Friday, October 9, 2015


Brouwer misses practice, expected to play Saturday; Bortuzzo to debut; 
Blues return to scene of playoff loss; Brodziak, Porter face former teams

HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- All Blues players came away from a season-opening 3-1 victory against the Edmonton Oilers relatively unscathed, and all but one were accounted for at practice Friday.

The only missing active player was Troy Brouwer, who scored his first goal as a Blue -- an empty-netter with 17.4 seconds remaining -- to seal the win. Brouwer, who blocked a shot with his right skate/leg from Griffin Reinhart with 4 minutes, 17 seconds remaining in the game, remained in the game but was held out of practice Friday as a precaution.

The Blues (1-0-0) begin a six-game trip Saturday against the Minnesota Wild (1-0-0).

"He's got a lower-body injury; he'll play tomorrow," coach Ken Hitchcock said after practice. "We expect Brouwer to play. But if he doesn't go tomorrow, we'll put (Scottie) Upshall in there. But we expect him to play. We did something precautionary today just to make sure we don't have this problem a week from now."

Upshall, who was a healthy scratch Thursday, took Brouwer's spot on a line with David Backes and Dmitrij Jaskin, with Jaskin moving to the right and Upshall manning the left side.

* Bortuzzo expected to make debut Saturday -- Defenseman Robert Bortuzzo, who was also a healthy scratch against Edmonton, is expected to make his season debut against the Wild.

Bortuzzo, acquired late last season from the Pittsburgh Penguins for Ian Cole, battled a lower-body injury early in camp and needed time to get caught up with the rest of the team but feels 100 percent now.

"Its obviously a little frustrating," Bortuzzo said. "You're wanting to contribute every night. Obviously opening night's something kind of special, but you're going to stay positive about things and show that you're working hard in practice and be ready to contribute every day.

"... Yeah, body feels good. We're just doing what we can in practice to contribute and show them that we're ready to go. I'm not sure what their plan is, but as a player, you stay positive and go out there, be ready to go."

Hitchcock said the rest of the team was going through camp at a high pace and Bortuzzo simply needs time to catch up.

"You're behind. It's like anybody. It's not a lot different than (Ryan) Reaves," Hitchcock said. "Ryan's still trying to play catch-up. Injuries are the unfortunate part. We learned our lesson with Gunnarsson last year. He was a ways behind for a long time.

"I don't know what (Bortuzzo) is because we haven't seen him play enough. What we've seen, we like, but he's got to get in the lineup and play on a regular basis. We'll see how he does here tomorrow, hopefully he makes a good account of himself and can stay in the lineup. Of the seven, we can rotate four and not miss a beat."

Either rookie Joel Edmundson or rookie Colton Parayko will be the odd-man out for Bortuzzo, who continues to get himself ready to play.

"My biggest thing is being ready to compete every night and I think they know what they're going to get from me night in and night out," Bortuzzo said. "Obviously it was tough missing the first half of camp there. It was nice to get in the one game, felt good, felt confident, which is the biggest thing moving forward. Now it's just working hard every day and showing that we're ready to go.

"We got the one preseason game in and we've been working hard in practice. I guess now, the next step is getting in games and getting that timing down. Hopefully sooner than later but we're just working hard every day showing that we're ready to go."

* Brodziak returns -- Center Kyle Brodziak, who helped the Wild knock the Blues out of the Stanley Cup Playoffs last season, will make his return to the place he called home the past six seasons.

Brodziak, 31, signed a one-year contract with the Blues for $900,000 after the Wild failed to resign him, this making the veteran an unrestricted free agent.

"I've thought about it a lot. It's exciting," Brodziak said. "Obviously spent some time there and made a lot of friendships. It'll be nice to go there and see the old teammates and the trainers that I built some pretty good friendships over the years. I'm looking forward to it.

"... I'm expecting to be a little nervous. I'm just going to try and go in and have fun and play the game. Hopefully I can get a hit or do something good on the first shift and build off that."

Brodziak's Blues debut nearly netted him his first goal. He rang a wrist shot off the bar in the third period during a shorthanded 2-on-1 play with Steve Ott.

"It was good," Brodziak said. "It was a good feeling to get the win for sure. There's some areas that I think individually and as a group, we need to clean up. Some habits that I played the same system for four years and I'm trying to work out some of those habits and get into building habits that this group plays with. Hopefully as the year goes on, it'll get easier and easier to do that."

Has it been a tougher adjustment than Brodziak envisioned?

"No, I don't think so," he said. "I knew it was going to take a while to adjust to a lot of new things, but it's coming and hopefully I'll keep building on it."

It will be a reunion of sorts for former Blue Chris Porter, who was recently claimed by the Wild off waivers from the Philadelphia Flyers and he will face his former teammates for the first time.

* Allen to get start -- After Brian Elliott's impressive 23-save game to open, the Blues will turn to Jake Allen to get the start in Minnesota.

Allen, who had equally an impressive training camp as Elliott did, was the Blues' goalie during a six-game series loss in the Western Conference First Round last season.

"It's another game. I'm looking forward to it; I've been looking forward to it for a long time," Allen said. "Excited to get going. I felt like I had a good training camp. I feel good right now. 

"You feel you have something to prove. It'll be fun to play them. They knocked us out last year and it definitely doesn't sit well with a lot of us. We have definitely something to prove."

Allen played well in the series but wasn't quite as strong late in it as he was early. Allen was pulled from Game 6, a game the Blues lost 4-1 that ended their season.

"Every experience is going to make you stronger some way or another," Allen said. "Playoff atmosphere is something you dream of (but) we came up short. ... You remember little things you could have done differently. I'm going to make the most of it in the end. You play them for six games, you learn a lot more about them as a team. I think that'll help us tomorrow.

"I think (Minnesota's) going to be one of our biggest rivals here soon, just like the Hawks and Nashville. They're in our division, I think they're going to be one of the best teams this year. They knocked us out last year, so we have a little bit of payback."

* Remembering last season -- The Blues have focused their attention on moving forward now that the 2015-16 season is underway. But when they line up Saturday against the team that knocked them out last season, there will be some pent-up energy and added fire.

"Yes and no. Yeah, obviously there's a little thing that gnaws at you, that they were the ones that knocked you out, same thing with LA and Chicago the last couple of years," left wing Alexander Steen said. "But also part of it is playing in the Western Conference and the Central Division, you meet these guys all the time. You know roughly the type of game that's going to be played. The rivalries are built because you keep playing these teams over and over again and Minny is one of them.

"It was an up-and-down series. Both positive and negative and small margins; that's what playoffs are all about. They had that little extra to knock us out."

Allen agreed.

"There were some highs, some lows, some real lows," he said. "The atmosphere, the experience, the intensity, the drive from both teams and unfortunately, they came out on top. It's just that feeling in your stomach that you realize that you're done and it's over and you worked that hard to get that far and come still so far away. It's something that I needed to experience. I definitely took that away from it but new year this year and it'll be fun to play them tomorrow."

Brodziak said it was a case of the Wild last season sticking to their guns and not alleviating the game plan.

"I think it was Game 4 where we got blown out pretty bad," Brodziak said. "It was Game 5 that was a huge game in the series and once we were able to win that, we knew how critical it was to close it out in Game 6 because we didn't want to come back to St. Louis for Game 7. Fortunately, we were able to do that.

"You look at the second half of the year, we were right up there with being one of the best teams in the league. I think as a group, we were confident coming in and we knew we had a game plan and we had to stick to it. If we did that, we would give ourselves an opportunity to win. At the time, obviously fortunately it worked out for us."

Hitchcock, rather than relive last season, was more anxious to relive Thursday, when the Wild rallied from a three-goal third-period deficit to win 5-4 at Colorado with a four-goal third period.

"I want to focus on what they did against Colorado. It's like two completely different games," Hitchcock said. "Its like one team dominated for two periods and the other team completely dominated for one period. If you're a coach, it's one of those games that's agitating for both sides, but that's where the focus is. They're the one team in the West that kept their group together, made no changes, so you expect them to have the most continuity coming out of the gate here. They look like a team that knew exactly what they were doing in the third period.

"We've got a big task in front of us. If we put our game out here, I really like our chances, but we've got to get our game out there. I think that playing teams on the road, especially teams like Minny, it forces you to get your game out there right away. You don't have a choice. If you want to get the two points, you don't have a choice."

Is there a rivalry here too?

"Yeah, it's a good rivalry," Steen said. "Games have gotten more fierce over the last couple of years, physical, high pace ... they've got a lot of speed to their team and so do we. Bunch of heavy bodies too, so it's usually pretty good games."

* Lehtera impressed with Fabbri -- Jori Lehtera was the distributor that set up Robby Fabbri's first NHL goal, a game-winner Thursday against Edmonton.

Lehtera's behind-the-back, no-look pass in the slot was perfectly placed onto Fabbri's stick, and the 19-year-old made no mistake burying the shot past Cam Talbot.

"I saw he was coming there," Lehtera said of Fabbri. "I didn't have the chance to shoot or do anything else and I saw him there, so I gave it a try.

"I'm really happy for him. We had a lot of fun yesterday with the line. Hope we can do the same and play better. I've had a couple practices and one game; it feels like I've played with him for a long time."

Lehtera knew the play was a risk-reward type pass but felt he had to take a chance.

"Sometimes you have to take a risk," Lehtera said. "... Sometimes you have to do your own stuff if you believe in it."

Lehtera, who centered Fabbri and Jaden Schwartz, was asked what he likes about the rookie. 

"Everything," he said of Fabbri. "He works hard, he's smart, got good hands, good shot. He's going to be a good player."

Fabbri said the line is a work in progress, and one that has potential to be strong and playing in the NHL doesn't overwhelm him.

"It was the first game so it wasn't going to be as perfect as we wanted," Fabbri said. "I feel as the game went on, we started to read off each other a little better and I think we created a lot more scoring chances. I think as the games go on, we'll get to know each other a little more. I think it was a pretty good first game.

"I guess you could say it was everything you thought it would be. Talking to guys, Hitch and everyone, they were just helping me through it. Definitely it was a little more intense than preseason. That was something I noticed right off the bat. ... I'm just here to prove that I can keep up to this and can play against those big guys."

Fabbri said it was exciting to have his parents Len and Stef in attendance to see his first goal.

"They were just really proud, happy to be here to experience that with me," Fabbri said. "It was on a couple times here in the room, but I watched it once last night with my family. I watched and saw their reaction to it, too, which was pretty fun. We just had a good laugh with it."

* More rookie debuts -- Along with Fabbri, Parayko and Edmundson made their NHL debuts and came out of it looking fine.

Parayko, who played 16:43, was paired with Edmundson, who played 12:29.

"It was a little bit of everything," Parayko said. "It was an unbelievable experience. It all went the right way. We came out with the win and I was extremely happy.

"Obviously other teams are playing their best players now. I just think to a sense, I didn't really over-think plays. I just made sure I wasn't making any mistakes. Then I kind of bobbled one and started over-thinking a little bit. You've got to bring it down to ground level. As soon as you do that, you become calm and play your game."

* Tough road ahead -- The Blues won't return to Scottrade Center until Oct. 24 when they host the New York Islanders, which will be their eighth game.

The upcoming six-game trip, which breaks into two (they'll come home after Minnesota), also includes a Canadian jaunt to Calgary on Tuesday, Edmonton next Thursday, Vancouver next Friday, Winnipeg on Oct. 18 and Montreal on Oct. 20.

"Yeah, it's going to be tough games throughout," Steen said. "The teams are so ... there's not much that differs the teams nowadays. You've got to be up for every single game. For us, getting the first one and playing a decent hockey game. I thought the goaltending was fantastic. Defensively, I thought we were good. We didn't really give up that much. But like I said, there's these little timing things that we'll just get better automatically by us working hard. I think we'll grow as this road trip goes on and as the games pile on, which is good." 

Five of the six opponents were playoff teams a season ago.

"It's hard winning on the road," Hitchcock said. "Most teams say .500 hockey on the road is great. We've got six tough teams. I think five of them are playoff teams. That's significant. ... You could play really well on the road and not win. For me, the first 20 games is all about how you're playing. Your record will eventually take care of itself. You get a lot of tough games early like we do and then there's some spots on the schedule you could merely make a run on. But how you play in the first 20 games usually sets up your whole season. So I'm looking at this right til mid-November, how are we going to play and how we look. We showed up today and we've got five points the coaches never covered; we never covered it, so you had to cover it today. We'll have another five or 10 points tomorrow. These are things we've got to address to get us back with all the details in our game."

* Thursday's takeaway -- A win is a win, and the Blues began the season with the two points they coveted.

There were ups and downs in the win against the improved Oilers, but it wasn't necessarily perfect, and being Game 1 of 82, that's understandable.

"I felt like we were good, but I feel like there's obviously a few more steps," said Steen who played on a line with Paul Stastny and Vladimir Tarasenko. "For some of us, it was almost two weeks, since we played last. It felt like things just weren't connecting like they were before. I felt like our timing was slightly off, or we just couldn't find the rhythm until about mid-second period. I felt like Edmonton started getting a little bit tired, which gave us more space and we were able to find some room. And then in the third, when we got the 2-1, that changes the game. You don't take the same risks ... you play more restricted, you make sure that pucks get in. So I think that we'll keep growing here, especially now going on the road. It'll be a nice little road trip for the boys, but I definitely think we can get up a couple of notches."

Hitchcock said the goal was to begin the process of having his players get into "winter mode."

"Ten games is an evaluation of how fast you can get your team into winter mode, and winter mode is stuff that all coaches talk about in how much winter mode you need to play at to win in the league," he said. "The quicker, the better. We had some really good winter hockey going and then we still had a semblance of summer hockey. I thought we really gathered it in in the second half of the second period and got into the game we needed to get into and that started to really turn for us. We had a lot of bang-bang chances, but we weren't controlling the possession game like we're going to have to if we expect to win on a regular basis. We didn't have enough zone time, but we did as the second period wore down."

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