Monday, March 18, 2013

McDonald set to return; Oshie getting closer

Veteran has missed 10 games with knee injury; Oshie could get in over weekend

HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- First, it was Alexander Steen. Then it was Vladimir Tarasenko.

Andy McDonald ... you're next in line for a return to the Blues' lineup.

McDonald was on the ice Monday before the Blues departed on a Western Canadian trip that first takes them to Vancouver, participating in a full practice on a line with Patrik Berglund and David Perron.
(St. Louis Blues/Mark Buckner)
Andy McDonald is expected to return Tuesday in Vancouver after
missing the previous 10 games with a knee injury.

McDonald has missed nearly three weeks since suffering a left knee injury in practice after an awkward collision with teammate Vladimir Sobotka.

After the Blues went virtually unscathed in the early portion of their schedule, then suddenly players began falling like dominoes. First, it was Jamie Langenbrunner's season-ending hip surgery, then Tarasenko's concussion in Colorado, followed by both Steen (upper-body) and McDonald being hurt seconds apart at practice, to T.J. Oshie (upper-body) going down last week.

But McDonald, who's missed 10 games, feels fit and ready enough to return to a team that's catching fire again, winning five of six games.

"The plan is to play tomorrow," McDonald said after Monday's practice. "I was feeling pretty good. It's been a difficult injury to recover from, especially for me when I rely heavily on my skating. The knee is a tricky part and you need it for everything you do. It's been tough, but I'm really excited to be back."

Blues coach Ken Hitchcock, when asked if McDonald had the green light, erred on the side of caution.

"Not yet. We'll see in the morning how he feels," Hitchcock said. "Today was really the first time that he's participated with 20 guys on the ice. He's always done more individual work. If he feels fine tomorrow and feels confident, then we'll look at putting him in. I wouldn't even want to guess now until we see him in the morning."

But Hitchcock ultimately leaves the decision up to his players.

"At the end, he's the one that makes the decision," Hitchcock said of McDonald. "It's important. I think putting pressure on the player or having the player feel like he's pressured to be able to go on the ice is not a good thing to do at all.

"Right now, he's felt good, but today, he had to amp it up and prove to us first of all that he can participate in a full activity that he showed that he could easily do. Now we'll see how he feels coming out of a flight and rehabbing and everything. We'll see how he feels."

McDonald, who had 11 points (three goals, eight assists) when he left the lineup, adds to a Blues team that is finding balanced scoring, solid goaltending and shutdown defense.

Sound familiar? Maybe a lot like last year's team.

"Obviously we've had some injuries and sickness last game," McDonald said. "It's been exciting. The team's played really well the last couple weeks and we seem to be on a roll. The guys coming back just need to contribute and keep this thing going. We're all headed into an important stretch of hockey games. We want to continue to improve and keep getting better."

Berglund, who has 13 goals and 17 points in 28 games, could get an offensive infusion playing alongside McDonald.

"He's a big part of this hockey team," Berglund said of McDonald. "He's a good leader, a good player. We've obviously been missing him a whole lot, so it's nice that he's getting better and coming back.

"I think he provides pretty much everything. He's an overall good player. He's good in both ends, his speed and his technique and all that. His skill level is really high. He's always contributing big-time to this team. It's nice to have him back."

If McDonald does play with Berglund and Perron, he's ready.

"Yeah, that's how we practiced today. I don't know if that'll be the line tomorrow, but we've had some experience before," he said. "I think a little bit last year, we've had a handful of games together.

"I'm familiar with both players. We have a lot we can contribute. We're all different types of players. In reality, we need everybody to contribute. For us to be the team that we can be, we need everybody up and down the lineup. We have the ability to provide a lot of offense, but we need to be strong defensively as well."

Oshie, who left last Tuesday's 4-2 win over San Jose, was also skating Monday, pushing himself hard but not taking the full element of body contact just yet. He has 17 points (five goals, 12 assists) in 26 games.

Oshie was placed on injured-reserve Saturday to make room for Tarasenko, and his IR move is retroactive to Tuesday, which means he will be unavailable to play against the Canucks but could very well get back in by Saturday's game at Edmonton.

"I would like to," Oshie said. "I've been progressing pretty fast. I came back from injuries pretty fast in the past. I'm hoping next weekend I'm ready to go.

"... I don't think there's much I can do to it. As long as the boys aren't running me through the boards, I'm pretty much fine. I just have to get some strength back, that's all."

Oshie originally was hurt playing in San Jose on March 9 when he had a hard collision with the Sharks' Matt Irwin but stayed in the game and played the following night in Anaheim. He went to check the Sharks' Brent Burns, which looked harmless enough, but was in obvious pain.

"He didn't even hit me that hard," Oshie said of Burns. "Just stood his ground, our bodies just crunched and I was KO'd.

(St. Louis Blues/Mark Buckner)
T.J. Oshie, who will miss his third straight game Tuesday, could return to
the Blues' lineup as early as Saturday.
"I already knew what it was originally. So when it happened the second time, I just figured it was a tweak. I thought I was going to be back in the training room for five minutes and be back out and it just wouldn't go away. ... It feels alright. I had a really good skate yesterday conditioning-wise. That's not going to be an issue, but I'm taking it kind of one step at a time. I want to get back as soon as I can. It's just a matter of when I come back, I don't want to be a burden, I don't want to put my team in a bad position because I'm not strong enough in one area to make a play. When I feel like I'm back and I can help the team, I'll be in the lineup."

Said Hitchcock: "We're anticipating getting an evaluation on him after Whistler (British Columbia, where the Blues will spend three days north of Vancouver before going to Alberta) so we'll let everybody know after Whistler.

"He's probably a 65 percent participant in practices and with six more days before we play, he'll be a full participant in Whistler."

When asked if this was a good time to get back in, Oshie quipped: "I actually said to Backs (David Backes) today looking around at the lines and who's all playing well, it's going to be hard to find a spot to fit me in here. It's going to be fun.

"The boys are playing great. I got excited up there in the press box watching. I almost ripped my suit when (Kris Russell) scored the other night. It's fun to see, fun to watch."

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