By LOUIE KORAC
ST. LOUIS -- Not since Oct. 23 have the Blues had their full compliment of defensemen.
Tonight looks like the night it all finally comes together for the blue liners.
Roman Polak, who has missed the past 24 games with a severed tendon in his right wrist, will make his return to the lineup today at 7 p.m. when the Blues (15-11-5) host the Vancouver Canucks (FSN, KMOX 1120-AM). Also, Alex Pietrangelo, out three games with an upper-body injury, is expected to make his return to the ice.
It will mark the first time since Polak was injured by Sidney Crosby's skate blade against Pittsburgh that the Blues will have their top six defensemen all on the ice together.
Polak was not expected back until early January, but after having surgery on Oct. 28, an eight-week time frame was given and the Czech Republic native has made a quicker recovery than expected.
"The recovery was faster than we thought," Polak said Monday morning. "Actually, we just had that timeframe to let the tendon heal, but after that, it was just rehabbing. It all went good and I'm ready for tonight.
"I'm totally fine. The range of motion is good. Everything is working fine. ... It was two hard months for me. I was just waiting to get back on the ice as soon as possible. I get the chance to do it today, I'm excited."
Polak skated with the team on Friday for the first time and aside from a month's worth of conditioning and skating on his own, he skated with a full brunt of energy and felt good afterwards.
It was then that Polak knew tonight might be a good target.
"I knew it before," Polak said. "I had already been shooting. There was no pain ... nothing. It wasn't even sore. I was thinking (then) I could be ready for today."
If anything, the return of Polak and Pietrangelo is uplifting to the locker room.
"Obviously, it's a real treat to have Roman back," defenseman Carlo Colaiacovo said. "He brings a lot to our team. Obviously, we missed him back there. Knowing how serious his injury was, it's nice he can get back and get back quick.
"Obviously, if Petro's back, that's a big plus, too."
Blues coach Davis Payne said that the coaches will monitor Polak, who plays with a physical edge, to make sure he doesn't go overboard early on.
"Just tempering some of his reads," Payne said. "Making sure he sees big picture before he moves. He moves quickly, he moves aggressively. You've got to make sure he's moving with the right type of coverage in behind him before he gets in on that type of play."
But the thought of having all of them back is a breath of fresh air for the coach as well.
"Our guys that were in there did the job that was necessary, but these are the guys that we know carry the burden for us," Payne said. "It's going to take some time, too, for Poli to become Roman again. It's one of those things where he hasn't played in a while, so we're going to have to manage that accordingly. But good for him to get back in there and get game situations back under his belt so he can get back up to speed."
Pietrangelo, who has missed three games with an upper-body injury -- presumed to be a shoulder ailment, skated this morning and deemed himself ready to go even though Payne said he would be a game-time decision.
"I'm ready to go tonight. That's kind of the guideline I set for myself was tonight," Pietrangelo said. "We went from a fully-depleted defense corps to having all six guys back. ... The six of us were playing some pretty good hockey. It's going to be good to get everyone back. Hopefully, we can lead the charge tonight."
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Blues color analyst and former player Kelly Chase raised some eyebrows with comments made this morning during an interview conducted on 'The ITD Morning After' on KFNS 590-AM.
Chase, who was an enforcer with the Blues for most of his playing career, blasted the team for their lack of response to San Jose's Joe Thornton when the Sharks were in town Saturday (you can hear the entire interview at: http://www.insidestl.com/insideSTLcom/RadioShows/ITDMorningAfter/tabid/88/articleType/ArticleView/articleId/5892/Mondays-Show-Audio.aspx (click on Segment 5).
For those that need a refresher, it was Thornton that knocked the Blues' David Perron out of the lineup when his direct blow to the head resulted in Perron's concussion on Nov. 4. Perron has not played since.
Chase was angry the Blues did not send some sort of message to Thornton, whether physically or verbally, saying the Sharks were fully prepared for something to occur.
There were three fights in the game but none involved Thornton, nor did any involve Devin Setoguchi, who hit Colaiacovo in the eye, resulting in the Blues' defenseman to miss most of the first period.
The Blues lost that game 4-1 in one of their most uninspiring efforts of the season.
"If guys in here are satisfied with that effort last game, then they're playing the wrong sport and maybe on the wrong team," Colaiacovo said. "I'm pretty sure that we have the right guys in here to know that we're a really good team in responding to situations like that and we have been all year. We expect the same tonight, and there's no doubt we're going to get it."
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Adam Cracknell, recalled by the Blues from Peoria on Sunday, will get his second stint in the lineup tonight, replacing Dave Scatchard, who will miss 4-6 weeks with a right knee injury.
Cracknell, who made his debut with the Blues last week in Detroit, will center the fourth line tonight, a position he normally plays and is looking forward to continuing his growth.
"I got that first game out of the way now," Cracknell said. "I'm a little more comfortable and I can just go play my game. ... I don't have to worry about my family being there or anything like that. I'm coming here to earn a job now and get whatever opportunity I have."
Payne calls it a chance for a player to shine.
"He played well in Detroit," Payne said. "With Scatch out with the knee injury ... he's going to be out for some time. It gives a guy like Cracks an opportunity."
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David Backes missed the morning skate but will play tonight, so with the exception of Scatchard, the Blues' lines will stay the same:
Vladimir Sobotka-David Backes-Brad Boyes
Brad Winchester-Patrik Berglund-B.J. Crombeen
Alex Steen-Jay McClement-Matt D'Agostini
Chris Porter-Adam Cracknell-Cam Janssen
Although they were mixing and matching, the Blues' d-pairings should resemble something like this:
Eric Brewer-Erik Johnson
Barret Jackman-Alex Pietrangelo
Carlo Colaiacovo-Roman Polak
Tyson Strachan is expected to be the healthy scratch.
Jaroslav Halak, 3-1-0 with a 2.01 goals-against average and .943 save percentage in his career against the Canucks, will be in goal tonight.
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The Canucks (18-8-4) might have a chip on their shoulders tonight when they visit.
The Blues went into Vancouver on Dec. 5 and came away with a 3-2 victory, as Steen scored twice, including the game-winner in the third period to snap a five-game winless skid.
"It was just a very well-directed game by our team," Payne said of the win in Vancouver. "I think everybody on our team understood just how important it was for each guy to play their role in their shift. I thought we defended and attacked up ice and came back as a group of five. It was a very, very committed group.
"We knew we had to be playing back-to-back games against a good hockey club. That good hockey club's in our building tonight, so we're going to have to have the same mindset."
The Canucks will roll out the following lines:
Daniel Sedin-Henrik Sedin-Alexandre Burrows
Jeff Tambellini--Ryan Kesler-Jannik Hansen
Raffi Torres-Manny Malhotra-Mikael Samuelsson
Tanner Glass-Alexandre Bolduc-Aaron Volpatti
Their d-pairings include:
Dan Hamhuis-Kevin Bieksa
Christian Ehrhoff-Alexander Edler
Keith Ballard-Aaron Rome
Roberto Luongo, 12-9-0 with a 2.41 GAA and .914 save percentage in his career against the Blues, will be in goal.