By LOU KORAC
Yes, another Blues player is sidelined again for a game.
Yes, another Blues player is sidelined again for a game.
No, it's no joke, but for a change, they get bodies back for the first of a home-and-home series with the Dallas Stars, with the first encounter today at 7:30 p.m. (BSMW, ESPN 101.1-FM) at American Airlines Center.
First, let's get to the returning players, veterans Justin Faulk and Tyler Bozak are back in the lineup.
Bozak has missed the past seven games in COVID-19 protocol, while Faulk has missed six.
"The first few days were a little rough," Bozak said. "The whole family got it. It was 10 days of quality family time, so yeah, I was doing a little bit of teaching for my kindergarten boy, a lot of Christmas movies, board games and all that stuff. We got to spend a lot of time together, but it's great to be back with the guys.
"My favorite's probably Christmas Vacation, but the kids' favorite if the the Grinch (How the Grinch Stole Christmas). I'm trying to get them on Elf, the Grinch, they like the Home Alone's, so all movies that I enjoy watching. It wasn't too bad."
For Faulk, it wasn't as bad.
"I feel good, feel normal," Faulk said. "Never had any issues throughout my time. Some days were longer than others I guess, but it's been essentially 10 days of relaxation.
"I went fishing. I had time with my dogs on a lake in Missouri somewhere, took some walks. It was pretty sunny some days, again with my dogs. What else did I do? I cooked a few times, three meals a day and then also for my dogs. Nothing crazy, I don't think."
Each player has been on the ice for at least two days, with Bozak going on first on Saturday, and Faulk going on Monday.
"The last couple days I was out, I got out of protocol and then we had the back-to-back, so it probably wasn't definitely smart to play both of them," Bozak said. "Just skated the one day and thought with being off for 10 days, being a little bit of an older guy with asthma, I figured a couple extra days with skating would probably do me a lot better and to have a couple days after this game too to recover and get ready for the next one was something that played a role too. I feel good. It's obviously hard to tell until you actually do get out there in a game. You can only do so much to kind of replicate that. It's a little bit different when you're actually in the game and battling and working like that. I feel good and we'll see how it goes tonight."
"I skated yesterday and then today," Faulk said. "I don't think you're allowed to in the protocols, but I'm lucky enough, I have a gym in my house. I was able to go down there plenty of times and get enough work in off the ice, probably more so than you can during the season obviously because I wasn't playing games so I was lucky enough to have access to that. I think I did enough to be prepared to go tonight."
For Faulk, who missed six games, it was the strangest of sequences when he was literally pulled off the ice right before the Blues were going to play the Tampa Bay Lightning on Tampa on Dec. 2.
"I made a joke about it before. I guess it's not something to joke about that I would probably have to take warmups if I tested positive," Faulk said. "We tested that night and I ended up being the last guy to test. I didn't know we had to test that night, so I made a joke. I was like, 'Watch, I'm going to get pulled out of warmups now.' Well they got me right before. I was literally walking onto the ice, had all my gear on, did my hair up nice and pretty for no helmet and then I just went and hid in the corner and waited for the confirmation that I was out. It's just a weird, kind of eerie feeling, but just sitting there like a lame duck there for a second. We've dealt with it, and I think teams have done a good job, so hopefully we don't have to go through any more of those."
Faulk will be paired with Torey Krug and Bozak will center the third line between Nathan Walker and Oskar Sundqvist.
"They're two good veterans for us that have been around for a long time, so they add stability to our team," Blues coach Craig Berube said. "Faulker's been a real good player for us and logs a lot of minutes and does everything for us. Bozak, same thing. A different time in his career but a veteran presence out there, penalty killing, he can do a lot of different things, a very smart player.
"We got them on the ice a couple times. ... It's not an easy thing to come back from, get up to speed right away, but I think guys have done a good job of managing themselves. We play them and go off what we're seeing and also you can just tell if they're being used too much, if they don't look right. So we just watch them, but I plan on using both of them tonight, we need them and they're ready to go."
As for another omission, defenseman Scott Perunovich will not play tonight with what Berube termed illness but non-COVID related and that he's day to day.
Berube said goalie Jordan Binnington, the last (for now) of the players in COVID protocol, has been getting his work in and is trending towards a near return.
"He's doing work, he's close," Berube said. "He's coming along in the right direction."
Perunovich joins a slew of injured skaters out of the lineup, including David Perron, Brayden Schenn, Robert Thomas, Jordan Kyrou, Ville Husso, Jake Walman, James Neal and Klim Kostin.
"Obviously it's tough," Bozak said. "You look around the league with COVID, injuries, I think a lot of teams are getting hit in various ways and at different times. I don't really know how to pinpoint it obviously. The game's getting faster and guys are geting bigger and stronger. It's a physical game and stuff like that's going to happen, so that's why depth is so crucial in the game nowadays. Luckily for us we have a lot of that. You've seen the guys that have stepped up and played when guys go down and they're doing a tremendous job. We're lucky to have the depth we have here."
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Among the guys called in for reinforcements from Springfield of the American Hockey League include Logan Brown, Dakota Joshua, Walker, Matthew Peca and the latest addition who will make his NHL debut, Alexei Toropchenko, who was called up from Springfield Sunday.
"He's played well within his game," Berube said of Toropchenko, who had five goals and four assists in 22 games with the Thunderbirds this season. "He's a big guy, he's a heavy guy out there, he skates well and gets on top of people. He forechecks well and bangs bodies, just plays a hard, heavy game. He adds nice size to us, and his skating, it's an important part of the game, it's an important part of our game having some size and some heaviness out there and he provides that.
"I thought he had a good camp. A couple real good exhibition games looking back on it where he was a real effective player."
Brown has five points (two goals, three assists) in seven games, Joshua has a goal and three assists in 14 games, and Walker has four goals and five points in three games since he came up. Peca has an assist in two games.
"I think the guys that have come up have done a good job, at least from what I've seen watching the games on TV," Faulk said. "I think you can tell they're happy to be here, they're excited for the opportunity and obviously a few of them have taken a pretty big advantage of that opportunity. We need that. Stuff happens. This is probably as weird as it gets as a scenario that you might go through throughout a season and as a team, but you obviously need guys to step up at certain times and fill roles. We're not asking anyone to be superstars, but you need guys to come in and play a steady game and I think most of those guys have done that."
"It's actually been fun to watch just to see the guys get their opportunities and make the most of it," Bozak said. "It's exciting and you're so happy for those guys that get their shot and come out and play extremely well. It's been fun to watch. Now I get to be a part of it and play with everyone, so that's an exciting time too."
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The Blues, 5-1-3 in their past nine games, will go for earning a point in 10 of 11 games and try to halt the Stars' home winning streak at eight games.
To do that, Berube said he's liked, "the scoring (of) goals. I think we've been putting the puck in the net. Our special teams have been really good. That's an important part of every game with the penalties called. But overall I think it's been pretty consistent with scoring some goals. Our defensive play, I think we've been protecting our slot area, our house very well and we've got to continue to do that and not giving up odd-man rushes is important too. This team has some good speed and a couple defensemen that really like to activate. We need to not give up odd-man rushes tonight, keep it right in our house will be really important."
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Call it coincidence, call it ironic, but it was a sad, yet heartfelt day for the newest member of the Blues alumni.
Ben Bishop, who grew up in Des Peres and was drafted by the Blues in the third round of the 2005 NHL Draft, officially called it quits from the NHL after 11 seasons, including his first two with his childhood team even though it was for only 13 games.
Bishop, 35, has been dealing with a meniscus and cartilage issue in his right knee, and after 14 months of rehabilitation that culminated with a start for Texas of the AHL this past Friday, the goaltender decided enough was enough.
"We've tried it all," Bishop said in a press conference at the AAC Tuesday. "Unfortunately, it couldn't get to where I needed it to, and last week when we drained it, there was still some flex in the fluid which means there is still more cartilage wearing away. With all that, I still wanted to go down and give it a try because I wanted to give it one last try just to make sure. I was hoping I would be able to go down and I would be OK, but obviously after the game, it blew up and talking with the doctors, it doesn't make sense to be ripping your knee apart if you're not going to be able to get back to where you're playing.
"... Obviously in the end, it wasn't meant to be. ... I still feel like I have the skill to play but when your knee tells you you can't, that's tough. We've crossed every bridge we could possibly do; we've done everything. I think I've had a little bit of peace where I was able to go down and give it a try, see where we're at. I've had some time to process this. This isn't a decision that was made in 24 hours."
Bishop started eight games for the Blues and was 4-5-1 with a 2.83 goals-against average and .896 save percentage before he was traded to the Ottawa Senators on February 26, 2012, for a second-round pick in 2013.
The Blues already had Jaroslav Halak and Brian Elliott as a goalie tandem at the time, and Jake Allen and Bishop were the two young up-and-comers through the pipeline, and the Blues kept Allen and traded Bishop at the time to allow him to go and allow his career to blossom elsewhere.
Bishop would take the Tampa Bay Lightning to the Stanley Cup Final in 2015, losing to the Chicago Blackhawks. He would finish his career playing for the Blues, Senators, Lightning, Los Angeles Kings and Stars, who signed him to a six-year, $29 million contract in 2017; he was part of Dallas' runner-up finish against the Lightning in 2020.
Bishop's knee issues coincidentally began to bother him during the 2019 second-round playoff series against the Blues, a series that went seven games before Oakville's Pat Maroon won the game, 2-1, scoring in double overtime on a path that helped the Blues win the Cup that year.
"Playing my first NHL game in St. Louis obviously a dream-come-true," Bishop said. "... I think it's all kind of ironic that it started with the St. Louis Blues and here it is coming to an end (the day the Blues and Stars play). The whole Blues organization, getting drafted there was a dream-come-true. Doug Armstrong, Tom Stillman, they've been so good to me, the way the Blues organization's treated me and my family throughout the years, I can't thank you enough."
Bishop said he wants to remain in the game, whether that be in a coaching capacity, front office position, that's yet to be seen, but for now, he and his wife Andrea and two sons will remain in Dallas.
Bishop broke down as he thanked most of all, his parents Ben Jr. and Cindy.
"I wouldn't have gotten into this game without them," Bishop said. "All their support throughout the years. I think what makes it so special is in their eyes, I don't think I've ever played a bad game."
Bishop was 222-118-36 in 413 regular-season games (397 starts) with a 2.32 GAA, .921 save percentage and 33 shutouts in his career and 29-21 with a 2.27 GAA and .924 save percentage in 52 playoff games.
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The Blues' projected lineup:
Brandon Saad-Ryan O'Reilly-Logan Brown
Pavel Buchnevich-Ivan Barbashev-Vladimir Tarasenko
Nathan Walker-Tyler Bozak-Oskar Sundqvist
Alexei Toropchenko-Dakota Joshua-Matthew Peca
Niko Mikkola-Colton Parayko
Torey Krug-Justin Faulk
Marco Scandella-Robert Bortuzzo
Charlie Lindgren will start in goal; Jon Gillies will be the backup.
The Blues have no healthy scratches. Jordan Binnington remains out for COVID-19 protocol but is getting close. David Perron (upper body), Brayden Schenn (upper body) Robert Thomas (lower body), Jordan Kyrou (upper body), James Neal (upper body), Klim Kostin (upper body) Ville Husso (lower body) and Jake Walman (upper body) are all out. Scott Perunovich is out with illness but non-COVID related and is day to day.
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The Stars' projected lineup:
Jason Robertson-Jamie Benn-Joe Pavelski
Tanner Kero-Tyler Seguin-Denis Gurianov
Michael Raffl-Radek Faksa-Luke Glendening
Jacob Peterson-Ty Dellandrea-Riley Damiani
Esa Lindell-John Klingberg
Ryan Suter-Miro Heiskanen
Andrej Sekera-Jani Hakanpaa
Jake Oettinger will start in goal; Braden Holtby will be the backup.
The healthy scratch is expected to be Joel Hanley. Joel Kiviranta (upper body), Roope Hintz (non-COVID-19 illness) and Alexander Radulov (non-COVID-19 illness) are out.