Defenseman has missed 24 games with lacerated tendon in wrist
By LOUIE KORAC
ST. LOUIS -- Don't look now, but the Blues' defensive unit is finally taking it's season-opening shape.
Even though the last couple days have seen Roman Polak skating at or near 100 percent, the Blues' defenseman was still expected to not be ready to play for a couple weeks.
Scratch that notion.
In a bit of a surprising move, the Blues activated Polak off injured reserve and he will return to the lineup today when the Blues host the Vancouver Canucks (7 p.m. on FSN, KMOX 1120-AM).
To make room for Polak, the Blues have assigned defenseman Ian Cole to Peoria.
Polak, who suffered a lacerated right tendon in his right wrist when he was cut by the skate blade of Pittsburgh's Sidney Crosby on Oct. 23, returns to the lineup after missing the previous 24 games.
Polak, 24, had surgery on his tendon on Oct. 28 and was expected to be reevaluated by Blues doctors and training staff sometime after the first of the year, or approximately eight weeks.
But Polak, who has been skating for more than a month, used the last three days and skated with full force, using the hand extensively that was injured on Friday at the team's optional practice and again during the morning skate prior to the Blues facing San Jose Saturday night.
When asked Friday after practice about his progression, Polak was sounded optimistic about a quicker return than expected.
"I've been skating for over a month now with (Blues head trainer) Ray Barile so I feel good," Polak said. "I feel great out there. My breathing and everything is just great. I'm in good shape right now."
The Blues, who also got good news after Erik Johnson gave them and Blues fans a scare after injuring his surgically-repaired right knee Wednesday in Detroit but it turned out to only be a slight sprain of the knee, are also on the cusp of getting Alex Pietrangelo (upper-body) back in the lineup as well, giving them their top six d-men in the lineup for the first time since Polak went down.
"That's the ebb and flow of an NHL season," Blues general manager Doug Armstrong said. "You never know when someone will get hurt, but hopefully you'll get him back as quick as you can.
"If Alex and Roman play tomorrow, and we get both back to that group, we thought that would be one of our strengths. We rely on good goaltending and strong two-way play, so once we get those players back, we'll be happy."
The return of Polak and Johnson looking anything but tentative, playing nearly 27 minutes after missing one game, the Blues could use another infusion into the lineup after one of their more uninspiring games of the season Saturday, a 4-1 loss at home to the Sharks.
"It's been a couple of months and he's on schedule," Armstrong said of Polak. "Once we found out the severity of the injury, we weighed the options with Roman ... not doing surgery, doing surgery ... it was in the best interest to do it, and then it became a timing issue, how long it would take to heal.
"We were hoping it would be on the shorter end of two months. Roman did an excellent job of keeping himself in good condition. Now with the wrist area healed, he can play, and we're looking forward to getting him back and helping our team."
Polak, arguably the Blues' best shut-down defenseman, helped the team get off to a franchise-best 9-1-2 start this season. He played in seven games. But in his absence, the Blues have gone 11-10-3.
"I just can't wait to go and play," said Polak, who has one goal on the season. "It's going to be something like two months already. I just want to go out there and start playing.
"Everything is fine. There's no pain (in the wrist) whatsoever."
Armstrong says he's not at all shocked that Polak has kept himself in top shape.
"To Roman's credit, it's not a surprise to me," Armstrong said. "You look at the conditioning tests in camp, and he's always at the very top. He takes conditioning very seriously. This is another example. He was making sure that once the wrist was healed, the rest of the body was ready. I've always been 100 percent confident he would be (ready)."
Polak was averaging 19:14 per game.
"Obviously he plays a number of minutes that are important to our team, and it's also who he plays against," Armstrong said. "He's a big clog in our group of four, and it's nice to get him back. We don't think he'll do it single-handedly ... he's just part of the group that needs to play better."
As for Pietrangelo, who has missed the last three games dealing with what is believed to be a shoulder injury, it's still day-to-day but the young defenseman appears close to getting back into the lineup.
"He skated again today, he'll skate tomorrow and we'll keep gaining information," Armstrong said. "When he's ready to go, he'll be back in."
Cole, a 2007 first-round pick (18th overall), has skated in 10 games with the Blues, most recently skating in seven since his second recall on Dec. 3.
"Ian played very good when he was called up and we want Ian to continue to play," Armstrong said. "When you have Petro and Erik and Roman on the right side and the experience of (Eric) Brewer, (Barret) Jackman, and Carlo (Colaiacovo) on the left, that's what we want to get back to."
"Hopefully, we're getting everybody healthy again and we can start winning some games," Polak said.
* NOTES -- The Blues have placed Dave Scatchard (knee) on injured reserve and will miss 4-6 weeks after the center was injured during the first period Saturday against San Jose. Winger Adam Cracknell has been recalled from Peoria. Cracknell made his NHL debut with the Blues Wednesday in Detroit.