Monday, February 1, 2016


Schwartz practices, not ready yet; Allen injury 
not clear; Paajarvi cleared to play; break good for players

HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- Jaden Schwartz, decked out in his powder blue practice attire, hit the ice for his first full team practice after the All-Star break, as the Blues reconvened for the second-half push to their season Monday.

The Blues practiced in two sessions at the Ice Zone inside St. Louis Outlet Mall, and after what coach Ken Hitchcock called a slow start, Schwartz managed to pick up the tempo and intensity like the rest.

Schwartz, who's missed 45 games with a fractured left ankle, won't be in the lineup when the Blues (28-16-8) resume their schedule Tuesday at Nashville but anything after that is considered day-to-day depending on how the left wing feels moving forward.

"I thought he had a slow start; he looked a little bit overwhelmed with all the players on the ice," Hitchcock said of Schwartz, who has four assists in seven games this season. "This is the first time he's skated really in a little bit of a chaotic atmosphere but got a lot better in the second half and felt more and more comfortable in traffic, felt more and more comfortable in tight spaces. I would say in the second half, it gives you reason for optimism. We'll take further looks at him this Wednesday and see how he's doing, but the first half was typical of a guy coming back from a long-term injury and the second half is something you get pretty excited about."

Schwartz, who stayed behind in St. Louis and worked through Wednesday before stepping back and taking a break himself, won't call a specific upcoming a game a target game but feels like he's working in the right direction.

"I'm going to play as soon as I can," Schwartz said. "I want to get back as soon as I can, and obviously these games are important. 

"... I felt better today. It was good getting those extra days in with the team, but I think it was good resting it for a few days. Certain things were a little bit tender after a few days of skating. Almost a few days off helped it. It felt less painful. It's always a good sign. ... Not sure yet (on a return). It'll probably depend on the next few days and how it feels. Don't have a game picked out yet."

Schwartz has been skating with the team during morning skates and such since Jan. 20, but this was the first full-fledged practice, and Hitchcock feels he'll need more of these to even be considered game-ready.

"He needs more than one," Hitchcock said. "He's going to need a few. He's going to have to get comfortable playing in traffic. He's going to have to get comfortable in non-thinking, just plain reacting to situations. I can't tell you the time (and) date on that, but I know one thing, he got through today, he's going to skate again tomorrow and that's a good sign. That's the best sign we can hope for, is that he got through today. This was a hard practice and he got better as the practice went along, which is a good sign. Now it's time to just move it forward. I think we'll have a better evaluation by the end of Wednesday's practice."

Schwartz also feels more hard practices with the team where hell be fully engaged will prove beneficial.

"I think that'll be a big factor," Schwartz said. "You don't want to go from flow drills to go right into a game. That's a lot different. This helped a lot. I'm not sure how many I'll be able to get in with our schedule. Even after the morning skates, I'll have to do a little bit with the guys that aren't playing. That'll go a long way in determining how the ankle feels and when I'm ready.

"Once you're able to do more with your ankle, you're able to push yourself more. The battle drills will help, too, but once you're able to push more and skate harder, you feel like you can get back in better shape. That's my goal. I feel pretty good now. Probably this next week will help quite a bit and get my legs back."

* Paajarvi cleared -- Left wing Magnus Paajarvi, out since an upper-body injury not related to a concussion sustained Jan. 9 at Los Angeles, also practiced Monday with the team and Hitchcock deemed him ready to play.

He'll rejoin the lineup Tuesday against the Predators.

Paajarvi, who has two goals and three assists in 32 games, has missed the past seven games but returned to St. Louis last week mid-week and has skated for four days with no issues.

"I came back a little earlier to do some skating. I'm used to it," Paajarvi said. "I feel good. I think it's good after the break the whole team does it, especially for me, too, to feel out the pace a little bit and the battles. If I play tomorrow, I'll be somewhat ready.

"Physically it was huge to rehab my injury, but mentally, it's always nice. I think I can speak for 99 percent of the players in here."

Getting players back is a huge momentum boost for the players.

"You get a jolt of energy to get a body back," captain David Backes said. "I don't know about the color jerseys some of those guys were wearing, but I guess they'll get a pass."

Said defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk: "Every time someone else comes back and gets on the ice, for us, I think it's a breath of fresh air. Mentally, it puts us in a better place. I think the team just knowing that we might soon get our full team back. That's always reassuring."

* Allen update, Elliott ready -- There was no real specific update on Blues goalie Jake Allen, who has what is believed to be a knee injury sustained Jan. 8 at Anaheim.

Allen was not on the ice Monday and as far as Hitchcock knows, he still hasn't resumed skating.

"Until he joins us, I don't really have a clue," Hitchcock said. "I can't tell you time, date, timeframe; I can't tell you anything right now. 

"I haven't seen him on the ice with us, so until he gets on the ice with us and starts stopping pucks, I can't even give you a clue when he's going to be back."

Elliott has started the past eight games (played in nine) and until further notice, look for him to get the nod in goal each time the Blues play.

"We haven't talked about anything at all," Elliott said. "We took a good break. We definitely needed it, personally and as a team. Now we can kind of get that push going. 

"Like I always say, every opportunity you get, you're going to try and take advantage of it."

Elliott is 5-2-1 with a 1.90 goals-against average and .944 save percentage since taking over the No. 1 role.

Washington coach Barry Trotz told reporters Monday that starter Braden Holtby is likely to give way and rest up during the second half but that's not the case for Elliott, who is fresh.

"I have no idea how you can think like that. Maybe Washington can think like that; none of us can think like that," Hitchcock said. "If you're resting, you're going to be resting on April 9th. There's no rest. You've got to play. The rest is on the off-days. There's no such thing as giving guys breaks and stuff like that. I don't think any player wants to see that. I think everyone wants to play as many games as they can, as much as they can. To me, if you're thinking about resting people, you're assuming something that never happens. I don't think in the West, I really believe in the Central Division, nobody is safe. You're going to have to battle right to the end if you expect to get enough points to make the playoffs. There's going to be a lot of crashes coming in the next three months. We're going to have to get as many points as we can to see how far we can go with this thing. I think even the people that are ahead of us, I don't think they're thinking they're all safe either. There's just too much competition, too many good players, too many good teams."

* Copley recalled -- Pheonix Copley, recalled Sunday along with Ty Rattie from the Chicago Wolves of the American Hockey League, is in a similar situation as that of Jordan Binnington, who was Elliott's backup the past eight games. 

Copley, part of the trade from the Capitals that brought Troy Brouwer to the Blues for T.J. Oshie, is on an NHL club for the second time; he was recalled with the Capitals last season.

"It's excitement. This is where you want to be," Copley said. "I just want to soak it in as much as I can."

Copley was 11-11-3 with a 2.75 GAA and .905 save percentage with the Wolves but feels he's been better of late.

"It's been a bumpy road here and there, but I feel like for sure I've gotten better and learned some things about my game I need to improve," Copley said. "You can always tale the positives out of any situation. I think so far I've learned a lot down there and hopefully I can use it to make my game better."

Hitchcock said Copley being recalled gives him the opportunity, like Binnington, to work with goalie coach Jim Corsi.

"This is an opportunity for Jimmy to work with Copley and see where he's at, too," Hitchcock said. "He did a lot of work with Binnington and now I think we want to spend some time with Pheonix and see where he's at."

* Good break -- Several Blues players looked refreshed after the extended time away from the rink of playing the second-most games in the NHL (52), behind Chicago's 53 games.

Most, if not all, retreated to some warmer climates for rest and relaxation.

"The break couldn't have come at a better time," Elliott said. "We worked hard. We talked about before guys were kind of going on fumes a little bit. Now that we've had a little chance to sit back and reflect on the first part of the season and re-energize, it's only beneficial. No matter what kind of roll you're on, you take advantage of that rest."

Shattenkirk, who spent days at the Riviera Maya, called the break worth it mentally and physically.

"It's a little strange getting that much time off in the middle of the season, but I think everyone enjoyed their time and more than anything, got a mental break from things," Shattenkirk said. "That's important at this time of year.

"In both ways we were a little beaten up. It seems like we were just clawing to try and get back healthy physically again. Mentally, we've played a lot of games so far this year. We've had a lot of tough stretches, but we've been able to weather the storm and make sure we came out of it in a good position."

Added defenseman Alex Pietrangelo: "Especially at the end there almost playing every other day for a month, it adds up. A lot of us have played big minutes. Need a chance to rest the body. More importantly, rest the mind. Kind of regroup and go at it again."

Backes said it was a time for players to heal the body.

"It was fantastic," Backes said. "Got some bumps and bruises healed up a bit and re-energized to hit the ground running tomorrow night."

Which is why the coaching staff put the players through a tough two-sessioned practice Monday.

"You had seven days off," Backes said. "You've got to blow out the cylinders and get all the cobwebs out and handle the puck again and get used to playing at a high tempo."

The difficult part of the game to get back?

"First of all, it's knowing that you're going to get hit and get engaged in the intensity level necessary," Hitchcock said. "Coming back at this time of year is like trying to catch a freight train on the move. Teams are in different stages mentally. If you catch a team that's a freight train that's going full blast and got lots of momentum, it's a hard game to catch up to. You've got to create your own energy, you've got to create your own level of intensity and you really really hard to push each other. The players have really got to dig in and push each other to get up to the level that the league's going to end up playing at. All teams coming out of the break, the teams that have really got wind in their sails are going to play at another level. It's really up to the coaches and the players to get our team up to that level and right there as quickly as possible."

Which is why Hitchcock will continue to press the reminder button, it on this case, reminder bat.

"The biggest one I can find, I'm going to use," he said. "I don't think subtle reminders work. I think you hit it and away you go and you react after the first game. We're going to get a good read where we're at after Nashville and we're going to get ready for the next game. One of the things you do at this time of year is you don't carry anything with you. You move, you play, you march, you move. You've got to get moving quickly."

* Reflection on John Scott -- Hitchcock was happy to see John Scott not only participate in the All-Star Game and festivities in Nashville these past few days but to win the MVP, that was icing on the cake.

"To me, it's unique to hockey," Hitchcock said. "It's what makes the game special. I've known John for a few years. I think you're so happy for him and his family, there's a level of sincerity in him and his family and his wife and his kids that's pretty impressive. I thought he handled it with such class and dignity. It's a good lesson for a lot of people."

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