By LOUIE KORAC
ST. LOUIS -- Andy McDonald returns. Jaroslav Halak departs. For how long, nobody knows.
The Blues get McDonald (concussion) back to the lineup tonight against the Edmonton Oilers, but as McDonald returns after missing the last 24 games, the Blues add another to the long laundry list of injuries.
Halak will not make the scheduled start tonight in goal for the Blues with what the team is calling an upper-body injury. Unconfirmed reports say it's a hand injury and the netminder will be sidelined on a day-to-day basis.
Ty Conklin will get the start tonight against the Oilers (7 p.m. on FSN, KMOX 1120-AM) and the Blues have recalled Ben Bishop from Peoria to be the backup.
Halak, who is 17-16-5 with a 2.82 goals-against average and .907 save percentage, practiced every day this week with the team, including today's morning skate.
Halak and Conklin were on the ice Thursday at practice, but the team also used an additional goalie on the ice for an extra drill, which may have been when right after the netminder was injured.
At today's morning skate, it's customary for the starting netminder to come off the ice first and today, it was Conklin with Halak off moments later. Typically, the backup stays on for an extended period but Halak did not.
- - -
The return of McDonald, who has 17 points in 25 games, coincides with the fact he was injured on Dec. 4, against these very same Oilers in Edmonton on an accidental play.
McDonald, 33, will play on the team's top line tonight with David Backes and Brad Boyes. The trio played together in November and tallied seven combined points in two games in wins over Ottawa and New Jersey.
"When we were playing together, we were playing real well," Boyes said. "You get a high-end skill guy like Andy coming back to a team that needs scoring, it's important. It's going to be exciting for us to get back to where we were before, playing hard and producing offensively.
"We've missed him for a while. We've had some ups and downs since he last played, but it's a good time for him coming back. It's a big stretch for us and it's going to be real important."
- - -
A new item in tonight's lineup will include the defensive pairing of Roman Polak and Nikita Nikitin.
"The talking on the ice and stuff like that is different, especially with his English and stuff," said Polak, who is a Czech Republic native and Nikitin being Russian. "We have to try and talk more, I have to give him options. He's a great player and he'll be able to figure it out soon. I don't see a problem playing with him at all.
"I'm going to keep doing what I'm doing. Just focus on the defensive stuff. He's going to focus more on the offensive side of the net. I think it'll be pretty good."
- - -
The Blues (22-20-7) have played the fewest games in the league (49) and will begin a stretch of 33 games in 65 days tonight. They currently sit eight points in back of eighth-place Phoenix with a number of games in hand on all teams in the race.
"This is the last couple months for us, and unfortunately, we've been in this position a few times before," Boyes said. "It's important start off tonight and we get a couple points. We need to get off to a good start."
* Defenseman Eric Brewer was a late scratch from the lineup to be with his pregnant wife, who went into labor Friday.
Here's the Blues' lineup:
Andy McDonald-David Backes-Brad Boyes
Alex Steen-Patrik Berglund-T.J. Oshie
Vladimir Sobotka-Jay McClement-Matt D'Agostini
Brad Winchester-B.J. Crombeen-Cam Janssen
Barret Jackman-Roman Polak
Erik Johnson-Alex Pietrangelo
Nikita Nikitin-Tyson Strachan
Ty Conklin will start tonight in goal. He's 3-2-0 with a 3.02 GAA and .899 save percentage in his career against the Oilers with one shutout.
- - -
The Oilers (15-27-8), who sit last in the Western Conference, won the only matchup between the two teams on Dec. 4, 2-1 in overtime on a Taylor Hall goal. It came immediately after McDonald's unfortunate fall.
The Oilers' lineup includes:
Ryan Jones-Shawn Horcoff-Ales Hemsky
Taylor Hall-Andrew Cogliano-Jordan Eberle
Magnus Paajarvi-Sam Gagner-Linus Omark
Steve MacIntyre-Colin Fraser-Liam Reddox
The Oilers will be without Dustin Penner (flu) and Jean-Francois Jacques is a healthy scratch.
Theo Peckham-Tom Gilbert
Ladislav Smid-Jeff Petry
Jim Vandermeer-Kurtis Foster
Devan Dubnyk starts for the Oilers tonight. He's 5-4-6 on the season with a 2.76 GAA and .916 save percentage but 0-2-0 with a 4.58 GAA and .842 save percentage against the Blues in his career.