By LOU KORAC
ST. LOUIS -- The Blues will get an infusion to their lineup when they face the Buffalo Sabres tonight at Scottrade Center.
Center Jori Lehtera, who took a scare when he was high-sticked by Columbus' Brandon Saad in the throat area just under nine minutes into the first period on Tuesday, will not miss any time and will play when the Blues (12-6-1) host the Sabres (8-9-1) at 7 p.m. (FS-MW, KMOX 1120-AM).
"When it's this area," Lehtera said pointing at his throat, "it's different than the knee or something. ... I skated good. Everything is good."
Lehtera, who was high-sticked earlier in the period when the Blues scored a goal, was taken to the hospital as a precaution but made the team flight back to St. Louis.
"I just battle hard and sometimes that happens," Lehtera said.
To which teammate and friend Vladimir Tarasenko joked, "He's talking like 'The Godfather' today. You know the Godfather movie? That's him. But I think he'll be better tonight."
Also, left wing Steve Ott, who's missed six games with an upper-body injury, will mark his return to the lineup.
Ott, who was hurt in the third period of a 6-5 overtime victory against the Chicago Blackhawks on Nov. 4, began skating 3-4 days after the injury and has kept himself fit.
"To say the least, it stung me pretty good," Ott said of the injury. "It's never fun to miss games. I happened to watch the boys play and miss those valuable games, which is never fun during the season, but I'm feeling pretty good now and kind of moving forward now.
"It's one of those types of things when you're ready, you're ready. We've been skating every day and keeping the legs going. When it's an upper-body injury, you can continue to keep your legs going. That's what us in the sick ward have been doing there for the last little while now, myself, 'Stas' and (Patrik) Berglund."
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Center Paul Stastny, who's missed 14 games with a broken right foot, took part in the morning skate and appears closer to making his return back to the lineup.
Stastny, who said he's been skating the past 5-6 days, is awaiting medical clearance before rejoining the lineup. He was injured Oct. 16 at Vancouver after he blocked a Matt Bartkowski shot in front of goalie Jake Allen.
"I wasn't trying to block the shot. If I recall, I was just covering the guy in front and it wasn't even a good shot," Stastny said. "It was like a half stop or wrister. It just hit me in a weird angle. The puck was on edge. It was just an unfortunate bounce. What are you going to do? Sometimes it happens. Whether you have extra protection or not, when I got hit in that spot, it's just too close to call. Sometimes it happens. Nothing you can do about it."
Stastny said he's been progressing more and more each day, had an x-ray taken two weeks after the injury and got news that the bone was healing properly and is getting an x-ray roughly a week in between and the news has been good.
"Every week getting x-rayed; after two weeks got one, no setback, green light to start working out; next week, healed better," Stastny said. "The first day I went back out there, I kind of worked on the edges. ... Next day got better, next day got better. It feels really good. I guess with this injury, it's got to heal all the way. It feels good in a boot because when it's stable, kind of like when you're in a walking boot, I think to me, I feel it more when I'm in a tennis shoe than I am in a sandal. Sandals are a little more stiffer than a tennis shoe. ... Everyday it's been getting better and better. Now it's just more about practicing with the guys for me, moving the puck around, catching it and releasing it, making reads. Hopefully for me right now, it's take it day by day, talk to the doctors, get an X-ray every couple of days and kind of see where it's at, and once I'm cleared, I should be good to go."
Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said that with Stastny, who has five points in five games, it won't be tough to miss time considering everything he's been able to do.
"He's been skating for days now. He's not cleared yet, but with all the stiff he's been doing, once he's cleared, then he'll be able to just come in and play games right away," Hitchcock said. "I don't think there's going to be an adjustment phase as far as having him go and having him participate in some practices. He's all the way back except waiting for medical clearance, and that isn't there yet."
One thing Stastny has mastered is his role playing Mr. Mom.
With a recent newborn daughter, Stastny has had ample time to polish up on his fathering skills.
"Week by week, I'm getting more comfortable holding her, making her not cry, finding what position she likes," Stastny said. "It's been fun for me.
"It's kind of been tough on the wife because she's taking care of a newborn, two dogs and a husband with a broken foot. Early on, I wasn't doing much, but now it's been good. Being back on the ice, getting closer and closer, mentally feel fresh, physically feel fresh."
Ott said of Stastny: "He's moving well, guys. He's going to be another big addition here in the next little while."
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Defenseman Colton Parayko will miss his second straight game with a lower-body injury.
Parayko, who took part in the pregame skate but didn't play Tuesday in Columbus, did not skate Thursday morning.
The rookie was hurt late in Monday's 3-2 win against the Winnipeg Jets.
"No, he's just too sore to play right now," Hitchcock said of Parayko when asked if it was precautionary.
Parayko is listed as day-to-day.
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The Blues announced Thursday they will donate $2 million over the next five years to grow the game of hockey in the St. Louis region by the year 2020.
The campaign, slugged "Hockey STL 2020", is an ambitious and important initiative aimed at growing the game of hockey by 70 percent in the St. Louis region by 2020.
The campaign will work to introduce the game to over 25,000 kids per year through ball hockey programs in schools and community centers and to develop more than 5,000 new ice hockey players.
Over the next five years, the Blues will commit $2 million to programs impacting youth hockey throughout the entire St. Louis region.
"The game of hockey has provided tremendous opportunities, both personal and professional, to everyone in the Blues organization. Certainly the game has given me more than I ever imagined," Blues owner Tom Stillman said in a statement. "My goal, and our goal, is to provide the same opportunities to St. Louis-area boys and girls who simply want to be able to say, ‘I play hockey.’ Through Hockey STL 2020, we believe this is possible."
In collaboration with Total Hockey and other business partners, local communities, and amateur hockey programs throughout the St. Louis area, the campaign will focus on helping kids play hockey by lowering cost barriers and making more ice time available, while communicating the rewards of playing the game. The program will also support new player development with funding grants for new rink development, with the objective of building a new regional multi-sheet hockey facility by fall 2017.
With assistance from Missouri Hockey Inc., 'Hockey STL 2020' also plans to initiate and host an annual Heartland of Hockey Holiday Invitational tournament starting in 2016, providing a central destination for the region’s youth hockey programs to come together.
"Without a doubt, this is the largest ‘Grow the Game’ initiative in the history of the St. Louis Blues," Blues President and CEO of Business Operations Chris Zimmerman said in a statement. "Through programs designed to reduce cost barriers, get sticks into the hands of St. Louis-area youth, and strengthen the infrastructure of hockey through investment in rink development, we plan to take participation in the sport to record levels. We want to make hockey accessible to everyone."
St. Louis and Metro-East areas boast 21 ice sheets and more than 7,000 boys and girls playing hockey. Amateur teams from St. Louis have accumulated 11 USA Hockey championships, while 10 St. Louis-born players are active in the NHL.
"By improving existing rinks and building new facilities, creating opportunities for participation, and promoting the health of our youth, Hockey STL 2020 will cultivate a more connected and organized amateur hockey network throughout the St. Louis region," Zimmerman said. "We have an opportunity and obligation to make this happen and we’re ready to get started."
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The Blues' probable lineup:
Alexander Steen-David Backes-Vladimir Tarasenko
Magnus Paajarvi-Jori Lehtera-Dmitrij Jaskin
Robby Fabbri-Scott Gomez-Troy Brouwer
Steve Ott-Kyle Brodziak-Jeremy Welsh
Jay Bouwmeester-Alex Pietrangelo
Joel Edmundson-Kevin Shattenkirk
Carl Gunnarsson-Robert Bortuzzo
Jake Allen will start in goal. Brian Elliott will be the backup.
Healthy scratches include Scottie Upshall and Ryan Reaves. Paul Stastny (foot), Jaden Schwartz (ankle), Patrik Berglund (shoulder) and Colton Parayko (lower body) are out with injuries.
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The Sabres' probable lineup:
Matt Moulson-Ryan O'Reilly-Brian Gionta
Evander Kane-Jack Eichel-Sam Reinhart
Marcus Foligno-Johan Larsson-Tyler Ennis
Nicolas Deslauriers-David Legwand-Jamie McGinn
Josh Gorges-Rasmus Ristolainen
Jake McCabe-Zach Bogosian
Carlo Colaiacovo-Cody Franson
Linus Ullmark will start in goal. Chad Johnson will be the backup.
Tom Schaller is the healthy scratch. Zemgus Girgensons (upper body), Mike Weber (knee), Robin Lehner (ankle), Cody McCormick (blood clot) and Mark Pysyk (lower body) are out with injuries.