Blues stalwart defenseman and early-season Norris candidate Kevin Shattenkirk is slated to return March 28, 2015 against the Columbus Blue Jackets. Coach Ken Hitchcock plans to pair Shattenkirk with the reliable Barret Jackman, at least initially on the third pairing. The hope is that the last remaining handful of games during the regular season will tune the one they call “Deuces” back into game shape, prior to kicking off the 2015 postseason.
Blues Need Shattenkirk for a Healthy Powerplay
There’s no question that the currently-struggling Blues powerplay will need an injection of life for the playoffs. Although the opportunities are lessened in the last half of most regular seasons as teams tighten up, those opportunities that do arise in the playoffs can make all the difference in the world. With a healthy Shattenkirk quarterbacking a stong powerplay — often times as effective as another forward with exceptional defensive skill — the team should be able to break out of its wild consistency swings since he went down. Not only recently have other big-name defensemen eclipsed Shattenkirk in points, full half of “Deuces” points tend to come from special teams play. There’s little question of his prominence on the point.
Blues Feature Incredible Depth with Shattenkirk on Board
When Kevin Shattenkirk gets his 22 minutes of icetime per night, the Blues are significantly different. However, by acquiring solid d-man Zybnek Michalek from Arizona and Robert Bortuzzo in the Ian Cole swap with Pittsburgh, the Blues now feature the ability to match up with nearly any top group. As coaching headgames increase and the right matchup at the right time can make all the difference, the ability to have eight top-six defensemen on a roster is less luxury than necessity. With Shattenkirk’s return is Carl Gunnarsson, further bolstering an already-formidable cast that can also put the puck in the net.
Blues Cautiously Optimistic
“I’m ready to go,'” Shattenkirk said. “I felt good out there. It was nice to just be back with the team and get the speed of the game back a little bit. I’m excited about it.
Although fans and teammates are ecstatic about Shattenkirk’s return, the Blues will probably roll seven defensemen in his first few outings to avoid overly tempting fate. With Shattenkirk in the lineup, the subtraction of a forward carries less impact. A repeat injury to one of the Blues’ most important players would be a detrimental psychological impact to the team, along with the dropoff in overall performance the squad had during his absence. However, Shattenkirk has been engaging in full-speed, game-style practices and feels 100 percent. In the NHL’s toughest Conference, the Blues will need everything they can get.