By LOUIE KORAC
HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- For the first time since departing the lineup in December, there was Andy McDonald on the ice with his teammates on the home surface.
Yes, McDonald has skated on his own for nearly two weeks, and he was with the team last week in Colorado and Calgary, but McDonald, who has missed the last 24 games following a concussion suffered Dec. 4 in Edmonton, took part with the team here for the first time.
McDonald will not play when the Blues (22-20-7) host the Colorado Avalanche at 7 p.m. today. However, all systems point to a return to the lineup either Friday at home against the Oilers or on Super Bowl Sunday in Tampa against the Lightning.
"It's coming along, but I've got some steps to take," said McDonald, who fully participated in Monday's practice. "With not playing tomorrow, I get another two full days of practice with the team to get me back to where I need to be. Hopefully that will be enough and be ready to play Friday."
McDonald, who's had a history of concussions, took his first steps on the ice Jan. 19 after passing the league-mandated baseline concussion tests along with fellow forward David Perron. There have been no setbacks and upon his return to the lineup, McDonald should give the Blues' offense a big boost.
"Yeah, he's coming back and he's looking good," teammate Alex Steen said. "He's got a lot of jump. His legs look really good out there. He's obviously a very skilled player, a good passer. It'll be really fun to get him back. We'll get a win against Colorado and hopefully get Andy back."
Said Blues coach Davis Payne, "Today was one of those days where it was a chance to get into a full practice with the team, a chance to get into some contact. He feels good, so we've got a couple more days beyond tomorrow. He won't play tomorrow, but a decent chance we could see him by the weekend.
"He's a full-go. It's a conditioning thing. It's taking each step and making sure that the body responds positively, and it's done that. Today was another full day for him, another good day for him. We consider that progress. We'll see how that lines up for tomorrow and on through the week."
McDonald, 33, feels another couple days is worth the wait.
"First and foremost, when you come in, you want to be able to contribute, you want to be able to help the team," he said. "Personally, I don't feel I'm at a point where I can contribute. Maybe in some areas, but I need to get some practice under my belt and still keep working on my conditioning, and get some strength back, so when I do come in, I can help."
When McDonald does return, he'll be sporting the M11 helmet designed by former hockey great Mark Messier, which is designed to protect against concussions.
"It's supposed to have a little bit more padding to it," McDonald said. "Everything they're telling me is that it's supposed to help, so we'll give it a try and see how it goes. It might be a little heavier, but it's more comfortable."
* Johnson latest to go down -- Blues defenseman Erik Johnson left practice Monday prematurely after being hit in the mouth with a puck while the team was working on a power play drill.
Johnson, the top overall pick of the 2006 draft, was stationed in front of the net when a shot came towards the goal, and McDonald deflected the puck at point blank range that struck Johnson, causing the 22-year-old to lose a couple teeth.
"We had to dig a few teeth off the ice and get some repairs," Payne said. "We'll see how that looks for tomorrow.
"These things have a lot of differing degrees of severity here. We know he's lost a few teeth. He's getting assessed here and we don't know the exact extent of it."
There was no indication whether Johnson would play tonight against the Avalanche or miss the game.
"I don't know, I got down there late, so I guess the guys already picked up the chicklets or whatever they're going to call them, and gave them back to him," defenseman Barret Jackman said. "... It's one of those things, where it happens and unfortunately it happens off an own teammate's stick. You shrug it off, the guy buys him dinner and hopefully he doesn't miss anytime."
* Jackman expected to return -- Jackman, who missed the last three games with a groin injury, was on the ice himself for the first time since being injured Jan. 20 and has declared himself ready to get back in the lineup against the Avalanche.
"Possibly maybe could have come back in Calgary, but it would have been a bad move with five days between games," Jackman said. "Definitely it was good to stay off the ice and get recharged and let the body heal."
Jackman missed nine games earlier this season with a knee sprain, but his absence was definitely noticeable on the team's blue line.
"It's his first day back on the ice. Everything started out positively," said Payne, who was non-committal regarding Jackman's status. "We'll make that assessment. If Jax can go, he goes."
Jackman said the break was good for a number of players.
"It's been great," he said. "Just talking to a few guys this morning about it, everyone is excited. We were out there really early for practice before the Zamboni was even halfway around. Guys got the energy, you could see with the jump we had today. We've just got to translate that into games."
* Blues recall McRae, Nikitin, option Della Rovere to Peoria -- The Blues recalled center Philip McRae and defense Nikita Nikitin Monday from AHL Peoria, while optioning winger Stefan Della Rovere back to the Rivermen.
McRae and Nikitin were both here prior to the All-Star break but were optioned back to the minor league squad to play games.
McRae has a goal and an assist in seven games since his initial recall. Nikitin hasn't registered a point in 15 games.
* Rivermen All-Stars -- The AHL All-Star Game was played on Monday in Hershey, Pa., with the East defeating the West 11-8.
The Rivermen, a part of the West squad, were represented by head coach Jared Bednar, goalie Jake Allen, defenseman Nathan Oystrick and center T.J. Hensick.
Allen started for the West and stopped eight of 12 shots, while Hensick recorded a goal and an assist and Oystrick picked up an assist was a team-best plus-3 in a losing effort.