Fabbri removed off IR, could return along with Pietrangelo against Penguins
Saturday; Sanford assigned to San Antonio; Berube in tough spot with lineup
ST. LOUIS -- When the Blues go for that elusive third straight win and sixth in the past eight against the Pittsburgh Penguins on Saturday, they could be doing so with some reinforcements coming off injury.
Defenseman Alex Pietrangelo and forward Robby Fabbri could both be in the lineup for the second of a five-game homestand.
Pietrangelo has missed the past 11 games with a broken right hand after being checked by Gabriel Landeskog in a 3-2 overtime win at Colorado on Nov. 30.
Pietrangelo's been skating for the past week or so and worked with both power play units in practice on Friday, a good indication he could very well be back in.
"I'm not going to say yes or no yet," Pietrangelo said. "There are still a lot of things that have to be worked out and people I have to talk to before I say yes or no. But I feel pretty good."
The Blues (15-16-4) have gone 6-4-1 in Pietrangelo's absence and have looked good in recent games with the alignment they have on the blue line, but with the chance of getting your minutes leader back would be a welcomed sight, and interim coach Craig Berube seems to feel he's seen enough of Pietrangelo to feel he looks ready to go.
"He's really close too, he's right there," Berube said. "He had a real good practice today, I thought. Looked really good.
"... Nothing more than I saw today to be honest. I thought he had a real good practice today and he seems ready to go."
Pietrangelo has 11 points (four goals, seven assists) in 24 games and is a minus-8 on the season; he skated with Jay Bouwmeester on Friday.
"I am having fun watching us win," Pietrangelo said. "It's not fun watching, though. It's good to get the feel back in here. There's been a good feel in here for a couple weeks and I feel we've been building and building. We lost a few guys, a couple got hurt, but it's been a good thing to watch these past couple weeks."
Pietrangelo said he knew immediately something was wrong when he went back into the Blues' zone and tried to move the puck forward and had nothing strength-wise in the hand to do so.
"I knew right away," he said. "You know when that one happens, it's not a good feeling. I knew right away. It wasn't a very good feeling. We know our bodies well, we've been through a lot playing the game, as soon as it happened, I knew something wasn't right.
"... Last week in Canada, this week a little bit more, feeling a little bit better (practicing). I'm getting a little more contact. It's been a bit of a progression but overall good."
Also, Fabbri was removed from injured-reserve on Friday and assigned Zach Sanford to San Antonio of the American Hockey League.
Fabbri has missed the past 10 games after separating his left shoulder in an injury against Arizona on Dec. 1.
Berube said Fabbri could have played on a 4-1 win over Buffalo on Thursday but chose to keep the same lineup together because it had been playing well.
"We'll see. He could be (back), but again, it's hard to break it up right now," Berube said. "We'll see tomorrow."
Fabbri switched with left wing Jordan Nolan in line rushes on Friday.
"I'm feeling good, feeling good every day I go out there, no limitations and stuff like that," Fabbri said. "It's going well.
"I think right now it's up to them (if Fabbri is playing). I'm ready for whenever they choose. ... This is the timeline I was aiming for, but you never know. You've got to take it day by day. It's gone well up until this point. ... They make the lineup, I don't, so that's up to them."
Defenseman Carl Gunnarsson (hand) is also close to being available to play. He's missed even longer, the past 18 games since he was injured Nov. 16 at Vegas.
"I talked to him after practice and he felt the best he's felt too," Berube said. "He's close too."
* Breaking up is hard to do -- With the Blues on a consistent run and playing the same lineup the past four games, Berube was asked if inserting any of the injured guys would be difficult considering the way they were playing, including the way they've utilized Chris Butler on the blue line and Nolan on that fourth-line checking role.
"Those lines have been together for a while and when you've been together with someone for a while, you feed off him and you know where they're going to be and you get some chemistry," Berube said. "That's important.
"... I like the way things are right now and the chemistry and so forth, but we'll see what happens."
One line that certainly won't change is the third line of Tyler Bozak, who had an assist Thursday and centers veteran Pat Maroon, who scored for the second time in four games Thursday, and rookie Robert Thomas, who had a goal and an assist Thursday and was the game's No. 1 star.
"You got a guy, Pat Maroon, real good player around the net obviously, and below the goal line is his strength," Berube said. "Bozak has been in the league for quite some time as a center iceman. He does a good job of being in good position in the middle of the ice. And you have a puck transporter in Robby Thomas. He transports the puck up the ice, does a real good job, is elusive carrying the puck up the ice and making real good plays."
One of Thomas' first-season challenges has been to protect the puck, be stronger on it and make good decisions with it in the right areas. It's one of the points Berube has tried making to younger players, Thomas and Sanford included, and Thomas has shown signs he's getting what it takes to succeed.
"Definitely. Way better," Berube said. "His puck protection, he's real elusive, he makes plays quickly and catches people a lot of times. In the offensive zone he'll cut back before the defender gets there and that's how he creates space for himself. He's one step ahead all the time."
And Thomas, who has three goals and nine assists in 30 games, is feeling the success and the confidence is building.
"I feel like every game it's just getting more and more comfortable and confident," the 19-year-old said. "Just taking it game by game and slowly getting to where I want to be and still have a long way to go.
"I think the last five games, especially the western road trip, it felt like we were playing really well and getting a lot of chances and it was only a matter of time before we started to put some in. I think as a line we're working really well together."
* Friday's practice lineup -- The Blues didn't tinker with too much in their lineup that's been playing much better lately, but with the possibility of Pietrangelo and Fabbri returning, this is how things shaked out:
There was no way to predict that Nolan and Butler would be as effective as they have been. But the thought of removing them with the recent pockets of success will be a tough decision for Berube and the coaching staff to make at this point.
Butler has a goal and an assist in 12 games and is a plus-4, while Nolan has two assists in 10 games and is even on the plus-minus.
"I think predictability more than anything," Berube said on what they bring. "Just good leadership on the ice. I know what I'm getting out of them when they go out there every shift and they're simple and they're predictable.
"[Butler's] done a real good job so he should feel (refreshed). He's come in and played really well in a tough situation, not an easy situation, with things the way they were and they are. He's come in and he's been stable back there and predictable and steady."