Thursday, September 29, 2022

(9-29-22) Blue Jackets-Blues Gameday Lineup

MARYLAND HEIGHTS, Mo. -- A group that was projected to have some depth now may be faced with an early-season challenge.

Blues coach Craig Berube didn't have any new news to report, but it doesn't appear that Scott Perunovich will see any game time in the near or foreseeable future after the defenseman left Tuesday's 4-1 win at Chicago in the first period with an upper-body injury to the hand/wrist area.

Perunovich was retrieving the puck behind his net when he was bumped from behind and slumped over after bracing himself with his left hand on the glass. He left the game and did not return.

"Just being evaluated still," Berube said Thursday morning prior to the preseason home opener against the Columbus Blue Jackets (7 p.m.). "We'll know more tomorrow or maybe the next day. He's still being looked at. I can't give you any real information on it right now. He's still being looked at.

"It's been tough for him. He worked hard all summer and came ready to prove himself. Unfortunate incident. ... It was great he got to play some playoff games for us at the end last year, did a good job. Worked hard this summer to be a permanent player, find a spot. Now he's got to wait."

With Perunovich down and Marco Scandella (right hip joint surgery) out for a minimum of six months, a suddenly deep group has become a bit thin. It vaults Robert Bortuzzo and Niko Mikkola into the mix as the third defensive pair, and the Blues are good with that, but now the depth falls into the lap of next skaters up, which would be veterans Calle Rosen and Steven Santini.

But it also now casts an eye on some of the younger, drafted players, and Tyler Tucker (seventh round pick, 2018) and Matthew Kessel (fifth round, 2020) have been a couple of the players that have caught the eye of the coaching staff.

"I really liked Tucker's game last game," Berube said. "I thought he was engaged. When we were down to five D, he was out there a lot, played a lot. The thing with Tucker for me, we all know he's a physical, big guy, but I thought he did a good job when he got the puck and was skating right away and moving it and moving the puck, did a good job. That's what stood out for me with him. 

"You'd say maybe he needs some more time, whatever, but if a guy plays well enough and he proves himself, then he's obviously ready, but who knows, we've still got a ways to go here in camp.

"Kessel's got the ability to obviously skate, he's got good feet, good size, strong. He's got the NHL qualities to play. He's just got to go do it."

But Berube cautioned that there's still plenty of time to determine how the d-unit plays out.

"Training camp's still going on so there's going to have to perform at a high enough level that we feel are capable enough of getting a spot or being one of the guys in the group here," he said. "It's a little early for that.

"There's a spot available there maybe and there's probably more than those two guys (Rosen and Santini) fighting for it."

Perunovich can't seem to catch a break. This is his third injury since 2020, including wrist surgery last season and a shoulder injury that sidelined him the entire 2020-21 season.

"There's a lot of players that are injury-prone, whatever you want to call it and unlucky at the same time," Berube said. "This kid worked hard all summer and was in great shape. That had nothing to do with it. It was just kind of an unlucky play."

The Blues are fortunate that they have a top four of Colton Parayko, Justin Faulk, Torey Krug and Nick Leddy that if need be, they can hoard plenty of minutes on a nightly basis if need be.

"That helps a lot for sure, those guys can play a lot of minutes," Berube said. "I love puck play and the skating out of those four guys. They get up the ice, they move it well. They all have that capability to do that, which is important."

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Along with Bortuzzo, the Blues (3-0-0 in the preseason) will trot out a top line of Pavel Buchnevich, Robert Thomas and Vladimir Tarasenko for the first time.

"Get going. These games you've got to find your legs, find your timing, things like that," Berube said. "Do it within the system. It's important to play the right way in these exhibition games so that when we start the season, we're good to go. We made some changes, just play the right way. Like the third period in Chicago, we finally started to skate and work. That's the key. You get a puck, skate with it, make plays, skate and work, and when we do that, we're find, and when we don't do it like the second period, you sit in your own end the whole period."

Brayden Schenn, Jordan Kyrou and Jake Neighbours, playing in his third preseason game already, will be featured as the next set of top six forwards.

For Neighbours, it's been a rock solid start to the preseason; he did not participate for Team Canada in the World Juniors to rest after a long and extended season with the Edmonton Oil Kings of the Western Hockey League. Neighbours, a first round pick in 2020, did play in the Prospect Tournament in Traverse City, Mich. and had two goals and an assist in the preseason opener in a 5-4 win against the Arizona Coyotes in Wichita, Kan.

"I think the most important thing is just playing the right way," Neighbours said. "Obviously any time you can find the scoresheet, that's a bonus. But I thought with the changes we've made so far this year in terms of structure, I was good in those areas and good in areas I need to be. I think that's what led to success on the sheet (in Wichita).

"I think at that point in time, it was time to shift my focus into becoming a St. Louis Blue and becoming an NHLer essentially. World juniors was just not in the timeline for me as far as what my body needed. I needed to be in the gym building muscle and strengthening myself. I think any time you make a long playoff run like that, into the finals of the (Memorial) Cup, it's a long season and you don't necessarily get a lot of workouts. I think I lost a lot of muscle mass and this summer was just about putting that back on. I felt really good, and I've been feeling good so far."

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Another forward who will get a third look this preseason is Klim Kostin (first round, 2017). Kostin, who had an assist in Chicago Tuesday, is on a one-year, one-way contract ($750,000) and is in a crowded room as far as players trying to vie for time in the bottom six.

"He's got to do more," Berube said. "He's got to show us a little bit more, he's got to get engaged more in the games. I'm not seeing enough yet."

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The Jackets (2-0-1) are bringing a raw lineup to St. Louis for tonight's game, but it will include O'Fallon, Mo. native Josh Dunne and veteran James Neal, who made the Blues roster last season after coming in on a professional tryout. Neal, 35, who helped the Springfield Thunderbirds reach the Calder Cup Final last season, is in Columbus' camp on a PTO this season
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The Blues' projected lineup:

Pavel Buchnevich-Robert Thomas-Vladimir Tarasenko

Jake Neighbours-Brayden Schenn-Jordan Kyrou

Nathan Walker-Noel Acciari-Tyler Pitlick

Zachary Bolduc-Hugh McGing-Klim Kostin

Torey Krug-Justin Faulk

Niko Mikkola-Robert Bortuzzo

Tyler Tucker-Brady Lyle

Thomas Greiss will start in goal and is expected to play two periods; Colten Ellis will be the backup and likely play the third period.

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The Blue Jackets' projected lineup:

Gustav Nyquist-Victor Rask-Yegor Chinakhov

James Malatesta-Brendan Gaunce-James Neal

Justin Danforth-Josh Dunne-Jordan Dumais

Mathieu Olivier-Owen Sillinger-Cole Fonstad

Jake Bean-Marcus Bjork

Gavin Bayreuther-Billy Sweezey

Tim Berni-Cole Clayton 

Pavel Cajan is projected to start in goal; Nolan Lalonde would be the backup.

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