Sunday, December 30, 2018


Fitzpatrick recalled, Binnington assigned to San Antonio; penalty kill needs a boost; shooting accuracy could use more results; Fabbri likely to return Monday

HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- Evan Fitzpatrick thought he had just completed a normal day.

It included a practice with the San Antonio Rampage of the American Hockey League, and the rest of the day would belong to him ahead of a Sunday game with the Texas Stars.

But then Fitzpatrick, the Blues' 2016 second-round pick, got a call into the office from Rampage coach Drew Bannister that he would be heading north on a recall by the Blues, his first in the NHL.

"I practiced in San Antonio and flew up late last night," Fitzpatrick said.

"I was shocked," he added. "I really didn't think anything. Coach called me in the office yesterday and I as just preparing for a game today in San Antonio. I was kind of shocked when he said I was going up. I'm just happy to come up here and be able to practice and just work hard for the team and give the players what they need after practice."

Fitzpatrick was recalled and Jordan Binnington was assigned back down to the Rampage to play, and he made 37 saves in a 4-2 win over the Stars.

"He's got to play games, just keep him ready," Blues interim coach Craig Berube said of Binnington, who came on twice in relief of Jake Allen while he was up with the Blues. "He went down to play a game or two."

And with that, Fitzpatrick, 20, is now here soaking it all in. He started a game and came on in relief of Ville Husso, who sustained a lower-body injury, in another and had a 1.80 goals-against average and .913 save percentage after playing in 14 games with the Tulsa Oilers of the ECHL and had a 3.16 GAA and .880 save percentage while getting used to 20-hour bus rides sleeping and watching Netflix.

"Every time you jump up a level, it's good," Fitzpatrick said. "I was fortunate enough to get to play a game and a few minutes in the AHL, which is nice. I really didn't expect to come up here a day later, but it's pretty special. It's pretty cool.

"I'm just here to work hard and see what happens. Just have fun, enjoy myself and just gain experience and learn, whether it's sitting on the bench, in the stands, anyplace. It's still a learning experience, so I'm just happy to be here.

"Just being here practicing, whether it's one practice, two practices, three practices and so forth, just getting that experience. Shots are coming a little faster than the AHL and especially in the East Coast. The play is a little faster. Everyone is the top players in the world. It's exciting and I'm able to compete against guys like that every day in practice."

But before he boarded a plane, Fitzpatrick had to make a call, to his mother Donielle Briffett, who lives in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

"I gave her a call pretty quick," Fitzpatrick said. "After everything she's done for me, it's pretty exciting. ... She was really excited. She didn't believe me at first, but I called her a second time later on in the day and it kind of sunk in to her."

* PK needs a boost -- After allowing four power-play goals in as many opportunities in a 6-1 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins on Saturday, the Blues' penalty kill has now allowed 10 goals the past 22 opportunities dating back to Dec. 14.

This, after a run of 23 straight kills that vaulted the Blues all the way up to fourth in the league.

But in allowing a power play goal in six of the past seven games, the Blues' unit ranks 18th in the NHL at 79 percent and in need of an infusion.

"Being more aggressive for sure," Berube said. "We were passive last night. When you give good players too much time, they can capitalize on things, and the other thing is we've got to do a better job of being in shooting lanes and blocking shots. That's a mindset.

"You've got to want to (block a shot), but you've also got to be in position to do it. But it mostly comes down to a want."

The Penguins set up shop in the Blues' zone often and scored at will, and it made a 5-on-5 game that was pretty even into a lopsided affair with the Blues attempting to win that elusive third straight game.

"On the PK, when you're having success, it's being aggressive, trusting the reads and everyone being on the same page," center Brayden Schenn said. "That's all it is. If you start guessing a little bit, that's when good players on the other team are gonna expose you. It's all about getting back on the same page and being aggressive again.

"When it's not going your way, you start to second guess it a little bit. That's just the way it goes. But we believe in our structure. It just has to get back to guys trusting one another.

"We know PK has to be better, power play has to be a lot better. Special teams are huge, especially second half of the year. That could be the difference in hockey games."

* Shooting accuracy -- A large sample shows the Blues are very inaccurate when it comes to getting the volume of shots they attempt on goal, whether it be shots get blocked or they just simply miss the net, which they've reached in double figures in 22 of 36 games this season.

Against Pittsburgh, the Blues attempted 74 shots, the most this season, surpassing the 72 they attempted at Detroit in a 4-3 loss on Nov. 28. But 23 of those shots were blocked and 20 of them missed the net.

But a number that doesn't go down on the stat sheet is the amount of shots the Blues tend to pass up, which they did with regularity, as astounding as that sounds despite 74 shot attempts Saturday.

"I did. I've got to do a better job shooting the puck, getting to the net, finding second opportunities," said Schenn, who had a perfect example of it in the second period of instead of shooting from the right circle, tried to make a cross circle pass to Vladimir Tarasenko that was off the mark and not read. "Obviously that's how you score goals. I think as a whole, obviously everyone wants to score, but you've got to be smart about the way you do it too. You can't be getting shots blocked. You've got to give yourself a chance to hit the net and have a chance to go in and as a team, I feel like we can do better than that.

"Just over-thinking it is all it is. Sometimes when you want to score, you've got to simplify and sometimes you go in there and you start to over-think. He maybe thinks something's open or there's an easier option out there. But if you shoot pucks when the opportunity's there, good things are gonna happen. Maybe a lucky one goes in or you get a rebound on it or maybe it's just a good shot overall. Whether it's me or the next guy, when the opportunity's there to shoot the puck and get it to the net, we've got to do a better job of that."

And with those attempts at trying to make the perfect play or not shoot it at all.

"A lot of times that will happen when you're not scoring, and then they go away from what really works," Berube said. "That's kind of where we're at right now with some of our guys."

What it breeds is top-end guys being in slumps.

"Yeah, they're going to press," Berube said. "They've been pressing for a while. In saying that, you've got to keep working, you've got to keep doing what works and you've got to stay with it and eventually you'll come out of it."

* Fabbri to return, Gunnarsson inching closer -- Look for forward Robby Fabbri to get in the lineup when the Blues close 2018 with a home game Monday at 6 p.m. against the New York Rangers.

"Yeah, probably," Berube said of Fabbri's potential return. "We'll see in the morning, but pretty good chance."

Fabbri was removed from injured-reserve on Friday after separating his left shoulder Dec. 1 at Arizona but was a healthy scratch against the Penguins.

Defenseman Carl Gunnarsson, out since Nov. 16 with a hand injury at Vegas, is also close to returning to give the Blues a plethora of bodies and will have to include some decisions on roster positions.

"He's close. He's really close," Berube said of Gunnarsson.

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