Preseason opener for team sees Lehtera, Prosser, others have strong games
By LOU KORAC
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Blues coach Ken Hitchcock didn't waste time getting those players he wants to get a good look at into preseason game action.
Jori Lehtera, Peter Mueller, Nate Prosser, Chris Butler and Nate Prosser are all players the Blues coach has been anxious to observe and see where they could possibly fit in when the team has to finalize a 23-man roster ahead of the Oct. 9 opener against the New York Rangers.
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Philip McRae (39) was one of the Blues players to have a strong outing in a
4-3 overtime loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets Sunday.
Lehtera, Mueller and Vladimir Tarasenko saw ample ice time, and the Blues rallied from a two-goal third period deficit before falling to the Columbus Blue Jackets, 4-3 in overtime, in the first preseason game Sunday night at Nationwide Arena.
"We started them all in the offensive zone," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. "If you looked at their shifts, I don't even know until the puck went in that they didn't even have many D-zone shifts. We used them 5-on-5, power play. We wanted to take a look at that and look at it from there."
Lehtera, the Blues' third round pick in 2008 who signed a two-year, $5.5 million contract in the off-season, stepped into the ice for his first NHL game as if he has been here all along. He looked sharp, made crisp passes, smart decisions and seemed to be in sync with Tarasenko, his linemate when the two played in the Kontinental Hockey League together at Sibir Novosibirsk.
"I was OK," Lehtera said. "But I feel like I can play here. ... i feel it was very hard, (especially) the third period.
"There were some good moments, but we didn't concentrate at times like we should."
Paajarvi, who said on Friday after the first day of on-ice training camp activities that he added eight pounds of muscle, skated fast and furious, especially in the first period.
Hitchcock seemed very impressed with the Blues' defensive pairing of Nate Prosser (formerly of the Minnesota Wild) and Petteri Lindbohm. Prosser led all Blues skaters in time on ice with 23:27. He tied for most shots with five with two others.
"He was really competitive; him and Lindbohm were outstanding," Hitchcock said of Prosser. "They were competitive as hell, really good."
Down 3-1 entering the third period, Tarasenko scored 40 seconds in as he beat new goalie Oscar Dansk (who replaced starter Curtis McElhinney after two periods) by cutting in and firing a shot high into the goal.
Sebastian Wannstrom tied it with a bank shot from theside of the net at 9:48 after Chris Porter's slap shot was stopped initially by Dansk, but he lost track of the rebound.
"We came out and we battled back in the third period," said defenseman Barrett Jackman, who had an assist. "We got some more pucks to the net and won some more battles."
Kerby Rychel gave the Jackets a 1-0 lead 2:02 into the first period when he beat Jake Allen five-hole following a Chris Butler turnover along the left boards.
The Blues got the equalizer when Lehtera, from his knees, corralled Prosser's left point shot and banked the puck in off Jackets defenseman Dillon Heatherington at 13:53 of the first.
"I tried to pass to Vlad backdoor," Lehtera said. "It was all open there but I scored."
The Blues outshot the Jackets 14-5, with half of them coming from Paajarvi (four) and Prosser (three).
The Blues never sustained much offensive zone pressure in the second period despite outshooting Columbus 10-6. The Jackets scored the lone two goals, as Alexander Wennberg's power play goal gave them a 2-1 lead at 14:06.
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Nate Prosser (left) goes down to block a shot on front of Columbus' Marko
Dano and goalie Jake Allen (34) Sunday night.
Boone Jenner, who picked up an assist on Wennberg's goal, scored with 18.6 seconds left in the second to make it 3-1 when he flipped a rebound from the slot through Allen's left side after the Blues' netminder gave up a juicy rebound of a David Savard point shot.
Allen's night was finished after two period. He stopped eight of 11 shots.
Heather into redeemed himself when his slap shot from the right point beat Matt Climie, who stopped nine shots, 2:36 into overtime.
The Blues, who out shot the Jackets 40-21 for the game, will go back on the road Monday night and face the Dallas Stars at 7:30 p.m.
"These first three (preseason) games are real opportunities for players to get more opportunities 5-on-5, power play, penalty killing ... so we can see what they've got," Hitchcock said. "You get to see whether they have an attention to detail that's going to help you down the line.
"It's a really good evaluation for the people that are going to be role players on your team, whether they can handle keeping their focus with added responsibility."