ST. LOUIS — On the first shift of his second tour of duty with the St. Louis Blues, veteran defenseman Carlo Colaiacovo picked up an assist Monday in a 3-0 victory over Minnesota.
"The familiarity with the way we play and the players we have definitely helps," said Colaiacovo, who on Tuesday celebrates the five-year anniversary of the trade that brought he and Alexander Steen from Toronto for Lee Stempniak. "I couldn't have written it any better. (The assist) got me going and obviously the excitement was there to start the game, the home crowd. I'm just glad I could contribute."
An illness to defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk led to an opening for Colaiacovo, who made his 2013-14 Blues debut.
"Our preference with anybody that has sickness this year is just to keep them away from the team," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. "Our preference is to keep him away from the group and let him get some sleep and rest."
The Blues signed Colaiacovo to a one-year, pro-rated deal worth $550,000 plus incentives Nov. 12 following the loss of defenseman Jordan Leopold for two months because of finger surgery.
"He's been ready for a week," Hitchcock said of Colaiacovo, in his second stint with the Blues after playing here previously from 2008 to 2012. "He's a great puck distributor, he's smart, he plays sneaky good minutes. He's a real complementary player.
"He can play minutes killing penalties, he can play on the power play, he can add to the group. I think Brad (assistant coach Brad Shaw) thought he was up to speed conditioning wise a week ago and we kept him the extra week just to work him right through it. He's ready to go."
Colaiacovo said watching hockey during his time off at the start of the season helped him stay sharp, along with his own workouts with a local Ontario Hockey League team in Mississauga near Toronto.
"It's a great feeling," said Colaiacovo, playing in his first game since he suited up for the Red Wings in the playoffs last spring. "I'm happy that I can get in there. It's been a long time since I played hockey so the transition was a lot better than I expected.
"Things are pretty easy out there when you play with good players and we have a lot of those in this room. I just tried to keep it simple."
Hitchcock said Shattenkirk is the fifth Blues player this season to deal with the flu or a similar illness.
"Every team goes through it," Hitchcock said. "We've been lucky that guys have come back and played the same day they've been sick or the night before. This is now player No 5, so you just mange it properly."
More on Reaves
The Blues lost physical right winger Ryan Reaves with a fractured bone in his right hand, injured Saturday during a fight with Brenden Dillon of the Dallas Stars. Reaves underwent surgery Monday in St. Louis and will be reevaluated in six weeks, officials said.
While forwards Magnus Paajarvi and Adam Cracknell are capable on-ice replacements, Hitchcock said he feels Reaves' absence creates a larger overall void. Reaves has been solid on hockey side with two goals and four points.
"I think where we're really going to miss Reaves is the enthusiasm and energy that he brings off the ice," Hitchcock said. "He brings a real positive, enthusiastic energy to every aspect of our team, whether it's the game-day ride or the post(game) rides, the pregame skates, he brings a high level of energy so someone's going to have to replace that."
Hitchcock said where that comes from may evolve over time.
"Anyone can replace players on the ice," he said. "But it's the impact that he has away from the rink and in the locker room that we're going to have to have substitution on. I don't think that happens overnight, it will take a few days before someone else steps up there"
Blues staying grounded
With more points that all but two NHL teams, the Blues (16-3-3, 35 points) are getting much better with their best start in franchise history.
Hitchcock said that wasn't the case earlier this season.
"Better lately, not great early," he said. "We got happy feet when we had success, we didn't play very well after big wins. But we addressed it and I think our guys got grounded quicker.
"I like what we did after the Boston game, the way we responded so were learning and getting better with that. We didn't do a good job with that earlier this year and got smoked a couple times because of it."
Hitchcock said learning to deal with success is as important as dealing with failure and losing streaks.
"Sometimes winning starts losing if you don't have the right attitude, and I think our attitude is really starting to mature, he said.