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Blues, Hawks set to renew rivalry

by David Kalan
BLUES (2-1-1) at BLACKHAWKS (3-2-1)

Season series: This is the first meeting of the season for Chicago and St. Louis. The Hawks took four of six from the Blues last year, sealing a win in the season series with a 6-5 victory  on April 7, 2010 at the United Center.

Big story: The defending champs seem to be finding their groove after a rough start, and they'll look to continue building momentum against the Blues, who are making the trip up I-55 Monday hoping to stem the tide of two straight losses.
Team Scope:

Blues: After two straight wins to start the season, including a dominating 5-1 win over the Ducks, St. Louis was off and running on its 2010-11 campaign. But once the Blues hit the road they hit the skids. St. Louis has dropped both stops on its first trip of the season, which wraps up Monday in Chicago. After being blitzed by a three-goal first period in Nashville Thursday -- it was the Blues' fifth loss in a row to the Predators -- St. Louis let an early two-goal lead slip away in a shootout loss in Dallas.

With two defeats in a row, the Blues are in danger of letting a winless road trip derail what had been a promising start to the season, but the signs of being a playoff contender are still there. After his sparkling postseason run with Montreal this spring, goaltender Jaroslav Halak doesn't look to have skipped a beat. Halak has won two of his three starts this year while posting a 2.00 goals-against average, and should be fresh for Chicago after sitting out Saturday night's loss to the Stars. The task would become a little easier for Halak if the Blues' offense picked up, however. While center T.J. Oshie has four points in his last three games, no one else on St. Louis has more than three points this entire season.

Blackhawks: Most championship teams can fall back on solid goaltending to steal a game periodically. While Chicago's offense is among the most potent in the League, early impressions from the season's first two weeks are signaling that as Marty Turco goes, so go the Hawks. Turco was brought in this offseason to ably replace Cup-winning backstop Antti Niemi, but his game looked shakey in season-opening losses to Colorado and Detroit. After a two-game breather behind backup Corey Crawford, however, Turco's play has picked up noticeably. The former-Vezina finalist was stellar in net for both ends of a back-to-back this past weekend, stopping 68 of 73 shots to face him, as the Hawks knocked off Columbus and Buffalo.

Of course, it doesn't hurt to have an offense in front of you like Turco does. Marian Hossa continues to dazzle, leading the team with nine points over the season's first six games, while fellow Slovak Tomas Kopecky has pitched in with five points over a current four-game point streak. Patrick Kane, meanwhile, appeared to show no ill effects from the sickness that kept him out of Friday night's game in Columbus when he took the ice a night later, dishing two assists in the Hawks' 4-3 win over the Sabres. With so much production its easy to overlook that Conn Smythe-winner Jonathan Toews hasn't even made the scoresheet in four of the last five games. The only thing that might slow down Chicago's offense is exhaustion. Monday will be the Hawks' third game in four days.

Who's hot: Patrick Sharp doesn't seem like the jealous type, but if his performance in the last two games is any indication he might have grown weary of Hossa leading the team in points. Over Friday and Saturday Sharp exploded offensively, potting a total of four goals, including both game-winners. St. Louis' Matt D'Agostini didn't score once in seven games with the Blues a year ago, but he's lit the lamp three times in the team's first four games this season.

Injury report: Chicago is still missing defenseman Brian Campbell, who is going to miss several more weeks with a sprained knee. The Blues' Nikita Nikitin is still out for at least two more weeks with a broken wrist, while Cam Janssen is out following a concussion.

Stat pack: For the Blues to stay in the playoff mix with teams like the Blackhawks, their offense must become more productive. Hossa and Sharp have 10 goals between the two of them this season -- only two fewer than the entire St. Louis roster.

Puck drop: Roughly 300 miles separate Chicago and St. Louis, but they're only separated by two points in the standings. Despite their contrasting fortunes over the past week, the Blues and Blackhawks are both very much caught up in the typical logjam of an early season. Most of the schedule remains to be played, but if St. Louis can curtail its brief skid Monday, it could be a sign the Blues won't be drifting further away from the Hawks any time soon.

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