By LOU KORAC
DENVER -- The Blues will go into their game today against the Colorado Avalanche (8 p.m. CT; FS-MW, KMOX 1120-AM) with a full complement of defensemen.
After Wednesday's snafu that forced the Blues (28-15-7) to play with five defensemen from the start, they will be able to bring forth six defensemen and not have to go with a mix-and-match game, one they won 2-1 at the Detroit Red Wings.
Carl Gunnarsson will return tonight against the Avalanche (24-21-3) after he was supposed to play Wednesday, but the Blues failed to remove him from injured-reserve on time with the league's central registry and so Gunnarsson was forced to miss one more game.
"It was a little bit weird, but you know, stuff like that happens," said Gunnarsson, who five games with an upper-body injury. "Just got to get ready for tonight. That's it, just look forward."
Getting in a couple extra days didn't hurt Gunnarsson either after he was injured Jan. 9 at the Los Angeles Kings.
"That's the positive side of it," Gunnarsson said. "That was tough for them (Wednesday), but it was nice to get the win. They did a tremendous job, so you've got to give it to them, give them a little tap on the shoulder. But it's going to be nice, especially here being six for tonight. It's good. Everyone's kind of coming back, starting to get healthy, the whole group. We're real excited about that."
The Blues were forced to play with five defensemen Wednesday after rookie Colton Parayko came down with flu-like symptoms and could not go.
He skated Friday and aside from a hoarse voice and sweating profusely, he's good to go tonight.
"Good, better," Parayko said when asked how he was feeling. "It was bad enough (on Wednesday) to point where felt it was safe not to play. I was up all night and things weren't going out the right way. Obviously that's not a good sign. Caused a couple headaches. Just wanted to get ready and get to 100 percent and ready to play.
"It feels good to get it all out. Feels good to be back with the guys. I felt like I missed more, even though it was just one day."
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Defenseman Joel Edmundson is questionable after he took a puck to the mouth during the morning skate. He departed late in the practice with a towel on his mouth, but in case he can't go, Robert Bortuzzo, who has missed the past two games with a lower-body injury after blocking a shot against the Montreal Canadiens last Saturday, is deemed fit and ready to step in if Edmundson can't go.
"Yeah, we're ready to go when called upon," Bortuzzo said. "Physically, we're good to go.
"You want to get back as fast as possible. At the same time, you want to be smart about things. Tried to see how it responded. It's needed a couple extra days. I've done a good job with the trainers and really been smart about things."
Coach Ken Hitchcock was glad for a few moments about getting more bodies back until seeing Edmundson take a shot.
"Well, we were until we took a shot in the mouth," Hitchcock said. "We'll see where that is this afternoon. We lasted 11 minutes as healthy. That's about as good as we've gotten so far. We'll see how 'Eddy' is later today."
With Bortuzzo deemed ready, the Blues assigned defenseman Andre Benoit to the Chicago Wolves of the American Hockey League.
Benoit is still with the Blues though he's been officially reassigned because he couldn't get to Charlotte in time to play this weekend with the Wolves, who are playing the Charlotte Checkers. But due to the inclement weather on the east coast, Benoit will join the team after the weekend.
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In the absence of a defenseman, Kevin Shattenkirk played a season-high 28 minutes, 14 seconds in the victory against the Red Wings. He, Benoit (16:24) and Edmundson (20:34) really had to pick up the slack, along with Alex Pietrangelo's game-high 28:28 and Jay Bouwmeester going 24:26 in his second game back from concussion symptoms.
"It's also one of those things, the more you do it, the more you get used to it," Shattenkirk said of playing the heavy minutes. "It would have been really hard to do it here. If we got stuck with it here, it would have been tough. It's something that 'Petro' will tell you, when you get used to those minutes and you know you're going to play those minutes, you can adjust accordingly and play your certain game."
Defensemen deal with injured players going out during the game and playing with five for the duration of the game. But to start that way, is there a difference?
"It was and it wasn't," Shattenkirk said. "I think when a guy goes down, you rally around it. For whatever he went down for or was kicked out of the game, there's a sense of pride to hang in there and do it. You have a similar mindset, but going into the game, it forces you to be more cautious, to think about it more, think about how you have to lay your time out and pace yourself. You obviously can't predict the score, but if you get to the third period and it's a tie game, you have to be sure you have the energy to go out there in a 2-1 game and be able to make some plays in the third period. It's a little different in certain ways."
Shattenkirk said he hasn't recalled anything like it.
"No, not since playing 4 'D' back in peewees," he said. "We were saying, those were the glory days, and then after the last game, we were like, 'I don't know how the hell we did it.'"
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Jaden Schwartz (fractured left ankle) and Magnus Paajarvi (upper-body injury) were two of the injured that skated again on Friday.
For Schwartz, who's missed the past 43 games, it's another step in the right direction. He stayed on the ice after the team was done to get extra work in, as he did on Wednesday.
Players are getting a good sense that the roster is finally coming to fruition and are eager to see the completed result.
"It's just good to see the guys out there skating with the group," Gunnarsson said. "I think they feel the same way. Skating on your own, it kind of sucks, it's kind of boring. The first couple practices back with the team, it's fun. I'm happy for the guys who are coming back here and it's good to be back with the team again."
"I think you can definitely feel it. 'Schwartzy' definitely brings that energy to practice. All those guys coming back from injury, they bring an energy to our group that is infectious being around them. We haven't really had our full squad all year. Injuries happen. That's sports, but it will be nice to transition into our full group of healthy bodies."
Hitchcock won't allow himself to get excited until he can see them in the lineup.
"I'm dealing day-to-day," Hitchcock said. "I don't look at those guys that are skating, say today as we speak, as players until Ray (Barile) says, 'Hitch, they're good to go, they're good for your evaluation.' Until then, I don't look at them as players. They're ... I don't want to say this cold and calculated, but they're a little bit faceless for me until they get into the lineup and they're able to perform at a high level. Then you're excited, but until then, it's status quo. Get out what you can and let the assistant coaches and training staff work with the guys individually."
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The Blues will be going for their fourth win in a row and fifth in six games. They've earned points in eight of the past nine games (5-1-3) but last time in here (Jan. 6), they lost a 3-1 lead and fell 4-3 in overtime.
"I think we've got to start with the puck more," Hitchcock said. "We did a great job for two periods and then I don't think we had the puck. I think we lost 11 faceoffs overall in the third period and didn't start with the puck. If we start with the puck, it'll mean they have to chase us and if they start with the puck, we're chasing them and they're the wrong team to chase. They've got lots of dynamics up front, lots of skill up front, lots of speed up front. Having them start with the puck as much as they did, Buffalo ran into the same thing. Buffalo played a great first two periods and then didn't have the puck in the third period and the Avs came back and won the hockey game."
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Brian Elliott, who starts for the seventh straight game and making his eighth straight appearance since Jake Allen (lower body) was hurt Jan. 8, is 5-2-1 with a shutout, 2.44 goals-against average and .885 save percentage lifetime against the Avalanche but he is 3-0-0 with a 1.30 GAA and .938 save percentage the past three starts.
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Former Blues defenseman Rik Wilson passed away Friday, announced by the Blues alumni.
"The St. Louis Blues and the Blues Alumni organization are deeply saddened by the passing of Rik Wilson," the Blues said in a statement. "Rik donned the Blue Note with pride and passion during five of his six NHL seasons. Rik was a valued member of not only the Blues organization but the St. Louis community, where he and his family settled following his retirement. Our thoughts and prayers are with the Wilson family during this difficult time."
Wilson was originally drafted by the Blues in the first round, 12th overall, of the 1980 NHL Draft. He spent five seasons in St. Louis, appearing in 235 regular season games and 22 postseason games with the Blues. Wilson also made brief stints in both Calgary and Chicago before retiring from the NHL after the 1987-88 season.
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For Colorado, Blake Comeau will be a game-time decision. Comeau's wife gave birth to a child Friday morning but the Avalanche expected him to play.
If Comeau doesn't play, Chris Wagner will step into the lineup and center the third line.
(UPDATE) ... Comeau was not on the ice for pregame warmups, so he'll be scratched and Wagner will play.
Former Blues defenseman Erik Johnson will miss a ninth consecutive game with a lower-body injury. Johnson did practice hard for a second straight day and is expected to play Saturday at Dallas.
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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
Dmitrij Jaskin-Kyle Brodziak-Ryan Reaves
Jay Bouwmeester-Alex Pietrangelo
Carl Gunnarsson-Kevin Shattenkirk
Joel Edmundson-Colton Parayko
Brian Elliott will start in goal. Jordan Binnington will be the backup.
Scottie Upshall and Robert Bortuzzo will be scratched. Jaden Schwartz (ankle), Steve Ott (hamstring), Jake Allen (lower body) and Magnus Paajarvi (upper body) are out with injuries.
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The Avalanche's projected lineup:
Alex Tanguay-Nathan MacKinnon-Matt Duchene
Gabriel Landeskog-Carl Soderberg-Mikhail Grigorenko
Andreas Martinsen-Chris Wagner-Jarome Iginla
Cody McLeod-John Mitchell-Jack Skille
Francois Beauchemin-Nikita Zadorov
Nick Holden-Tyson Barrie
Zach Redmond-Chris Bigras
Semyon Varlamov will start in goal. Calvin Pickard will be the backup.
Healthy scratches include Nate Guenin, Andrew Bodnarchuk and Blake Comeau. Erik Johnson (lower body) is out but is expected to return Saturday. Reto Berra (ankle), Ben Street (chest), Brad Stuart (back) and Jesse Winchester (head) are out indefinitely.