Tuesday, November 30, 2021

(11-30-21) Lightning-Blues Gameday Lineup

ST. LOUIS -- The Blues thought they had an arrangement where they'd be able to play 12 forwards and six defenseman, and a full, healthy lineup.

Then the injury bug hit and now, COVID-19 protocols came calling again. This, on top of recent injuries to David Perron (upper body), James Neal (undisclosed) and Klim Kostin (upper body) that had them scrambling to make recalls.

Now, Tyler Bozak is the latest to be placed in COVID protocol, which the Blues did on Tuesday, meaning the veteran center will miss today's 7 p.m. game (ESPN+, HULU, 101.1-FM) against the Tampa Bay Lightning (12-5-3).

Bozak becomes the seventh Blue this season to get hit by the COVID-19 protocol list, joining Brandon Saad, Ryan O'Reilly, Kyle Clifford, Ville Husso, Torey Krug and Niko Mikkola.

"It's tough," Blues coach Craig Berube said. "We lose a player. I'm sure it's obviously tough on Tyler Bozak too. ... It's throughout the league and it's going to be part of the every day in the NHL."

"It's just the reality of pro sports these days," forward Brayden Schenn said. "Obviously the injury part has always kind of been there, but the COVID part, you never know when it's going to sneak up on you. You kind of can do things around the room to try and help your case and not get COVID at the same time. You can't control it. Hopefully 'Bozie' is OK. As far as I know, he's at the rink and stuff. He's fine and hopefully just the 10 days and we'll have him back sometime soon."

It means with the Blues already having to scramble to manage the salary cap ceiling with recent recalls of Dakota Joshua and Logan Brown, who makes his Blues debut tonight, to fill voids by Neal and Kostin, who were recently placed on long-term injured reserve, they'll have to go with 11 forwards and seven defensemen again tonight as they did Saturday in a 6-3 win against the Columbus Blue Jackets.

"It doesn't complicate things up front," Berube said. "We have forwards that want to play, handle the minutes and stuff like that, so that's not a problem. It gets complicated on the back end with juggling seven D for sure. Mike does a good job with it. It is what it is. You've got to deal with it and that's what we'll do.

"I do believe that (the forwards benefit from it). They're going out there. I rotate different guys in there and I go by what I'm seeing and the line combinations and stuff like that. Forwards are always jumping in there for an extra shift, which they love."

It means veteran defenseman Marco Scandella, who appeared to be headed towards healthy scratch status prior to the Bozak news, will be in as the seventh defenseman tonight.

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Speaking of Schenn, he talked for the first time since the upper-body injury that sidelined him for 20 days (missed a total of nine games) after initially injuring himself Oct. 30 against the Chicago Blackhawks. He played the next game and first period Nov. 4 in San Jose before departing before returning to the lineup Nov. 24 at Detroit.

"It's good. It's taken time," Schenn said. "It's not easy missing three weeks and not even practicing with the guys because they're playing so much hockey, so you're jumping right back into it. It's just timing and legs and still continue to battle. Just going to continue to focus on the little things and getting better game by game myself personally.

"I'm still dealing with it, so I'm not going to speak to it. No need for anyone else knowing about it."

The Blues sent Schenn home from that West Coast trip in California and there was some concern initially the injury could be long term but that wasn't the case.

"It definitely always could have been worse," Schenn said. "It was one of those things where it was just a freak play. First guy goes back and (Alex) DeBrincat's stick got caught in my skate and really nothing you can do about it. The worst part about it was sliding into fresh ice into the boards. I kind of turned last second. It definitely could have been worse. Still missing time there and still going to continue to battle here and try and help the guys win hockey games."

But with Schenn admitting he's not completely over the injury, one had to wonder how the team reacted when he fought Jake McCabe last Friday in Chicago following the hit that sent Perron out of the game.

"Injury aside, if I'm in the game, I can do a few things like that," Schenn said. "Obviously with 'DP' going down, he's been a guy that's been a great player for us for the past three or four years here, a guy that really lays it on the line for us. It's just part of my job to stick up for teammates. It doesn't have to be me all the time. In that instance it was and 'DP', I've enjoyed playing with him, and I'm sure he'd do the same for me if he wasn't happy with the hit. Hopefully he's back here soon and we definitely miss him in our lineup."

Schenn has been in a few scraps in his time, and with brother Luke Schenn in the league and dad Jeff, a firefighter back home in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, there's always some banter going on between the Schenns in these cases.

"I don't see me, my dad or my brother as feisty people or kind of on edge," Schenn said. "That's not the way we are. It just kind of comes out when we play hockey. It's just kind of our DNA that we've done, me and my brother have done since we've been 16 years old. Not much critiquing. Luke's a lefty. he's a lot bigger and stronger than me. He's fought a lot of tougher guys than I have. Usually a good job or good fight and sometimes you are going to get beat and still, it's still a good job or good fight because realistically, it's never fun getting in a fight. It's just part of it."

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Forward Oskar Sundqvist will play in his eighth game since returning from ACL surgery and surgeries on both hips. He has two assists in seven games and will continue to be called upon to take on bigger roles and play more minutes each time he takes the ice.

"I wouldn't say it's 100 percent back yet," Sundqvist said. "I still think I'm over-skating a couple of situations and stuff like that, kind of rushing into it instead of taking it slow and maybe reading a play and stuff like that. Almost like I'm a little too eager to get into situations and the puck goes back the other way. Just need to find that to be a little bit more calmer in some situations and not over-skating it, but other than that, it feels pretty good. 

"I haven't played in a while. We kind of got new systems here and there in some areas of the game. That's where you practice it, during preseason and training camp and (I) missed that. Trying to look at all the videos we have about it, it's not the same. You have to be out there and practicing it and feel it to get into it. I knew that was going to take a while to get into. Basically a whole new PK system too, but it feels like it's coming and just need to keep working at those details."

Sundqvist said the hips will be the things to continue to keep an eye on, with soreness to be expected after conferring with doctors.

"After back to back (games), it's pretty sore," Sundqvist said. "I talked to the doctor in New York about it too and he said it's going to be feeling sore for almost six months after I'll be back. It's going to take a while still and the soreness still is going to be there for almost this whole season. I'm not worried about it, but when it feels good, it feels really good. Hopefully we can keep managing them and make them feel good."

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Tonight marks a matchup of the past two Stanley Cup champions, with the Blues winning in 2019 and the Lightning as two-time defending champs.

The Blues were used to being the standard as defending champs and getting everyone's best shot each time they took the ice. Now the Lightning are in those shoes, and the Blues want to get back to being that standard.

"I think all the teams are looking at what the winning teams are doing, the previous Stanley Cup champions," Sundqvist said. "Obviously you can't copy everything because you don't have the same players as the other teams, but try to kind of modify it a little bit and see what they're doing to be successful. Obviously we've been looking a little bit at Tampa and what they're doing. Ever since I've been here, Tampa games have been really fun. It's been a lot of fast pace out there. It's going to be really fun (tonight) too.

"It's obviously impressive. They have a really good team over there and they've figured it out after struggling the previous years before that with the playoffs. When they figured it out after they win that first one, they just kept rolling on that one and understand what they had to do to win hockey games and win championships. They know what to do; I think we know what to do too. I think it's going to be interesting to see (tonight)."

"They've been a really goods team for a long time; we all know that," Berube said. "They never won before (recently). They got to the finals against Chicago the one year (2015), but they always had a great nucleus of the core, the goalie, the defensemen, Kucherov, Stamkos, Point now. Same coach, Coop's been a coach there for quite some time and has done a great job. His team is really consistent year in year out, they're right there all the time. It's not easy to win in this league. You get beat, but they definitely put it together the last two years. They're a heck of a hockey team, so it's a good challenge for us. We've got them back to back coming up here, home and away. Our guys, we're looking forward to it, we're excited."

Saad won with the Blackhawks in 2015 against the Lightning and knows the feeling.

"Being a part of winning teams, it's always you're going to get the teams' best night," Saad said. "Even when the Blues won, we remember playing them thinking we want to give them a good hockey game and you want to bring your best every night. Especially playing the (two-time) defending Cup champs, you want to bring your 'A' game. It's important games for us. Obviously for them, they're going to get every team's best, which makes the grind even tougher. It's definitely a measuring stick for us."

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* The Blues have won the past four matchups with the Lightning, who they will face again Thursday in Tampa before back to back matchups with the Florida Panthers, giving the Blues an all-Florida look the next four games.

* Goalie Jordan Binnington, who gets the start tonight, is 4-0-0 with a 1.72 goals-against average and .945 save percentage with one shutout in his career against the Lightning.

* Center Robert Thomas has 12 points (one goal, 11 assists) the past 10 games.

* Winger Pavel Buchnevich has 13 points (seven goals, six assists) the past 11 games, including six points (four goals, two assists) in a three-game point streak.

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The Blues' projected lineup:

Brayden Schenn-Ryan O'Reilly-Jordan Kyrou 

Pavel Buchnevich-Robert Thomas-Vladimir Tarasenko

Brandon Saad-Oskar Sundqvist-Ivan Barbashev

Dakota Joshua-Logan Brown

Torey Krug-Justin Faulk

Niko Mikkola-Colton Parayko

Scott Perunovich-Robert Bortuzzo

Marco Scandella

Jordan Binnington will start in goal; Ville Husso will be the backup.

The healthy scratch is Jake Walman. David Perron (upper body), James Neal (undisclosed) and Klim Kostin (upper body) are out. Tyler Bozak is in COVID-19 protocol.

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The Lightning's projected lineup:

Ondrej Palat-Steven Stamkos-Alex Barre-Boulet

Alex Killorn-Anthony Cirelli-Gabriel Fortier

Pat Maroon-Pierre-Edouard Bellemare-Corey Perry

Boris Katchouk-Ross Colton-Taylor Raddysh

Victor Hedman-Jan Rutta

Ryan McDonagh-Zach Bogosian

Mikhail Sergachev-Erik Cernak

Brian Elliott will start in goal; Andrei Vasilevskiy will be the backup. 

Healthy scratches include Cal Foote and Sean Day. Brayden Point (upper body), Nikita Kucherov (lower body), Mathieu Joseph (undisclosed) and Gemel Smith (lower body) are out.

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