Sometimes, it’s difficult to find the storyline of a preseason contest. That was not the case in St. Louis Thursday night.
Playing in the final home game of the 2014 preseason, the St. Louis Blues trounced the Minnesota Wild, 4-1. Rookie goaltender Jake Allen earned his first victory of the preseason, stopping just 14 shots on goal. Blues tough guys Ryan Reaves and Paul Bissonnette, both playing on the same line, accumulated a total 19 penalty minutes (including three fights between them). However, it was the young man wearing the No. 17 on his back that stole the spotlight.
Jaden Schwartz, who was a training camp holdout until he signed a two-year, $4.7 million contract extension last Saturday, skated in his first preseason contest in front of 12,103 Scottrade Center patrons. The Saskatchewan-native even recorded his first point — an assist — on defenseman Jordan Leopold’s go-ahead goal at 5:33 of the third period.
“I was excited going out there, for sure,” Schwartz said after the game. “I was a little rusty in that first shift, but it was nice to get the legs under me and make some plays.”
Schwartz’s assist came after his original shot hit the post and bounced back out to linemate Vladimir Tarasenko. The Russian winger then returned the puck to the opposite side of the net, finding Leopold streaking in. Leopold found the net practically open for the taking and fired home the eventual game-winning tally.
Schwartz spent most of his night on a line with Tarasenko and Jori Lehtera, who formerly played together in the KHL.
“It was my first time skating with them,” he said. “They are both great players (who) see the ice really well and they do a lot of things right. For our first time (skating together), I thought things went really well.”
Schwartz ranked fourth in terms of ice time for Blues forwards, registering 17:37 time on ice.
“He was on top of things,” said head coach Ken Hitchcock. “He showed great speed. I think he played a lot more than he thought he would today (but) It was a good step for him and it was something he needed.”
Schwartz’s appearance on the ice was sometimes clouded by rough play from both teams. The scoresheet reads the hits as being 25-24 in favor of Minnesota, but it was more than a few bumps in the corners that turned some eyebrows.
The game featured four fights, two 10-minute misconducts being handed out and numerous skirmishes after whistles. Blues rookie Robby Fabbri also left the game after the first period with what was called an “upper-body injury.” Hitchcock stated after the game that his removal was mostly precautionary and the team will re-evaluate in the morning.
“When you’re getting into the last couple games of preseason, I think everybody is trying to make a point,” said Reaves, “whether it’s a skilled guy trying to put points up on the board or a player like me who plays physical and stands up for his teammates. They have guys like that over there. I think they saw our lineup and brought the same type of toughness. I thought our guys responded really well up and down the lineup.”
For Schwartz, it was about getting his body ready for the grind of the regular season. Whether its a fight-filled contest or a last-goal-wins battle, the Blues’ third-year man has to be ready.
“I felt pretty good,” he said. “As the game went on the legs got a little heavier. Couple shifts you get stuck out there, you really start to notice.”
NOTES: Schwartz changed his jersey number from nine to 17 to honor his late sister, Mandi, who wore the same number through her hockey career. He said that it was, “special wearing it for the first time.” … The Blues’ first power-play unit featured Alexander Steen, Paul Stastny, David Backes, Robby Fabbri and Kevin Shattenkirk. They were 1-for-6 with the extra man, with the only power-play goal coming off the stick of T.J. Oshie … The Blues play their last preseason game on Saturday in Minnesota, then will play the season opener on Thursday, Oct. 9 against the New York Rangers at Scottrade Center.