Steen out, Jackman gameday decision; all-star Elliott speaks
By LOUIE KORAC
HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- In the words spoken by many NFL officials on Sunday afternoon: "After further review ..., " those same words can be attibuted to the Blues as well.
As it turns out, winger Alex Steen (concussion symptoms) won't play Saturday when the Blues (25-12-6) host the Minnesota Wild (22-16-6), and defenseman Barret Jackman (hip) will take part in the morning skate before the team makes a decision on his status.
Blues coach Ken Hitchcock was hopeful Thursday morning that both would be ready to go against the Wild, citing that both players needed a good, hard practice Friday to deem themselves fit and ready to go.
But the Blues, who fell 3-2 in overtime to Vancouver Thursday night, held an optional skate that neither Steen nor Jackman were part of.
"Steen no for tomorrow. Not good enough yet," Hitchcock said. "Jackman, we'll evaluate after the skate, but he's going to go on the ice tomorrow and we'll see how we go."
Immediate thoughts were that Steen, who's missed seven games, had a setback.
"No. He's just not quite there yet," Hitchcock said of Steen. "He's not there conditioning-wise, he's not there energy-wise. We're just going at this thing carefully and we'll just wait for them to tell us.
"He's kind of in the red sweater thing. When he pulls out of the red sweater then we'll get him to go. ... We'll probably keep (Steen) out until next week."
There is some good news on the injury front, as defensemen Kent Huskins (ankle) and Kris Russell (groin) will join the team for Saturday's morning skate, although neither will play.
Huskins hasn't played since breaking a bone in his ankle blocking a shot Oct. 28 and has missed 33 games. Russell has been sidelined with a groin strain suffered Dec. 27 in Detroit. He is expected to be ready to go at some point next week, which would put him at the three-week timetable the Blues originally gave him.
* Playing with the big boys -- Despite the loss Thursday, in which the Blues had several quality chances -- particularly in the second period -- to put the Canucks away, the Blues will move forward and continue to establish that they will continue to compete with the heavy hitters of the Western Conference.
Instead of worrying about where ninth place is and how do they stay afloat in the playoff race, the Blues' goals are to chase down those above them in the standings.
"We're trying to look up rather than down," said Hitchcock, whose team is 7-3-1 against Vancouver, Chicago, San Jose and Detroit this season. "Sometimes coaches are conservative people and we look at ninth, but we're finding ourselves looking up. We want to chase down the division lead, and I feel if we keep focused in that area it'll lead to good play. But I don't think you can play this game looking over your shoulder and be effective. Some of us do that still. We go, 'OK, where is ninth? How many points is there different?'
"We're trying to get the players and our whole organization to look ahead. Let's chase down Detroit, let's chase down Chicago, let's stay in the hunt here to make it interesting. We know our schedule is to our advantage right now and to our disadvantage in March. Every point we get right now is important because these are points that are in the bank that they can't take away from us when the schedule gets really difficult. We are going to have to find a way to maintain a really high level here until the break because the schedule turns on us a little bit after the break. It's going to be a lot harder."
The Blues are 19-5-6 since Hitchcock took over and teams around the NHL feel like they've arrived, but Hitchcock's not buying it.
"Not yet," he said. "First of all, you've got to prove it in the playoffs, and you've got to get into the playoffs to prove it. Secondly, I told the players today we're as good as anybody in the West in my opinion, but there's six teams that can say the same thing. ... If you look at some of the elite teams, the next 25 games, you're going to see a pull-away on some of these teams. They're going to pull away, so we want to go with them. It's easier said than done."
* Defensive-weary -- Jackman's absence really put the Blues in a bind Thursday against the talented Canucks in more ways than one.
Jackman, who was injured in Tuesday's win at Montreal, not only was not available to provide his ruggedness and tough play on the ice but missing his minutes was key as well.
Cade Fairchild, recalled a third time this season from Peoria, only saw 5 minutes, 56 seconds of ice time and none after the second period, while guys like Alex Pietrangelo (27:52) and Carlo Colaiacovo (24:01) were taxed more that usual.
"It affects the next day, it doesn't affect the game," Hitchcock said. "These guys can play 25 minutes. It does limit what you can do the next day. We didn't skate them today. If this was a normal day with our six that we play with, we would have had a full practice going today. But we overplayed them (Thursday). That's just the price you pay right now to play with really five and a little bit.
"We're hopeful that we can get Cade in even more, but when you're in every delicate game like we are right now, a one-goal game is hard to play a guy all the time. We'll just have to muster through this."
* Finishing more -- In the most recent losses against the Blackhawks, Red Wings (twice) and Canucks, the Blues held a lead in all but one of those games with the chance to finish off contending opponents. But one way or another, quality chances are either foiled or they simply don't go in, and the Blues paid for it in the end.
Such was the case Thursday, when leading 2-1, the Blues had multiple opportunities to make it a 3-1 or 4-1 game and failed.
"We could have had two or three more goals," winger Chris Stewart said. "We had one penalty killed that period, two breakaways, another chance in the slot there where I fed Perry (David Perron) that didn't go in. ... That's just the way it goes sometimes. If we score those goals, it's a different hockey game but we competed with them for 60 minutes. We got a bad break there at the end with the penalty. It ended with a fluke.
"We obviously wanted to get the two points last night but in the bigger scheme of things, there's still 40 more games to go and we get another crack at them later on in the year. We're not going to worry about where we are now. We're going to worry about it come April."
In the last meeting on Dec. 3, the Blues led Chicago 2-1, only to fall 5-2 -- the last regulation home loss (9-0-2). They led Detroit 2-0 on Dec. 27 and had opportunities to make it a 3-0 game before the Red Wings rallied with a two-goal third and a 3-2 win.
So what do these results really prove?
"We still have a long ways to go," said veteran center Jason Arnott, who scored both goals Thursday. "When you get ahead on a team like that, you've got to learn that they're going to battle back and do everything they can to win the hockey game. We've got to learn to play with a lead. It hasn't been our positive suit this year, but we're getting better at it. Hopefully it continues, we learn from this and move on."
Hitchcock added: "Looking back on the game, we couldn't extend the 2-1 lead and then when it was 2-2, we had all the chances in the second and we couldn't capitalize on all the chances we had. I thought the second period was as good a period as we've played all year in this building. I thought it was outstanding. After the first five minutes, once we got through the nerves, I thought we played really well."
* Elliott reacts as an all-star -- Goalie Brian Elliott, who was chosen as the Blues' lone representative for the All-Star Game to be played Jan. 29 in Ottawa, spoke about the selection Friday after practice.
He was planning on spending the extended break in Wisconsin but suddenly had his plans rerouted.
"I was going to some cold weather anyway, so why not make it a little colder," Elliott joked. "It's pretty surprising. Coming into the season, I definitely didn't have that on my mind. It's an honor and I have to obviously thank the guys around me to get me to a spot where I was picked. There's a lot of deserving guys on this team, and I'm happy to represent the Blues there. I think it will be an awesome experience, and I'm going to try to soak it in as much as I can."
Ironically, all-star weekend will be played out in the place where Elliott was first drafted. He'll get to see and spend time with some former Sens teammates.
"It's definitely weird," said Elliott, who's 15-5-1 with a 1.68 GAA and .937 save percentage on the season. "I've got a lot of friends up there and obviously (the Senators) have four guys being selected. I'll be able to hang out with them again, and I'm looking forward to that. There's a lot of good fans up there.
"I think it'll be an exciting game, an exciting atmosphere. I'm looking forward to going back."
* Halak gets start -- Goalie Jaroslav Halak, who is 7-0-3 in his last 10 starts, gets the call against the Wild Saturday.
Halak, who is 10-7-5 with a 2.19 goals-against average and .914 save percentage, has not lost in regulation since a 3-2 home Nov. 22 against Los Angeles.