With the playoffs just around the corner, every NHL injury is shrouded in mystery and intrigue.
It’s no different with the St. Louis Blues, whose top two scorers —Vladimir Tarasenko and Alexander Steen — are out on a day-to-day basis with lower-body injuries. Neither player practiced on Wednesday and Tarasenko was pronounced day-to-day and also ruled out of Thursday’s game against Calgary by Blues coach Ken Hitchcock.
“That’s what you’re going to get for the next four months, so get used to it,” Hitchcock said. “Everybody’s day-to-day and certainly everybody’s going to be available for Game 1 of the playoffs.”
Tarasenko ranks fifth in the league with 36 goals and leads the Blues with 71 points in 76 games. Steen is the Blues’ second-leading scorer with 24 goals and 62 points in 73 games.
The Blues called up winger Ty Rattie from their minor-league affiliate in the AHL, the Chicago Wolves. Rattie, a second-round draft pick in 2011, has 21 goals and 42 points in 59 games.
Hitchcock did not rule Steen out for playing Thursday. Steen missed the Blues’ home loss to Vancouver on Monday while Tarasenko was injured during the third period Monday after being tripped by Vancouver’s Kevin Bieksa.
Hitchcock’s “four months” comment was regarding how the NHL becomes much more tight-lipped about injuries during the playoffs.
“Anybody that’s out ... same with Steener (who is) day-to-day, we won’t comment until they come back in,” Hitchcock said.
Blues veteran forward Steve Ott talked about the importance of filling injury voids with a collective effort.
“We’re built on team depth here and that’s one reason why we have this kind of a logjam situation at times with players,” Ott said. “In times like this, it’s of the utmost importance to have that extra depth. You never want to dwell on last year, but last year we didn’t have the team depth and now we do. It gives guys an opportunity.
“No matter if it’s a fourth-line guy that goes out or a first-line guy that goes out, you have to come collectively together and push through whatever circumstances arise.”
Any injury is tough, but the possibility of being without their two top scorers could be tough on a Blues team still chasing first place in the Central Division and home ice advantage for the playoffs.
Counting Thursday, only six regular-season games remain and the Blues will test the improved depth they’ve talked about and relied on all season.
“I think we’re more prepared for something like this more than ever,” Blues defenseman Alex Pietrangelo said. “Tomorrow we’re going to have to step up and take over the parts that are missing. You’ve got a guy (Tarasenko) with 70-plus points, it’s never easy to replace that. Obviously Steener’s right on the verge of 70 (points) too, so it’s never easy to replace those guys.
“But if you have enough depth like we have, everybody’s going to have to contribute.”
Despite losing three of their last four games, including back-to-back home games, Pietrangelo thinks the Blues can turn things around quickly.
“It’s that time of the year,” he said. “Teams are fighting for playoff spots, we’re fighting for first place. We’re only a couple points back, we’ve still got opportunities here.”
Hitchcock also said Jake Allen would be the starter in goal Thursday against the Flames. Physical defenseman Robert Bortuzzo is also back in the lineup and among several changes at forward will be T.J. Oshie and Paul Stastny playing together on the same line. Pending the possible return of Steen, Stastny centered Oshie and Jaden Schwartz on Wednesday at practice.
Asked about the potential of centering Oshie and Schwartz, Stastny said “We had it I think one period in Buffalo and it was fun. They’re two guys that play that give-and-go game and smart guys that can read off each other and support each other.”
Other lines Wednesday saw Blues captain David Backes between Dmitrij Jaskin and Patrik Berglund and Jori Lehtera with Chris Porter and Olli Jokinen.
Hitchcock said teams change their approach to a tighter game with so much at stake in terms of playoff positioning and fighting for a higher seed.
“Your offensive opportunities are going to come in-zone and at a high compete level,” he said. “We just feel like the more lines we have that can play that type of grind game, it’s going to be important in the next six games. We’re going to have to get connected in having to score those greasy, hard goals. We think putting Stastny with Oshie we’ve got an opportunity to that.”