There are perhaps more variables in the lineup heading into Thursday’s game than there have been for any other game this season. The most pressing issue is how the Blues will solve their defensive logjam, as Robert Bortuzzo has arguably been more effective than ever since returning to to the lineup on November 19. Over that five-game stretch, he’s a plus-4 with with a goal and an assist.
Joel Edmundson is likely to be ready for Thursday’s game, though, and he was one of the team’s most reliable defensemen before going down with an upper-body injury in early November. There’s a small possibility that Edmundson could be banished to the press box upon his return, since he’s not a major offensive contributor and plays the same type of physical style that Bortuzzo does.
It’s more likely, however, that either Bortuzzo or Carl Gunnarsson will be bumped from the lineup to accommodate Edmundson. Gunnarsson has been rather quiet this season and hasn’t exactly grabbed the bull by the horns as it pertains to keeping a regular lineup spot. But he’s in the first year of a three-year, $8.7 million-dollar deal and seems to be firmly entrenched in the organization’s future plans, so that might be all he needs to gain the edge over Bortuzzo. With that said, he’s already been a healthy scratch a couple times this season, so it’s a realistic possibly that he’ll lose his spot again Thursday.
Alexander Steen also could be ready to go for Thursday’s game, but that still seems rather unlikely for the 32-year-old forward who has missed the Blues’ past six games. If he returned against Tampa, he’d likely bump Ty Rattie from the lineup.
If Steen remains out of the lineup, there’s no telling who will be in the third line right wing spot, as it’s rotated between Rattie and Nail Yakupov while Steen has been out. Since the Blues have won their past two games with Rattie in the lineup, there’s no obvious reason to take him out. He hasn’t been particularly noticeable, though, so perhaps Yakupov will get another turn against Tampa if Steen doesn’t play.
Patrik Berglund also missed Wednesday’s Blues practice, so one would also have to think there’d be a chance that he’d have to miss Thursday’s game. If both Berglund and Steen sat out against Tampa, the Blues would likely have to move Jaden Schwartz back to center and completely reconstruct their lines, with Rattie and Yakupov both playing. All indications are that Berglund is expected back against Tampa, though, so it probably won’t be an issue.
Here’s what Thursday’s lineup could look like:
Patrik Berglund–Jori Lehtera–Dmitrij Jaskin
Carl Gunnarsson–Kevin Shattenkirk
Robert Bortuzzo–Colton Parayko
Update, 11:05 AM: Steen will return to the lineup tonight, playing center between Robby Fabbri and Vladimir Tarasenko and forcing Jori Lehtera to the third line. That will push Patrik Berglund to the wing for the first time this season and, as expected, bump Ty Rattie from the lineup.
On defense, the same six defensemen will remain in the lineup, with Edmundson still out.