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Armstrong Comfortable with his Team

by Staff Writer / St. Louis Blues
ST. LOUIS -- Doug Armstrong and the rest of the St. Louis Blues front-office employees were conducting business as usual Monday, like their counterparts around the NHL, trying to assemble one final push as the League's Trade Deadline came and went.

But for the Blues' general manager and the rest of the team's staff, assembled in a hotel suite in Calgary, pulling off any sort of deal to re-tool a squad that's among the NHL's best was a long shot at best, a prospect they had come to accept even before Monday arrived.

Armstrong was serious in his remarks earlier this month when he said he is more interested in seeing the current iteration of these Blues -- with the injured players filtered back into the lineup -- tackle the stretch adrive and the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

It's still a mystery when some of the injured players might return, but as the Blues play their final 19 regular-season games, it will be a case of what you see is what you get.

While their Central Division counterparts made moves in hopes of solidifying lineups ahead of Monday's trade deadline, the Blues stood pat, which wasn't much of a surprise.

It wasn't for a lack of effort, though.

"We were trying to see what type of depth we could add to our group and there wasn't a proper fit there," said Armstrong. "I went in not expecting a lot of transactions, and at the end of the day, it didn't seem like we were involved in much."

Asked if the club was close on any deals, Armstrong said: "Not really, no."

And with that, the Blues, whose greatest obstacle is overcoming the injuries they've suffered, now have to hope they'll have a full, healthy lineup in place ahead of the start of the postseason. That means getting Alex Steen, Matt D'Agostini, Jamie Langenbrunner and Kris Russell back into a lineup that has been relying on grit as much as anything in the absence of some key contributors

The Blues' only move came Sunday, when they sent minor-league goalie Ben Bishop to Ottawa for a 2013 second-round draft pick.

The Blues' win Monday at Calgary put them in first place in the Central Division and second in the Western Conference, two points behind Vancouver for the most in the League.

"When you're sitting fourth in the NHL, you should have some expectations that you can win," Armstrong said before Monday's win. "And so I have expectations that these guys are going to continue. The playoffs are what they are. It's the first guy to win four games in the first series before you worry about the second, third or fourth. But I think we have a team that can compete with anybody in the first round of the playoffs. If we do that, then we'll see where go and who we're playing against. They're fourth in the NHL right now in winning percentage and that's with the group that we have."

With uncertainly surrounding Russell, who suffered concussion symptoms during Thursday's shootout win at Nashville, the Blues have decided to keep defenseman Ian Cole with the club for the rest of the season, meaning he won't be eligible to play in the American Hockey League playoffs. Forward T.J. Hensick was returned to AHL Peoria to make him eligible for the AHL postseason, but he'll stay with the Blues for at least the remainder of their current six-game trip.

"That will give us the proper depth in that (defensive) area," Armstrong said of Cole. "Ian has done very well for himself and has earned the right, so he'll spend the rest of the year up here. And we've recalled Hensick now, using one of our four (post-deadline minor-league) recalls, and that's our group."

So even though the Blues enter Tuesday's games ranked No. 22 in scoring at 2.49 goals per game and could have used some scoring depth, they'll continue to ride their top-rated defense unit and goaltending, which have surrendered an NHL-low 1.90 goals per game.

"I like this group and I like the depth that we have here," Armstrong said. "... But we're like two-thirds of the NHL -- we work under a business framework and whatever deals (are made) have to fit into that plan.

"... It was built to be a hard-working, competitive team that has to be comfortable playing in tight games. Our goal is to get healthy and see where we fit in."
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