Good ahead, try to figure out the St. Louis Blues

DALLAS -- If you're having a hard time getting a handle on the St. Louis Blues, you're not alone.

Coach Ken Hitchcock is at a bit of a loss to figure out just what he's got with his bacterially challenged, banged-up squad as the Blues try to scramble their way through the opening stages of this still-young season.

Despite a 4-3 overtime win over the Dallas Stars on Tuesday that saw the Blues battle back three times from one-goal deficits, Hitchcock wondered aloud if this was going to be a season of challenges after last season saw the Blues go most of the season with a consistent lineup.

"We have no idea what type of team we have," Hitchcock said after Tuesday's win.

"This might be one of those years where we're just going to have to scramble to stay afloat. You don't know. We didn't have any adversity last year until the last two weeks, and then we just got bombed with it. But this one is different. We've had nothing but an unsettled roster both at practice and games since the second game of the season."

Certainly, on paper, the Blues who signed top free-agent center Paul Stastny and added highly regarded Finnish forward Jori Lehtera to the lineup in the offseason, looked to better than the team that was considered a Stanley Cup challenger before being knocked off in the first round of last spring's playoffs by the Chicago Blackhawks.

Stastny has been terrific when he's been in the lineup, but he was absent Tuesday and has played in just four games thus far.

Captain David Backes left Tuesday's game with an upper-body injury after playing just 4:48 -- he did not return in the first period after taking a hit (from Trevor Daley) and banging his helmeted head on the ice -- and will be evaluated by doctors when the team returns to St. Louis.

Defenseman Carl Gunnarsson played in his first game for the Blues after being acquired from Toronto in the offseason.

Heading into Tuesday's game, only one Blue had more than two goals (Jaden Schwartz with 5).

On top of the injuries, the team has battled a minor bacterial epidemic that has zapped players of energy and made it tough to keep them in good enough shape to take the ice.

"When you're losing key players on a weekly basis, it seems like of late ... every guy gets a little bit more ice time, every guy tries a little bit harder," forward Steve Ott said. "But still, those guys are irreplaceable for the time being."

Not that everything is doom and gloom.

If there is one thing that's abundantly clear, it's that Lehtera and Vladimir Tarasenko have compelling chemistry that could go a long way to smoothing out any rough patches the Blues face.

Tarasenko was a force Tuesday, scoring three times on brilliant shots, including the overtime winner on a power play. Lehtera assisted on Tarasenko's first two goals and then scored one himself, with help from Tarasenko.

The two played together for parts of two seasons in Russia, and they live in the same building in St. Louis.

"I know he's a good player, that's why I want to pass him the puck every time I get it," Lehtera said after Tuesday's game. "He can pass and shoot and challenge one-on-one all at the same time. You never know what he’s going to do."

If Tarasenko, who has one of the most dangerous shots in the game, is at least a known (if evolving) quantity, Lehtera is less so.

The big forward with blazing speed might be the most interesting piece of a potentially compelling Blues puzzle. The Blues' third-round pick in 2008, Lehtera is just now making his way to the NHL.

Ott said he saw the connection between Lehtera and Tarasenko right from the start during summer practice sessions.

"All of a sudden, you're like, oh, wow, these guys could really have something here," Ott said. "You'll see it the rest of the way. Lehtera's such a smart hockey player. There's no fluke or mystery why he's back here and wanting to come and compete in the NHL. He's that good of a hockey player."

Hitchcock knew Lehtera would be a part of the team.

"I knew at the start that Lehtera was going to be a guy that could find a way into the program," the coach said. "I didn't know if he was going to be a 1, a 2 or a 3 [center], but I knew he was going to be something."

Something indeed.