ST. LOUIS — T.J. Oshie is one of the older guys now.
Yes, even he knows that sounds kind of weird. He’ll admit that.
The Blues forward still struggles to grow a mustache, his “Movember” attempt fell well short of some of his teammates’ efforts, but he’s 26 years old now and in his sixth full NHL season.
“I do feel more like a veteran guy, and with that I feel like I have more responsibility to play a certain way,” Oshie says. “The last couple games I’ve been getting away from that so I need to recover from that because when you’re a veteran and things aren’t going the right way for the team, at a certain point in the game you usually look to some of the older guys which, it’s weird to say, but I kind of am now. It’s a whole different responsibility, a whole different way to carry yourself as you get into more of a veteran player.”
The Blues (18-5-3) return to Scottrade Center for home games against the Islanders on Thursday and the Ducks on Saturday. The back-to-back road losses against the Sharks and Kings snapped a five-game win streak and stretch of 13 wins in 16 games.
St. Louis will have to lean on its veterans to get back on track.
Oshie, a 5-foot-11, 189-pounder who was a first-round draft pick in 2005, has been a steadying presence for the Blues this season.
“I think I’ve just kind of taken that one more step in maturity to being a veteran player and trying to set an example and move into more of a leadership role.” he says. “I think the summer was good to me. I feel stronger. It just comes down to playing the way I can.”
The biggest key for Oshie this season has been being healthy.
He was limited to 30 regular season games during the lockout-shortened season a year ago because of broken ankle and recorded 20 points (seven goals, 13 assists). That was tough to stomach after he racked up a career-high 54 points in 80 games in 2011-12.
“I think he’s healthy, really healthy, for the first time in a while and that’s really helping him,” Blues forward David Backes says. “I think with Steener (Alexander Steen), him and I, we’ve got some continuity. … That’s really helping him being in the role that he’s in and knowing that that’s where he’s going to be rather than moving up and down and left and right and all over the place.”
Oshie matched last season’s point total in six less games this year and he has 22 points (four goals, 18 assists) over 26 games.
The right winger is tied with teammate Jay Bouwmeester for the team lead in assists. Oshie and Bouwmeester are tied for 11th in the NHL in assists.
His 22 points rank third on the Blues — behind Steen (31) and Backes (25) — and are tied for 38th in the NHL.
“I’m just trying to create as much as I can in the offensive zone within our structure and I think that’s where a lot of my points have come from,” Oshie says. “A lot of my assists are just from reloading and stealing pucks and getting it to the guys on my line.”
That Steen-Backes-Oshie line has been fun to watch this season and one of the main reasons for St. Louis’s strong start. The Blues rank fourth in the NHL in goals with 88 and that No. 1 line has accounted for 36 of them.
Blues coach Ken Hitchcock has seen Oshie’s maturation since he arrived during the 2011-12 season. Hitchcock said the biggest difference between Oshie then and now is that the forward is more “percentage-savvy.”
“He plays the percentages of the game properly,” Hitchcock says. “He’s really smart on his puck management. He knows his skill sets. He knows his strengths. He puts the puck into areas that he can get it back or he knows where his strengths are and he can occupy the offensive zone. His puck savviness has really shown up. I think he just played hockey before and now he plays the percentages, which I think makes him a way more effective player.” You can follow Nate Latsch on Twitter (@natelatsch) or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.