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Blues getting healthier with Backes, Leopold back

by Louie Korac

ST. LOUIS -- The list of walking wounded for the St. Louis Blues got a lot shorter in time for an inter-conference matchup Saturday night against the Columbus Blue Jackets.

David Backes will make his return after sitting out the past three games with an undisclosed upper-body injury, and defenseman Jordan Leopold, who has been out of the lineup since Nov. 7 with ligament damage in his right hand, will mark his return to the lineup after missing the past 26 games.

Backes, who's missed five of the previous eight games with two separate upper-body injuries, has skated regularly the past five days. He has 16 goals and 30 points in 35 games.

"Better than yesterday, and that's a good sign," Backes said when asked how he's feeling. "Hopefully good enough to find my way into the lineup. It's always a fluid situation, but feeling good and hopefully that's the case.

"It's tough. It's not something I'm accustomed to. It's tough watching the games, but the guys have been putting it on the line and winning games and you love to see that. They've done a phenomenal job, different guys stepping up, different guys taking on different roles and responsibilities and flourishing in them. You love to see that we do have that depth when guys do go down."

Leopold's original anticipated time frame was eight weeks from the time he had hand surgery, which was a few days after his injury occurred. But with the elevated play of Ian Cole and Carlo Colaiacovo as the Blues' third defensive pairing, the Blues were able to give Leopold, 33, some more time.

"He was a good player when he got hurt and he's had two weeks extra of full bore activity," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said of Leopold. "Sure, maybe the timing's going to be a little off early, but hes such a smart player and he's such a good player with and without the puck. He's a strong guy. We expect him to be a good player for us."

Also, Blues leading scorer Alexander Steen (concussion), who's missed the past five games, skated on his own Friday and Saturday, the first times since being declared out of the lineup.

Steen, who is third in the NHL with 24 goals, has been able to exercise during the time he's been out but has taken the next step to a return to active games.

"He skated this morning. He skated [Friday] and today," Hitchcock said after the morning skate Saturday. "He's skating on his own. It's not like he's skating with the group. When he skates with us, then it's time to get excited, but he's not skating with us. You just wait it out. You don't know the time frame. I don't think the player knows the time frame. We sure as heck don't know the time frame, but he has accelerated his activity to where he's gone from riding the bike and doing minimal activity to skating on his own. Obviously the next step, whenever that is, is to join the team as a practice player, but he's not there yet."

The Blues recalled goalie Jake Allen for the second time in three days from the Chicago Wolves of the American Hockey League and assigned Chris Porter to the Wolves.

Allen was brought into the fold again to back up Brian Elliott, as Jaroslav Halak has been sick. The team expected Halak to be well enough to be the backup Saturday, but that is not the case.

The Blues (28-7-5) and Blue Jackets (18-19-4), former rivals in the Central Division, will meet for the second time in three weeks. The Blues won 4-3 in overtime Dec. 14 in Columbus on a Backes goal.

The Blue Jackets will stick with Curtis McElhinney in goal Saturday after a 34-save effort Thursday in a 2-0 victory against the Phoenix Coyotes, so that means that Sergei Bobrovsky's awaited return to goal will wait until Monday when Columbus players against the New York Rangers.

Bobrovsky has been sidelined since Dec. 3 with a groin injury.

"Our thought previously to the Phoenix game, maybe [Bobrovsky] playing this game," Blue Jackets coach Todd Richards said. "We still wanted to see him practice, skate, but I think based off of Curtis' game and how he played in Phoenix, he's earned the right for another start and that also gives 'Bob' another two days to sharpen and really get on top of his game."

Forward Ryan Craig steps into the lineup for Derek MacKenzie, who was suspended three games resulting from a hit on the Coyotes' Oliver Ekman-Larsson.

Here are projected lineups:


Nick Foligno - Ryan Johansen - RJ Umberger

Brandon Dubinsky - Artem Anisimov - Nathan Horton

Blake Comeau - Mark Letestu - Corey Tropp

Ryan Craig - Boone Jenner - Cam Atkinson

Fedor Tyutin - Jack Johnson

Ryan Murray - James Wisniewski

Nikita Nikitin - David Savard

Curtis McElhinney

Sergei Bobrovsky

Scratched: Dalton Prout, Derek MacKenzie (suspended)

Injured: Jared Boll (ankle), Matt Calvert (upper body), Marian Gaborik (collarbone), Jack Skille (upper body)


Jaden Schwartz - David Backes - T.J. Oshie

Vladimir Sobotka - Patrik Berglund - Vladimir Tarasenko

Brenden Morrow - Derek Roy - Chris Stewart

Magnus Paajarvi - Maxim Lapierre - Ryan Reaves

Jay Bouwmeester - Alex Pietrangelo

Barret Jackman - Kevin Shattenkirk

Jordan Leopold - Ian Cole

Brian Elliott

Jake Allen

Scratched: Adam Cracknell, Carlo Colaiacovo

Injured: Alexander Steen (concussion), Roman Polak (ankle/foot), Jaroslav Halak (illness)

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