Edmundson could return against Avalanche; Hutton suffers
setback, Husso recalled; Bortuzzo not skating, will play Thursday
HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- Joel Edmundson is on the cusp of returning to the Blues' lineup, and the defenseman would immediately infuse some much-needed brawn into the lineup with the Blues playing arguably their best hockey in weeks.
Edmundson could join the Blues (37-27-5) in their push for the playoffs when they entertain the Colorado Avalanche (37-24-8) on Thursday.
Edmundson, who coincidentally sustained a fractured right forearm against the Avalanche on Feb. 8, was hopeful of getting into one game on the Blues' California swing on Monday in Anaheim but felt it wasn't quite the time.
After practice Wednesday at the Ice Zone inside St. Louis Outlet Mall, Edmundson sounded as optimistic as he has since he started practicing again.
"It's feeling good," Edmundson said Wednesday after practice. "If I have a good day tomorrow, I might be in the lineup. We haven't decided that yet, but it keeps getting better every day. The end is near and I'll join the boys in the playoff push right away. ... I'm hoping for tomorrow, but we're still not sure.
"I got cleared (by team doctors before going to California) to do what I want, so now it's all on me. I'm the only one that can tell how I feel."
Edmundson was a full participant in all drills Wednesday, including some battle drills that occurred.
The Blues were 4-7-2 with Edmundson out of the lineup but have won two straight.
"We're hopeful for sure. Good practice for him today," Blues coach Mike Yeo said of Edmundson. "Obviously he's been with us on the road trip here. Eddy adds a lot for our group. A big, physical presence, a guy that's really hard to play against. Hopefully he's in tomorrow and if not, then we're going to have to find a way to make up for those minutes and a guy like 'Schmaltzy's been doing a nice job for us lately. We'll count on those guys.
"We don't want to put him in a bad position. He's a warrior for us. He goes out, he competes for us every night, lays it on the line and he's a guy you can trust and you know is going to give you everything he's got and if he's ready, he's going to play. I have no doubt in my mind, but we're definitely not going to put him in a bad position, too. If he feels like he's not ready, then we'll have to wait."
Yeo has liked the effort given by Jordan Schmaltz, who has filled in nicely when called upon, but when Edmundson returns, he'd likely be the odd-man out.
"You don't go around throwing the word 'warrior' around lightly, but he is," Yeo said of Edmundson. "He competes, he sacrifices the body, he pays a price, plays physically, does it night after night after night. He's a guy that kind of stuff rubs off on the team, the pull, it drags people into the fight with them. Hopefully we get him back tomorrow, but obviously we can't base everything on it because we don't have 100 percent yet."
Edmundson said Wednesday wasn't the most physical practice he's been involved in, but got in some much-needed work after it was done with ...
"When practice ended, I pulled [Oskar] Sundqvist aside and did some battling with him," Edmundson said. "It's felt the best since I've been injured. I'm looking at the positives right now."
* Hutton suffers setback -- When the Blues assigned goalie Ville Husso back to the San Antonio Rampage on Tuesday, it was with hope that Carter Hutton would be able to practice Wednesday and get himself back to active duty.
But Hutton was not on the ice Wednesday, and local goalie Tyler Stewart, who was an emergency backup earlier this season, was in his place, and Husso was recalled from the Rampage on Wednesday afternoon.
Hutton, who injured his neck during the morning skate in San Jose on March 8, was to get looked at Wednesday afternoon by doctors to see the extent of what's been the cause of his neck ailment.
"He's going to get checked out there later this afternoon," Yeo said of Hutton after practice. "We sent Ville back, we expected Carter was going to be able to practice today. Woke up this morning and was starting to have some troubles again. He'll have an appointment here today and we'll see what we find here from that.
"It's worrisome enough that we'll get him checked out today and then in talking with Ray [Barile], I think it's way too early. I asked Ray if it's something we need to worry about and he said, 'Don't even think about it until after we've met with the doctor and find out.' ... Took a shot (in San Jose) and sort of as the day went on, it got progressively worse."
In Hutton's absence, Jake Allen has found his game again; he went 2-1-0 with a 1.68 goals-against average and .948 save percentage, stopping 92 of 97 shots.
"I think it's similar to kind of what we saw last year," Yeo said of Allen. "When we started getting on a roll, the confidence that Jake was playing with, the team feeds off that. I think you can be a little bit more aggressive in certain situations, whether it's the way you defend, getting on people, your gaps. If you're playing without the fear of possibly giving up a shot or a chance knowing that he's going to be there to protect you, you can play a little more aggressively. I think it also helps guys to focus and concentrate on their own job not trying to do anything extra out there. I think we saw that last year. Certainly his poise in the net the last few games has filtered through he rest of the group."
* Bortuzzo not skating -- Defenseman Robert Bortuzzo, who scored the opening goal in each of the Blues' past two games (first time he's scored in back-to-back games in his career), did not participate in practice on Wednesday.
Bortuzzo, who was dealing with a knee issue stemming from an injury in Dallas on Feb. 16, has missed the occasional skate since returning from the injury.
"Just giving another chance to get two days in between and just making sure that he's ready to go for tomorrow," Yeo said of Bortuzzo.
Bortuzzo has 10 points (three goals, even assists), which ties a career-high also set in 2013-14 with the Pittsburgh Penguins (all assists).
"He's spoiling us with his play, let's put it that way," Yeo said. "He's playing like a real top-notch defender. He's really competitive. His gaps are good. He's really strong and hard around the net and his execution and his reads have been really strong."
* Successful ending to California -- The Blues started off their California trip with a discouraging 2-0 loss to San Jose and offered little hope that they were ready to stay in this Western Conference playoff race.
But wins at Los Angeles (7-2) and Anaheim (4-2) can quickly change the fortunes of one team, and although the Blues will enter Thursday three points behind the Avalanche for the second wildcard, they are displaying that with 13 games left, the Blues will not back down quietly.
"I think that our group definitely has a belief," Yeo said. "I think that there's an understanding that we still have a long road ahead of us. Not only are we chasing a lot of teams here, but we're chasing a lot of really good teams. But that said, I think looking at our schedule, looking at the games we've played lately in terms of what we're capable of, I think that there's a really strong belief in our group. And I like the experience factor. We have a lot of guys whether they did it last year for us having to play these meaningful games and find a way to play at your highest level, whether it's the experience of playing in playoff hockey and knowing how to come through and doing the little things and dealing with those types of emotion, I think that that's going to help us. It's a long, tough road ahead of us, but we're excited about the opportunity."
A team that scored just three or more goals in two of the previous nine games, the Blues have 11 the past two games and reversed a poor trend of losing hockey.
"You have to kind of understand that the puck went into the net," Yeo said. "I would say the LA game and the Dallas game were actually two very similar games. In both games, we gave up two goals, but in both games, we competed very hard. Both games we basically generated the same amount of scoring chances. We finished and we capitalized better in the LA game. I would also say that we were more assertive and more aggressive in and around the net, which has to be a big factor for us going forward. With our personnel, we have to do that. That's going to be a challenge night after night. Teams are going to be aware of that, they're going to defend against that, but we have to find a way to break through. But I think it's as much as anything else, too, we got back to our identity a little bit in terms of being a team that's hard to play against, getting pucks in behind their defensemen, hounding their defensemen, playing in the offensive zone, controlling the puck. I think we did a much better job of doing that through 60 minutes.
"More direct, that's a word that I like to use. I think that when we play that game, when we're trying to go east-west, we're trying to play a cute game, however you want to put it, but we don't have as much pace to our game, we're not as effective. When we're direct, when we're going north, I think that we're challenging teams, I think that we look faster and I think that we're quicker in getting into the offensive zone and that's ultimately when I think that we're at our best."