said of Husso. "We had guys shooting on him and stuff."

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The Blues (8-2-1) are in the midst of playing 12 games in 21 days, and if you start with tonight's game against the Predators, it's 10 games over the next 17 days, which is a lot of hockey.

And it means there won't be many days of full practices.

"We've got to be careful with minutes," Berube said. "You've got to be careful with practice time and if you do practice, it's got to be short but it's got to be high intensity and it's got to be quick. Does that make sense? You can't just go out there for 20-25 minutes and have a slow practice. You've got to keep the pace up in practice even though it's short."

Including some of those high-end guys that play a lot of minutes, such as guys like Colton Parayko (25:16 average ice time per game) and Justin Faulk (23:23).

"... You've just got to manage their rest more than anything. There's going to be days where maybe they don't go out."

"Yeah, I mean, it's really important," forward Ivan Barbashev said. "It's a big month for us, but it's a go time. For us right now. It's really important that we play our game. It's gonna be a tough month. But every single game is really important, especially early in the season. And we're looking forward to continue to battle and winning our games."

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The Blues and Predators, Central Division rivals, will be facing one another for the first time since Feb. 16, 2020.

With the Blues playing in the West Division last season to accommodate the realignment of the divisions, these teams didn't face one another last season.

"I do. I was just asked that question out there," Berube said of Nashville being a rival. "Going back obviously a year or more now, we haven't seen them or played against them, but they have a new coach (John Hynes), new players, they still have a lot of their regulars that have been there. Their style really to me has not changed a whole lot when I watch them. They're a heavy team, they're going to forecheck hard, go to the net hard like they always have. They're back end with (Roman) Josi and (Mattias) Ekholm back there, they make it difficult on you. Josi makes it difficult defensively and offensively. He's just up in the play so much, he anticipates as good as any defenseman as I've seen in the National Hockey League."

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The Blues will host their annual ‘Salute to Military Night.’

This season, the Blues will recognize the life and family of St. Louis native Lance Corporal Jared Schmitz. Schmitz was one of 13 Americans that lost their lives during the evacuation mission in Kabul, Afghanistan earlier this year.

The team will also pay homage to service members by wearing military-themed warmup jerseys featuring the names of all those lost. 

The pregame ceremony will include a puck-drop by the Schmitz family as well as an inclusive video interview with his father, Mark Schmitz, and a moment of silence.  Please read below for full details on all of the elements planned for Thursday night.

"It's great that we can honor them," Faulk said. "It's a day that everyone can kind of take a second from their day to salute all the men and women that have served in the military and given us this life that we can have here in the United States. It shouldn't be limited to the one day. When we sing the national anthem, it has different meaning to different people and what not. It's the least we could so, I think, as a group to have a day to recognize all the people that have provided us this opportunity."

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Don't look now, but Robert Thomas' face-off percentage continues to rapidly rise. And it coincides with his overall play on the ice, which Barbashev thinks has been among the best the Blues have given this season thus far.

"He's bringing everything," Barbashev said. "I'm not going to lie. I think he's been our best player on the team so far this season. He's playing great hockey, makes plays. Just being (an all-around) player. He's great defensively, he makes really good plays and he brings everything to the table. So he's been great the whole season."

Against Winnipeg Tuesday, Berube had Thomas take three defensive zone draws in the final minutes of a 2-2 game, and not the reliable Ryan O'Reilly, who was 0-for-6 in d-zone draws in the game. Thomas was 72 percent for the game, winning 13 of 18 draws.

"This summer he had a commitment to coming in and being a top six forward," Berube said. "That's what he wanted to be. For me, it starts with the off-ice in the off-season. He did a great job of training and getting himself in great shape and then he came to camp and he's just been, for me, his skating and his compete level in the face-off dot and things like that have been outstanding. He's deserved it, he's earned it so I played him.

"He's done a great job there. He's above 50 percent in his face-offs this year, which is really good. He understands the defensive side of things and he's doing a much better job, but his puck possession and his puck transfer from our zone to the offensive zone is outstanding."

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Berube has been high on forward Jake Neighbours since the Calgary native arrived in St. Louis to make a bid to be an every day NHL player this season.

Neighbours may have surprised some when he made the opening night roster, but not to Berube and the Blues. That's why it was a bit tough for the coach to have to break down to the 19-year-old just why he was going back to the junior circuit of the Western Hockey League with the Edmonton Oil Kings.

"Both Doug and I talked to him together and on an individual basis," Berube said. "Just basically I think for his progression as a young kid to get to another level, I think that it was important that he goes back to junior and plays at a high level there, plays on a real good team, hopefully World Juniors. From a leadership standpoint, he's going to be a leader on that team. They have a really good team. They have an opportunity to do really well. I don't care what level it's at. When you're on a winning team and a championship team hopefully, that helps a lot for his progression in my opinion, but also on the other side of things, this guy's going to score goals in the league and he's going to be an offensive player, so going down and getting lots of minutes and puck touches and all that stuff's going to be important for him to continue and grow in that area. But he was great. He's a very mature kid. I've said it all along. He's dialed in for a young kid. He understands it all and he's excited to go back and perform at a high level for his team.

"... We brought that up, too. He only played 25 games last year, maybe, so that's not a lot of games."

Gone are the luxuries of flying charter and eating well. Those amenities get traded in for longer bus rides and eating cold sandwiches.

"I discussed that with him," Berube said. "Like, I get it. You're in the NHL at 19 and it's the same as when I was in the American Hockey League and you're coming up and I got called up to the NHL, I didn't want to go back. Charter flights and all this stuff, food, you can't beat it, but I told him, I said, 'Listen, you've got a lot of time for that in your life and in your career. You're a young kid.' The bus rides and all that stuff, they don't care about that stuff. That's all fun. It's all fun. He doesn't want to miss out on that stuff down there."

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The Blues' game the day after Thanksgiving on Nov. 26 against the Chicago Blackhawks has been changed from a noon puck drop to 2:30 p.m.

The game was supposed to be televised by ABC but has been bumped to accommodate the New York Rangers at Boston Bruins at noon. The Blues-Blackhawks game, to make matters worse, has been switched to ESPN+ and Hulu, so if you don't have either of those streaming services, you're out of luck.

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The Blues' projected lineup:

Brandon Saad-Ryan O'Reilly-David Perron

Ivan Barbashev-Robert Thomas-Vladimir Tarasenko

Jordan Kyrou-Tyler Bozak-Pavel Buchnevich

Klim Kostin-Dakota Joshua-James Neal

Marco Scandella-Colton Parayko

Calle Rosen-Justin Faulk

Jake Walman-Robert Bortuzzo

Jordan Binnington will start in goal; Joel Hofer will be the backup. 

The Blues report no healthy scratches. Brayden Schenn (upper body) and Oskar Sundqvist (knee) are out with injuries. Torey Krug, Kyle Clifford, Ville Husso and Niko Mikkola remain in COVID-19 protocol. 

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The Predators' projected lineup:

Tanner Jeannot-Ryan Johansen-Philip Tomasino

Luke Kunin-Mikael Granlund-Matt Duchene

Yakov Trenin-Colton Sissons-Eeli Tolvanen

Michael McCarron-Thomas Novak-Mathieu Olivier

Roman Josi-Dante Fabbro

Mattias Ekholm-Matt Benning

Alexandre Carrier-Philippe Myers

David Rittich is the projected starter; Juuse Saros would be the backup. 

Healthy scratches would include Rocco Grimaldi and Ben Harpur. Filip Forsberg (upper body), Mark Borowiecki (upper body) and Nick Cousins (upper body) are out.

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