St. Louis will have to cope without Pronger on blue linePosted: Wednesday October 09, 2002 8:37 PM
ST. LOUIS (AP) -- It might be a while before the St. Louis Blues' season takes shape, considering their captain is out until at least January.
The defense will be a work in pogress while the team tries to fill 30 minutes of ice time per game as Chris Pronger recovers from knee and wrist injuries that could keep him out half the season or more. That means plenty of playing time for untested talent in the meantime.
The original prognosis for Pronger's return was January, but his left wrist, surgically repaired in May, hasn't progressed in rehab as much as the team had hoped.
Al MacInnis was paired with rookie Barret Jackman as the preseason wore down. Finnish import Tom Koivisto also likely will have a prominent role, with veteran Jeff Finley the only other experienced defenseman on the roster.
"We're all going to have to be a part of it," MacInnis said. "There's really not a lot of experience, so we're going to have to be patient because these guys are going to have to play.
"The pace of the game today, it's too hard to double-shift."
Jackman made an impressive debut in the Blues' playoff-ending loss to the Avalanche last spring. Pairing him with a veteran like MacInnis should accelerate his learning curve.
"He's doing a good job of not making me feel nervous," Jackman said. "I grew up watching him and you feel like you have to prove yourself to him."
This was supposed to be a season in which MacInnis' work load was pared down. Maybe not for a while.
"It's easier said than done, but we hope so," coach Joel Quenneville said. "Some nights he might play 30-something minutes and you're going to say 'You're playing him too much,' but we'd like to get him down."
The Blues have question marks elsewhere as play begins.
-- Despite the fact they fell short of the Stanley Cup, there aren't any significant additions. Much of the team's payroll is tied up between four players -- Pronger, MacInnis, Keith Tkachuk and Doug Weight.
-- Weight, hampered the second half of last season by an injury to his pelvis, missed much of training camp and must prove he can go full speed again.
-- Goalie Brent Johnson, who'll miss the start of the season with a sprained ankle, still is in the process of proving he's a No. 1 netminder. Backup Fred Brathwaite begins the season as the starter, and he missed almost all of the preseason with an injury.
Quenneville also wants to see more night-in, night-out effort than last season when the team was spotty much of the time while finishing a distant second in the Central Division behind the Red Wings with 98 points.
"I'm encouraged by the attitude of the team," Quenneville said. "But the bottom line is we've got to be a harder-working team than we were last year. That's our mission."
Tkachuk, Weight and Pavol Demitra again will be counted on for the bulk of the scoring. Tkachuk led the team with 38 goals last year and Demitra led in scoring with 78 points. Petr Cajanek, the MVP of the Czech Elite league last season, has been impressive in training camp.
The schedule is conducive to a fast start, with the first five games at home.
"There's still some work to do," Tkachuk said. "But it's nice to get going."