By LOU KORAC
ST. LOUIS -- Blues defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk, who's missed the past 16 games after an abdominal injury that had him have surgery, took the ice along with fellow defenseman Zbynek Michalek (concussion) for the team's morning optional skate.
Shattenkirk, who was injured Feb. 1 against the Washington Capitals, took part in line rush drills and has been on the ice for a couple weeks now. His status is still week-to-week, but the recovery seems to be progressing nicely.
"They've felt good," Shattenkirk said of the recent skates. "I guess about a week ago now, the scar tissue released and that kind of spooked me a little bit. They say if that happens, just take some time, take a day off, let it rest and it's going to feel better, and it has. The groin is still something that I need to work on and strengthen and then once that gets back, hopefully I can jump into real team practices and then get my conditioning back and ready for games."
Shattenkirk got tangled up with the Capitals' Alex Ovechkin in the first period. He went down immediately and crumpled over in the corner before skating off the ice crunched over.
"It was a weird play," said Shattenkirk, who tore his right groin and the ab off the right and left side of his pubic bone . "I just kind of bumped Ovechkin and fell down. Really, it was I tried to get up, as I was sliding, my toes seemed to get caught in the ice and open my leg up as my body was still moving. I just felt a pop and instant pain in my belly and in my groin. I knew right away something was really bad. I've had little tweaks before, but this one felt instantly like it was something was wrong.
"That's the thing, I didn't really know what to expect, what it could have been. Once they gave the MRI, they showed the MRI and said that it was essentially torn off the bone at both spots on the right side and then on the left side in the ab as well. It was pretty amazing to know that that little play caused so much damage."
Shattenkirk said the injury came at a bad time. He was in a race with Calgary Flames defenseman Mark Giordano for most points among defensemen (Shattenkirk has 40 and he was first in power play points at the time with 24).
"Yeah, it was very tough to swallow," Shattenkirk said. "I think right away I knew that it was going to be something major. It wasn't like I had to sit around for a little while, wait to see if it got better and then get something done. I kind of had it in my mind the whole time that this was going to be something that needed to be repaired. Once I found out that it was only going to be a six-week, seven-week recovery, and you look at the schedule and you see that you're going to be back in time for the last final stretch and the playoffs, I think that as a player really motivates you and doesn't allow you to really get down on yourself and think about the 'what-ifs.'
"My doctor in Philly, Dr. (William) Meyers, is someone who is very confident in knowing what the injury is, how to repair it and has been pretty progressive in repairing these things and become the go-to guy in this stuff. When I went there, I just felt comfortable that he knew how to handle it and what to do. He kind of kept me calm and kept me at ease. For that week that stayed there, I was very active in my rehab. About 2 hours or so, an hour after surgery, I was upstairs walking and working on it already. So it was crazy."
Shattenkirk said there's no target date for his return, but he's getting close.
"Yeah, it feels on track," he said. "We're kind of taking it on a week to week basis. This Thursday, I believe, will be five weeks out. It's just going by the protocol and following it. I think as I talk to the doctors, and we kind of see how I'm feeling and what next steps we can take, that's all you can really do. But I'm pushing for the six-week mark and I want to make that mark. But I also want to come back and be 100 percent and obviously every knows that. I wouldn't be helping the team out coming back any less than that, I think."
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Defenseman Jay Bouwmeester (illness), who missed Saturday's 6-1 win at Toronto, is "available for selection," according to coach Ken Hitchcock. Bouwmeester skated this morning. Center Olli Jokinen (upper body), who departed in the third period Saturday, also skated.
"Jokinen won't play tonight, but he'll be ready for Thursday," Hitchcock said. "We want him to have one more practice with us, so he'll be good to go. He could have played tonight, but we'd like to see him participate in a full practice so (Marcel) Goc will take his place today."
Goc will take go back in after being a healthy scratch Saturday.
"I guess sometimes (it's good to rest), but I wanted to play last game," Goc said. "I hope I'm in tonight and stay there.
"We have a very deep team, especially the forwards. We just got Olli. He's not a first-year guy; he's been around and knows how to play the game. I think it was an emotional game for him as well playing against Toronto. I'll take it day by day and see what happens."
Bouwmeester, who held the NHL's longest ironman streak (737) until it broke earlier this season with a groin injury, made it sound as if he would be good to go.
"I think so. We'll see," he said. "It happens. There's nothing you can do. We have very capable guys. If you can't play, you can't play.
"We've dealt with some injuries and different things throughout the year fairly well. We have lots of depth. There's always guys sitting out that probably on other teams are regular players. Kind of tough sometimes for guys, but it's a good problem for a team to have.
Hitchcock likes Jokinen's professionalism.
"Really good," he said. "I like the fact that those old guys get in the same time the coaches do, so they're keeping everybody honest. They beat three of our coaches in, so we're going to speak to the coaches about that.
"Olli's the type of guy who's looking at this as a great opportunity to really help the team. He's winning to do anything and everything to help our team win hockey games. It doesn't matter how much he plays, where he plays, what position he plays. He doesn't care. Just what can I do to help. The same attitude that 'Z' has, which quite frankly is really refreshing."
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The implications are slightly different, but the common denominator for both the Blues and Jets is two points.
The two Central Division rivals will square off against one another Tuesday, and for the Blues (41-19-5), it's another chance to chase down the division-leading Nashville Predators, who lead St. Louis by four points (91-87). However, the Blues have three games in hand.
"I don't spend too much time looking at it, but we can't control what happens to them," Blues captain David Backes said of the Predators. "We've played our games against them and we can control what we do and that's two points on the line when we're playing our games and we move forward to the next two. If we take care of our business, play our brand of hockey, things will just work themselves out. Regardless of playing in the playoffs, if you wanna reach the goal that we have in mind, you're going to have to play each team or the best of the best and find a way to win. We're going to take that mentality moving forward."
The Blues have had success against the Jets (33-21-12, 78 points), who are three points clear of the Los Angeles Kings for the second wild-card spot in the Western Conference. The Blues are 6-0-1 against the Jets since Winnipeg's move to the Western Conference last season, but five of those seven games have been one-goal games and the other two were two-goal games.
"I like these games," Hitchcock said. "They're real barometers of your team. They're fun to coach in. I think the players enjoy playing these games. Really for two years now, every game's been really close. There's not much difference between the two teams. I like them. I think they give you great evaluation post-game of what you like, what needs to get worked on. We looked at the game in Winnipeg. They were better than us in the first half and we were probably better than them in the second half; it was that even of a game. Their games with us are great barometers of what your team is play, your strengths and weaknesses are."
The Jets are doing all they can to stay ahead of the pack of teams trying to chase them down, and starting the four-game road trip against Nashville with a 3-1 victory was a good start for them.
"The effort was as good as I've seen in an awful long time," Jets coach Paul Maurice said. "They played hard, too. We're going to expect that kind of game tonight. We expect that from ourselves. It's not always an easy level to get to. That's our challenge."
The Jets feel a win against the Blues could go a long way. They've been on he wrong side of the final result the past two seasons but don't feel like they're far off.
"For an awfully long time, they've been really, really tight games," Maurice said. "I don't think we've walked away from too many games against St. Louis and felt that we didn't play well, play hard. They have to. They bring that out in your game. Just one more of everything, and it's the extra shot on goal, the extra blocked shot. There's not going to be any major system changes or line changes that shake anything loose. It's a battle for every inch on the ice and you've just got to win one more of everything."
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The Blues' projected lineup:
Alexander Steen-David Backes-T.J. Oshie
Jaden Schwartz-Jori Lehtera-Vladimir Tarasenko
Dmitrij Jaskin-Paul Stastny-Patrik Berglund
Steve Ott-Marcel Goc-Ryan Reaves
Carl Gunnarsson-Alex Pietrangelo
Petteri Lindbohm-Jay Bouwmeester
Barret Jackman-Robert Bortuzzo
Brian Elliott will start in goal. Jake Allen will be the backup.
Healthy scratches include Chris Butler and Chris Porter. Olli Jokinen (upper body) is day to day. Kevin Shattenkirk (abdomen) and Zbynek Michalek (concussion) are on injured reserve.
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The Jets' projected lineup:
Andrew Ladd-Adam Lowry-Michael Frolik
Drew Stafford-Mark Scheifele-Blake Wheeler
Jiri Tlusty-Jim Slater-Lee Stempniak
Chris Thorburn-Eric O'Dell-Anthony Peluso
Toby Enstrom-Tyler Myers
Mark Stuart-Jacob Trouba
Jay Harrison-Adam Pardy
Michael Hutchinson will start in goal. Ondrej Pavelec will be the backup.
The healthy scratches are TJ Galiardi and Paul Postma. Dustin Byfuglien (upper body), Bryan Little (upper body), Mathieu Perreault (lower body), Ben Chariot (undisclosed), Grant Clitsome (back) and Matt Halischuk (lower body) are out with injuries.