Friday, September 21, 2018

Power play effective again in Blues' 3-0 win over Blue Jackets

Blais, Maroon score man-advantage goals, giving St. Louis five in three 
games; Johnson gets shutout; Bouwmeester, Tarasenko, Bortuzzo make debut

By LOU KORAC
ST. LOUIS -- Having the 30th-ranked power play a season ago, the Blues could only go up. And granted this is only the preseason, judging through three games, it's certainly looking like the difference is much more favorable, and it continued on Friday night.

Sammy Blais and Pat Maroon scored power-play goals, giving the Blues five with the man advantage in three games, and a more veteran-laden lineup that had the debuts of Vladimir Tarasenko, Jay Bouwmeester and Robert Bortuzzo beat the Columbus Blue Jackets 3-0 at Enterprise Center.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Pat Maroon (left) battles for position with Blue Jackets' Paul Bittner in a 
3-0 St. Louis win in preseason play on Friday. Maroon scored in the game.

Adding new players to the mix, systematically changing the execution and gaining more zone time has been a big difference, and Maroon and Blais have accounted for four of the five with the man-advantage thus far (Dmitrij Jaskin being the other) in three games and the execution has come with a different mindset and different mentality.

"You talk about tactics, but I think probably a little bit more bigger picture identity," Blues coach Mike Yeo said. "There's different types of power plays and so just trying to get a little bit of a different approach, more of a downhill mentality. You look at some of the goals we're scoring, it's quick plays, quick plays around the net, it's numbers around the net. Some good things that we've seen so far for sure."

Both goals scored tonight by Blais and Maroon, in the first period, came off direct plays to the net.

Blais got his by being positionally sound to take Brayden Schenn's pass and redirect it past Blue Jackets goalie Sergei Bobrovsky at 4 minutes, 47 seconds of the first period, and Maroon's came off a direct play of winning a faceoff, going to the net after Taraseko's shot to the far pad produced a rebound at 13:38 of the first period.

"I think we're funneling pucks to the net and doing the right things," Maroon said. "It's been a shooting power play so far. I think getting pucks to the net and getting traffic to the net, that's what we've been talking about, big bodies in front, being strong against the opposition, out-willing them and out-competing them. We've been doing that and I think that's why we've been scoring goals in front of the net.

"Power play is huge now in this game. There are a little more penalties, a little more power plays so I think you're probably going to get three or four and you've got to at least capitalize on at least one of them. I thought the first two were really sharp, but I think the last couple, we were a little sloppy, we were trying to be too cute. We weren't simplifying them much, but that's good. The power play's clicking at the right time and I think we want to have that confidence with our units going into the season."

The power play was 2-for-5 and the penalty kill was a perfect 3-for-3 and got a shorthanded, empty-net goal from Bortuzzo, standing directly in front of goalie Chad Johnson to backhand a puck down the ice and into the net with 1:52 to play and the Jackets attacking 6-on-4.

Defensively, the Blues were good in their end defending.

"I would like to see a little more of it in our 5-on-5 play," Yeo said. "I thought we got a little too cute after the first period. I don't know, maybe thought it was going to be easy or what, but our 5-on-5 game, some good things in the defensive checking part of our game, but offensively, too easy to defend tonight."

Johnson got the 20-save shutout. He was used very little in the first period with three saves and the Blues dominating play, outshooting the younger Columbus squad playing against a more seasoned Blues unit by a 9-3 count.

But Johnson, who has allowed just a goal on 36 shots in five periods of preseason action, was attracted to the Blues' defensive style.

"That's why I was excited when there was interest there to possibly ending up on the team here just knowing how goalie-friendly this team is," said Johnson, who signed a one-year, $1.75 million free agent contract on July 1. "When you talk about good defensemen, really it's all about team defense is what matters. That's a big focus here. It helps us goaltenders here big time with our results. It's exciting to be a part of that.

"I would like to see results. That's what everyone judges you on, but for me mentally and personally, I feel really good. I think I'm tracking the puck well, positioning where I need to be, there's always little things like puck plays, chemistry and the feel of things that can always be a little sharper. But I am pleased with the results."

Blais scored his second goal in as many games and is doing all he can to make it tough on the Blues to send him down to the American Hockey League.

"I was playing with good players like 'Schenner' and [Jordan] Kyrou again," Blais said. "They're both pretty skilled players. I think we did a pretty good job tonight.

"I've always been an offensive player. I know how to score goals. 'Schenner' made a good play on that goal. I just had to redirect it into the net. That was a good play by him. I want to push. I want to stay here, that's for sure. I want to make it as hard on them to keep me here. I'm going to work hard the rest of the camp."

Robert Thomas, a 2017 first-round pick, had the opportunity to showcase himself on this stage and found himself at times playing with more skilled players. He didn't find the scoresheet, but was effective in 15:52 ice time.

"I thought he was better today, especially second half of the game," Yeo said of Thomas. "He was starting to get more puck touches, more times where he's skating with the puck. To me, it looked like he gained some confidence today. I thought he took a step and I would expect him to take another step on Sunday when we get him in the lineup again."

Maroon, Ryan O'Reilly and Tarasenko, a line that could very well start the regular season together, got its first game action.

"I think our line had some times where we played a little more d-zone than we wanted to," Maroon said, "but we found some chemistry towards the end, trying to get used to the game again, banging bodies again, ready to protect pucks, timing of the game, simplifying it, holding onto it and not trying to rush too much."
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Sammy Blais (64) scored for the Blues in a 3-0 win over Columbus on
Friday. He's chasing Nikita Korostelev for the puck here.

And Tarasenko, coming off surgery to repair a dislocated left shoulder, got more involved as the game progressed.

"I would say not mid-season form," Yeo said. "Looked like a player coming off a shoulder surgery."

Bouwmeester, coming off left hip surgery, led all players in ice time at 22:50 and looked more like the Bouwmeester of old, gliding on the ice and looking as healthy as he has in over a year.

"'Bouw' didn't show any affects whatsoever," Yeo said. "I was very impressed. Speaking with Ray Barile tonight, he's pretty amazed with Bouw and where he's at right now."

The Blues will practice on Saturday and then play at Columbus on Sunday at 2 p.m.

(9-21-18) Blue Jackets-Blues Preseason Gameday Lineup

By LOU KORAC
ST. LOUIS -- The preseason debut for David Perron is on hold ... again.

Perron, who was supposed to play in Des Moines, Iowa against the Minnesota Wild, was going to make his preseason debut today against the Columbus Blue Jackets at 7 p.m. at Enterprise Center but has been ruled out with a sore groin. Also, center Tyler Bozak was supposed to play but has also been ruled out with a sore groin.

"Him and Bozak, we had both of those guys scheduled to play the game today, but both guys have sore groins and just at this point, probably not a good decision to put them in the lineup, so we'll just give them another day of rest here and hopefully feeling better tomorrow," Blues coach Mike Yeo said.

Bozak played and scored twice on Wednesday in a 3-2 win over the Wild, but Perron has been on and off the ice since Monday when he missed the second half of a scheduled practice; he practiced on Thursday.

- - -

Robby Fabbri was scheduled to get back on the ice on Friday but was not in the lineup against the Blue Jackets.

He did not practice for a second straight day with a sore back and Yeo added another caveat.

"Fabbri has a sore back and sore hip flexor so just hold him out for another day and see how he is tomorrow," Yeo said.

- - -

Zach Sanford was scheduled to practice on Friday but missed because of the sudden death of his father, Michael Sanford.

"There's really nothing to be said about that. It's brutal," Yeo said. "I feel terrible for him and his family."

Yeo said Sanford will be given the proper time to grieve with his family.

- - -

Sammy Blais and Jordan Kyrou are part of the game group tonight and will be given the opportunity to play with Brayden Schenn in another opportunity to showcase themselves and make another case to make the squad out of camp.

Kyrou had a goal and assist Tuesday in a 5-3 loss at Dallas, playing alongside Ryan O'Reilly and Pat Maroon.

Blais scored against the Wild Wednesday playing with Bozak and Alexander Steen.

"There's no doubt that those guys have been very strong up to this point and as we know as camp moves along, the level of competition goes up," Yeo said. "From game to game, you're going to see stronger lineups, some more NHL players in the lineup so as you move forward later on in camp, I would say that playing well tonight means more than it does in the first game and so on in camp. The level's going to go up and we want to see if they can continue to play at that level."

- - -

Vladimir Tarasenko and Jay Bouwmeester will make their preseason debuts tonight.

Tarasenko is coming off surgery to repair a dislocated left shoulder sustained in the regular-season finale last season at Colorado on April 7; he had surgery on April 11.

Tarasenko will get the chance to play with O'Reilly and Maroon tonight.

"It'll be nice and getting a home game," O'Reilly said. "We've practiced together all camp and it'll be nice to get in a game and get some real game experience. I think it'll go well.

"Vladi's intelligence, you see how smart he is offensively. He's just dangerous everywhere. He's one of the few guys in the league that, you put him in the offensive zone, he's got a chance to score from everywhere. ... He has such an impact from all over the ice. ... Patty makes plays. He's just so tough to get the puck off of. I think it's a good line. It's the first chance tonight, but I'm excited for it."

Maroon said it will be a good opportunity for the line to develop that much-needed chemistry.

"I still think we need to find that chemistry and that jam, get used to each other," Maroon said. "Me and O'Reilly played together in Dallas. We found some chemistry there and with Vladi, it's only going to make things a lot easier for us. The first few scrimmages, we weren't really as sharp. You're still trying to get your legs underneath you and your skill, the timing of the game. Tonight is a good challenge for us to build some chemistry moving forward. I think we need to start doing it now."

Bouwmeester last played on March 3 and had surgery on his left hip.

"I need just to play. You do your work. Everybody's in shape," Bouwmeester said. "I feel pretty good, practicing and all that. I'm excited to play. That's the fun part.

"Yeah, pretty close (to 100 percent healthy). As far as where I thought I'd be at this point, it is where I thought it would be. The last twelve months, but before that, I felt fine."

Yeo is anxious to see him play a game.

"He looks really good. I'm excited to see him," Yeo said. "Obviously getting in the game is going to be big for him. He's missed a lot of time. I can't say that any of us expect or he expects to be completely on top of his game, but that's no different than for anybody else out there. I would say that the one advantage that he has over most is just his experience. He's been a part of a number of these camps. His skating ability and his experience. I would certainly expect him to come in and not look too far off."

- - -

Tonight is going to be an important game for 2017 first-round pick Robert Thomas.

Yeo on Thursday said that Thomas has another level to his game and he'll get the chance to showcase it tonight to see if he can move up the chain of players looking to make the roster.

"I think so for sure," Thomas said. "Throughout the camp, I've been getting a little better each day, but I definitely have another level to play.

"I think for me, it's just relaxing a bit. I think I've been playing a little bit too safe. Just going for it really. ... There's always that little bit of fear, but I don't think it's that big. I think for me it's just relaxing and having fun with the whole thing."

- - -

Tonight will mark Maroon's first game in his hometown playing at Enterprise Center.

Maroon said son Anthony and dad Philip will be in attendance.

"I'm excited," Maroon said. "I've already got the one out of the way. I know it's preseason, but it's exciting to come home and get my first real home game as a St. Louis Blue. It's exciting for sure.

"... I haven't really talked to my family. I know my son's coming, that's about it, and my dad. I haven't really talked to my family. I don't know really who's coming and who's not. If they need tickets, they can go buy them. Obviously my family's a big support for me. They've been there with me from Day 1. They're huge fans. They show a lot of support. I'm sure they'll be coming tonight, but I haven't really talked to them."

- - -

Not much has been made about the camp of 2017 first-round pick (31st overall) Klim Kostin, but Yeo said it's been a good camp for Kostin, who had 28 points (six goals, 22 assists) in 67 games at San Antonio of the American Hockey League last season.

"I think that Klim has made big strides from last year," Yeo said. "The biggest thing for me right now at this point of his career is he looks much stronger, much more comfortable, more prepared to play a North American style of game. When he first came here, I thought there was a lot of 1-on-1 individual play, I thought there was a lot of slow-it-down, east-west play. The way teams track back, the way teams defend, it's just too hard to have success offensively. I feel like he's more north, he's more direct, plays with more pace in his game and he's really strong at protecting the puck and with that, he's creating more offense, more involved offensively. The area he has to improve, for sure, is without the puck. The most important part right now is the offensive part of his game of developing and now, there's time to start working on the other stuff."

Playing for a staff that didn't involve Blues coaches last year all but washed out a year of development for Kostin, 18 at the time. But that will change for him moving forward.

"Whatever last year was, I know that with the staff that we have down there this year and the attention that he's going to get and the opportunity that he'd going to get, it's going to be outstanding for him," Yeo said. "We haven't sent him down, he's still here with us so we'll see throughout camp. So if he is there, then that's going to be a great opportunity for him to grow and that's not just for him, that's for anybody that's down there."

- - -

The Blues' projected lineup:

Pat Maroon-Ryan O'Reilly-Vladimir Tarasenko

Sammy Blais-Brayden Schenn-Jordan Kyrou

Ivan Barbashev-Robert Thomas-Dmitrij Jaskin

Jordan Nolan-Oskar Sundqvist-Brian Flynn

Vince Dunn-Robert Bortuzzo

Jay Bouwmeester-Jordan Schmaltz

Jake Walman-Niko Mikkola

Chad Johnson will start in goal and play the entire game; Jordan Binnington will be the backup.

- - -

The Blue Jackets' projected lineup:

Sonny Milano-Riley Nash-Jonathan Davidsson

Anthony Duclair-Ryan MacInnis-Zac Dalpe

Eric Robinson-Liam Foudy-Justin Scott

Paul Bittner-Lukas Sedlak-Nikita Korostelev

Dean Kukan-Scott Harrington

Doyle Somerby-David Savard

Gabriel Carlsson-Adam Clendening

Sergei Bobrovsky will start in goal; Brad Thiessen will be the backup.

Thursday, September 20, 2018

(9-21-18) BLUES NOTEBOOK

Fabbri held out with sore back; Bozak getting acclimated; Tarasenko, Perron
to make preseason debuts; Blais, Husso impress; Kyrou, Thomas battling

By LOU KORAC
ST. LOUIS -- Exhale, Blues fans.

Robby Fabbri's knee didn't succumb to injury again, but instead, he missed practice Thursday with a sore back, according to coach Mike Yeo. 

When word trickled down that Fabbri was held out of practice, many began to think the worst again and that he re-injured the left knee again.

It happened last season during the preseason when Fabbri, coming off surgery to repair a torn ACL in his left knee, played against the Washington Capitals on Sept. 22, 2017 but was shut down for the rest of the season with a second ACL tear.

This scenario seemed eerily similar but Yeo assured everyone that Fabbri, who made his preseason debut Wednesday and had an assist in a 3-2 win against the Minnesota Wild, was held out as a precaution.

"It has nothing to do with his knee. He has a sore back today, so we kept him off for precautionary reasons," Yeo said. "... I understand the concern, but he hasn't played in hockey games in a long time and so he's feeling sore. His back was sore. This morning has nothing to do with knees or anything like that.

"You get to this point in training camp, and he hasn't been a part of something like this for a while You start to get achy, you start to get sore, so we're for just precautionary reasons, we're keeping him off the ice."

Fabbri, 22, played on a line with Alexander Steen and Tyler Bozak, who scored twice in the third period and helped the Blues rally for the victory.

"I thought the first half of the game (for Fabbri) was OK," Yeo said, "but only OK. I thought that he got better as the game went on. I thought he played his best in the third period, especially when the game was on the line. The big thing for him is the mental part of it. I've been there myself. You look at it, he arrives second. He gets there, he's physical, he's aggressive. It's arriving first that's difficult when you know someone's coming to get you and that's the mental hurdle that he's got to get past right now. The only way he gets past that right now is through experience and through playing. As that starts to come along, everything will come along with it."

The plan last season was for Fabbri to get in four preseason games, and the plan this year is more of the same, if not more games.

"The more the better for him," Yeo said. "Obviously we don't want to put him in a bad spot, but we're talking about a player that hasn't played hockey in the last year and a half. This time of year, some guys need three games to get ready, some guys need five or six. He's much closer to that five or six than three."

* Bozak learning on the fly -- Bozak, who tied the game at 15:01 before netting the eventual game-winner 27 seconds later, has been using this time with the Blues to get himself not only acclimated with his new teammates for the first time in his 10-year career but also with the Western Conference style of play.

Bozak, 32, played the first nine seasons of his NHL career with the Toronto Maple Leafs before signing a three-year, $15 million contract with the Blues on July 1.

"There's definitely some stuff that's different than what I've been used to doing, wherever I was playing," Bozak said. "There's some things that I'm going to have to kind of adjust to, but I think I've been able to adjust pretty well. It's not too many big changes. I think a lot of teams play the same nowadays. Just little tweaks here or there in the neutral zone or the D-zone, O-zone or whatever it may be. I'll just use these preseason games to kind of get used to that and hopefully catch on quicker than later."

Yeo said there was a noticeable difference in the veteran Bozak when the game was on the line and that he's getting acclimated with the new system.

"He's getting there. There's some changes," Yeo said. "... He's a smart player both with and without the puck. We're really excited about what he's going to bring to our group. I liked that he played his best hockey when the game was on the line last night. The third period when it was there for us, he delivered. That's a good sign for me. Him and 'Steener' have worked really well off of each other. It's two very smart players. 

"There's some changes and some things that are going to be different for him that's going to take a little bit of time."

* Blais impresses -- Blues winger Sammy Blais made a favorable impression in the game Wednesday that certainly has caught the eyes of those that matter.

Not only did Blais, a sixth-round pick in the 2014 NHL Draft, score a power-play goal in the first period, but also created several scoring chances playing on a line with Jaden Schwartz and Brayden Schenn. 

Blais is making another strong case, like last training camp, of making the roster on opening night.

"We're not trying to pigeon-hole anybody into anything," Yeo said. "We just want to give him an opportunity right now to play with good players and show what he can do and we have time to make those decisions. Whether it's higher up in the lineup, whether it's lower in the lineup, if he can continue to play games like that, it makes it pretty hard on us not to find a spot."

* Husso also impresses -- Goalie Ville Husso stopped 23 shots on Wednesday but his best period was in the second when he faced 13 and stopped them all and kept it a 2-1 Wild lead.

Husso allowed two deflected goals in the first period but settled down to shut the door the rest of the way.

He made 27 saves in his only other NHL game last preseason, a 4-0 shutout at Washington on Sept. 22, 2017.

"He played really well. To go beyond that, I think he looked very controlled in the net," Yeo said. "I liked the way he responded. It's not an easy situation. He didn't have a shot on the first 13 minutes of the game or so. And then all of the sudden, there's two bounces or two deflections that go into the net. He did a heck of a job to come out of that with the right mentality. That's part of what I like about him. He's got a little swagger, he's got some calmness to him, doesn't seem to get rattled easily."

* Allen keeps making progress -- Goalie Jake Allen, sidelined from game action with back spasms, worked on ice with teammates again Thursday but won't play Friday against Columbus and likely will not play Sunday against the Blue Jackets either.

"He's coming along," Yeo said. "We increased his workload today. Don't expect him in the game tomorrow and I would say that Sunday would be probably unrealistic at this point, too, but the intention anf the goal is to get him in a game here very soon."

* Kyrou, Thomas keep battling -- The notion coming into camp is that 2017 first-round pick Robert Thomas was a lock to make the opening night roster and that 2016 second-round pick Jordan Kyrou was destined for San Antonio of the American Hockey League.

Of the four or five spots that could be up for grabs on the bottom of the roster, Blais and Kyrou seem to have a leg up on everyone else. Kyrou had a goal and an assist in a 5-3 loss at Dallas to open preseason play but played very well with Pat Maroon and Ryan O'Reilly.

"The first two games, the guys that really pushed I'd say were Blais and Kyrou, and that's not to say they can't be higher up," Yeo said. "Robby I think is making a push. I liked what I saw from him last night. For me, it was very encouraging. Then we've got, I'd say, another group that falls under the same category.

"... Not to say it's easier on [Kyrou], but probably not many people had him as a guy that was going to make our team. He probably had a little less to lose, nothing to lose in his sense. I think that he's kind of approached it saying, 'You know what, what's the worst that can happen? I'm going to get sent down. That's what everyone's expecting, so he's gone out and he's made plays, he's been aggressive and with that, I think he's built some confidence. He looks very confident right now."

And for Thomas, who had two minor penalties against the Stars, he will get another important test Friday night against the Blue Jackets.

"He's been, I would say, feeling his way through things so far," Yeo said. "... I feel that there's another level to his game that we haven't seen yet. I've seen it at Traverse City. For me, it kind of looks like he's sort of waiting, observing, watching and seeing, waiting for something to develop to give him an opportunity to use his skill. At this level, it's hard to play that type of game. You have to be more assertive, more aggressive. You have to use your speed, your competitiveness in order to get the puck, in order to get yourself in a position where you can make those skilled plays. Certainly looking for him to play a very aggressive game. I'm not worried about mistakes right now. We've got time to work on mistakes, we've got time to work out the X's and O's part of things. He's a smart player; he'll get it. I'm looking for sort of that aggressiveness, that go-get-it type of play that I know he has in him."

What Yeo wants to see is Thomas play instinctively and not defer or be afraid to make a mistake trying to make a play.

"Mistakes are part of the game," Yeo said. "Teams that win generally make fewer of them, but you also have to make plays. It's hard to make a team only doing just what's OK. Obviously there's a line there that he has to understand, that he can't be a high-risk player, he can't hurt the team, but at the same time, you've got to find a way to make some stuff happen."

* Toropchenko back to junior; Soshnikov, Foley, Kaspick not ready -- The Blues assigned forward Alexei Toropchenko, their fourth-round pick in 2017, back to the Guelph Storm of the Ontario Hockey League.

Toropchenko, 19, had 39 points (17 goals, 22 assists) in 66 games for the Storm last season and had a second straight solid camp.

"He did a heck of a job," Yeo said. "He's been very solid for us. Really impressed with his improvement and with his growth from this time last year. I think he really looks like a solid prospect for us."

Tanner Kaspick, a fourth-round pick in 2016, was held off the ice Thursday after skating with the game group Wednesday.

Kaspick, 20, sustained a rub injury at Traverse City.

"He's not cleared for contact, so we just wanted to keep him out," Yeo said. "The group on the ice were full participation players."

Forwards Nikita Soshnikov and Erik Foley remain out with concussions.

"Nothing really to report there," Yeo said. "Getting some light work but not cleared to join our group yet."

* Tarasenko, Perron to debut -- Forwards Vladimir Tarasenko and David Perron will make their respective preseason debuts against the Columbus Blue Jackets at Enterprise Center on Friday.

Tarasenko is coming off a dislocated left shoulder and had surgery on April 11 after injuring it the final game of the regular season April 7.

Perron has been nursing an undisclosed injury sustained Monday that forced him to miss the second half of practice. He was supposed to play Wednesday but was held out as a precaution.

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

(9-19-18) Blues-Wild Preseason Gameday Lineup

By LOU KORAC
ST. LOUIS -- It was 362 days ago the last time Robby Fabbri faced the boots, sharpened the blades and donned the Bluenote for an actual game.

A second ACL tear in his left knee forced Fabbri to miss all of last season, and that night in Washington, D.C. against the Washington Capitals on Sept. 22, 2017 was Fabbri's last time on the ice in an actual game.

Until tonight.

Fabbri will be in the lineup for the Blues (0-1-0) when they take on the Minnesota Wild (0-1-0) at Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines, Iowa, the home of the Wild's American Hockey League affiliate, the Iowa Wild.

Fabbri had surgery to repair his left knee for the second time after initially injuring it Feb. 4, 2017, the last regular season game he played in against the Pittsburgh Penguins, but after all the rehabilitation and training, it's time to put the skills back to use on the ice.

"I'm excited. It'll be good," Fabbri said. "Everything feels good. I'm excited to get in tonight. Hopefully I'll get in more than just one preseason game this year. ... I've been practicing and working all summer. You can't really replicate a game situation. Tonight's going to be a good test and I'm looking forward to it."

Fabbri will likely get the opportunity to play on one of the top two lines with either Jaden Schwartz and Brayden Schenn or Alexander Steen and Tyler Bozak with David Perron (undisclosed), who was  expected to play after taking the morning skate, left behind in St. Louis for precautionary reasons.

"I'm excited to watch [Fabbri] play tonight," Blues coach Mike Yeo said. "We're going to rearrange our lines a little bit. David Perron's not going to travel with us now. We're going to hold him out tonight just to be safe, just to be on the smart side. We'll rearrange things. Whether we move Robby up with 'Schwartzy' or 'Schenner' or we might move 'Blazer' [Sammy Blais] up with 'Schwartzy' and 'Schenner' and move Robby to the left side with Bozak and Steen. We'll take a look at that right now and figure that out, but either way, you brought up a question about Robby, he's going to get a chance to play with some good players here tonight. I think he's looked good in camp. You can tell he's not clean, you can tell that his confidence isn't quite there and his timing's not quite there, which is 100 percent understandable given the time that he's missed. But the tenacity's there, the speed, the puck pursuit's all there. Everything else will come along.

"I want to see him play and play well. There's really not a complicated answer to it."

Fabbri's teammates and friends want to see him play well, too.

"I'm really excited to see what he can do," Blues defenseman Joel Edmundson said. "He's looking good so far in camp and he's been healthy so far. I think all the boys are excited to see what he can bring to the ice tonight. Tonight's going to be the first challenge for him. It should be a hard game for us and we just want to go in there and play the way we can. ... He doesn't look like he's lost a step at all. He's still the same playmaker he is. Hopefully it carrys over."

The game can be heard on KMOX 1120-AM and on Sports Radio 98.1 HD3. Fans can also listen live at stlouisblues.com or by using the NHL App and setting the St. Louis Blues as their favorite team.

- - -

The Blues are coming off a 5-3 loss to the Dallas Stars on Tuesday, but Yeo was pleased with the play of many, including Jordan Kyrou, who had a goal and an assist and led the Blues with seven of their 38 shots playing with Ryan O'Reilly and Pat Maroon.

"He did a really good last night," Yeo said of Kyrou. "He helped himself, there's no question. Very involved. Not just getting the goal and assist. Probably was a little unlucky not to get a little bit more on the scoresheet there. I'm impressed with the way he was able to use his speed, impressed with the way he was able to use his linemates and be a threat long night long. There was more than that. He was rubbing out guys, you see him getting a piece of them, being physical. You see him using his speed for more than just scoring chances but creating turnovers and applying back pressure. I thought he did a really nice job last game."

Kyrou was fifth in minutes played at 20:36. O'Reilly was third at 22:20 and Maroon, who scored, played over 17 minutes.

"That line was certainly our most dangerous," Yeo said. "They were a threat all night. They were very good. The three of them played very well together. That's the best that Pat Maroon has looked so far in camp. He was moving his feet. You got to see him go to work where he's most dangerous. That's down low in the offensive zone. It's so hard to get the puck off of him. A couple really good quality chances around the net, got robbed on another one similar to the goal that he scored. He outmuscles people, finds way to have his stick on the ice and be at the right place at the right time."

Defenseman Colton Parayko led all players at 27:19. Some may think that's a bit excessive for a preseason game, but Yeo, who noted that assistant coach Mike Van Ryn was at the controls of the defensive minutes, was impressed.

"You look at his conditioning, you look at his skating ability, he can play big minutes; there's no question," Yeo said of Parayko, who had an assist. "I don't think 27's the typical number for a regular season night, bu that doesn't mean there might not be nights like that. He played well. He played very well. For his first exhibition game, he was all over the ice and he was strong."

- - -

Goalie Ville Husso will make his first appearance of the preseason tonight and Yeo said he'll get the entire game.

Husso is likely destined to be the No. 1 goalie for the San Antonio Rampage of the AHL, but he hopes to build off a shutout of the Capitals last preseason on Sept. 22, a 4-0 Blues win.

"It was a good game, but I think I improved a lot from that point," said Husso, who has never played more than 41 games (twice with HIFK Helsinki) in a season. "I think I can be better now. ... I want to get a lot of games and get a good feeling going. It's not a bad thing if I need to go to AHL and get some games over there. At the same time, I want to stay over here and be the NHL first goalie."

- - -

Defenseman Robert Bortuzzo, who left Monday's second half of practice with a lower-body injury and needed an MRI on Tuesday, was expected to get a couple days off, according to Yeo. But Bortuzzo was on the ice and skated with the gameday group on Wednesday morning after Yeo said the MRI came back fine.

"I kind of needed a day after things settles down," Bortuzzo said. "Other than that, I took the scheduled day off and I was comfortable getting back out there today. 

"Just wear and tear of training camp coming off summer. We had a pretty rigorous couple days. Nothing to be concerned about. I feel good."

- - -

The Blues' projected lineup:

Jaden Schwartz-Brayden Schenn-Sammy Blais

Robby Fabbri-Tyler Bozak-Alexander Steen

Austin Poganski-Ivan Barbashev-Klim Kostin

Alexei Toropchenko-Adam Musil-Chris Thorburn

Joel Edmundson-Alex Pietrangelo

Jake Walman-Mitch Reinke

Niko Mikkola-Sam Lofquist

Ville Husso will start in goal and play the entire game; Evan Fitzpatrick will be the backup.

- - -

The Wild's roster includes:

Forwards: Cal O'Reilly, Matt Read, Eric Staal, Jason Zucker, Marcus Foligno, Eric Fehr, Mason Shaw, Mikael Granlund, Gerard Mayhew, Dmitry Sokolov, Colton Beck

Defensemen: Ryan Murphy, Matt Dumba, Jonas Brodin, Eric Martinsson, Brennan Menell, Hunter Warner

Goalies: Alex Stalock, Kaapo Kahkonen

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

(9-18-18) Blues-Stars Preseason Gameday Lineup

By LOU KORAC
ST. LOUIS -- Jake Allen made an appearance on the ice with teammates after sustaining back spasms last week, getting out on the ice sooner than expected.

Allen was originally scheduled to miss 10-14 days after injuring his back during off-ice training but not feels he could be ready to play as early as Sunday in the fourth preseason game against the Columbus Blue Jackets.

"I'm just taking it a little slow right now," Allen said. "Nothing crazy. Obviously it was just a short morning skate, but just get out and take a few shots. More or less practice speed. 

"I haven't had a group skate since Sept. 1st, so it's been a while. So it's really going to be more or less timing and getting my feet back under myself before we get really going here."

Allen has skated on his own before everyone else, just getting pads on and going through some sort of a routine, but, "that was the first time getting some shots and stuff.

"I feel like I'm progressing well. I'm not the expert here. I'm sort of going by what my body is telling me and I'm relaying it to the therapist and going from there. We're trying to kill this thing before the season starts. I don't want this thing to be a nagging thing for me throughout the year."

Blues coach Mike Yeo calls it good news.

"He took some shots and getting loosened up, so it's a good sign," Yeo said. "We didn't anticipate him not being able to get on the ice for a long period of time, so it was good to get him back out there."

- - -

On some other injury-related news, defenseman Carl Gunnarsson, who will be in the game group for the preseason opener tonight in Dallas but not play, said along with the ACL surgery he had on his left knee, he also had surgery on his right hip.

Gunnarsson said the hip was something that began to ail him before injuring his knee March 23 against the Vancouver Canucks.

"When the knee happened, we decided to check out the hip and make sure everything was OK," Gunnarsson said. "At the end of the day, thought it was a good thing to get both done. Timeline would kind of be the same and recovery time. Here we are. Instead of just dealing with the hip all of this year too and maybe get it done next year, we opted to do them both."

Gunnarsson is hopeful of being ready for the regular-season opener Oct. 4 against the Winnipeg Jets, but Yeo said it's still too soon to determine that.

"I'd say it's still up in the air," Yeo said. "To be ready for the opener when we've got others playing in games and the exhibition or what-not, I think that probably moves them a little further ahead. We'll see. Not ruling anything out yet, but obviously until you get cleared to play in a game, then it's pretty tough to envision that. But I don't know, I don't have the answer to that yet."

Defenseman Robert Bortuzzo underwent an MRI Tuesday from a lower-body injury that kept him out of the second half of practice Monday, but Yeo said everything checked out fine. Bortuzzo will not play in the first two preseason games.

"We did an MRI on 'Borts' just to make sure everything's OK," Yeo said. "He cleared that, everything is good, but having to do that MRI means he's going to take a few days off the ice. He's another guy that won't play in that game tomorrow."

Forward David Perron, who also left practice early Monday with an undisclosed injury, could play Wednesday in Des Moines, Iowa against the Minnesota Wild.

"I think he's a possibility, yeah," Yeo said. "We'll have to see how he feels tomorrow, but I'm expecting him to play. We have a plan in place in case that doesn't happen, but we're certainly hopeful hat he'll get in."

- - -

The Blues trimmed their camp roster by one when they assigned goalie Joel Hofer Swift Current of the Western Hockey League

The 18-year-old Hofer picked by the Blues in the fourth round (No. 107) of the 2018 NHL Draft.

Last season, Hofer played in 19 regular season games with the Broncos and posted an 8-3-1 record with a 2.61 goals-against average and .914 save-percentage; he played in two postseason games and helped the Broncos win the WHL Championship.

- - -

The Blues will drop the puck tonight on their preseason schedule when they play the first of back-to-back road games against the Dallas Stars.

The Blues and Stars will play at 7:30 p.m. and the Blues will take with them a mixed veteran and younger lineup with Yeo looking to see who can make the grade.

"We're looking to grow everybody's game," Yeo said. "We're looking for guys to grow their game from an individual standpoint, whether it's the timing, the skill or the identity. The pressure that they can imply into a game by playing through their own identity. We're looking for growth in our team game, the systems, the tactics, those kinds of things. You're looking for conditioning, you're looking for pace, execution, all that kind of stuff. Biggest thing for me, I'm looking for competitiveness. I want to see guys that want to win hockey games, doesn't matter if it's exhibition, doesn't matter if it's Game 33 of the regular season. I want to see guys that want to win hockey games, and that means doing things to win hockey games. Everybody wants to score goals, and that's great. Some guys need to score goals of they want to have a chance to make our team and some guys don't. Some guys need to kill penalties, some guys need to block shots, some guys need to be physical. Whatever it is, make sure you're bringing something and show us that we need that element."

The Blues' projected lineup:

Patrick Maroon-Ryan O'Reilly-Jordan Kyrou

Zach Sanford-Robert Thomas-Dmitrij Jaskin

Mackenzie MacEachern-Oskar Sundqvist-Brian Flynn

Nolan Stevens-Trevor Smith-Jordan Nolan

Vince Dunn-Colton Parayko

Chris Butler-Jordan Schmaltz

Tyler Wotherspoon-Joey Laleggia

extras: Conner Bleackley, Carl Gunnarsson

Chad Johnson will start in goal and play the first two periods; Jordan Binnington back up and play the third period.

- - -

The Stars' projected lineup:

Jamie Benn-Tyler Seguin-Alexander Radulov

Mattias Janmark-Jason Spezza-Valeri Nichushkin

Jason Dickinson-Roope Hintz-Brett Ritchie

Nick Caamano-Ty Dellandrea-Jason Robertson

Miro Heiskanen-John Klingberg

Esa Lindell-Julius Honka

Gavin Bayreuther-Roman Polak

Ben Bishop will start in goal; Landon Bow will be the backup.

Blais among forwards fighting for remaining roster spots in camp

2014 sixth-round pick more confident this year after small sample size 
in NHL last season; feels stronger, leaner, quicker in bid to make team

By LOU KORAC
ST. LOUIS -- Like most players learning the ropes of life in the NHL, Sammy Blais sort of had that deer-in-headlights thing going last season.

It's only natural. There are only so many Sidney Crosbys and Connor McDavids that grace the presence of the NHL, those generational players that come in and sweep the league off its feet.
Sammy Blais

Blais was like many players trying to ingratiate himself into the Blues and the NHL; he got his first taste of life in the league last season when he dressed in 11 games and had three points (one goal, two assists), a player that showed a tremendous amount of skill during training camp but to the surprise of many, was sent to the American Hockey League.

It was a humbling experience but one in which he took in stride and told himself he'd work harder to get back.

And the sixth round pick in the 2014 NHL Draft kept working at it, on and off the ice. Off the ice, he trimmed body fat off his 6-foot-2, 205-pound frame and coming in this season, raised the bar and level of his expectations despite the glutton of forwards fighting for bottom three to five roster spots that are available.

"I sure feel more comfortable," Blais said. "I played a couple games last year and I know what to expect now. I know what it takes to play at the next level. I had a good summer of training and I came ready to get to this training camp.

"... Like every player, you want to play in the NHL. I think I've done a good job in the American Hockey League and when I came up last year, I think I did a pretty good job too. I just got to keep grinding and working hard every day and we'll see what happens."

There's no denying that Blais, a Montmagny, Quebec native, has the size and skill to play in the NHL; those qualities were firmly exhibited last year at camp, then when called up and given the chance to play in an NHL game and certainly with the San Antonio Rampage with 40 points (17 goals, 23 assists) in 42 games. But what the Blues and coach Mike Yeo have hammered on is that Blais had to get better with his awareness on the ice, more so without the puck, in order to support his linemates better. Play without the puck had to improve.

"I think that the big test for him is going to be the exhibition games," Yeo said. "His first scrimmage was so-so. The second scrimmage I thought he played very, very well. There hasn't been a lot of secret on our part with Sammy or with anyone that his play without the puck is probably what's keeping him out of the NHL right now. What we're looking for is a little bit of improvement there. With the puck, he makes plays. Coming out of his own zone, his entries into the offensive zone, in the offensive zone, but his teammates need to be able to read off of him. I thought the scrimmage [Sunday] was very good. Now I'm very anxious to see what he can do in a (preseason game) because he's got a boatload of ability with the puck, he's very dangerous. 

"We're not asking him to be a Selke Trophy winner here, but you have to play a game here where your teammates can read off of you and you have to play a game that allows you to get to your game. By saying that, you're always on the ice against good players in the NHL and if you're not doing good things, then you're not going to get the puck back and you can't play an offensive game."

Blais understands that and the only way to get a level of consistency is through repetition.

"I just got to keep working on those things and I think I've done a good job so far," Blais said. "As the camp goes, I just got to keep playing like I can play and I think if I do that, I I'm giving (myself) lots of chances to start the year here."

The challenge doesn't just fall on the shoulders of Blais. Coaching him up in those areas is a must and Yeo and his staff understand that.

"It's all coaching," Yeo said. "That's up to us right now, it's up to us to coach him out of some habits and work with him and show him some things, teach him things and then it's up to the player in terms of how quickly they grasp it, but we have tons of belief that he's going to get there. He's already shown improvement. It's just a matter of how fast now. Is he ready right now? That's what we're looking to see."

Blais spent a good portion of the summer in St. Louis working with Blues strength and conditioning coach Eric Renaghan on his skating and explosion on the ice to see where those were following a summer of eliminating body fat but remaining at his playing weight of 205.

"I was in St. Louis for most part of the summer and I worked with Eric and he's done a good job with me," Blais said. "My skating is a lot better this year.

"... I dropped a lot of body fat. I had some good scores on my off-ice training. They were really happy with that and that's some of the big parts of what they wanted me to do. I think my conditioning, I did a good job with that."

And by coming in with favorable numbers off ice, Blais was given an early opportunity to skate with veterans Alexander Steen and Tyler Bozak. Blais wanted the challenge and Yeo gave it to him.

"They're two good veterans," Blais said. "They're working hard every time they're on the ice and I'm just trying to follow them. They've been helping me a lot, they're talking to me a lot. They're really good guys for me."

Playing with experienced veterans is a good way for not only Blais to get comfortable playing at this level but also have guys on the ice that can help nurture him along.

"Obviously these (preseason) games are gonna be big for him and the rest of our group," Steen said. "He's got a lot of skill. He's a little bigger than I think people give him credit for. He's a pretty big boy and it looks like he's strong and he's definitely someone who can make plays in tight spaces and in today's game, that's a huge plus.

"Going through a couple training camps, you see (tentativeness) a little bit more. You can tell new and younger guys, it's a little nerves in the beginning and trying to find their way around and things like that. Usually around this time, it starts settling in, especially when we start playing games. You go back to your roots of just throwing the gear on and once that gear's on, you feel pretty comfortable and get into games and that. We'll see here over the next week."
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Sammy Blais (64) battles for position in a game against the Chicago
Blackhawks last season, one of 11 NHL games Blais has played in.

Blais admitted that at times when he played with the Blues last season, he was scared to be himself and make plays, perhaps deferring to the veterans and more experienced NHL players instead of just being himself. 

That mindset seems to have changed, and by getting stronger, leaner and quicker comes more confidence, and Blais has it.

"I've just got to be confident in myself," Blais said. "In the American Hockey League, I was just playing my game and doing what I can. Maybe last year when I got called up here, I was scared of making plays, but I just got to play my game. That's when I'm at my best. Just play the game and have fun on the ice."

Sunday, September 16, 2018

(9-17-18) BLUES NOTEBOOK

Kyrou making his mark; Yeo likes Sunday scrimmage; MacEachern, 
Nolan trying to earn their keep; Sergeev, Blues terminate contract

By LOU KORAC
ST. LOUIS -- Robert Thomas is doing his part to make sure that the Blues coaching staff is paying attention to his play during training camp.

So is Jordan Kyrou.

Kyrou, reigning Ontario Hockey League regular season MVP and second round pick by the Blues in the 2016 NHL Draft, started out on Friday skating on a line with Zach Sanford and Ivan Barbashev but was moved Sunday to during the team's second scrimmage to skate with Robby Fabbri and Thomas, a 2017 first-round pick.

"Jordan was having a good skate, I thought he played real well today," Yeo said. "Not a whole lot was happening with that line before, we make a little switch, give Jordan a little life and I thought it actually helped out both lines to be honest with you. It gave one line a little more speed and a little more skill and the other line, I thought they picked up their play and played a little more to their strengths after we did that."

Kyrou, 20, had 290 points (99 goals, 191 assists) in four seasons playing in the OHL but is one of the bubble players trying to make the roster out of camp; he was tied for fourth at Traverse City with six points (five goals, one assist) in four games.

* Yeo more pleased with Sunday scrimmage -- Yeo was disappointed with the scrimmage Saturday and felt that the pace and physicality could have been on a higher level during Group A's 4-0 win. On Sunday, a 2-1 overtime win by Group A on David Perron's 3-on-3 goal, Yeo said the players got the message.

"It was better today, better from vets, better from guys today looked like they were trying to make our team," Yeo said. "It's one day. Guys are now going to get an opportunity to play exhibition games, another practice tomorrow and we'll move into the exhibition games, then obviously every day that you're out here, whether it's in a rep or a drill or a shift in a game, you've got a chance to prove yourself and you've got to take advantage of it."

* MacEachern trying to make his mark -- Forward Mackenzie MacEachern is cut from the same draft class as Blues 2012 first-round pick Jordan Schmaltz.

MacEachern, a third-round pick that same year, and Schmaltz are both trying to battle their way through the barriers of making an NHL roster, or in MacEachern's case, at least give the coaches something to think about.

He scored the tying goal in the scrimmage on Sunday, giving him two goals in as many games, and it was a beauty; one in which coaches appreciate.

MacEachern was skating back from his offensive zone and backchecking before stripping Sanford of the puck before turning and wiring a shot from the high slot past Ville Husso.

"That's kind of my strong suit too is my skating, being able to get out and make plays like that," MacEachern said. "I think it's definitely good I got to showcase that somewhat. Hopefully I can continue that going forward."

Those are the kinds of play that coaches look for, the small subtle plays that may go unnoticed to some but not others.

"The first game he scored a goal with two seconds left; it was really irrelevant and I didn't think it was a real strong game from him," Yeo said. "I thought today was much better. He scored a goal, but that's the kind of goal he's going to score. Work ethic, competitive, played a much more solid, much more noticeable game today."

MacEachern, 24, spent the past two seasons with the Chicago Wolves of the American Hockey League; he had shoulder surgery in February that cut his season down to 46 games and 10 points (four goals, six assists).

Playing for the Wolves last season was somewhat difficult knowing the Wolves were the affiliate of the Vegas Golden Knights, but the Michigan State product from Troy, Mich. made the most of it and is looking to do so here with the Blues, and if that means going to San Antonio of the AHL, then that's where he'll be.

"Last season was interesting with the dynamics, being in Chicago with the split team, but I tried to make the most of it, tried to keep a positive attitude, learn from it, and I'm excited to get things going here with our own AHL team and our coaching staff here," MacEachern said. "... Just to make strides from last year's camp. I thought I had a good camp last year and obviously I was sidelined early with an injury. Just kind of build off that and get my confidence back."

* Nolan trying to earn keep -- Veteran Jordan Nolan, who signed a one-year, two-way contract ($650,000/$250,000) on July 5 after spending last season with the Buffalo Sabres, was sitting by his phone waiting for the right call.

He was hoping for more opportunities, but when the Blues came calling, Nolan, 29, said it was too good to pass up, even if it meant having to prove himself all over again.

"It was definitely one of the few calls I got," Nolan said of the Blues. "I got the call and I got excited. I liked some of the moves they made this summer. Looking at the history of this team, I remember playing against them when I was in L.A. They've always been known for being big, strong, physical, compete hard. I took a look in the mirror and thought that if I work hard and have a great summer of training, I can come here and earn a spot. I think I can be a great fit. I'm just doing my best right now.

"I got to where I was from working hard and if that meant signing a two-way and working hard again and getting to where I need to be, then that's what I have to deal with. But I'm pretty thankful for the opportunity that I got here. Last year didn't go the way I expected it to being in Buffalo. It wasn't a great situation, but I still have a lot of game left."

Nolan, who had eight points (four goals, four assists) in 69 games with the Sabres last season, spent the first six seasons of his NHL career with the Los Angeles Kings and is the lone player in camp with a Stanley Cup to his resume, winning in 2012 and 2014.

"That's always a great quality, but he's shown well," Yeo said of Nolan. "I think we have a couple guys that have come into camp and they've got NHL experience and they're sort of a little off the grid, a little off the radar. Obviously you hear a little more about your prospects, you know a little more about those guys, but being a coach in the league, you're familiar with a guy like Jordan, you're familiar with a guy like [Brian] Flynn, those guys that have played in the league and so certainly we've been keeping an eye on them and they've been doing a nice job."

Nolan, the son of former Sabres and New York Islanders coach Ted Nolan, is likely destined for San Antonio, but in a time and age where bigger, more physical players seem to be scarce, Nolan's name could come up during recalls should the Blues need veteran bodies, and ones that leave favorable impressions at camp.

"I expect to work hard and put my best effort on the ice and hopefully come up with a roster spot," Nolan said. "I've just got to make it hard on the GM and coaches and hopefully make it tough for them. All I can do is just come here and make it tough on them. The rest is out of my hands."

* Blues, Sergeev terminate contract -- The Blues and defenseman Dmitrii Sergeev agreed to mutually terminate his contract after the defenseman went unclaimed on waivers Sunday. Now a free agent, Sergeev had one year remaining on an entry-level contract with a cap hit of $644,167, but he showed up to camp out of shape.

The Blues said Sergeev will return to Russia and should he prolong his career, seems destined for the KHL.