For the first time since December 19th, the Blues are playing a hockey game.
Tonight, the Edmonton Oilers head into town, and they’re in a very different place than they were the last time they were in St. Louis. They’ve slid down the standings to fourth place in the Pacific Division, and are 4-6-0 in their last ten. They’ve strung together a couple of wins, taking out the Blue Jackets on the 16th and then the Kraken on the 18th. It’s been a while since they - or the Blues - have played a game, so it’s tough to hop back into play and know what to expect from either team.
Much like the time off has helped the Blues recover from injury and covid, it did the same for the Oilers. Goaltender Mike Smith should be back tonight after a lengthy time away due to injury, as should Duncan Keith, Zach Hyman, Dmitri Samorukov, and Philip Broberg. Thanks to covid, they’re still short Darnell Nurse, Jesse Puljujarvi, Zack Kassian, and William Lagesson.
The Blues are getting reinforcements of their own: David Perron, Robert Thomas, and Jordan Kyrou are all set to play in tonight’s game. Oskar Sundqvist, too, should be returning. They’re all highly skilled impact players and fans are glad to have them back in time for Saturday’s Winter Classic, but head coach Craig Berube was very clear in an interview with the Post-Dispatch’s Tom Timmerman: they need to play like the call-ups:
“When we were injured and COVID and had a bunch of guys out, we played a certain style of game that was successful, and we’ve got to continue to do that,” he said.
“We played a certain game with all these guys out of the lineup that was pretty simple, forward, north hockey, physical,” Berube said. “They got to do that stuff. Getting back in the lineup, their job is to do that. It’s not change the style of play or game we had — we want to play the same way. We’re getting some real good skill back, but within that skill, these guys got to work and they got to compete and they got to be physical.”
It may take the returning players a bit to get back into game form, but at least they’re not hopping into a schedule in progress. It’s still a tough return to play, as you underestimate the Oilers’ dominant scoring at your own risk.