By LOUIE KORAC
ST. LOUIS -- When the Blues played against the Ottawa Senators on Dec. 16, it was the start of what would eventually turn out to be an 11-game absence for Alexander Steen.
The Blues' leading scorer would play in two more games following the 3-2 Senators overtime victory, but it was a hit 24 seconds into the game by Senators center Zack Smith that ultimately led to Steen's concussion that sidelined the Blues' left wing for nearly a month. Smith was penalized two minutes for an illegal check to the head but no further discipline was handed down by the League.
When the Blues (37-12-5) host the Senators (24-21-11) Tuesday night, could there be some retribution from the Blues standpoint? Not according to coach Ken Hitchcock.
"Nah, I don't think so," Hitchcock said. "I think if it was a Western Conference opponent, we might look at it differently, but these are two games ... we might never see these guys again. Points matter more than anything right now. That's our focus right now. We're not prepared to be distracted by that right now."
However, Hitchcock said he didn't like what happened then.
"I didn't like it. It was a double-back hit. I didn't like it but part of the game," Hitchcock said. "I'm a big believer whether it's Alex Steen or (Kyle) Turris or (Jason) Spezza or guys like that. You want to play them hard ... that's why people come to see the game. They come to see those players.
"For me, I think playing them hard ... (Sidney) Crosby got played hard yesterday, but he got played clean. That's what you want to see. You don't want to see the skill guys control the hockey game, but I don't think you want them out of the game where you've got to double-back hit where the guy's not ready for it. That's a little bit on us. This was new ground for Alex to be thought of as an offensive player. He's going to have to get used to it. I think that was a wake-up call for our whole team because that was the first time people went after our skill guys, so we've just got to be ready for it."
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Jordan Leopold is the pick tonight as Roman Polak's defensive partner again, as he and Ian Cole have been trading spots in the order.
Leopold has played in eight games since returning from injuring ligaments in his right index finger and has three assists, but the alternating games between he and Cole is tough for both players to find rhythm.
"You like to get in a rhythm," Leopold said. "When you don't get in a thythm, it's a little bit difficult. But it is what it is, and when you get your opportunity, you've got to make the most of it."
Hitchcock is looking for someone to grab the position and run with it. So far, it's still an open competition.
"I think less is more, simple is more," Leopold said. "I thought the last game against Carolina, I played a pretty good game. We found ourselves in a back-to-back and found myself out of the lineup, but I think that had more to do with back-to-back situation and here we go.
"I will say this: I was out eight-and-a-half, nine weeks. It's a long time, and plus the situation I was in, I can't use my hand. I can't practice. I can just go around in circles. That's not fun, that's not really game-like. When you get back to try to prepare to get back in the lineup, there's no practices because of the condensed schedule. Everything's an optional. It's not the same. When you're in and out of the lineup trying to find chemistry with a partner, it's difficult. It is what it is. Hitch has to set his lineup and it's a tough job to do himself. The only thing you can do is go out there and do your job when called upon."
Hitchcock said it's natural for one or the other to try to do too much.
"Sometimes when you're in and out of the lineup, you try to hit a home run when you come back in and we just need both guys to keep it simple," he said. "They've had flashes where they've done a great jon. Leo's had some good games and then he's had some games where he's looked overwhelmed at times. The same thing with Cole. Cole's had some great games and then it just seems like every mistake ends up in our net. We're just trying to get them both to simplify it. We don't need them to do more. We've got lots of top-end guys that can carry the biscuit and stuff like that. We just need them to manage the puck and keep it in front of them as much as possible.
"They force offense. I think any time you force offense, the one time it works, the next four times it doesn't. It's a little bit like playing blackjack. You lose the first two hands, what are you going to do? You're going to double down or what and I think sometimes we're guilty of forcing it a little bit too much here. We're trying to get the guys to simplify."
Leopold played for the first time without the splint on his hand Friday and said it made a difference.
"I will say since I've been back, I've had a (splint) on my hand. That hasn't been great. The last game against Carolina, I didn't have it on, so it was quite a difference," Leopold said. "It's a mental challenge when you have a piece of equipment that doesn't make things as easy. ... It's a mental hurdle in a way, but now it's off and I'm feeling 100 percent with the hand and everything. I should be back to normal here soon."
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The Blues' probable lineup:
Alexander Steen-David Backes-Chris Stewart
Jaden Schwartz-Derek Roy-Vladimir Tarasenko
Magnus Paajarvi-Patrik Berglund-T.J. Oshie
Brenden Morrow-Maxim Lapierre-Ryan Reaves
Jay Bouwmeester-Alex Pietrangelo
Barret Jackman-Kevin Shattenkirk
Jordan Leopold-Roman Polak
Jaroslav Halak will get the start in goal; Brian Elliott is the backup.
Healthy scratches include Carlo Colaiacovo, Ian Cole and Dmitrij Jaskin. Vladimir Sobotka (knee) is on injured reserve.
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The Senators' probable lineup:
Milan Michalek-Jason Spezza-Mika Zibanejad
Clarke MacArthur-Kyle Turris-Bobby Ryan
Colin Greening-Zack Smith-Chris Neil
Cory Conacher-Stephane Da Costa-Erik Condra
Jared Cowen-Erik Karlsson
Marc Methot-Eric Gryba
Patrick Wiercioch-Cody Ceci
Robin Lehner will start in goal; Craig Anderson is the backup.
Healthy scratches include Joe Corvo and Matt Kassian. Mark Stone (upper body) and Chris Phillips (lower body) are out.