Tkachuk returns to ice, return still in question;
D'Agostini feeling right at home
By LOUIE KORAC
HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- Keith Tkachuk was back on the ice Monday, and he had a stick, could put a hand on his teammates and could stick-handle a puck.
Those were aspects missing from the veteran's artillery after the Blues came back from their Olympic hiatus.
Tkachuk, who had a broken left pinky finger as he returned to the ice that was suffered Feb. 9 against Detroit, had hoped surgery was not necessary. But after a couple days of practice, Tkachuk wound up dislocating the finger and had surgery on Feb. 26.
But Big Walt was on the ice Monday and prepping for his return to the lineup 10 days after repairing the displaced finger.
Tkachuk has missed the last six games.
"We're on track," Tkachuk said. "I'm wearing a big (brace) just to protect it, so it's been a little more difficult. But I've never been known to handle the puck anyways.
"I think we have to give it a little more time, but we'll see how it goes. We'll go on the road, get a few more practices and we'll see how it feels later in the week."
Tkachuk was on the ice taking part in drills with his teammates Monday at St. Louis Mills, working on his conditioning and stick-work more than anything else.
"It feels better right now than those two days I tried to practice," the 37-year-old veteran said. "I couldn't touch anybody, shoot the puck, I couldn't even take a pass. It's the first time I used pucks today, too. The last four days, I just skated.
"Physically, I'm fine. I've just got to wait to be ready to go."
Tkachuk explained his rationale for not having the surgery done immediately.
"It was just broke, and then I'd come back, practice and probably did something to it," he said. "That's probably when it displaced. I was warned it was a possibility that could happen. It could displace, but there was no need for surgery at the time because it was just broke. When it got displaced, it probably would have been quicker to get back if I had surgery than it would be if I just waited it out. They put a plate in and some screws."
Blues coach Davis Payne isn't making any predictions on a return for No. 7.
"We want to make sure the healing still continues," Payne said. "Also, we want to make sure we can get as close to game conditioning as possible for that moment when his hand is ready."
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* Getting acclimated with St. Louis -- Forward Matt D'Agostini, acquired a week ago today from the Montreal Canadiens for prospect Aaron Palushaj, practiced for the first time in his new hometown.
The Blues were on the road last week when D'Agostini, 23, was acquired on the eve of the trade deadline.
"I didn't really know anyone coming here, didn't know any of the guys from before," D'Agostini said. "But they make it easy on you. With all hockey players, it doesn't take long to get in with the group. They're all great guys and I'm happy to be here."
D'Agostini, who struggled in Montreal, recording two goals and two assists in 40 games this season after a 21-point campaign a year ago, is looking forward to a fresh start.
"It's nice to know St. Louis saw me and they liked what they saw," D'Agostini said. "They said they saw me through the minors and my last couple years in the NHL. I'm trying to forget about the earlier part of this season. It wasn't going that well, but this is a fresh start and a chance for me to redeem myself."
Payne likes the new addition.
"Good speed, good skill, good strength on the puck," Payne said. "The guy's willing to take a bump to maintain possession, shoots the puck extremely well. I thought in his first game, he played a little bit safe. I wouldn't say tentative, but I would say safe. ... I thought in game two in Colorado, he was one of our bright spots as far as getting through the neutral zone, taking some contact, battling on some pucks and looking to make some plays happen."
D'Agostini will not make his home debut until March 16, but he hopes to make an impression on his new fans.
"I try to use my speed, just skate with the puck, try to get some shots on net, try to be a little creative in the offensive zone and try to create some chances," he said. "... I just try to bring both parts to the game and it's gone well so far."
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* Park it -- The Blues' 7-3 loss at Colorado on Saturday was not only ugly but painful in the standings as well.
The loss also brought an end to the Blues' five-game winning streak that exposed many flaws and opened a lot of wounds that plagued the team in the earlier stages of the season.
Monday's practice focused on many of those areas of detail.
"It's taking what we did and didn't do and making sure we focus in on it, making sure we learned a lesson, making sure we snap back to attention," Payne said. "We're not going to sit here and dwell on it. We're going to look at it, we're going to learn from it, we're going to carry the lessons forward. But we're going to leave that game right where it was.
"Obviously coming out of the break, the two games in Phoenix and Dallas, we felt good about our offensive side of things, but Colorado exposed some situations on the other side of the puck that we need to tighten up a little bit."
Payne was asked if the team simply hit a wall.
"I don't know if we hit a wall as much as tripped over some assignments; failed to be in the right position, failed to make some effective plays with the puck," he said. "Next thing you know, you've got enough pressure and enough skill that they jump back in that game and jump ahead of us quicker than we anticipated. We needed to be better in a lot of areas and certainly one was dealing with their pressure and forecheck and being back in the right spots defensively and committed to making sure we didn't give up the kind of chances we did."
The Blues, who last lost at Colorado 5-2 on Feb. 8 before going on this stretch of five straight wins recently, responded well then and expect to now.
"I think if you go through the last 10 games, I think we've played pretty well," forward Andy McDonald said. "You can't go on one loss. There's going to be stretches where you're just not sharp mentally and physically you're not going to be where you are normally. But that's part of it. The key is to not have back-to-backs. I liked the way we played following the last loss."