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Rib injury finally behind him, Schenn's back on his game

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Blackhawks Blues Hockey

St. Louis Blues' Brayden Schenn yells out after slamming into the boards during the third period of an NHL hockey game against the Chicago Blackhawks Saturday, Oct. 30, 2021, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

Brayden Schenn has got fingers crossed that he’s exhausted his quotient of bad luck for one season.

“I sure hope so,” he said prior to his latest return to action — Jan. 17 against Nashville. “I’ve been pretty fortunate and lucky to stay healthy in my career. It’s one of those years where I feel like I can’t get in a rhythm.

“Down the stretch here, I’m looking forward to being a contributing factor to this team and help the team win hockey games.”

In the seventh game of the season, he suffered an upper-body injury and missed part of the third period Oct. 30 against Chicago. It seemed like no big deal because he returned to the lineup the next game — Nov. 3 in Los Angeles. But the following night in San Jose, he aggravated the injury.

He missed the next nine games before returning the day before Thanksgiving against Detroit. Ten games later, he was injured again, missing 10 additional games with another upper-body injury that coach Craig Berube said was unrelated to the first.

So as the New Year rolled around, Schenn remained out of the lineup and stuck on four goals. Some fans wondered if Schenn — an alternate captain, former all-star, and perennial 20-goal scorer — had lost his touch.

Turned out he had cracked five ribs in that original injury at the end of October/start of November. That will slow down just about anyone, don’t you think?

Schenn probably came back too early when he returned for the Thanksgiving Eve game. And then came the second injury. He looked like he was getting back in form when he returned following the Winter Classic. But after just three games, he landed on the COVID list.

He missed only two games because of COVID, benefiting from the reduction of minimum isolation time from 10 to five days.

And now. He’s back, he’s healthy and as good as ever. Granted, it’s a small sample size, but since returning from the COVID list with a two-goal, two-assist night against Nashville, Schenn has five goals and four assists in six games.

Playing in just 28 of the Blues’ 44 games, Schenn has 21 points on 10 goals and 11 assists. He’s plus-11, which ranks fourth on the team overall and second among forwards to Pavel Buchnevich (plus-14).

Perhaps the Schenn resurgence is nothing more than a case of finally being healthy.

“Well, that’s a big part of it for sure,” Berube said recently. “I think after being out as long as he has, he’s getting his legs under him, feeling good about himself. Confident.

“That’s a big thing. As a hockey player, you can be out a long time, and it takes a while to get your legs going sometimes. Everybody’s different. … He’s doing some good things for us.”

In a season where injury and COVID created chaos on almost a daily basis, Schenn has been perhaps the most nomadic of the Blues’ forwards. He’s played on 15 different line combinations in his 28 games. And he’s had no fewer than 14 different line teammates — from Jordan Kyrou at 16 games, to Logan Brown, Klim Kostin, James Neal and Jake Neighbours at one game apiece.

For someone who spent much of his first four seasons with Jaden Schwartz (and to a lesser extent Vladimir Tarasenko), it has been an abrupt change.

“It’s tough,” Schenn said. “I’m sure we’ve had a lot of different line combinations everywhere throughout our lineup. I guess maybe I am the most (moved-around player). Yeah, I played a lot with Schwartzy in the past and Vladi in the past. Right now I gotta find chemistry with someone.”

Since returning from the COVID list, Schenn has been lined up with Ivan Barbashev and Ryan O’Reilly (one game), and then O’Reilly and David Perron (three games), and right before the All-Star break — Brandon Saad and Perron (two games).

Schenn has been productive with them all, getting at least a point in five of the six games.

“There’s so many things you admire about him,” O’Reilly said. “I love the way he can bring something different every night. You look at it, and he’s just so versatile. Whether it’s a big hit. Or scoring a big goal. Just the way he leads in so many different ways. It’s fun to watch.”

Sometimes it’s using his speed, or his shot. Sometimes it’s dropping the gloves and fighting.

“Getting him back from injury, you can see his impact — the way he’s helped us win games in so many different ways,” O’Reilly said. “So it’s impressive to see. He’s a guy that just can do whatever the game calls for.”

And even though he’s rarely on a line with Tarasenko these days, they spend a lot of time together on the first power play unit. In fact, Tarasenko has had the primary assist on four of Schenn’s five power play goals this season. Two were of the room service variety: passes right to Schenn’s stick in front of the net for tap-ins.

But Schenn returned the favor Saturday against Winnipeg with a setup to Tarasenko for a power play goal.

“He missed time,” Tarasenko said of Schenn. “We had a lot of guys miss time with corona. I think it’s always hard to get back when you skip some games. But the more we play together, the more guys get going.”

It remains to be seen whether Schenn can keep going once the Blues return from their All-Star break. But right now, he’s going.

“You have to know how to be happy for teammates when they’re scoring, when they have success,” Tarasenko said. “It’s a very good thing to see.”

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