Wednesday, December 29, 2021

(12-29-21) Oilers-Blues Gameday Lineup

ST. LOUIS -- The Blues will get back on the ice in competitive action for the first time in 10 days and will get an infusion of talent to go with it.

Forwards David Perron, Robert Thomas and Jordan Kyrou will al return for the Blues (17-9-5) when they face the Edmonton Oilers (18-11-0) at 7:30 p.m. (BSMW, ESPN 101.1-FM).

Perron has missed 11 games with an upper-body injury, Thomas has missed seven with a lower-body injury and Kyrou has missed  the past four games with an upper-body injury.

"They're all good to go," coach Craig Berube said. "... We're bringing back a lot of skill back in our lineup, power play, all the situational stuff from an offensive standpoint. You're bringing back a lot of goals and points back in your lineup. Looking at it from that standpoint, that's a real good thing. We can't lose our focus on the work ethic and the type of game we need to play.

"They've got to do what they do obviously from their skill standpoint. There's three guys coming into the lineup that are highly-skilled guys that do a lot of good things with the puck. We want them to do that, that's important. But on the other side of things, the other play that we played the game, we were more north. We played a north style of game, we were physical and heavy on the puck. There's no reason these guys can't do the same thing coming in. It's important we all play the same way to a certain extent. I get there's more guys that have more skill and can do more with the puck and things like that, but the style of play we want to play, everybody needs to play the style we need to play."

Thomas will jump back in and center Vladimir Tarasenko and Jordan Kyrou; not Pavel Buchnevich, who was a late scratch with a non-COVID related illness. Jake Walman will jump in and give the Blues 11 forwards and seven defensemen.

"It's always tough missing games, but happy to be back and try and contribute," Thomas said. "The team's been playing well lately so just keep on building off that.

"I liked the way I was playing before. Now it's just about picking up where I left off and not missing a step. That's the goal tonight. but it was good to get back to game shape and back to 100 percent. The postponed games and Christmas break was definitely huge for me."

On the down side, forward Oskar Sundqvist, removed from COVID-19 protocol on Tuesday, will not play tonight.

Sundqvist practiced between Klim Kostin, who will also return after missing 12 games with an upper-body injury, and Nathan Walker but was a long participant on the ice for an optional skate this morning.

"We will have somebody come up, but the decision will be game time," Berube said. 

[* UPDATE -- The Blues recalled forward Alexei Toropchenko from Springfield].

It will be good to get some of the Blues' top scorers back tonight, however. 

Kyrou (nine goals, 16 assists) was leading the Blues with 25 points in 27 games when he left the lineup and is now fourth in scoring; Thomas is fifth with 22 points (two goals, 20 assists) in 24 games and Perron is sixth with 18 points (seven goals, 11 assists) in 20 games.

"A lot of these guys are big parts of our team and the guys that filled in and were called up that filled in did an admirable job," defenseman Torey Krug said. "Obviously they're big parts of our team in order for us to win. But it's exciting getting these guys back. There's obviously a jump in their step and they're excited to get playing again. We obviously welcome them with open arms."

There was a surprise skater on the ice when veteran James Neal, placed on the COVID-19 protocol list on Sunday, took part in the skate Wednesday.

Neal joined Ivan Barbashev (backdated to Dec. 23), Dakota Joshua and Robert Bortuzzo on the protocol list.

With the NHL and NHLPA about to implement, per CDC guidelines, the possibility of vaccinated individuals leaving isolation five days after a positive COVID test if they have no symptoms or symptoms are resolving,", Neal could be one of those players, and/or he had false positive or tested negative on consecutive days.

"I don't know what that is," Berube said when asked. "Call the league about that. I really don't know what it's called. All I know is he's back on the ice."

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It's been 10 days for the Blues and 11 for the Oilers, who last played in Seattle on Dec. 18, and judging by the return of games on Tuesday when 33 goals were scored in the three games, including an 8-7 win by the San Jose Sharks over the Arizona Coyotes, timing and execution could be a challenge for the teams getting going again.

"I think the timing and execution might be off early on," Berube said. "You can't really simulate games. Situationally you can, but the intensity and just from playing a game, you can't really simulate that in practice as much. Early on, I think it's important to keep the game simple and manage things properly so you get involved in the game and it's important for us not to go out and check out the temperature of the game here early. We've got to be aggressive right away and really get after it."

Players however, are anxious to get back to playing.

"Obviously we want to get back into playing games and find our game as quick as we can," Krug said. "Obviously there's going to be some rust and see how we feel out there, but it's just about getting back to what you do, be simple, play hard. It is weird having a break that long at Christmas time. It's something we're not used to, but most of the guys that have been in our room have been through it before. We look forward to getting back and playing games."
And not just playing games, but playing the way the Blues were playing before the break when they were 7-2-3.

"The more simple we play, the more direct we are," Krug said. "It forces our forwards to play a little bit quicker and get in on the forecheck. If we have tighter gaps, they're able to back-check quicker and turn the puck over and all of the sudden we go. As a defenseman, you definitely can dictate some things out there and pace is one of them and playing north is a big part of it.

"It's a mindset, for sure. I don't know if getting back to it's going to be tough, per say, but you just want to make sure it doesn't take as long as it did to get there in the first place. I think what you saw over the past few weeks was guys understanding their roles and knowing what it takes to win games. You've got to play a hard 60 minutes and it hurts to win. Guys did a great job stepping up being physical and playing in-your-face hockey, and that's what we did. It's a style of play that's often hard to do over 82 games of the season, but the team that does it more often puts themselves in a chance to win more hockey games and they're ready for playoffs. It's something we want to get back to quickly."

- - -

* The Blues have a nine-game home point streak (8-0-1) coming into the game tonight. Since Nov. 18, they have a plus-19 home goal differential during that span, which is tied with Minnesota for the league lead.

* Buchnevich has 26 points over his last 21 games (nine goals, 17 assists).

* With one more coaching win, Berube will have 200 in his NHL career and become the seventh in NHL history with 200 coaching wins and 1,000 or more games played. 

The others are Randy Carlyle (475/1,055), Bob Pulford (360/1,079), Craig MacTavish (301/1,093), Red Kelly (278/1,316), Brent Sutter (215/1,111) and Larry Robinson (209/1,384).

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The Blues announced a minor trade on Wednesday with their Winter Classic opponent, the Wild, when they acquired forward Will Bitten for forward Nolan Stevens.

Bitten, 23, was originally drafted by the Montreal Canadiens in the third round of the 2016 NHL Entry Draft; he has spent the past four seasons with the AHL’s Iowa Wild and had eight points (three goals, five assists) in 23 games this season.

Bitten will report to the Springfield Thunderbirds of the American Hockey League.

- - -

The Blues' projected lineup:

Brandon Saad-Ryan O'Reilly-David Perron

Jordan Kyrou-Robert Thomas-Vladimir Tarasenko

Logan Brown-Tyler Bozak-Klim Kostin

Nathan Walker-Alexei Toropchenko

Niko Mikkola-Colton Parayko

Torey Krug-Justin Faulk 

Marco Scandella-Scott Perunovich

Jake Walman

Jordan Binnington will start in goal; Charlie Lindgren will be the backup. 

Healthy scratches include Oskar Sundqvist, James Neal and Jake Walman. Brayden Schenn (upper body) and Ville Husso (lower body) are out. Ivan Barbashev, Robert Bortuzzo and Dakota Joshua remain in COVID-19 protocol.

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The Oilers' projected lineup:

Warren Foegele-Connor McDavid-Zach Hyman

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins-Leon Draisaitl-Kailer Yamamoto

Devin Shore-Derek Ryan-Colton Sceviour

Tyler Benson-Ryan McLeod-Kyle Turris

Duncan Keith-Cody Ceci

Slater Koekkoek-Tyson Barrie

Dmitri Samorukov-Evan Bouchard

Mike Smith will start in goal; Mikko Koskinen will be the backup.  

The healthy scratch will be Brendan Perlini. Kris Russell (upper body), Markus Niemelainen (undisclosed) and Dylan Holloway (wrist) are out. Zack Kassian, Jesse Puljujarvi, Darnell Nurse and William Lagesson are in COVID-19 protocol.

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