Fabbri assigned to San Antonio for conditioning stint, inching closer to return
to NHL; Bortuzzo injury; Yeo defends for Bouwmeester; Thomas could play
HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- Robby Fabbri will soon be playing meaningful hockey in the National Hockey League again.
He already is in the American Hockey League with the San Antonio Rampage after Fabbri was assigned on Tuesday for a conditioning stint; Fabbri was in the lineup against the Rockford IceHogs and scored a shorthanded goal and was tied for a team-leading five shots in a 5-2 loss.
But by all indications, if things go right for Fabbri getting the chance to play two, maybe three games in the AHL, there's a real possibility he could make his return to the NHL next Thursday when the Blues host the Vegas Golden Knights, which would be his first regular-season NHL game since initially tearing the ACL in his left knee on Feb. 4, 2017 against the Pittsburgh Penguins.
"I just want to see him play well right now," Blues coach Mike Yeo said. "I'm not going to give you exactly when he's going to come up. We want him to concentrate on that, but obviously it's a two-week assignment, we'll get him a couple games here. Anxious to have him back. First off, I only got to coach him for one game here, so I'd like to see him a bit more. In the time I have seen him either coaching against him or even when I was an assistant here, his work ethic is infectious, he's tenacious and he's got skill to go along with that. He's obviously a valuable player that we're looking forward to getting back."
Fabbri's road back has been a tumultuous one. He reinjured the knee last season attempting to come back seven months after surgery, played in a preseason game Sept. 22 against Washington and three days later, was shut down for the season after re-tearing the same ACL.
Eleven months after a second surgery and rehab, Fabbri came back and went through training camp, played in the equivalent of four periods but has dealt with a sore back, sore hip and most recently, a Grade 1 groin strain but the knee has held up.
"Yeah, he's ready," Yeo said. "He's excited to play. He's got the itch right now. We felt the we had to kind of take a step back to take a big step forward. Obviously we would have liked to have him in the lineup right off the hop. I think that quite possibly could have led to more injuries and more frustration and him having a tough time. Now he's got the strength back and he's ready for this and hopefully he goes, gets his timing back, feels good, gets in the game, comes here and he's ready and confident."
Forward Nikita Soshnikov is already in San Antonio on a conditioning stint after a bout with a concussion playing in his third game Wednesday with the Rampage, and defenseman Carl Gunnarsson, who was at practice on Wednesday, will be joining his Blues teammates on a conditioning stint of his own after surgeries to repair a torn ACL of his own and hip.
"Obviously these guys have missed a lot of hockey," Yeo said. "The American League, it's a good league. You're playing pro hockey and obviously it's not the NHL, but still, it's pro hockey and it's structured. You're getting into an environment that you need to help you prepare."
* Bortuzzo in limbo -- Defenseman Robert Bortuzzo will miss a second straight game on Thursday when the Blues open a season-long seven-game homestand against the Columbus Blue Jackets with a lower-body injury.
Bortuzzo, who arguably played his best game as a Blue last Saturday in a 4-1 win at Toronto, did not play Monday in Winnipeg and returned to St. Louis to get the injury looked at.
Yeo said Bortuzzo, who scored Saturday and was paired with Joel Edmundson, had a doctor's appointment Wednesday and was scheduled for another visit in the afternoon.
"He's gone for another appointment and just waiting to hear back on the results," Yeo said. "He had another appointment this morning. Hopefully have something soon for you.
"Even in Toronto, he played through a lot of pain. I'm not going to lie, it's a bit of a concern, but it's something we'll have to deal with."
Bortuzzo was bothered by a knee injury late last season, and it's unclear if the two are related this time around, but Yeo said it's something that sprung up in training camp.
"It's something that he's been dealing with since ... it popped up in training camp and he's been trying to deal with it ever since," Yeo said.
* Yeo sticks up for Bouwmeester -- It's no secret that veteran defenseman Jay Bouwmeester has struggled mightily in the early portion of the season, and Monday's 5-4 overtime loss to the Jets highlighted a number of things that went wrong for Bouwmeester, who was on the ice for all four regulation goals and was a minus-2 in the game in 20 minutes 49 seconds of ice time.
What has Blues fans up in arms is the fact Bouwmeester went from being a healthy scratch for the first time in his 17-year career Saturday to playing vital minutes in a game the Blues allowed another third-period lead to slip away.
Yeo was asked if he was concerned with the veteran's play.
"Am I concerned? No, I'm not concerned," Yeo said. "He's missed a lot of time. If he's playing like this three weeks from now or a month from now, I think it's unfair just to pin it on him. Obviously the PK goal bounces off him, that's a tough bounce, but I thought he did a lot of good in the game too."
Bouwmeester, in the last year of a five-year, $27.5 million contract ($5.4 million average annual value) is coming off offseason hip surgery sustained in March at Dallas that sidelined him for the rest of last season; he was limited to 35 games. The Jets scored their first goal on a shot from behind the net that caromed off Bouwmeester's skate last Jake Allen, and it was Bouwmeester's costly icing late in the third period that enabled Winnipeg to get a sixth attacker on the ice and tie the game 4-4 with 1:30 remaining.
"I understand he's probably a little bit of a lightning rod right now," Yeo said of Bouwmeester. "That's the reality and that's the world we face in pro sports. When you lose hockey games, they ask why and when you win hockey games, they ask why. There was a lot of good in his game last game and he had missed an awful lot of hockey time. When he's on top of his game, he is a real strong defender and he's a guy that adds a lot to our group. I'm not concerned right now, no."
WIth Bortuzzo currently hurt and Gunnarsson not yet available, Bouwmeester skated on a third defensive pairing Wednesday with Jordan Schmaltz.
* Thomas to return? -- Rookie center Robert Thomas, a healthy scratch the past two games, appears set to return to the lineup against the Blue Jackets.
Thomas, who has one assist in five games, was centering the fourth line with Ivan Barbashev on his left and Jordan Kyrou on his right, but Yeo wasn't committed to saying Thomas was playing.
There's also the possibility of Oskar Sundqvist, out with a concussion since that big hit from Washington's Tom Wilson on Sept. 30, could play. Yeo said he is available to return but is likely to be the extra forward tomorrow.
"I'm not going to say what our fourth line is going to be tomorrow," Yeo said. "We've got a couple scenarios we're bouncing around there. If [Thomas] does get in, is take advantage of the opportunity. I talked to him about that last week. There's been many players, I look at a guy like 'Barby' last year, and the extra skating he did while he was out of the lineup, you can gain a lot of confidence, you can get a lot, sometimes by being out of the lineup and putting yourself … that's all it is, right, is taking advantage of an opportunity. If that's the case, then we'll see he's done the things he needed to in practice, and will play in confident. When you're on a fourth line, on a lower line, we need certain things from that line, we need momentum, we need them to move the game along and help get pucks in and do all those types of things and be responsible. The bottom line is, he's an offensive player and we need to see what he can do with the puck and how he can make players around him better. In order to do those thing that have to be certain things that are part of your games. We've discussed those things, I'm anxious to see. If tomorrow's that day, I'm anxious to see him and I think he'll be hungry to prove himself out there."
* Blais to San Antonio -- When the Blues assigned forward Sammy Blais to San Antonio on Monday, it was for a variety of reasons, but one had to wonder if anything was in correlation to his back-to-back icings in the third period that ultimately led to the Jets scoring the tying goal to make it 3-3 that was the icing on the cake.
"It's not fair to him to blame him on the loss," Yeo said. "On the icing, you just have the discipline … he's trying to do the right thing, but you just have to make sure you get the red line."
Blais is know for his offensive play, but in eight games had yet to register a point. In fairness to him, it was difficult to do playing mostly on the fourth line with limited minutes.
But with Sundqvist ready to come off IR, a roster spot was needed and it came down to Blais and Kyrou.
"With 'Sunny' coming back, there's a decision that had to be made there," Yeo said. "You're faced with a couple tough decisions there. I think Jordan right now, he's showing that his speed is still a factor every game and he's earned the right to stay here. We'll go from there."
Blais was racking up frequent flyer miles last season with as many times as he was recalled and assigned back to the AHL, but Yeo said his improvement has been visible this season.
"I think he's much closer to being a full-time NHL player," Yeo said. "There are a couple mistakes here and there, but who doesn't make mistakes? Veteran players, guys who have played in the league for 10 years, top-line players make mistakes too. It's easy to pick on a young guy when he makes a mistake. I find his mistakes are fewer and they're less frequent and they're not as costly. He's playing the game better without the puck, he's playing the game better with the puck. He's very close. The timing may not be right right now for him, but what I told him, make sure when you go down to continue to do what you've done, he's improved, he's grown, everyone has a different timeline for when they're ready to be a full time player, so make sure you take advantage of the opportunity."