By LOU KORAC
ST. LOUIS -- After the Blues play their final preseason game against the Chicago Blackhawks today at 7 p.m. (KMOX 1120-AM), it'll be time to bond as a team.
The team bonding trip, which has become an annual occurrence, will commence in Ann Arbor, Mich. the for the next few days before the team comes back to St. Louis on Monday.
In the past, the Blues have always done these at some point early in the season but for the first time, they'll do it before the season begins and then they can have a clear focus when the regular season opens a week from tonight here against the Edmonton Oilers.
"The last few years, they've been in-season. It's a little different this year having the chance to go away before the season starts, focus on the practices will be focused on getting our team structure ready on all that kind of stuff," defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk said. "Really just being able to get away as a team right now and have the guys be on this team on Oct. 8th, be together and just hang out together and get to know each other again.
"I just think in-season, you're squeezing it in almost. It's almost weirder in-season having a four-day trip."
The Blues will train at the University of Michigan facility, get in some rest and relaxation, and considering how grinding and competitive camp has been, they'll need it.
"It'll be nice," left wing Jaden Schwartz said. "We've been going at it pretty hard here since we got in. It'll be nice to get away as a team on the road and spend some time together and go somewhere different for a bit. ... I know we'll be practicing at a college rink. I've played against Michigan but not in Michigan. Everyone's looking forward to getting away for a bit and getting away from the regular routine around here."
"More than anything, it's just going to be nice to get away with the team," Shattenkirk said. "Whoever is going to be in this locker room, I think the uncertainty in this locker room for the last week or so has been something that's weighed on a lot of guys' lines. Whenever everything's set in stone, guys can kind of settle in and start to focus on next Thursday, which is really the important thing."
But it won't be all fun and games. The Blues will get their work in.
"I'm looking forward to putting the work in on the ice with the solitude that goes with teaching," coach Ken Hitchcock said. "We have a lot of areas where we've given them ... because of numbers, we've practiced a lot of general stuff. Now we can get specific and get detailed on a lot of specific things that we need to work on. I'm looking forward to that."
Last year, the Blues went to South Carolina.
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Originally, Petteri Lindbohm was in the lineup tonight against the Blackhawks, but the Blues (3-2) made one change, inserting Alex Pietrangelo in to play alongside Jay Bouwmeester.
It was supposed to be Lindbohm's first chance to play alongside Robert Bortuzzo, who along with center Jori Lehtera will make their preseason debuts tonight, but that has been scrapped.
"It was a chance to see 'Petro' and 'Bouw' together," associate coach Brad Shaw said. "We talked about pairs on opening night, what they might look like and that's certainly a viable option and it gave us a chance to have them play a game together. They've played a lot together over the last few years, but getting 20 or 22 or 25 minutes together goes a long way in helping them sort of find a comfort level with another again real quick.
"It's (also) another look to see (Joel) Edmundson with Shattenkirk; they've played really well together. We're going to have Pietrangelo and Bouwmeester play together, which is something that we've obviously had a lot of success with in the past and will probably be a big part of our play going forward, so it gives them a chance to play 60 minutes together, and then you get Bortuzzo in on the back end with (Colton) Parayko, so it's good to see Bortuzzo there. He's sort of been nursing that ailment and it's good to get one in before the real ones start."
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Defenseman Chris Butler and left wing Magnus Paajarvi, who were placed on waivers Wednesday, both cleared, meaning the Blues have the option of sending them to the Chicago Wolves of the American Hockey League.
The Blues also placed forward Jordan Caron, who signed a one-year, two-way contract in the off-season, on waivers Thursday for the purpose of sending him to the Wolves should be clear.
The team also assigned defensemen Peter Harrold and Andre Benoit and forwards Ivan Barbashev and Jeremy Welsh to the Wolves. It leaves 29 active players remaining in training camp.
Former Blue Chris Porter, who signed in the off-season with the Philadelphia Flyers, was picked up off waivers by the Minnesota Wild and has a chance to go play his nearby hometown of Thunder Bay, Ontario.
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Tonight's Blues' lineup:
Jaden Schwartz-Jori Lehtera-Troy Brouwer
Robby Fabbri-David Backes-Dmitrij Jaskin
Steve Ott-Scott Gomez-Ty Rattie
Scottie Upshall-Kyle Brodziak-Ryan Reaves
Jay Bouwmeester-Alex Pietrangelo
Joel Edmundson-Kevin Shattenkirk
Robert Bortuzzo-Colton Parayko
Jake Allen will start and play the entire game in goal. Pheonix Copley will be the backup.
The Blackhawks have left several of their top players behind, and they will not play tonight, including Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Marian Hossa, Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook.