The trade deadline has come and gone, yet it felt like the Blues made an impactful addition on Thursday night adding Vladimir Sobotka to their lineup. But they didn’t have to give up anything to gain Sobotka; he was already a part of the Blues’ roster.
Thursday night marked a dynamic return for Sobotka, almost as dynamic as the Blues’ overall performance. The Note tallied six goals against the Edmonton Oilers and racked up their 97th point of the season. One line was responsible for a large chunk of the Blues’ damage, and that line was sparked by Sobotka’s return.
Sobotka made his return to the Blues’ lineup on Thursday after missing 12 games due to a fractured knee cap. The return was a bit earlier than expected, but none too soon for the Blues.
“We were excited,” said teammate Jaden Schwartz. “He’s a big part of our team. He’s a really good player. He plays in all situations and brings a lot of energy and we were glad to have him back.”
Thursday’s game was Sobotka’s first in nearly six weeks. The forward injured his knee on Jan. 31 in Carolina and had been sidelined until about two weeks ago, when he began skating on his own. Sobotka had not been through a full team practice since sustaining the injury, and had only just received clearance to play on Monday.
However, it didn’t take long for him to catch up to the speed of the game and the speed of his teammates. In fact, he seemed to surpass most of them by the time the first horn sounded.
Less than 20 minutes into the game, Sobotka drove to the net, received a pass from linemate Vladimir Tarasenko, and put the puck past Oilers goalie Ben Scrivens. Sobotka would later add two assists to an impressive score sheet.
“I think it was really impressive for a guy to miss six weeks, to have not practiced other than at optional skates,” said Blues head coach Ken Hitchcock. “I think it’s pretty impressive.”
The Blues weren’t sure how Sobotka would come back after such a serious injury. Obviously, Sobotka’s ability to keep up with the pace of the rapid Oilers was a question mark. But Hitchcock didn’t have to limit Sobotka’s ice time, and actually found himself using the forward frequently in Thursday’s game.
“Looks like it, hope so,” Hitchcock said when asked if he thought Sobotka was back to his normal self. “Smart player. He controlled the middle of the ice, had good tempo to his game, and distributed the puck.”
Prior to his injury, Sobotka had centered the line of Schwartz and Vladimir Tarasenko. He had eight points in January, and was discovering chemistry with the two youngsters. When he returned on Thursday, he was lined up with Tarasenko on his left and T.J. Oshie on his right. The line combined for eight points in the game; each of its components had a goal.
“As a line, we skated, we put the puck deep and we didn’t turn it over much,” said Sobotka. “We focused on our game plan.”
The line played as Hitchcock had been preaching for the rest of his team to play for the past week. Their performance was sparked by Sobotka, who had his first three-point night of the season. The forward didn’t miss a single beat in his absence, as a teammate pointed out to him.
“I told him that on the ice and he didn’t know what I meant,” Schwartz joked. “He worked hard to get back. He’s a guy that has good instincts and plays the game the right way.”
And the players find it almost impossible to not follow the lead of the tenacious center.
“He’s doing his job and we want to make sure we are following guys like that,” Schwartz said. “You push yourself to the next level when you see a guy playing like that.”
Sobotka gives the Blues a lot of options in the next few months, as he can play in a variety of roles for the team. Not only is he the Blues’ most successful faceoff guy, but he’s also one of their best two-way players. He is instrumental for the Blues moving forward.
“He’s an 18-minute player,” Hitchcock said. He’s arguably had the best season of anybody on the team. When you get an elite player like him back, it’s going to help you a lot. He’s such a good player for us right now.”
Forward Brenden Morrow was a healthy scratch on Thursday as Sobotka took his place. Hitchcock said it is in the cards for Morrow to sit a few games down the stretch to ready himself for playoff action. He will be back in the lineup on Saturday.
Unsurprisingly, Hitchcock plans to keep Sobotka’s line intact for Saturday’s game against Nashville.
“That line will stay together,” said the coach, without hesitation.