ST. LOUIS (AP) - T.J. Oshie was the St. Louis Blues' leading scorer before fracturing his left ankle in early November. Getting him back well ahead of schedule is a big plus for a franchise short on able bodies and scrambling for playoff position in the Western Conference.
Oshie's return Tuesday night seemed to spark the team in a 2-1 victory over the Los Angeles Kings, only the Blues' second win in eight games. He didn't figure in the scoring but took a full load, playing nearly 18 minutes, and was selected the No. 1 star on inspiration alone.
"He's a huge asset for us," goalie Jaroslav Halak said. "Obviously, we missed him and everybody is happy - especially him. He was so pumped to play."
Blues coach Davis Payne expects the production will be there shortly from one of the team's top two-way forwards.
"There were some moments there where you could see his ability to handle pucks and most importantly the pursuit that he has," Payne said. "It's great to see him back."
The Blues' 9-2-1 start before Oshie was hurt is the best in franchise history through 12 games. Although they've scuffled since then, they were only four points out of the last playoff spot, and with at least one game in hand on every team ahead of them.
Injuries to Oshie, David Perron and Andy McDonald, three of the top four forwards, is the biggest reason the Blues were 11th in the conference entering Thursday night's home matchup against the Detroit Red Wings. Perron has missed 35 games and McDonald another 20 with concussions, and neither appears close to returning.
McDonald led the team with 57 points last season, Oshie was tied for second with 48 and Perron tied for fourth with 47 points.
"A guy like Oshie, he's a top-six forward for us," Payne said. "His abilities to play at both ends and make plays, extend plays, that's nice to see in our lineup."
Oshie said he got comfortable as the game went on, but figures there's rust to shake off.
"Sitting down for 2 1/2 months or whatever it's been, just watching from upstairs, you see some different stuff but you definitely don't realize how fast it is out there," Oshie said. "I was telling the boys I'm two or three steps behind right now, or at least it felt like that."
Perhaps, but he's way ahead of a timetable that called for the injury to be re-evaluated in mid-February and a more recent projection that Oshie might return after the All-Star break later this month. Instead, he'll have five games under his belt by then.
Oshie said trainers kept him on a rigorous schedule.
"They pushed me to the point where I wasn't hurting at all, just getting sore and just kind of building muscle in my leg, building range of motion," Oshie said. "Just doing what they asked, and I did the best I could. ... Everything healed well and I'm pretty lucky to get back."
Enthusiasm over Oshie's return was tempered by another injury. Defenseman Carlo Colaiacovo was placed on injured reserve Wednesday a day after getting struck by a puck near the left eye and it's expected he'll be out two weeks. Colaiacovo missed two games earlier this month after getting struck by a puck just above his mouth at Anaheim.
"Some seasons you don't get hit even once, and he got hit twice in two games," Halak said. "It's really tough for him but hopefully he'll get back soon."
Another defenseman, Erik Johnson, avoided serious injury when he was struck by the puck on the right wrist late in the first period. Johnson couldn't get off the ice for about a minute during a Kings power play, and held the injured hand behind his back to shield it.
When he finally got the chance, Johnson headed straight to the dressing room.
"X-rays were negative, so that was good," Johnson said. "I just wanted to make sure. Put an ice pack on it, take an Advil and get back out. That's just hockey."