Russell (groin strain) goes on IR, Cole gets
another shot; other injured players close to return
By LOUIE KORAC
HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- Ian Cole doesn't like to see fellow teammates go down, but it's other people's misfortune that keeps creating golden opportunities for the Blues defenseman.
Coach Ken Hitchcock said Thursday that defenseman Kris Russell will miss three weeks with a right groin strain, an injury suffered early in Tuesday's 3-2 loss at Detroit.
"He feels better today, which is a good sign, but he's three weeks ... no surgery," Hitchcock said of Russell.
Enter Cole, who has been a healthy scratch in the last eight games because of a defensive unit that has been strong. It gives the Blues the flexibility that if someone goes down, there's someone else that can step in and not miss a beat.
Cole's competitive and upbeat attitude make him a natural fit.
"All throughout my life, my parents have instilled the idea that if you work hard, it pays off," said Cole, a 2007 first round pick who has four points in 11 games. "I love this team, I love the guys. I want to be a part of this team.
"I look at it like it's a great day. I might not be playing, but all in all, it's a great day, a great team. I love to be on it. Make the most of that and hopefully work hard and get the opportunity to get back in. I'm fortunate that happened and fortunately they took notice that he's not going to sulk and be a baby about it."
Cole will be paired with fellow United States Developmental Program and junior teammate Kevin Shattenkirk.
"Thank God (for) Cole ... that's a nice thing to have," Hitchcock said. "He's a guy that knows how to play. He's been here since day one. It's not like you're calling him up. He's really gotten better. You can see the significant improvement by being up here.
"He's a perfect example of a guy that took advantage of his time up here. He didn't get discouraged. He worked hard and got a lot better. You can see it now at practice. He's more than up to speed. I have no problem putting him out against anybody."
"I'm excited to get back into it," Cole said. "It stinks for 'Russ' to be out. Too bad he's out. Love him to be healthy, but it's just the way it worked out. Fortunately I have an opportunity now and hopefully I can continue to play well ... and make a case for himself."
Barret Jackman will play with Roman Polak and Carlo Colaiacovo will stay with Alex Pietrangelo, as Hitchcock likes Polak and Jackman in matchup situations.
"We have a chance to put (Jackman) and (Polak) together and use it as a matchup pair," Hitchcock said. "That's probably what moving forward we'll look to do, use those two as a matchup pair."
There are no immediate plans to call up an extra defenseman from Peoria, as the Blues have a wealth of home games between now and the end of January, but there are a couple guys Hitchcock has in mind.
"I think we'll go with six and just take it day to day," he said. "The guy that came up (Cade Fairchild) and played, he's a smart player. But there's also a very good player down there, too. I don't know what happens with (Danny Syvret). He's a good player with a lot of experience. There's two guys that can help us."
* Injury update -- When the Blues (21-11-4) go up against Nashville (19-14-4) here tonight, they could get three important players back.
Winger Jamie Langenbrunner (flu) has missed two games and Hitchcock has deemed him good to return after two days of skating. Forward Vladimir Sobotka (ankle) has missed seven games but skated again Thursday in front of a packed house at the Ice Zone inside St. Louis Mills and could go, as could winger T.J. Oshie (wrist), who missed two games after injuring his left wrist in Phoenix.
"Sobe did really well today. We'll take him into tomorrow and make a decision," Hitchcock said after practice. "... No issues right now. We'll see how he feels in the morning. If he feels fine, he'll play.
"Lags is no problem to play. Oshie's about 75 percent, getting better and we'll see how he feels in the morning. We'll take him into the morning, too."
Oshie, who injured his right wrist Nov. 19 in Minnesota but has healed up from that, is a mystery in all this. There's a decision to be made whether to allow things to heal fully or allow him to play through it knowing he likely can't do any more damage to what ails him inside the wrist.
"It's gotten a little bit better. Just working on strength," said Oshie, who was a full participant in practice Thursday. "When I did it to my right one about a month ago, it took a little bit to get the right kind of tape job to make it feel good. It's coming slowly but it's getting better.
"It's kind of a freak thing. I actually asked that question (to team doctors). Is it something I was doing, something I wasn't doing? It was just kind of a weird thing."
Oshie said he didn't feel right away that his wrist was bothersome. But in the third period, he noticed something.
"Right away, it felt like a slash. It's one of those things," he said. "When you get slashed, you just keep playing. I tried to clear the puck on my backhand on the penalty kill and that's when I felt it."
A decision will be made following the morning skate.
"There's just some things I can't do. I'm not going to come back if I can't play and put the team in a bad position because I can't cover a guy or a guy stole a puck from me. Once I feel like I can do everything out there and won't be a liability to the team, that's when I'll be out there."
* Goalie rotation continues -- It will be Jaroslav Halak tonight against Nashville and Brian Elliott Saturday again in Detroit for the Blues, as the Blues' game of goalie pick 'em continues.
Halak, who was strong in a Dec. 17 shoot out loss at Nashville, looks to get over the .500 mark (he's 7-7-4 now) after starting the season 1-6. Elliott was the tough-luck loser Tuesday in Detroit despite stopping 29 shots.
"Now I'm trying to be a coach because Halak played great against Nashville, Elliott played great against Detroit, so now I'm trying to be a coach," Hitchcock joked. "We'll see if this works."
* Splitting up ice time -- If the Blues are able to get all three (Oshie, Langenbrunner and Sobotka) back on the ice, who will sit? Does anyone go to Peoria? How does Hitchcock divide time to make all the skaters happy?
Those are tough questions coaches don't mind answering, because that means those that are filling in are playing well.
Ryan Reaves (hip flexor) is on injured reserve and is out a minimum of a week.
"The guys that have come up or the guys that have come into the lineup, like (Adam) Cracknell and (Evgeny) Grachev, have really helped us," Hitchcock said. "They haven't hurt us a bit. (B.J.) Crombeen walked into a hornet's nest. He's going to feel more comfortable tomorrow. The game isn't going to seem so fast for him. I'm sure if you talked to him, the game felt like it was 100 miles an hour (in Detroit)."
Hitchcock is trying to guard against looking ahead, because from day to day, player personnel changes in this game, especially with injuries.
"When you get in the injury rotation, you don't get out of it until you get a long time break," Hitchcock said. "... There's a reason guys are banged up now. We play hard. It's the way we have to play to win. I don't want to put my hopes in that we're going to get healthy.
"Do we get dreaming about a nice roster someday? Yeah, but we've got to live in the reality. When you're on this injury rotation, guys aren't going to be 100 percent. Some guys are going to take time to get up to speed. You're just going to have to live with it."