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Atlanta invades St. Louis in battle of unbeatens @NHLdotcom

THRASHERS (1-0-0) at BLUES (2-0-0)

Season series: This is the first of two meetings this season. These teams met once in 2008-09, and the Blues earned a 4-2 road win on Nov. 30, 2008. Brad Boyes, David Backes, Jay McClement and Keith Tkachuk scored goals, with Boyes and Jeff Woywitka (0-2-2) collecting a game-high 2 points apiece. For the Thrashers, Colby Armstrong and Niclas Havelid (now playing in Sweden) scored goals. Goaltender Chris Mason made 28 saves for the win, and Ondrej Pavelec took the loss with 43 saves.

Big story:
These teams are highly unfamiliar with each other, as this is only the 11th all-time meeting, with the Blues holding a 6-2-1-1 advantage and outscoring Atlanta 33-22.

Both squads have several new faces since their last meeting. Atlanta has added defensemen Pavel Kubina and Steve McCarthy, and forwards Tim Stapleton, Nik Antropov and Maxim Afinogenov, as well as 18-year-old Evander Kane, the No. 4 pick of the 2009 Entry Draft. Also, German defenseman Christoph Schubert, who the Thrashers claimed on waivers from Ottawa last Friday, is expected to make his season debut. The Blues, already with a great young nucleus, have added goaltender Ty Conklin, defensemen Brendan Bell and Darryl Sydor, and center Derek Armstrong, all veterans.

Team scope:

Atlanta has a new top line with free agent signee Nik Antropov centering Ilya Kovalchuk and Bryan Little. Kovalchuk, who finished sixth in the NHL in scoring with 91 points (43 goals, 48 assists) last season, is the only player in the League who has scored 40 or more goals in each of the past five seasons. He is also the leading goal-scorer with 297 since entering the NHL as an 18-year-old in 2001-02.

Antropov has scored 54 goals over the past two seasons, including career-high totals of 28 goals and 59 points with Toronto and the Rangers in 2008-09. Little scored 31 times in 2008-09 to rank second on the Thrashers in goals.

What a way to start the season -- sweeping a two-game series against division rival Detroit, a squad heavy in Swedes, in Stockholm. The crowd at the Scottrade Center should be rocking to see their triumphant heroes in their home-opener.

Coach Andy Murray guided the Blues to one of the greatest comebacks in NHL history over the second half of last season, posting the League's best record in their last 41 games (25-9-7) and advancing from 15th place in the Western Conference standings to the No. 6 seed for their first playoff berth since 2003-04.

St. Louis also made its amazing run in 2008-09 without franchise defenseman Erik Johnson, who is back for 2009-10 after missing all last season with a knee injury. Johnson led Blues defensemen and ranked second among NHL rookie blueliners in scoring in 2007-08, recording 33 points (5 goals, 28 assists) in 69 games. He was the first player selected in the 2006 Entry Draft.

Who's hot:
Kovalchuk and Rich Peverley each scored 2 goals and 3 points for the Thrashers in their season-opener, while Little and Tobias Enstrom had 2 assists each. Young defensemen Zach Bogosian and Anssi Salmela also scored in the win against Tampa Bay.

Three players have 4 points apiece for the Blues -- Keith Tkachuk (2-2-4), Paul Kariya (2-2-4) and Jay McClement (1-3-4). Center Andy McDonald is not far behind with 3 points (1-2-3).

Injury report:
Atlanta has goaltender Kari Lehtonen (back) and defenseman Noah Welch (shoulder) on injured reserve. Defenseman Eric Brewer (back) and left wing D.J. King (thumb) are on injured reserve for St. Louis.

Stat pack:
On Monday, the NHL named Tkachuk its Third Star for the week ending Oct. 4. He scored 4 points (2 goals, 2 assists) in the Blues' two-game sweep against Detroit in 2009 Compuware NHL Premiere. After tallying 1 assist in a 4-3 victory on Oct. 2, Tkachuk notched 3 points (2 goals, 1 assist) and earned First Star honors in a 5-3 win on Oct. 3. He led all players in the game with 7 hits, recorded 5 shots and won 9 of 16 faceoffs. Tkachuk increased his career goals total to 527, second all-time among U.S.-born players and 31st all-time.

Puck drop:
The Blues are traveling the road from also-rans to contenders with Cup aspirations, experiencing the same type of turnaround Chicago has experienced recently. The Thrashers would like nothing better to follow the same game plan.

-- Rocky Bonanno,

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