By LOU KORAC
ST. LOUIS -- The Blues, winners of a season-high five in a row and 6-0-1 the past seven games, must move forward again missing a key piece due to injury.
It's getting to be old hat, like a broken record.
Someone must feel like there's a curse in place, but now with the return of Jake Allen, the Blues must overcome another big loss.
When news of Alexander Steen came Sunday that he would be reevaluated in four weeks because of an upper-body injury sustained Saturday against the Arizona Coyotes, it's as if the team is immune to someone being out.
"This late time of year, it's about who's in and not who's out," coach Ken Hitchcock said. "We'll sort it out through the game, see what works. We've got two days to figure it out, what way we want to move forward with it. We've been through it all year, so this isn't surprising. It's too late in the year to be concerned about that. We've just got to find a way to reorganize ourselves. All our top guys have gone missing most of the year and we've been able to maintain a competitive level and this is just another challenge that way."
Players are obviously getting frustrated.
"We've had some tough timing. You get one guy back and one guy's out," right wing Troy Brouwer said. "It's getting to the point where it sucks. Enough is enough. We're trying to stay healthy as much as possible. We've had some bad injuries, some tough timing on injuries, but we've dong a great job of battling through it and making sure we have guys in place that can fill roles and fill space."
Magnus Paajarvi will replace Steen on the lineup.
"Somebody made a joke about it, if one guy goes off the IR, somebody has to replace them," said Paajarvi, a healthy scratch the past five games. "It's tough, especially when it's key guys like 'Petro' and now Steen, (Jaden) Schwartz before, (Jake) Allen ... they're big guys on the team, they're big keys to our success. It's tough, but guys have been stepping up the whole season. A couple percentages on everybody, and we've been plugging out wins. That's what matters. That's a good thing coming into the last stretch here.
"I don't think anybody can go in and replicate what Steener does or what Petro does. Everybody's got to do their own thing or maybe get up a couple more percentages of their own game and we'll be fine. We've got so much depth on our team. We have to have that trust with each other and I think we do."
It's best to leave things as close to what's been working as possible. That's what the Blues (35-17-9) will do when they host the San Jose Sharks (31-21-5) at 7 p.m. today (NBCSN, KMOX 1120-AM).
"Well we've got what five (wins) in a row? So you don't want to do too much with it," Brouwer said. "You don't want to completely overhaul everything. We're finally getting a little bit of familiarity, scoring some goals and you don't want to mess with that. Players like it, not moving."
And apparently, so does the coach.
"I like the chemistry of (Paul) Stastny's line," Hitchcock said. "Obviously (Jori) Lehtera, they've been together a long time. We're not going to reinvent the wheel. We haven't had a real hockey practice yet. This will be a real good test for us. ... We'll get a good test and evaluation today and kind of see if we've got to make some adjustments starting tomorrow."
So when Paajarvi, who has two goals and three assists in 36 games, goes in with Patrik Berglund and David Backes, Hitchcock said it's a simple solution.
"He's got to be a productive player," Hitchcock said of Paajarvi. "He can't just check. He's in a top six role. He's had a lot of good play but hasn't been able to finish it off with all the scoring chances he gets, so if you're going to play that high up the lineup, you've got to be productive at both ends of the rink. I think he's really excited and looking forward to it. That's why we brought Jaskin back, same thing. 'Jasky's going to get the the same opportunity at some period of time. They're both players that have shown the ability to create scoring chances. Now with Alex out, they're going to get that opportunity."
But make no mistake, the loss of Steen, who leads the Blues in assists (30) and ice time per game (20 minutes, 30 seconds, which is sixth in the NHL among forwards), will be tough skates to fill.
"Any time you lose a three-tool guy playing both ends of special teams and 5-on-5, it adjusts everything," Hitchcock said. "It adjusts 3 vs. 5, 4 vs. 5, PP ... you've got to see mostly by trial and error for a while to see what works and when it works, you stick with it and when it doesn't, you've got to be quick to make adjustments. We've been through this so much this year, we don't waste any time on it because you just become numb and you move ahead. That's what we did yesterday. When we got the news yesterday, we just moved ahead."
Brouwer said: "He does so much for us. A lot of nights he logs the most minutes at forward, and I think throughout the course of the season he's got the highest forward average. To take away those many minutes is tough, plus he plays in all situations. He's a great leader for us, a great voice for us and those things can't be replaced easily."
- - -
Allen will be Brian Elliott's backup tonight, the first time he will be an active player since going down with a left knee injury Jan. 8 at Anaheim.
Allen was activated from injured reserve Sunday.
"It's good," Allen said. "It feels like a long time coming. I'm excited to be back, excited to contribute in any way I can. I finally get to watch the game from ice level. It's nice."
Allen, who is tied for seventh in the NHL in goals-against average (2.17) and tied for eighth in save percentage (.924), is likely to see his first action since returning this weekend when the Blues play back-to-back games Saturday at Nashville and Sunday at Carolina. But only if all goes well.
"I don't know. We'll see," Hitchcock said. "He hasn't had a real hockey practice. He's done nothing but pregame skates. We'll see. We get to practice on Wednesday. That'll be our first real evaluation where we think he's at and whether he's ready to play. If he does, the first logical start would be on the back to backs but we'll see how he looks Wednesday after practice. If he looks like he's up to speed in some of game-like situations, then he'll look like he's ready to go. It's nice to see him back, it's nice to see 'Petro' on the ice. We've got some options coming forward here."
Allen, who took advantage of a similar situation when Elliott was injured last season and got hot, has seen Elliott do the same. Elliott, who will make an 18th straight start tonight, is 12-3-2 with a 1.76 GAA and .943 save percentage in 17 starts since Allen went down. He's won five in a row and is 6-0-1.
"In a sense there is," Allen said on similarities with last season. "There's an opportunity where someone gets their chance to make the most of the situation that's presented in front of them and 'Ells' did that now and I felt I did that last year. I've still got 20-odd games left, I've got lots of time to get back in best game form and ready for the playoffs."
It doesn't mean Allen wouldn't mind getting the net back.
"If you're not competitive at this point, you're in the wrong employment," he said. "... I'm ready go to. Give me a chance and I'm ready to go. Brian's been the best goalie in the league the past month, hands down, he's got our team in a great position for a playoff push and a good chance in our division. If it wasn't for him, things could be a lot different I think. I'm extremely happy for him. It's great to have a partner that's capable of doing that, not many teams, very little teams, have that to be honest. Whenever I get my chance I'm going to try to get back in that net and get on a winning track."
- - -
Jordan Schmaltz will wear a Blues uniform in a meaningful game one day; it just won't be tonight.
But the Blues' defenseman, their first round pick (25th) in the 2012 NHL Draft and recalled Sunday along with Dmitrij Jaskin from the Chicago Wolves of the American Hockey League, is ready when called upon.
"I think it's gone well," Schmaltz said of his game in Chicago, where he had three goals and 23 assists in 52 games with the Wolves. "Anytime you're playing against bigger, faster, stronger players, you're going to get better. So far I think I've been doing pretty good.
"... I think every game, I'm just getting better, working with the coaches there. Mark Hardy, he's hard but he's good. And obviously the team is struggling a little bit, but hopefully we can sneak in the playoffs and make some noise."
Schmaltz, whose brother Nick is a prospect of the Chicago Blackhawks, has no expectations.
"I literally have nothing to expect here. It all happened so fast, I guess we'll just take it day by day," Schmaltz said. "... Anytime you come into a situation like this, you just have to have open ears and take everything in. At practice out there you could just tell being out there with those guys, that it helps a lot."
Schmaltz got the news Sunday after the Wolves' shootout win from assistant general manager Martin Brodeur.
"That was pretty cool," Schmaltz said. "I didn't really know what to say at the time. I was just kind of lost in his eyes, I guess, when he told me the news."
- - -
The Sharks, 13-3-3 the past 19 games and the team that's handed the Blues their only regulation loss in February (7-1-1), acquired former Blues defenseman Roman Polak and forward Nick Spaling from the Toronto Maple Leafs in exchange for Raffi Torres and second-round draft picks in 2017 and 2018.
Polak and Spaling won't be in the lineup tonight.
"He's a real pro," Hitchcock said of Polak. "He's a no maintenance, great team guy, holds other people accountable, holds himself accountable. He's a real pro. He's not fun to play against. He's a tough guy. Players love him, teammates love him, coaches love him. He's got zero maintenance. It's a great add."
- - -
The Blues' projected lineup:
Jaden Schwartz-Jori Lehtera-Vladimir Tarasenko
Robby Fabbri-Paul Stastny-Troy Brouwer
Patrik Berglund-David Backes-Magnus Paajarvi
Scottie Upshall-Kyle Brodziak-Ryan Reaves
Jay Bouwmeester-Kevin Shattenkirk
Carl Gunnarsson-Colton Parayko
Joel Edmundson-Robert Bortuzzo
Brian Elliott will start in goal. Jake Allen will be the backup.
Heathy scratches will be Dmitrij Jaskin and Jordan Schmaltz. Alexander Steen (upper body), Alex Pietrangelo (knee) and Steve Ott (hamstring) are on injured reserve.
- - -
The Sharks' projected lineup:
Tomas Hertl-Joe Thornton-Joe Pavelski
Matt Nieto-Patrick Marleau-Joel Ward
Joonas Donskoi-Logan Couture-Melker Karlsson
Mike Brown-Chris Tierney-Dainius Zubrus
Paul Martin-Brent Burns
Marc-Edouard Vlasic-Justin Braun
Dylan DeMelo-Matt Tennyson
Martin Jones will start in goal. Alex Stalock will be the backup.
Roman Polak, Nick Spaling and Barclay Goodrow are healthy scratches. Tommy Wingels (upper body) and Brenden Dillon (upper body) are out with injuries.