Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Oshie getting back to form after return to lineup

Forward says timing issues need to be
worked out, likes potential with Berglund, Sobotka

HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- Some soreness is all that remains of T.J. Oshie's return to the Blues' lineup.

The Blues' energetic forward returned to the lineup during a 2-1 victory over the Los Angeles Kings after missing the previous 31 games with a fractured left ankle.

Oshie did not participate in the Blues' optional skate on Wednesday and said there's nothing out of the ordinary after playing nearly 18 minutes.

"Feels good. A little sore, but it's to be expected," said Oshie, who was a minus-1 in 17 minutes 53 seconds of ice time. "The ankle's not as sore as I thought it was going to be.

"It could have been better. I guess it can always get better. I was watching some game tape with (Patrik Berglund) just building a little bit of chemistry away from the game and watching tape, kind of some things that we can do different. All-in-all, our line played pretty good. Just trying to get the chemistry a little bit. It's kind of tough being away for so long and then playing with guys that you haven't played with in a long time."

Oshie, who played on the Blues' second line with Berglund and Vladimir Sobotka, was originally scheduled to miss three months after surgery on his ankle. But the timeline was pushed up to the All-Star weekend after the healing process was working much quicker than usual. Then after full-contact practice Monday and Tuesday's morning skate, Oshie was deemed fit and ready for action.

Blues coach Davis Payne was pleasantly pleased with Oshie's play.

"It's almost like that first day of training camp feel where you get back into body contact," Payne said. "There's a general soreness there that occurs when you get into that. It's to be expected. The important part is knowing that it's just general body soreness and the ankle feels good.

"It's the National Hockey League. It's not as though you jump in and get right to pace at Game 45. Things were moving pretty quick out there and they're quicker than they were in Game 1, they're quicker than they were in exhibition. For him to be able to step in and make some plays at that pace and kind of regroup and get his timing as much under control as he could within the game to us is a successful night."

A successful night might have included maybe 12-15 minutes of ice time, but even Oshie was a bit caught off-guard by the amount of ice time, which included stints on the power play (3:57) and penalty kill (1:14).

"Yeah, definitely," Oshie said. "Especially with the signing of (Kyle) Wellwood, I thought that I would be playing a little bit less. But it's tough to sit on the bench, so I'm definitely not complaining."

Said Payne, "There was conversation there with the trainers and us as coaches ... what our thought would be on (Oshie's ice time). The final thought, as the trainers were leaving the room, was 'As soon as he's back in, we're going to play the heck out of him.' I think we hit the over, and that was probably the easiest bet of the night."

Look for Payne to continue to use Oshie with Berglund and Sobotka, as well as Alex Steen with David Backes and Matt D'Agostini.

"He and Bergy have played together in the past," Payne said. "I think they feed off each other pretty well as far as the work and the energy and kind of seeing each other, lefty to righty, leaving the defensive zone and the plays they make. It's chemistry there that I think you recognize on and off the ice. Sobe's a guy who’s going to do work. He's going play in the tough areas, he's going to possess pucks, he's going to give these guys some extra space to work with.

"It was a situation to give Backes a chance to play with Steen to see how that fits with our mix. This was, to me, the right time to do it."

Oshie and Berglund have played together in the past, and with Sobotka's physical presence, there's definitely some intrigue there.

"Me and Bergy respond very well together," Oshie said. "We can communicate really well, in the locker room and on the bench. Sobe's obviously a great player. He can make plays when you need him to and he can play the body, which I definitely like about him."

The newbie on the line is also excited.

"I'm really excited to play with Osh and Bergy," Sobotka said. "That's a great line. We changed it because Osh was back. The last two games we didn't push too much offensively. We just changed it and I think it will work well for all of us.

"(Oshie) brings a lot of energy. It's great to play with him. Just a great guy. It's amazing, his personality, just energy player, he can score goals, make plays."

Oshie totaled 10 points (1 goal, 9 assists) in 13 games before being injured but now has the opportunity to fit back in with a team that's in the thick of a playoff race.

Payne definitely likes the upside of using Berglund and Sobotka as particular linemates, as well as getting Steen, Backes and D'Agostini acclimated.

"It's lefty to righty on one unit, righty to lefty on another unit," Payne said. "It just gives two guys immediate ability to play a two-man game, to see each other, make plays, to read off each other. Those reads, which are crucial, understanding what plays guys are going to make in a split second I thought was fairly sharp last night. Another game, hopefully we'll see some more progress with those groups.

"You want that energy (from Oshie). That's how he plays. It's what makes him the player he is."

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