TAMPA, FLA. _ Robert Thomas is back with the Blues’ first line, Tyler Bozak is back centering the third line, and Zach Sanford is back with Ryan O’Reilly and David Perron. Those were the line changes during the Blues’ morning skate Wednesday at Amalie Arena in preparation for tonight’s 6 p.m. contest against the Tampa Bay Lightning.
And there was one other lineup tweak: Colton Parayko has been installed on the Blues’ second power play unit, replacing Justin Faulk.
“He hasn’t been there a whole lot,” coach Craig Berube said of Parayko. “I want to get him in there.
“I talked to Faulker about just getting him off there for now and just focusing on 5-on-5 play right now. It doesn’t mean he won’t be back on it, he could be. But I like Colton Parayko’s game right now. I thought he had an excellent game last game and he’s deserving of power play time.”
Over the past 14 games, Parayko hasn’t played more than 56 seconds on the power play in any one game. And in 11 of those 14 games, he’s either seen no power play time or less than 10 seconds. But tonight, he can unleash that 105 mph slapshot on the power play.
“I guess so,” Parayko said. “That’s the plan if I get it over there. And just try and create something in the net front if possible.”
He and Vince Dunn will be the point men when that unit is on the ice.
“Yeah, everything’s good with him,” Parakyo said. “We’ve played before back there (on the power play), so just got to read off each other, help each other out, talk a lot and make it happen.”
Meanwhile, after three games centering the third line flanked by Sanford and Oskar Sundqvist, Thomas returns to the top line _ only this time he’s centering Jaden Schwartz and Brayden Schenn.
Thomas had opened six games earlier in the season on right wing with Schwartz and Schenn.
“I really liked it when I put them back together (Monday in Nashville),” Berube said. “It’s not that I didn’t like ‘em before; I thought that they looked really good but they never got any result.
“We got a good result last game, and I’m hoping they can build off that.”
The “good result” was Thomas feeding Schenn in the slot for a game-tying goal in the third period, helping the Blues overcome a 2-0 deficit and get out of Nashville with a point in a 3-2 shootout loss.
Tyler Bozak had opened the last four games with Schwartz and Schenn, but the "Sasky Line" of all-Saskatchewan products is no more _ at least for now. Bozak's back in his usual third line centering spot tonight, flanked by Sundqvist and Ivan Barbashev.
“It should be a good line, good checking line,” Berube said. “We’re gonna need that tonight, so that was kind of my thought process.”
As for Sanford, he has plenty of experience on the O’Reilly-Perron line, opening 10 games there this season and playing 12 games there last season.
WILL LIGHTNING STRIKE?
The Blues seem to do as good a job as anyone at holding down the lethal Tampa Bay offense. When the teams last met at Amalie Arena, Jordan Binnington posted a shutout and Schenn scored the game-winner in overtime in a 1-0 St. Louis victory Feb. 7. It was the fourth victory during the team’s franchise-record 11-game winning streak last season.
Eight days ago in St. Louis, the Blues posted a 3-1 victory over the Lighting and limited them to 18 shots.
“You see why they’re the champs,” Tampa Bay coach Jon Cooper said Wednesday. “The big thing, I think any team will tell you that’s won, they know how to keep the puck out of your net.
“And that’s what they do as good as anybody. They don’t give you a lot and they play a pretty predictable game in the sense that they just stay with the same game plan for 60 minutes and they can wear you down because they’ve got a big, physical group.
“If there’s one thing we gotta do probably a little bit better is get to the inside on ‘em, create a little bit more traffic, make it harder on their goaltender.”
Since that loss in St. Louis, the Lightning are 3-0 and have scored 15 goals overall.
In his first game in San Antonio after being sent down Monday by the Blues, forward Klim Kostin left the ice favoring his shoulder after an open-ice collision with Rockford IceHogs defenseman Ian McCoshen in the second period of Tuesday's AHL game. Kostin did not return.
Blues general manager Doug Armstrong said via text that the injury was “nothing serious” and he doesn’t think Kostin will miss much time.
MacEachern-de la Rose-Brouwer
STAMKOS OUT/CERNAK SUSPENDED
Lightning star Steven Stamkos took part in Tampa’s morning skate Wednesday, but will not play tonight, missing his third consecutive game. He suffered a lower-body injury in St. Louis eight days ago, tried to play two days later in Chicago but last only 5:17 of ice time, and then missed the Anaheim game on Saturday and the Buffalo game Monday.
The six time NHL all-star had 45 goals and 98 points last season. He’s tied for second on the Lightning in points this season (20) and has seven goals.
Tampa defenseman Erik Cernak serves the first game of a two-game suspension tonight for an elbow to the head of Buffalo’s Rasmus Dahlin on Monday. Cernak is one of the Lightning’s most effective penalty killers.
Even without Cernak, the Lighting are going once again with 11 forwards and seven defensemen in tonight’s game.
PROJECTED TAMPA BAY LINEUP