Monday, January 22, 2018


Schwartz continues to get closer, not expected to return Tuesday; Blues 
back to normal routine ; loss of Johansson impacts many, including Thompson

ST. LOUIS -- Weeks have turned into days for the return of Jaden Schwartz.

But it appears the Blues' left wing won't get back into the lineup when the Blues (28-18-3) host the Ottawa Senators on Tuesday in a rematch from Thursday, a game the Blues won 4-1 in Ottawa.

Schwartz was a full participant in practice for a second straight day on Tuesday and has been medically cleared to play according to coach Mike Yeo, but a couple extra days of practice seems to be the plan and a return to action Thursday against Colorado is not far-fetched.

"He's coming along," Yeo said of Schwartz. "Don't expect him in tomorrow, but he's obviously getting a lot closer. He brings energy, even for practice. It's good to have him back.

"Just want to make sure he feels comfortable. Medically, he's cleared, he's ready and obviously it's just making sure conditioning-wise and timing-wise that when he gets in, he feels ready."

Despite missing 19 games, Schwartz, who injured his right ankle blocking a puck Dec. 9 against the Detroit Red Wings, is still third in scoring on the Blues with 35 points (14 goals, 21 assists).

Blues fans are going to want -- and hope -- that Schwartz picks up where he left of when he departed the lineup. "So are we," Yeo said laughing. But the expectation is going to have to be guarded for a player that's missed more than six weeks of action.

"I missed four, five games and it took me a while just to get back into it," defenseman Alex Pietrangelo said. "We'll make sure we get some good practices in for him and get him ready. You've got to be patient with him, but a player like that sometimes might not take as long as you think.

"You can replicate games as much as you want in practice, but it's not a game."

Schwartz was mixing in on a line with Brayden Schenn, who he developed instant chemistry with along with Vladimir Tarasenko early in the season, and Alexander Steen at practice Monday.

"It's good to skate with him again," defenseman Colton Parayko said of Schwartz. "You just realize how big of a piece he is to our team. We're excited to have him back out there for sure. We're looking forward to his return. Hopefully it's soon.

"Just skating with us is another big step. I think skating's kind of a different nature of the beast in anything, even in just riding a bike. When you can do things on the ice and conditioning on the ice, it's different for sure. It's good for him and us as a whole."

Schwartz's return will have a huge impact on the lineup. The Blues are 20-8-2 with Schwartz in the lineup, 8-10-1 without him.

"It's a big impact," Pietrangelo said. "You look at what he did before he got injured. Not only with his linemates, the whole team, the energy, the all-around game. Big impact. Looking forward to that day."

Yeo was asked if it would be wise to perhaps wait until after the All-Star break this weekend to consider Schwartz. That's not even in question. It's all about the player's feel for when he's ready.

"No, not necessarily. He's cleared," Yeo said. "If you're cleared and you're ready then what's two or three more days? If it was a matter of him maybe joining us for skates and giving it a couple extra days, that would be a different story. ... You saw him doing all the practice drills and all the battle drills, so there's no difference there.

"Obviously we have to be fair, but you don't just evaluate 'Schwartzy's game on goals and assists. It's his work ethic, it's his tenacity that's infectious to the group. It's the way that he kills penalties, it's the way he plays against top players, the momentum that he brings. Obviously we can't sit here and say that we expect him to be at the top of his game and playing at the level that he was earlier, but I wouldn't be surprised either. He's a player that his work ethic and his relentlessness puts himself in a lot of really good positions."

* Back to practice -- Sunday's practice was more than out of the norm for the Blues, who were put through lengthy battle drills followed by bag skating as a message for a lackluster 5-2 loss to Arizona on home ice on Saturday.

Monday was more normal than usual, a brisk, hard-working skate in preparation for the second of a four-game homestand, three of them that lead into the All-Star break.

Players were still talking about Sunday and still understanding of why it was done.

"The reality is that's kind of what we needed," Parayko said. "We've got to work hard in games and I think that's kind of what the emphasis obviously was of last practice was, battle drills and working hard. That was a good practice for us as a team and if you looked today, even though we were kind of back at a, per say, normal practice, I thought it was a good practice. We were doing the drills at a good pace and we were focused. That's kind of almost the result of yesterday. 

"It's a good reminder that we've got to work hard. Obviously, home ice has not been our, per say, forte lately."

Not only did the players understand it, they knew it was coming.

"Yeah, I think we'd all be lying if we didn't expect it and didn't deserve it," Pietrangelo said. "I thought we answered really well."

So did Yeo.

"Good practice, pretty crisp," Yeo said. "Didn't go too long because we put in some extended work yesterday, so we wanted to make sure we got the energy for tomorrow.

"... It (was) an opportunity to show that that's not who we are, that the standards weren't met to get back to the standards. Another opportunity to prove that we're striving for excellence here and we're not OK with that. It's a process all the way through the year, trying to push to get better, trying to maintain ... it's 82 games in the regular season, it's an awful long journey for the players and and it's incredibly difficult as far as fatigue, the emotions, all the things you have to deal with. For us, we just have to keep driving forward, keep pushing forward. You're going to have some good times, you're going to have some bad times. When you have that right culture, at the end of the year, you're going to like where you're at."

* Johansson's loss felt -- The sudden death has been felt throughout the hockey community of USA Hockey general manager Jim Johansson, who suddenly passed away in his sleep Saturday night; he was 53.

Johansson, who has overseen many aspects of USA Hockey since he joined them in 2000, including the rosters for the World Junior Championships and Winter Olympics, affected those on the Blues roster, including 2016 first-round pick Tage Thompson.

Thompson was part of Team USA's U-18 squad in 2014-15 and won a gold medal at the 2017 World Junior Championships with Johansson at the helm.

"It's terrible," Thompson said. "Just sitting at home and scrolling through Twitter while I was watching TV and saw his picture pop up a bunch of times on my feed and I didn't even read it. Then I kept seeing it and I read it and was like just shocked. It wasn't that long ago when I seen him at the World Juniors. He's a fantastic guy and obviously has a great love for the game and for US Hockey. He's done so much for the program. My thoughts and prayers go out to him and his family and everyone affected by that. It was a very sad day for USA Hockey and the hockey world.

"He meant a lot. He gave me a chance obviously. One of my biggest dreams was to play in the World Juniors and he gave me that chance and it was a dream-come-true. Someone who gave me such a great opportunity, to see him go at such a young age is very sad."

Johansson was in St. Louis the spring of 2016 when the Blues and the city were putting in a big to host the the 2018 World Junior Championships, a bid eventually won by Buffalo. He was very fond of St. Louis.

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