ST. LOUIS — Alexander Steen is expected to be back in the lineup for the Blues tonight against visiting Washington after missing the last three games.
A couple minutes after Steen told reporters he didn’t know if he was playing, Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said his leading goal scorer was.
"He’ll play," Hitchcock said following the morning skate Tuesday. "He’s good, good to go."
Steen was dealing with an undisclosed upper-body injury that he apparently suffered during the shootout win against Philadelphia last Tuesday. The forward played 21:04 in that game and then had an attempt in the shootout.
"If he’s not healthy, he’s not playing," Hitchcock said. "He wasn’t healthy the last few games, so he’s not ready to go. This is the player’s call and the trainer’s call, so when they leaned over the boards and said, ‘I’m good to go,’ I think it’s my obligation considering he’s had an unbelievable year and he’s been our best player most nights. I would be smart to put him in, so I’m pretty smart and I’m putting him in."
Steen, who leads the Blues with a career-high 33 goals, skated with the team on Monday and Tuesday morning.
He told reporters he felt good skating but was ambiguous about his return to the lineup. When asked if he would play Tuesday night against the Capitals, Steen said: "We’ll see. I don’t know, to be honest. I’m just taking it a little as it goes, how I feel."
He said later, "When I feel like I’m ready, I’ll be back in the lineup."
Steen, who had missed 11 games earlier this season because of the effects of a concussion, said the decision regarding his return would be a "collective decision."
"It’s doctors, myself, coaches," Steen said. "You want to make sure you make the right decision."
HALAK WILL NOT START VS. BLUES
Jaroslav Halak is back at Scottrade Center with his new team but is not expected to be in net when the Capitals play the Blues tonight.
The Capitals will instead start Braden Holtby, who is 21-15-3 with a 2.99 goals-against average and .911 save percentage in 45 games.
Halak, who was traded from Buffalo to Washington just days after St. Louis swapped him and Chris Stewart for Ryan Miller and Steve Ott, is 4-4-3 with a 2.53 GAA and .923 save percentage in 11 games for the Caps.
Washington has lost the last five games Halak has started, including three consecutive shootout defeats against the Kings (twice) and the Predators and then losses against the Stars and Devils. Halak has allowed 12 goals in his last four starts.
BLUES SEEK ‘PREDICTABILITY’
The buzz word for Hitchcock on Tuesday was "predictability," which he called the most important factor against Washington.
"To me we’ve become unpredictable on our puck management, so the games have been exciting for everybody except for the coach," he said. "The games are wound up and they are revved up and they are going 100 miles per hour. We just don’t know which way. It’s looks a little bit like demolition derby sometimes. So we have to get back to being predictable with the puck.
"We’ve been one of the best teams in the league with puck management, and we have to get back to that so we can become predictable. And the more predictable you are, the faster you play. That’s what we want to do. We want to become predictable and fast, and starting tonight would be a good example. This kind of started in the Buffalo game and then it kind of came through on the weekend, and now we have to get it back."
The Blues are 52-19-7 with 111 points in 78 games but are coming off back-to-back losses against Colorado and Chicago in which they were outscored 8-2.
"We have played some of the best hockey and some of our poorest hockey all in the last two weeks," Hitchcock said. "I just don’t want to see us sit on it and wait until next week and decide that we’re going to become predictable."
Hitchcock said that when you don’t play predictable, you start to play slow, which then turns into not enough offensive opportunities, not enough pressure on the forecheck and not enough second and third chances on the offensive end.
"We’ve been unpredictable to each other for three games now," he said. "We want to get back to the right avenues. Everybody talks about lack of scoring and all that stuff and it’s not relevant. It’s about winning. What’s relevant is winning and if it means you win 5-1, great, but you’re not going to win on a consistent basis if you are unpredictable to each other."
Blues captain David Backes said getting the team back on track is a matter of getting the whole team game together, offensively and defensively.
"It’s all connected," he said. "When we’re playing hard, we’re winning all the puck battles and making sure that we’re not giving the other team any easy ice. And when we do that we’re a very tough team to play against. And when we’re not we can lose two games in a row like we did this weekend."
You can follow Nate Latsch on Twitter (@natelatsch) or email him at email@example.com.