Steen could return tonight; Jackman
questionable; McDonald, Russell progressing
By LOUIE KORAC
HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- He last played in a game on Dec. 27 and scored a goal in Detroit. That was the last time Blues fans would see Alex Steen ... until Wednesday.
The Blues' winger was back on the ice after missing six games with concussion-like symptoms, believed to have suffered Dec. 26 in a home game against Dallas. He was working with assistant coach Scott Mellanby as the team took the day off the ice following Tuesday's 3-0 win at Montreal.
But Steen, who is tied for second on the team (T.J. Oshie) with 13 goals and third in points (24) behind Oshie and leader David Backes, passed his baseline test while the team was in Montreal after suffering his first concussion of any sort. If all went well after Wednesday's skate, his first jaunt on the ice since the injury, and he's able to get through the morning skate today before the Blues host the Vancouver Canucks, there's a chance of Steen getting into the lineup tonight.
"We'll see how I feel. It's a weird injury," Steen said in the locker room after skating. "You can't set a date or time or anything like that. It's basically how you react, how you feel.
"I've come a long way in the last little while. At least the guys have been home, so you get to see the guys. ... The last two days have been real long."
When asked if it was realistic to get into a game after only a couple days on the ice, Steen said, "We'll see. It all depends on how I feel, right? We'll talk to the docs and coaches obviously. For me, I just gotta feel right. If I feel right ... I haven't been out that long."
Added coach Ken Hitchcock: "He'll skate with the group tomorrow. If he does well today, we'll see. So he's back on the ice. We'll see how he feels today after the skate. ... We'll see how he feels today after getting worked hard."
Steen's been walking his "pooches" as he calls his dogs as well as riding a stationary bike but no weight involved. Getting on the ice is the true test.
"Yeah, it's pretty limited. You don't want to go backwards," he said. "You try to have some sort of activity in your daily life. ... Just kind of moving your legs. It's just a small, minor sweat really.
"It's nice to be out on the ice. That way, you're not looking for symptoms anywhere else. If it happens, it's going to be out on the ice."
* Jackman questionable -- Defenseman Barret Jackman, who injured his hip Tuesday in Montreal, is questionable for tonight's game against the Canucks.
Jackman, who's played in all 42 games this season and has six points, was injured in the second period after a heavy check by Canadiens defenseman PK Subban that sent Jackman hard into the boards. He did not play the remainder of the game but was on the bench for the third period.
"He went for rehab today," Hitchcock said of Jackman. "... He was stiff and sore, but hopefully nothing too bad. We'll see.
"As Jacks was going in there, I think he had an 'oh no' moment. He was in a vulnerable position, speed coming at him on the right angle. He was in a tough spot.
"He's not one of these guys that's going to bail out on the puck. That's not his style."
As insurance, the Blues recalled defenseman Cade Fairchild from Peoria and send winger Evgeny Grachev to the Rivermen late Wednesday afternoon.
Hitchcock is hoping Jackman is just day to day if he has to miss any games at all.
"You'd miss Jacks because he plays with a real competitive edge and drags other people along with him, but we've had to survive single games," Hitchcock said. "Knowing Jacks, it'll take a lot for him to be out. But we'd miss him."
Added defenseman Alex Pietrangelo: "He plays important minutes for us. He's a veteran guy. He's important to this team. We're all crossing our fingers right now."
Fairchild has played in four games with the Blues this season with no points. Grachev has played in 24 games, with one goal and four assists.
* McDonald close to changing colors -- Since returning to the ice Dec. 23, veteran forward Andy McDonald has been skating with the proverbial red no-contact jersey.
McDonald traveled with the team for the first time, accompanying it to Montreal and coach Ken Hitchcock liked what he saw, leading many to believe McDonald, out since the third game of the season with a concussion, is close to practicing with a regular jersey.
If that's the case, he could rejoin the lineup within a few weeks.
"Andy was very good yesterday," Hitchcock said. "Yesterday was a hard, small-ice game and Andy was good in the game. Andy was alert and competitive in the small-ice game that was played yesterday at the Bell Centre.
"We'll see when the sweater comes off, because once the sweater comes off, then there's still time that he has to practice as a full-contact person."
* Russell return imminent? -- Defenseman Kris Russell, out with a groin strain suffered Dec. 27 at Detroit, is also back on the ice and skating towards a return to the lineup.
Russell, who has five points in 21 games since being acquired by the Blues for Nikita Nikitin on Nov. 11, has skated for the past couple days and could be eyeing a return in a week or so.
"So far, so good. Every day it feels like it's getting better. That's all you can ask," said Russell, who originally was diagnosed to be out three weeks. "I've got to be smart about it. It can reinjure real quick if I don't take care of it. You always want to play. It's tough watching, but when the guys are playing so well, it's good to see the boys win. I'll get back in the lineup as soon as I can."
Hitchcock seemed pleased with Wednesday's results.
"Today was a good workout for him," Hitchcock said of Russell. "Today was a big step for me. I was happy with what I saw. It was good. He skated hard today. That's a good sign."
* Tough decisions -- With the returns of Steen, McDonald, Russell and even defenseman Kent Huskins on the horizon, the Blues and Hitchcock have some tough decisions to make as far as who plays, who sits and if anyone stays here or goes to Peoria.
Hitchcock said it's a good problem to have.
"I'm really matter-of fact. To me, it's like competition for ice time, competition for a top-nine forward role is good for the team," Hitchcock said. "It's not good for the individual, it makes people nervous at times, but it's really good for the team. It keeps people alert, it makes you earn your ice time, it makes people hungry and it's very good for the team. If players don't understand that, then they get pushed aside.
"The fight for ice time within the group makes for a very healthy working environment. What it does is over time, people push each other in a good way. I know that when it starts going, it's uncomfortable, but it just makes you hungry and stay in and want to be part of the group. For me as a coach, it used to really concern me. I used to coach when I first started, I was looking over my shoulder (wondering) who's parents am I making angry and stuff like that when I first started. I don't have any of that anymore. It's whatever's best for the team."