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Tarasenko Returns for Matchup with Kings

by Chris Pinkert / St. Louis Blues

ST. LOUIS - The Blues have reeled off three consecutive wins against tough teams despite key injuries (Tampa Bay, Anaheim and Minnesota) and will look for another tonight at 7:30 p.m. against the Los Angeles Kings (NBCSN, KMOX 1120).

Fortunately, the Blues will be getting a big boost tonight.

Vladimir Tarasenko will return to the lineup after missing one game with a lower-body injury.

Tarasenko was hit by Ducks forward Shawn Horcoff in the second period Thursday and was helped to the locker room. He returned for the third period, but was not able practice or play Saturday against Minnesota.

Tarasenko returned to practice Monday, and Blues Head Coach Ken Hitchcock declared him good to go for tonight.

"He's like any other player," Hitchcock said Monday. "You have to be able to get through practice and not have any discomfort. So he's fine. He's good to go.”

Injuries haven’t been an excuse for the Blues, who continue to pile up wins despite being without Paul Stastny (foot), Jaden Schwartz (ankle), Patrik Berglund (shoulder) and Kevin Shattenkirk (lower-body). But dodging a serious injury to Tarasenko and getting him back after missing only one game doesn’t hurt.

“He’s a world-class talent. Everyone knows how much he means to our team and it’s huge having him back,” said defenseman Robert Bortuzzo. “His ability to put pucks in the net and make plays and contribute is huge. He’s a big part of our locker room and we’re excited to get him back.”

Tarasenko scored a hat trick and added an assist the last time the Blues and Kings met at Scottrade Center, a 5-2 Blues victory on Dec. 16, 2014. The Kings (7-4-0) come to Scottrade Center having won seven of their last eight games, with their only loss in that stretch coming last night to the Blackhawks at United Center (4-2). After dropping their first three games of the season, the Kings have positioned themselves at second place in the Pacific Division.

“This is a little bit more special to us because we lost to them three years ago in the playoffs. It was really painful,” Tarasenko said. “It’s going to be a really big test for us and we need to compete on a high level against this team.”

LIVING HERE IN ALLENTOWN

Blues goalie Jake Allen was named the NHL’s Second Star of the Week on Monday after posting a 3-0-0 record along with a 0.98 goals-against average, a .963 save-percentage and one shutout.

“It’s a cool achievement. It’s cool to get noticed,” Allen said of the honor. “But the team definitely helped me get there. It was a good week (for us) overall.

“I feel like I’m playing my game. I’m just being me,” Allen added. “I’m not trying to do something different or do something more…I’m just playing my game, doing the things that have gotten me to this level. It’s working.”

Allen will make his fourth consecutive home start tonight. He has excelled at Scottrade Center in his career, going 19-6-1 in the regular season (.750 win percentage), which is second only to former Blue Curtis Joseph’s .790 mark (24-6-1) in this building.

“I love playing in front of our fans on home ice, and it’s always good to get a routine in at your own comfort: your own house, your own meals. Things like that you’re comfortable with. It makes life a little bit easier.”

TONIGHT’S LINEUP

Today’s morning skate was optional, and Hitchcock said he “forgot” who was sitting out now that Tarasenko has returned, so we won’t try to project tonight’s lines, especially when Hitchcock said they would remain very flexible.

“We’re a team in transition,” Hitchcock said. “We’re experimenting a little bit on a couple of lines to see how it works. We’ve got to be real flexible. If we have to change on the fly, if it’s not working, or if we’re getting outplayed or there’s a bad matchup, we won’t hesitate to change… Until we get some bodies back, we’ve got to operate this way. So far it’s been working.”

Hitchcock said the one forward line you can bank on tonight is Alexander Steen, Jori Lehtera and Tarasenko.

Defensively, Kevin Shattenkirk skated today but is unlikely to play tonight. After Monday’s practice, Hitchcock said there was “no real time frame” on Shattenkirk right now.

BLUE NOTES

The Blues have won three consecutive games and have collected points in each of their five home games this season (4-0-1).

The Blues are one of four NHL teams that has yet to lose at home in regulation. Since Ken Hitchcock took over in 2011-12, the Blues have been the NHL’s second-best home team in that stretch.

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