Blues remain mum on Game 1 lineup vs.
Blackhawks; Tarasenko appears closer than expected
HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- Even with the sight of David Backes and Vladimir Sobotka on the ice, Vladimir Tarasenko looking like he's not skipping a beat during the first full team practice since the regular season ended, Blues coach Ken Hitchcock is choosing to keep Blues fans on the edge of their seats in regards to a lineup for Game 1 of the Western Conference First Round matchup against the Chicago Blackhawks.
"I don't think you should read anything into our roster today," Hitchcock said after practice Wednesday at the Ice Zone. "I think we are literally going to be game-time decisions every day for a little while here. What you saw today, there's a good chance won't be what you'll see tomorrow. We've got guys in various stages, guys getting various treatment getting ready to play but as I said before, the one thing I can tell you, at some time during the series, everybody's going to be in. But I can't tell you if it's Game 1 or Game 5 or 6 or 7 or whatever. I wouldn't read anything into who's playing at practice the day before the game. I'd wait until you actually saw what was going on in either the pregame skate or more important, when the roster comes out for the start of the hockey game because we are going to be in that fluctuation and that's just the way it is.
|(St. Louis Blues/Mark Buckner)|
Are the Blues ready to insert Vladimir Tarasenko (left) into the lineup
Thursday against Chicago after sustaining a thumb injury March 15?
The team is keeping a tight lip on who's in, who's out.
"If we knew our roster like Chicago does, we'd let you know, and their roster is what it is and they've been able to practice with it for two or three days and ours is fluctuating."
Backes (foot) hasn't played since April 8 against the Washington Capitals when he blocked a teammate's shot midway through the second period. Sobotka (lower body) hasn't played since April 10 at Minnesota.
"I feel good," Backes said. "This is playoffs. This is what we play all year for. Getting up for these games shouldn't be at issue. Fighting through a few bumps and bruises for guys really makes that pain subside. We'll roll out 20 good bodies out there and we're going to stick together and play great hockey."
And how did Backes, who didn't skate Tuesday, look?
"You tell me," he joked to a large media throng around him. "It's a process to get back on the ice after not skating for a week. We've been on the bike and working on staying in shape so that it's a quick learning curve. Skate today, skate in the morning and be ready for real action tomorrow night."
Sobotka, who also didn't skate Tuesday, took a good step towards being ready to play.
"It's nice to have a full team on the ice, but I won't talk about injuries," Sobotka said. "That's a question for coaches. We'll decide and get a decision here.
"I felt pretty good, skated for the first time. It's a doctor's decision and coach's decision."
Barret Jackman and Alex Pietrangelo were both on the ice for a second straight day, as was Brenden Morrow (foot) and Vladimir Tarasenko (thumb), who hasn't played since March 15. But Tarasenko, who didn't speak with reporters, skated freely, was more engaged in battle drills, shot pucks more frequently and skated on a line with Sobotka and Jaden Schwartz, a dynamic line for the Blues before the rash of injuries.
"I skated with him two days ago and the way he's firing pucks and skating around, he might be in some of the best shape he's been in since he's been here with a couple weeks of bag skating, maybe close to puking, maybe pass that threshold a couple times," Backes said of Tarasenko. "Another guy that's dynamic. He can bring scoring to us. ... Hopefully, he's in the lineup (soon)."
The thought of having Tarasenko, who scored 21 goals and finished with 43 points this season, back in the mix will help the Blues' scoring woes of recent weeks, especially with its transition game and add more odd-man rushes.
The team was shut out in seven of the final 25 games after not being blanked the first 57 times.
"The analytics on him are that he's in the top 10 percent in the league on rush attack scoring chances, net shots, goals," Hitchcock said of Tarasenko. "When you miss a player like him, he's one of the best players at making you pay for making mistakes and then scoring off the rush."
And how did Tarasenko look in Hitchcock's eyes Wednesday?
"OK," Hitchcock said. "This is the first hockey practice he's had. He's starting the road back, he's trying to get back to where he feels like he's comfortable. He looked OK today."
T.J. Oshie (upper body), who skated Tuesday, was not on the ice Wednesday. Patrik Berglund (upper body) missed his second straight day and likely will not be ready in time for the opener.
"Guys who were out today could possibly skate tomorrow," Hitchcock said. "Guys that were in today are testing the waters and we'll see where they're at. We're in that area where you're seeing who can play right now. That's the way it's going to be until we can start playing games. I can tell you right now, we are not going to make a decision on anybody on this roster until we've got to put it in at 5:30.
"It is what it is. Some days it's easy and some days it's hard. This is the challenge for us. We're walking into our own roster. We know where (Chicago is) at. They haven't changed for three days now. Ours has changed. Everybody was all revved up yesterday who was on the ice and there's two or three of those guys that aren't on the ice today. You can't tell that stuff. For us, we'd like to have 30 guys on the ice, but that's not the way it is right now. We're taking guys in stages and see where they're at. Hopefully, a lot of the guys that practiced today get to play tomorrow. Hopefully, a couple guys that didn't practice today get back on the ice and get going right away and so on. ... We'd like to say these are our four lines and these are our six defensemen and away we go, but we can't do that because of where we're at. Maybe it changes for (Chicago) after two games, who knows. Right now, we're the team in a little bit of flux. We've just got to fight through it and get ready and get 20 in tomorrow."
|(St. Louis Blues/Mark Buckner)|
Blues captain David Backes (left), returned to practice Wednesday and
appears set to join thelineup Thursday against the Blackhawks.
Chicago is getting back their two best players (Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane). The Blues feel they're close to getting a full group back.
"I think it's something we were expecting in here," forward Alexander Steen said. "We know what's going on in here. We've just been getting ourselves quietly ready for what's coming."
Whoever the Blues can roster against the Blackhawks will help go along way.
"That's obviously huge," forward Derek Roy said. "At the end of the season it was tough not knowing who was going to play right before the game and not knowing who your linemates were. It was a tough stretch at the end of the season. We missed a lot of bodies and a lot of good players.
"It's refreshing to see that they're back in the lineup and skating today. We're going to need them."