Saturday, October 4, 2014

Lehtera shines, Blues fall 5-4 in OT

Finnish center leads way with two goals, assist; Lindbohm, Schwartz, 
Lindstrom, Jackman have strong outings as St. Louis finishes preseason 2-3-2

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- If he wasn't quite ready for the NHL season to begin, Jori Lehtera sure made a strong statement in the final preseason game for the Blues Saturday night.

Lehtera scored twice and assisted on another and arguably was the best player on the ice in the Blues' 5-4 overtime loss to the Minnesota Wild at Xcel Energy Center.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Jori Lehtera (12) had two goals and an assist in the Blues' 5-4 overtime loss
to the Minnesota Wild Saturday night.

Lehtera, who finished the preseason with six points (three goals, three assists) in five games, was a dominant figure for a Blues team that finished the preseason 2-3-2 and that played without the majority of their top players.

"(Lehtera) was outstanding today," said Blues coach Ken Hitchcock, who played Lehtera between Jaden Schwartz and Joakim Lindstrom. "What did he play, five or six games? To play as well as he did today on tired legs ... heck of a player for us. He played really, really well. he found a way to get into the game. He's a guy playing all this hockey and what does he got, three points and is a plus-player again. Impressive."

Lehtera, the Blues' third round pick in the 2008 NHL Draft who signed a two-year, $5.5 million contract, was given one last look by Hitchcock so he can get acclimated with the NHL game as much as possible and the NHL travel.

There were no signs of any wear and tear and unfamiliarity.

"I would rather play than practice," Lehtera joked after the game. "These five games, I started to play better and better. I've started to get used to the style and everything. I think I'm ready to start of the season.

"I got a lot of ice time today (18:41) and our line played a good game. I'm just (upset) that we lost the games because I hate losing games."

Lehtera's linemates Schwartz and Lindstrom each had two assists, and Petteri Lindbohm, who continues to shine, also had two assists. Ryan Reaves and Ian Cole each scored for the Blues.

The Blues, who saw Mikko Koivu win it for the Wild in overtime with 31.2 seconds remaining, got another strong performance from Lindbohm, very well could be the surprise of the camp by making the 23-man roster.

"Yeah," Lindbohm said with a big smile when asked if he did everything he could to make the team. "It was a good game. There were a couple mistakes. You can never be perfect but when I came here, of course my goal was to make the team. I just try to do my best every day." 

Hitchcock continues to be impressed.

"Lindy's finding a way to stay with it," Hitchcock said of Lindbohm. "He's a young guy learning, but he's learning really really fast. Very impressive. He does a lot of things that you can see are going to be really  impacting him in a positive way when he plays in the League. He's not far away from being an NHL player."

As for the game, neither team could dent the twine in the first period, but Schwartz left the ice with 3:41 remaining in the period, as he took an apparent shot from Mikael Granlund off the left knee.

Schwartz was slow to get up but got to the bench on his own power but immediately left the ice. However, he returned for the second period and assisted on two Lehtera goals in the period.

"Just caught me in an awkward position," Schwartz said. "It was a place that didn't have padding, so it took a while to get the feeling back in the leg, but when I came out for the second, I really didn't notice."

The teams combined for six second-period goals.

Lehtera gave the Blues a 1-0 lead after Lindbohm slotted him with a pass for an easy one-time redirection 53 seconds into the period.

The Wild scored the first of their two power play goals as Mikael Granlund fired a wrister from a sharp angle 3:05 into the period, beating Elliott into the roof of the net.

Just 1:40 later, Erik Haula tipped Stu Bickel's shot past Elliott to give the Wild a 2-1 lead.

But the Blues responded with goals by Reaves at 12:42 to tie the game 2-2 before Lehtera scored his second of the game at 16:27 to give the Blues their second lead at 3-2.

Reaves slammed a puck home after Lindbohm's shot deflected off a Wild player right to the slot, and Lehtera one-timed a terrific feed from Joakim Lindstrom, who faked out Wild goalie Darcy Kuemper into sliding to his left before feeding Lehtera to the near side of the net.

But the Wild qould equalize when Thomas Vanek found a loose puck in the slot and knocked it past Elliott with 1:21 left in the period.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Jay Bouwmeester (19) led the Blues with 27:07 time on ice Saturday night.

Minnesota grabbed the lead again on Matt Dumba's blast from the right circle off a Parise feed at 12:44 of the third, but Cole came streaking into the left circle and one-timed a pinpoint pass from Lehtera in on the power play with 4:39 to play.

It was a valiant effort by a Blues team void of key players such as David Backes, T.J. Oshie, Alexander Steen, Paul Stastny, Vladimir Tarasenko, Patrik Berglund, Alex Pietrangelo and Kevin Shattenkirk.

Hitchcock was also pleased with Lindstrom's play, as well as veteran defenseman Barret Jackman, who played 24:11.

"We can learn a lot from the guys that were in the lineup," Schwartz said. "Obviously we were missing quite a few pieces. I know especially for me being my second game, I learned a lot."

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