News better than expected after both suffered weird
injuries at practice Tuesday; Murray, Cracknell recalled from Peoria
By LOUIE KORAC
HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- The injury bug that's blasted some teams in this shortened National Hockey League season has left the Blues, for the most part, relatively unscathed.
Of course there's Jamie Langenbrunner's hip injury that has him out for the season, and the recent concussion/facial laceration suffered by Vladimir Tarasenko, the bug started finding the Blues.
And with Tuesday's freak-like incidents that claimed Alex Steen (upper body) and Andy McDonald (left knee) almost simultaneously, the Blues are starting to dig deep into their pocket of depth.
(St. Louis Blues)
Alex Steen (right) is listed as day to day with an upper body injury.
"One guy's day to day, not a big deal. We'll see in the morning. The other guy, week to week," Hitchcock said after Wednesday's practice. "(It) happens, but we've got lots of guys coming in that are hungry, guys that have played in the NHL, so we shouldn't miss a beat.
"This is not like it's a six-week or a four-week injury. These are short-term injuries. Everybody's got them. All you've got to do is read the NHL Network every hour and there's another injury that pops up. We've been lucky so far. We've got three or four quality forwards out, but everybody's got that going. We haven't lost any defensemen. Maybe the game's a little bit simpler, but we've still got the key guys. ... We'll get through this. We'll get through this fine."
And with the red-hot Chicago Blackhawks, who sport a 16-0-3 record, come to town for a 7 p.m. puck drop Thursday night, Hitchcock was asked if Steen, who has been dealing with a shoulder ailment, has been ruled out.
"No," he said.
But just to make sure the Blues are covered on their roster, they recalled forward Andrew Murray Tuesday night from Peoria under emergency conditions, then brought up forward Adam Cracknell on Wednesday afternoon.
The 31-year-old Murray has played in 38 games with Peoria this season, tallying 19 points including 10 goals and nine assists. The 6-foot-2, 218-pound forward has appeared in five NHL seasons from 2007-2012, totaling 40 points (24 goals, 16 assists) and 36 penalty minutes in 220 games between San Jose and Columbus. He played for Hitchcock with the Blue Jackets.
"He's a good NHL player," Hitchcock said of Murray, who skated on the Blues' fourth line with Scott Nichol and Ryan Reaves Wednesday in practice. "He hunts, he's heavy on the puck, he's strong as heck on the boards. He's an NHL player. He's an NHL player that has played in the minors, but he can contribute.
"He's going to keep his game simple. He scored quite a bit down (in Peoria). He had a lot of offensive opportunities. He was probably a little more creative down there because he spent a lot of time on the power play, but he's a very dependable, strong, big-bodied guy that can really hunt the puck."
Murray could get a chance to step in against the Hawks if Steen is unable to go, as will Chris Porter, who was recalled last week from the Rivermen, where he had been playing some of the best hockey of his career.
"I think the guy that's hungry is Porter," Hitchcock said. "I'm curious to see how Ports plays. He's a cut above most guys in the AHL. He's a dominant player down there. He scores. He looks like he's gained a lot of confidence with us. I'm curious to see how both guys look. We're a little bit of a different team, but I don't know ... we don't look like we're going to be easy to play against with this group right now.
"... Ports has been looking for this chance for three months now. If we were a 24-man team, if we could have picked the 24 guys or we could have picked anybody we wanted on our team, he would have been part of the mix and quite frankly he'd be playing by now. ... This is why he signed with us, because he trusted management and the coaching staff. He could have signed with 10 other teams and taken the same deal. He signed with us because he knew he'd get the opportunity and when he got it, he'd take advantage of it. When you're down there (in Peoria) and dominating like he is, you know that you can help. I think he's going to be more than just a puck chaser. He's going to be a good, solid player who plays a very hard, physical game. That's going to be good for us."
Porter, who had seven goals and 10 points in just 12 games, is eager to stick after being the last one sent down when the Blues made their final cuts heading into the lockout-shortened season.
"It's a big opportunity," Porter said Wednesday after skating with Jaden Schwartz and Chris Stewart. "It's a big game tomorrow night; we all know what Chicago has done. I'm just going to continue what I was doing in Peoria and hopefully help the team win.
"Hopefully, by me playing my game, I add a spark to the team. I'm going to play with energy, play physical and not try to do too much."
Add Schwartz to the mix of guys wanting to prove themselves, and the lineup the Blues will use against the Hawks, who continue to set an NHL record with each passing game for points to start a season (which has reached 19), will be one that was a grinding group that had much success in last year's run.
"This is what we expected was going to happen during the season," defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk said. "We knew we were going to get some big injuries on the way. We've been fortunate that it hasn't hit us too hard up to this point. Now we've got to roll with the punches.
(St. Louis Blues/Mark Buckner)
Andy McDonald injured his left knee Tuesday at practice and was
placed on injured reserve.
Added Hitchcock: "I can tell you there's guys chomping at the bit wanting more. Somebody's demise is somebody's opportunity and you never know if a guy runs with it. It's just a different line, it looks different. It's more straight lines, probably a little less creative. We're harder on the puck, so it's not forever. It's not a big deal. We'll be up and running tomorrow and we'll play well tomorrow."
Unless something changes, the Blues know they'll get Steen and McDonald back at some point, which is a relief considering what transpired Tuesday.
"The unknown injury is Tarasenko, because we don't know a date," Hitchcock said. "The other guys, it's really defined. When it's an unknown injury, that's a little more concerning because you don't have a date to start up, you don't know when the guy's going to feel good, so we don't know. He's day to day but could turn to week to week. We don't know, but when you've got a defined injury and how long it's going to be, it's pretty simple. You slot guys in and you just play."