Blues need goals from new top line of Schwartz-Stastny-Oshie

Blues forwards Jaden Schwartz, Paul Stastny and T.J. Oshie form a new top line that needs to generate goals.

Marilyn Indahl - Chris Humphreys - Jerome Miron

ST. LOUIS — It doesn’t take a hockey expert or a math genius to see the Blues have a pair of considerable holes to fill without their top two points leaders.

Vladimir Tarasenko’s 35 goals on the season are tied for the Western Conference lead, but even he can’t match the 16 goals scored by teammate Alexander Steen since Jan. 1, tied with David Backes for the team lead. The absences of injured stars Tarasenko and Steen, combined with five losses in six games, led coach Ken Hitchcock to make some significant changes throughout the lineup heading into Thursday night’s game against Calgary, set for 7 p.m. on FOX Sports Midwest.

"I’m part curious and really excited to see how this looks because it was dynamic (Wednesday) at practice," Hitchcock says. "It was different than anything we’ve done, but it was packed with energy, so we’ll see."

The key to success for the new-look Blues will likely be found in the success of its most dangerous new line, made up of three capable goal scorers facing serious droughts. T.J. Oshie, Jaden Schwartz and Paul Stastny all bring impressive pedigrees, but they’ve tallied just one goal each over the last 10 games.

Thursday would be the perfect time for them to get back on track, and Hitchcock says it’s the line St. Louis will look to most for production while other lines try to create space and wear down the Flames. That’s been the main job this season for Stastny, and his new role could be a great opportunity.

"(Stastny)’s been really elevated way up for this next little while, so this is an awesome opportunity for him and that line to show us what we think they’re capable of," Hitchcock says. "His role changes a little bit, but his game won’t change."

Stastny’s scoring woes have lasted more or less the entire season, and he’s looked even less dangerous with only one shot on goal in the past four games. But the veteran center’s passing should be a much more valuable asset alongside Schwartz and Oshie, rather than the usual pairing with Dmitrij Jaskin and Patrik Berglund.

Everyone goes through slumps, even Schwartz, a dynamic 22-year-old in the midst of a breakout season. He needs just one more goal to match his career high of 25 goals and set a new career high with 57 points.

Schwartz says it’s not as if his chances have disappeared recently, and in fact he’s putting 2.5 shots on goal over the last 10 games, slightly better than his season average. He’s looking forward to playing with Oshie and rejoining Stastny, who briefly centered the line with Schwartz and Tarasenko when Jori Lehtera went down with a concussion in late January.

"If you’re not finding goals, you’ve got to try to find a way to kind of spark us and find a way to get those chances and get traffic in front of the net," says Schwartz, who scored in three straight games for the first time all year prior to his recent drought. "The bottom line is we haven’t scored enough, so we’ve got to score some more."

He understands that means he and others must step up without the two forwards who have scored eight of the Blues’ 19 goals since a 5-4 win over Winnipeg 10 games ago. Backes will be the only St. Louis skater in tonight’s lineup with more than one goal during that stretch, and he’ll be on a significantly lesser line than usual with Jaskin and Berglund, who have combined to score just once in the last 13 games.

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The Blues would love to see the start of another hot streak from Oshie, who scored nine of his 19 goals during an 11-game stretch that began Dec. 30. He’s had a roller-coaster season since a slow start that saw him score just once in his first 15 games, but his production will likely be needed for St. Louis to succeed in its final six regular-season games.

It could take a few shifts for the new lines to find chemistry, but Hitchcock has little choice other than to be patient or risk damaging the team’s confidence even further by switching the lines up yet again. Schwartz says a day off followed by a hard practice Wednesday should be a positive, and often it takes only one goal to get a quality forward back on the right track.

If that is to be the case for St. Louis’ three talented but goal-deprived forwards, the new top line should definitely increase their odds.

RATTIE RETURNS

Or perhaps a talented rookie will provide the boost the Blues’ offense needs.


Ty Rattie scored two goals and five assists for the Chicago Wolves to earn American Hockey League Player of the Week honors last week, and now he’ll don the Blue Note again alongside forwards Lehtera and Olli Jokinen. Hitchcock liked what he saw from Rattie in five games earlier this season, when he tallied his first NHL assist, and he’ll continue the search for his first NHL goal against his hometown team.

"I think I watched (the Flames) every single game, me and my family," Rattie says. "To get to play them tonight is going to be a lot of fun and it’s going to be a special memory."

Rattie led the Wolves with 31 goals and scored a goal while adding three assists in this year’s AHL All-Star Game.

You can follow Luke Thompson on Twitter at @FS_LukeT or email him at lukegthompson87@gmail.com.