Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Halak activated, will return to lineup tonight

Blues add to injury list with Berglund, Hensick;
both questionable in rematch with Columbus

ST. LOUIS -- The Blues boarded a plane Tuesday afternoon for Columbus shorthanded -- as has been the case often this season.

Once again, they seem to be battling a season-long plague known as a laundry list of injuries.

However, with every piece of bad news, there's offsetting good news in this case.

Goaltender Jaroslav Halak, on injured reserve since Feb. 14 with a broken right hand, was activated Tuesday and will make the start when the Blues (29-28-9) face the Blue Jackets (31-26-8) today at 6 p.m. in a rematch of Monday's 5-4 shootout victory by the Blues here. With Halak back in the fold, the Blues sent goalie Ben Bishop back to Peoria.

Halak, who is 19-17-6 with a 2.63 goals-against average and a .907 save percentage, has missed the last 11 games and 14 of the last 18 games.

He practiced fully with the team for the first time Sunday and again on Tuesday and deems himself fit and ready despite some natural soreness.

"It still feels a little sore, but I'm real anxious to play," Halak said. "Hopefully I can come back and help the guys win some games.

"As far as conditioning, I feel good. It's one thing to practice. It's a second thing to play the games. The sooner I get in a game, the better I'll feel."

Halak will likely get the start Thursday when his former club, the Montreal Canadiens, visit Scottrade Center.

"We don't feel at this point that conditioning is an issue," Blues coach Davis Payne said after practice Tuesday. "Obviously we want to get him back going. We know who's coming in (town) Thursday night and how that storyline plays out. But for us, the most important one is tomorrow night against Columbus.

" ... other than the one I chipped in on him, I thought he looked pretty solid. His conditioning has been there. We've been able to maintain and really work on that with the coaches. He's been monitoring that. I think the last few days of practice have allowed him to dial things in, so we're anticipating him being ready for tomorrow."

The Blues are in dire need of some consistent, steady goaltending here down the stretch with 16 games remaining in the regular season. Even though Halak hasn't had the type of season he's wanted, it's the chance to finish out strong.

"We need to finish strong and we need to win as much as we can and we'll see what happens," Halak said. "Obviously it's disappointing when it happened, when you get injured. It's always tough to sit out and watch the guys play the games. ... I'm ready to be back and hopefully, I can help the guys win games."

His teammates are glad to have Halak back.

"He's our No. 1 goalie," winger Alex Steen said . "He played remarkable for us during the course of the year. It's always great when you see your injured guys coming back and they're healthy again.

"For Jaro, he's looked really good in practice, stopped some pucks, pulled my confidence down today in practice, but he looks good."

Bishop and Ty Conklin have handled the duties in the time Halak has been sidelined, with some strong efforts and some rather inconsistent ones. The Blues were 5-8-1 in those games.

Bishop was 3-4-0 with a 2.76 GAA and .899 save percentage in his stint here.

"Yes, we think Ben did a great job," Payne said. "We think he took steps in the right direction. Obviously coming off the bench last night and getting a shootout win, another good statement by him. Good for him to keep going as we get Jaro back going."

There was some question why Conklin, who the Blues put on waivers prior to the trade deadline, wasn't the one sent to Peoria. But since the team didn't make Conklin available for Peoria's roster by the NHL trade deadline, that makes him ineligible. They did so with Bishop and defenseman Tyson Strachan.

The Blues were able to snap a four-game slide Monday night with their shootout victory in front of the four honorees brought in for Salute to No. 7 night.

"We showed some character yesterday, didn't quit, didn't feel sorry for ourselves," Steen said. "We battled back. ... We got it done.

"We've had a couple tough outings, especially after the New York game. We were obviously embarrassed. We felt bad about how we had played that game. ... I thought we came out with some bite yesterday."

The injury bug, which has struck the team pretty hard again, took another couple hits with the losses of centers Patrik Berglund and T.J. Hensick to lower-body injuries.

"Further evaluation in the morning ... see if they're available to go," Payne said. "If they can't, obviously we'll have to make an adjustment.

"We need those guys in there. I thought Hensick came in there and gave us good minutes. I thought he created, I thought his feet were moving. Patrik Berglund, real solid game out of him. I thought he was as controlling through the middle as he's been, and we're talking about a stretch where he's been playing very, very solid here in the last half of the year."

Both Berglund and Hensick traveled with the team to Columbus and are listed as questionable to play tonight. Also, forward B.J. Crombeen (shoulder) and defenseman Roman Polak (foot) are doubtful and weren't expected to travel.

They join Vladimir Sobotka (foot), David Perron (concussion) and Phil McRae (knee) on the injury list.

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