ST. LOUIS -- Jori Lehtera was back to his usual self inside the Blues' locker room, joking, kidding and more importantly, smiling.
Lehtera, who took part in the skate with the game group that will face the Dallas Stars at 7 p.m. today, is ahead of schedule following ankle surgery to remove a bone chip that he sustained in the second-to-last home regular season game against the Chicago Blackhawks blocking a Duncan Keith shot.
Lehtera, who had the surgery performed Aug. 4, skated for a seventh time since returning to the ice, will take part in his first full practice with the team Friday.
"I think I'm going to do the full practice tomorrow with the guys, so we'll see," Lehtera said. "We'll see after the ice tomorrow how I feel. ... I think we're ahead of the schedule a little bit. It's going well."
Lehtera said the thought was that initially he sustained a deep bone bruise, something that wasn't a detriment during the Stanley Cup Playoffs, but as the summer progressed, there were certain things he wasn't able to do.
"Just putting the skates on, and then like running sideways, like playing tennis, that kind of sport," Lehtera said. "Everybody thought it was just a bone bruise and it just didn't heal. I could do gym and bike and whatever but I couldn't move sideways. After a couple months at home, I tried to put my skate on and I couldn't put my skate on. I went to see some doctors in Finland and then I (flew) right away here. I think I saw like 10 different doctors.
"One centimeter bone chip there that was cutting the tendons like salami. It didn't feel that good."
Lehtera, who also sustained a broken wrist against the Minnesota Wild during the Western Conference First Round after getting hit by teammate Jay Bouwmeester's shot in Game 4, hasn't had any issues since returning.
"Everything is going pretty well," Lehtera said. "Last time I was on the ice (with the team regularly), it's been like five and a half, six months. I'm on the ice now seven times. It's a little bit hard still, but it's getting better.
"(The wrist injury) is out of the way; that's good now."
- - -
In case there are those wondering how the goalie plan will go, Blues coach Ken Hitchcock spoke about it Wednesday.
It's always been a tandem that will be split using both goalies. It went back to Brian Elliott and Jaroslav Halak and now with Elliott and Jake Allen.
But Hitchcock thinks the team want to see one of the guys take the job and run with it.
"When the season starts, we're going to let whoever takes the job evolve," Hitchcock said. "So we're not going to anoint anybody. We're just going to let it evolve and hopefully somebody grabs it. I don't know that we want to get into where we're creating the sharing. We want the play of the goalies to determine who gets more, who gets less. Obviously if both guys play great, then both guys play, but if one guy steps out and plays a little bit better, then he'll get more games than the other guy. Anointing someone with the way it finished (last season) isn't realistic and I'm not going to go and anoint someone out of training camp either. I'm going to hope that by the time we finish October, somebody's going to grab this thing.
"We're starting clean and fresh. We've got two good goalies. If someone goes out and grabs it, we're going to give him the job. We're going to give him that responsibility. If both guys play equal, we're back down the same path, but if one guy does jump and go, we're going to go with him."
Allen got the ball down the stretch and into the playoffs, and Elliott was left on the outside looking in again, but Hitchcock won't shy away from saying Elliott could be the guy moving forward, which leaves fans scratching their heads considering Elliott was bypassed the past two seasons, including watching when the Blues acquired Ryan Miller in 2013.
"Well we turned away from Elliott twice because of injury, not because of play," Hitchcock said. "It's unfortunate that he got hurt, but when he got hurt, the other guy jumped on it last year so that's the way we went. Elliott had a better year than Jake. Jake had a great finish and so that's the way we went, but I would say overall, Elliott had the better year. But this year, we're going to establish it off of ... we'll have an evaluation after 15 or 20 games and then decide what way we're going to go with it. I think in fairness to the team, that's what we want to do. We've got so many road games, we're going to get a read on everything, but we're going to make a determined factor based on w hat we see in their play rather than anointing one guy. ... I'm not looking to see if two guys can share. We're going to need both of them, but I'm looking to see if someone just flat-out grabs it and runs with it. ... You'd like someone to literally stand on his head and say, 'This is mine.' That's what you'd like to have happen. Whoever it is, it is."
Two of the three NHL players who are one-year, two-way contracts will be in the Blues' lineup tonight, including wing Jordan Caron and defenseman Andre Benoit.
Benoit, 31, a four-year player most recently with the Buffalo Sabres where he scored one goal and had nine points in 59 games last season, will be with his fourth team in five seasons. He's also played with the Ottawa Senators for two seasons and with the Colorado Avalanche in 2013-14, where he set career-highs in goals (seven), assists (21) and points (28).
Caron, 24, comes to the Blues after splitting last season with the Boston Bruins and most recently, the Avalanche. He spent the first four seasons of his career in the Bruins' organization.
Caron has 12 goals and 28 points in 153 NHL games and will be playing for the first time in the past couple seasons under a contract that's not a guaranteed one-way.
"I just came off two one-year, one-way deals with Boston and it didn't go as well as I wanted to," Caron said. "This year, I think it's a great chance for me to step up and crack this lineup here. I think it's a really deep lineup, it fits my style, too. There are some big bodies up front, it's straight-line hockey. I think it fits my style and it's one of the reasons why I came here. I'm excited about the challenge.
"I'm looking forward to it and making the most of it so far. I've played only one game and it's been going pretty good in the scrimmage. I'm excited to play in the game tonight and excited for the rest of the camp."
- - -
The Blues' lineup tonight:
Alexander Steen-Paul Stastny-Vladimir Tarasenko
Jordan Caron-Jaden Schwartz-Dmitrij Jaskin
Magnus Paajarvi-Pat Cannone-Ty Rattie
Yannick Veilleux-Jeremy Welsh-Eriah Hayes
Petteri Lindbohm-Alex Pietrangelo
Joel Edmundson-Kevin Shattenkirk
Andre Benoit-Colton Parayko
Brian Elliott and Jordan Binnington are the goalies
As of Thursday morning, the Stars hadn't listed line combinations, but their game lineup will consist of (forwards): Curtis McKenzie, Patrick Eaves, Colton Sceviour, Vern Fiddler, Travis Morin, Remi Elie, Valeri Nichushkin, Matej Stransky, Branden Troock, Cory Kane, Mattias Janmark and Jason Spezza; (defensemen): Jamie Oleksiak, Patrik Nemeth, Jordie Benn, Stephen Johns, Mattias Backman and Ludwig Bystrom; (goalies): Kari Lehtonen and Maxime Lagace.