Monday, December 6, 2021

Blues likely to play shorthanded against Panthers

Thomas latest to go down with lower-body injury, day to day according to 
Berube, leaving team with 17 skaters available due to injury, COVID protocol

MARYLAND HEIGHTS, Mo. -- As if the Blues haven't dealt with enough in  these last stretch of games, now having the possibility of playing a skater short will be added to the checklist.
(St. Louis Blues/Scott Rovak)
Robert Thomas (18) could be the latest Blues skater to go down, may miss
game Tuesday against Florida with lower-body injury.

The Blues already had to play with a goalie short, when they used emergency backup goalie Kyle Konin for a game in Tampa last week against the Tampa Bay Lightning, they look like they will now have to play one skater short on Tuesday against the Florida Panthers in a rematch from Saturday's matinee.

Robert Thomas is listed as day-to-day with a lower-body injury, according to Blues coach Craig Berube, and Vladimir Tarasenko took a maintenance day off from Monday's practice, and the Blues had just 19 skaters on the ice, including forward James Neal, who is on long-term injured reserve with an upper-body injury.

The Blues put out a release saying Thomas will not play Tuesday, although Berube didn't say specifically he's out for the game, just that he's out and day to day.

The Blues are already missing David Perron (upper body), Neal and Klim Kostin (upper body), who is also on LTIR, due to injuries, and goalie Jordan Binnington, forward Tyler Bozak and defenseman Justin Faulk in COVID-19 protocol, they're down six regulars from the lineup and being pressed up against the salary cap ceiling, having used the LTIR cap pool and no room for call-ups, the Blues will be faced with a situation where they will have to play a skater short a game before being able to call someone up from Springfield of the American Hockey League making the league minimum ($750,000) plus $100,000, so someone that counts $850,000 against the cap or lower.

"Forwards are going to get a lot of ice time," Berube said. "That's the bottom line. You've got to play smart. You're shorthanded, we've got to play smart. You  can't force things, you've got to have real good line changes, you've got to keep your shifts short. All that will play a big part of it all, discipline, staying out of the penalty box. We don't need to be killing a lot of penalties. It's all that stuff that needs to add up. Then you go out and compete, you compete hard, you work hard, you give yourself a chance."

Thomas, who has 22 points (two goals, 20 assists) in 24 games, would be a gut-punch loss, even for a game, if that's all he needs. The young center iceman, in his fourth season in the NHL, has blossomed into a premium player for the Blues. But Berube said the injury bothing him is something that's been "lingering."

"It's a lingering thing that's been going on for a little bit," Berube said. "He's fought through it and now it's time, he needs the rest."

The Blues went through a practice Monday running just three lines.

"Was there 19 (skaters) out there," Berube asked wryly. "You've got to limit what you do, you've got to keep it short. I thought it was a good, productive practice. There's some things we'd like to do more and work on, but really, you've got to be careful. You've got low numbers. But it was good, the guys worked hard, got what we wanted to get accomplished. That's it, move on."

Bozak has been out since last Tuesday and would be the first COVID-related skater to return, which could be at some point by the end of this week. Binnington and Faulk were put on protocol last Thursday, meaning they wouldn't be available until sometime next week at the earliest.

As for Perron, who hasn't played since sustaining concussion-like symptoms against the Chicago Blackhawks on Nov. 26 and has missed the past four games, there is some encouraging news.

"Doing OK," Berube said of Perron. "I feel good about him. I think he's coming along. I think we've just got to play it by ear. I'm not going to assume anything or predict anything. It's just he's doing OK."

In the meantime, the Blues (12-8-4) will have to trudge along with what they have.

"It's tough, but I think every team kind of goes through something like this at some point, especially this year and last year," defenseman Jake Walman said. "We had instances where guys get out (of the lineup) and it's out of our control. We've just got to roll with the punches. We have a deep team, like I've always said. Guys can step in and we're strong that way."

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