Defenseman to be reevaluated in three weeks; Schwartz not quite ready
HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- It seems the Blues' theme when it comes to injuries is been three, done that.
It's not an avenue one wants to frequent often, but it's becoming unavoidable with the latest injury news.
The Blues were dealt another injury blow to their lineup, and this one involves a major impact player in Alex Pietrangelo that will surely alter their defensive unit.
|(St. Louis Blues photo)|
The injury to Alex Pietrangelo (right) will leave the Blues void of the fourth
leading player in the NHL in average time on ice.
Pietrangelo was placed on injured reserve Monday with a right knee injury that he sustained late in the third period of a 4-1 victory against the Minnesota Wild on Saturday; he will be reevaluated in three weeks.
Pietrangelo was injured when he came together in what appeared to be a knee-on-knee collision with the Wild's Charlie Coyle with 7:20 remaining. He was down on the ice before skating off on his own and did not return.
Pietrangelo, 26, played in all 55 games this season, one of five players to do so. He posted 23 points, including three goals and 20 assists. Previously, Pietrangelo's missed seven games in five full seasons.
The Blues found out Sunday night the diagnosis and moved forward Monday at practice at the Ice Zone inside St. Louis Outlet Mall.
"We've dealt with it all year. We're used to it," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. "I don't want to say we're numb to it, but we've done a helluva job in dealing with injuries to significant players, and this is another one that we'll adjust and keep going. There's not much you can do about it right now. The big thing for us is just mentally move forward as quick as you can. I think the experience of having gone through this with other players helps us in this one, because our guys were good in practice today. They've already moved on and we were able to practice today with some of the adjustments that we're going to make offensively, defensively, pairs and everything. Now it's time to play."
Replacing Pietrangelo won't be easy and will be a challenge. Pietrangelo is fourth in the NHL in ice time (26:40) who plays in all situations for the Blues, including 5-on-5, the penalty kill, power play and 3-on-3.
"Anyone of that stature that plays that much, that plays in all different situations, yeah, you're going to miss them, but it's opportunities for other guys," said defenseman Jay Bouwmeester, Pietrangelo's partner. "All year we've dealt with injuries to a lot of different guys. Hopefully he gets back soon and hopefully that's the end of it.
"He plays the most out of anybody; no one's going to replace that. As a group, you spread it around. One guy doesn't come in and replace that; you do it as a group. We have depth here. You look at it as an opportunity for someone to get in the lineup. Every time that that's happened, someone seems to go with it."
For the Blues, who are in the top 10 in the League regarding man-games lost, joined Pietrangelo to an injured list that included Kevin Shattenkirk (groin), Paul Stastny (broken foot), Jake Allen (knee), Jaden Schwartz (fractured ankle), Patrik Berglund (shoulder) and Steve Ott (hamstring) as players who have missed significant time because this season.
"It's tough, but mentally, you have to work through that," said defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk, who will see an increased role in ice time playing with Bouwmeester. I think the way we've handled it this year and the way we've adjusted, we've kind of just rolled with the punches and it shows a lot about our team. Who knows when we'll get a full lineup back; hopefully someday, but until then, everyone's playing different roles and really well when they're asked to do a little bit more."
A little bit more means everyone, not just one player.
"We don't need all of the sudden for somebody to take a big step up," Hitchcock said. "What we need is 10 percent across the board. We don't need 50 percent from some player, we need 10 percent from everybody. Ten percent more responsibility, 10 percent more ice, 10 percent a little bit change in your role. We'll be able to absorb this. This isn't forever. It's not like a three-month injury or anything like that. This is something that if we have the right attitude, we think we can handle this."
Robert Bortuzzo, a frequent healthy scratch this season, moves into a top-six role.
"Guys are going to have to step up and eat some of those minutes, those big penalty-killing minutes he's a part of," Bortuzzo said of Pietrangelo. "Some guys' minutes are going to rise and we're going to eat them up as a group. It's going to be an exciting challenge for us. I'm sure everyone's looking forward to it.
"It's not easy. I want to be in there every night obviously, but at the end of the day, we want to do anything we can to help this team win games. You never want an injury to get you in there, but sometimes there's circumstances. You're looking forward for this opportunity to prove that you want to be in there every night, to show you can be in there every night. I'm looking forward to it."
Said Hitchcock: "He's been chomping at the bit. He's not been happy at the coach for a little while, so he gets a real opportunity and knowing him, he's going to take advantage of it."
Blues general manager Doug Armstrong will now be faced with the task of evaluating not only if the Blues can acquire scoring depth leading up the Trade Deadline on Feb. 29, but also if the Blues will now need to bolster their defensive unit with some experienced NHL depth. That will depend on how long Pietrangelo will be out. The Blues have 27 regular season games remaining.
If nothing changes on the blue line, players understand the onus falls on them.
"We obviously have some young guys and some young talent that has progressed and really kind of grown up early, for a lack of a better term," Shattenkirk said. "We've just handled it well. We really have just found ways to get points and the guys who have to step up, they're trying not to play too much out of their comfort zone. They're just doing a little bit extra, but they're not all of the sudden asked to become NHL superstars. We know that we win as a team and that's when we're most successful when we play together. From there, that's where we grow.
"It's going to fall right down through the ranks. There's plenty of guys to step into that. It's tough; it's a big loss. There's no doubt about it. He's someone who plays every position, plays everywhere on the ice, every situation. We've just got to be ready for all six of us now to step up and play well together."
Somehow, the Blues have been able to persevere through the trials and tribulations of injury.
"I think it speaks volumes of how much people care on the team," Hitchcock said. "You have years like this that -- touch wood -- we haven't had one of these. We haven't had one of these and we got one and we've been able to keep this thing going. We've taken a lot of body blows. Numb wouldn't be the word, but it's made us resilient in the fact that we move forward. It's like, 'Okay, damage done. Now let's move forward.' Nobody in here is overwhelmed by what's going on. We've had to win games missing seven, eight guys. This is something that we've used to all year and we were able to move forward emotionally, mentally, physically, everything. It's a real test to everybody, coaches included here."
Said goalie Brian Elliott: "Losing a guy like 'Petro,' it's not easy, but you can't really dwell on it too much. He's going to be focusing on getting back and we're just going to try and roll with it until he's gone."
* Schwartz not quite ready -- The Blues and their fans have anxiously been awaiting the return of Jaden Schwartz, who's missed 48 games with a fractured left ankle and been skating with the team regularly since Jan. 20.
Schwartz was in a powder blue jersey Monday at practice along with Dmitrij Jaskin, an indication they would not dress against the Winnipeg Jets on Tuesday.
"We'll see how it feels tomorrow, but as of now with the lines, it looks like I'm not in tomorrow," Schwartz said after practice. "After this game, we've got (two) days before our next game. Hopefully those days are good for me and I feel better going into Florida.
"Certain things feel good, certain things don't feel as good. Skating's one thing, but getting into battles is different. It's tough. Probably when you're watching, it looks like it's a lot better than how it feels."
Hitchcock confirmed Schwartz will not play but likes what he sees.
|(St. Louis Blues photo)|
Jaden Schwartz (17), shown here earlier this season against Montreal, is
not quite ready for a return to the ice but hopeful for Florida trip.
"He looks good," Hitchcock said. "We're hopeful we get the knock on the door sometime real quick that he's ready to play, but he looked good today. This is now three days in a row where he's looked pretty close to a normal hockey player. We'll see here in the next couple days whether we get the knock or not."
Schwartz, who has four assists in seven games, said he was prepared and patient for when he could declare himself ready.
"I knew it wouldn't be easy," he said. "It's the first time I've had this injury. It is a little bit frustrating at times when it's not feeling as good as you want it to or heals as quickly as you want it to. There's definitely some frustrations with it, but I'm hoping that this is a big week for me and I can take another step."