Bruce Boudreau said he’s weighing whether to insert Shawn Horcoff back into the Ducks’ lineup Friday after the forward’s 20-game suspension for performance-enhancing drug use, but the coach kept his decision a mystery Thursday.
That gives Boudreau another day to keep the St. Louis Blues guessing, to ponder disrupting a roster that was 16-2-2 in Horcoff’s absence, and inspect the forward’s skating and skill.
Yet, in collecting some hints at Thursday’s practice — the most insightful being Boudreau telling reporters, “He’s ready” — the expectation should be for Horcoff, 37, to return against a Blues team that has won four straight, including Wednesday’s victory over the defending Stanley Cup-champion Chicago Blackhawks.
“It’s up to them. I feel they know me as a player and know what I’ll bring to the lineup,” Horcoff said. “We have great depth here. That’s a bonus. My goal is to win. It’s going to take a few games to get your timing, but as games become bigger and more meaningful, experience goes a long way. I know I’m ready, I’ve been around long enough.”
Boudreau was otherwise noncommittal Thursday after saying Wednesday that Horcoff’s return “gives us another good player with experience to go to, and that’s important going toward the playoffs.”
“There’s a whole lot of little things that go into it, but we’ll figure it out and he knows he’s an important cog to this team — in the room or on the ice,” Boudreau said. “His veteran leadership will come through before it’s all said and done.”
Defenseman Sami Vatanen, who departed Wednesday’s 3-0 loss to the Colorado Avalanche in the first period with a hit to the head the team viewed as incidental, did not practice Thursday and his status for Friday’s game will be determined by the morning skate, Boudreau said.
Also, defenseman Simon Despres, who was struck in the upper body by a third-period cross-check by Avalanche forward Gabriel Landeskog, saw the NHL suspend Landeskog for three games Thursday — a salary hit of $203,832.75.
“This is not a battle for the puck or positioning,” an NHL official said in a video explanation of the suspension. “Landeskog [a repeat offender] comes [at Despres] with speed and recklessly raises his stick into Despres’ head.”
Despres added he has a “solid bruise” on the left side of the neck, where the impact occurred, but he practiced Thursday.
Masking a hindrance?
Defenseman Cam Fowler has worn a protective clear mask since getting hit on the nose by the Kings’ Tanner Pearson on March 5, and some atypical slips from the responsible blue-liner have raised speculation it’s altering his play — a turnover to Justin Williams in Monday’s home loss to the Washington Capitals, for instance, along with a giveaway in Wednesday’s road loss to Colorado.
Fowler said the mask is not ideal. It doesn’t allow him to breathe freely and his peripheral vision is less than it was before the injury.
“I’m not sure how much longer. [Ducks center Ryan] Getzlaf wore it about three games, so hopefully it’ll be not much longer than that,” Fowler said. “There’s a few quirks to it I’ve had to get used to — the breathing, and not being able to communicate the best to my teammates who sometimes can’t hear me.
“You always feel like there’s someone around you. You don’t have the best awareness, because you’re trapped in a little bubble.”
AT ST. LOUIS
When: Friday, 5 p.m. PST.
On the air: TV: FS West; Radio: 830.
Update: The league’s top two penalty-killing teams square off. The league-best Ducks have killed 28 of their last 32 while St. Louis’ leading goal-scorer, Vladimir Tarasenko, has 12 power-play goals.
Follow Lance Pugmire on Twitter: @latimespugmire