Another day, another St. Louis Blues player on the injured list.
The Blues, who have suffered injuries to a number of key players this season, may be without center Jori Lethera and defenseman Colton Parayko for Thursday’s game against the Buffalo Sabres, marking two more man games lost in what has been an injury-riddled season in St. Louis.
Lehtera took a stick in the throat from Brandon Saad in the first period Tuesday in the Blues game against the Columbus Blue Jackets and was ruled out of the remainder of the game. According to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch’s Jeremy Rutherford, Lethera was taken to hospital by ambulance, but his status was not updated post-game.
“We’re not sure (on the extent of the injury),” Blues coach Ken Hitchcock told Rutherford post-game. “We’ll evaluate him and tell you (Wednesday).”
Lehtera’s injury was hard to watch — Saad’s stick came up quickly before making contact with Lehtera — and the Blues were hoping for a call on the play. However, no penalty was assessed to Saad, who contributed two goals in Columbus’ victory over St. Louis. According to Fox Sports Midwest’s Andy Strickland, the trip to hospital was a precaution and the Blues aren’t anticipating a serious injury. It could still sideline Lehtera for a short while.
In the absence of Paul Stastny, Lethera has stepped up to fill in at second-line center. Lehtera started the season averaging around 15 minutes per contest, but was getting close to 18 minutes per night with Stastny on the shelf. Heading into Tuesday, Lethera had two goals and 10 points in 18 games, and he's currently on pace to match his 44-point output from 2014-15.
Lehtera wasn’t the only Blue to go down, though. In a telling sign of how things have been going on the injury front, St. Louis rookie blueliner Parayko was ruled out of the contest before the game even began. Parayko took warmups, but left the ice early, according to Rutherford. The Blues then made Parayko a scratch and inserted Robert Bortuzzo into the lineup. Post-game, Hitchcock updated Parayko’s status by simply saying the defenseman is “day-to-day.”
Parayko has been nothing short of a revelation for the Blues this season, so any time he's forced to miss will hurt. While Kevin Shattenkirk was sidelined, Parayko stepped into a top-four role and excelled, and has been a pleasant surprise on the back end for Hitchcock's club. Through 18 games, Parayko has five goals and 12 points to lead all rookie defensemen.
While the exact durations of Lehtera’s and Parayko’s injuries is unknown, the Blues have still played a grand total of zero games with their optimal lineup. Before the season began, the Blues lost left winger Patrik Berglund to shoulder surgery, which was a sign of things to come.
Two games into the season, rookie Robby Fabbri was sidelined with a concussion. By the time the second week of the campaign was through, defenseman Shattenkirk and top-six center Stastny were also on the shelf. Since then, St. Louis has also seen injuries to winger Jaden Schwartz (fractured ankle), Scottie Upshall (undisclosed), Vladimir Tarasenko (undisclosed) and Steve Ott (upper-body injury). That’s not to mention goaltender Brian Elliott was forced out of a game against the Chicago Blackhawks due to a potential head injury. Thankfully, Elliott was able to return to the lineup.
Every team will be forced to deal with injuries throughout the season, but few have to deal with as many injuries to top players as St. Louis has been hit with through little more than one month of the 2015-16 season. The loss of Stastny was a big one and Shattenkirk’s absence was felt on the back end. Schwartz was due for a breakout season, and losing Tarasenko, even if it was for just one game, is enough to make a Blues fan’s heart skip a beat.
Even through the injuries, though, St. Louis has managed to remain high atop the Central Division standings. Through 19 games, the Blues have 25 points and sit in third place in the division, just five points back of division-leading Dallas.