Oshie to the rescue; McDonald frustrated by recent injury
By LOUIE KORAC
HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- When David Backes went down and out of Saturday's win at Tampa Bay, the Blues were in a bit of a dilemma. They needed a center.
Coach Ken Hitchcock, who doesn't know some of his players' history past this season, needed some help before summoning T.J. Oshie.
He got it from assistant coach Scott Mellanby.
"I've never seen Oshie play center ice, so I looked at Mel and I said, 'Alright, who plays center here,'" Hitchcock recalled asking. "He said, 'Osh.' I said, 'When did Osh play center?' He said, 'Sometime in the 2000's.' I said, 'That's good enough for me. Osh, you're now the center.'"
And with that, Oshie filled a role that, as a matter of fact, was his natural position was center coming out of the University of North Dakota.
The Blues transformed Oshie into a winger but there was no challenge throwing him down the middle with the spot in need of a body.
"He was good," said Hitchcock, who saw Oshie collect two assists to give him a career-high 50 points this season. "He was really good there."
* McDonald frustrated -- To say Blues forward Andy McDonald is frustrated is putting it mildly.
The 34-year-old was just beginning to find his stride when he suddenly was sent crashing into the boards Thursday at Carolina by the Canes' Tuomo Ruutu.
Although when the injury first occurred, there were thoughts that maybe it was another concussion, but then as McDonald grasped his shoulder in obvious pain, wonders abounded that it was a serious shoulder injury.
Although it's a shoulder contusion that has him sidelined "week-to-week" according to the team, McDonald will have to once again get himself re-acclimated with the game. He already did once this season, missing 51 games with a concussion.
"I thought that my game was starting to come around, starting to feel better about coming back from the concussion and getting my game back up to speed," McDonald said after skating Sunday at the team's practice facility. "That part of it's really difficult.
"Because of my situation coming back from the concussion, I'm really trying to get my game back up to speed, improving, getting better as you head into the end of the season here and the playoffs. This is kind of a setback in terms of I don't know when I'll be back playing again. It's great for our team to clinch a playoff spot, but personally, I want to be out there playing these games. I don't want to be waiting until the first game of the playoffs getting back in."
McDonald continued: "I wanted to be improving, getting better and gaining momentum, playing my best hockey going into the playoffs. Now I kind of have to reset the clock back a little bit and find a way going through this process to stay on top of my game so when I do come back in, I hopefully hadn't dropped off anywhere."
When the Blues don't have McDonald, or Alex Steen (concussion) for that matter, it changes the complexion of the game and the way they want to play it.
"It's not just Andy, it's everybody," Hitchcock said. "You have to play a simpler game. You're going to have to manage minutes for a long period of time.
"We've got a 2-0 lead (Saturday) and managed the minutes really well. That's what you've got to do. To me, it's all about managing the minutes on the ice because you're not going to be able to stretch it out like you were before. That's the reality you're dealing with. It's a short-term situation, but you've got to be able to adjust. I simulate it the same as in a playoff game, you get a one- or two-goal lead halfway through the game, you've got to make that stand up. It's all about playing the game the right way. To me, it's all about managing the puck. We have to get our minds right that we're going to be good managing the puck."
* Back on the saddle -- After falling off the horse in spurts over the last week or so, the Blues jumped back on with an impressive 3-1 win over the Lightning Saturday night in which they were able to score in all three facets of the game (even strength, with the man advantage and shorthanded).
"We're better. Our checking is better," Hitchcock said. "I said to somebody this morning that you go through ebbs and flows. When you've got a certain lineup in, you feel like you can run with the best of them and when you've got what's going on right now, you've got to check harder, you've got to give up less, check harder, you've got to base your game on frustration. I've seen this before. I've had to coach this way before in Columbus. It's just the facts of life. Some days your roster's full, some days it's not full, but you've still got to get two points.
"What we did yesterday, to me, that was the blueprint of how you have to play when your roster's missing people. We got the shorty, we got the power play and we got a 5-on-5 goal and then we checked like crazy. If we've got to do that a few more games, if that's how we've got to play, then that's how we've got to play."
The Blues know they have to improvise when key people are out of the lineup.
"I'm really trying to get people to understand about playing through people rather than to people, and I think the harder you check at this time of the year, the more you have the puck," Hitchcock said. "The harder you check, the more you take the energy away from the opposition.
"It's hard to check when you're tired, and at this time of the year, everybody's a little bit tired. But can you push yourselves to do the right things at this time of the year? That's what we're doing, we're pushing people to do the right things. ... They did a lot of those things yesterday. We got back on track a little bit. We're not there, but to me, I think we felt good about our game yesterday and good about the way we played. We've just got to keep going."
* Halak to start Wednesday -- When the Blues resume their seven-game trip, Jaroslav Halak will get the nod once again after a 22-save effort Saturday in Tampa.
Halak, who is 24-4-6 since Hitchcock took over as coach, is 5-0-1 in the month of March and has only allowed eight goals.
"Halak's going to play Wednesday and we'll go from there," Hitchcock said of the plans, which will also include Brian Elliott.
Halak and Elliott are both in the top five in goals-against average and save percentage as well as shutouts in the NHL this season.