ST. LOUIS —The Blues might have found an answer for how to recover some of the offense lost with their most productive defenseman.
All-Star Kevin Shattenkirk likely won’t return from an abdominal injury until much closer to the playoffs, but he still ranks fifth on the team with 40 points in 49 games. He played an especially important role on the power play, earning an assist on 24 of St. Louis’ 44 goals this season.
The lack of firepower in the back showed as the Blues scored more than two goals only twice and converted just twice on power plays in their first eight games without Shattenkirk. Coach Ken Hitchcock finally decided to add a new piece to the puzzle Friday night, and Petteri Lindbohm responded with his first NHL goal on a long one-timer to erase a one-goal deficit, sparking St. Louis to a 5-1 win.
"His goal was a heck of a shot," Hitchcock says. "He’s got an element from a competitive and from a shooting standpoint that with Shatty not here is going to be needed."
No one expects the 21-year-old to match the numbers of Shattenkirk, and even Lindbohm laughed when asked about his ability to fill that role earlier in the week. Still, he’s not afraid to take chances, and he provides more of an offensive threat than the defenseman whose spot he took in the lineup, Chris Butler.
Hitchcock says Lindbohm paired well with Shattenkirk’s former partner, Carl Gunnarsson, which allows the Blues to go back to their ideal defensive pairing of veterans Jay Bouwmeester and Alex Pietrangelo. Lindbohm feels much more comfortable in his fourth call-up from the American Hockey League, and Alexander Steen says Lindbohm deserved to be the First Star on Friday night.
"Everything from getting shots through, confidence with the puck, and then the part I liked the best was sticking up for his teammates twice," says Steen, who officially got the First Star for his three assists. "I’m very proud to be playing with him today."
When Jordan Caron smashed T.J. Oshie into the boards with an illegal hit in the second period, Lindbohm didn’t hesitate to challenge the Bruins’ winger. Although the fight could have gone better, it earned Lindbohm some new respect from such teammates as Steen and Vladimir Tarasenko.
Hitchcock says the rookie got plenty of admiration from his teammates for the best game of his young career, and it will make him tough to take out of the lineup. St. Louis initially brought him in to add energy and physicality to a veteran group, a promise on which he certainly delivered.
"I’m a big, physical dude, or I think I am," Lindbohm says with a smile. "That’s part of my job, too."
It’s something he’s doing much better with more aggressive play than earlier in the season, when Hitchcock said Lindbohm looked a little tentative, like most rookies. When he starts to throw around his 6-foot-3, 198-pound frame, he can make life hard for opponents.
His offensive game will continue to improve as he keeps gaining confidence and working with the right guy in practice. Both Lindbohm and Tarasenko made sure to point out they’ve been passing and shooting together often, so it’s safe to assume the Blues’ leading goal scorer has been offering some tips to the young defenseman.