Monday, December 12, 2016

Blues to combine three hottest forwards on line

Tarasenko, Schwartz, Fabbri to get matched 
together to try and salvage .500 trip with finale in Nashville

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- In light of a 3-1 loss to the Minnesota Wild on Sunday, the Blues will have a different look to conclude a four-game trip here Tuesday against the Nashville Predators.

Coach Ken Hitchcock will play the three leading scorers from a forward standpoint (Robby Fabbri, Jaden Schwartz and Vladimir Tarasenko) will account for one of the top two lines, with Schwartz moving to the middle.

Paul Stastny will have as his wingers Alexander Steen and David Perron on the other.

"They've never played together, but they're also quite frankly playing some of the best hockey they've ever played," Hitchcock said Monday of Fabbri (17 points), Schwartz (18 points) and Tarasenko (32 points). "But I look at it from a balance standpoint. We need more participants in our game and I've said that to you before, we need to invest more so that we've got more balance with some of the stuff that we've got going on.

"... Give is a few games and let's see how it works, but I know they're excited and I know we're excited by that." 

Jori Lehtera skated on left wing on the third line with Patrik Berglund and Nail Yakupov, who appears set to play after being a healthy scratch in four straight and seven of the past eight.

"Yakupov has sat patiently by and worked his tail off to get into the lineup and he deserves to play," Hitchcock said. "So let's build a line that hopefully he can have success with and put him in a position where he can be in a working environment and give him a chance. 

"We've given other guys chances and now it's 'Yak's turn to take advantage of it. He's been very diligent in having a great attitude towards working and he's really paid attention to the team part of it and he deserves that chance. So that's the way it is."

Yakupov has two goals and three assists in 17 games

"I don't want to sit down and watch the hockey from upstairs," Yakupov said. "I'm happy to be back tomorrow and I'm going to work.

"It's hard. I don't like to watch upstairs. But all I have to do is work hard and wait for my chance. I think I've been working hard in the practices, trying to get in the lineup. I'm going to do the same thing tomorrow."

Dmitrij Jaskin and Ty Rattie skated as extras, but that doesn't necessarily mean they'll be the healthy scratches.

"We need the fourth line really getting the other team's attention," Hitchcock said. "We've also got to look at that, too, whether we use what's there or we put other people, Rattie or Jaskin or both in there. We'll decide.

"We'll decide what we'll do with the fourth line tomorrow after I talk it over with the coaches. It was set in practice, but it's not necessarily set. Way more weight to the line, way more tenacity to the line. ... Need more tenacity from the line, pretty simple."

But this is all about putting the three hottest point producers together.

Tarasenko has points in 14 of the past 18 games (10 goals, 13 assists), Schwartz has points in 12 of the past 17 (10 goals, six assists) and Fabbri has at least a point in 10 of 14 games (seven goals, six assists) since being made a healthy scratch in this building on Nov. 10 for the first time in his career.

"I'm excited, both are really good players," Schwartz said. "I've played with 'Vladi' a lot, so I know what he's all about. And 'Fabs,' I haven't played with him as much, but he's a smart player. He sees the game very, very well, he knows where everyone is. They're both very creative, so I should be able to read off them pretty easy. They're both playing well right now, so I'll just try to keep it simple and do what I can to complement them."

"The last time me and 'Schwartzy' had a shift together was the first game of the year last year," Fabbri said. "It's going to be good. Me and 'Vladi' are working pretty well together right now and 'Schwartzy' is a pretty easy guy to add in. 

"I think it'll be pretty good. We're going to have to work together if we want to play well. We're happy to play with each other, it's going to be exciting, but we just have to keep going on the same path and the same pace as we're going."

"We have a good line," Tarasenko said. "We should spend way more time offensively. I'm used to playing with those guys before and we have some success, so try to build on it and play better tomorrow. We just have to try to have fun on the ice and play for each other."

Schwartz has had a few looks at center this season already.

"It's more tempo, we need more tempo in our game, more north tempo in our game," Hitchcock said. "There's too much east-west in our game, there's too much trying to play in front of people, rather than try to play behind people, get more pressure on people with more speed, more tenacity. That's what we need and he's as good as it gets right now. He's as good as it gets in the National Hockey League. And the nice part is that he knows how to play center and my hope is that that line plays with a real strong tempo. 

"It allows me to move Perron and Steen back to their natural sides where they can play with tempo, they're not playing sideways. It puts Lehtera on the left wing where he can play with some tempo, too, because he can play a straight ahead game also. Berglund is playing very well right now, so he's got a responsibility and he's got two smart players on his wing."

* NOTES -- Goalie Jake Allen will start once again for the Blues, his playing in his fifth straight game in eight days. ... The Blues did not have Bridgestone Arena at their disposal today. The arena crew were busy getting the building ready for hockey again after Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus occupied the premises the past week, so the Blues got dressed there, then made the 10-15 minute bus ride to the Predators' practice rink, the Ford Ice Center.

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