Monday, April 3, 2017


Lehtera skates, close to return; Gunnarsson also close; 
Schmaltz-Lindbohm pair strong Sunday; Edmundson's burst; Stastny update

ST. LOUIS -- The Blues held an optional skate Monday between games, and a brand new face was out there with teammates for the first time.

Center Jori Lehtera, who's missed the past 12 games with an upper-body injury believed to be a concussion, skated with eight fellow skaters and goalie Carter Hutton.

Lehtera, who was believed to be injured on a puck to the side of the face in the third period, actually shed some light on when he may have initially been hurt and it came as a result of a collision with Anaheim Ducks defenseman Kevin Bieksa midway through the second period.

Lehtera continued to play and was hit with a Joel Edmundson clearing pass in the third period. He left but came back and was on the bench for the end of the game.

"Big hit before, then I got the hit by puck straight to my face," Lehtera said. "That was a rough game."

Lehtera has been on the bike for a couple weeks and has been on the ice for 4-5 skates on his own. Monday was his first time with teammates.

"It's been an optional skate for a long time now," Lehtera said. "It's hard to even get a practice with the boys. I'm ready, but it's good. I'm close."

Lehtera, who has just six goals and 13 assists in 61 games this season, said he was surprised this has taken so long. But his second head injury this season -- he missed four games in October -- and third of his career could give him a fresh start moving towards the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

"Well 'Lehts' is a good player. Let's be honest, there's a reason why he played in the World Cup this year," Blues coach Mike Yeo said. "Regardless of what his game has looked like at different points of the year, I've seen him perform at a real high level for us and I know what he's capable of. When he's ready, I would fully expect him to get a good chance and a good opportunity to prove that he belongs with the group and that he can add to the group and we have every reason to believe that he can, too."

With Paul Stastny's status unknown for the foreseeable future, the Blues may need Lehtera's services down the middle. His replacement (Ivan Barbashev) has filled in admirably with four goals and four assists in 26 games his rookie season. Both could be versatile in the role of center or play on the wing.

"Both those guys can play winger or center, so we have options," Yeo said. "... We've got a couple of objectives here and obviously winning is one of them. Growing our game is part of it as well, but it's an opportunity if we have a chance to get players in, obviously we'd like to do that before we get into the playoffs so they can get their timing back and the pace of play and their conditioning back. Certainly there's no reason to think that if we could get some players back here soon that they wouldn't find a way to get back in the lineup."

Lehtera is questionable to doubtful for the game Tuesday against the Winnipeg Jets but is leaving his options open.

"Now it's up to the coaches," he said. "It just feels good to do something and get the heart rate up.

"It's always frustrating when you don't know when you're ready to play. But then when you know everything is going good, you have a lot of energy because you haven't done anything."

* Gunnarsson progressing -- Defenseman Carl Gunnarsson could possibly rejoin the lineup against the Jets after missing the past three games with a lower-body injury. 

Gunnarsson and Robert Bortuzzo, who missed Sunday's 4-1 win against Nashville after sustaining an upper-body injury Friday at Colorado, formed the Blues' third defensive pairing. They have since been replaced by Jordan Schmaltz and Sunday, Petteri Lindbohm.

"It was a good test today," Gunnarsson said. "Not too many battles but good skate. It felt good."

Gunnarsson skated in Denver on Thursday but left the ice early.

"It didn't feel like it was a good idea to keep going, but today was a full almost 50 minutes out there, so a good one," Gunnarsson said.

Gunnarsson left a 4-1 home win against the Arizona Coyotes on March 27 roughly midway through the third period but that the injury is one that had been nagging him for a couple days.

"Yeah, it was a little before. I struggled through a few games," Gunnarsson said. "It kind of just didn't get better at all. We were battling it for a bit, but at one point, you've just got to realize that if you can't skate 100 percent, it's not helping the team. Now we've been at it, and now it feels good again."

Could Gunnarsson play Tuesday?

"Yeah we'll see," he said. "Everything now feels good, but we've got to see how it reacts after. We'll see how it is tomorrow. If it's good tomorrow and I'm fine, then if I give the green light, then it's up to the coaches if they want me to skate more or whatever or in. We'll see tomorrow."

"We'll have a little better sense tomorrow, but obviously, I haven't talked to the trainers yet, so I'll have a little better feel for today in practice, but obviously if they're getting on the ice, it's a good sign," Yeo said of Gunnarsson and Lehtera.

* Schmaltz, Lindbohm solid in debut together -- Both Schmaltz and Lindbohm were together with the Chicago Wolves roughly 3-4 weeks ago, and on Sunday in arguably the most important game of the regular season to date, they formed the Blues' third defensive pair.

And both came through with flying colors.

Schmaltz played 13 minutes, 49 seconds in the game and Lindbohm played 13:57. Both would have received more minutes had it not been for the penalty-infested game in the first period with the Blues having to kill a pair of lengthy 5-on-3's.

"The first period or even like the first 15 minutes was weird with all those penalties and all those 5-on-3's so it was tough for us to get into the game," Schmaltz said. "Once we kind of got our feet wet, got playing a little more, especially in the third there, we finished strong. ... I don't think we did too much offensively, but I don't think we gave up much either. Being the third pair, you've got to be simple, you've got to be hard but at the same time, you've got to make plays. I felt we did a decent job of that."

Neither factored in the scoring but both were effective defensively.

"We did our job and we won the game," Lindbohm said. "That's the most important thing. We play a little bit in Chicago together. It's easy to play with him. He's a good player and we have fun."

The fact Schmaltz and Lindbohm have played together with the Wolves was a plus, but Yeo felt comfortable playing them together regardless.

""It was nice, but that was not the reason," Yeo said. "We wanted to keep our top four the same, that was the biggest thing for us and that obviously gave those guys an opportunity to play together. I would say if they were struggling through the course of the game, then you probably would have seen more mixing and matching to protect them with a more veteran presence in player, but that wasn't the case. Those guys were doing a nice job for us, even saw some shifts 4-on-4 and had some key shifts against top lines. It certainly didn't feel like we had to hide them out there."

Lindbohm was recalled Saturday under emergency conditions with Bortuzzo, who did not skate Monday, on the shelf day-to-day.

"Yeah, it's always a good thing," Lindbohm said of the recall. "This is where I want to play.

"The team is doing really well. The guys are happy and they're doing well. For me it's easier to get in and just do my best out there to help the team."

* Edmundson the speed demon -- There was plenty of appreciation going around for Edmundson's fourth goal of the season Sunday, the capper in a 4-1 win over the Predators.

After jumping the play at the defensive blue line following Nashville forward Kevin Fiala losing the puck, Edmundson looked like he shot himself out of a cannon for a 2-on-1 with Barbashev and instead of making the pass, Edmundson shot, collected his own rebound and deposited the puck in the back of the net.

"When I saw just me and the net, I knew I had to get the motor going, so I just buried my head and went," Edmundson said. "I saw 'Barbs' out of the corner of my eye and in a situation like that, you've got to shoot.

"I watched the replay and the defender actually did a good job of taking away 'Barbs.' There was never really a thought on passing, which might sound bad, but we focus on getting good shots on net and I had a good opportunity."

Needless to say, Edmundson's Blues teammates were happy for him and impressed.

"They're always happy for when a guy like me or 'Bobbo' or just someone who doesn't really score gets the boys going," Edmundson said. "I don't know, it's fun. I always watch the highlights to see how the boys on the bench celebrate."

* Stastny update -- Stastny was at the rink Monday but not on the ice.

Stastny hasn't played since injuring his right foot, believed to be broken, on March 21 against the Avalanche in Colorado; he's missed the past six games and is likely to miss the remainder of the regular season and could miss at least the start of the playoffs.

"We'll just keep going the way that we have been, just keep saying he's day-to-day," Yeo said.

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