McDonald cleared for contact; Steen still day-to-day; Huskins improving
By LOUIE KORAC
HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- For the first time since he took the ice prior to Christmas, Andy McDonald has dyed his jersey color.
Obviously ridding himself of the red was a priority, since this is the one that the players wear for no-contact purposes. So as the Blues returned to begin preparations for their post all-star stretch, McDonald was on the ice Monday afternoon wearing a yellow jersey.
What does all this mean? It means the veteran has been cleared for contact, and it's the next step in the process from returning from another concussion, an ailment that has plagued the 34-year-old Strathroy, Ontario native throughout his career.
"It's nice to be able to compete for real and get some contact out there," McDonald said after practice at the St. Louis Mills Ice Zone. "With the red jersey, I think guys are a little bit holding back on you and not going to check you. It's certainly nice to compete for real in the drills."
McDonald, who has missed all but three of the Blues' 49 games this season, has been one of the Blues' most productive players during practices, according to coach Ken Hitchcock, who said he wasn't going to address McDonald again until he shed the red jersey.
Now come the questions of when does McDonald return. Concussions vary according to each player, but winger David Perron -- who missed 13 months with a concussion -- returned 15 days after getting cleared for contact in November.
"Until the team makes the decision that he's ready to go, the red to gold means contact," Hitchcock said of McDonald, who has 35 points in his last 36 games dating back to last season. "It means more contact, it means he's a player that's up to the next level where there aren't any other reservations from either side on seeing where the next level goes to.
"He's not a player yet. I'm sure we'll have a better evaluation towards the end of the week whether he's close or far away. It's nice to see that he's cleared for some type of contact. He's just like another player on the ice."
McDonald has stated in the past that he won't play a game until he's 100 percent, which basically means until he's symptom-free.
"I'm close, I'll just leave it at that," McDonald said when asked if he was symptom-free. "I'm starting to put together days without anything. It's a big difference from a month ago where it would be tough to get through the day without a symptom. Now I'm starting to put days together with nothing. Hopefully that will continue."
Any guesses on a return date? McDonald wouldn't go there.
"No timetable," McDonald said. "... There's not really any plan. I think it's kind of wait and see. I've been real close for a long time and like I've said before, I want to be 100 percent. I don't want to go out there and hold back and feel like there's something still going on or feeling some type of symptom. I want to be able to go out and play my game and not have any worries out there.
"From some standpoints, I feel like I'm ready to play. But I've just got to be patient with it and make sure you're 100 percent before you get back out there in the game."
* Steen status quo -- Alex Steen, who has also seen lingering effects of concussion symptoms, is still listed as day-to-day after another hard practice with the team Monday.
Steen, who has missed 13 games and has not played since Dec. 27 in Detroit, was not forthcoming as to when he feels he can return.
"There's nothing really to say about it," he said. "You get off the ice and right now, you just wait and see how you feel. ... I'm not going to diagnose myself every minute of practice or every minute of the day. If I'm doing that, I'm not ready to go. When I'm ready to go, I won't be thinking about it. I'm just going to let it take it's time."
Steen returned to his hometown of Winnipeg to visit family and friends during the all-star break and said it was good therapy.
"It's good to give the body a rest, especially the last little while, I was kind of stressing myself to get back (into the lineup)," Steen said. "There's no games going on, so it was a little easier to relax and give my head a break."
* Huskins closer to return -- Lost in all the injury hubbub recently for the Blues has been the ankle injury of defenseman Kent Huskins, who has missed 39 games after breaking a bone blocking a shot on Oct. 28 in Calgary.
Huskins, signed to a one-year contract over the summer to give the Blues veteran stability on their blue line, also participated in Monday's hard workout and was feeling good about it afterwards.
"I'm glad to be back practicing," Huskins said. "I feel like I'm getting up to speed finally. I'm just expecting (the ankle) to get better every day and see where it goes.
"Today was the first day I wasn't really thinking about it. That's a good thing. You don't want to be distracted at all thinking about that and being tentative."
Huskins said there's no reason to try and even pinpoint a return date. Working the ankle in a game would be the ultimate test but it's not known when that will happen.
"It's tough to say not being in a game," Huskins said. "Practices are one thing. We have a high tempo out there, but it's not a game. Until I get in that situation, it's tough to know. But it's feeling a lot better."
* Halak/Elliott to split games -- Hitchcock would not name a starting goalie for Friday's home game against the Los Angeles Kings, but the veteran coach did say that both would get plenty of work. He just hasn't made up his mind yet.
The Blues will play Friday at home and then an important Central Division game Saturday night in Nashville. They will begin Friday a stretch of 10 games in 17 days.
"I want to see where Elliott's at and where Halak's at," Hitchcock said. "I would say in the next four games, they're both probably going to play some hockey here."
Elliott, the Blues' lone all-star, was excused from Monday's practice but will be back on the ice Tuesday.
* Nichol update -- Veteran center Scott Nichol abruptly left the ice about midway through Monday's skate. He departed the rink area with trainer Ray Barile and an injury of some sort was speculated.
But the 37-year-old was whisked away because of a family emergency, according to Hitchcock, who did not elaborate.