BLUES (39-12-6) at CANUCKS (27-24-9)
TV: FS-MW, SNET-P
Last 10: St. Louis 7-2-1; Vancouver 2-8-0
Season series: The Vancouver Canucks are going for a three-game sweep of the St. Louis Blues after winning 3-2 in overtime at Scottrade Center on Oct. 25 and 2-1 at home on Jan. 10.
Big story: The teams resume play after the Olympic break in vastly different circumstances. The Blues begin a three-game road trip on top of the Central Division, all but assured of a berth in the Stanley Cup Playoffs and challenging for the Presidents' Trophy. The Canucks start a three-game homestand on the outside looking in at the top eight in the Western Conference, but they should get a boost from the return of top-line center Henrik Sedin.
Blues: With seven Blues playing in the maximum six games in Sochi, coach Ken Hitchcock may be forced to give some of his stars a break during a three-game road trip.
"It's going to be really interesting to see all of these guys coming back that played in some of the important games over there, how quickly they can mentally turn that off and get refocused for some real important hockey," said Blues associate coach Brad Shaw, who has been running practice while Hitchcock served as an assistant coach for Canada. "That'll be a real tough mental challenge for those guys and we'll have to maybe expect some play that is a little bit haywire at times. Hopefully we'll have enough guys pointed in the right direction."
Shaw said the Blues may have to give their Olympians some additional rest.
"I don't think it's written in stone, but there is an idea that some guys will probably need a break, some may not," he said. "A lot of the guys that went over, a [Alex Pietrangelo] or [Jay Bouwmeester], who average 25 minutes and end up playing a 17 or 18 minutes, might be able to come right back in. It's hard to say."
Canucks: The good news is that although Sedin missed practice this week for personal reasons, coach John Tortorella said he is expected to return to the lineup against the Blues. The bad news is that Tortorella had no update on whether center Ryan Kesler would be available. Kesler played the final three games for the United States in Sochi despite a right hand injury sustained when he blocked a shot in the game against Russia; he had an MRI on Tuesday.
Kesler's absence would be a major loss for a team that's already thin down the middle. He leads NHL forwards in ice time (22:12) and has a key role on both special teams for the Canucks.
"He's one guy you notice more than others because he contributes in so many areas of our team," forward Christopher Higgins told the Vancouver Province. "He plays hard minutes. He would be a tough guy to replace."
Who's hot: Blues forward T.J. Oshie became a household name after his shootout heroics in the United States' preliminary-round win against Russia in Sochi, but he's played well all season. His 46 points are tied with Alexander Steen for the team lead. … Higgins had points in each of Vancouver's last two games, and his 16 goals are second on the team.
Injury report: The Blues are expected to be without defenseman Jordan Leopold (ankle) and forward Vladimir Sobotka (knee). … The Canucks will be without defensemen Christopher Tanev (hand) and Andrew Alberts (concussion), and center Mike Santorelli (shoulder). Forward Alexandre Burrows (hand) and defenseman Yannick Weber (undisclosed) are day-to-day.
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