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