By LOUIE KORAC
ST. LOUIS -- When the situation presented itself for Carlo Colaiacovo, it was a no-brainer for the veteran defenseman to go back to familiar territory.
Colaiacovo, 30, was on the ice for the morning skate Thursday with the Blues after settling immigration paperwork, passing his physical and then making his one-year, $550,000 one-way contract official. Colaiacovo played for the Blues from 2008-12 after being acquired along with Alexander Steen for Lee Stempniak.
With Jordan Leopold (hand) sidelined two months with ligament damage to his right index finger, the Blues felt compelled to bring in a veteran presence and one that they were familiar with rather than go with a younger American Hockey League player to fill the void as a seventh defenseman.
When things intensified Monday, Colaiacovo didn't waste any time deciding what to do.
"It was just ironic. I took some time off this year to be with my wife, we’re expecting our first child this year, so I thought it was important for me to be around her during that time," said Colaiacovo, who spent last season playing for the Detroit Red Wings. "Then a couple of weeks ago, me and my agent, I gave him the go-ahead to start finding me some teams to play. We were in talks with a few teams and then out of the blue, we get a phone call from St. Louis and I just put everything on hold because the opportunity that presented itself seemed too good to be true.
"Me and my wife and my family really enjoyed our time here, and it was an easy decision for me to come back. Regardless of the opportunities that were presented to myself with the other teams, my goal is to be part of a winning team and there was no better scenario to put myself in than to come back here and be part of a team that’s competing for a Stanley Cup. To me, it was a no-brainer and I'm glad we got it done."
Colaiacovo said there are no expectations. He's simply here to do what's necessary after the Red Wings bought out the final year of his contract over the summer.
"I'm not putting any expectations on myself, other than coming in here and being part of a great team and doing whatever is asked of me," Colaiacovo said. "I'm here to be part of the group, I'm here to contribute in any way possible. I'm confident in myself that when given the opportunity, I can contribute in any way that's asked, and that's all that I'm going to ask from myself.
"The team is pretty good as it is and to be able to join it, it's an even bigger thrill for me to be part of a group like this. Going to come to the rink every day, work my hardest both on and off the ice, and when I get there, do the best I can and hopefully stay in there. But at the same time, I'm going to be a great teammate, a great person and a guy that's cheering us along the way ... whatever that means. Hopefully it's me in the lineup every night, that's what I'm working towards and we'll go from there."
Colaiacovo, who's dealt with concussion injuries as well as a shoulder injury that limited him to six games with the Red Wings a season ago, has been keeping in shape in Toronto with a junior-A team and feels good.
"I haven't felt greater," he said. "Obviously I've been skating a lot on my own with a junior team back home. That pace doesn't even come close to the pace that's here. That was just an optional skate this morning. I felt really good ... really, really good. But I think I'm going to need a couple of practices with the full group to really see where I’m at. But we'll take it one step at a time and make sure when I come back, that I'm ready."
When Colaiacovo became a free agent in 2012, even though he saw the writing on the wall that he would be moving on, he didn't close the door on a possible return.
"I did (love it here). I still do," Colaiacovo said. "Even being away from here, it made me realize how much I really enjoyed it. Even going to a team like Detroit was a great opportunity for me, (but) both me and my family and especially my wife really did miss it here. For us to have the chance to come back a year later, it's a blessing. We couldn't be more grateful. Especially with the opportunity that's presented here. A team that has Stanley Cup aspirations."
Colaiacovo will wear No. 13 -- Ian Cole wears Colaiacovo's previous number (28) -- in his second stint with the Blues.
"My old number is taking by Ian and the last thing I want to do is come in and start demanding stuff and asking for things," Colaiacovo said. "I'm coming in on a fresh slate and that's the best way to look at it. It's his number, he can keep it, I wouldn't want to ask him for it back. Thirteen was just a number that was presented to me and people say it's lucky, so let's make it lucky."
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This will be the first meeting between the Blues (11-2-3) and Colorado Avalanche (14-3-0) as Central Division rivals when they clash today (7 p.m. on FSN, KMOX 1120-AM).
Even after two-plus years since the big trade that saw the Blues trade defenseman Erik Johnson, the No. 1 pick in the 2006 NHL Draft, to the Avalanche for forward Chris Stewart and defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk, the players involved still get fired up to face the respective sides that gave up on them but are glad to be in their respective new homes.
"To me, there's always a point to prove there," said Shattenkirk, who has 12 points in 16 games. "It's just a pride thing. You want to show them what they kind of missed out on. Especially now that they're a team that we're chasing, division rival. There's a new kind of motivation there. It's nice to have that as well to add to the fire."
"Any time you play them, you're definitely going to be fired up," said Stewart, who has five points in 16 games. "Now that they're in the division, there's going to be more fuel in the fire."
Johnson, who has seven points in 17 games, seemed to have put the issue to rest and is happy to be part of a winning atmosphere in Denver again.
"I had a ton of fun in St. Louis. I really enjoyed playing here," Johnson said. "It was a great place for me to start my career, and then with the trade to Colorado, there were some rough patches there, but that's part of the evolution that you go through as a player.
"Obviously I didn't want it to be as rough as it went, but sometimes that happens. But time has come full circle. I'm playing great hockey on a great hockey team and sometimes you've just got to put the extra time in. Right now, I'm just really happy to be in Colorado and having things going well for myself and the team."
Both Shattenkirk and Stewart still have friends on the other side.
"I still talk to Paul Stastny quite a bit," Shattenkirk said. "Very happy for him, I rent his brother (Yan's) apartment. I get to see his family all the time.
"... I talk to Ryan O'Reilly quite a bit, too. He was a good friend of mine and obviously (Matt) Duchene and the rest of them. They're all good guys, good friends and they made my time there great.
"Usually when we get out there together, there's some chirping going on and all that kind of stuff. Ryan Wilson, who I'm not sure if he's healthy right now, is one of the major culprits, but it's always in good fun."
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One interesting topic from the recently wrapped up general manager meetings in Toronto was the debate of extending overtime periods to 10 minutes in order to place less of an emphasis on shootouts.
The subject was broached by Detroit GM Ken Holland suggested playing the first five minutes 4-on-4 and the final five minutes 3-on-3.
Blues coach Ken Hitchcock likes the concept of extending overtime but has another idea.
"I'm a real proponent because we experienced it in the under-18 stuff there three summers ago," Hitchcock said. "I'm a real proponent of just changing ends, making a long change in overtime like you would in the second period. We had four scrimmages. They all ended in less than two-and-a-half minutes. It includes the goalies and way more activity.
"You have tired people making long changes. It just seems like there's a ton of odd-man rushes. I think right now, when you look at 4-on-4 hockey, it's pretty much in-zone play, very little odd-man rushes. When you get a long change, it just changes the game. People know when to hang out, when to catch tired people on the ice, the goalie becomes a really active participant in the game. I think the games would end in overtime a lot more by having that long change."
Hitchcock used the 3-2 overtime loss to Phoenix Tuesday as an example of players showing more emotion when a game ends in overtime rather than going to a shootout.
"I think it's here to stay now," Hitchcock said of the shootout. "I wasn't strong on it before, but I understand the entertainment value of it.
"To me, there's more of the feeling. When you lose in the shootout, it's just kind of (feels like) business in your locker room. Our locker room was really angry, pissed, disappointed losing in overtime against Phoenix and yet it's the same thing. You get a point, but the feeling in the locker room, I think, is completely different and it's that feeling that you're looking for. When you win in overtime, it's a huge win, there's a lot of in your locker room and when you lose, it's vice versa. You lose in a shootout, you kind of just march, you get your gear off and go home. I'd like to see the players experience more of the highs and lows so that you can build your team better."
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Count the Blues as a team impressed by Colorado's surprising start to the season.
The Avalanche, picked by many pundits to finish at or near the bottom of not only the Central Division but the Western Conference, are flying high under rookie coach Patrick Roy in the early going.
"They've built it from a conservative backend," Hitchcock said of the Avalanche. "They've got guys who are veteran players who they brought in and who really know how to play the game. They're dynamic.
"I've said this before: they're the best rush attack team in the league. If you give them a 3-on-2 or you give them a 2-on-1, they're going to get a quality chance. Every time they're going to get a quality chance. They take advantage of your mistakes, their forwards skate and really control it. They play four lines, they have a lot of things that you can just see the evolution. I think people failed to realize last year they finished strong the year before and then they had all the injuries early in the season (last year). They were just in scramble mode, but they've kind of rebuilt their backend with a real conservative kind of physical base back there. (Cory) Sarich is in there, he adds quite a bit. (Nate) Guenin's in there, he adds quite a bit and they've got great forwards. They've got a lot of good players there, so it'll be a real good game for us, a real good test. I think it's going to be a really good test of our posture, our defensive posture. I think if we're in good posture, we're going to be able to create some turnovers hopefully.
"I think (Roy's) a guy you have to listen to. He might be a rookie coach in the National Hockey League, but he's no rookie coach. You coach, eight, 10, 12 years in junior hockey, you've seen and done everything, and he's coached a lot of players that he knows how the growth factor is. I can hear the whistle on the bench when (it's) their time to change, and they race to the bench. He's got a young team with real structure, real discipline. They're disciplined in their game, they're disciplined in their effort and they're disciplined in their changes. That's going to make for a tough opponent every night. This is no fluke."
"I've always thought, even since I've left there, that they've always had the right weapons, the right pieces to the puzzle in place," he said. "I think the coaching change was huge there. It's just something that always helps a team. It happened to us here. it's a fresh voice, a fresh mind, especially with a guy like Patrick Roy, who's a former player who used to play for those guys. ... They've just been waiting for that relief, I think and obviously you're seeing the results of it."
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The Blues' probable lineup:
Alexander Steen-David Backes-T.J. Oshie
Brenden Morrow-Vladimir Sobotka-Chris Stewart
Jaden Schwartz-Patrik Berglund-Vladimir Tarasenko
Derek Roy-Maxim Lapierre-Ryan Reaves
Jay Bouwmeester-Alex Pietrangelo
Barret Jackman-Kevin Shattenkirk
Ian Cole-Roman Polak
Jaroslav Halak gets the start in goal; Brian Elliott is the backup.
Forward Adam Cracknell and defenseman Carlo Colaiacovo are the Blues' healthy scratches. Jordan Leopold (hand) and Magnus Paajarvi (upper-body) are on injured-reserve.
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The Avalanche's probable lineup:
Ryan O'Reilly-Matt Duchene-PA Parenteau
Gabriel Landeskog-Paul Stastny-Nathan MacKinnon
Jamie McGinn-John Mitchell-Maxime Talbot
Cody McLeod-Marc-Andre Cliche-Patrick Bordeleau
Jan Hejda-Erik Johnson
Cory Sarich-Andre Benoit
Nick Holden-Nate Guenin
Jean-Sebastien Giguere will get the start in goal. Semyon Varlamov is the backup.
Defenseman Matt Hunwick is the healthy scratch. Ryan Wilson (back) and Alex Tanguay (knee) are on injured-reserve.