Tonight the Blues will attempt to take a three game to none commanding lead of their 1st round series against the Winnipeg Jets.
Blues fans are rightly concerned about the status of Robert Bortuzzo who suffered a cut to his right wrist, the result of a check by Adam Lowry, son of former Blue Dave Lowry, while Bortuzzo was in an awkward position. Bortuzzo received seven stiches to his wrist before returning to the game. Based on the practice lines this morning, I expect Bortuzzo to be in the lineup tonight.
Speaking of lineups, I was wondering if the Blues might sit Zach Sanford who is averaging a little over eight minutes a game in exchange for dressing a seventh defenseman, Carl Gunnarsson. Given that the Blues will have the last change, they will be able to control the matchups more and thus manage minutes easier and better. It appears they won't do this though and who am I to second guess the Chief.
When you look at minutes in this series, coach Craig Berube did an extremely strong job of managing minutes, especially considering the 1st two games were away. Alex Pietrangelo is only averaging 15 seconds more than he did in the regular season while Colton Parayko is actually down 36 seconds. Ryan O’Reilly is up almost two minutes which would be expected given his face-off ability and the Blues being up one goal or even in most of the third periods so far.
Jay Bouwmeester is up 39 seconds which isn’t surprising given the injury to Robert Bortuzzo in the last game and some of the games in the 1st half of the season that lowered his season average. Brayden Schenn is up a little over a minute and a half a game. He leads all Blues in hits per game at 4.5 and in takeaways with 2, earning the extra playing time. Oskar Sundqvist is tied for 6th in points per game at 1.5 and averaging 15:22 in playing time, over a minute and a half more than the regular season.
Coach Paul Maurice spent the entire regular season concentrating his players’ minutes with six players averaging over 20 minutes, and four with 21:52 or more. Other than Dustin Byfuglien who is averaging almost 26 minutes a game, most of the Jets better players are down minutes. You would expect this for Josh Morrissey who is returning from injury but is this a planned shift for the others? A shift at a time where the score often would dictate playing your better players more and in a situation where you got to control the matchups? Is this an indictment of his thoughts of their play in this series so far? It will be interesting to see how he manages minutes tonight.
In my first blog about the series, I talked about the teams’ post all-star game performance, scoring composition difference, the players’ histories, and goaltending. In the 1st two games, the Blues continued their post all-star game winning ways while the Jets continued their slide. The Blues depth scoring has outscored the Jets’ stars even though Laine has continued his success against the Blues. The Blues have three defensemen who are average a point a game so far in this playoffs. Jordan Binnington, aka Winnington, has continued to be the ex-factor, outlplaying Connor Hellebuyck who, along with the Jets, has now lost six straight playoff games.
In looking at today, the Blues need to get an early goal and to get their special teams going. If they do both of these, expect the nails to start being driven into the coffin. For the Jets, they have to survive the 1st five to ten minutes of the game and stay disciplined. They also need to get scoring chances while making Binnington move laterally. Binnington cannot easily be beat with a straight shot but is much more susceptible to goals from behind the net and when moving laterally.
Patrik Laine missed the morning skate but it is believed just to be the result of routine maintenance for a player who is nicked up this time of year. It sounds like Matthieu Perrault will be back in the lineup with Par Lindholm expected to sit.
NHL Champions for Charity
Given that the Predators pulled out the division title, I made my contribution to Best Buddies Tennessee https://www.bestbuddies.org/tennessee/
is the beneficiary. Best Buddies Tennessee is dedicated to establishing a volunteer movement that creates opportunities for one-to-one friendships, integrated employment, leadership development and inclusive living opportunities for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities. As a side note, I recently got to experience a Best Buddies even in the St. Louis area that was led by the Eureka high school football team. It was a lot of fun and brought a lot of joy to those involved.
It’s a great day for hockey.