Wednesday, November 3, 2021

(11-3-21) Blues-Kings Gameday Lineup

Brandon Saad is good to go for the Blues (6-1-0) again when they kick off a four-game road trip today at 9 p.m. (TNT, ESPN 101.1-FM) against the Los Angeles Kings (3-5-1).

The forward has missed the past four games after being put in COVID-19 protocol, the first player this season to do so.

Saad, who has a goal and an assist in three games, has skated the past three days and took part in the morning skate Wednesday.

"I'm really excited," Saad said. "Any time you're away from your team for an extended period of time, you're always looking to get back and playing hockey again. I'm definitely excited to play tonight.

"It's a new experience for me. Just getting some practices in, some workouts, seeing where your fitness level's at. Obviously you want to help the team win, so it's something you take it day by day and see how you're feeling and make sure you're ready to go."

Saad was symptomatic, which meant he had to be quarantined a minimum of 10 days, but he's vaccinated and experienced mild symptoms. 

"It was similar to a cold," Saad said. "I could go through the list, but you feel a little off, a little bit different, nothing too extreme for me. Just a matter of time in healing."

Nonetheless, the veteran said he was surprised when a positive test came up as the team was wrapping up its season-opening three-game road trip that ended in Las Vegas.

"Yeah, I was surprised actually," Saad said. "It's something that I probably wouldn't have thought anything of it if it wasn't for the times we're living in. You have a few symptoms, you might think it's a cold, things like that and you see a positive test, so it's a little bit shocking at the time. It's nice to be through it now."

Blues coach Craig Berube is working Saad in on a line with Tyler Bozak and Pavel Buchnevich and will monitor Saad's game as it progresses to see how he plays.

"We got a couple days of practice in and the full practice yesterday was a key sign," Berube said. "He felt good and he looked good in practice and his speed looked really good. I felt comfortable with it and he said he was good to go.

"That'll be a big part of it for sure. I'll go off how he looks and if I see him not having a lot of energy and things like that, so I'll look for it."

With Saad our four games, the Blues were 3-1-0. They've also missed Buchnevich (suspension) for two games, Ryan O'Reilly will miss his third game in COVID protocol, Kyle Clifford and Ville Husso will miss their first games, respectively, also in COVID-19 protocol.

"I think we've done a good job as a team doing the next-man-up mentality of being able to obviously with guys being out, there's no excuses, it's another hockey game," Saad said. "For us, it shows through our character and depth through our team. Obviously we're playing well, so I'm excited to be back.

"I haven't missed a lot of time. Going through it, it's different for me. I think more mentally than anything, you want to be out there, you want to be helping the team win. So it's always tough to be watching and sitting around waiting, but like I said, I'm happy to be back now.

"I feel good. Obviously you don't know until you're out there, but the plan is to be back full time and obviously trying to contribute. We'll just take it one day at a time."

- - -

Speaking of Buchnevich, the Blues will look to get one of their other new acquisitions going again.

Buchnevich, who also has a goal and an assist in five games, had those two points in the first two games of the season but doesn't have one in three games since returning from a two-game head-butting suspension and is trying to find his footing again.

"A little bit," Berube said. "We had a conversation the other day and he knows that too and he'll be better. I think he's looked better in practice me. He looked good in practice yesterday. That line looked good. I think he's going to have a good game tonight."

Playing Buchnevich with veterans Bozak and Saad could work out for the team's benefit.

"For sure, I think offense and defense," Berube said. "They're the type of line we can use tonight in all situations. You've got three veteran guys that have been around, know how to play the game, with some good speed on that line, guys who go to the net. We need them to be a good line tonight for us."

- - -

Defenseman Robert Bortuzzo returns after sitting out the 1-0 win against Chicago Saturday in favor of Niko Mikkola's first game of the season.

The veteran Bortuzzo, who will skate with Jake Walman, has one assist in six games.

"There's always a benefit," Bortuzzo said of watching from the press box. "Why not? You're going to watch the game, you're going to take in information, watch some of your last prior games. It's a chance to better yourself, so why not?"

"I just want to keep them all going," Berube said of returning Bortuzzo to the lineup. "We've got fresh bodies for tomorrow too (at San Jose). There's a good chance we can swap out a couple guys. That's really all it is. I want to keep everybody going."

Also, it appears as if veteran James Neal is OK after getting some of his teeth knocked out during a drill in practice on Tuesday and is good to go for tonight.

"I'm not sure how many fake ones he already had in there before, but it looks like he's got four missing in the front of his mouth," Berube said.

- - -

Tonight marks the third and final meeting between the Blues and Kings.

The Blues won two games in three nights against L.A. in St. Louis, 7-3 on Oct. 23 and 3-0 on Oct. 25, but the Kings come in with wins in their past two games.

"They really forecheck hard with five-man units," Berube said of the Kings. "We're going to have to be good breaking the puck out, getting the puck out of our end. They've got that 1-3-1 neutral zone setup. It makes it difficult to get through there. You're going to have to put pucks in deep and go get it. That's going to be a big part of it and we're going to have to have good special teams tonight. Their power play scored a couple goals last game against Buffalo. They've got a good power play and they're going to make you work for everything. We're going to have to have our work boots on and we're going to have to play the right way."

Did the Blues put pucks in proper areas in winning those two games last week?

"At times," Berube said. "I thought we actually skated the puck in quite a bit, more than I thought we were going to, which is OK. But there's going to be times that you've got to put it in and you've got to put it in good areas. They make you rim a lot of pucks with how that neutral zone is set up. Our rim forecheck's got to be really good off rims. We're going to have to do a real good job of getting in on the forecheck off of rims."

- - -

The Blues' projected lineup:

Jordan Kyrou-Brayden Schenn-David Perron

Ivan Barbashev-Robert Thomas-Vladimir Tarasenko

Brandon Saad-Tyler Bozak-Pavel Buchnevich

James Neal-Dakota Joshua-Klim Kostin

Marco Scandella-Colton Parayko

Torey Krug-Justin Faulk

Jake Walman-Robert Bortuzzo

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

Healthy scratches include Niko Mikkola and Jake Neighbours. Oskar Sundqvist (knee) remains out. Ryan O'Reilly, Kyle Clifford and Ville Husso are in COVID-19 protocol and are out tonight.

- - -

The Kings' projected lineup:

Lias Andersson-Anze Kopitar-Dustin Brown

Alex Iafallo-Phillip Danault-Adrian Kempe

Trevor Moore-Rasmus Kupari-Carl Grundstrom

Brendan Lemieux-Blake Lizotte-Arthur Kaliyev

Tobias Bjornfot-Mikey Anderson

Olli Maatta-Matt Roy

Alexander Edler-Kale Clague

Jonathan Quick will start in goal; Calvin Petersen will be the backup. 

The healthy scratch is Austin Strand. Drew Doughty (knee), Sean Walker (knee), Quinton Byfield (ankle) and Andreas Athanasiou (upper body) are out. Viktor Arvidsson and Gabriel Vilardi are in COVID-19 protocol and out tonight.

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