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Johnson, McClement returning to St. Louis with Avs

by Rick Sadowski
CENTENNIAL, Colo. -- Turns out, you really can go home again. Erik Johnson and Jay McClement are proof of that.

A little more than 48 hours after leaving St. Louis following the blockbuster trade that sent them to Colorado, Johnson and McClement boarded the Avalanche's charter Monday for a flight back to the Gateway City and Tuesday's game against the Blues at the Scottrade Center.   

"It's pretty weird to come back that soon, but It's going to be fun," Johnson said after getting in his first full practice Monday with his new team at the South Suburban Family Sports Center. "We go back there two more times (this season), so it'll be nice to get the first one done tomorrow. It's going to be weird coming into your old rink on the other side of the barn and seeing all your old trainers and coaches and teammates.

"Nothing would feel better than to get a win."

The Avalanche acquired Johnson and McClement, along with a 2011 or 2012 first-round draft pick, in the wee hours of Saturday morning in exchange for Chris Stewart, Kevin Shattenkirk and a second-round pick in 2011 or 2012.

Both practiced Monday after some much-needed time Sunday to rest, relax and digest the events of the previous 24 hours after getting settled into a suburban hotel.

They played for the Blues on Friday in Buffalo and were informed of the trade after arriving back at the airport in St. Louis. After gathering some personal possessions at their respective homes, Johnson and McClement took a 7 a.m. flight to San Jose and played Saturday in the Avalanche's 4-0 loss to the Sharks.

"It was definitely a very crazy evening and early morning for us," Johnson said. "It's been quite the whirlwind, for sure. (Sunday) was a little bit of a day of reflection. We had the day off and I got a lot of things in order. I took in the city a little bit and saw the mountains. The peaceful energy around here helps out."

Johnson, a 6-foot-4, 235-pound defenseman, logged 26:44 in ice time against the Sharks. He had two shots on goal and was a minus-1. McClement, a 6-1, 205-pound center, had three shots and was a minus-1 while playing 14:59.

"You don't have a lot of time to ease them into things," Avalanche coach Joe Sacco said. "You don't want to paralyze them with a lot of information. For that game, we told them to just go out and play. They're good hockey players and we got them for a reason. There's really not a lot of time to ease them into anything with the situation that we're in."

The Avalanche has been outscored 42-14 during a 10-game losing streak and will be seeking its first win since a 4-3 home victory against the Blues on Jan. 24.

"It's amazing how things can change so quickly, but it's kind of settled in now," Johnson said of the hectic weekend. "When (the trade) happened, it was quite a shock. I was floored. But that's the nature of the business and I'm excited to be here in Denver. It's a terrific city with a team that's on the upswing. It's a great group of guys and a good coaching staff and a first-class organization."

The Avalanche is planning to rebuild its defense around Johnson, who hasn't quite lived up to his potential following his selection by the Blues as the first overall pick in 2006 NHL entry draft.
But Johnson doesn't turn 23 until next month and he gives the Avalanche a much-needed physical presence on the blue line, along with a booming shot that should help a struggling power play.

"I had a good first season (in 2007-08) and I lost my second season (to a knee injury)," said Johnson, who in 56 games this year has five goals and 14 assists. "I had a good third year last season and made the (U.S.) Olympic team and we won a silver medal. It didn't start the way I wanted it to this year. I didn't get off to the right foot, but I think maybe a change of scenery will help what it takes to be a dominant player in this league. It's definitely what I want to be."

McClement is expected to chip in with an occasional goal, play solid defense, win faceoffs and kill penalties. Now in his sixth NHL season, he has six goals and 10 assists in 57 games this year.

"During trading deadline, you know something is coming," McClement said. "It's always in the back of your mind that it could happen to you. I've seen a lot of guys leave St. Louis and I was lucky to stay there for quite a long time. I knew it was going to happen at some point in my career and I'm looking forward to a new opportunity with a new team in a great organization. It's a good, young team and I'm looking at it as a fresh start.

"You get into your comfort zone a little bit. You build friendships around the city and you're comfortable there. Now that the dust has settled a little bit, we're excited to have a fresh start, a new challenge and a new adventure."

Like Johnson, McClement doesn't know what to expect heading into Tuesday's game against his former teammates.

"I'm not quite sure, but it'll be fun to see the guys and catch up," he said. "I didn't really get a chance to talk to any of the guys, or even the staff and the trainers that you spend so much time with over the years. It'll be good to get a chance to visit with the guys in the morning. The game, I'll be a little nervous to see what it's going to be like."

WAITING ON ELLIOTT: Goalie Brian Elliott, whom the Avalanche acquired Friday from Ottawa in exchange for goalie Craig Anderson, as of Monday hadn't been issued the immigration paperwork needed for him to join the team from Canada.

"He should be available to us sometime this week," Sacco said. "There hasn't been a date confirmed yet."

Peter Budaj will start in goal against the Blues, with John Grahame serving as the backup.
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