ST. LOUIS -- The St. Louis Blues had two unexpected players on the ice during practice Tuesday. Their eventual return will help solidify a group looking to be healthy when the Stanley Cup Playoffs begin in mid-April.
Left wing Alexander Steen and goalie Brian Elliott stepped onto the ice roughly halfway into the Blues' practice at Scottrade Center.
Steen and Elliott worked on one side with assistant coach Sean Farrell on cardio drills while the rest of the Blues were practicing for their game Wednesday against the Chicago Blackhawks (8:30 p.m. ET; NBCSN, TVA Sports).
Seeing Steen and Elliott on the ice means the time for their respective returns is not far off.
"They've been skating for a little while," coach Ken Hitchcock said. "This is the first time the public's been able to see them. But they've been on the ice for 4-5 days now.
"We're glad to have them closer and closer. But until they join the start of something it's like everything else. We've learned not to get excited until they've been given the green light to start practicing with us because now you're counting days."
Steen has missed six games because of an upper-body injury sustained in a collision with Arizona Coyotes defenseman Kevin Connauton in the first period of a Feb. 20 game. Elliott has missed five games because of a lower-body injury sustained in the first period Feb. 22 against the San Jose Sharks.
The Blues are 3-3-0 without Steen but have won the past three; they're 3-2-0 without Elliott.
Video: STL@ARI: Steen gets shaken up during the 1st period
The plan was for Steen and Elliott to be re-evaluated four weeks after they were injured and that plan hasn't changed.
"I'm getting re-evaluated in two weeks," Steen said. "Up until then it's just work every day trying to keep my gas tank full and take it day-by-day.
"The time frame was we were going to re-evaluate it in four weeks; there's about two left. I'm not getting overly optimistic in the good days and not too hard on myself on the rough ones right now. It's two weeks to that point and we'll have another chat with the docs and see where I'm at."
Steen can return any time he's healthy. Elliott was placed on long-term injured reserve, so he has to miss at least five more games. The soonest he could return is March 19 against the Vancouver Canucks.
"It hasn't been slow at all," Elliott said of his progression. "It's two weeks out. Really pleased with how things are going. It's kind of already set. I'm on long-term IR, so I can't really do anything more than shoot for that date."
It's been a challenge for the Blues replacing Steen's ice time. When he got hurt he was leading the NHL in shifts per game among forwards with 29.4 and was fifth in the League in average ice time per game among forwards at 20:30. And despite missing six games he's second on the Blues in goals (17) and points (47), and first in assists (30).
Elliott also was playing well when he was hurt. In 17 games between Jan. 8, when he replaced an injured Jake Allen, until he got hurt, Elliott was 12-3-2 with a 1.76 goals-against average and .943 save percentage.
"It's always a good sight to see the other injured guys back on the ice," captain David Backes said. "That means their return is a lot closer than just riding the bike or coming in for some treatment. It gives everybody a little boost and that the competition for spots is getting more fierce and maybe motivates a few guys to have a little more jump in their step."
Dealing with injuries is nothing new for the Blues; only two players have been in the lineup for all 67 games: Backes and forward Troy Brouwer.
"The way we look at it now, hopefully that's it," defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk said. "I think they look like they're progressing really well. More than anything, we're playing well and that puts them at ease. They don't have to rush into anything back and feel like they have to jump back in the lineup to add something because we're taking care of the team's job while they're gone."