By LOU KORAC
ST. LOUIS -- Paul Stastny was officially activated from injured-reserve and will return to the lineup for the Blues, who host the Florida Panthers today at 7 p.m. (FS-MW, KMOX 1120-AM) before hitting the bye week.
Stastny missed the past four games with a lower-body injury.
"I think we've sort of felt his lack of presence on the power play, I think we've felt it on the faceoff circle," Blues coach Mike Yeo said of Stastny. "He's obviously a guy that can help you contribute and help you create offense. He's also very solid defensively as far as the matchups, playing against top lines. What that does, when he's there, everybody else gets slotted down a little bit in a different spot and gets some different matchups. We like the depth of our group and when he's in the lineup we feel that we're strong enough to compete with teams like tonight that have a lot of depth in the team."
Stastny will be reunited on the top line with Alexander Steen and Vladimir Tarasenko.
"Yeah, that wasn't a tough decision, based on the last full game that they played together," Yeo said. "That was what we were hoping to see from them, that's what we were hoping it could be and now we're looking to see if they can pick up where they left."
Stastny will jump back in on the Blues' top power play unit, be a key cog on the penalty kill and help with percentages in the faceoff circle.
"We've obviously missed Paul," said Steen, who will play in his 800th NHL game tonight, "especially in the faceoff circle. His complete game, his defensive awareness along with his passing skill. He's certainly been missed. I'm happy to get him back and so is the rest of the group.
"For me who plays with him all the time, yeah (Stastny's missed). We've built a trust and chemistry between the two of us where it's just easy to play. You know where the other guy is all the time."
As for 800 games, Steen is not much on milestones, at least not in the moment.
"Right now, it's another game," Steen said. "We've got one more here before the break going for us. Eight-hundred, I think things like that is something you look back on later."
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As for the game tonight, the Blues (31-23-5), who had their season-high six-game winning streak snapped with a 3-2 loss at Buffalo, will face the red-hot Panthers (27-20-10). Florida is riding a four-game winning streak (all on the road) and has won seven of eight to thrust itself right into the thick of the Eastern Conference playoff race.
But the Blues, 7-2-0 under Yeo, are three points ahead of the Nashville Predators for third in the Central Division and want to go into the break with all the momentum.
"The good thing is we've kind of had that mentality now for about seven or eight games," Blues defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk said. "I think we have a lot left in us to come into this game and a lot at stake obviously. We'd like to go onto this little bye week with some good momentum, some good karma. We know we have a good team over there that we're playing against. They're a lot like us probably in the last eight, 10 games. They've been on quite a streak and we know it's not going to be easy."
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With four healthy centers back in the fold, the Blues will move natural center Ivan Barbashev to left wing on Monday.
But the good news for Barbashev, who has played 11 games and has two goals and one assist, is that he's playing ... in the NHL. And that's fine with him.
"For sure," Barbashev said. "I played last year (on left wing with the Chicago Wolves) a lot, maybe half the season. I was like literally switching a lot. I play here this training camp, I play a couple games on the wing. (Former coach Ken Hitchcock) was kind of switching me from center to the left. It just looks like I've been playing both sides a lot in the last couple years. Nothing much is going to change.
"... I'm pretty proud of myself, to be honest, the way I've been playing right now. I've been playing hard every game, which was a big problem this year in the AHL because I was usually playing two games pretty good and then the next one's going to be really bad. I'm trying to keep up my game and just it looks like I've been doing pretty good so far."
And obviously, Yeo has been pleased.
"When a player is doing a good job," Yeo said, "you find a reason to keep him in the lineup. Obviously we want the players to have success individually, but our focus has to be on the group and when that happens, it's a matter of looking and evaluating what the player is bringing to the group. And on a nightly basis, he's found ways to contribute to us winning hockey games, to be effective, to generate momentum and bring us key shifts in hockey games."
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The Blues will keep their theme for a seventh straight game by alternating Robert Bortuzzo and Carl Gunnarsson, with Bortuzzo getting in tonight to play with Shattenkirk.
It's a bit of an adjustment for Shattenkirk playing with a lefty one game and a righty the next, but he's adapted and adjusted accordingly.
"Fortunately it's been happening more often," Shattenkirk said. "It's every other game so in that sense, it's not too strange to see those guys out there. I've kind of grown accustomed to how each of them play. But there are times in the game where you go to make a pass and your partner's a lefty and not a righty that night. But I think the three of us have done a really good job with it. We've been playing really well and those two have done a great job of coming in the lineup and having it be a seamless transition. We're fortunate that both of them are veteran guys. They know how to prepare themselves. It's not like you're throwing a young guy in there. And they know that they're playing well. That's the key."
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The Jaromir Jagr show hits St. Louis for its annual visit tonight.
The ageless wonder, at a robust 45, is still playing the game at a high level and is fourth on the Panthers in goals (11) and tied for second in assists (23) and points (34).
"I love the lifestyle and everything that comes with it and with the game," Jagr said. "I want to keep it as long as I can."
Jagr has faced the Blues just 31 times of his 1,686 regular-season games and has eight goals and 19 assists.
His fondest memory coming here?
"I don't think I score many goals here," Jagr said with a smile. "It was always tough building for me to play in. They always have good teams with Brett Hull in that era and Chris Pronger and on and on. It was always tough to come here and beat them. Not very good memories."
Consider Yeo is the Blues coach and he's two years younger than Jagr says something and not often a coach faces a player who's older.
"It's not very often," Yeo said. "He doesn't show the signs of it. It's pretty amazing to be honest with you. Generally, once a player gets over a certain age, you can see the signs. The first thing you always look for is the quickness and that's not happening. The strength is still there, but what's most impressing to me is his hands. That's sometimes the first thing that goes. He's not showing any signs of that.
"It's a good challenge. I'm looking forward to it. He's obviously a dynamic player and has been for his entire career and he's also well-surrounded right now. It's not one player, it's the entire group we have to be ready for."
Consider Shattenkirk was only one when Jagr, who has 760 goals and 1,142 assists, made his NHL debut in 1990.
"I don't even know if my brothers were playing hockey by then to be honest," Shattenkirk said. "Hockey wasn't even really a part of our family at that time.
"The first time I played against (Jagr), I remembered it being a pretty big moment for me, pretty special. He got to play on the Rangers, so I got to grow up watching him quite a bit. He's just one of those guys when the time comes when he does hang 'em up, he's an instant Hall of Famer, an instant legend and one of those guys who you're fortunate to say you got to skate on the same ice as him and play against him and battle with him a little bit. It's been a very cool experience to play against him all these years."
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Shattenkirk has seven assists the past seven games.
Tarasenko has five goals, one assist the past six games.
Steen has 14 points (seven goals, seven assists) the past 15 games.
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The Blues' projected lineup:
Alexander Steen-Paul Stastny-Vladimir Tarasenko
Jaden Schwartz-Patrik Berglund-Magnus Paajarvi
Ivan Barbashev-Jori Lehtera-David Perron
Scottie Upshall-Kyle Brodziak-Ryan Reaves
Jay Bouwmeester-Alex Pietrangelo
Robert Bortuzzo-Kevin Shattenkirk
Joel Edmundson-Colton Parayko
Jake Allen will start in goal. Carter Hutton will be the backup.
Healthy scratches include Nail Yakupov, Carl Gunnarsson and Dmitrij Jaskin. Robby Fabbri (knee) is out for the season.
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The Panthers' projected lineup:
Jonathan Huberdeau-Aleksander Barkov-Jaromir Jagr
Jussi Jokinen-Vincent Trocheck-Reilly Smith
Michael Sgarbossa-Nick Bjugstad-Jonathan Marchessault
Shawn Thornton-Derek MacKenzie-Colton Sceviour
Keith Yandle-Aaron Ekblad
Mark Pysyk-Alex Petrovic
Michael Matheson-Jason Demers
James Reimer will start in goal. Roberto Luongo will be the backup.
Healthy scratches include Greg McKegg and Jakub Kindl. The Panthers report no injuries.