The St. Louis Blues hope an impressive stretch before the All-Star break can help overturn a dismal start and bring about a playoff push. The Detroit Red Wings, meanwhile, seem well on their way to a 16th consecutive postseason appearance.
The Central Division foes meet Friday in St. Louis for the first of three contests between the clubs over the next two weeks.
The Blues (19-21-8) went into the break on a 6-0-1 run, part of the team's 12-4-4 record since coach Andy Murray replaced Mike Kitchen on Dec. 11.
St. Louis beat the San Jose Sharks 1-0 on Saturday for the team's third straight win entering the break.
Bill Guerin scored the lone goal, his team-leading 20th of the season. The 36-year-old right wing, who had two assists in Wednesday's All-Star game, has 35 points in 47 games, an impressive turnaround from a disappointing 2005-06 season during which he was limited to 40 points in 70 games.
"I worked hard to get my game back in order," Guerin said. "Last year was an off year, and I just wanted to prove that I could still play."
The Blues, who are 19 points behind the second-place Red Wings (30-13-5) in the Central and eight back of Minnesota for the final Western Conference playoff spot, are hoping the break hasn't derailed the momentum the team's offense had created.
Saturday's victory was the first time in seven games St. Louis failed to score at least three goals. The team has averaged 3.25 goals over its last 14 games, more than a goal better than its average through the season's first 34 contests.
The Blues' upcoming schedule, however, could be a big test.
St. Louis plays its next three games at home, including a matchup Saturday against the West-leading Nashville Predators and Tuesday's contest against the Wild. The team then faces the Red Wings twice in four games following the homestand - in Detroit on Feb. 2 and back at Scottrade Center on Feb. 8.
The Blues have lost seven straight at home against Detroit, last beating the Red Wings in St. Louis on April 13, 2002.
The Blues are facing a Detroit team that lost its final two games before the break, including a 3-1 defeat to the Colorado Avalanche last Saturday. It was the second straight game the Red Wings were held to one goal following a five-game winning streak during which they outscored opponents 22-10.
Coach Mike Babcock said the team's schedule, which included 14 games in 25 days entering the break, may have contributed to the lack of offensive pressure.
"We were running on vapors," he said. "We had no emotions. We had no fire."
The Red Wings are looking to jump to a strong start in the second half as they try to extend their streak of 15 straight playoff appearances. To capture a sixth straight division title, however, they'll have to catch the Predators, who lead Detroit by six points.
While the Red Wings aren't as strong offensively as they have been, averaging 3.02 goals per game - 13th in the league and down from the NHL's second-best average of 3.67 last season - the play of goaltender Dominik Hasek has helped make up for it.
Hasek, who returned to Detroit this season after spending 2005-06 with Ottawa, is 25-8-3 with a conference-best 2.03 goals-against average. He has, however, lost three of his last five road starts.
Hasek, who turns 42 on Monday, is 11-5-1 with four ties and a 2.40 goals-against average against the Blues. Two of those victories came in December.
Detroit has won three of four games between the teams this season and has lost only three of the past 23 meetings. This is the first matchup in 2007 after the Red Wings went 7-0-1 versus the Blues in 2006.
|Mar 24 '07||STL 3 at DET 2 - SO||D. Weight|
|Feb 08 '07||DET 0 at STL 1||B. Guerin|
|Feb 02 '07||STL 3 at DET 5||K. Draper|
|Jan 26 '07||DET 1 at STL 2 - OT||B. Guerin|
|Dec 07 '06||STL 3 at DET 4 - OT||P. Datsyuk|
|Dec 05 '06||DET 5 at STL 1||P. Datsyuk|
|Nov 24 '06||STL 3 at DET 2 - SO||M. Rucinsky|
|Oct 28 '06||DET 3 at STL 2||T. Holmstrom|