ST. LOUIS - Just a few days ago, Blues goalie Jake Allen was activated from injured reserve and said with the way Brian Elliott had been playing, he could only hope for a chance to get back between the pipes.
“Brian’s been the best goalie in the last month hands down, and he’s got our team in a great position for a playoff push and a good chance in our division,” Allen said at the time. "But I’m ready to go. Just give me a chance and I’m ready to go.”
It’s a good thing Allen feels ready for a good challenge, because here it comes.
About eight minutes into his first game back in the lineup, Allen was thrust into action in relief of Brian Elliott, who left the game in the first period with a lower-body injury. Allen made 15 saves on 17 shots the rest of the way.
Tonight, Allen resume his role as the team’s No. 1 goaltender while Elliott recuperates over the next four weeks.
“We’ve got 20 games left. It’s a chance for me to get back on my feet and get comfortable again and give the guys a chance in the final push,” Allen said. “We’ve set ourselves up great and we’ve got 20 games to decide our own fate and division… 20 games to finish on the right note. I think it’s a good chance, including for myself, to get back in tip-top shape for the playoffs.”
“The challenge for us is keeping a goalie healthy right now,” said Blues Head Coach Ken Hitchcock. In addition to Elliott, the Blues are currently without Alex Pietrangelo, Alexander Steen and Steve Ott. “We waited as long as we could (to bring Jake back) and even extended the time so it was 100 percent, but you never know in this business. We’re so grateful we’ve got two good goalies, but it’s one of things you never know right now. Both guys have really stepped up and been the story of the team to hold this thing together when we’ve had these injuries.”
Before sustaining the injury on Jan. 8, Allen was 18-10-3 this season, ranking seventh overall in goals-against average (2.18), eighth in save-percentage (.923) and second in shutouts (5). Tonight will be his first home start since Dec. 31 vs. Minnesota.
“It going to be fun,” Allen said. “I’m looking forward to getting a game back in. It’s been a long time for me, almost 20 games now. To be able to get back in tonight against a great opponent on home ice, you couldn’t ask for a better start.”
FACING NEW YORK
The Blues will host the New York Rangers at Scottrade Center for the first time this season. The teams previously met on Nov. 12 at Madison Square Garden, where the Rangers took a 6-3 victory. Mats Zuccarello had a goal and two assists for the Rangers while Vladimir Tarasenko, Troy Brouwer and Dmitrij Jaskin scored for St. Louis.
“(These are) two good teams. They play with a lot of tempo up front, they’ve got two lines that really get after you,” Hitchcock said. “From our standpoint, it’s more about us. It’s the way we play, getting back to the games we played before. We kind of got away from it, ended up way too much on special teams the first part of the game against San Jose. Get off of that, get back to playing 5-on-5 hockey. We’re going to get through this stretch with depth and we’re going to need that depth all the time.”
The Rangers currently sit second in the Metropolitan Division with 74 points (34-20-6).
With the Department of Player Safety issuing a three-game suspension to Ryan Reaves on Wednesday, Blues forward Dmitrij Jaskin will take his spot on the fourth line.
Jaskin is fresh off a stint with the Chicago Wolves.
“When you’re on the third or fourth line as a young player, you’re worried about what does the coach think of you. It’s constant evaluation,” Hitchcock said. “When you go down (to the AHL) and play 18 or 20 minutes, you just play. He played very well and got better as the game went on. We could use him.”
“I went down, played some games and got some confidence back,” Jaskin said after today’s morning skate. “Hopefully that’s going to help me be a factor in the next few games.”
Today’s practice was optional, so we didn’t get a look at tonight’s lines. Below is the lineup we’d expect (subject to change, of course)
Jaden Schwartz - Jori Lehtera - Vladimir Tarasenko
Robby Fabbri - Paul Stastny - Troy Brouwer
Patrik Berglund - David Backes - Magnus Paajarvi
Scottie Upshall - Kyle Brodziak - Dmitrij Jaskin
Jay Bouwmeester - Kevin Shattenkirk
Carl Gunnarsson - Colton Parayko
Joel Edmundson - Robert Bortuzzo
Jaden Schwartz has points in four straight games (three goals, one assist).
New York native Kevin Shattenkirk has five points (two goals, three assists) in seven career games against the Rangers.
Volunteers will be selling pink mini sticks tonight outside Section 114. Sticks are autographed by Brett Hull, Bernie Federko and others and are available for $30 each. Proceeds benefit Susan G. Komen and the Siteman Cancer Center.
Alex Pietrangelo participated in today's practice at Scottrade Center. He won't play tonight, but Hitchcock indicated a return this weekend is a distinct possibility.