The Blues won’t see a fully-healthy roster until the postseason, in a best-case scenario, after the team declared forward David Backes and goaltender Jake Allen out for the remainder of the regular season. The recent developments mean the Note will have gone the entire 82-game season without fielding a fully-healthy roster.
“They are hurt,” said head coach Ken Hitchcock. “They are not able to play. We will give you an idea on the timetable on both guys (after the season).”
Backes and Allen are both dealing with lower-body injuries and won’t be re-evaluated until after the regular season concludes on Saturday. That means each player will miss the final three games of the season with the Blues in a race for the top spot in the Western Conference and home ice advantage in the playoffs.
Assuming either player is to able to return for the first game of the postseason, they would have a little over a week to rehab as the first round will begin next Wednesday or Thursday. But the team doesn’t even know if that is a likely scenario.
“I can’t tell you a timeframe because we honestly don’t know,” said Hitchcock. “Obviously, the sense of urgency with the playoffs around the corner is there. If they were able to play, they would be playing.”
For Backes, Monday’s absence will be his first of the season. The team’s captain had played in all 79 games for the Blues and had posted 21 goals and 45 points. He notched a goal and an assist in Sunday’s win over Colorado and was on the ice for 16:54.
The forward was a player late in the third period and assisted on an empty-net goal with 2:55 remaining. The injury was incurred on that play according Hitchcock, but replays show no conclusive evidence of a problem as Backes skated to the bench with Brouwer to celebrate.
Backes dealt with an ailment earlier in the season but didn’t miss any games. However, the injury was bothersome enough to warrant the center to sit out of practices. This injury is not believed to be related, as Hitchcock said it was sustained on Sunday and not a re-aggravation.
Allen, like Backes, started the game in Colorado, stopping 11 Avalanche shots in the first period. But the netminder was replaced by backup Anders Nilsson in the second period and was not seen on the bench for the remainder of the game.
The exact play during which the injury occurred is in question but replays showed Colorado forward Gabriel Landeskog sliding into Allen’s right leg with 3:20 remaining in the first period. Allen was slow to get up after the discrete collision.
Goaltender Brian Elliott was not on the trip with the team, which is why Nilsson stood in Allen’s place.
Allen has posted a 26-15-3 record with a .920 save percentage this season and was expected to compete with Elliott in the final week for the opportunity to be the team’s playoff starter. Barring any unforeseen circumstance, Elliott will be named the Blues’ Game 1 starter.
“I think, with what the playoffs are like, you try to play,” said Hitchcock. “If you have to play at 80 percent, you play at 80 percent. You’re hopeful you are at 100 but none of us can honestly tell you right now until these things are moved a little further down the dial here.”
The Blues will also be without defenseman Jay Bouwmeester (upper-body) and forward Robby Fabbri (lower-body) against the Coyotes. Both players are skating and will join the team for a full practice on Wednesday with the hope of returning Thursday in Chicago.
“Bouwmeester and Fabbri skated today and they aren’t ready,” said Hitchcock. “We will have them both join us for a full practice Wednesday and then see if they are ready to play Thursday.”
Though Fabbri and Bouwmeester should be back in time for the playoffs, the injury bug could continue to haunt the team past the regular season. Already, the Blues have been one of the NHL’s most injury-riddled teams during the 2015-16 season, already compiling 276 man games lost to injuries.
“I have had the numbers situation in Columbus and that experience has really helped me manage this situation,” said Hitchcock, whose club has the second-most points in the Western Conference (103). “But not the impact players. There seems to be a constant re-evaluation of a number of positional situations that’s been a great challenge for us. The team has responded and I don’t see it changing.”