Steen, Tarasenko absent from practice; Bortuzzo
closer to returning; conference final rematch next up
ST. LOUIS -- The Blues were missing two significant pieces to their forward corps Wednesday in practice but are hopeful both will be available to play against the San Jose Sharks on Thursday.
Alexander Steen and Vladimir Tarasenko were absent from practice at Scottrade Center.
Steen was the obvious one after smacking the back of his head against the corner glass after engaging for a puck battle with Buffalo Sabres defenseman Josh Gorges.
Steen would leave the game twice during the second period, finish it but did not return for the third in a 4-1 victory against the Sabres.
Tarasenko, who extended his points streak to six games (two goals, six assists) apparently was dinged up during the game, too, but was able to finish it.
Coach Ken Hitchcock said both were given maintenance days for the full practice.
"Both (Steen) and 'Vladi' were given maintenance days today," Hitchcock said. "Hopefully we'll have them both in the lineup tomorrow fresh and ready to go.
"(Tarasenko) needed a maintenance day today. Both guys needed it. We decided to switch it up and have a full practice today and it wouldn't have done them any good, so get them ready for tomorrow, both guys."
In their respective spots, Dmitrij Jaskin moved up from the third line to take Steen's spot with Jaden Schwartz and Paul Stastny, and Ty Rattie filled the hole left by Tarasenko with Robby Fabbri and Jori Lehtera.
Nail Yakupov, a healthy scratch Tuesday, moved into Jaskin's spot with David Perron and Patrik Berglund.
* Bortuzzo getting closer -- Defenseman Robert Bortuzzo took part in his first full practice since sustaining a lower-body injury Oct. 27 against the Detroit Red Wings.
Bortuzzo, who injured himself near the Blues bench trying to get one last hit in on the Red Wings' Dylan Larkin after coming out of the penalty box, has missed the past nine games.
"I feel good. I'm definitely getting close," Bortuzzo said. "I'm kind of just building every day, don't want to take any steps backwards, so we're working hard and chomping at the bit. Definitely miss being in the room with the guys for games and whatnot. We're doing everything we can to get back as soon as possible.
"I started skating on Sunday and then through the week. Today was a full practice for myself, engaged in a lot things I haven't so it's definitely a good step forward.
"Obviously I play with a high intensity and emotion. I had a chance to kind of get a hit coming out of the box. It was a bizarre play, but a lot of times that's how a lot of these things happen. You can prepare your body as much as you can, but some instances, it's out of your hands and that's the way things go and works. Fortunately, it was something that don't put you out for too long of time."
Bortuzzo is questionable for the game against the Sharks, but more likely to be ready Saturday against the Nashville Predators.
"It's hard to say," Bortuzzo said. "We're going to obviously re-evaluate things every morning the next day, how you respond to things. I can feel myself getting closer. I want it to be as soon as possible obviously.
"Engaging, down low, pushing and pressing. It's obviously hard to simulate an exact game. You want to do as much as you can to take steps in the right direction."
Hitchcock seemed more optimistic but remained cautious.
"Today was the first day that he went full in every aspect of practice," Hitchcock said. "If he feels good tomorrow morning, then he would be cleared for availability, but we still have to wait to see how he comes out tomorrow morning and how he feels physically. This was the first real go of physicality. He participated in practice until it got into closed quarters, and then he pulled back. Today he went full-out with everything. We'll see how he feels.
"I think you look at the combination of him and (Joel) Edmundson, they give us an attitude. We knew what we were going to get into at the start of the year. We knew this attitude was going to carry us and they've been missing. When they come back, they're going to come back to open arms. We're really excited to get them back in."
Bortuzzo was watching from the press box when Fabbri dropped the gloves for his second NHL fight with Gorges.
"I was smiling ear-to-ear," Bortuzzo said. "Obviously I have a high appreciation for things like that. I think most of the guys in the room do. It's obviously something that happened after the Steen play. He's a huge leader in our room and I think he did it a couple games ago for another guy. It just shows how we're obviously building in the right direction and everybody has a high appreciation for a guy putting his body on the line like that."
* Rematch with the Sharks -- The Blues (8-6-3) will go head-to-head with the Sharks (9-7-0) for the first time since the teams squared off in the Western Conference Final last spring.
The Sharks won that series in six games and went on to face the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Stanley Cup Final, a series the Penguins won in six games to win their fourth title.
"It was a shoulda, woulda, coulda type of scenario, but San Jose beat us flat-out and something that we have to deal with, and they're a team that we have to focus on beating if we want to get to that position next year," Blues defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk said.
"It was obviously a disappointing way to end the year being two wins away from the Stanley Cup Final," center Kyle Brodziak said. "We've got obviously a lot of respect for their team and how they play the game. We know it's going to be a difficult game, but in saying that, we've got to have the confidence if we go out and play our game, we're going to give ourselves a good chance to win.
"I don't think too many of us have forgotten about it. Hopefully, we'll come out and show it tomorrow. It's a new year, and last year was last year, but they know the type of tam they have over there and we know the type of team we have over here. We're playing for this year. There's a potential you'll see them later on in the year in a situation like that and we want to set the tone for sure."
The Blues, who lost Game 5 at home and the series-clincher for the Sharks in Game 6 in San Jose, should be motivated by the encounter.
"You think about it," Shattenkirk said. "I think you want to have some sort of taste of revenge in your mouth when you think about those guys in the other locker room. At the same time, we have to make sure that we focus on what we did last night and how much better it looked last night than it did in Columbus. We have to take that into San Jose and realize that we have a really good team that we're playing, too."
"Right now we'll take any motivation we can get to play those guys," Hitchcock said of the Sharks. "They're an awfully good team, very very deep in every aspect, well-coached. We've got our work cut out; I think our players know that, too. I think we'll be ready. They lost 1-0 on the road, so you know they're going to be ready. I think it's going to be upon us to make it a heck of a hockey game because they beat us out, they were better than us at the end of the year, and now it's up to us to start taking back some ground.
"... I think they're the deepest group of forwards in the West; I think they're the deepest group. They've got four lines. Their fourth line plays as a third line. That's the challenge. There's no place to take a breath, so you really have to dig in. We're just going to have to be ready. We just don't want them to dictate the pace and that's what they want to do and they're good at it. They had a tough start and now they're really going. It should be a heck of a hockey game."
The Sharks come to St. Louis on the heels of a 1-0 loss at Carolina on Tuesday.
* Building momentum -- The Blues want to build off Tuesday night's victory, something they've had issues for the most part doing.
After losses at Nashville last Thursday (3-1) and that drubbing at the hands of Columbus last Saturday (8-4), the Blues got back on track with the win against the Sabres. Now it's all about pushing forward.
"We're pushing," Hitchcock said. "We're pushing to get better defensively, get better offensively, keep up the high level of compete, lots of good stuff again today. It's players understanding about improving daily and they're really putting focus into it right now, so another good day, another real good day.
"Short (practice) but intense. Probably too long for the players, but always short for the coach. Overall, happy again. A lot of good stuff, a lot of improving qualities. I think the players saw when they did things yesterday and did it well, how successful they were and then they saw the stuff we need to get better at. We worked today a lot of things we need to get better at, we worked at today again."
Shattenkirk said the Blues forced the Sabres to wear down by constantly retrieving pucks.
"Our forwards did a great job last night of 1) hunting the puck down and making it uncomfortable on their d-men," Shattenkirk said. "I think their d-men looked like last night they were tired of going back for pucks and getting pucks and when you start to see that and when you sense that blood, we pounced on it. It was something I tip my cap to the forwards because we didn't let off last night and I think that's the most important thing."
It all started with strong puck possession.
"I think it all starts with your percentage of starting with the puck," Hitchcock said. "Yesterday was the highest percentage we had of starting with the puck in a long time. That starts the ball rolling and then we were willing to put it into areas that we could retrieve it. That's another real good sign. We've had a lot of these games where we've played awful well and it just seemed like every time we cracked, something went in our net.
"We did a lot of great things in Nashville and Chicago game and we weren't rewarded with any extension on the goals. We had so many chances in the Nashville game to extend this and everybody would be talking about how great we were doing, but we seemed to not be able to extend leads like we think we have to to win in the National Hockey League. Rather than bemoan about it, we're just going about if it's 1-0, we're going to keep going and keep playing and keep playing the same way. That's what I liked yesterday. We got a real push in the second period from them, and then the last half of the second period from them, and then the last half of the second period and the third, we did a great job."
But when push came to shove, the Blues got back to good old-fashioned physicality but channeled their emotions in the right way aside from a few minor penalties that still need to be cleaned up.
"I think it was just staying within the foundation of our game, staying patient with that," Brodziak said. "We gave up the first goal early, and I think it was good we didn't let it rattle us. We bounced back pretty well and it paid off in the third. I think that's when our patience finally paid off. It was nice to see us get rewarded for that.
"We have to use that as a building block for our game."