ST . LOUIS — Roman Polak will always be remembered for the Door.
Blues coach Ken Hitchcock’s celebrated quip — “Don’t open the Roman Polak Door. Don’t ever open that door.” — following Polak’s famous fight with San Jose’s Justin Braun during the 2012 playoffs will surely stick with the Blues’ defenseman for a while. If not forever.
But in his eighth season in St. Louis, the Czechoslovakia native is proving his worth as an all-around hockey player — a strong defender capable of making plays on the offensive end and, yeah, also a guy not to be messed with.
“I’m still a defensive defenseman,” Polak says. “I know my job here and I don’t think it’s scoring or putting up points there. … I don’t think I’m going to be on the PP. I didn’t see the PP for three years and I’m not going to see it for another three years. I’m pretty confident about my job.”
The rock-solid, 6-foot, 236-pounder made those comments after racking up two points — a goal and an assist — in the Blues’ 4-2 win against the Hurricanes on Saturday at Scottrade Center.
Those two points, which earned Polak the No. 1 star for the night, matched a career high he had accomplished only four times previously.
OK, so he won’t be mistaken for Al MacInnis on the offensive end anytime soon. But Polak’s contributions on both ends of the ice this season have helped the 14-3-3 Blues during their 31-points-in-20-games start, which has them trailing only Chicago (32 points in 22 games) and Minnesota (32 points in 23 games) in the Western Conference’s Central Division.
Polak, 27, also scored in the overtime loss to the Coyotes, giving him two goals in three games last week and three for the season. He’s only one off his career high of four, which he scored over 78 games in the 2009-10 season. After another assist in the win in Buffalo on Tuesday, he enters tonight’s game with four points in his last five games after just one point in the first 15.
Polak entered the season with nine goals and 66 points in 350 games.
Whence cometh all the scoring?
“I don’t know,” the former sixth-round pick says. “It’s just going in right now.”
Polak had a total of six points (one goal and five assists) in 48 games a year ago and his career high of 21 points (four goals and 17 assists) came back in the 2009-10 season.
He is averaging just over 17 minutes of ice time per game this season, which is the lowest average of his six full seasons in St. Louis, and his recent offensive output has complemented his work on the other end.
Polak has been paired with Ian Cole following Jordan Leopold’s hand injury, which is expected to keep Leopold out of action for several more weeks.
Polak and Cole have emerged as a defensive pairing that Hitchcock can trust. The Blues’ coach says the game against the Hurricanes was the best they had played together.
“They are getting better and better,” Hitchcock says. “Their puck management. Their continuity with each other. There’s no hesitation in the transition. They are two big guys that are hard to play against. They are getting better and better.”
“That’s a good pair for us because we are now able to play that pair against top players,” he says. “I don’t think there’s any fear in putting that pair out against a top-playing line and that gives us a real backdrop for 19 (Jay Bouwmeester) and 27 (Alex Pietrangelo).”
But Polak will always be remembered for that night in April 2012, when the brass-knuckles fighter within him came out and took aim at Braun at the conclusion of a Blues 3-0 home playoff win.
It was Blades of Steel meets Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out, with Polak dropping Braun to the ice amid a flurry of furious haymakers.
“He’s one of those guys who you can officially call him ‘a freak.’ The guy’s the biggest guy on our team and he’s one of the fastest guys on our team,” Cole said recently in an interview with 101.1 ESPN in St. Louis. “The guy is an absolute freak. Awesome guy. The nicest guy off the ice. But plays so hard. You do not want to open that door. You do not want to send him over that edge right there that he plays on. I think you saw what can happen when he goes over that edge, and it’s not pretty.”
You can follow Nate Latsch on Twitter (@natelatsch) or email him at email@example.com.