Lightning forward Pat Maroon (14) signed with the Tampa Bay Lightning before the 2019-20 season. He will return to St. Louis for the first time since winning the Stanley Cup. (Photo courtesy: Dirk Shadd, Tampa Bay Times)
Blues/Lightning: Enterprise Center, 7pm CT – NBCSN, ESPN 101.1
The St. Louis Blues (12-4-5) are set for an emotional night as “hometown hero” Pat Maroon returns to his former squad for the first time with the Tampa Bay Lightning (9-6-2). Maroon scored the double-overtime series winner in the second round against Dallas last year, but did not re-sign with St. Louis after winning the Stanley Cup.
The Blues dropped their third straight in an uninspiring 4-1 home loss to Anaheim last Saturday. “(We need to) generate some five-on-five scoring,” coach Craig Berube told the Post-Dispatch. “It’s been down and we’ve got to generate more.” The Blues, despite the 0-1-2 record in their last three games, still maintain the best record in the Central Division.
Tampa Bay, after finishing the regular season tied for the most points in NHL history, are off to a very slow start at 9-6-2, recently losing 4-3 to Winnipeg. The Bolts are 0-2-1 against Western Conference opponents and are looking for something to surge their play.
“Everything goes in the other night against New York and I thought we had some good quality chances,” captain Steven Stamkos said. “The start was slow, but I didn’t think it was that poor. Obviously, the urgency picked up at the end when we were down, but maybe a case of too little, too late.”
The Blues and Lightning face off for the first of two meetings tonight, and will play again in Tampa just 9 days after. The Blues and Bolts are on national TV tonight at 7pm, on NBCSN and Fox Sports Midwest.
After a sloppy three losses, with the 1-4 exclamation point, Berube held practice on Monday with some brand-new line pairings. Robert Thomas swapped with Tyler Bozak from top winger to 3rd-line center. Sammy Blais shifted back to his second line spot with Ryan O’Reilly and David Perron.
Even Oskar Sundqvist moved from the bottom line of Ivan Barbashev and Mackenzie MacEachern, which has arguably been the most successful line in the last few contests. All of these changes were made with the hopes of getting more pucks in net for St. Louis, as they sit 28th in 5-on-5 scoring and 30th in expected goals-for.
“We can hit the net more, bear down a little bit more in those areas. It sounds like a little thing, but it becomes a big thing,” Berube commented about the line changes. “The chances are there and we have to do a better job of hitting the net and executing a little bit better there… It’s not about shot attempts. You’ve got to shoot the puck, and we all get that, but the quality of the shots is the most important thing.”
Brayden Schenn, who joins Schwartz and Bozak as an all-Saskatchewan line tonight, is excited for the chemistry they could generate. “Why not?” Schenn asked Tom Timmerman. “We’ve got the ‘Sasky’ boys together. ‘Bozie’ being a very good two-way forward, a good centerman, I play a little of both too; I think we’ll read off each other. I’ve done a little of a hybrid center and whoever is low plays low and we’ll both take faceoffs and see if we can get something going here.”
“Big Rig’s” Big Return
After winning the Stanley Cup with St. Louis, Pat Maroon will return to the ice at Enterprise for the first time since last season. After parting ways with the Blues as a free agent, Maroon signed with the Tampa Bay Lightning for a one-year, $900,000 contract. The results are already positive: the St. Louis native already has 4 goals and seven points in 15 games with the Bolts. Now, donning the “14” for his new club, an emotional return to St. Louis expected for the “Big Rig”.
“It’s definitely going to be an emotional night,” Tyler Bozak told the Post-Dispatch. “He was a huge part of what we did last year and being from here, with a lot of family and a place that means so much to him and such a well-liked guy in our room that everyone gets along with really well and everyone stays in touch with, I know we’re all excited to see him.”
“He was a very well-liked guy in our locker room, he still talks to a lot of guys through text messages,” Schenn added. “He’s close with a lot of guys and him being a hometown kid and scoring one of the biggest goals in St. Louis history, the crowd’s going to give him a good ovation. Once it’s all said and done and he gets his ovation and waves at the crowd, he’s going to be old Pat Maroon and he’s going to be having fun out there, chirping guys, laughing, playing hard like he always does.”
Pat Maroon will be awarded his championship ring by Doug Armstrong before tonight’s opening faceoff.
David Perron played his 800th NHL game and 500th as a Blue last Saturday.
Klim Kostin, who made his NHL debut last Saturday, played for 11:45 and is expected to play tonight in place of de la Rose.
Oskar Sundqvist was fined the maximum $7,397 for charging goaltender John Gibson on Saturday.
The Blues and Lightning face off tonight on NBCSN and FSMW at 8pm ET. The game will also be broadcasted on the radio side on ESPN 101.1 FM.
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