Steen to IR; McDonald skates; Tarasenko rides
bike; Elliott to start; Cracknell, Porter play well
By LOUIE KORAC
HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- When the Blues' season began, Andy McDonald, Alex Steen and rookie Vladimir Tarasenko was the hottest line going in the NHL.
All three were producing points at a rapid pace, Steen here more recently than early on. But all three are down with injuries at the present time but there's been some minor developments regarding all three.
McDonald (knee) and Steen (upper-body) were both injured during Tuesday's practice and have not played since, but McDonald was on the ice Saturday morning for an optional skate at the team's training facility.
McDonald was put on injured-reserve retroactive to Tuesday and was listed as week-to-week but made the team's flight for its five-game trip, beginning Sunday in Dallas.
"Yeah, he feels good," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said of McDonald, who cannot play at the very least until Tuesday but that might be a stretch. "We'll see. He makes the trip, then obviously that's a good sign. It was really good. He looks fine though."
Steen, who is tied for the team lead with 16 points along with Kevin Shattenkirk, was initially listed as day-to-day but the team put him on IR Saturday, retroactive to Tuesday. He did not accompany the team on its trip as the injury is a little more serious than originally thought.
"No, I don't think Steen's going to go," Hitchcock said. "I think we'll leave him here and condition him here." That would leave Steen's return as early as March 12 against San Jose.
As for Tarasenko, who's missed three games with concussion symptoms and a facial laceration on his lip suffered Feb. 20 at Colorado, Hitchcock said the Russian rookie "is riding the bike now. He's exercising." His return to the lineup depends on when he gets back on the ice and begins practicing. He was at practice Saturday but did not skate.
* Elliott to start -- The last time Brian Elliott saw game action, he and the Blues were getting booed off the ice in a tough homestand that saw the team go 0-3-1.
That was Feb. 11 against the defending Stanley Cup champs, the Los Angeles Kings, who put a 4-1 whipping on the Blues.
Elliott, who is 3-5-1 with a 3.57 goals-against average and .849 save percentage, will get the start Sunday when the Blues (11-7-2) play in Dallas against the Stars (10-9--2). It's a 2 p.m. puck drop.
Elliott has been nowhere near the form that saw him lead the NHL in goals-against (1.56) and save percentage (.940), while tying for the league-lead in shutouts (nine). So when Jake Allen was recalled from Peoria and helped right the ship and Jaroslav Halak has since returned from a groin injury, Elliott has been working in practice with goalie coach Corey Hirsch.
"You never want to feel like they're bad (times)," Elliott said. "It's just trying to get back to the same habits, the little things that you always do."
When asked what's been his focus, he said, "Stopping the puck.
"It's just the little habits, the mindframe that you know you're going to stop everything out there. Obviously that's always the goal, but sometimes you have to reset things and feel good about it again."
The Blues are in the middle of a 10-game, 17-day stretch and both goalies will have to be up to speed.
"Just be Ells. Just play," Hitchcock said when asked what he needs from his netminder. "This is a hard thing for him because you struggle and you don't play for a while. I think the first period's key. Be sound. He doesn't have to light it up. He looks fine right now. We'll just see moving forward.
"I think he took real good advantage of the things he needed to get better at. Now he's got to put them into place."
As much as he wanted to play more, Elliott called his recent time away from game action good.
"It's obviously good for our team that we came out and we won some games and started feeling good about our team game again," he said. "Sometimes it's good to step back and look at things and calm down a little bit and worry about what you need to worry about and now what everybody else needs to."
* Cracknell debut a good one -- Adam Cracknell, who's been shuttled often between Peoria and St. Louis the last couple seasons, is up with the Blues again with the recent injuries to their forward group.
Cracknell, who was scratched Thursday against Chicago, played well Friday, picking up an assist on Vladimir Sobotka's game-winner in the third period of a 4-2 win over Edmonton.
"Cracknell managed his ice well," Hitchcock said. "He was a smart player ... smart, competitive player. That's a really good sign for us because he's a guy you can trust to build minutes from.
"When I saw him play in Peoria (earlier in the season), he wasn't playing very well because he had a groin injury. He was sore, he was in and out of the lineup, he wasn't skating very well. He was struggling, and then they moved him to the wing and it seemed to really help him. But he plays 20 minutes a night in Peoria. He's really played well. He and (Chris) Porter both played really sound (Friday). It's a good sign."
* Porter better -- After debuting Against the Blackhawks Thursday, Porter also was in the lineup Friday and got an assist on Sobotka's goal.
Hitchcock called his game better from one night to the next.
"(Porter's) game is getting better and better," Hitchcock said. "He's getting more comfortable with the puck. This is a huge adjustment. They play a different game down there. They play a different style down there. This is a pretty big adjustment for all these guys that come in and all of the sudden have to start playing multiple minutes. It's not like you're bringing one guy. All of the sudden, three guys are in. That's huge."