HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- With news of St. Louis Blues winger Andy McDonald
returning to the ice just three days after crashing heavily into the boards, the Blues can breathe a sigh of relief.
McDonald suffered a shoulder contusion after first being slashed, then shoved from behind by Carolina's Tuomo Ruutu during Thursday's 2-0 loss to the Hurricanes.
"I guess it could have been worse," McDonald said. "That's always a positive, but obviously I could still be playing if (Ruutu) doesn't trip me and push me into the boards. I'm disappointed."
McDonald joins a plethora of injured players, including Alex Steen
(concussion), Matt D'Agostini
(concussion), Kris Russell
(concussion), Jason Arnott
(bumps and bruises) and now David Backes
(toe/foot) ailing because of injury for a team that became the first in the NHL to clinch a playoff berth Saturday and reach the 100-point mark (46-19-8).
McDonald, who arguably was the Blues' best player after returning following a 51-game absence due to a concussion, pitched in with 18 points in 17 games and gave the Blues a dynamic that had been missing since both he and perhaps Steen were playing at the same time.
"It Could Have Been Worse"Andy McDonald
returned to practice Sunday and is improving from a shoulder injury. As the season begins to wind down, the Blues appear to be getting healthier. (Getty Images)
"When you've got players like him on the ice, you have the puck all the time," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said of McDonald. "The best defense is to have the puck all the time. Every time he was out there, he was making plays, we had possession with the puck, we were creating scoring chances. It changes. When you're missing him, Steen, even Arnott to a certain extent, obviously when Backes went down (Saturday), we're a little bit different also.
"You just don't have the puck very much, so you've still got to win the game even though you don't have the puck. When you get it, you've got to make a direct play. When you don't have it, you better check like crazy. When Backes went down, we didn't have the puck very much and we still had to win the hockey game."
Half of McDonald's points had come in the last seven games and he was hoping to use the final stretch to get himself in even better position to be at his best, which was becoming quite evident out there.
"The play-making part of it, I thought that for me, I was getting frustrated early because there were a lot of times where I had chances to make plays to guys that were open and I seemed slow at times," McDonald said. "Around the net, I've had some bounces and stuff and I was able to score, so that helped out a lot. I felt like my last two games, I thought I was moving the puck, getting back to that form where I was being a play-maker. That's always the strong part of my game. That part of it was coming around, so that's hard because my play was coming around and now I have to go back out again. Obviously it's different this time. I'll be able to get back and not have much of a drop-off."
The team held an optional skate Sunday following a four-game trip in which the Blues were 2-1-1. McDonald was a full participant in drills and skating.
"It felt pretty good today," McDonald said. "I was able to do a lot of things. I guess it feels better than I thought it would at this point. I was happy to be able to skate and get out and do a lot of the drills."
Initially, the Blues said McDonald would be week-to-week.
"I don't think he's that far away from playing," Hitchcock said of McDonald. "I don't know when, but they're all going to go on the trip, including D'Agostini. Arnott's going to be on the trip, Backes on the trip, Mac's on the trip ... everybody's on the trip. We'll pick up Steen when we arrive. Hopefully Alex will skate with us on Tuesday or Wednesday and we'll just see where everybody's at."
Steen has been out of the lineup since Dec. 27 (37 games) and has spent the better part of the last two weeks in California with a concussion/spinal specialist. He will meet up with the team when they get to Anaheim on Tuesday for the start of a three-game swing on the west coast that also takes the Blues to Los Angeles and Phoenix. There's the possibility Steen could skate Tuesday or Wednesday to gauge his progress.
"I don't know where Alex is at," Hitchcock said. "He says he feels great. We'll just see when we get out. I don't know what the formula is. I just know he's going to meet us in Anaheim on Tuesday and we'll just see from there."
Backes, who's played in 185 consecutive games dating back to the 2009-10 season, blocked a shot on his left toe/foot late in Saturday's 3-1 win at Tampa Bay. He did not return but Hitchcock did say there were no broken bones and he is questionable for Wednesday.
"It's day-to-day, week-to-week," Hitchcock said. "It's all based on pain tolerance. These things hopefully heal real quick. It's not a big deal, but it isn't like it's a long-term injury."
D'Agostini, who did not accompany the team this past week, has been sidelined since Feb. 7 (21 games). He and Russell, out since Feb. 23 (12 games), were on the same path as far as potential returns but have not given Hitchcock that knock on the door yet. Both were on the ice Sunday.
"I don't know. He's not ready yet," Hitchcock said of Russell. "... He's close, but the player has to be convinced. There's no point in me having a conversation with him every day. Just tell me when you're ready."
Arnott missed the last two games, and it was by design that Hitchcock decided to sit the 37-year-old veteran to heal up from some bumps and bruises suffered down the stretch. He is also questionable for the start of the trip but skated without any issues Sunday.