Monday, November 17, 2014


Lehtera feeling good after winning star of the week; 
Butler's patience paid off; Blues begin four-game trip even-keeled 

HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- The early-season -- and career -- success for Blues center Jori Lehtera continues to shine.

After fellow "STL Line" mate Vladimir Tarasenko was selected as the NHL First Star of the Week two weeks ago, Lehtera was picked as the First Star of the Week, announced on Monday.

Lehtera tied for the league lead in goals (four) and points (six) and posted a plus-5 rating as the Blues (12-4-1, 25 points) went 3-0-0 last week and moved into first place in the Central Division. 

Lehtera began the week by recording his first career hat trick in a 6-1 win against the Buffalo Sabres. He recorded two assists in a 4-3 victory over the Nashville Predators and closed the week by scoring one goal in a 4-1 win against the Washington Capitals, the Blues' 10 win in 11 games. 

Lehtera extended his point streak to seven games (five goals and six assists) and the "STL Line" of Lehtera, Jaden Schwartz and Vladimir Tarasenko has combined for 33 points in its past eight contests. Tarasenko won the Third Star of the Week last week.

"I have to thank my linemates about it and my team," Lehtera said. "They give me unbelievable passes and I think we played well this week.

"It went well. We won the games. It feels good."

Lehtera, 26, is in his first season in the NHL and third on the team in scoring with 17 points (behind Tarasenko's 21 and Schwartz's 18). He's second on the team in plus/minus at plus-12 (behind Tarasenko's plus-15) and is making believers out of the Blues and their fans that his two-year, $5.5 million contract is more than a worthy investment.

"I always knew I could play here, but now I can play with real good guys, which makes it easier," Lehtera said. "... It feels better every game. I'm getting used to the style," Lehtera said. "I still have a lot of things to learn.

"Everything's still new. I'm still learning."

Lehtera has quickly adapted to the "200-foot game" coach Ken Hitchcock craves from his players. The evolution has transformed Lehtera into a complete player thus far.

"When I played in Finland, I just played offense," Lehtera said, "but then when I went to Russia, I started to learn more to play in (the) d-zone."

When asked if it's helped him, Lehtera said, "A lot."

Now that two-thirds of the "STL Line" won a first star award, it's up to Schwartz to complete the trifecta, or hat trick.

"I hope so," Lehtera said with a smile.

* The Butler did it -- Kirkwood native and Blues defenseman Chris Butler was back on the ice and now is firmly entrenched as the team's seventh defenseman after  being recalled from the American Hockey League's Chicago Wolves on Saturday.

Butler, who led the Wolves' defensemen with nine points (eight assists) in 14 games after spending his first six seasons (three each) with the Buffalo Sabres and most recently, the Calgary Flames, 

"It was a great," Butler said of his stint with the Wolves. "We have a really good team there. We were really deep. I got a chance to go down and play a ton, play in all situations trying to help some younger guys as much as I could. It was a lot of fun. It's a first class organization, a very NHL-like organization.

Butler, who has 10 goals and 75 points in 349 NHL games, hasn't been in the AHL since playing 27 games for the Portland Pirates in the 2008-09 season.

"Maybe it was a little humbling at first," Butler said. "I'd been in the NHL six years in a row there, to kind of go back to where you started. It was a chance to work on my game and try to work on the offensive side of things, make sure I was playing well defensively, just a chance to kind of maybe get a little bit of confidence back and feel good about myself again. It was fun. I'm happy to be back."

Now that he's with his hometown team, the goal is for Butler to remain here. 

"It's nice to be here, nice to be part of a team that's got a good thing going right now," Butler said. "My goal is to just come in and blend in and then go from there.

"... Your job is to stay ready and stay focused, make sure you're game-sharp when you're called upon. It's a long year. A lot of strange things can happen during the course of the year. I've been fortunate to stay healthy for a while. You just (have to) be ready when called upon."

Butler, 28, knew what situation he was getting himself into when he signed a two-way contract this past summer. He knew there was the chance he'd not make the team out of camp but would have to work his way into the lineup if he remained patient.

"That was kind of something that we talked about in the summer time and that part of the decision to come here and knowing there maybe was this opportunity," Butler said. "You would have to be a little patient. Sometimes it seems like it's Groundhog Day a little bit when you're kind of hoping and wanting to get back here, but now that I'm here, I'm going to continue to work hard and keep working on my game."

Blues defenseman Barret Jackman said adding an experienced veteran only helps.

"I really like the way he plays," Jackman said of Butler. "... He's got experience. He's played very well in this league and he deserves to be in the NHL and he's got the opportunity again."

* Taking the act on the road -- The Blues, who have played the fewest road games this season along with the New York Rangers (six), begin a four-game swing beginning Tuesday night in Boston against the Bruins (11-8-0), where they haven't lost since 2000-01 and are riding a six-game winning streak at TD Garden.

But winning 10 of 11 and being on the hottest streak in the NHL currently, the Blues aren't jumping through hoops at the recent surge in success and keeping an even-keeled attitude.

"Seems like it," said associate coach Brad Shaw, who was speaking on behalf of coach Ken  Hitchcock, who has not spoken to the media the past couple days dealing with a family matter. "Even the guys that have gotten individual awards like Lehtera and Tarasenko, guys that have really contributed offensively, they seem well-grounded. You can probably point to the leadership in the room for that, keeping guys in check and making sure that everything's about the team and everything is about the long journey that we're on here. It's not a sprint. We realize there's a lot more big games on the horizon, so we're trying to sort of keep things in perspective."

The trip will take the Blues through Eastern Conference teams in Boston, Montreal (Thursday) and Ottawa (Saturday) before a Sunday afternoon Central Division clash with Winnipeg. As far as Shaw is concerned, the Blues shouldn't alter anything.

"I think just sticking to the game plan," Shaw said. "I think we've got a lot clearer identity as to how we have to play. You get that luxury in playing at home, getting the matchup that you want. I don't think much of that changes as we head out on the road and lose the matchup availability. I still think we have to stick to what gives us success, which is a real good checking game, which opens up ice for our offense.

"... We're not sneaking up on anybody anymore. We're aware of how good we are, so are other teams. I think it's made us a better team. I think we're adjusting to it still. I think there's some growth there obviously. I think that adversity of having to play through a little better competition night after night should help us at the end of the year as well."

Hitchcock accompanied the Blues on the trip to Boston but there was the chance that Shaw and assistant coach Kirk Muller, who both have experience as head coaches in the league, could coach the team.

* Allen, Elliott impressing -- Part of the even-keeled mentality comes from the Blues goalies, where Brian Elliott and Jake Allen are posting some impressive numbers among the league stats.

Allen (1.67) and Elliott (1.87) are Nos. 1 and 2, respectively, in the NHL in goals-against average, while Allen (.933) is third in save percentage and Elliott is fourth (.930).

"We take pride it in a little bit, but there's still a long way to go," Allen said. "Great start is key, but guys have helped us so much. We play great as a team. 

"For me personally, to be around the guys, they make me feel at home and comfortable, which helps a lot. It's a team effort. We're off to a good start, but we still have a ways to go. ... Our job is to make the key saves. We need to make that save. That's our job. We're doing an alright job so far."

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