The St. Louis Blues will take the ice against the Boston Bruins tonight for Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Final, but they will be without one of their most dynamic forwards. Rookie Robert Thomas, who has been the driving force behind the team’s third line, will not be playing in this pivotal matchup.
There has been much discussion about the hit Torey Krug delivered to Thomas late in the third period of Game 1. Whether that hit was the culprit or not, the Blues will need to find a replacement for one of their fastest and most creative forwards.
Krug Levels Thomas
Though interim head coach Craig Berube denies it, there is little doubt that Krug’s hit on Thomas is a major factor in the latter missing Game 2. After a play in the Bruins’ zone where Krug was tangled up with Blues forward David Perron, losing his helmet, he skated up ice at full tilt. When he got to the other zone, he found Thomas releasing the puck, and collided with him at full speed.
The head was not the main point of contact, nor did Krug leave his feet until after the hit, when his momentum forced him to. Still, there was discussion about whether he should have been penalized for the hit, thanks in part to an imprecise rule about charging.
Rule 42 in the NHL’s Rulebook states that “charging shall mean the actions of a player who, as a result of distance traveled, shall violently check an opponent in any manner. A ‘charge’ may be the result of a check into the boards, into the goal frame or in open ice.”
The nebulous meaning in the key phrase, “as a result of distance traveled,” has led many to suggest that Krug’s hit should have been called a charge on the ice, giving the Blues a critical late game minor penalty. Others, like former NHL official Kerry Fraser, disagree.
Whatever one’s opinions on the legality of the hit, Krug made a big play that sapped the momentum from his opposition. Moreover, there is little rational argument that Thomas’ absence from Game 2 is not at least somewhat the result of that hit. It was and will continue to be a major play in the series, because the Blues are losing a critical player.
Thomas’ Strong Playoffs
At first glance, Thomas’ playoff numbers don’t jump off the page. He has only one goal to go along with five assists, for a total of six points. Six points in 20 games is not a total that suggests a player is irreplaceable, but he has done much more than what is on the stat sheet.
Thomas has been the engine on his line. With teammates Tyler Bozak and Patrick Maroon, he has helped drive a trio that is a tough matchup for any opponent. The line brings a unique blend of size and skill, of finesse and aggression, and Thomas has played a critical role in that. It was his deft stick handling that created the series clinching goal in Game 7 of the second round.
Thomas is one of the team’s faster skaters, and even compared with Jordan Binnington, may be the team’s most promising rookie. For the last several weeks, though, he seems to have been playing through injury, as the team’s beat reporters repeatedly noted him as absent from practice due to maintenance. That could explain why he only had one point in the Western Conference Final.
Still, Thomas had gutted through whatever injury he had until the hit from Krug. He did not return in Game 1 and will now miss Game 2. His expected replacement, Robby Fabbri, will have big skates to fill.
Fabbri’s Shot at Redemption
Fabbri is one of the more overlooked players on the Blues’ roster, as he has had an incredibly difficult season. The former first-round pick has been making his way back after suffering consecutive injuries to the same ACL in his knee. He has not looked like the same player he was before the injuries, playing in just 32 games during the regular season, collecting two goals and four assists.
Fabbri has played in eight of the Blues’ postseason games, scoring one goal in that time. But he has averaged just 8:15 in those games. Thrusting him directly into Thomas’ role could be a risky gamble, one the Blues cannot afford to lose on in such a pivotal game.
Historically, though, Fabbri has proved to be a playoff performer. The Blues’ 2016 run to the Western Conference Final was his coming out party. Then, he scored 15 points in 20 games, averaging 14:22 per game. He was just 20 at the time. Now, at 23, with two knee surgeries in his past, is there a chance he can recapture that form in an expanded role? The Blues may be forced to find out tonight.
Big Night in Boston
The Blues have their backs to the wall and are down a significant player in advance of Game 2 on Wednesday night. If they can overcome those challenges, they will even the series and capture home ice advantage. It’s a tall order, but the Blues have made a habit of defying the odds the past few months.
Stephen Ground is an author with The Hockey Writers and is co-host of the Two Guys No Cup Podcast. He enjoys studying the numbers and providing fresh looks at various stories.