By LOUIE KORAC
ST. LOUIS -- The Blues welcomed back Alexander Steen to the lineup Thursday. They welcome Vladimir Tarasenko tonight against Anaheim.
Tarasenko, who has been out the last 10 games, will return when the Blues (15-10-2), who have won four of five, welcome the red-hot Ducks (20-3-3), winners of five straight at 7 p.m. (FSN, KMOX 1120-AM).
Tarasenko, who has 12 points (six goals, six assists) in 17 games, was injured when he was checked by Colorado's Mark Olver in a game against the Avalanche on Feb. 21.
He skated with Vladimir Sobotka and Jaden Schwartz on the team's third line at the morning skate and coach Ken Hitchcock confirmed he was being removed from injured-reserve. To make room for Tarasenko, the Blues placed T.J. Oshie (upper-body) on injured-reserve retroactive to Tuesday.
"Yeah, he's playing tonight ... he'll come off injured reserve and participate today," Hitchcock said. "... We've got to be realistic. It's going to be an adjustment phase for him because this is the first time in his career he's been hurt where he hasn't been able to skate, so I'm not sure what we're going to get," Hitchcock said. "But we've got to get him back in and playing and make him part of the team again. We're not sure how much we're going to play him, how much we're going to play him on the power play. But he was an awfully good player until he got injured and hopefully we can get back up and running again and get him back to where he was before. But it's not going to happen overnight. Like I said, you've got the conditioning phase, so he's got to get through that. And then he's going to have to feel comfortable on the ice again with contact."
Needless to say, the Russian winger sported a happy face as he left the rink.
"This is an unbelievable feeling," Tarasenko said. "I'm really happy to be back.
"I need a couple of games, maybe one, to remember the speed, passing and timing. I think I will be OK."
Hitchcock said be considered putting Tarasenko on the line with Patrik Berglund but decided against it.
"We debated putting him up with Bergy, but the Berglund line (with David Perron and Matt D'Agostini) played so well the last game," Hitchcock said. "The risk is we've got two young guys on the wing that don't have a lot of NHL experience, but the way Schwartz is playing right now and the way Sobotka is playing right now, arguably they've been our best line. I just think he's going to carry along with them."
Tarasenko falls in line with other young players in the league, Hitchcock said there have been 10-12 of them, that have to learn the hard way as far as awareness of the ice in the league.
"He gets it. It's unfortunate that he got hunted, but he gets it," Hitchcock said. "He knows awareness. He knows that the only time to rest is on the bench.
"I don't think we expected him to get hit with that angle of check. I don't think he expected to get hit, but it happened. Like a lot of other younger guys, I don't think (Minnesota's Jason) Zucker expected to get hit where he got hit, but he got hit (by Anaheim's Corey Perry, which resulted in a four-game suspension). It seems like all the young guys have to learn hard lessons. I've said that before. It's very disturbing for me that all the young guys have to learn the hard lessons. There have been 10 or 12 of them in the league this year that have got whacked. It's unfortunate, but when you play young players, you just wish there was something that would allow them to not get hurt before they learn the lesson."
Enforcer Ryan Reaves was not on the ice for the morning skate but Hitchcock expects him in the lineup tonight, saying in articulate fashion: "
Revo is convalescing at home with the prospect of playing right now. He'll be in tonight."
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The Blues are in the mix with the Western Conference pack and winning four of five has kept them in the fourth place spot heading into Saturday. There's a huge reason for the recent surge.
"I just think the value system on the team's changed now," Hitchcock said. "I think we see the value of work and compete. We're playing the right way, and I think we're starting to trust the fact that the score will take care of itself if we compete at this level and play at this level.
"It's not only impacted us in wins and losses. It's impacted us in the way we play. We look organized on the ice. We look coordinated. We look composed. We're talking to each other in critical areas and spaces where the players need help on the ice. The value system's changing here, and players deserve a lot of credit for embracing it. We're starting to embrace a lot of things that were around last season."
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One role player who will make it tough for the Blues to let him go or put him on the bench is Chris Porter.
Porter, who chose to resign with the Blues in the off-season because of his familiarity with the system and coaching staff.
"I think the coaching staff understood what I brought to the team," Porter said. "I thought the best opportunity was here in St. Louis. I've had nothing but a great experience so far here. My year-end meetings were very positive. I felt like if given the opportunity again, I could add some physicality, energy and confidence to the team. Now that I'm getting the opportunity, hopefully I can continue to do that.
"Obviously there is opportunity to go elsewhere. You hope for that anyways, but I'm glad I stayed here. They've given me the opportunity to play my first NHL game so I felt like that was another good opportunity coming into this year. Unfortunately out of training camp, it was a numbers game. There's nothing I can control about that, but glad to be back here and contributing."
"All I can control is my game, so I'm just going out there and playing to my best ability every night and make that decision tough for them to pull me out of the lineup or send me down or whatever they're going to do," Porter added.
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The Blues' lineup:
Alexander Steen-David Backes-Chris Stewart
David Perron-Patrik Berglund-Matt D'Agostini
Jaden Schwartz-Vladimir Sobotka-Vladimir Tarasenko
Chris Porter-Scott Nichol-Ryan Reaves
Barret Jackman-Kevin Shattenkirk
Kris Russell-Roman Polak
Wade Redden-Ian Cole
Jake Allen goes in goal again; Jaroslav Halak is the backup.
Healthy scratches include goalie Brian Elliott, defenseman Ian Cole and winger Adam Cracknell. Andy McDonald (knee), Oshie (upper-body) are on injured-reserve and Alex Pietrangelo (flu) will miss tonight's game.
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The Ducks' lineup:
Matt Beleskey-Ryan Getzlaf-Teemu Selanne
Bobby Ryan-Peter Holland-Kyle Palmieri
Andrew Cogliano-Saku Koivu-Daniel Winnik
Brandon McMillan-David Steckel-Emerson Etem
Sheldon Souray-Francois Beauchemin
Bryan Allen-Cam Fowler
Luca Sbisa-Ben Lovejoy
Jonas Hiller gets the start; Viktor Fasth is the backup.
Healthy scratches include defenseman Toni Lydman and Perry, who's serving a four-game suspension. Nick Bonino (lower-body) and Brad Staubitz (facial laceration) and both on injured-reserve.