Cracknell to Peoria; Stewart honored; goalies to split games
By LOUIE KORAC
HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- With Andy McDonald's likely return to the lineup, the Blues made the tough choice to send winger Adam Cracknell back to Peoria Monday.
Cracknell, who had two assists in eight games, filled in better than expected with the rash of injuries the Blues had suffered at forward. But in typical cliche form, it became a numbers game.
"I think the difficult decision was sending a guy like Adam Cracknell down," Hitchcock said. "That was a very difficult decision because we understand numbers and everything like that, but that was hard because he was a good player for us. He just didn't come in to fill a spot, he came in and filled a role and did a helluva job filling the role. He helped manage the game. I think there was a real trust factor from the coaching staff. Adam did a great job. That one probably bothered us more than anything."
McDonald practiced on Monday and deemed himself fit to play.
"I tried to push it pretty hard the last couple days," said McDonald, who's missed 10 games with a left knee injury. "I spent a lot of time rehabbing it and getting the strength back, the stability back. There can't be any hesitation on my part. I have to be able to play, go in there 100 percent and not hold back. I think that's where I'm at right now."
* Stewart honored -- Blues winger Chris Stewart, who's been on a tear recently, was named as the NHL's No. 1 star of the week, which was announced by the league on Monday.
Stewart, who has 14 points (seven goals, seven assists) in the last seven games, also has 24 points (10 goals, 14 assists) in the last 18 games. He received the league honor for picking up five goals and two assists in three games this past week.
"Stewy's challenge is just sorting out why he's having success," Hitchcock said. "I think once you figure out why you're having success, you don't want to let go of the rope. I think he's figuring out the harder he competes, the more he scores. So rather than looking to score, he's looking to compete, and then the whole thing just takes care of itself.
"When you have skill players who operate like that, they're hard to play against. I think that's what all the top skill players in the league figure out. Some guys naturally, guys like (Sidney) Crosby, (Zach) Parise ... they figured it out earlier in their lives. But some guys, when they come to the NHL and they've lived on their skill to get here, after a while, you can't live on your skill. You've got to live on your work. I think he's starting to figure out the harder he competes, the more he works, the more scoring chances he gets and the more success he has. I think he's really starting to figure it out."
* Allen, Halak to play -- Hitchcock will use two of his three goalies, at the very least, on the upcoming trip that will end Sunday in Calgary.
Allen, who is 8-1-0 with a 2.18 goals-against average, a .920 save percentage and 5-0-0 in his last five starts, will go against the Canucks, with Halak slated for Saturday against the Oilers.
"He's going to play," Hitchcock said of Halak, who last played on March 10 at Anaheim, a 4-2 loss. "The plan right now is to play Jake in Vancouver on Tuesday and Jaro in Edmonton, and then we'll just see from there."
* Sobotka dinged up -- Sobotka, who assisted on Stewart's overtime winner over the Ducks Saturday, left practice a little early Monday.
There's nothing serious going on, according to Hitchcock. The team didn't need him on the ice anymore.
"He got banged up the last game so we told him (to practice) 45 minutes," Hitchcock said. "He wanted to stay longer, but we kicked him off after 45 minutes. When the team stuff was done, we were done with him."
Sobotka's line with Jaden Schwartz and Tarasenko drew rave reviews from their coach.
"It was one of the best lines on the ice on the weekend and it was one of the best lines at practice today," Hitchcock said. "They look like they've got real chemistry right now."
* Buy-in close -- Even before the Blues went on this recent stretch of five wins in six games, there were remnants in the game they were trying to recapture even in the losses leading up to the current run.
"It's approaching. We're getting better," Hitchcock said. "There's a better response when we get pushed rather than hanging our heads and slumping our shoulders. We're perking up now, so that's a good sign. We're going to get pushed really hard here with nine of the next 12 on the road. But I liked the way we've perked up right now. It couldn't have come at a better time."
"(We're) doing a lot of the same things we did last year," McDonald said. "This team seems to be competing harder on pucks now. We get up by a goal or we get the lead, we seem to protect it better. Defensively we're more sound.
"Early in the year we were making mistakes we never made last year. For the most part, I think those have been eliminated from our game. We pride ourselves on our team defense. I think it's been pretty sound at home here the last little bit."