(HockeySTL) -- With 13 goals in their last two games, the Blues look like a different team. The club, according to head coach Ken Hitchcock, had been trending up, but the return of Jaden Schwartz certainly escalated things.
Since the forward's return, Hitchcock has revisited the Schwartz, Jori Lehtera and Vladimir Tarasenko trio. While that line hasn’t been as overwhelmingly dominant as it was at the beginning of the season, having Schwartz healthy balances out the rest of the lineup.
“It’s a big spark,” T.J. Oshie said. “Not just for the team but for that line, too. He does so much as far as turning pucks over, using his speed. He’s not the biggest guy but he creates a lot of space for Tarasenko and Lehtera to do their thing. It’s great to have him back in the lineup. It really balances things out for us.”
Schwartz missed a little less than three weeks with a broken right foot. His return came quicker than the early estimate but certainly none too quickly for the Blues, who went 1-5-1 in the seven games Schwartz missed.
“It’s not fun sitting out,” Schwartz said. “You get anxious to get back in the lineup, especially when you are losing games. You want to come in and help as much as you can. No one enjoys it but I’m glad I got to come back quicker than expected.”
Schwartz wanted to give his foot ample time to heal. Typically with a broken foot, players return before it is fully healed as long as they can handle the pain. But with half of the season still remaining, there was no reason for the forward to rush it. That doesn’t mean it was easy for Schwartz to convince himself of that.
“You want to let it heal,” Schwartz said. “You don’t want to come back too early and have it linger on. You just let it heal for a while. I wanted to skate a couple of times before I played. I put the skate on, it felt right and I skated in a couple of morning skates and said I was ready to go.”
Schwartz returned two games ago in San Jose. He has goals in both games since his return to the lineup and is riding a three-game goal streak, which extends to the game Schwartz was injured in. But the most important statistic is that the Blues have won their last seven games with Schwartz a member of the lineup and have outscored opponents 37-15 during that stretch.
“He gives us another offensive weapon,” said team captain David Backes. “He’s a guy who works his butt off and is a hound on the puck. Anytime you add a guy like that to the lineup, he’s going to be a great asset for you. He’s been doing that since he’s been back.”
Schwartz is humble about his role, but it’s hard to overlook its importance, especially since the team has put together two of its most dominating performances this year in the two games since Schwartz’s return.
Despite the time missed, Schwartz is still fourth on the team in points (30) and second in goals (13). Four of those goals have come in his last five games.
“I wanted to come in and obviously help and contribute to the team,” Schwartz said. “The team was playing well, just couldn’t put 60 minutes together and got caught off-guard. The team wasn’t playing awful and I didn’t have to come in and change too much. I knew it was only a matter of time before we started putting wins together.”
It’s no surprise to the Blues that Schwartz’s re-entrance into the lineup is such a difference-maker. Schwartz’s play has been invaluable to the Blues since he first joined the club during the 2011-12 season. Already, in 2 ½ seasons, Schwartz has 102 points.
“He’s an important part of our team, obviously,” Blues general manager Doug Armstrong told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch the day Schwartz made his return. “It’s good to get him back in the lineup. I’m sure he’ll lend some stability to that Tarasenko-Lehtera line. I think it just spreads out the ice time a little bit more.
“He’s been an important part of our team now for a couple of years, and he’s a player that we’re certainly better when he’s in the lineup than without.”