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MARYLAND HEIGHTS, Mo. — The Blues were back on the practice ice Friday after ending their three-game losing streak with a 4-2 win against Vegas on Thursday.
It was a quick, brisk, snappy practice with what coach Craig Berube called a “pace” practice, one in which was done so with the idea of moving pucks at a rapid pace and one in which groups were working in unison.
“Same as the other day. I just liked the pace and the energy of it,” Berube said. “They’re quick. The intensity’s up right now in these practices, which is good. It’s not a long practice, but the intensity is up, and that’s the key.”
One change from recent weeks is that a near-full group was on the ice, including forwards Alexander Steen (ankle) and Zach Sanford (upper body), both who appear ready to play.
Steen was skating on a line with Ivan Barbashev, Robert Thomas and Troy Brouwer and Sanford was taking shifts with David Perron, Ryan O’Reilly and Tyler Bozak.
“Yeah, we’ll see tomorrow, but they looked good today,” Berube said of Steen and Sanford. “They’ll let us know today how they felt a little bit later.”
It creates a bit of a logjam up front, something the Blues haven’t had as far as a luxury item. Of course, there’s still a huge void missing in Vladimir Tarasenko, who will miss most of, if not all, of the regular season with a dislocated shoulder, but Berube and staff have decisions to make with two players ready to jump back into the fight and others that are not ready to relinquish their spot.
“I guess it’s a good thing,” Berube said. “It’s tough, you’re right, but it’s a good thing. We’ve got depth and these guys are good players. We’ve got to make decisions, but in saying that, nobody wants to come out, I get that, but we need everybody down the stretch. We know that. We need depth. It’s tough, but it’s part of it all, it’s part of being a pro, it’s part of being a team.”
Players seem to agree.
“Good problem to have,” Blues center Brayden Schenn said. “We have good depth. We have important pieces coming back. Obviously Steener, whether he’s back tomorrow or the next game, he’s a huge piece of our team, huge piece of our locker room, does so many good things for us and we’re excited to get him back whenever that is. You see when a guy like Sunny comes back in how much it means to our locker room and on the ice. … When we got our full lineup in, we feel like we’re a deep hockey team and that’s a good problem to have. We’ve had lots of guys step up and played really good hockey. We’re going to need that throughout the whole year.”
What would be ideal is of Steen and Sanford can have the grand return like Oskar Sundqvist had. Sundqvist returned Thursday with a goal and an assist, his first game after missing six with a lower-body injury.
“If they’re anything like Sunny was last night,” Berube said. “He did a real good job for us.”
With Steen’s return imminent, the Blues assigned Austin Poganski to San Antonio of the American Hockey League on Friday. Poganski made his NHL debut this past Tuesday at Buffalo.
The injury bug didn’t completely abandon the Blues. They announced late Friday afternoon that defenseman Carl Gunnarsson will go on injured-reserve with an upper-body injury sustained in the win over Vegas, and the team has recalled Niko Mikkola from the Rampage.
Gunnarsson, who did not practice Friday, played 15 minutes 22 seconds and after a tough first period, he finished with a plus-1 rating and three blocked shots.
“He’s not available to play. We’ll evaluate him tomorrow,” Berube said after practice and before the announcement of Gunnarsson going on IR. “… I don’t know yet. I don’t want to speculate on it to be honest. I just found out today. That’s why he wasn’t out in practice.”
Mikkola, 23, who is a 6-foot-4, 205-pound left-handed shot and a fifth-round pick in the 2015 NHL Draft, had eight points (two goals, six assists) in 26 games with the Rampage this season.