Steen, Jackman to miss game against Sabres, but Leopold finally is back
ST. LOUIS — Blues coach Ken Hitchcock announced following the team’s morning skate Thursday that both Alexander Steen and Barret Jackman will miss Thursday’s game against the visiting Sabres.
"Unless a guy is out for the season, these guys are day-to-day with injuries," Hitchcock said. "Steen is upper body. Jackman is lower body. Both won’t play tonight, and then we’ll see whether they are going to play on the weekend or not."
Hitchcock said the Blues are hopeful to get both players back quickly. He would not elaborate on how either player was injured but said both were on the ice late in the win against Philadelphia on Tuesday.
Steen, who leads the Blues with 33 goals and is tied with T.J. Oshie for the team lead with 60 points, played 21:04 against the Flyers and took one of the attempts in the shootout. Jackman played 18:15 against Philly.
They will be replaced in the lineup Thursday by rookie winger Dmitrij Jaskin and veteran defenseman Jordan Leopold.
Jaskin took Steen’s spot on the first line with David Backes and Oshie at Thursday’s skate, but Hitchcock said either Jaskin or Derek Roy will play there. Roy skated with the fourth line Thursday morning.
"We’ll see how it looks early in the game, which way we’ll go, they are going to do some flipping of position," Hitchcock said. "We’re hopeful that we get both Jax and Steener back quickly here. They are not going to miss a lot of time, but they are going to miss some time here. We’re going to use other guys, and hopefully they can keep us up to speed."
It’s been a long season for Leopold.
The 33-year-old, who was acquired from Buffalo on March 30 last season, has missed a combined 44 games this season because of a hand injury, high-ankle sprain and then the flu.
"I’m just happy to get out there and get my feet wet again," he said. "This was supposed to be a few weeks ago that I was doing this, but I ended up coming down with the flu. That part was unfortunate."
Hitchcock said he isn’t sure what to expect from Leopold, who last played on Feb. 8.
"He’s had a stop-and-go season," the coach said. "We’re going to need him. You never know with a veteran player. I think if he was a younger player, this would be a really difficult time. But I think he’s going to manage his minutes well. We are going to try to play him a few times here and get him up to speed and get him part of the group as much as we can. We’re going to put him in situations, mostly defensive situations, and get him used to playing some minutes. He’s going to be sore, obviously, having not played much. I guess what we’re hoping is that the ankle is like 99.8 percent and we’re hoping he can survive on that."
Leopold’s ankle sprain is still lingering, but he’s been skating on it for some time now. The next step is getting back in the lineup — he’s paired with Roman Polak tonight — and then knocking the rust off.
"Tonight’s the biggest challenge for me," Leopold said. "It’s a mental challenge. It’s a physical challenge. It’s a little bit of everything. It’s the time of year where things will ramp up a little bit."
ANOTHER OPPORTUNITY FOR JASKIN
Jaskin hasn’t played since the back-to-back road losses in Chicago and Philadelphia but will get another chance on Thursday with Steen out.
"I think it’s huge opportunity for me and a lot of experience, so just learn and listen," the Russian rookie said.
Jaskin, who turned 21 last week, has played in just 12 games this season — the Blues are 6-5-1 in those contests — and has recorded two points (one goal, one assist) and a minus-1 rating.
Jaskin has now been with the team since March 16, when Vladimir Tarasenko went down with his broken hand, and has been trying to soak up every moment on the ice and with his teammates and coaches.
"If I’m not playing it doesn’t matter, it’s just waiting for a chance," he said. "It’s been a lesson every day I get in this locker room and just have the chance to skate with these guys or the coaches and learn from them."
The rookie has made a favorable impression on his coach, even though Jaskin has been in and out of the lineup during his call-ups.
"He was pretty banged up when he came because he’s played so many minutes and he’s been a target," Hitchcock said. "He’s a young player in the American Hockey League and he had more ice bags than anybody on our team when he first came in. He’s a little healthier now, and I think you’re going to see a fresher player."
MILLER SITS AGAINST SABRES
Ryan Miller will not get the start in net against his former team Thursday because Hitchcock wants him to be ready for the Saturday afternoon game against Colorado and possibly the Sunday afternoon game in Chicago.
"The schedule was a little bit strange in that we have afternoon games and then the nature of the games," Miller said Thursday. "I wanted to come back and play Philly. The way Hitch kind of set up our meeting about the games ahead, he had me playing Philly and not playing Buffalo. It wasn’t something where I thought I needed to challenge the coach on anything. I’ll take the time to prepare myself to get ready for a weekend of playing possibly both if I need to. I’m definitely playing one, and it’s against a team we need to keep behind us."
Miller said it would have been nice to play against his former teammates, some of which he got to have dinner with and catch up with on Wednesday.
The goalie spoke with Buffalo media on Thursday and was asked if his shutout against the Flyers on Tuesday was his best game. Miller replied that he thought it was a good game, but then offered a glimpse into something that might have been an issue in his earlier starts.
"As I was here I think I was a little anxious, a little too much energy in some games, just trying to be perfect and cover everything," he said. "You can get yourself in trouble doing that. I just need to trust a little bit more and just calm myself down and play the type of game I need to play. I need to be very calm and calculating in the net and can’t be bouncing around too much. I just tried to quiet myself and got better results. I’ll put that one in my pocket for later and keep it to remind myself that’s how I need to play. These next stretch of games I need to keep building."
Miller is 10-3-1 in his 14 starts with the Blues and has a 2.01 goals-against average and a .920 save percentage.
STEWART RETURNS TO ST. LOUIS
Because of a high-ankle sprain, Chris Stewart has played in only two games with the Sabres since the blockbuster trade that sent him and Jaroslav Halak to Buffalo in exchange for Miller and Steve Ott.
But Stewart was back on the ice at Scottrade Center on Thursday skating with his new team and hopes to return to action sooner than anyone expected. Sabres coach Ted Nolan said they would wait until the forward is back and won’t risk reinjuring the ankle.
Stewart said the trade, from the Blues’ perspective, was pretty plain and simple.
"They wanted a big goalie and I got voted off the island. I was a casualty," he said. "It sucks, but that’s the business. I had a lot of good times here in the three and a half years I was here. I made a lot of good friends. But it’s time to turn the page. I’m with Buffalo now and I’m excited for the opportunity."
He said he was a little disappointed at first, going in one day from a team that has a chance to win the Stanley Cup to a team that is out of the playoffs.
"Initially, it sucked," Stewart said. "But I wasn’t necessarily happy with my role on the team and I’m happy with my role here. I’m going to get an opportunity to play big minutes and be the player I can be."
"This is a business and that kind of stuff is going to happen," he added. "If you start reading into it, why, why, why, you’re never really going to get the answer. It’s out of your control. You take the show on the road to Buffalo."
You can follow Nate Latsch on Twitter (@natelatsch) or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.