By LOU KORAC
ST. LOUIS -- The good news for the Blues is they will have left wing Jaden Schwartz back when they end the pre-All-Star schedule by hosting the Colorado Avalanche on Thursday (7 p.m.; FS-MW, KMOX 1120-AM).
Schwartz was activated off injured reserve and will be in the lineup playing with Brayden Schenn and Alexander Steen when the Blues (29-18-3) go for their fourth win in the five games.
To make room for Schwartz, the Blues put forward Magnus Paajarvi on waivers.
"I’ve made some strides and I feel like I’m ready to go again," Schwartz said. "Today was a day that I thought could be an option. You don’t really want to make any guarantees until I see if I could go through practice, go through the right steps. Try different things on the ice to make sure you’re ready."
With Schwartz, the Blues were a different team. They were 20-8-2 with him in the lineup, 9-10-1 without him.
"We're obviously very excited," Blues coach Mike Yeo said. "It does an awful lot for our group. We've spent an awful lot of time talking about it here, talking about while he was out and what we were missing with him and what we're going to get back with him coming into the lineup. He's a huge part of our team, a huge part of our leadership group, and obviously a very important player for us."
Schwartz is third on the Blues with 35 points (14 goals, 21 assists) in 30 games. To expect him to pick up where he left off is asking for a lot, but it wouldn't surprise the Blues if he were to do so.
"Not really any expectations," Schwartz said. "I'm just excited to be back in the lineup to help out. I'm not going to try to change too much. Just keep playing and doing what I was doing before. A little less thinking tonight and just having fun and enjoying being back on the ice."
If anyone will be glad to see Schwartz tonight is Schenn. The All-Star had 36 points in 30 games (15 goals, 21 assists) with Schwartz in the lineup, 13 points (five goals, eight assists) in 20 games without him.
"Huge," Schenn said. "He does it all for us. You don't realize how good he is until you start playing with him. He makes players around him better and we had some chemistry early on, so hopefully we can get it going again."
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Paajarvi had two goals and two assists in 44 games with the Blues this season. He'll be most remembered for the series-clinching goal in Game 5 of the first round playoff series against the Minnesota Wild last season.
If Paajarvi doesn't get claimed, he'll be assigned to either Chicago or San Antonio of the American Hockey League. It will be the fourth time the Blues have put Paajarvi on waivers in his fifth season here. He's cleared each of the first three times.
"We all have a lot of belief in Magnus, he gave us some good games this year, and the one thing we always know we're getting with him was that he was going to be very reliable, effective for us in terms of shutting teams down and being solid defensively," Yeo said. "He didn't have the offensive confidence that he had last season, no question. I think his time in the minors last year allowed him to put himself in a position where he was forced to attack a little bit more and create a little bit more offensively and I think he brought a lot of that confidence up with him. We couldn't find it for a while here in the offensive part of his game. Obviously we'll see what happens here in the next couple days."
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Carter Hutton will make yet another start in goal for the Blues, his fifth straight start and ninth in the past 11 games.
Hutton is coming off a 3-0 shutout of the Ottawa Senators, and with him starting again tonight and the Blues not playing again until Tuesday, it will be three weeks between starts for Jake Allen, who is 1-8-0 his past nine starts.
"It's a hard decision in that we would definitely like to get Jake in there," Yeo said. "Easy decision in that 'Hutts,' it's typical for us to go back to a goalie after a shutout, and obviously when a goalie's playing at that level.
"We don't want [Allen] sitting around for four or five weeks. We're going to have to get him going very quickly after the break, but that's the decision we made for today."
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The Blues are catching the Avalanche (27-17-3) as one of the hottest teams in the NHL.
Colorado is coming off a 10-game winning streak, the second-longest streak in franchise history that was broken Tuesday with a 4-2 loss to the Montreal Canadiens.
"It's fun," said Avalanche defenseman and former Blues d-man Erik Johnson. "Ten in a row is good. It didn't feel like we won 10 in a row. We were pretty even-keeled professional about it I think. Just as a group, pretty business-like. We were flat on the back-to-back, so a good opportunity to respond tonight against a really good team in our division."
Colorado, which didn't trail at any point during the streak until Monday night in a 4-2 come-from-behind win over Toronto, is right in the middle of the playoff race. If it were to end today, the Avalanche, which was the worst team in the NHL with 48 points -- 21 worse than anyone else -- last season, has had a culture change and it's paid dividends under second-year coach Jared Bednar.
"We had a lot of turnover from last year as far as old to young," Johnson said. "I think we were one of the older teams in the league last year. Now we're the second youngest. We've had a lot of young guys come up hungry to prove themselves and have created some really good internal competition for us. I think it's really upped everyone's level and we're playing a more mature game in all three zones and it's turned into some good hockey for us.
"It just feels like a different overall group this year and obviously it's translated to the ice, too."
"We come out of that streak there and we have a letdown there in Montreal," Bednar said. "We looked a little bit tired. We did some good things, but it didn't look like we had the legs behind us and the extra push we needed to win that game and I thought they were a really hungry team. They lost a couple previous games at home. They played pretty good and we just didn't have enough to get the job done. Tonight it's just getting back. We had a day to rest yesterday and it's time to move past what we've done lately. It's time to move on and really stop this thing. We really want to make sure we're not losing two in a row in the second half. Our resolve and our desire to win this game has got to be stronger tonight against a tough team."
The Avalanche went 22-56-4 last season.
"It's really good, especially after last year," Johnson said. "I missed half of the year with injury, so it was a rough year. To see what kind of happened after that was tough to go through away from the rink. It feels good to be a team that's on the up-and-up and will be for a long time.
"We haven't done anything yet. We're still right in the wildcard spot, but a lot of season left. As good as it's felt for the run we've been on, it's not enough yet and we have a lot of work left to do still."
Johnson, a former first overall pick of the Blues in 2006, still has fond memories of St. Louis. The only holdovers on the Blues roster that were teammates with Johnson when he was traded to the Avalanche along with Jay McClement and a first-round pick for Kevin Shattenkirk, Chris Stewart and a second-round pick are Steen, Vladimir Sobotka, Alex Pietrangelo and fellow 2006 first-round pick Patrik Berglund.
"I loved playing in St. Louis. It's a great city. I still like coming back here," said Johnson, who lists Dominic's Trattoria in Clayton as a favorite eating establishment of his. "They've had a lot of roster turnover there as well. I think there's only three or four guys that I played with, but still an awesome sports city to come back to. As far as Denver, I love living there now in my eighth season. It goes really, really quickly. Probably more downs than ups there, but there's been a lot of good times, too. It's really a fun city to integrate yourself in and I've really enjoyed it."
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Also back in St. Louis is former Blue Nail Yakupov, who spent last season in St. Louis following his trade here from the Edmonton Oilers.
Yakupov, who had three goals and six assists in 40 games with the Blues last season, already has 15 points (nine goals, six assists) in 41 games with the Avalanche after he signed a one-year, $875,000 contract.
"It's good," Yakupov said. "Guys are really nice and friendly. I'm enjoying the city where I'm staying. It's always sunny, you never get depressed, there's always something to do. When the team is doing good, it's much easier to live a life. You don't have to worry about anything. You just enjoy coming to the rink, really happy, excited, ready to do the things you've done in the past, maybe even more. It's a good time. I enjoy being in this organization."
Yakupov spent some time before the morning skate today with Vladimir Tarasenko, Ivan Barbashev and Dmitrij Jaskin.
"I got to see a couple few guys here, especially 'Vladi,' 'Barby,' 'Jasky' and other guys swing by and say hi," Yakupov said. "We had a really interesting life together. It's kind of weird to now play against them but at the same time, it's good. I had some memories, bad and good memories, but I'm happy to be where I'm at right now."
Yakupov is extremely fond of Tarasenko, who took him in and played the role of big brother.
"He did a really good job from his side," Yakupov said. "I was here by myself most of the time. We had some dinners, breakfasts, lunches. He was always inviting me to hang out at his place and sometimes stay overnights there. He has an unbelievable house. A lot of extra room so I could pretty much take all downstairs for a couple nights. He has a good family, he enjoys being here. I think it's one of the best persons I've ever known in my life.
"It makes your life and your hockey much easier when you have those guys helping you around. He's been here for so long, he knows everything. If I had any questions or issues, 'Vladi' was always there."
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The Blues' projected lineup:
Ivan Barbashev-Paul Stastny-Vladimir Tarasenko
Jaden Schwartz-Brayden Schenn-Alexander Steen
Vladimir Sobotka-Patrik Berglund-Tage Thompson
Scottie Upshall-Kyle Brodziak-Dmitrij Jaskin
Joel Edmundson-Alex Pietrangelo
Jay Bouwmeester-Colton Parayko
Vince Dunn-Robert Bortuzzo
Carter Hutton will start in goal; Jake Allen will be the backup.
Healthy scratches include Carl Gunnarsson, Chris Thorburn and Oskar Sundqvist. Zach Sanford (shoulder) skated today but remains out. Robby Fabbri (knee) is out for the season.
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The Avalanche projected lineup:
Gabriel Landeskog-Nathan MacKinnon-Mikko Rantanen
Matt Nieto-Carl Soderberg-Blake Comeau
Dominic Toninato-Alexander Kerfoot-Nail Yakupov
Gabriel Bourque-Tyson Jost-A.J. Greer
Nikita Zadorov-Erik Johnson
Patrik Nemeth-Anton Lindholm
Samuel Girard-David Warsofsky
Jonathan Bernier will start in goal; Andrew Hammond will be the backup.
The Avalanche have no healthy scratches. Semyon Varlamov (groin), Tyson Barrie (hand), Sven Andrighetto (leg), Vladislav Kamenev (arm), Colin Wilson (illness), J.T. Compher (illness), Mark Barberio (lower body) are all out.