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Blues' Steen returns to lineup vs. Capitals

by Louie Korac

ST. LOUIS -- The St. Louis Blues will have forward Alexander Steen back in the lineup Tuesday against the Washington Capitals (8 p.m. ET, NBCSN, TSN).

Steen had missed the past three games with an upper-body injury. He leads the Blues with 33 goals and is tied with T.J. Oshie for the scoring lead with 60 points.

"He'll play," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said of Steen. "He's good to go. … If he's not healthy, he's not playing. He wasn't healthy the last few games, so he wasn't ready to go.

"This was the player's call and the trainer's call. When they leaned over the boards and said, 'I'm good to go,' I think it's my obligation considering he's had an unbelievable year and he's been our best player most nights. I'd be smart to put him in, so I'm pretty smart and putting him in."

Steen's return will be a welcome addition for a Blues team that lost back-to-back games over the weekend against the Colorado Avalanche (4-0) and Chicago Blackhawks (4-2).

"It's always tough," Steen said of sitting out. "It's tough being on the side either way. Winning or losing, you want to be a part of what's going on. In a tougher stretch you want to help turn it around. When things are going good you want to be a part of the fun atmosphere. It's always difficult, but there's not much you can do. You just wait it out, take your time, make sure you get healthy, and when you come back you come back strong."

The Capitals are clinging to hope in the Eastern Conference wild-card race; they enter Tuesday four points behind the Columbus Blue Jackets for the final wild-card spot with four games to play.

Former Blues goalie Jaroslav Halak returns to St. Louis for the first time since he was moved to the Buffalo Sabres on Feb. 28 as part of the trade that brought Ryan Miller to the Blues. Days later Halak was traded to the Capitals for goalie Michal Neuvirth.

Halak will not play against his former team; coach Adam Oates will start Braden Holtby in goal Tuesday. Holtby beat the Blues 4-1 on Nov. 17 with 46 saves.

"It's still too fresh," Halak said of facing the Blues. "Maybe if it was under different circumstances like next year. … I didn't think my mind would be on the game, but it's good to be back."

In 40 games with the Blues this season, Halak was 24-9-4 with a 2.23 goals-against average and .917 save percentage. In 11 games with the Capitals, he's 4-4-3 with a 2.53 GAA and .923 save percentage. He started 4-2-0 but is 0-2-3 in his past five games.

Oates said he left the decision to Halak.

"I talked to Jaro about it because [Capitals goalie coach Olie Kolzig] and I talked and both of us have been traded," Oates said. "We know the feelings when you go into your old stomping ground. It's not always easy and you're not always comfortable, at least not the first time. We talked to him and you know what? He just wasn't 100 percent comfortable. Unfortunately this time of year and where we're at, we can't afford that. [Holtby] has played great lately. We feel really good about that and [Holtby] is playing."

Blues defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk said he understands Halak's mental state of mind.

"It's always tough coming back for your old team and playing them," Shattenkirk said. "I've been on the other side of that. It's a little tougher as a goalie to face that kind of situation."

Here are the projected lineups:


Mikhail Grabovski - Nicklas Backstrom - Alex Ovechkin

Evgeny Kuznetsov - Marcus Johansson - Troy Brouwer

Jason Chimera - Eric Fehr - Joel Ward

Dustin Penner - Jay Beagle - Tom Wilson

Karl Alzner - John Carlson

Dmitry Orlov - Tyson Strachan

Julien Brouillette - Connor Carrick

Braden Holtby

Jaroslav Halak

Scratched: Aaron Volpatti, John Erskine

Injured: Mike Green (upper body), Jack Hillen (upper body), Patrick Wey (upper body)


Alexander Steen - David Backes - T.J. Oshie

Patrik Berglund - Vladimir Sobotka - Jaden Schwartz

Brenden Morrow - Derek Roy - Steve Ott

Chris Porter - Maxim Lapierre - Ryan Reaves

Jay Bouwmeester - Alex Pietrangelo

Barret Jackman - Kevin Shattenkirk

Carlo Colaiacovo - Roman Polak

Ryan Miller

Brian Elliott

Scratched: Jordan Leopold, Ian Cole, Magnus Paajarvi, Dmitrij Jaskin

Injured: Vladimir Tarasenko (thumb)

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