Jordan Kyrou is a healthy scratch tonight, and it has nothing to do with the offsides that cost the Blues a goal — one scored by Kyrou — in successive games against San Jose and Buffalo earlier this week.
Against a high-scoring New York Rangers team Saturday at Enterprise Center, it’s all about puck possession and defense, which explains why Kyrou is out and Jacob de la Rose is back in the lineup.
“Any young player, the NHL’s a tough league,” coach Craig Berube said. “(Kyrou) needs to become a harder player. That’s the best way I can put it. Like in battles and wall battles. Little things here and there.
“He’s a dynamic player, great speed and skill in open ice. But you don’t get that much open ice a lot of times. So I want to see him battle harder and be more competitive in those areas.”
Berube said it’s not uncommon for younger, skilled players trying to establish themselves in the NHL to need work in such areas.
“No, not at all,” Berube said. “It’s normal. And it’s normal in his progression here that maybe he doesn’t play all the time. You learn from it. You watch video. And you understand, when I get back in there, this is what I got to do.
“He’s a good kid and he’s gonna learn from it. That’s just the progression you gotta go through with these guys.”
Kyrou declined comment following Saturday’s morning skate. After playing 10 consecutive games following his Dec. 9 callup from San Antonio, Kyrou was a healthy scratch for games against Colorado and Vegas during the Blues three-game western trip, then returned to the lineup against the Sharks and Sabres.
DE LA ROSE BACK
After sitting out two games, de la Rose returns to the lineup, back in his usual spot on the fourth line. Against the Rangers, he will be flanked by Mackenzie MacEachern and Ivan Barbashev on the wings. Oskar Sundqvist played on that line in Thursday’s 5-1 win over Buffalo but with Kyrou scratched he has moved up to the Jaden Schwartz-Brayden Schenn line.
“We have a lot of depth on this team, so you've got to be playing good every night to stay in the lineup,” de la Rose said. “I feel like my game slipped a little bit the last few games, too, so excited to be back and I'm excited to show that I should be in every night.”
Berube mentioned a few days ago that de la Rose — acquired Nov. 6 in the Robby Fabbri trade — had lost some of his aggressiveness in recent games.
“I'm kind of self-aware of my game and what I need to do better,” de la Rose said. “So I knew that I needed to play better.”
In 24 games with the Blues since the trade, de la Rose has one goal, three assists and is even in plus-minus differential. He’s averaging 10:16 of ice time per game.
“We need a big centerman down low tonight in our own end and a penalty killer,” Berube said. “He does a good job that way. Yeah, his game's slipped a bit for a few games on that road trip.
“There's a lot more there with him I believe than we're seeing. He's a big guy. He's got good skill. Strong skater. His hands are fine. And he's got a good shot. He needs to use those assets more. I think he can help us offensively, too.”
For the third consecutive game since being called up from San Antonio, rookie defenseman Niko Mikkola is in the lineup for the Blues — once again paired with Robert Bortuzzo.
“He's done a good job for a couple games so we're gonna keep going with him right now,” Berube said. “We got two good defensemen not playing tonight.”
That was a reference to Colton Parayko (upper-body), who will miss his fourth consecutive game, and Carl Gunnarsson, who Berube has now deemed healthy from an arm injury but who hasn’t played since Dec. 12.
THE BREAD MAN
The Rangers swept the season series from the Blues last season, winning 2-1 on New Year’s Eve 2018 in St. Louis in a game in which the Blues sent a season-high 79 attempts — including 40 shots on goal — at veteran goalie Henrik Lundqvist. Not surprisingly, Lundqvist is starting against the Blues tonight.
In the other Blues-Rangers meeting last season, the New Yorkers won 4-2 on March 29 at Madison Square Garden.
This year’s Rangers team has even more offensive punch with the offseason addition of Artemi Panarin, aka the Bread Man, in free agency from Columbus.
“He's leading the league in 5-on-5 points, so he's a high-end offense player with a lot of skill,” Berube said. “Been a good player for quite some time on three different teams. Highly skilled and competitive.”
Panarin has 24 goals and 37 assists, but there are other scoring threats on the Rangers, including forward Mika Zibanejad (17 goals) and defenseman Tony DeAngelo (11 goals), who scored a hat trick Thursday against New Jersey.
“They've got a lot of skill, especially up front,” Ryan O’Reilly said. “We have to do a good job of taking care of the puck and tracking, make sure we're not giving those rush chances.
“We really need a big start coming out here. For us, we've got to be real physical on these guys. We've got to slow them down, find ways to make it real tough on them.”
The Rangers (21-18-4) are ninth in the NHL in scoring, averaging 3.35 goals per game and have scored 11 goals in their past two games — both victories.
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