By LOUIE KORAC
ST. LOUIS -- T.J. Oshie's smile was back.
Not that it's been hiding out or anything, but it was more noticeable that usual Tuesday morning.
The Blues announced early this afternoon Oshie will finally return to the lineup when the Blues (21-17-6) play host to the Los Angeles Kings (24-20-1) at 7 p.m. today (FSN, KMOX 1120-AM).
Oshie has missed the last 31 games after breaking his left ankle in a game Nov. 10 at Columbus.
The original target date for a reevaluation was three months from the time of surgery, which took place the following day after the injury, but in recent weeks, Oshie has been practicing with the team and has speeded up his process.
Monday was his first full day of contact drills and he participated in the morning skate Tuesday. Oshie had 10 points in 13 games prior to injury.
"I feel good," said Oshie before news broke of his return. "I haven't tweaked it at all in the contact drills I've been in. I've been feeling good. I haven't obviously played a game or haven't had anyone take a run at me. Other than that, it feels good out there. Still gets a little sore, but that's to be expected.
"I feel like I'm healed. Obviously there's going to be that kind of sense of urgency once you go get close to the leg and things like that. I feel like if I do get a chance to play tonight, I'll go out there, do what I can and hopefully nothing will hold me back."
Blues coach Davis Payne was cautious but sounded optimistic of a return before the announcement.
"We're going to wait and see how the ankle feels," Payne said. "It's been another pre-game skate, a chance for us to ice it down, get it calmed down and see how it feels. We'll make a decision this afternoon.
"He looked good yesterday, looked good today. These are all real solid indicators that he's awful close. We're all eager to get him back in the lineup. We also have to make intelligent decisions about it, too based on the healing and the rehabilitation of that ankle. We don't want to let our hearts get ahead of this one."
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A return of Oshie to the lineup was likely predicated because the Blues have lost out trying to sign another NHL-established player to a contract after the player had a run in the Kontinental Hockey League.
Despite being on the ice for the morning skate Tuesday, center Kyle Wellwood found out just as the 24-hour waiver period was set to expire that he had been claimed by the San Jose Sharks.
Wellwood was skating on a line with Vladimir Sobotka and Patrik Berglund and was all set to be in the lineup tonight when Payne pulled him off the ice to give Wellwood the news.
"You can't be disappointed because there's another team that wants you to play," Wellwood said. "Certainly signing here and knowing some of the guys, I was excited to play tonight.
"They were one of the top four teams in the NHL last year. To go to a team that has aspirations to win the Cup is good."
The Blues tried doing this with Marek Svatos, signing him to a one-year contract before being claimed off waivers by the Nashville Predators. The Blues signed Wellwood to a pro-rated $650,000 one-year deal.
"It's part of the process," Payne said. "We're trying to get a guy into our lineup that we thought could make us a better hockey club. Obviously there's a couple teams out there that felt those players could do the same for them. ... Do we like it? No. We want him to be in our lineup tonight. But that's how it goes."
Which makes one wonder if this was a pick-up for the good of the team or to keep the Blues, a competitor with the Sharks in the Western Conference playoff race, from bettering themselves.
"We're only doing our part," Payne said. "If they make a decision that they want to add him, they do it based on their discussions. I'm not privy to their decision-making."
So the Blues will soldier on, trying to keep pace with the players they have.
"Obviously it's disappointed to see that," forward B.J. Crombeen said. "You kind of get excited when they come in and practice with you for a day. You're kind of looking forward to what they can bring to the team and stuff like that, but it's one of those things. It happens. It's funny that it's happened to us twice, which is unfortunate. It's something you really don't have any control of and we've got to find a way to win the games with what we've got right now and hopefully, get some help back soon."
To which Oshie said, "It definitely makes you want to come back a little quicker to try and do what I can to help out the team."
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The Blues, with 48 points, have five more games remaining before the All-Star break.
They begin a three-game homestand tonight, then play at Colorado and Calgary.
"We put some emphasis on this five-game set," Payne said. "... Thirty-eight to go and a certain number that's going to need to be hit to get into the playoffs as one of the eight, we've got to make sure that each two points is as precious as the next, but time is ticking and the clock's not going to run forever."
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With Oshie in tonight, here's how the lineup is likely to resemble:
Alex Steen-David Backes-Matt D'Agostini
Vladimir Sobotka-Patrik Berglund-T.J. Oshie
Brad Winchester-Jay McClement-Brad Boyes
B.J. Crombeen-Philip McRae-Ryan Reaves
The Blues' d-pairings will get a boost with the return of Carlo Colaiacovo (facial injury).
Eric Brewer-Erik Johnson
Barret Jackman-Roman Polak
Carlo Colaiacovo-Alex Pietrangelo
Jaroslav Halak, who was in goal when the Blues beat the Kings 3-1 Thursday, gets the start tonight.
Chris Porter, Cam Janssen and Tyson Strachan will be the healthy scratches.
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The Kings, one point ahead of the Blues, dropped a 2-1 decision in Dallas Monday night.
The Blues are 2-0 against the Kings this season, which includes a 6-4 victory here last month.
The Blues, who were 1-2 on their recent west-coast swing, played their best game at LA Thursday.
"We played a very committed game," Payne said. "We were above the puck all night long. LA had to face numbers, they had to face bodies and a large part of that was based on discipline with our puck decisions, discipline with our position. We attacked when the opportunity was there, we had a season-low in scoring chances against a pretty good offensive club. ... It was a real good imprint game for us."
Barring any changes, their lineup should feature the following combinations:
Ryan Smyth-Anze Kopitar-Justin Williams
Marco Sturm-Jarret Stoll- Dustin Brown
Kyle Clifford-Brad Richardson-Trevor Lewis
Alexei Ponikarovsky-Michal Handzus-Kevin Westgarth
Rob Scuderi-Drew Doughty
Jack Johnson-Willie Mitchell
Alec Martinez-Matt Greene
Jonathan Quick will start in goal after Jonathan Bernier got the last two starts.