Forward missed 24 games after suffering concussion in Edmonton
By LOUIE KORAC
ST. LOUIS -- Andy McDonald knew a big test regarding his latest concussion would confirm whether he was ready to resume his playing days. Getting on a stationary bike would begin the process.
And after the second or third time of riding which resulted in no setbacks or any sort of symptoms, the question quickly became how soon would McDonald be back rather than will he be back.
After missing the last 24 games, it appears McDonald is all set to return to action Friday night against none other than the Edmonton Oilers, the team McDonald injured himself against on Dec. 4. The Blues activated the 33-year-old off injured reserve on Wednesday.
To make room for McDonald, the Blues optioned Philip McRae to Peoria.
Once McDonald, who stepped on the ice at St. Louis Mills for the first time on Jan. 19, began transitioning to smooth workouts with no ill effects, it was a matter of time before the Blues would get a key offensive puzzle back in the fold.
"The idea was to just kind of see how each day went, how each workout went and how I felt," said McDonald, who was leading the Blues with 17 points at the time of his departure from the lineup. "With the All-Star break and looking at the schedule, Friday seemed like a good fit."
The Blues (22-20-7) could certainly use an infusion from McDonald, who will immediately step into a top six role. He was playing on left wing on the top line with David Backes and Brad Boyes at practice Wednesday.
"He's probably our best player when he's in the lineup," Backes said of McDonald. "It's a boost for us, and hopefully, he returns to form pretty soon. (T.J. Oshie) is getting better every game. Everyone else has to contribute the way they have been while those guys were out. We'll be just fine in here."
The Blues are in the last stretch of their season with 33 games remaining, and there's no time for a transition period where McDonald slowly works his way back into the lineup, something Blues coach Davis Payne is not concerned with.
"From an experience standpoint, he knows what it takes to get ready," Payne said. "He's an extremely prepared individual, both on the ice and off the ice. To green-light his state of readiness says that he understands what is going to be necessary out of him. He's not a guy that needs a lot of exhibition work. We anticipate him being ready to go on Friday."
There was the possibility McDonald would return after the All-Star break and play Tuesday against Colorado, but the Blues decided to hold him back a couple more days. However, it didn't matter after Tuesday's game was cancelled because of weather.
"It's about coming back in and contributing," said McDonald. "I certainly want to help the team. We're struggling a little bit right now, but it's about getting a win Friday night. I told the coaches it was a goal to come back in and help as much as I can. If they feel I'm ready to do that, they'll certainly put me in the lineup. I feel pretty good.
"Watching a lot of games on TV, that's the hardest part. It feels great to be back."
Only the Oilers have scored fewer goals in the Western Conference than the Blues, and the Blues, who have dropped four straight (0-3-1) could use McDonald's offensive output.
So what does McDonald's return bring back to the team?
"Pace, possession, pressure, rush execution ... the ability to play with the puck in small spaces," Payne said. "Speed puts a lot of pressure on defenders. He's got plenty of that. It gives us an opportunity to have depth within our lineup and have guys in positions that can apply that kind of pressure to our opponents offensively."
With the Blues seven points out of a playoff spot, McDonald is eager to step in and apply immediate results.
"We're not that far off," McDonald said. "We know the games that we've lost, it's more about what we haven't done and less about what the other teams have done. If we get back to playing like we did at the start of the year and get on a roll, there's no reason why we can't get into the postseason."