ST. LOUIS — The St. Louis Blues are leading the NHL in goals per game and could get their best goal scorer, winger Alexander Steen, back in the lineup before too long.
Steen and defenseman Roman Polak returned to practice on Monday morning at the Ice Zone, a positive step for both in their returns from injuries. Steen has missed the past nine games with a concussion while Polak has missed the last 10 with an ankle injury.
"I think it says something about our depth and kind of the culture we have going here that we’re going to play through adversity and play through things that come our way," Blues captain David Backes said. "Whether we’ve got some of our best players out, whether we’ve got everybody in, it doesn’t matter. We’re coming to play our style of hockey and that’s what makes us successful and we’ve got to stick with that."
The Blues, who host the Coyotes, Kings and Ducks in a three-game homestand this week, have won seven of their last eight games and nine of their last 11.
St. Louis is now 31-8-5 and has 67 points in 44 games, second only to Chicago (70 points in 48 games) in the Central division and third behind Anaheim (75 points in 48 games) and Chicago in the Western Conference.
The Blues lead the NHL in goals per game (3.6), are third in goals against (2.2), third in power-play percentage (24.5) and fifth in penalty-kill percentage (85.6).
Getting Steen and Polak back would help in each area, but the Blues depth has been a key to their success so far this season. Young players like forwards Jaden Schwartz and Vladimir Tarasenko and defenseman Ian Cole have stepped up to keep the team rolling.
"I think that’s why, when you’re missing a guy or two, it isn’t the end of the world for us because other people are stepping up," coach Ken Hitchcock said. "We’ve got a lot of guys playing very well this year and that’s what we need."
Though he’s only played 35 games, Steen still leads the team with 24 goals and 38 points. The left winger said it felt good to be back on the ice, but there is still no timetable for his return. He’s trying to be patient with his recovery and not rush back too soon.
"Up until today too I’ve just kind of been going day by day," Steen said. "I haven’t planned a week in advance. I’ve just gone by how I feel in the mornings and the nights, especially the nights after I’ve done stuff. Today I’ll look tonight at how I feel and then maybe go harder tomorrow or take a step back and chill. Even if you don’t see me out there tomorrow, it’s not the end of the world. It’s not like I sat at home and was completely crushed. It’s just another day and you look at the long-term plan to get me back."
It has been tough on Steen not being around the team, he said, but he admitted that the team’s success without him has made it a little easier to not feel like he needs to hurry back.
"The guys have been rolling, so that obviously is not as stressful as it might be if we felt like things weren’t going our way," Steen said. "But the boys have been playing outstanding. Our goaltending’s been tremendous. It’s been a lot of fun to watch some of the games. Some big goals. (Dmitrij) Jaskin getting his first. There’s been a lot of fun stuff to watch. Sobie (Vladimir Sobotka) and Tarasenko have been playing really well. It’s been fun to watch the boys."
Polak said he feels like he is close to returning. He said Monday’s skate was his second full practice and he felt pretty good.
"I think I have a green light to go," he said. "I don’t know when, if it’s going to be tomorrow or the day after or game after. I don’t know. I’m just going to do whatever I can to get back in the lineup and then let the coaches decide."
Adding Polak to the mix on defense will help strengthen the unit.
"We’re going to evaluate him tomorrow," Hitchcock said. "Hopefully if he continues to feel good then he’s going to get clearance tomorrow to be able to play, so that will be really good for us, too. He’s going to give us a real added boost of energy and physicality that I think we need in our lineup right now."
Backes said Polak is a guy you hate to play against, even in practice.
"So I can’t imagine what the other team feels when they are playing against him," he said. "Those guys (Steen and Polak) getting back in the lineup gives us more options, more internal competition, which makes us a better team when we’re playing against other teams."
Cole stepped in and played well after Jordan Leopold got hurt and then has continued to contribute after Leopold returned with Polak out. Polak’s return would give the Blues eight healthy defensemen, which would mean two guys sitting out each game. But those two could change from game to game to keep guys fresh.
"I think we’re going to need eight-plus the way it’s going," Hitchcock said. "With all the players that are going out every day, I think just trying to stay reasonably healthy is a big challenge, especially with so many games over a short period of time. I think we’ve got nine games in 16 days now, 17 days. That’s a lot of hockey and we’re going to need everybody."
The Blues were without center Maxim Lapierre for Monday’s practice. Hitchcock said Lapierre is day to day after taking a hit late in the 2-1 loss to Vancouver on Friday night.
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