ST. LOUIS - After missing 25 games with an abdominal injury, Kevin Shattenkirk said he expects a few butterflies as he prepares for his return to the lineup tonight against the Columbus Blue Jackets (7 p.m., FSMW, KMOX).
He also said he’s really looking forward to feeling that first hit.
“I need to feel that again, to feel I can make it through there without feeling injured again,” Shattenkirk said after the morning skate today. “Until it happens in the game, you’re never going to have that confidence that everything is alright.
“I can already tell you that the first couple plays, I might be grabbing the puck, keeping my head up and not moving my feet,” he said. “That first hit will force me to get going and get the heck out of there.”
Blues Head Coach Ken Hitchcock said Shattenkirk will return on the third defensive pairing with Barret Jackman. Shattenkirk will also be back on the power play and can expect increased minutes after getting a few games under his belt.
“He’s passed every test, but now the test is that he’s going to play against somebody in a different sweater that doesn’t necessarily like him,” Hitchcock said. “He’s going to have to play through that competition. Our hope is that he comes through healthy. These are good tests for him, good challenges - but more than anything, it’s getting accustomed to, not just playing, but the whole routine of gameday. All of a sudden, you’re playing with some nerves, playing with some nervous energy, you’ve got some butterflies and all that stuff you stayed away from is back in your body now. You’ve got to get used to that stuff, too.”
Before the injury, Shattenkirk was among the League leaders in terms of power-play points and points by a defenseman. He also averages the most points per game by a defenseman (.82). Through 49 games this season, Shattenkirk has eight goals and 32 assists, and his presence back in the lineup is something his teammates have been looking forward to.
“It’s really big for us,” Ryan Reaves said. “It adds a lot of poise on the back end, a little bit of offense and it adds a different element to our power play. It’s that piece we’ve been missing.”
Getting Shattenkirk back in the lineup, along with Carl Gunnarsson, too, gives the Blues a completely healthy lineup with eight games remaining in the regular season.
After collecting eight of a possible 12 points on the season-high six-game road trip, the Blues are finally back home at Scottrade Center tonight for the first time since March 14.
“I think we had a strong road trip. We didn’t get every point we wanted, but it was still solid,” Reaves said. “But this home stand - it’s a little easier to to play at home in front of the home crowd. I’m sure they’re going to be amped up since we’ve been gone so long.”
The Blues will play six of the final eight regular season games at Scottrade Center. And with a healthy lineup, the table appears to be set to collect some points to try to win the division and maybe more.
“We’ve got a lot to fight for, so we’ve really gotta go. You look at the standings today, it’s tight, and teams below us are winning,” Gunnarsson said. “We’ve got to keep firing away here and try to keep getting points.”
CENTRAL DIVISION UPDATE
With a win tonight, the Blues could move past Nashville to regain the Central Division lead (pending the results of today’s Predators / Capitals game at 11:30 a.m.). In addition, a win would give the Blues their seventh 100 point season in team history and third in the last four seasons.
Meanwhile, the Blackhawks have lost two consecutive games, including last night’s 5-2 loss at home to Columbus.
1. Nashville - 75 GP, 46-21-8, 100 PTS
2. St. Louis - 74 GP, 46-21-7, 99 PTS
3. Chicago - 74 GP, 44-24-6, 94 PTS
T.J. Oshie didn’t participate in the morning skate today. Hitchcock said Oshie is feeling under the weather but he’s hopeful that he’ll be in the lineup tonight.
The Blue Jackets are one of the League’s hottest teams and have won five consecutive games - including convincing wins against some of the Western Conference’s top teams in Chicago and Anaheim. “They’ve had a season full of injuries and haven’t put a roster out that’s even remotely close to what they had in training camp,” Hitchcock said of the Blue Jackets. “Now they’re getting healthier, and they look very dynamic. They’ve got a ton of skill, they’re scoring goals like crazy, they’re beating good teams…if you’re sloppy against them, they make you play.”
Tonight will be Jaden Schwartz’s 200th career NHL game.
The Blues have won six of the last seven meetings between the Blues and Blue Jackets at Scottrade Center. Columbus’ last victory in St. Louis was March 31, 2012.
Brian Elliott starts tonight and is 6-1-1 in his career against the Blue Jackets.