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Familiarity should bode well for Blues in Return to Play Plan

The Blues are trying to pick up where they left off, and familiarity among lines could be the best way to accomplish the feat

MARYLAND HEIGHTS, Mo. — As has been the norm since his arrival in St. Louis, Ryan O'Reilly was the last off the ice.

Ho-hum, right?

Well, for those that watch on a daily basis, it's not uncommon, but for the crafty veteran, it's a way of elevating himself on a regular basis.

It's all part of the plan of re-acclimating himself with linemates David Perron and Zach Sanford, another common theme for the Blues upon their NHL Return to Play Plan. 

Familiarity is part of what the Blues want to implement as they get two weeks of training camp, then jettison off to Edmonton July 26 for bubble life of the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs, which begins with an exhibition game July 29 against the Chicago Blackhawks, then open up Western Conference Round-Robin play against the Colorado Avalanche Aug. 2.

"There's some lines that have been together for quite a while here with this team so they're familiar with each other and you can see it out there," Blues coach Craig Berube said. "But in saying that, there are still some spots that are available maybe and we've got to keep looking at guys. We need everybody in this kind of a tournament format and in the playoffs here. We're going to need a lot of guys. You never know what happens with injuries and things like that. We want to make sure everyone's prepared and ready to go."

O'Reilly, Perron and Sanford have been paired together since Monday's start, and rightfully so. And with Vladimir Tarasenko back to 100 percent following surgery Oct. 29 on a dislocated left shoulder, the trio of Tarasenko, Brayden Schenn and Jaden Schwartz are also together.

As are Tyler Bozak, Robert Thomas and Sammy Blais. 

Oskar Sundqvist and Alexander Steen have been paired together without Ivan Barbashev, who Berube said needed to be on a different line to have a balance of centers.

But the Blues are trying to pick up where they left off, and familiarity is the best way to accomplish the feat.

"I think that will really help with getting back into these games and meaningful games," said O'Reilly, who led the Blues with 61 points (12 goals, 49 assists) during the regular season. "We know those are the guys we feel most comfortable with, and when you get in these situations, you kind of know what each other will do, you know where each other are on the ice. The more familiarity there is, that'll just help us as we go along in this tournament."

O'Reilly seems to always have a defined chemistry playing with Perron, who tied with Schenn for most goals this season with 25, and Perron feels he's got the perfect set-up linemate to help fuel his numbers.

"Finding the chemistry with 'O'Ry', I wanted to follow it up and show that it wasn't just a one-off," Perron said recently. "Having the chance to play with 'O'Ry' was the biggest thing for me. Some of the plays he made this year, even though he scored (fewer) goals than last year, the number of assists he got, some of the assists he gave me ... those are the kinds of plays that he made all year again. The confidence from building all that and when he gets some of the matchups that he gets, the 4-on-4 situations and just kind of be tied with him there, it's definitely nice."

But the chance for both to play with Sanford, who had a bit of a breakout season, his third in the NHL, with 30 points (16 goals, 14 assists) in 58 games.

"You see the confidence and it's coming with him, the plays that he's making," O'Reilly said of Sanford. "I think playing with him right now on a line and hopefully we're together is feeding off each other and jumping back into it, having a dialogue with each other and for him, it's trusting his ability. He knows when he's had his best game and what he can do. There's so many little details that he brings. Hopefully those little details will take over and his game will just unfold from there."

And that's why the Blues should be able to pick things up rather quickly as camp unfolds.

"Right now I think it's a lot of high-pace, flow drills that we're doing out there," O'Reilly said. 'We haven't had a ton of scrimmage or anything yet. It's all about working to get the feel and getting our conditioning back and getting used to the high intensity and having a good pace. We haven't had a real good chance to feel that out yet, but from the little drills that we do, like the 2-on-1s and the 3-on-2s, I think we feel comfortable with each other. Those guys make great plays and such. It's exciting. The best part is playing games. I wish it was sooner." 

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