Wednesday, February 3, 2016


Schwartz won't play Thursday, continues to progress; 
Gunnarsson staring down death; Rinne's save on Paajarvi

ST. LOUIS -- Jaden Schwartz took another step towards his long-awaited return to the lineup for the Blues.

It won't happen just yet, but the horizon is visible.

Schwartz, out since Oct. 23 with a fractured left ankle, won't be in the lineup when the Blues (29-16-8) begin a three-game homestand against the San Jose Sharks on Thursday but could return Saturday against the Minnesota Wild.

Schwartz has missed the past 46 games. He skated with the extra forwards during drills but participated in all functions, something that pleased coach Ken Hitchcock.

"He looked really competitive today," Hitchcock said of Schwartz. "He looked like he was up to speed with a lot of things. I don't know what he's feeling physically; I haven't talked to him yet, but today he looked like some quickness was back in his game. There was less thinking and more read and react. That's a real good sign for where he was say, three days ago. That's a good sign.

"... I've got to talk to him. I've got to see how he feels. I'd still like to see him in another practice and see how he looks. Today was the first time 5-on-5, 3-on-3, 5-on-4, had to kill penalties. Lots of game-like situations today in quick order. It's a good sign."

Schwartz will impact the lineup in a number of areas when he returns. From penalty kill to power play, even-strength play ... you name it.

When asked about his impact, Hitchcock wasn't hesitant to disclose what line Schwartz will play on.

"He fits in with (Nos.) 26 and 91," Hitchcock said, referring to Paul Stastny and Vladimir Tarasenko. "That's where he fits, right there ... boom."

To make room for Schwartz when they do activate him off injured reserve because they'll need a roster spot, the Blues assigned right wing Ty Rattie to the Chicago Wolves of the American Hockey League.

* Blocking machine -- Defenseman Carl Gunnarsson had half (seven) of the Blues' blocked shots Tuesday in a 1-0 victory at the Nashville Predators.

But the one block Gunnarsson stood out for was getting in front of Predators defenseman Shea Weber in the first period.

Gunnarsson grimaced in some pain for a moment but caught a break when the shot hit the padding of his shin pad and took the brunt of Weber's shot. Weber is the two-time reigning winner of the hardest shot competition. 

"It happened pretty quick and I got close enough. I got hit in a good spot," Gunnarsson said. "It's either that or let a one-timer for Shea Weber to step into right at the net. If that's a goal, that's on me. It happened quick. It's down, you try to block and not really think about who's shooting. Just go down and hopefully getting it on the right spot.

"They fluttered it over on the cross-ice. When I looked over and stepped up, I saw it was him. There's not much to do."

Hitchcock had a suggestion: pray.

"Blowing up his legs. He had an oh-my-God moment. I'm going to heaven because (No.) 6 has the puck. Say goodbye to my family," Hitchcock joked. "Was he blocking or he couldn't get out of the way. What scared me was when he turned. Getting the puck on the wrong side is not fun."

Teammates credited Gunnarsson after the game, and Hitchcock followed suit Wednesday.

"A lot of credit," he said. "Helped the goalie, too."

The Blues allowed a season-low 16 shots on goal in the victory.

"We must have done something good, play in their face a little bit because we know they like to shoot from everywhere basically," Gunnarsson said. "That's good, keep them on the outside, don't let any shots in. But that guy (Brian Elliott) was good over there, too. It looks easy for him."

* Paajarvi battling -- Magnus Paajarvi returned to the lineup after missing seven games with an upper-body injury. 

Paajarvi, who skated with Stastny and Tarasenko, played 12 minutes, 49 seconds and tied with Kevin Shattenkirk and Colton Parayko with three shots on goal, including one early in the third when Pekka Rinne robbed him of what would have given the Blues a 1-0 lead at the time.

"He made a helluva save. I did all I could," Paajarvi said of Rinne. "Sure, I could look back and say, 'I should have backed up or I should have tried to get it higher up.' I did all I could. Those were two nice saves. I could have had the rebound, too. Great save, tip the hat.

"I tried to do a one-timer. Most goalies won't come over there. Rinne's one of them. Nice job."

Paajarvi has two goals and five points in 33 games but isn't getting down on himself. He's finding himself in scoring areas.

"I can't look at it any other way. I can't be frustrated," Paajarvi said. "I'm playing well. I'm creating a lot of chances. 

"They'll go in ... eventually. If it doesn't, it's not like I'm not trying to score. It's a cliche, but that's what I'm going for."

Hitchcock would like to see Paajarvi finish just to give him the boost of confidence.

"You hope that with all the scoring chances that he gets, that he's going to get an opportunity," Hitchcock said. "That line's not going to be productive unless they finish. They have to finish their scoring chances. Magnus had those three in the third period that you'd like to see ... for his own confidence, get those and get them nailed down."

Paajarvi said it took a bit to settle into the game because of the extended time off but once he did, it was fine.

"It wasn't a problem. I wasn't gone that long," Paajarvi said. "Tempo wasn't a problem. Positioning in the first period, I wasn't good in the first period. I was struggling, I felt like, and then the second and third, I was way better."

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