The number and severity of Blues injuries this season is alarming, and when we consider the team’s record with those injuries, it’s remarkable, as well.
It all started the first week of the season, when rookie Robby Fabbri went down with a concussion. Three days after that, Kevin Shattenkirk suffered a groin injury and missed ten games, and then four days after Shattenkirk went down, Paul Stastny went out with a broken foot that caused him to miss sixteen games. Days after Stastny’s injury, Jaden Schwartz suffered a broken ankle in a freak injury in practice that caused him to miss 49 games.
Since then, the Blues have missed, for varying periods of time, Vladimir Tarasenko, Steve Ott, Jay Bouwmeester, Carl Gunnarson, Magnus Paajarvi, Jake Allen, Alex Pietrangelo and now Alexander Steen, who suffered an apparent shoulder injury Saturday in a win over Arizona.
Despite all of those key injuries, the Blues are two points behind the Western Conference-leading Blackhawks, and they’ve earned points in ten of eleven games.
The play of goalie Brian Elliott has been amazing since Allen left the lineup seventeen games ago, and a next man up philosophy has allowed the club to win without the injured guys.
Coach Ken Hitchcock made the point last week that the club has actually benefitted from the loss of their stars.
“We’ve had this same spirit all year. We got forced into it by injuries, so we had no choice but to gut it out and play. We needed different heroes, we needed different people to play outside their comfort zone. But that created a spirit that we could still get points when we were down bodies. And then that’s carried on as we’ve gotten more and more people back in.”
Well, now the Blues have lost their top all-around player in Steen for four weeks, so that winning spirit better be on display. With both Alex Pietrangelo and Steen out of the lineup, the Blues must count on different heroes. The return of Schwartz has been a revelation (he’s scored four times in five games since he came back), Colton Parayko has thrived with more responsibility in the absence of Pietrangelo, and Fabbri has become a major weapon.
According to mangameslost.com, the Blues have the seventh most man games lost to injury in the NHL this season. Among the teams with more, Edmonton and Toronto are last in their conferences, Buffalo has a chance to finish last in the east, New Jersey looks to be out of the post-season, and Detroit and Colorado are clinging to playoff position, both two bad games away from being on the outside looking in. Meanwhile, the Rangers have the fewest man games lost in the league, and they’re third in the Eastern Conference. The Blackhawks have the fewest lost in the west (78, 139 fewer than the Blues’ 217), and lead the conference in points.
The point here is that the success the Blues are enjoying despite their man games lost, especially with those lost games being to most of their best players, is amazing.
Hitchcock and his staff have masterfully maneuvered through the treacherous road to now, and still have work to do to get the club to the finish line.
Down the stretch, the Blues hope to get Pietrangelo and Steen back. Allen has been activated and should play this week, so they have the best goalie tandem in the NHL. And the defense has remained spectacular, fashioning the best GAA (2.30) in the Western Conference. The thing we have to look forward to is a completely healthy roster heading into the playoffs. None of the injuries is season-ending, and there’s a chance the Blues could be at their most talented for game 83, with tons of depth for players that got experience because of the injuries.
If there is such thing as a blessing in disguise, this rash of injuries may be just that.
When the playoffs start, Shattenkirk, Schwartz, Steen, Pietrangelo, Stastny and Patrik Berglund should all have fresher legs than the players they’re going against. And guys like Fabbri, Magnus Paajarvi, Parayko, Joel Edmundson, Ty Rattie and Dimitrij Jaskin are going to have playoff quality experience.
When they happen, injuries are a bad thing. But if the team gets through the injuries and continues to win, it’s a major positive. The Blues look like a team that’s going to weather the storm.
The next objective will be to take advantage of what’s happened with the injuries by winning in the playoffs.