Polak picking up where he left off after injury;
Oshie progressing, Perron visits
By LOUIE KORAC
HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- Each and every Blues defender is unique in his own way. They all carry clout and make the Blues a tough go at their goal.
And after being hit hard by injuries in that area, they're once again healthy and a big part of the Blues' current five-game winning streak.
Barret Jackman, Erik Johnson, Carlo Colaiacovo, Alex Pietrangelo and Roman Polak have all missed time this season due to injury. Only Eric Brewer has been spare, although the Blues' captain has seen his share of injuries in the past.
But it's Polak who had the most serious of the injuries, a severed right tendon in his wrist that forced the Czech Republic native to miss 24 games.
But since Polak returned to the lineup for the Blues, they've gone 5-1 and are 9-2-2 in the 13 games he's been in the lineup.
"For all the hockey he had to watch, sometimes there's a value to that," Blues coach Davis Payne said. "But he plays such a solid, sound game that getting back to it is just a matter of timing and conditioning and now all of the sudden, because he can move with the power and the speed that he can and he can close down on people and win those confrontations, it enables him to get right back on top of his game quickly because he is such a strong, powerful guy.
"His first few games, you saw him kind of unsure where to go, how to help, how to be part of that equation and you can see him making his reads much cleaner now, which is good. I thought he was pretty solid (Friday) night."
Polak looks like he hasn't missed a beat since rejoining the lineup but feels he still can be better.
"I'm still getting into the game," Polak said. "I don't think I'm playing my best yet, but I'm getting there.
"I have to get better at the reads and better gapping ... little stuff like that maybe you can't see but the coaches can see."
One can make the argument that Polak stabilizes the Blues' d-unit.
"When he's back there, it gives you an option along the lines of Jax, along the lines of Brew ... guys you can put there time and time again and take a lot of pride in shutting a guy down," Payne said. "The other guys have some transition to their game, have some offensive mindset to their game, which is good. Not that Roman doesn't, but there's a real sense of having that guy along with the two I've mentioned that wants to be out there, that wants to be in that shutdown, deny mode. He's shown he can play against the best. That's why he helps out so much back there."
* Oshie improving; Perron visits, McDonald progressing? -- T.J. Oshie continues to work overtime towards a return to the Blues' lineup after suffering a broken left ankle at Columbus Nov. 10.
Originally Oshie was expected to miss three months after surgery, which would put him at mid-February, but the Blues' winger has progressed so rapidly that general manager Doug Armstrong announced last week the Blues have bumped up Oshie's re-evaluation to around All-Star break weekend.
Judging by the recent practices that have seen Oshie stop and start, make sharp cuts, skate like the wind and shoot like he's in full mode, another bump in time may be in order.
"It's exciting when he's around, when he's on the ice or even when he's in the room with us," said forward Brad Boyes, who along with McClement and Oshie made up the third line in practice Saturday. "He's a well-liked guy. He goes out there, he works hard and he's a heck of a player. To see him like that ... I know he's still got some time, but it's good news to see him running around like that."
It was also disclosed that David Perron, out since Nov. 4 after sustaining a concussion, was on hand at St. Louis Mills Saturday and visited with his teammates before practice.
Perron and Andy McDonald, out since Dec. 4 after suffering a concussion himself, are still out indefinitely but the fact Perron is at the facility is a sign he's getting better since team president John Davidson said recently they told Perron not to come around and lay low until he felt completely better.
The Blues could finally be on track to getting everyone healthy.
"That's what you need," Boyes said. "We're going along right now, we're doing well, but any time you get guys back like that, it helps everybody out a lot. It's good news.
"We saw David today and Andy's coming around too. If we get those guys back, it's important and it's exciting for all of us."
* Looking for six in a row -- When the Blues host the Stars today (5 p.m. on FSN, KMOX 1120-AM), they'll be looking for their sixth consecutive win, which is one off a season-best seven-game winning streak from Oct. 22-Nov. 7.
But the Blues have an obstacle in the Stars, who have already beaten the Blues three times this season, including a home-and-home series Nov. 26-27. All three games have been decided by one goal.
"We haven't finished games against them very well," Payne said of the Stars, who won a pair of 3-2 games in Dallas before winning here 2-1. "We played a really good hockey game and at the end, they tie it in the third period and we lose it in a shootout. We doubled them in shots and in chances. ... Those are nights in this business when good pitching trumps good hitting, that just happens.
"The other two, we played solid, both one-goal leads going into the third and they made plays. The first game in their building, we turned a couple pucks over and all of the sudden allowed them back in that hockey game and the second one, they made a couple plays. We just didn't finish the hockey game."
Stars goalie Kari Lehtonen has been as close to brilliant as one can be against the Blues this season as well.
"They're a team that's comfortable playing in tight games, they're a team that's comfortable in making smart decisions and playing late into the game and allowing pressure to force you into a mistake," Payne said of the Stars. "They've been fantastic in the overtime sessions, they've been fantastic in shootouts, so we've got to anticipate another close one. ... The fact that they've gotten us on all three occasions is something that we've got to have in the back of our minds to make sure that those two points ... you can’t do nothing about the other three, but the two points tomorrow is what we're after."
The Blues used a hard hour practice as their morning skate and will not take the ice today in front of a 5 p.m. game.
They'll go with the same lineup with a couple tweaks:
Vladimir Sobotka-David Backes-Matt D'Agostini
Brad Winchester-Patrik Berglund-B.J. Crombeen
Alex Steen-Jay McClement-Brad Boyes
Chris Porter-Adam Cracknell-Cam Janssen
Tyson Strachan will be a healthy scratch for the sixth consecutive game:
Eric Brewer-Roman Polak
Barret Jackman-Alex Pietrangelo
Carlo Colaiacovo-Erik Johnson
Jaroslav Halak, 3-0 in his last three starts, will be in goal tonight. He's 0-2 with a 2.55 goals-against average and .889 save percentage against the Stars this season and his career. Halak is 11-4-1 with a 1.80 GAA and .936 save percentage at Scottrade Center this season.