High-flying Blues slowed by injuries to Schwartz, Pietrangelo

Jaden Schwartz skates in an awkward positionThe past year has been mostly good to the St. Louis Blues. Their head coaching change from Ken Hitchcock to Mike Yeo has gone about as well as a franchise could hope, with a 43-17-4 regular-season record since promoting Yeo in February. And while the Blues were knocked out of the playoffs in the second round last season, they began the 2017-18 campaign looking like Stanley Cup contenders, grabbing an early lead in the Central Division. But two untimely injuries threaten to derail St. Louis’ progress and end the year on a down note.

One of the most-remarkable differences between the Blues under Hitchcock and the Blues under Yeo is how much more comfortable they are on offense. St. Louis was a defensive fortress with Hitchcock, but scoring was inconsistent. Yeo has the Blues scoring more than three goals per game, which is something Hitchcock never managed. Jaden Schwartz has been one of the keys to St. Louis’ increased scoring, with 35 points in 30 games on a line with fellow leading scorers Brayden Schenn and Vladimir Tarasenko, while Alex Pietrangelo is the team’s leader in time on ice and points by a defenseman, but now the Blues need to figure out a way forward without Schwartz or Pietrangelo, who are both on injured reserve.

Both Schwartz and Pietrangelo were injured last Saturday while blocking shots in a game against the Detroit Red Wings. Schwartz suffered an ankle injury, while Pietrangelo injured his foot. The timetable on Pietrangelo’s injury appears to be uncertain, but he will likely be back before Schwartz, who is expected to miss at least six weeks. Losing either player for an extended period of time would be a blow to any team, so missing both at once will not be easy for St. Louis to navigate, especially in the competitive Central Division.

The Blues weren’t able to generate any offense in a marquee matchup against the league-leading Tampa Bay Lightning on Tuesday. Tampa Bay prevailed 3-0 and never appeared too troubled by St. Louis, which was also without veteran defenseman Jay Bouwmeester. The Blues’ upcoming schedule doesn’t provide much relief, with a game against the Anaheim Ducks followed by a home-and-home series against the Winnipeg Jets on the weekend to kick off a road trip of western Canada. The Jets are only three points behind St. Louis in the division, and the Nashville Predators are four points back with three games in hand. Any more stumbles between now and the holiday break could knock the Blues out of the division lead.