Brace yourself, Western Conference, Kevin Shattenkirk is coming.
With less than three weeks left in the regular season, the St. Louis Blues got the news they’ve been waiting for, and the timing couldn’t be better. The All-Star defenseman is set to make his return to the lineup after tearing abdominal and groin muscles on February 1.
In 25 games without him, the Blues have climbed to the top of the NHL standings. They are currently tied for first in the Western Conference and are one point behind in the President’s Trophy race. It’s scary to think that the Blues have actually done quite well without Shattenkirk. Just imagine how they’ll do with him back.
When he got hurt, Shattenkirk was the NHL’s top scoring defenseman and led all blue liners in power play points. If not for the injury, he would have likely been a candidate for the Norris Trophy.
Assuming he does indeed return Saturday, Kevin Shattenkirk will have around 2.5 weeks before the playoffs begin. #StlBlues
— Andrew Allsman (@allsmandrew) March 25, 2015
Although he may not be at full strength right away, his return, assumed to be Saturday night vs Columbus, gives him eight games to shake off the rust before the playoffs begin.
Shattenkirk will almost certainly reclaim his spot on the Blues power play, which remains in the top five in the NHL despite struggling at time without him. The Blues had also been experimenting with five forwards on the power play in his absence.
Shattenkirk’s return means the Blues had to make a tough roster move. The team sent rookie Petteri Lindbohm back to the Chicago Wolves of the AHL. The young defenseman has proven he can play at the NHL level, but he was the odd man out (at least for this season).
Talked to a few players last couple days & they say Lindbohm has earned a ton of respect as a younger guy. Love his compete level #stlblues
— Lou Korac (@lkorac10) March 25, 2015
The Blues are now left with eight defensemen on the active roster. Alex Pietrangelo, Jay Bouwmeester, Shattenkirk, Barret Jackman, Carl Gunnarsson, Robert Bortuzzo, Zbynek Michalek and Chris Butler.
All eight are NHL level defensemen, which is why Coach Ken Hitchcock has hinted at dressing seven defensemen for upcoming games.
“We’ve done that before and it’s been some of our best games we’ve played,” said Hitchcock earlier in the week. The only concern Hitchcock has expressed about the idea is if a forward gets hurt during a game, then the team becomes a three-line team and may get worn down up front.
The Blues may want just take that risk considering how brutal and tough the Western Conference playoffs will be. The team will need to protect their goaltender as their first priority, and that means rotating seven defensemen, making sure they stay fresh for battles in front of the net and in the corners.
Playing seven defensemen will also allow Shattenkirk to ease his way back into game action. He will most likely play limited minutes for the first few games, and the depth on defense will allow that to happen.
March 28th was the date some had circled on their calendar as a possible return for Kevin Shattenkirk at the time of his surgery. #stlblues
— Andy Strickland (@andystrickland) March 21, 2015
The Blues are hoping a healthy Shattenkirk is the final piece of the puzzle the team’s front office put together at the trade deadline. The team acquired shot blocking defenseman Michalek from Arizona, and tough guy Bortuzzo from Pittsburgh. The Blues defense is now stronger and tougher for opposing teams to deal with.
Along with the toughness on defense, Shattenkirk and Pietrangelo provide the offensive boost from the back end. Both are among eight Blues players with at least 40 points this season. Any offense coming from the defense is an added bonus to a Blues team that ranks fourth in the NHL in goals scored (217), including four players with at least 20 goals (TJ Oshie, 19 goals, could become the 5th).
Unlike the end of last season when the Blues were riddled with injuries, it seems the team is getting healthy at just the right time. Getting Shattenkirk some regular season games will prove to be critical heading into the playoffs.