By LOU KORAC
ST. LOUIS -- Alexander Steen's long-awaited return to the lineup will happen today when the red-hot Blues (13-7-3), who have taken points in 10 straight home games, face the struggling and injury-riddled Tampa Bay Ligntning (13-10-1).
Steen missed the past six games with an upper-body injury after being hurt Nov. 15 against the Buffalo Sabres.
The Blues were 5-1-0 with Steen out of the lineup.
"I think we were cautious from the get-go to make sure that I was OK," Steen said. "I think it was a little more complicated than we first thought. Now it's back to where we want it to be."
With the Blues playing so well, Steen said giving him ample time to recover had nothing to do with the recent stretch.
"No, that didn't have anything to do with it," Steen said. "It was an injury and we wanted to make sure that I was healthy, so we took the time it took."
Steen will play center, between Robby Fabbri and Vladimir Tarasenko.
"I think long-term, it's going to work great for us, but we've got to temper our enthusiasm to see how he gets through the game and how the chemistry of the line looks," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. "It looked very good at practice two days ago, so we'll see how it looks in the game. We've played this line before and it's very successful, so we're not afraid to look at it again.
"I just think we need an upgrade at center ice. We need to play better at that position, we need more production, we need more puck control. He's our most complete player. He's got a chance to really elevate our game playing center ice. We've been looking for this type of add-on within our group. He's a guy that's played a lot of center. Sure, there's going to be some time getting used to it and things like that, but he has the ability to make plays off the rush, he's great in our own end. I've played him when the games have been on the line, especially in the playoffs. I've used him at center a lot. He played there a lot last year and was very, very effective. We're looking forward to it."
Paul Stastny, who will play in his 700th regular season game tonight, said the addition is big.
"It's huge," he said. "Power play-wise, PK-wise, he does everything. It'll help us out because we've had a few guys play a lot of minutes. There's another guy you can throw out there in every situation. Every guy will play a minute or two less and we'll be way more fresh. It's just another threat to throw out there offensively. We're glad he's back. He's been itching to get back, but he's played it smart."
But with the Blues playing as well as they have (8-0-2 the past 10 games at Scottrade Center), they have to curb the enthusiasm of getting one player back.
"We've got to be careful not to overlook that and realize that he's going to come in and fit into what we've got going here the last few weeks and that's the most important thing, not the other way around," defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk said of Steen. "We can't try to change our game to try to accommodate him and get him back to full 100 percent. We have to make sure that he's jumping on board with us."
With Steen playing on the second line, Hitchcock will drop Jori Lehtera to the third line and move Patrik Berglund to right wing for the first time this season looking for more consistency on the third line with Dmitrij Jaskin. Ty Rattie will be a healthy scratch with Nail Yakupov.
"Weight, size, tenacity on the puck," Hitchcock said describing the third line tonight. "Berglund's skating as well as anyone on our team right now. We need him to get on the puck and get on the hunt, use his speed to beat people. I really like him as a winger because he bounces ahead of the play, he creates separation, he's hard on the forecheck, he can hang on to the puck down low when he's able to take and play with a little more risk in his game than he would as a center. I like when he plays like that. When he's on the forecheck, that's a big load to come at you. That line has a lot of size. If we use it properly, it can be really, really effective."
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Stastny has 192 goals and 374 assists during his career, including 32 goals and 76 assists in two-plus seasons with the Blues.
"You look at the start of the year and kind of look at it, that's where you look at the only time where you are and what potential milestone you might get," Stastny said. "But other than that, it flies by so quick. I remember it was like 680 at the start and now it's already like 700. It goes by. When you're having fun and the team's winning, I think it flies by. It's just another nice round number to have. You enjoy it. You only get to that number by playing with good guys on winning teams and kind of being successful all the time."
Stastny has been on a hot line with Jaden Schwartz and David Perron.
"Me and Schwartzy have always played well together and I think with Perry, I think it maybe took him a couple games to try and find his niche," Stastny said. "He was kind of playing in every situation to see what would work out. Sometimes it takes a couple games to kind of get your groove and I think he's found it. He knows what makes him play well and the line's been clicking. We've been communicating a lot on the ice during games and during practices."
Perron has an eight-game point streak (three goals, eight assists), which is a career-high and the longest current streak in the NHL. Schwartz has five goals and four assists during a seven-game point streak and has seven goals and five assists the past 11 games.
Stastny has been a big part of both runs.
"Since Steener went out, he's carried a heavy burden here," Hitchcock said of Stastny. "He's had to do everything. He's had to play against the other team's top players, he's had to score points, he's had to be good on PK, he's had to quarterback the power play. It's funny because the more we need him, the better he plays. With added responsibility, it seems to really engage him more than ever and I think that's a good sign. We expect a lot of him, but when we give him that responsibility, in the last year and a half, he's really delivered."
"Great milestone," Shattenkirk said. "I think it just goes to show a lot of people don't really look at him as a superstar, but a lot of things he brings to the ice and brings to the table are things you can't coach. It's things you just have in you. I think that starts with his father obviously, some of the things that he taught him at a young age. But Paul's probably one of the smartest hockey players that I've ever played with. That's why he's been here for 700 games."
Stastny said he remembers Game No. 1.
"Yeah, against Dallas at home. We lost 3-2," he said. "(Marty) Turco I think had the game-winning assist. ... I remember my first one and I remember my 500th. It flies by. The first couple 100 for sure, you're younger in the league and you don't think about it. Basically it's just hockey all the time and as you get older, whether it's injuries or other things going on, it goes slow at times when you're looking at it and then you don't pay attention, it flies by."
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* Goalie Jake Allen, who has won six straight starts, has a 1.95 goals-against average and .933 save-percentage in that stretch; he will start. Allen is 8-0-2 with a 1.57 GAA and a .940 save-percentage on home ice this season.
According to Elias, Allen is the first Blues goaltender to earn at least a point in 10 straight home games in one season since Jaroslav Halak, who did it in 2011 (13-0-1).
* Defenseman Joel Edmundson (upper body) skated with the team but will miss an 11th consecutive game. Hitchcock said he's close but not ready.
* It looks like native Ben Bishop will not play in his hometown for the Ligntning tonight. Andrei Vasilevskiy will start for the second straight game.
* The Blues' last 10-game home point streak was Jan. 28 - March 27, 2014. They are 10-1-2 at Scottrade Center this season overall.
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The Blues' projected lineup:
Jaden Schwartz-Paul Stastny-David Perron
Robby Fabbri-Alexander Steen-Vladimir Tarasenko
Dmitrij Jaskin-Jori Lehtera-Patrik Berglund
Scottie Upshall-Kyle Brodziak-Ryan Reaves
Jay Bouwmeester-Alex Pietrangelo
Carl Gunnarsson-Kevin Shattenkirk
Robert Bortuzzo-Colton Parayko
Jake Allen will start in goal; Carter Hutton will be the backup.
Healthy scratches include Nail Yakupov and Ty Rattie. Joel Edmundson (upper body) is out.
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The Lightning's projected lineup:
Ondrej Palat-Tyler Johnson-Nikita Kucherov
Brayden Point-Valtteri Filppula-Alex Killorn
Jonathan Drouin-Cedric Paquette-Joel Vermin
Michael Bournival-Brian Boyle-J.T. Brown
Victor Hedman-Andrej Sustr
Nikita Nesterov-Braydon Coburn
Jason Garrison-Slater Koekkoek
Andrei Vasilevskiy will start in goal; Ben Bishop will be the backup.
Healthy scratches include Vladislav Namestnikov and Luke Witkowski. Steven Stamkos (knee), Anton Stralman (upper body) and Ryan Callahan (lower body) are out.