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Blues return home to host inconsistent Canucks

by Frank Mentesana

CANUCKS (6-6-1) at BLUES (5-6-0)

TV: SNET-Pacific (HD), FS-Midwest (HD)

Last 10: Vancouver 5-5-0; St. Louis 5-5-0

Season series: Friday marks the second of four meetings between these Western Conference foes. On Oct. 26 in Vancouver, each team's backup netminder started in goal and Brian Elliott outdueled Cory Schneider in a 3-0 St. Louis victory. Elliott made 32 saves for his 10th career shutout and Alexander Steen scored two goals in the win.

Big Story: The only thing consistent about St. Louis and Vancouver this season has been their inconsistency. Both clubs sit in fourth place in their respective divisions, having been unable to gain any traction in the early going. Maybe the biggest reason these teams are around the .500 mark is the erratic play of their No. 1 goaltenders. Roberto Luongo, a Vezina Trophy finalist last season, is 4-3-1 with a goals-against average of 3.20 and a save percentage of just .883. He has allowed three or more goals in six of his eight starts, though he has won his last two outings. For the Blues, Jaroslav Halak has made only six starts and won just once, posting a 3.58 GAA and .843 save percentage. The only time Halak allowed fewer than three goals was in his lone victory, when he faced just 17 shots against Calgary on Oct. 10.

Team Scope:

Canucks: The Canucks have yet to win or lose more than two games in a row this season, and they were denied their first three-game winning streak on Thursday thanks to a 5-1 drubbing in Minnesota. Dan Hamhuis scored his first goal of the season 2:20 into the game, but the Wild scored five unanswered goals as they launched 45 shots at Cory Schneider, who started in place of Luongo and played well despite the final score.

"We lost 5-1 and our best player by far was our goaltender. That about can sum it up right there," coach Alain Vigneault said.

The Canucks were hoping to build on consecutive wins -- a 7-4 victory over the Capitals and a 5-1 rout of the Flames -- but were handed their second four-goal loss of the young season instead.

"I think everyone's surprised. This has got to be one of the worst performances I've been a part of in this jersey," defenseman Kevin Bieksa said. "It was the defense, the goalies, the forwards, everybody, coaches, everyone was involved in this one. We all take the blame for it."

Blues: The Blues have been off since Sunday, when they finished a four-game road trip with a 4-2 loss in Edmonton. David Backes and Alex Pietrangelo tallied for St. Louis, which has followed up its first three-game winning streak of the season with back-to-back losses. The struggling Halak played for the first time since he was pulled in a loss against the Kings on Oct. 18, when he surrendered four goals on 18 shots in just over two periods of play. Elliott started the next four games, winning three in a row until a 3-1 defeat on Friday in Calgary. On Sunday, Halak stopped 26 of 30 shots by the Oilers, who scored twice on the power play.

"This is a game we really wanted to get before we have a long break," defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk said. "They came out hard and played a great game and we couldn't capitalize on our chances. The feeling in the locker room is that this game is on us, not on our goalie. We hung him out to dry tonight."

After playing eight of their first 11 games on the road, the Blues are back home for six of their next seven. Their lone road game in the first 2 1/2 weeks of November is Saturday in Minnesota.

Who's Hot: Vancouver defenseman Alexander Edler has 10 points (3 goals, 7 assists) in his last seven games and Daniel Sedin has a point in each of his prior three games. … For the Blues, Steen had points in three straight until the loss in Edmonton, but still has a plus-5 rating over the previous four games. The 27-year-old center leads St. Louis with six goals and nine points in 11 games this season.

Injury Report: Vancouver defenseman Sami Salo was scratched against the Wild because of a sore groin muscle and is questionable for Friday. Mason Raymond (back), Byron Bitz (lower body), Aaron Rome (broken hand) and Steve Pinizzotto (shoulder) remain on IR. … For St. Louis, David Perron (post-concussion syndrome), B.J. Crombeen (fractured left scapula) and Andy McDonald (concussion) are on IR, while defenseman Kent Huskins (bruised left ankle) is day-to-day.

Stat Pack: Special teams have been St. Louis' biggest problem. The Blues, who have only 2 goals in their last 31 man-advantage opportunities, have the bottom-ranked power play in the League at 8.3 percent. They are also 29th in the NHL in penalty killing at 72.2 percent. A positive for St. Louis is that it allows the fewest shots per game in the League at 25.9.

Puck Drop: Cardinals' ace Chris Carpenter, the winning pitcher of Game 7 of the World Series, skated with the Blues at their practice on Thursday. The right-hander was an all-state defenseman for Trinity High School in Manchester, New Hampshire, but chose to pursue a career in baseball.

"It was always a dream to do that (play hockey), but I think I chose the right route," Carpenter said. "Hockey made you much tougher, I know that. Growing up playing hockey made me much tougher than baseball would have. It's a tougher sport, more fun sport. I enjoy it a lot."

Carpenter, a Blues season-ticket holder, will be at Friday's game along with recently-retired manager Tony La Russa and World Series MVP David Freese. La Russa will participate in a ceremonial puck drop prior to the game and the Blues are offering mezzanine-level tickets for $11.11 to commemorate the Cardinals' 11th championship.

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