Ryan O’Reilly, unfortunately, is on the Covid-19 protocol list for the next ten days. The soonest fans can expect him back is on November 7th, when they play the Anaheim Ducks in Anaheim. This, of course, poses a significant quandary for coach Craig Berube and the rest of the team’s coaching staff. O’Reilly centers the top line, and has been a fixture along with David Perron. You could point to O’Reilly as the catalyst for Perron’s resurgence the last two years.
What’s a team to do?
For years, the Blues’ organizational depth at center was questioned, but it appears that there’s a fix in the works, and that fix is Dakota Joshua. Joshua, who was recalled from the Springfield Thunderbird yesterday, This gives the team some flexibility within the lineup to adjust as needed. Fourth line center Tyler Bozak is a player many teams would love to have on their third line. Robert Thomas? Other teams would be blessed to have him in the top six; right now he’s firmly sandwiched between Vladimir Tarasenko and Ivan Barbashev in a third line that’s basically a 2B line.
A large part of the Blues’ success has been the fact that they barely even have what you could consider a fourth line, even when Kyle Clifford is in the lineup thanks to someone else being suspended/having Covid-19. The Blues have gone 5-0 with some speedbumps; losing O’Reilly is like a speed hump or a Schoemehl pot in the middle of your road. But, much like resourceful St. Louis drivers, Berube knows a way around this inconvenience.
So what do the Blues do?
They bump the centers up, of course.
Brayden Schenn will slot in for O’Reilly on the first line and in his spot on the power play, according to JIm Thomas. Bozak gets a major promotion to the second line between Jordan Kyrou and Pavel Bucnhevich. It’s not shocking to see Bozak go from the fourth to second line. It’s only for four games, and Bozak is still a talented center. On top of that, why break up that third line? Clearly everyone has seen Vladimir Tarasenko play recently; between a healed shoulder and his current linemates, well, Perron isn’t the only player having a Renaissance right now.
It’s concerning to have O’Reilly out for the next four games, and it puts the Blues in the same boat that many of their early opponents were in - and that some of their future opponents, specifically the Blackhawks, could still be in by the time that the teams meet. The Blues have weathered worse storms in their past. While having ROR out could be detrimental, careful lineup management - as well as some help from Springfield - could make this situation significantly better than it could’ve been.