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. 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 four or five 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."
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.
By LOU KORAC "We've got a great opportunity here," said goalie "It certainly should be," Blues coach "I think it's been that way for a while," defenseman On the bus ride over to the morning skate, Blues rookies Jordan Schmaltz and Ivan Barbashev were given a crash course in kids' jokes and riddles by none other than The Blues will go with the same 18 skaters tonight, which means defenseman Avalanche center Jost will be the second player this week to make his NHL debut against the Blues after Swansea, Ill.
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