It had been a while since defenseman Carlo Colaiacovo had played in a National Hockey League game; just under six months, to be exact. But there was no rust on the defenseman as he took the ice at Scottrade Center for the first time in a Blues uniform since the 2012 playoffs.
It took just under ten minutes for Colaiacovo to make an impact as he fired a shot from the blue line that led to a rebound and an easy goal for Vladimir Sobotka. It was a flash from the past, where Colaiacovo was well-known for his offensive contributions.
Colaiacovo finished the night with a plus-one rating and an assist in 14:17 of ice time. He was paired with Barret Jackman for the night and the two veterans played a sound game together.
“It’s a great feeling, getting back out there. It’s been a long time since I’ve played hockey, said Colaiacovo. “The transition was a lot better than I expected. Things are pretty easy out there when you play with good players and I believe we have a lot of those in this room.”
Colaiacovo is very familiar with the Blues. Aside from being a member of their roster for four seasons, he was able to see the Blues live last season when they played the Detroit Red Wings, the team Colaiacovo was playing for at the time.
The Blues were just starting to find success in 2012, the season before Colaiacovo signed a deal with Detroit. Colaiacovo was a part of the Blues team that went to the second round of the playoffs and fell to Jonathan Quick and the Los Angeles Kings. And while the team has changed since his departure, Colaiacovo still feels the familiarity.
“This team has been together for a long time,” Colaiacovo said. “Even when I left they were set up good to be successful. They have added a lot of key pieces over that time. It’s created the team we have.”
Monday night was a near-perfect reunion for Colaiacovo, who played his first ever game with the Blues exactly five years ago. He and Alexander Steen, who is currently the Blues’ top scorer, joined the Blues in 2008 when they were acquired from the Toronto Maple Leafs in exchange for Lee Stempniak. Colaiacovo played with the Blues from then until 2012 before the Blues decided to part ways with the veteran defenseman and he signed a two-year deal with Detroit.
That deal ended this past offseason when Detroit bought out the second year of Colaiacovo’s contract. Until two weeks ago, Colaiacovo was an unrestricted free agent. It was only because of a long-term injury to defenseman Jordan Leopold that the Blues decided to bring back Colaiacovo.
It had been 12 days since the Blues signed Colaiacovo to a one-year deal. The defenseman had practiced with the team, but hadn’t played in a game until Monday when he was inserted into the lineup for Kevin Shattenkirk, who was out with the flu. If one hadn’t known better, they would have thought Colaiacovo had been with the team all season long.
Besides his one assist, Colaiacovo was able to handle a heavy workload on Monday. Despite his lengthy absence from hockey, the Blues still entrusted Colaiacovo with power-play assignments and numerous other tall tasks. There was no time allotted for Colaiacovo to get his feet wet. Yet, the defenseman handled his assignments well enough to receive praise from head coach Ken Hitchcock, who likes what the defenseman brings to his club.
“Carlo brings a good element to us,” he said. “You forget how well he passes the puck. He gets us into a lot of transition that not many guys in the league can do. His first touch is excellent.”
Hitchcock, of course, remembers Colaiacovo from the one season he coached the defenseman. During that season, which was Hitchcock’s first with the Blues, Colaiacovo was spending most of his time paired with Alex Pietrangelo. Since then, the Blues have added Jay Bouwmeester to the defensive mix and have improved their defense immensely. After his first game playing as a part of the new and improved defense, Colaiacovo has a better appreciation of their skill and depth.
“Outstanding. Size, strength, puck-movement. They have a great combination of everything,” said Colaiacovo. “Even with guys like Leopold and Shattenkirk out, the group of eight we have right now, you can count on them in any situation and I really trust them making any play we need made.”
“When you’ve got horses like (Alex) Pietrangelo and (Jay) Bouwmeester in the lead, I think it just filters on down and helps each guy get better every day.”
There’s no telling how often Colaiacovo gets to play for the Blues. Once Shattenkirk is ready to return, somebody will have to sit. Colaiacovo signed with the Blues knowing that he may be watching more than he is playing. But if he plays as well as he did on Monday on a consistent basis, it makes it a lot harder for Hitchcock to replace him.