NASHVILLE, TENN. - Nail Yakupuv will mark his return to the Blues' lineup after being a healthy scratch the past three games, but who he's replacing is what is the surprise of the day.
Yakupov will play for the Blues (7-4-3) today against the Nashville Predators (4-5-3) at 7 p.m. (FS-MW, KMOX 1120-AM) and he will replace second-year forward Robby Fabbri, who will be a healthy scratch for the first time in his brief career.
After a promising start to his career in which he scored 18 goals and had 19 assists in his rookie season, Fabbri has one goal and three assists in 14 games and has been thrown into the mix for Ken Hitchcock, who likes to call his group of forwards "a mix of 14."
"It's a numbers game," Hitchcock said. "You've got to play your way in, you've got to play your way out. We were not disappointed in 'Yak.' He needs to come in, he's going to get a real opportunity with good players, so this is a really good chance for him.
"With Robby, we're in a position where he's part of the group of 13 or 14, really 14 with (Ty) Rattie going down and getting time. You have to make a decision whether you want to be in the group of 14 or you want to stay in that top nine or 10. Unfortunately, he's part of the mix now both ways."
Fabbri started the season playing on the top line with Alexander Steen and Paul Stastny but since moved to a line with Stastny and Dmitrij Jaskin the past few games, but started on a third line with Patrik Berglund six games ago against the Los Angeles Kings.
Fabbri missed 10 games last season; six with a concussion and four with a lower-body injury.
When asked what can Fabbri do better, Hitchcock said, "I think when he's a tenacious player, he's an effective player on both ends of the rink. He's an effective scoring player, he's an effective defensive player, he's an effective worker. He's just effective in every aspect, and it's all to me, it's all connected to tenacity."
"I don't look at goals and assists; I never look at (those). Sometimes you go through stretches, probably 95 percent of the equations, the players end up in the same place every year, but when you're not scoring, how are you going to impact the game? You can impact the way even when you're not scoring and you can go through those stretches, that's your work, your tenacity, your second and third effort, your team play part of your game. That's the things you can do and that buys you some time until you get your confidence or an opportunity to score and then you take advantage of it."
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Carter Hutton will get the start in goal tonight against the team he played for the past three years.
Hutton, who is 2-1-0 with a 2.00 goals-against average and .926 save percentage in three starts this season, was 33-24-12 in his career with the Predators as Pekka Rinne's backup. He won 23 games for Nashville his first season after Rinne sustained a hip injury in 2013-14.
"You look at the schedule, I try not to look too far ahead in the schedule because it gets a bit overwhelming with the games we play, but at the same time, you obviously look at Nashville, you're excited to come back," Hutton said. "A lot of close friends here, a lot of fond memories. It's definitely that's something that's exciting and fun. I'm sure I'll hear a lot of stuff from the players, a lot of fun stuff. Once the puck drops, it'll be time to get back to business.
"... I wish (Rinne) wasn't playing; I know how good he is. That's one of those things that's great to be able to play against a guy I considered one of my mentors. We had a pretty close relationship here and still do. To see him down at the other end, I seen him at the other end so many times in practice and played against him, intrasquad games and things like that so it will be pretty cool when the lights are on to be able to tee it up against each other, it's going to be pretty fun."
After Jake Allen made 28 saves in a 2-1 overtime loss to Chicago and playing three games in four nights, Hitchcock felt it was good to give Hutton a key Central Division game tonight.
"I don't think it favors the goaltender. I think maybe it does in shootouts," Hitchcock said of facing former teammates. "Other than that, I think it's just with a guy like 'Hutts,' you feel confident when he plays on the road because he's so darn competitive. Obviously a big game for him. He wants to play well, but I think it's more important that we play well in front of him to get his career with us of to a good start. He's played so well for us, now it's our turn to really step up for him."
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The Blues recalled defenseman Chris Butler from the American Hockey League's Chicago Wolves Thursday morning.
"We're banged up back there, with us playing two games in a row on the road, we needed another body," Hitchcock said.
Carl Gunnarsson got a little dinged up against the Blackhawks but all seven defensemen will tajke warmups.
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The Blues' projected lineup:
Alexander Steen-Patrik Berglund-David Perron
Jaden Schwartz-Paul Stastny-Vladimir Tarasenko
Dmitrij Jaskin-Jori Lehtera-Nail Yakupov
Scottie Upshall-Kyle Brodziak-Ryan Reaves
Jay Bouwmeester-Alex Pietrangelo
Carl Gunnarsson-Kevin Shattenkirk
Petteri Lindbohm-Colton Parayko
Carter Hutton will get the start in goal; Jake Allen will be the backup.
The healthy scratch is Robby Fabbri. Robert Bortuzzo (lower body) and Joel Edmundson (upper body) are on injured-reserve.
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The Predators' projected lineup:
Viktor Arvidsson-Ryan Johansen-James Neal
Colin Wilson-Mike Ribeiro-Craig Smith
Filip Forsberg-Mike Fisher-Pontus Aberg
Calle Jarnkrok-Colton Sissons-Austin Watson
Roman Josi-Ryan Ellis
Mattias Ekholm-P.K. Subban
Matt Irwin-Yannick Weber
Pekka Rinne will start in goal; Juuse Saros will be the backup.
Healthy scratches will be Matt Carle, Harry Zolnierczyk and Cody Bass. Anthony Bitetto (upper body) and Miikka Salomaki (upper body) are out with injuries.