By LOUIE KORAC
ST. LOUIS -- The Blues were hoping a couple key pieces would be ready for tonight's Western Conference heavyweight battle with the Vancouver Canucks but will have to wait at least one more game.
Defenseman Barret Jackman, who injured a hip Tuesday night in Montreal, and left wing Alex Steen, out since Dec. 27 with concussion symptoms, will miss tonight's game. Jackman took a twirl on the ice this morning's skate and Steen took part in the entire skate but coach Ken Hitchcock decided they will need one good day to practice and feels they will be ready for Saturday's home game with Minnesota.
"He'll play Saturday probably, but he's not ready for tonight," Hitchcock said of Jackman, who was checked into the side boards by the Canadiens' PK Subban. "Steen same thing. He feels OK, but he wants to have a full practice with us, so he'll play again Saturday.
"It'll be good to get those guys back on the weekend. That's kind of what we're hoping, both guys get a good practice in tomorrow and then they're ready to go."
Steen, who will miss a seventh consecutive game, feels he's close.
"I feel much better. It's a different injury," Steen said after skating. "It's my first time going through it. It's kind of a lonely feeling because you don't know what to expect or what the next day's going to bring. It's weird not having a timetable and not being able to push yourself through something but a lot of credit to the doctors and the training staff. Everybody's been really supportive and have done the right things.
"I felt like I could have played a while ago but sometimes you want to make sure everything is in order. ... I'm starting to feel really good, feel like myself again."
Added Hitchcock: "He's got no issues now. We haven't really had a practice. ... Having (Steen) get a good skate with the group tomorrow will be good for us and getting him back is going to be a huge boost for everybody. We're looking forward to it."
Asked who would pick up Jackman's competitive edge? Ian Cole.
"He plays with a real edge. He's a real feisty, competitive guy," Hitchcock said of Cole. "Plays with a real edge. He's got a little bit of meanness to him. It's who he is. He's a spirited player. We're asking a lot of him. He hasn't even played 50 games in the NHL and all of the sudden, he's playing against the other teams' best players.
"We're a week from getting healthy on the backend where we get both Jackman and (Kris) Russell back. But Cole's making a real niche for himself. He's a real competitive guy."
The Blues are looking to get Russell (groin) back into the lineup sometime in the next week. Also, forward Andy McDonald (concussion) continues to make progress but is still wearing a red no-contact jersey. He traveled with the team for the first time for Tuesday's game in Montreal, which is a good indicator he's ready to shed the no-contact jersey.
The Blues have been mixing and matching lineups for some time now with all the injuries but continue to persevere. With a win tonight, they can claim the top spot in the West.
"We're competitive," Hitchcock said. "We don't wow you off the rush, but we score off the grind. If we get some room off the grind, that's where we get all our goals and we're willing to work for our chances. This is a real competitive group right now."
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Both teams have a tremendous amount of respect for one another heading into tonight's matchup.
The Blues (25-12-5) are 2-0 against Vancouver this season and the Canucks (27-14-3) are very aware of it.
"They've always played well defensively," Canucks winger Daniel Sedin said. "They've got a hard-working team. It's for first in the conference and it's fun to see St. Louis up there. They should be up there and they're finally here."
Added Canucks winger Cody Hodgson: "They're one of the top teams in the league, no question. They've got emerging real stars. They have a real good team that plays together and they've just been getting better since Hitchcock got there."
Canucks coach Alain Vigneault, a former Blues player, saw the makings of a good Blues hockey team.
"Because we had that playoff series against them a couple years back (in 2008-09), we knew there was a tremendous amount of potential that that team had, the great kids that that team had," Vigneault said. "At some point I remember comparing them to the Blackhawks. With the young players that they had in their lineup in that group, they would be like Chicago and they would be able to challenge for top billing.
"I'm not exactly sure what happened, but this doesn't surprise me at all. They've got a lot of talent and a lot of potential. They've got a good-sized team that right now is playing a good system and playing a real good way. Obviously right now, they are one of the best teams in the NHL."
Hitchcock said his team isn't where the top heavyweights are yet but continue to make progress.
"We're in the evaluation stage against good teams," Hitchcock said. "When you play against teams like Vancouver or Detroit, we're the ones that learn the most. They already have that knowledge. We want that knowledge.
"At the end of the day, we want to know what makes teams like Vancouver tick. We're hoping that they bring their 'A' game and they give us their best game so that we can evaluate our players. We respond when we're a little bit scared."
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The Canucks will get defenseman Aaron Rome (broken thumb) back into the lineup tonight after missing 13 games blocking a shot Dec. 17 at Toronto.
It means Keith Ballard goes to the sidelines as a healthy scratch.
"We talked this morning and he said he's good to go, so we're going to put him in the lineup tonight," Vigneault said of Rome. "When Aaron is playing his game, he helps us in the backend with our puck movement. He's one of our defense that likes to move it, as Don Cherry would say, 'Easy Early,' and we like that with our group. He also brings a dimension to our power play."
The Canucks are also on the verge of getting left wing David Booth (knee) back in the lineup but Booth will not play tonight.
"As a player, you've got to feel that you're ready," Vigneault said of Booth. "Obviously if he hasn't come to see me, it's because he's not ready and we respect that.
"When he feels that he's ready to help this team, he's going to come and see me and tell me he's ready to go."
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The NHL announced the remaining roster for this year's All-Star Game slated for Jan. 29 in Ottawa.
The Blues' lone representative is goalie Brian Elliott, who will start tonight against the Canucks. Elliott is 15-5-0 and is among the league leaders with a 1.62 goals-against average and .940 save percentage.
The Canucks will be represented by Daniel and Henrik Sedin as well as defenseman Alexander Edler and Hodgson, one of 12 rookies selected.
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Tonight's Blues lineup against the Canucks:
David Perron-David Backes-Chris Stewart
Matt D'Agostini-Patrik Berglund-T.J. Oshie
Vladimir Sobotka-Jason Arnott-Jamie Langenbrunner
Ryan Reaves-Scott Nichol-B.J. Crombeen
Carlo Colaiacovo-Alex Pietrangelo
Ian Cole-Kevin Shattenkirk
Cade Fairchild-Roman Polak
Brian Elliott starts in goal; Jaroslav Halak is the backup.
The Blues will be looking for their first back to back to back regular season shutouts since Dec. 1-6, 1988 if they can blank the Canucks tonight. Elliott and Halak are each coming off shutout wins over Colorado (4-0) and Montreal (3-0).
Jackman (hip) and Steen (concussion symptoms) are day-to-day. McDonald (concussion), Russell (groin) and defenseman Kent Huskins (ankle) are on injured reserve. Winger Chris Porter is the healthy scratch.
The Blues will observe a moment of silence prior to tonight's puck drop for former gemeral manager Ron Caron, who passed away at the age of 82 in Montreal Monday night.
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The Canucks' probable lineup against the Blues:
Daniel Sedin-Henrik Sedin-Alexandre Burrows
Mason Raymond-Ryan Kesler-Cody Hodgson
Chris Higgins-Maxim Lapierre-Jannik Hansen
Mike Duco-Manny Malhotra-Dale Weise
Dan Hamhuis-Kevin Bieksa
Alexander Sulzer-Alexander Edler
Andrew Alberts-Aaron Rome
Roberto Luongo gets the start in goal. Cory Schneider is the backup.
The Canucks will be without Booth (knee), who is close to returning to the lineup. Defenseman Sami Salo (concussion) is out indefinitely, as is left winger Aaron Volpatti (shoulder). Center Andrew Ebbett (shoulder) is out for the rest of the regular season. Ballard is a healthy scratch.