By LOU KORAC
ST. LOUIS -- The Blues will welcome one defenseman back to the lineup and lose another when they host the Pittsburgh Penguins today (7 p.m. on NBCSN, KMOX 1120-AM)
Jay Bouwmeester will return after missed the past four games with an upper-body injury stemming from concussion-like symptoms sustained Jan. 8 against the Anaheim Ducks following a hit from Ryan Getzlaf.
Bouwmeester said he's been on the ice the past three or four days and felt progressively better.
"I feel good. Good enough to play, so we'll try and play," Bouwmeester said. "I started pushing a little harder. I felt good all day yesterday and I felt fine.
"Any time you miss a little time, things seem like they go a little faster. We picked it up pretty quick."
Bouwmeester was averaging 23:08 per game before he departed the lineup and will be a welcomed addition for coach Ken Hitchcock.
"He plays the heaviest 5-on-5 minutes on the team," Hitchcock said of Bouwmeester. "He plays every situation, he plays 5-on-5. Between 5-on-5 and PK, he plays the most minutes than anybody. It's the same thing as (Carl) Gunnarsson. Bouw's a top-three defenseman, Gunnarsson's our top four. When you're missing three and four out of your lineup, that's a big hole and we've been able to survive. It's good on us."
Bouwmeester will play with familiar partner, Alex Pietrangelo.
"It's big. Obviously I played pretty much the whole game with him, but he's obviously a great player," Pietrangelo said of Bouwmeester. "Big impact the game on both ends of the ice. Any time you get a player of that caliber back, an elite player, it's only going to make you better."
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Defenseman Andre Benoit, recalled from Chicago of the American Hockey League on Sunday, will make his Blues debut Monday and replace Robert Bortuzzo, who is out with a lower-body injury sustained Saturday blocking a shot against the Montreal Canadiens.
"Obviously I'm excited," said Benoit, who who has played 179 NHL games with the Buffalo Sabres, Colorado Avalanche and Ottawa Senators. "I want to come in here and show what I can do and take it from there.
"At the same time, I was able to get a lot of my confidence back playing in the AHL this year and hopefully I can take that with me and play well here. I thought camp went well. It is what it is. I started in Chicago, played well there and now I want to take advantage of this."
Said Hitchcock: "Benoit's here because quite frankly, he played the best of anybody there. We're in that situation. We've got four games left (before the all-star break). We sustained another injury and we need him to be a good player for us right now. He's played the best of any of them down there the last three weeks or so and deserved the call-up and so he got the call-up and he's going to play tonight.
"He quarterbacks their power play, he's got (a) big point total down there, he's almost a point a game guy. He's very dependable, he makes a great first pass, his transition part of his game is excellent. With the people that we're missing ... when you start missing top four defensemen all the time, you lose the transition part and you become a static hockey club, the forwards are waiting for the D's, the D's are waiting to make a decision, so you kind of become slow. Benoit's a guy that can transfer the puck up the ice. He moves it north quick, he makes a great first pass. He's going to allow us to stay in a little better transition phase for us."
Benoit will play with rookie Joel Edmundson.
"I haven't really played with him too much," Edmundson said of Benoit. "When I was down in Chicago, he's an all-around defenseman. You can look at his points, and he can be offensive, but he's sound defensively. I think he's a complete package."
Benoit said he felt his training camp was good, and the Blues like what he brings.
"We spent a lot of time together. He came in here early because his kids were in school," Pietrangelo said of Benoit. "Me and 'Benny' got to know each other pretty well. He's played in the league before, he's played for a while. He knows what to do. He's going to be steady back there, he's going to make all the right plays for us."
Bortuzzo blocked a shot Saturday but finished the game. Hitchcock made it sound like he could be out for an extended period.
"It's a loss for us," Hitchcock said. "He's a guy that's hard to play against. He's really learned to calm down ... he plays so much on his toes that he was attacking people all the time, and he's now calmed down to receive the rush to absorb the play and then make a good first pass whereas before, he was on his toes and always attacking and sometimes getting caught out of position because he has so much energy on the ice. He's become a good player for us to be honest with you. He's dependable, we trust him killing penalties. Just through the injury situation, through necessity, he's got a bigger chance to play and he's done a good job."
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Center Paul Stastny, who wore a full face cage the past two games stemming from being struck in the face with Jan. 8 against the Ducks. But he was on the ice for the morning skate sans face cage and will not wear it anymore.
Stastny will wear a clear shield until after the all-star break. He wore a regular visor during the morning skate.
"It's a game-changer," Stastny said. "I feel like I can finally see. With that cage, I just had no peripheral vision. It was tough, a lot of blind spots for me, so it was just really uncomfortable.
"We found a mask that's protective enough for the time-being -- probably until the All-Star break -- and then I'll go back to what I was wearing before. But I feel like I just went from watching regular TV to watching 4K HD, so I'm excited. I feel like a new player out there."
Hitchcock said it really affected Stastny on special teams.
"Yeah, you really noticed on the power play," he said. "It's like his whole head has to turn. You need to play the game with your eyes, but in his situation, he literally has to turn his whole head to play the way he is right now. There's times when he's on the off-side of the ice when you really notice."
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The Penguins did not hold a morning skate; defenseman Kris Letang (game-time decision) and forward Beau Bennett did skate along with backup goalie Jeff Zatkoff, who is expected to start.
Coach Mike Sullivan will address the media at 5 p.m. CT. to update their situations along with former Blues draft pick David Warsofsky, who departed a 5-0 win against the Carolina Hurricanes Sunday after colliding with referee Tim Peel.
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The Blues' probable lineup:
Alexander Steen-Paul Stastny-Troy Brouwer
Robby Fabbri-Jori Lehtera-Vladimir Tarasenko
Patrik Berglund-David Backes-Ty Rattie
Scottie Upshall-Kyle Brodziak-Ryan Reaves
Jay Bouwmeester-Alex Pietrangelo
Kevin Shattenkirk-Colton Parayko
Joel Edmundson-Andre Benoit
Brian Elliott will start in goal. Jordan Binnington will be the backup.
Dmitrij Jaskin and Chris Butler will be the healthy scratches. Jaden Schwartz (ankle), Steve Ott (hamstring), Jake Allen (lower body), Carl Gunnarsson (upper body), Robert Bortuzzo (lower body) and Magnus Paajarvi (upper body) are out with injuries.
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The Penguins' projected lineup:
Chris Kunitz-Sidney Crosby-Patric Hornqvist
Carl Hagelin-Evgeni Malkin-Phil Kessel
Tom Kuhnhackl-Eric Fehr-Bryan Rust
Kevin Porter-Matt Cullen-Conor Sheary
Olli Maatta-Trevor Daley
Brian Dumoulin-Ben Lovejoy
Ian Cole-David Warsofsky
Jeff Zatkoff is expected to start in goal. Marc-Andre Fleury is expected to be the backup.
Sergei Plotnikov is expected to be the healthy scratch. Beau Bennett (upper body), Nick Bonino (hand), Kris Letang (undisclosed) and David Warsofsky (upper body) are expected to be out with injuries.