CANADIENS (21-12-3) vs. BLUES (22-7-4)
TV: RDS, FS-MW
Last 10: Montreal 7-3-0; St. Louis 5-4-1
Season series: This is the second and final game between these cross-conference clubs. The St. Louis Blues defeated the Montreal Canadiens, 3-2 in a shootout Nov. 5 in Montreal.
Big story: Blues captain David Backes will miss his second straight game. He had played in 274 straight but could not finish against the Ottawa Senators on Monday due to an upper-body injury sustained as a result of a collision with Colin Greening in the second period. The Canadiens begin a six-game road trip in St. Louis, their longest of the season, and will try to improve on a 6-1-1 record in their past eight road games.
Canadiens: Montreal's power play has been effective all season (sixth in the NHL as of Wednesday at 22.4 percent) and especially Tuesday at home against the Phoenix Coyotes. Down 1-0 in the third period, the Canadiens scored twice with the man advantage and added an empty-netter to seal a 3-1 victory. But the Canadiens will need to keep up their strong penalty killing (third as of Wednesday at 87.2 percent) with the Blues power play at 23.1 percent. The Canadiens will look for a similar effort on the penalty kill they received Tuesday when they killed off a double minor to Brandon Prust in the second period.
"We killed that four minutes and we didn't give up many chances, and we just kept playing our game," Canadiens coach Michel Therrien said. "We played the game we wanted to play, and there's no doubt the guys did a great job killing that penalty in the second period."
Blues: Injuries have hit the Blues hard. In addition to Backes, forwards Vladimir Sobotka and Jaden Schwartz missed the game against San Jose. The effect of their absence was most felt early in the game when the Sharks had three unanswered goals before Kevin Shattenkirk and Jay Bouwmeester scored to close out the second period.
Coach Ken Hitchcock confirmed Backes did not skate in practice Wednesday, but Sobotka and Schwartz (each dealing with muscle injuries) did participate.
"If the game was [Wednesday], neither [Sobotka or Schwartz] are ready. We'll see how they feel the rest of the day and see how they feel in the morning skate [Thursday]. I think our situation is pretty fluid right now," Hitchcock told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
The Blues tweeted Thursday that Schwartz will be in the lineup but Sobotka won't play.
Who's hot: Canadiens forward Max Pacioretty has four points (three goals, one assist) in his past three games. ... Blues forward Alex Steen has four points (two goals, two assists) in his past five games. He received a three-year contract extension Wednesday.
Injury report: Canadiens forward George Parros (concussion) is out indefinitely, and defenseman Davis Drewiske (shoulder surgery) is on injured reserve. ... Reports on a return to the Blues lineup by Backes (upper body) indicate one week. Sobotka is out Thursday. Defenseman Jordan Leopold (right index finger surgery) and forward Ryan Reaves (broken right hand) are on injured reserve.