By LOUIE KORAC
ST. LOUIS -- After a two-day Christmas hiatus in which some players traveled to spend time with family and some players stayed here, Blues players did nothing as far as on-ice activities were concerned.
They weren't the only ones, as the National Hockey League shut things down for a couple days, and the league gets back in full swing tonight with a slate of 11 games, including the Blues, who host the Nashville Predators at 6 p.m. (FSN, KMOX 1120-AM)
The Blues were on the ice this morning getting the holiday kinks out and working on getting back into rhythm and work on building off that two-game winning streak the Blues took with them; two victories against powerful teams in Atlanta and Detroit.
"It's going to be tough because two days off, I didn't do anything," defenseman Roman Polak said. "I just laid on my couch ... I did walk my dog, too, so it's going to be tough, but we have to be ready. They are in the same situation. They didn't practice for two days either. We have to be ready. There's no excuse."
The Blues (17-12-5), who last year traveled on gameday to Minnesota to play the Wild, needed some time to get the juices flowing and they eventually did before falling 4-3.
The Predators (17-11-6) are in the same boat this year, as they flew into St. Louis this morning, practiced after the Blues and will play on the same day. It's something the Blues hope they can take advantage of with a quick start.
"We just simply talked about whether it was a travel day (for Nashville) or not, it was a non-travel day for us coming off of two days off and coming out of the holidays," Blues coach Davis Payne said. "There's an advantage there to be had for the team that gets the full engagement. We've talked about making sure that that's mental, physical and we're well-connected to this hockey game right from the start."
The Blues got off to a flying start against the Red Wings Thursday, jumping out to a 3-1 first-period lead before Detroit got it in gear to make things interesting at the end as the Blues prevailed 4-3.
"We talked about that, try and be the first team to get on them," winger Brad Boyes said. "That's going to be the team that gets an advantage. That's our plan, to come out early. Come out, take advantage and capitalize on them early."
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The Blues, who have dropped five straight to the Predators here at Scottrade Center, will take the ice tonight looking at a mirror image of themselves.
Nashville, which is one point better than the Blues in the standings, also don't have that standout offensive player lighting up the scoreboard, just like the Blues.
There are no Sidney Crosbys or Alex Ovechkins on either of these teams, which is why games between them typically comes down to one goal.
"We're similar teams, hard-working teams, defensive styles, we don't give up a lot but yet we fore-check hard, both teams work hard and don't score a ton," Boyes said. "But we've got a lot of similarities when it comes to the team winning. We win as a team just like they do. That's why when we play each other, the games are so tight."
Eleven of the last 16 meetings between the teams -- including seven of eight -- game been decided by one goal.
"I think when you look at both us and Nashville, the formula is largely the same," Payne said. "Both teams have to play a hard-checking game, they have to work, rely on good goaltending, we make sure that we put pucks in disciplined areas, play great team structure and great team defense.
"If you look at the way both teams are built, you look at where we are in the standings and how we play, it's really head-to-head, strength vs. strength as far as this one goes."
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Two games back after missing 24 because of a tendon injury in his right wrist, Polak feels like he's getting back into a groove.
Well, sort of.
Aside from some timing issues and making the right decisions, Polak has played well in his return to the lineup.
"I'm getting there," Polak said. "Just better timing, better reads, play more minutes, get more games under my belt. I think every game is better and better.
"I'm feeling good. I felt good the first game too, but mentally, I wasn't ready. I just didn't make the good reads. I'm going there. ... It depends on the timing to be physical. That's improving a little bit, too."
Payne doesn't feel like Polak is far off.
"He's gotten better each game," Payne said. "I think his reads defensively are much more confident and allowing his feet to take him to some confrontations that he knows he's going to have success in. The next step of that is the separation and taking the stride with the puck, finding those outlet plays, getting up ice. When we start getting to see him do that, we'll feel like we're pretty much there."
Polak hasn't lost his sense of humor, though.
When asked about getting back with his natural defensive partner (Barret Jackman) and helping him get back to where he wants to be, Polak joked he can play with anybody except Eric Brewer
"He's way better than Brew," Polak joked, referring to Jackman, which got a laugh out of Carlo Colaiacovo. "I like him more than Brew. He's a way better partner than Brew."
Polak was even put on the spot, being asked about Colaiacovo.
"I like Carlo. I like everybody except Brew," Polak laughed.
Polak first started out with Colaiacovo in his first game back Monday.
"They put me with him to gain his confidence back," Colaiacovo joked. "Now after a few games, he's back."
But Polak did indeed credit being back with Jackman helping him find his groove.
"Jax is a horse out there," Polak said. "It's helping me a lot, he's talking to me a lot, too."
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The Blues will not change anything, going with the same guys who got them their two wins:
Vladimir Sobotka-David Backes-Matt D'Agostini
Alex Steen-Patrik Berglund-B.J. Crombeen
Brad Winchester-Jay McClement-Brad Boyes
Chris Porter-Adam Cracknell-Cam Janssen
Ditto with the d-pairings:
Eric Brewer-Erik Johnson
Barret Jackman-Roman Polak
Carlo Colaiacovo-Alex Pietrangelo
Tyson Strachan (healthy scratch) is the extra player tonight.
Jaroslav Halak, who is 4-1-1 with a 2.26 goals-against average and a .911 save percentage in his career against Nashville, will start tonight.
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The Predators, much like the Blues, have been hit with injuries and will be missing two key pieces tonight.
Forwards Steve Sullivan (lower-body) and Martin Erat (back) were both injured in Nashville's 2-1 loss at home against Ottawa.
Sullivan has 49 points in 60 career games against the Blues.
The Predators recalled left winger Linus Klasen from AHL Milwaukee and he will be in the lineup tonight:
Linus Klasen-Marcel Goc-Sergei Kostitsyn
J.P. Dumont-Cal O'Reilly-Patric Hornqvist
Colin Wilson-Jerred Smithson-Joel Ward
Wade Belak-Nick Spaling-Jordin Tootoo
Ryan Suter-Shea Weber
Francis Bouillon-Kevin Klein
Shane O'Brien-Cody Franson
Pekka Rinne, who returned from injury (knee) in Nashville's last game after missing nine straight, will start tonight. He's 8-3-2 with a 2.09 GAA and .924 save percentage in his career against the Blues.