By LOU KORAC
HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- The first shift of the game in the first preseason game for Chris Butler didn't go according to plan. It was a shift that isn't the way to try and impress a coaching staff when you're trying to make a roster that is thin on availability.
Butler looked to make a quick zip pass along the left boards at his own blue line, dangerously going through the middle of the ice. But the pass was intercepted by Columbus' Kerby Rychel. Seconds later, it was in the net.
It was the start of a less-than-stellar game for the Kirkwood native Butler, who signed a one-year, two-way contract after playing in 82 games with the Calgary Flames.
But as training camp has progressed, the 27-year-old has made strides. Familiarity with the new system took some getting used to.
"I think for me, I've gotten more comfortable as camp went along," Butler said. "It was a large adjustment coming here from the systems I played in Calgary. I love the system that they have here. It's more puck possession-oriented. It's a fast-paced tempo, which I think suits my game, but exits and transition game just kind of took some time to get used to.
"In Calgary, we beat the puck around the walls a lot. We were chipping and chasing. Here, it's possession and make plays. It's fun to be encouraged to make plays. You kind of have to almost change your mindset a little bit going into that. Once you kind of get rid of the idea that you're thinking through everything and it becomes second-nature, it's been a lot easier."
Butler knows the chord could be cut at any moment and be in Chicago playing with the Wolves. He just hopes he's made enough of an impression considering the door is still ajar.
"I've always been a team guy," Butler said. "I'll do whatever it takes, whatever I have to do. Play a little, play a lot, whatever it may be. It's just exciting to be a part of something good again."
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Tonight's preseason game for the Blues (2-3-1) against the Minnesota Wild (2-2-1) marks the final opportunity for some players on the fringe to make a lasting impression on the coaching staff. So for guys like Peter Mueller, Butler, Joakim Lindstrom, Petteri Lindbohm and even Magnus Paajarvi, they'll get to play important roles against some of the Wild's top-end players.
"I think you're looking for work," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said of his lineup. "We know the roster ... they're playing their team. We've got a hard-working lineup coming in, so we're not going to out-skill them. I want to see them work at a level equal or better than the guys they're playing against. That's a really good challenge when you know the team you're playing is loaded up and you're leaving some guys at home, but there's a lot of guys that are either NHL players or getting close to NHL-ready. Now's the chance to prove it. What a great opportunity to prove that you belong. I'm looking forward to our energy level and our work and determination to see how we look."
For Mueller, who cleared waivers a couple days ago and can be sent to the American Hockey League, the message is to leave everything on the ice tonight.
"You've got to leave on a high note and expect the best game you can bring tonight," Mueller said. "We'll see what happens tomorrow, but obviously the main focus is playing the best game that I can tonight.
"I think the camp's gone great. I'm happy with the way things have been going and how I've responded to everything. It's been good. For me personally, it's gone great, but it's not over yet. I still have one more game where I can try and impress and show the organization what I can do."
Hitchcock will play both Lindstrom and Mueller against top-grade talent and is anxious to see them perform.
"They've been getting better and better every day, but this is an NHL-ready roster and I want to see how they look against NHL-ready (players)," Hitchcock said.
Paajarvi is another player in that mode of playing for something to prove.
"First of all, he had a great summer," Hitchcock said of Paajarvi. "Showed promise early in camp, then leveled off. This is an important game for him. He's got the speed and skill to really find a role for us and we need to see how he looks. We've talked to him a couple times about having the confidence to do things. Sometimes when put him in a fourth-line role or even tail-end third-line role, a guy just plays conservative. He's going to have an opportunity to play on the power play today, he's going to have an opportunity to play against significant players, so I'm looking forward to see how he looks today."
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With 98 minutes in penalties between the Blues and Wild during a 4-1 Blues victory at home Thursday, fisticuffs were at a premium. Ryan Reaves and Paul Bissonnette were at the forefront of much of the physical activity.
But with Bissonnette, who was released from his personal tryout with the Blues Saturday morning, down with a groin pull the past two days, the team recalled 22-year-old 2010 fifth round draft pick Cody Beach from the Wolves on Friday.
Beach, who will be in the lineup tonight, will take on a role just in case there are some extracurricular activities. But the past few days have been a whirlwind for the Nanaimo, British Columbia native.
"It's always nice. It's an exciting time in my life there," Beach said. "A couple days ago there, (Beach and his wife) had a newborn baby (Oct. 1). I was ready to pregame nap and have an exhibition game down there actually against Iowa. I got the call and always exciting to come up."
Beach said he heard about the ruffian activities of the game Thursday.
"You know when 'Reaver' has to drop his gloves, something went on," Beach said. "Hopefully everything stays calm, but we've got the guys to deal with it if something happens."
Before being sent to Chicago, Hitchcock raved about Beach's potential.
"I think he's got great moxie," Hitchcock said of Beach. "When Bissonnette got hurt, we didn't want to dip into the pool of guys that already played quite a bit, either the last two games in a row or four or five games. We didn't want to take any risks there, so 'Beachy,' he played really good for us when he was up. The right wing spot was open and we decided to bring him up."
Beach was glad to hear the compliments.
"They always give me praise," Beach said of the coaching staff. "Some things I've got to work on. I don't feel I'm 100 percent where I'm going to be at the NHL level. I've still got to fix up a few things and get a little stronger in certain areas, but I basically got the idea if I keep the path I'm following, I can be a Blue at some point in the near future and that's the ultimate goal."
Beach, who had five goals and 11 points in 34 games with the Wolves last season, is ready to tackle the role of hockey player and Dad.
"They don't do a whole lot when they're born," Beach said of daughter London Presley. "They sleep and poop, but other than that, they're pretty easy to take care of. The wife does a good job and let's me lay back."
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The Blues will have a few veteran players in their lineup, including Steve Ott. Ott, who has played in two preseason games, is gearing his game towards the regular season and hopes the game tonight is a step in the right direction.
"I've had a couple good games in the sense of team games," Ott said. "Personally, you feel ready to go when the puck drops. If you're emotionally invested in any type of game, I think that's the best for every guy. Throughout the preseason, it can be daunting at times, but it's getting through it and getting your timing back.
"All of us have been gearing for the regular season, especially the guys who have solidified their spots on the team and know what to expect out of each other and know what their role is. The most important thing is bringing it on a consistent basis, even if it is an exhibition."
For those veterans, it's a great feeling knowing opening night is right around the corner.
"There's no better feeling than opening night," Ott said. "Every guys works extremely hard in this dressing room, four or five months of working out. ... When you hear your name called on opening night, there’s no better feeling."
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Before departing for Minnesota to face the Wild, the Blues made official the release of Bissonnette of his PTO. They also assigned goalie Matt Climie to the Chicago Wolves, bringing the player total down to 30 players.
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Tonight's Blues lineup:
Jaden Schwartz-Jori Lehtera-Joakim Lindstrom
Steve Ott-Dmitrij Jaskin-Peter Mueller
Chris Porter-Colin Fraser-Ryan Reaves
Magnus Paajarvi-Maxim Lapierre-Cody Beach
Barret Jackman-Jay Bouwmeester
Chris Butler-Jordan Leopold
Petteri Lindbohm-Ian Cole
Brian Elliott will start in goal. Jake Allen is the backup.
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The Wild lineup, according to Mike Russo of the Minneapolis Star Tribune:
Zach Parise-Mikael Granlund-Jason Pominville
Thomas Vanek-Miiko Koivu-Matt Cooke
Kyle Brodziak-Erik Haula-Nino Niederreiter
Stephane Veilleux-Cody Almond-Joel Rechlicz
Marco Scandella-Jonas Brodin
Keith Ballard-Christian Folin
Matt Dumba-Stu Bickel
Darcy Kuemper will start in goal. Ilya Bryzgalov will be the backup.