Another day, another chance for the Blues to try and get out of the awkward phase they’re going through.
This time it’s Vancouver, one of the teams chasing the Blues for a playoff spot in the Western Conference. The Blues have slipped to fourth in the Central Division with 79 points, one behind third-placed Nashville, which has played two more games than the Blues, and first wildcard spot in the West. Vancouver has 73 points, so three teams are between them, despite being six points behind the Blues.
“It was definitely a close race,” said striker Brandon Saad. “Even when we were in that second seed, even when we were winning, we had a winning streak and teams were all winning, so you can see how tight our division is. It seems like every night teams in our division are winning and they kind of sneak into our conference and so we need to get back on track here, focus on ourselves first and foremost, but we still have some hockey to get back on coming the distance and every game is important to us and that’s how our mentality has to be.”
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Dealing with adversity will be a big part of that, Saad said.
“I think there were stints where we played well and played our game and then other times if we scored and we got kind of let down, but we have to be consistent for the full 60 minutes,” he said. “It’s happened too many times that we kind of got hit and kind of deflated the tires and it took us a while to regroup. And if you don’t play a full 60 in this league, you’re not going to win, especially against good hockey teams on the track. We play against a lot of good hockey teams.”
“I thought the second goal (against Carolina) drained our team the other night,” Blues coach Craig Berube said. “We got it back in the third but it’s 4-1 and it’s difficult when you’re playing against a really good defensive team. We had chances, but you have to keep at it. You can’t let a goal here or a goal there drain our team.
“Guys sure get irritated, they’re not very happy right now and that’s normal when things aren’t going well. They won’t be happy, they want to win. I think we went out and had a good practice and the guys understand if we play a certain way we will be ok. I think you definitely need to bring that with you for 60 minutes. That’s the bottom line. There are no tricks when you are in a crisis or things are not going well. You have to work your way out of this. It’s about doing things right for 60 minutes.”
Berube made two small adjustments to the lineup, fielding forward Mackenzie MacEachern and defender Calle Rosen, and fielding Logan Brown and Robert Bortuzzo.
Bortuzzo has not missed a game since emerging from COVID protocol on January 7. With Tyler Bozak, he is the second oldest player on the team after David Perron. MacEachern has been a healthy scratch in the last two games.
“I wanted to bring Mac in there,” Berube said. “I don’t want him to sit out for too long. He gives us speed and energy. And then Rosen was up here, give Bortz a break tonight. He’s a good puck mover and a good skater.”
Berube said nothing was missing from Bortuzzo’s game.
“I think Bortz is giving us what he’s got,” Berube said, “but he’s an older player and he’s just giving him a break, that’s all.”
For Bortuzzo, who has sustained a number of healthy scratches during his time with the Blues, it will be only the fourth healthy scratch of the season.
Brown coming out means Nathan Walker will center the fourth line. Walker has conceded three faceoffs in 12 NHL games this season and lost all three. Only eight players have played more faceoffs than without a win. The only other Blues forwards who haven’t won a faceoff this season are James Neal (0 to 2) and MacEachern (no tries).
How are the chances?
Hockeyviz.com has the Blues with an 86.6 percent chance of making the playoffs, down from about 95 percent last week. The site forecasts the Blues to end up with 97.4 points, fourth-most in Central, with third-place Nashville at 98.8 and fifth-place Dallas at 95.1. Among the chasers, Winnipeg projects at 91.4 and in the wildcard chase on the Pacific side, Vegas projects at 92.4 and Vancouver at 89.5.
Moneypuck.com, which has been higher for the Blues all season, projects the Blues 101.4 points and a 97.3 percent chance of making the playoffs. Moneypuck estimates the Blues are heading for third place: They see a 49.3 percent chance of the Blues finishing third.
You don’t have to look at the scoreboard much tonight. The only game with the least impact on the Blues’ chances is Arizona in Edmonton, where an Arizona win would increase the Blues’ chances by one percentage point.
Aside from the addition of MacEachern and Rosen, the Blues On-Ice configuration will be the same as the Carolina game. Ville Husso gets the start in goal. Old pal Jaroslav Halak will be in goal for Vancouver and Brad Hunt, the best friend in the world, will be in the third defensive pairing.
Scratches: Brown, Bortuzzo
Tanner Pearson-JT Miller-Conor Garland
Elias Pettersson-Bo Horvat-Brock Boeser
Vasily Podkolzin – Juho Lammikko – Alex Chiasson
Nic Petan-Brad Richardson-William Lockwood
Oliver Ekman-Larsson – Tyler Myers
Quinn Hughes – Luke Beautiful
Travis DermottBrad Hunt
Injured: Matthew Highmore (upper body), Nils Hoglander (lower body), Jason Dickinson (lower body), Kyle Burroughs (upper body), Tucker Poolman (head)