By LOU KORAC
A full and healthy lineup.
A full and healthy lineup.
In late November, that sounds almost like a dream, but for the Blues (10-6-2), who open a two-game Thanksgiving trip today at 6:30 p.m. against the Detroit Red Wings (8-9-3), they will have a full lineup of players at their disposal with the return of center Brayden Schenn, who missed nine games with an upper-body injury.
Schenn, who coach Craig Berube said lobbied to play in Monday's 5-2 win against Vegas at home, was originally injured Oct. 30 against the Chicago Blackhawks but was able to play in the next game and period before departing after the first period in San Jose Nov. 4.
"Really good to see him back," Berube said. "He pushed even last game too, but we held him out. He's good to go. Listen, he's a very good player for us, two-way player. We know that. He can provide offense for us, but he plays a hard game and does a lot of things for us. We're excited to have him back."
Schenn will center a line with Jordan Kyrou and Brandon Saad.
"He's obviously an important player for us," right wing David Perron said of Schenn, who has six points (three goals, three assists) in nine games. "He brings a lot of that physicality as well that we definitely need to have every single night. It's great to have. He's another guy that can score a lot of goals for us too. We're pretty deep right now. You can tell in our lines with him back."
Defenseman Torey Krug added, "I've said time and time again he's an emotional leader for us. We miss his physicality, his scoring touch. He does everything for us, so he's a jack of all trades. To have him back in the lineup, it's a big step for our group and for our consistency down the middle. Our team got better today by putting him in the lineup. It's a great player obviously for us."
The Blues have two guys that have been dinged up, including defenseman Robert Bortuzzo, who missed Monday's game but was on the ice for an optional skate Tuesday, and forward James Neal, who Berube said will get a maintenance day Wednesday and not play.
"More maintenance but he kind of aggravated himself a little bit so I told him to just get off," Berube said of Neal, who skated during Wednesday's morning skate.
But having all their players basically good to go at a moment's notice serves well for the team as it looks to wrap up a challenging November with their 10th game in 18 days.
"It's a balanced lineup," Berube said. "We moved some guys around because we had to with Schenn back. It's fine. It's good. I think it's always healthy and I think it's always good to have moving parts in your lineup and doesn't get stale that way. It's just more balance with 'Schenner' back down the middle of the ice, we're pretty strong in my opinion. That's a good position to be deep in."
"It's not something we worry too much about," Perron said. "We just go about our business, but definitely when you get everyone in there, it's something we can build here. We look to come out solid against Detroit tonight and put in a full 60 minutes. You want to have every single guy available and everyone can get going, do their thing out there and it's great."
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Speaking of Perron, he enters Wednesday's game with no goals in his past 13 but does have nine assists, including five in the past three games.
Perron scored six goals in five games to begin the season but hasn't been able to find the net since scoring an empty-netter against the Los Angeles Kings in a 3-0 win Oct. 25.
Perron does have 28 shots on goal in the past 13 games, including four each in the past two games.
"I have for sure. At times, I haven't shot it well, at times the puck's rolling right in front of the pass when it's coming to me, at times the goalie's made a great save," Perron said. "I think I had a tap-in in Dallas coming my way when Jordan passed me the puck and the guy lifted my stick last second. Those are the moments that happen. It's going to happen. Throughout the year, 82 games, we haven't done that in three years really. It's quite different just the travel, everything that goes with it. I've just got to stay with it."
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It's a homecoming for Krug, who was born and grew up in nearby Livonia, Mich., roughly 20 miles west-northwest of Detroit.
"Twenty-five minutes," Krug said. "We were able to last night have a Thanksgiving dinner. My first time in a long time. To see my nieces and nephews, my brothers, my parents, it was great.
"We did the whole spread. Nice to get mom's cooking again."
Krug grew up a Red Wings fan.
"Yeah, I sure did," he said. "The teams I grew up watching were great. Obviously a few Stanley Cups sprinkled in there. A lot of talented hockey players, Hall of Famers. It was a very easy time to be a Red Wings fan. Always enjoy coming back here.
"(Nicklas) Lidstrom was an easy guy for me being a defenseman, (Steve) Yzerman and his leadership style was something I admired as well and (Pavel) Datsyuk's creativity, those are the three guys out of many, many."
Krug would go on to play college hockey at Michigan State before being undrafted but signed as a free agent with the Boston Bruins March 25, 2012.
And although the family grew up with Red Wings ties, there will be Krug fans in the stands at Little Caesar's Arena tonight.
"Always Torey Krug jerseys," Krug said. "Very loyal friends and family. There's a lot of familiar faces. It's always a fun one for me to come back and see some familiar faces in the crowd."
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Speaking of homecoming's, it's not a homecoming for Robby Fabbri, but the former Blues first round pick will finally get to face his former teammates for the first time since he was traded to Detroit Nov. 8, 2019 for Jacob de la Rose.
The Red Wings were supposed to visit St. Louis March 31, 2020 but when the season was canceled due to COVID-19 on March 12, that homecoming never materialized, and since it was a season last year of only divisional games, the Blues and Red Wings never faced off.
"It's going to be my first time playing them since getting traded," Fabbri said in a Zoom call to Detroit reporters Tuesday. "It's definitely going to be different. It'll be nice to see a bunch of them for dinner tonight and catch up with them. I'm very excited. I had this one circled early in the year.
"I think we were going to St. Louis in a week or two when the season got canceled and then last year we weren't playing them.
"Long overdue. ... They've changed quite a bit there, but they're still a good group that I was with for the majority of my time, so it will be nice to see them."
Fabbri, who was the 21st pick in the 2014 NHL Draft, was part of the Blues' Stanley Cup-winning squad in 2019 but never got on track quite like he would have wanted to after missing a season and a half because of a torn ACL twice in his left knee.
"That's not something you'll ever forget, right," Fabbri said of winning the Cup. "It's something that we'll share together as a team and as a group that was there when we won. Old news, but that's something that's not easy to forget."
There are many Blues players still on the roster that played with Fabbri and got together with him for dinner Tuesday.
"He's doing well," Perron said. "I think he enjoys it here. It's a big season for him, and I also think putting finally past those injuries that he had with us, he can look to build his game from there and it was great to see him last night when some of us had dinner with him."
Fabbri had 73 points (32 goals, 41 assists) in 164 regular-season games with the Blues and 16 points (five goals, 11 assists) in 30 playoff games. Since joining the Red Wings, he has 57 points (27 goals, 30 assists) in 102 regular-season games in two-plus seasons.
"You always want the best for your players that move on," Berube said. "Things happen in the game. It's a business, but we always wish him well and it's good to see 'Fabbs' playing and doing well."
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The Blues are looking to win consecutive games for the first time since winning five in a row to open the season.
Consistency has been the greatest challenge the past 13 games, with the team going 5-6-2 in those games, but there's been some games where points were left on the table.
They want to try and follow up a solid performance from Monday's 5-2 win against the Golden Knights.
"If everyone could do it, there would be a lot of teams collecting a lot of points throughout the season and schedule," Krug said. "That's the secret. We've got to find a way to bottle it up and use it as long as you can and more so than not, I think if you're happy with the style of hockey that you're playing, you're going to end up collecting points and winning hockey games. Even the ones you lose, you can feel good about the way that you played. I think the consistency factor will help us collect points and we obviously have to start doing that because this time of year, they're hard to get because teams are trying to win."
Are the Blues happy with the style of hockey they're playing? It depends, according to Krug.
"Yes and no," he said. "There's a little bit of a natural maturation process where we have some guys stepping up and playing more minutes this year and in big roles. This team has to learn how to win in multiple different ways. A couple of those games here in the past, they were there for us for the taking and we didn't get the job done, but we have to grow and continue to develop and this team has to learn how to win. So yes and no to your question."
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Tonight's matchup will be the first between the Blues and Red Wings since a 5-4 Blues win in overtime Oct. 27, 2019 when Perron scored the OT winner.
"They're a Stanley Cup team, they're a Stanley Cup coaching staff and they've earned that credibility and that confidence," Red Wings coach Jeff Blashill said on a Zoom call Tuesday. "They've got a real good roster still. Obviously, some pieces have moved in and out but the pieces they've moved in are really good pieces.
"They're a really good team, we know that. There's certainly challenges in playing any of these teams you haven't played in a long time. This is a little different because I don't think their style has changed since the last time we played them. It's the same coach. It's a real similar preparation. We know what we're going to get (tonight). It's going to be a matter of who goes out and executes better."
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The Blues' projected lineup:
Ivan Barbashev-Ryan O'Reilly-David Perron
Brandon Saad-Brayden Schenn-Jordan Kyrou
Pavel Buchnevich-Robert Thomas-Vladimir Tarasenko
Klim Kostin-Tyler Bozak-Oskar Sundqvist
Marco Scandella-Colton Parayko
Torey Krug-Justin Faulk
Niko Mikkola-Scott Perunovich
Ville Husso will start in goal; Jordan Binnington will be the backup.
Healthy scratches include Jake Walman and Robert Bortuzzo. James Neal is day to day with an undisclosed injury.
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The Red Wings' projected lineup:
Tyler Bertuzzi-Dylan Larkin-Lucas Raymond
Robby Fabbri-Pius Suter-Filip Zadina
Vladeslav Namestnikov-Michael Rasmussen-Adam Erne
Givani Smith-Joe Veleno-Sam Gagner
Jordan Oesterle-Moritz Seider
Nick Leddy-Filip Hronek
Dan Renouf-Gustav Lindstrom
Alex Nedeljkovic is projected to start in goal; Thomas Greiss would be the backup.
The healthy scratch is Carter Rowney. Troy Stecher (wrist), Mitchell Stephens (lower body) and Marc Staal (illness) are out. Danny DeKeyser was placed in COVID-19 protocol before the game.