By LOUIE KORAC
ST. LOUIS -- The Blues hope that one by one, they start to get some missing pieces back into their lineup.
The first step to that goal came to fruition as defenseman Barret Jackman took part in the morning skate after missing his first game of the season with a hip injury suffered Tuesday at Montreal and will play tonight when the Blues (25-12-6) host the Minnesota Wild (22-16-6) at 7 p.m. (FSN, KMOX 1120-AM).
Jackman, who has six assists in 42 games this season, was injured following a hit by Canadiens defenseman PK Subban in the second period of a 3-0 Blues win.
"I saw him coming, but I didn't realize he was going to step up as hard as he did," Jackman said of the Subban hit. "I was just trying to get a shot on net to maybe get a rebound out front. I just put myself in a bad position and fell awkwardly.
"I'm feeling good. The body's getting there, but it's the middle of the season so you've got your wear and tear. We'll see what happens."
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The Blues' defensive corps was crowded on the ice Saturday morning, giving it a training camp flavor with nine guys out there.
Along with Jackman back, Kent Huskins (ankle) and Kris Russell (groin) were also out taking part in the morning skate. Neither will play but continue to work on getting back into the lineup.
"We're not there yet, but it was nice to see Russ and Huskins join us," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. "Obviously Husky's a little bit away from playing, but nice to make him part of the team for a few minutes anyway. ... You're talking weeks (with Huskins), yeah. But it's nice that at least he gets to come out and skate. and be part of the team. He's excited by that."
And Russell? Maybe next week?
"Close. I don't know yet. We'll see," Hitchcock said. "We'll participate in a full practice tomorrow hopefully. We'll see, but he's close. That's a good sign there, too. Lots of guys on the rebound here, so we'll see where we get the next three or four days."
The Blues can only hope to play with a full deck soon.
"It'll be nice obviously ... the sooner the better," defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk said. "It's good to see everyone kind of coming around. There's still a little time for some but at least we got them out there skating, which is obviously good.
"Once we get everyone back, it's going to be a pretty tough blue line to beat. Throw Andy (McDonald) and Steener (Alex Steen) up there in front, it's endless. The combinations you can get ... seems like it's going to be a problem for Hitch unfortunately, but it's a good one."
McDonald and Steen (both dealing with concussions) continue to skate and are making progress. Steen is likely to be reinserted into the lineup at some point next week. McDonald is still in the red no-contact jersey. Once he sheds it, he's still a couple weeks away from game action.
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Blues captain David Backes spent last season as the Blues' lone all-star representative. This season, it will be goalie Brian Elliott, who has to re-alter his plans of going to Wisconsin.
Backes, who could make a case to be going to Ottawa with 31 points but has good numbers in other areas through 43 games, will instead be taking up a new hobby.
"I'm going to take my pilot's license test," Backes said. "I've passed the written test and now I've got the oral (test) and the actual flying test and then I'll have my license. The oral is a couple of hours and then the flying is a couple of hours, so I finally get a full day off and I'll hope to sneak that in."
Backes is glad for Elliott, who did not even know he'd make the Blues out of camp this season.
"'Ells' is very deserving and he'll have a great time in a place that he's played before," Backes said. "Would I love to be going with him, yeah, but there's only so many spots on there and there's a lot of great players in this league.
"It's an honor to go to that game and if I can go to more in the future, that's great. If not, we get to rest up (like this year) for a great second half of the season into a playoff push."
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The Wild, who are 0-7-1 in their last eight road games (they've scored only seven goals in those games) and 2-9-3 in their last 14 games to fall out of the top spot in the Western Conference, are coming off a disheartening 5-2 loss at Chicago Thursday night and afterwards, coach Mike Yeo and the players voiced their frustration and anger over the recent play.
It's not something a locker room wants to go through but as forward Kyle Brodziak said, a good kick in the pants is something that's needed at times.
"There's a lot of pride in the locker room and a lot of character," said Brodziak, who has 12 goals and 21 points in 44 games. "When you go through something like this, it's a very tough thing. I think if you stick with it and make sure your attitude doesn't change, eventually you get out of it because you only become stronger because of it. That's what we need to focus on is finding ways to get out of it. Once we do that, we'll be stronger for it.
"It's just a matter of preparing for every game. We can do a better job of preparing ourselves for the games and when we get to the game, we've just got to get back to basic and what we were doing when we had success. We were playing a pretty straightforward game going north with the puck and finding ways to get it behind their D and putting pressure on them and creating offensive zone time. I think that's a good key for us."
Yeo, in his first season as the Wild's coach, didn't reflect on the recent negatives on the road but stressed what has been accomplished in the past.
"The message for us is let's play our game," Yeo said. "We've gone into San Jose and beaten San Jose. We've gone into Detroit and beaten Detroit. It's time to go into another building and give ourselves a chance to win.
"We did those things because we played our game and we were true to the way we were supposed to play it, and that's what we need tonight. That's what we need now to the rest of the season. ... I'm very anxious to see how we come out here and play tonight."
Hitchcock and the Blues are very aware.
"I don't like it when teams come in and the coach is angry, the players are angry," said Hitchcock, whose team is 19-5-6 since he took over. "Usually you get their 'A' game. From an opponent's standpoint, it doesn't feel good. I think our players recognize that we're going to get their 'A' game tonight.
"It's hard when you're standing there as a coach or player to think we might not win another game for a month or we might not win a game for a week. Sometimes you get swallowed up by the day-to-day rather than the week-to-week or month-to-month. If you were to give both teams the chance to be where they're at right now based on what people said they were going to be, they'd be happy. Minny's in the playoff hunt, we're in the playoff hunt. We're both kind of where people thought maybe if we played well, we'd (be where we are). So you've got to look at that."
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After taking a risk of placing left wing Colton Gillies on waivers Friday, the Wild now prepares for life without him, as Gillies was claimed by Columbus Blue Jackets on Saturday.
The Wild was hoping to get Gillies, who had struggled with only two assists in 27 games, through waivers and send him to the Houston Aeros of the AHL but that never became an option.
"I'm happy for him," Yeo said of Gillies. "He's a guy that has worked very hard for this opportunity and cares very much. I'm happy for him, but having said that for us, it is disappointing because he was still in our plans. We were hoping that he could go down there (to Houston) and get things going and would be back with us soon, but that said, it's a good opportunity for him and we're happy for him."
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With their recent struggles, Yeo has opted to sit veteran defenseman Greg Zanon and in his place will be Mike Lundin, who has an assist in 12 games this season.
"It's not an easy decision," Yeo said of benching Zanon, who has three points in 23 games. "These are veteran guys and a guy like him ... he pays a price when he plays. He's going to play hard for the team, but even talking to him, this is a decision that we made just for tonight.
"Even going in before the game, we thought that we wanted to get Lundy in. When we looked at last game and what we need for tonight, that's the decision we made."
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Tonight's Blues lineup against the Wild:
David Perron-David Backes-Chris Stewart
Matt D'Agostini-Patrik Berglund-T.J. Oshie
Vladimir Sobotka-Jason Arnott-Jamie Langenbrunner
B.J. Crombeen-Scott Nichol-Ryan Reaves
Carlo Colaiacovo-Alex Pietrangelo
Barret Jackman-Kevin Shattenkirk
Ian Cole-Roman Polak
Jaroslav Halak gets the start in goal. He's 7-0-3 in his last 10 starts with a 1.76 goals-against average and .934 save percentage over that time. However, he's 0-2-3 in his career against the Wild but received just nine goals of support in those five games. Brian Elliott is the backup.
McDonald, Russell, Huskins and Steen continue to sit out with their injuries. Winger Chris Porter and defensemen Cade Fairchild are healthy scratches.
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Tonight's probable lineup for the Wild:
Devin Setoguchi-Mikko Koivu-Dany Heatley
Cal Clutterbuck-Matt Cullen-Casey Wellman
Darroll Powe-Kyle Brodziak-Nick Johnson
David McIntyre-Warren Peters-Brad Staubitz
Nick Schultz-Jared Spurgeon
Marek Zidlicky-Justin Falk
Clayton Stoner-Mike Lundin
Josh Harding gets the start. He is 6-2-0 with a 1.69 GAA and .9400 save percentage in his career against the Blues. Matt Hackett will be the backup. Zanon is the healthy scratch.