Elliott speaks; no suspension for Lee; Backes, Bouwmeester,
Steen, Gunnarsson all ailing; Allen to start; Butler, Lindbohm filling in well
HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- Martin Brodeur and Jake Allen took up their usual spots at the optional practice the Blues conducted Tuesday.
Brian Elliott, out since sustaining an MCL knee sprain two weeks ago, took to the ice to do some light work with teammates. Elliott had been skating off and on by himself and has been riding the bike.
He spoke for the first time to the media since being injured against the Ottawa Senators on Nov. 25.
The last visual Blues fans had of Elliott was him skating off -- on his own power -- and chucking his goal stick down the runway leading to the locker room.
"You know when something happens, but I was able to skate and walk off on my own power so it wasn't as bad as it could be," Elliott said. "But it's still frustrating and that's why I probably threw my stick. I think anybody can understand that one. You're having a good game first of all in a good season. You just want to keep in there and keep playing. It's frustrating to get out, but luckily something like this happened at the start of the year and not at the end."
Although Elliott is not near a return, his rehab is going according to schedule, and for an injury he's sustained previously, he knows when to push the buttons and when not to.
I've had the same injury twice before, one on both knees," Elliott said. "It's not something you can't come back from. Like I said right after I did it, last time this happened, I came back and we won a national championship. It's something you can come back strong from. Everything like this that happens, it makes you a little bit more mentally tough. You try to take that positive away.
"I've had some good days, some bad days and that's to be expected. That's just a part of the healing process. We just need to try and take care of it as much as we can. ... It's just all about trying not to push it too far but trying to take it to the edge where you're getting better."
Elliott has been able to travel with the Blues to their away games and take part in any rehab process scheduled.
I don't feel too left out," he said.
When Elliott might practice is a different story.
"I have no idea," he said. "It's how you feel every day. It's a day to day thing you have to take into account. You just go from there.
"... Part of the healing process is feeling that pain and kind of letting everything kind of heal itself up."
Elliott, who's 8-4-1 with a 1.84 goals-against average and .931 save percentage, is doing his best to return as quickly as possible. The Blues have gone 4-2-0 since he departed the lineup and doesn't know what to make of the situation when the Blues have three available, healthy, NHL-ready goalies.
"I'm just trying to get better myself," Elliott said. "You want the team to keep winning while you're out. We've had some pretty big injuries with (Jay Bouwmeester) being out and (Alexander Steen) now. (David Backes) taking that shot to the face, like little things are gonna happen throughout the year. Any way that comes in, you want them to do well and keep the team rolling.
"... I don't think you're going to be 100 percent for a while. It's trying to get to a point where you feel comfortable getting out there playing and you're not going to hurt yourself, you're not going to hurt your team. It takes a while and you just have to mentally handle that."
For now, Elliott and Allen flank Brodeur in the Blues' locker room at the Ice Zone, something he never thought he would see.
"It's a little weird," Elliott said. "I never thought that would happen. It's kind of hard to describe. You just wanna soak as much in as possible. Soak in as much information and seeing the way he handles himself. He's been around for a while for a reason and has all those records for a reason. It's definitely pretty cool.
"Me and Jake are watching sometimes. His way of playing is a little different than ours and a lot of guys out there, but he still gets it done, so that's fun to watch."
Defenseman Ian Cole summed it up best after the win Monday.
"We have an NHL All-Star, we have the best goalie ever and we've got perhaps a two-time All-Rookie Team goalie," Cole said. "We're very lucky, we're very spoiled. Obviously playing good team defense helps out, just like they help us out."
* Backes ailing -- Backes, who left the 4-2 victory Monday against the Florida Panthers after being drilled in the mouth by a T.J. Oshie one timer that caromed off a stick, then came back for four shifts in the second period, only to leave for the third, was not one of eight skaters (plus three goalies) on the ice Tuesday.
"He's not well today," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said of Backes. "He's got a lot of discomfort, so he was told to stay away. Hopefully he comes back tomorrow and he's able to participate in some function, whether it's on a bike ride or whatever, but he's in no shape to participate today at all."
Backes received 12 stitches to gashes in his mouth and lower lip. He finished with 4 minutes, 41 seconds of ice time and eight shifts and wore a cage when he returned in the second period.
"He was trying, but he was gone," Hitchcock said. "He was not even remembering what was going on on on the ice and stuff like that so we needed to get him. We needed to get him out of the game."
Hitchcock ruled out any sort of concussion-like symptoms.
"No, that's not an issue," Hitchcock said. "This is strictly ... unfortunately this is three lacerations in the same place, plus now he's dealing with the lower lip, too. There's a lot of significant discomfort in that area. It's something you have to use every day, every moment. He's just in a lot of discomfort right now, so we'll see where he is in the next 24 hours.
"No, not ruling him out (for Thursday). I think we've just got to be smart and careful about this."
It's been a rash of unfortunate injuries for Backes in the past few seasons from concussions to a broken toe, facial lacerations, among others.
"That's exactly what it is. It's also the price you pay for going in the hard areas," Hitchcock said. "He's the one guy that's willing to stand in there (on) the shot. You've got to give him a lot of credit. A lot of guys would jump out of the way, try to tip it. He stands there and absorbs the shot, which has quite frankly helped us score a lot of power play goals in the last three years. This is just the downside of that happening."
It's also inspiring to his teammates.
"That's why he's our leader and we needed to find a way to win that game for him," center Maxim Lapierre said of Backes.
* Bouwmeester, Steen questionable; Gunnarsson out -- Bouwmeester skated Tuesday on his own prior to his teammates taking the ice, as he continues to work his way back from a groin injury sustained Nov. 22 against the Senators. Bouwmeester has missed the past eight games.
Steen (lower body) also missed practice and has missed two games since injuring himself at Nashville and defenseman Carl Gunnarsson (upper body) is suffering from concussion-like symptoms following a hit by the New York Islanders' Anders Lee on Saturday.
"I wouldn't count anybody in or out right now," Hitchcock said. "We had obviously Bouwmeester skated today. Our hope is that he's able to practice with us tomorrow. Steen wasn't out today. We had some various aches and bumps.
"I think it's better to read how we do at practice tomorrow, who's on the ice, who participates and who doesn't. I would say we're right at the roster right now. The 20 that we're starting the game, our hope is to get back to that number the next game."
* No discipline for Lee -- The National Hockey League's Department of Player Safety issued their ruling for the hit to the head from Lee on Gunnarsson, and after a hearing Monday, no suspension will be involved, but Lee was fined $2,286.29, which is the maximum allowed under the Collective Bargaining Agreement for what was at the time called an illegal hit to the head. No penalty was called on the play.
"I'm not commenting on it," Hitckcock said. "The league already commented."
Gunnarsson is out indefinitely.
"The big picture is we're missing a good player," Hitchcock said. "That's the big picture for us. The rest is not relevant. Whatever gets decided, that's up to somebody else, but the big picture for us is we're missing a real good player who was really starting to improve. That's disappointing that he's not going to be able to play."
Blues fans have criticized Hitchcock and the team for for not sticking up for hits in recent seasons against some of the team's top players. With Gunnarsson as well as T.J. Oshie both taking head shots, the Blues didn't immediately send any sort of response with someone like Ryan Reaves. But Hitchcock feels his players respond accordingly and in timely fashion.
"My take is that the season is 82 games, and you've got to be careful how you judge on that," Hitchcock said. "My view is if you just become a reactionary team, then that is what you're going to do every game. There are opportunities to react every game, and if you're continually doing that stuff, then you're going to end up dealing with a high level of frustration.
"I've coached teams where we needed to get even the next shift or the next period, and all we did was just get messed up. In a lot of cases, we did get even, but we never won the hockey game. We never were able to create any rhythm in our season because we were just reacting to anything anybody did, and after a while, the word came out that if you touched them up, they were going to react ... right away. It's a long season. Players know who did what and you just deal with it. You move on. Players don't forget. They know. There's opportunities in different ways to get even, but I think if you're going to react to every hit out there, you're going to have a pretty unfocused hockey club, because at the end of the day, it is a long season. It's nine months, eight months. You can't lose sight of that."
With Lee coming to town with the New York Islanders on Thursday, could there be some fireworks?
"Whatever I say to them, you're going to be the last one to know that," Hitchcock joked to the media.
* Brodeur practices, Allen in goal Thursday -- After playing three games in five days after no competitive games in eight months, instead of taking a break, the 42-year-old Brodeur was skating and getting more work in looking to perfect his game.
"I think he wants to see more activity," Hitchcock said of Brodeur. "He saw a lot of activity today. Goalies that play a lot are what I call rhythm goalies. They need to get into rhythm. They need to see enough work to feel that they can just get in the rhythm. I don't think he feels like he's seen enough work yet. He needs to see more work, so he wants to get into that state where he can get into a little bit of a rhythm so he can help us out here."
Brodeur picked up career win No. 690 after his best game yet as a Blue with 32 saves Monday.
"He has the best numbers in league history for a reason," Cole said of Brodeur. "He's an unbelievable goalie, a great guy. Definitely learned so much from him. Really very, very lucky to have him here."
As for Allen, who was pulled after allowing three goals on 12 shots in the 6-4 come-from-behind win against the Islanders last Saturday, Hitchcock wants to get his 24-year-old rookie back in.
"He's just got to play. He's a good goalie," Hitchcock said of Allen, who is 8-3-1 with a 2.50 GAA and .908 save percentage. "He's had a great start to his career. He had a difficult game on the island, and he's got to get right back on the bicycle and get pedaling again. So he gets that team again, and I'm sure he's going to play well. He's a big part of our future. We've got to keep him going."
* Butler, Lindbohm filling in well -- With recent injuries to Bouwmeester and now Gunnarsson, defensemen Chris Butler and Petteri Lindbohm, recalled from the Chicago Wolves recently, both have filled the void left by two defensemen that play in the top four.
Butler, a Kirkwood native and free agent signing in the off-season from the Calgary Flames, has recently been paired with Alex Pietrangelo and Lindbohm stepped into Gunnarsson's role to play with Kevin Shattenkirk.
"He's done a great job," Hitchcock said of Lindbohm. "Butler's really started to absorb a lot of ice. Chris has to play a lot more than I'm sure he even in his wildest dreams thought he'd play.
"Thank God we've had that depth on the back end. When we gave up Leopold, we had a lot information that Butler was playing really well and he deserved to come back in the National Hockey League, so that information looks like it's been true, and then we've always liked Lindbohm. We played him a lot in exhibition hoping that he'd make the grade or get close to it and that's what he's done. Now he's come up and exactly helping us out. We like our mix. We like our depth now. We've got eight guys who we feel comfortable playing. Unfortunately we've got a couple significant guys ... when you're missing two of your top four, it puts a lot of onus in the other areas of your team. We're much better when those two guys are back in."
Butler, who had a tough time during camp finding his role, really had grasped the system.
"When things don't go right, he's still pretty resilient," Hitchcock said of Butler. "That's what we like. He's not discouraged by a mistake or something going wrong. He's plowing through that stuff, which is a good sign for us."
What makes him a good partner for Pietrangelo?
"Skates. They both trust each other skating," Hitchcock said. "They exit. They get by the forecheck. I think the big thing is when they're on top of their game, they stay ahead of the forecheck. That helps us a lot."