Thursday, October 1, 2015

Lehtera, Bortuzzo return in Blues' 5-2 win against Blackhawks

Center had goal, assist; defenseman had assist; special teams key in victory

ST. LOUIS -- Jori Lehtera called his progression from ankle surgery a process.

What he called his first preseason game was, well, interesting.

Lehtera, who saw his first preseason action Thursday against the Chicago Blackhawks, wasted little time getting himself acclimated not only with his teammates but the game as well.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Jori Lehtera returned to the Blues' lineup Thursday to score a shorthanded
goal and assist on another in a 5-2 win against the Chicago Blackhawks.

Lehtera only had one preseason game to hone his skills and attempt to get up to par in anticipation of the regular season opener on Oct. 8 and passed all tests with flying colors in a 5-2 victory against the Blackhawks at Scottrade Center.

Lehtera, who along with defenseman Robert Bortuzzo made their preseason debuts, scored a shorthanded goal and set up another for linemate Troy Brouwer.

Lehtera had surgery on his right ankle to remove a bone chip on Aug. 4. He's skated for two weeks and was prepped for his first game action Thursday. By all accounts, another week of work and continued off-ice rehab, the season-opener should have Lehtera primed and ready to go.

"I felt like I had buttermilk in my legs," Lehtera said, jokingly of course. "Otherwise, I felt OK."

Buttermilk in his legs?

Lehtera attempted a demonstration for the media in the locker room afterwards, but it was his way of saying it was one game, and there's still a way to go for him to get up to speed.

"It's like when I have to take my legs and ...," Lehtera said, pulling his legs up one at a time, his way of saying they were at times dragging out there. "Sometimes, heavy boots.

"I didn't expect an easy game. It was not an easy game for me. It's a good start."

Bortuzzo had a very effective game in his debut. He played 18 minutes, 3 seconds and had five hits in the game and a nice assist on Kyle Brodziak's shorthanded goal in the third period.

"Bortuzzo's a factor," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. "Physical guy, big in your face, hard to play against. That's a big group we played tonight."

One area the Blues flourished in was the power play, where they scored twice in the first period. They finished the game with four special teams goals, including a pair of shorthanded goals.

And then there's 2013 third-round pick Colton Parayko, who continues to excel and who continues to give the Blues every reason to keep him on the opening night roster.

Parayko collected his team-leading fifth and sixth assists of the preseason in the first period, he got prime shifts on the power play with that big, booming shot from the point and his all-around game just looks more and more comfortable with the NHL game.

"I just wanted to come in and give myself the the best opportunity I could," Parayko said. "Come every day, I know I've got to work hard and be at my best every day. I feel obviously I had a fairly good training camp and I just want to continue forward."

Jake Allen continued to make this an even race as far as the goalie competition is concerned with a 20-save effort, including the last 16 shots he saw.

"For me personally, these two games are just getting my rhythm back," Allen said. "I've been working hard in practice, I thought I had a great summer and I'm going to work hard the next few days and see what happens come next Thursday.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Robert Bortuzzo (left) returned to the Blues' lineup and was solid in a 5-2
win against the Chicago Blackhawks.

"I thought I played well these couple games. Just good to get the feel of the puck again tonight. Little bit of a weird game, wished I had some more shots."

The Blues took off for Ann Arbor, Mich. for a team bonding trip that will not have them return to St. Louis until Monday. Between now and then, some important decisions will need to be made to finalize the regular season roster.

What will go into those final decisions?

"Style of play," Hitchcock said. "We're in the middle of adapting to a different style of play. I've said that to you for three months now, and those that can play the style, probably will get in the lineup and we'll run with that. But we feel like we've got to change our style a little bit and see if we can make ourselves better. The guys that can adapt and play are going to get into the lineup and continue to play."

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