Wednesday, December 30, 2015


Lehtera, Fabbri, Jaskin give Hitchcock dynamic options 
when playing well; Gomez to be released; Allen back against Wild

ST. LOUIS -- A five-point night during a 4-3 overtime win against the Nashville Predators gave coach Ken Hitchcock a positive outlook on the line that features Jori Lehtera, Robby Fabbri and Dmitrij Jaskin.

In smarter concepts, it's probably not a good idea to break that combo up since there were good results from the trio when the Blues' coaching staff assembled the group for eight games before an injury forced the group to be split up.

Hitchcock went with the sharp-shooting Fabbri, playmaking Lehtera and big-bodied Jaskin on Dec. 8 against Arizona and liked the way the group handled itself. An injury to Kyle Brodziak on Dec. 17 against Nashville forced some line juggling and separation of the group for two games in Boston and at home against Dallas, but Hitchcock went back to it Tuesday, and it was as if the trio never separated.

Instant chemistry was quite evident.

"They were excellent," Hitchcock said. "They were (the) poster card or poster child or whatever you want to call it for how to play. They checked, they hunted the puck, they created offense because of it, they played in straight lines offensively; they were excellent. They really had a heck of a game (Tuesday).

"That line was great for eight games and then we messed with it. We needed a center when Brodziak went down, so 'Jask' was the logical guy. He played some center, but we messed with the line and now the line got back, it got a couple skates together and back up and running again. They were good again (Tuesday) so that's a real good sign. When that line's playing like it is right now, that's a really good sign for us because that's a group we can play against just about everybody."

If the unit can continue moving forward and make that kind of impact in games, it creates all sorts of dynamics for the Blues moving forward.

"It means I can look for a competitive advantage in one of the other lines rather than just neutralizing," Hitchcock said. "When I can play them against anybody, it allows me to have an advantage down the line, which is what we had all of last year when we were healthy. We're looking to get that advantage again. If they can continue to play with that type of puck support, that type of anticipation for each other, that's a good thing for us. Getting two goals (Tuesday) night, that augments ... we're not leaning on one or two guys doing all the offensive work."

Hitchcock, a master at shuffling lines, liked the different dynamics each player brought to the line that could make it effective.

"We went with the aspect that Lehtera's a smart player and he knows how to cycle the puck and Fabbri knows how to get in the holes," Hitchcock said. "We just thought those two guys would work well together, and then Jaskin seemed to fit in because he's a puck-control guy. We saw some things when we were doing it at practice. We hadn't played them yet in a game, but a couple times at practice, they were together and we thought they were a real good combination."

Fabbri, who has nine goals and 13 points, likes Lehtera because, "You've always got to be ready for the puck. When you're not expecting it, he can still find you. We've got some pretty good chemistry going here. He's a lot of fun to play with.

"We're all using the strengths to our game to work together. We've got 'Jasky' with the big body, 'Lehts' with how smart he is. I'm just trying to fit in with my compete level and all that stuff. We're just working hard away from the puck and with the puck to play more in the offensive zone than the defensive zone."

This is what happened Tuesday when the Blues were having issues handling Nashville's tenacity in all zones. This line tended to neutralize things.

"I was really excited when I saw it on the board that we were going to play together," said Jaskin, who had a goal and an assist Tuesday. "I think it worked yesterday. ... Jori's the brain of that line. He's making the plays. Me and 'Fabs,' we work to get the puck to him. That's our role and each guy's got unique stuff."

Lehtera, who had two assists Tuesday, got ample time in overtime. As for not using Fabbri, Hitchcock joked, "He needs a better coach. He needs a smarter coach to put him out there, which should have happened yesterday. But, when you're in the offensive zone so much, your players aren't tired, so we were able to double-shift (Vladimir) Tarasenko and Lehtera because we were in the offensive zone so much."

But the more and more games Fabbri, who has a goal in four of five games, gets under his belt, the more comfortable he seems to be getting.

"I'm not above or below anything I came into (this season with)," Fabbri said. "I just wanted to come in and grow as a player throughout the year and learn as much as I can that could help me go along in my career.

"I get a little more comfortable every day. The guys are always helping me with little things. I'm working with Muller on little spots of the game."

"I think he's going to be a really good player because he finds quiet spaces offensively that really smart players find," Hitchcock said of Fabbri. "He finds the quiet areas on the ice to shoot the puck. I just don't think you can teach that. You can walk a guy through it every day, but anticipation of where to find, where the puck's going to go next, that's hockey sense. It's too late for us to teach hockey sense; they've got to come into the league with it. We think he's got a high level of hockey IQ."

If the line can maintain a level of consistency, it gives the likes of Tarasenko, Alexander Steen, David Backes, Paul Stastny, Troy Brouwer and others opportunities that might not have been there before.

"That would be huge to (score) on a consistent basis," Fabbri said. "We've gone through stretches of not scoring. Now that we've had a big game like that, we've got to be consistent in our game and good things will come."

* Gomez done? -- Scott Gomez's stint with the Blues, and perhaps a 16-year career in the NHL, is over.

Gomez cleared waivers Wednesday and the Blues played the center on unconditional waivers for the purpose of giving the 36-year-old his unconditional release from the team.

Gomez played in 21 games with the Blues and registered eight points (seven assists). Those eight points came in the first 10 games he played in.

Gomez, who was signed to a one-year, two-way contract worth $575,000 in the NHL and $200,000 in the AHL, but both parties have decided to allow Gomez to try and pursue another opportunity with an NHL team instead of going to the Chicago Wolves. But chances of playing in the NHL again appear slim after Gomez went unclaimed by Wednesday's 11 a.m. (CT) deadline.

If this is the end of the line for Gomez, he will finish a career with 755 points (181 goals, 574 points) in 1,066 games and two Stanley Cup titles. Along with the Blues, Gomez has played for New Jersey (twice), Montreal, San Jose and Florida.

* Rest day -- Hitchcock said he planned to use Wednesday as a full practice day but altered plans because guys were in need of rest following Tuesday's game, which was the third straight against Central Division foes following back-to-back games over the weekend against Dallas.

The Minnesota Wild is on deck Thursday, and there were 11 skaters and to goalies on the ice for Wednesday's impromptu optional at Scottrade Center.

"Just as tenacious," Hitchcock said. "These games are incredibly-paced; they're hard games, hard for our players. I showed up to the rink today anticipating we're going to have a full practice and we had four or five guys that needed time off. We'll be full to go tomorrow but they're draining, they're draining on everybody, they're draining on your team, they're draining mentally, they're draining physically. ... You have to put a lot into these games if you expect to win them."

Hitchcock said Jake Allen would start in goal Thursday, and he didn't expect any lineup changes from Tuesday's game.

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