By LOUIE KORAC
ST. LOUIS -- With a plethora of injuries, it's always a good sign seeing those on the mend skating.
Such was the case for injured Blues defensemen Barret Jackman and Roman Polak.
Jackman, who skated for a third consecutive day this morning prior to the Blues facing the New Jersey Devils later on tonight, is recovering from a sprained knee suffered against San Jose on Nov. 4. The Blues said it would be a three-week period before Jackman is reevaluated.
Judging by his sudden stops and go movements, cuts and pivots on the ice Saturday, there's a chance Jackman will be on the ice with the squad for games at some point late next week, maybe as early as Wednesday against Nashville but realistically against Dallas in the home-and-home series next weekend.
"It's good. Just kind of being a part of the guys and actually getting on the ice with three or four guys, making some passes, shooting the puck and getting some skates in," Jackman said. "It feels better every day. You can't give a timeline or anything. You've just got to keep it going like we are. If everything gets on track, three weeks will be on Thursday. That's kind of what they were thinking when it happened. We'll just see the next few days."
Jackman was checked into the boards in his own end by the Sharks' Ryane Clowe early in the second period but continued to play that game.
"I knew I'd be done for a while," Jackman said, who went on to finish the game. "I got with the doctors right away and they said I couldn't make it any worse. I taped it up pretty good, put a brace on it ... the pain wasn't there yet and the adrenaline was still pumping through the body so I didn't feel anything until after the game and iced it."
With good movement on the ice Saturday, there were no signs Jackman has taken steps backwards. The Blues could use his shutdown ability in a lineup that struggled prior to winning on Friday.
"It was feeling good," Jackman said. "There's still soreness like you expect with that type of injury. We're just going to continue skating, get the legs under me and make sure that we're not rushing things.
"It's tough sitting on the sidelines at any point when your team is winning, you're not part of it and when the team's losing, you have no control over it. Either way, it's tough sitting out. You kind of get eager to get back in there."
As for Polak, the timeline is still another 5-6 weeks.
Polak, who severed a tendon in his right wrist on Oct. 23 against Pittsburgh, had the cast on his hand removed 10 days ago and is now wearing a splint.
"The next step is like 2 weeks in a splint and start skating a little bit," Polak said. "I started skating yesterday a little bit, today with the team a little bit. After they take it off, it's day by day. It depends on the rehab too."
Polak didn’t do any stick work with his injured right hand, only working with the left hand. And in the process, he is working on getting his conditioning back up to speed, thanks to team trainer Ray Barile.
"I didn't expect that," Polak laughed. "I figured after a month of not skating ... it was pretty hard."
Polak, who said he can move his fingers but not gripping anything, said the situation when it happened was different.
"I had movement with the hands, so I didn't think it was that serious," he said. "We checked everything, we checked the neuron’s and stuff as soon as it happened. I still had movement. We tried everything ... the finger-tips and stuff. Everything was alright, so I thought it was just a cut. Just let it heal and it's going to be fine. Got an MRI the next day and they found I cut a tendon, so I was kind of disappointed."
Polak will be reevaluated sometime during the first week in January to see when and if he can return. But all signs thus far are good.
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They were thrown together last week in Phoenix, but the move by the Blues to put David Backes, Andy McDonald and Brad Boyes together has proven to be the right move.
In three-plus games, the trio has produced 19 points. McDonald leads the way with eight (three goals and five assists), Boyes has six (four goals, two assists) which includes a goal in four straight games and Backes has five points (one goal, four assists).
"It was put together at the end of Phoenix, and we've been playing pretty solid," Boyes said. "We've been playing for the most part against other team's top lines, and we're in their zone, controlling the puck. It's been good. We're feeding off each other and we've been getting things going early, which has been key for our line."
Said Backes, "I'd rather be off the scoresheet and us win than on the scoresheet. If you can combine the two like we did tonight, that's the best-case scenario. Our line's going to need to produce nightly to have some success, especially with the shortened roster that we have. Those guys have been working their butts off and creating a lot with their skill level and they're working. I'm trying to create a little space, so there's a lot of opportunities for us."
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For the Blues to have offensive success, sometimes it has to come from the blue line.
Getting contributions from the back end was critical in Friday's 5-2 win over Ottawa, with Carlo Colaiacovo and Eric Brewer scoring goals. Alex Pietrangelo had a pair of assists in the game as well.
"Backhand production is critical in this league," Blues coach Davis Payne said. "It's critical in our success, whether that's on the rush or what you saw was a secondary offensive chance with Carlo's goal. We'd like to see that one go in a little earlier, but Carlo follows it up.
"That's a five-man, 200-foot game mentality where you've got to come up ice as hard as you come back. Carlo got to the right spot, goaltender (Brian Elliott of Ottawa) was down and he roofs it. ... It's very, very important for our team and good for Brew to get that one and Carlo to contribute."
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The Blues, who are 11-0-0 against the Eastern Conference dating back to Jan. 21, 2010 (they fell at Ottawa 3-2 in their last loss), will stay with the same skaters for tonight's game:
Andy McDonald-David Backes-Brad Boyes
Alex Steen-Patrik Berglund-Matt D'Agostini
Brad Winchester-Jay McClement-B.J. Crombeen
Vladimir Sobotka-T.J. Hensick-Chris Porter
Cam Janssen, who began his NHL career in New Jersey, will be the healthy scratch.
The d-pairings will stay the same:
Eric Brewer-Alex Pietrangelo
Carlo Colaiacovo-Erik Johnson
Nikita Nikitin-Tyson Strachan
Jaroslav Halak, who is 1-3-1 with a 2.55 goals-against average and .923 save percentage for his career against the Devils, will get the start in goal.
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The Devils (5-12-2) come in with the worst record in the league, but the added sidebar to this game is that native St. Louisan Mike McKenna, who went to Parkway South High School in suburban St. Louis his first two years, will make his Devils debut tonight in goal against his hometown team.
McKenna, recalled on Friday because of the right elbow injury to Martin Brodeur, had a brief stint with the Tampa Bay Lightning, where he was 4-8-1 with a 3.56 goals-against average and a .887 save percentage.
Making his first start against the team he grew up following is almost like a fairy tale. He was 2-3-0 with a 3.72 GAA and .882 save percentage with Albany of the AHL.
"It's nice to come home, but we're here for business," McKenna said Saturday morning. "We really need to win games. If we win the game, I'm going to have a lot of fun."
McKenna, 27, said it's just a coincidence he's making his debut against the Blues.
"I don't really believe in anything more than that," he said. "It's just dumb luck I guess that it happened like this. You don't ever want to see anyone (Brodeur) get injured, but if that's how you get a break, that's how it happens for us a lot of times. For me, I've really tried to put my best foot forward and tried to work my way back to the NHL over the past year. This is a step, so yeah, I'm excited to get back in."
Devils coach John MacLean thought it would be good karma.
"He's from here," MacLean said. "I've seen him play some big game. Maybe he can give us a spark. It's a good opportunity for him."
McKenna, who left Parkway South after his sophomore year, moved on to Springfield, Ill. and played for the Springfield Junior Blues of the North American Hockey League.
"I'm ready. It's just another game," McKenna said. "The first hometown game really isn't a whole lot different. I've had friends and family in stands before. It's not terribly different. It's not any different than watching it on TV. We're so globalized now that everybody sees everything.
"I really take a lot of pride in what I do and I feel I've earned things. We've had a tough year in Albany, myself included so far. It's a chance for me to prove myself not only at this level but for the organization again."
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The Devils, with the NHL's highest payroll, will roll out the following lines:
Brian Rolston-Travis Zajac-David Clarkson
Ilya Kovalchuk-Dainius Zubrus-Alexander Vasyunov
Patrik Elias-Jason Arnott-Mattias Tedenby
Rod Pelley-Adam Mair-Stephen Gionta
The d-pairings include:
Henrik Tallinder-Colin White
Matthew Corrente-Andy Greene
Anton Volchenkov-Olivier Magnan
And in goal is Mike McKenna, who was recalled under emergency conditions.