Schwartz close; Brodziak, Gunnarsson on trip, Lehtera
could join later; all three day to day; Reaves left hanging
HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- The Blues are on the cusp of getting left wing Jaden Schwartz back in their lineup sooner than expected, and centers Jori Lehtera and Kyle Brodziak and defenseman Carl Gunnarsson, who all departed last Saturday with upper-body injuries, are all considered day-to-day.
That was the news that came after practice Monday before the Blues, 3-0-0 for only the fourth time in franchise history, departed for a three-game Western Canada road trip that will take them to face the Vancouver Canucks on Tuesday, Edmonton Oilers on Thursday and Calgary Flames on Saturday.
On Schwartz, who sustained a hyperextended left elbow during practice Sept. 29, was expected to miss a minimum four weeks. But Schwartz, who missed 49 games last season with a fractured left ankle, has been skating on his own for days. On Monday, he practiced with the team in full for the first time and was part of all drills.
Schwartz hasn't been ruled out for Tuesday against the Canucks but has a very strong chance of returning Thursday in Edmonton.
"I don't know, it feels better," Schwartz said. "We don't have a game circled yet, so just trying to get the timing and feel more comfortable, but it's feeling better.
"Just (want) to feel more comfortable, feel the strength out and be able to get the timing down, just feel confident making plays and in the dirty areas. Going from practice to games is different obviously. I've got to realize that and make sure that it's ready to go. It was good having everyone out there. That was the first time I practiced with the full team and was able to do all the drills. That's obviously a good step in the right direction."
As for Lehtera, Gunnarsson and Brodziak, each are listed as day to day; Gunnarsson and Brodziak accompanied the team on the trip, but Lehtera did not and could join up later on in Alberta.
"Two are on the trip; Gunnarsson and Brodziak are on the trip. Lehtera isn't going to join us," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. "We'll see when he joins us, what period of time, but he's not going to go on the first leg of the trip to Vancouver, so he'll stay away. The other two guys are on the trip with us, so we'll see how they are. All three guys are day to day, but we don't think that Lehtera's in a position to play right now."
As for call-ups from Chicago of the American Hockey League, Hitchcock said there is no need, which lends to believe that most will play at some point.
"No, we've got (21) guys here. Schwartz is skating full time, so he's available in the next few games hopefully," Hitchcock said. "I'm not sure; we'll talk to him after [Tuesday] and then these guys by obviously making the trip, they've obviously got a chance to play on the trip. We've got lots of bodies.
"I'm not ruling out [anything]. None of these guys we're ruling out anything. They're on the trip. It means if you're on the trip, you have a chance to play whether in Vancouver, Edmonton or Calgary or all of the above. We'll see."
Getting Schwartz, who had eight goals and 14 assists in 33 games last season and was originally expected to miss the first nine games, would be a big boost for the Blues, especially their top six.
"He's an important player," Hitchcock said. "Even at 80 percent last year, he was a good player. Close to 100 percent, he's going to be a real help for us. He's exactly what we need. We saw it at practice today his ability on the rush and his tempo, his compete level is very impressive. When he's back and he's ready to go, it's going to be a big help.
"We knew this ahead of time. We knew this three or four days ago that this was the practice he was going to join us. ... From a conditioning level, when we tested him on the weekend, he was fine and he was up to speed. This is a whole different thing than the ankle injury. That was something where he wasn't able to skate for an extended period of time. So by being able to skate, his conditioning level is right up to speed and he'll be able to hit the ground running."
Schwartz was able to keep up his skating and not miss a beat. That, he felt, was important.
"I think an injury like this, everyone's different," Schwartz said. "There wasn't an exact time frame, but just tried seeing how it feels day to day and working on it. When it feels like it's good to go, then I'm going to go, whether it's before or after the time line they said. ... I'm happy with how the rehab and process is going."
Schwartz was skating on the left wing on a line with Alexander Steen in the middle and Vladimir Tarasenko on the right.
Here's how the lines looked today at practice:
Robby Fabbri-Paul Stastny-Ty Rattie
Jaden Schwartz-Alexander Steen-Vladimir Tarasenko
David Perron-Patrik Berglund-Nail Yakupov
Scottie Upshall/Magnus Paajarvi-Dmitrij Jaskin-Ryan Reaves
"What you saw today, I would throw it in the blender and throw it out if I was you, but this just gave us a look at some other things," Hitchcock said. "I would definitely throw all these lines out. We'll definitely be in a different format tomorrow."
* Western Canada calling -- In recent seasons, the Blues have departed St. Louis for trips to Vancouver, Edmonton and Calgary and come away with plenty of points.
Last season part of a season-long six-game trip, the Blues went on the three cities and came away 3-0 before winning one of two in March. But in recent history, they've been good stops.
"It's great for us to all get out on the road and just be together for an extended period of time," Shattenkirk said. "A lot of guys have been here since almost August and we haven't had any road trips. No one's really left and spent time away from home and we haven't done it together. It just help keep guys around each other a lot and in that sense, you get to know the team better."
"Sometimes it can be good, and sometimes it can be revealing," Hitchcock said. "I think it can be both. I think we're going to get some good play and I think it's going to be revealing for us, too. We're a different team because we know each other so well. I just think it leads to quiet time where the leaders can lead. I think this is a great opportunity where the leaders can have the team, make it their own. That's what we're looking for, too, is to make it where the leaders grab it. They grabbed it at the meeting today, they grabbed it on the ice at practice today. It's real good to see. I think that's going to be a real focus for us. This is the leaders' time. This is the time for the players to follow the appropriate direction that we need to go on and off the ice and I think we're going to do that."
The Blues will have the opportunity Tuesday to start a season with four straight wins for only the second time in franchise history; they started 4-0-0 in 2013-14.
* Reaves left hanging -- For those that didn't see the clip, Blues right wing Ryan Reaves had a playful close to the Salomon family as they came off the ice Saturday.
Carol Salomon, wife of the late Sid Salomon III, who along with his father Sid Jr. were poineer owners of the Blues from 1966-77, along with her three children, dropped the ceremonial first puck prior to the Blues' 3-2 win against the New York Rangers.
As the Salomon's left the ice, Reaves was on the bench offering a hand of thanks for the Salomon family as they were coming off, and when there was no return, Reaves playfully shook his own hand.
"I thought I was there," Reaves joked. "I guess maybe I was just there in spirit, but usually when those guys come across and they drop the puck, they give everybody a fist bump or handshake. I figured a couple girls walking by, figured thank you and stick the hand out, but no dice. I guess they didn't want it.
"I don't know what I did, but I was left hanging. I'm glad 'Shatty' jumped in because my feelings were hurt for a couple seconds."
Shattenkirk was next to Reaves and offered a handshake instead.
"You know what, they left my boy hanging, and that wasn't right, so I had to fill up that hand for him," Shattenkirk said smiling. "I was standing right there. I was watching the whole thing and I knew he needed some love."
To which Reaves responded: "I think he saw there was a single tear drop coming down the right eye and he didn't want that to keep coming so he threw the hand out and all smiles after that."
For the record, this writer shook Reaves' hand in the locker room today, because ... you know ... you can never get enough nice gestures in a day.
* Quick hitters -- Hitchcock said after the Rangers game that the coaching staff would be able to get enough information to get a better outlook on the early stages of the season, and came away with a glaring thought.
"Our 5-on-5 play has to be way better," he said. "We've gotten points because of goaltending and special teams. Our 5-on-5 play has to improve a lot. I think the players recognize that. They were right on board with it. We had a meeting before the practice today. They were really good with the communication on what they felt like they needed. They were right on the same page as us. We have to get better 5-on-5, our checking has to get better, puck support has to get better. Every aspect of our 5-on-5 game has to improve."
Hitchcock didn't disclose a starting goalie but when asked if it would be Jake Allen, he said he didn't know but was leaning that way for the game against the Canucks.
Carter Hutton was fabulous in his Blues debut Saturday, stopping 33 of 35 shots, including all 15 in the third period.
If Shattenkirk plays with Robert Bortuzzo tomorrow, like they were today in practice and like they opened the season last Wednesday in Chicago, Shattenkirk is on board.
"When we played in Chicago together, we never played a second together before, both in practice or in a game," Shattenkirk said. "I thought we handled that really well. We played very well in Chicago, especially him playing on the offside. I've had experience playing there. It's a tough transition, but he did it very well. Even today in practice, it felt like we just knew each other that much better. I think that's the key is to get more and more reps."