Sobotka on verge of return; Perron returns to St. Louis; Blues looking to rebound
ST. LOUIS -- The Blues are on the verge of having more lineup decisions. It could happen for coach Ken Hitchcock as soon as today when the Blues take on the Edmonton Oilers.
Versatile forward Vladimir Sobotka, out since Jan. 31 with a fractured left kneecap, was on the ice once again for an optional skate Wednesday at Scottrade Center.
But it wasn't just a light-skating optional for Sobotka, who skated full-bore and was engaged in battle drills.
Hitchcock deemed Sobotka "close" and will make a decision after the morning skate whether Sobotka plays. All signs point to him returning after missing 12 games.
"We'll see tomorrow in the pregame skate," Hitchcock said Wednesday afternoon. "If he feels good, then he'll play. If not we'll wait another couple days. But he's really close right now."
Also, defenseman Jordan Leopold (ankle) is close, according to Hitchcock and could be available for the game against the Oilers.
Leopold's only played in 24 games this season that also includes missing extensive time with a finger injury.
"Leo's really close, too. I think he's close," Hitchcock said. "Both guys we'll see in the morning and make a decision."
However, Leopold didn't feel like he was ready quite yet.
"Not yet. We're getting there," Leopold said. "This is a slow process. It's been a terribly long season. A lot of lifting weights, a lot of watching hockey, which I'm not real fond of.
"I'm nearing what I think could possibly be a return but really no timetable. It's more how the lower-body injury feels."
The Blues will start Ryan Miller in goal Thursday. Miller is 4-0-1 with a 1.78 goals-against average and .925 save percentage since being acquired from the Buffalo Sabres.
* Perron returns -- David Perron has seen the Blues already twice this season when the two teams faced one another in Edmonton. But Perron will finally come full circle when he faces the Blues for the first time in St. Louis.
Perron, who leads the Oilers with 24 goals, will step onto Scottrade Center ice for the first time since being traded last summer for Magnus Paajarvi and a 2014 second round draft pick.
Perron and the Oilers skated at Scottrade Center Wednesday afternoon a night after a 4-3 shootout victory at Minnesota.
"I made sure I was focused on coming to the rink and making sure I went to the right dressing room, met a couple of the guys and stuff like that, so it was pretty cool," said Perron, who spent six seasons with the Blues after they drafted him in the first round of the 2007 NHL Draft.
"I really enjoyed my time here," Perron added. "Always have great memories obviously. It was nice to go see some of the staff that I got to know over the years.
"I kind of wish it was earlier in the year and we would still be in the race in a way and being a really meaningful game for the team as well and not only for me. That's the way the schedule is."
Perron is still a popular player among Blues hockey fans and should get a warm ovation from the Scottrade Center faithful.
"I know there's going to be a lot of fans that will enjoy to see me back here," Perron said. "That's the reason I joined Twitter a few years ago to be close with them. They still send me messages even when I play up there following my games. That's the biggest thing with hockey. It wouldn't be as much fun if there weren't 20,000 people cheering for either team every single night. I don't know what it's going to be like. All I know is I really have fun with it and I'll keep going."
Perron is third on the Oilers in scoring with 46 points behind Taylor Hall (61) and Jordan Eberle (50).
"He's a good player, period," Hitchcock said of Perron. "He's not just a good player for them, he was a good player for us, too. When we needed a different position, we had to make a decision."
* Blues look to rebound -- Two days after seeing their five-game winning streak snapped with a 3-2 overtime loss to the Dallas Stars, the Blues (44-14-7) can increase their lead in the overall NHL standings with a victory against the Oilers (23-35-8), who are 3-1-1 in their past five games and 5-2-2 in the past nine.
"Those are the most dangerous teams if you look past them," Hitchcock said of the Oilers. "They're important points for us.
"Speed, speed, speed. It's not the track meet. They want to make you pay if you don't get the pucks deep. Both teams have a lot of skill and a lot of speed. We've got to do the same thing. They're built for speed, they're very good at it. We just don't want to allow them easy transition."
The Blues just want to fine-tune some areas in their game.
"I think our investment in the what we need to play is inconsistent," Hitchcock said. "We've got a month left in our season. We want to get playing our way more often. There's not a work ethic issue at all, but we are working in the wrong areas. We're having to work in areas that, for me quite frankly are not fun and exhausting. There's a better way to play. We show flashes of it. I want to see us get back to that. I want to see us manage the puck a lot better. I want to see us support the puck a lot better and I want to see a commitment to spending a lot more time in the fun zone, which is the offensive zone, and a lot less time in the quagmire, which is the neutral zone.
"We're really stuck in the neutral zone a lot right now. I think when you're stuck in the neutral zone a lot, it's exhausting. I think we're making work way harder than it needs to be. If we make a bigger commitment to getting back to what we do really well, then I think we're going to be in good shape because in prepping for playoffs, there is no 4-on-4 in playoffs and there is no shootouts ... unless they changed the rules yesterday. But for us, we've got to get back to better 5-on-5 play, more consistent 5-on-5 play and a bigger commitment to playing our north game. If we do that, then good things are going to happen."
More offensive zone time is a good place to start.
"We're not in there enough. It doesn't matter how you play, it's not in there enough; there isn't enough time in the zone," Hitchcock said. "You can't hammer in on the offensive details because we're not there enough. On a shift-by-shift basis, we're just not there enough. So we've got to get there. We've got to get there, get them bogged down and play the way we play. That's how you control the game. You control the game by making the other team uncomfortable and we're not making them near uncomfortable enough."
* Minor trade -- The Blues made a minor trade Wednesday, sending minor league defenseman Cade Fairchild to the Phoenix Coyotes for future considerations.
Fairchild, 25, had two goals and 21 points in 33 games for the American Hockey League's Chicago Wolves this season.
Fairchild, who was a seventh round pick by the Blues in 2007, played five games with the Blues in 2011-12. He has one assist in the NHL.