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Blues try to close ground on first as they visit Isles

by Brian Hunter

BLUES (34-11-5) at ISLANDERS (21-25-7)


Last 10: St. Louis 6-4-0; New York 7-3-0

Season series: This is the second of two games between the St. Louis Blues and New York Islanders. Jaroslav Halak stopped 22 shots and five Blues scored in a 5-1 win at Scottrade Center on Dec. 5.

Big story: While the Blues continue to try to chase down the Chicago Blackhawks for the Central Division lead -- they're three points back with three games in hand -- the Islanders continue an important homestand that began Thursday with a 6-4 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Team Scope:

Blues: A concussion sidelined top goal scorer Alexander Steen for 11 games earlier this season, but in four games since returning he has two goals and two assists. That includes a goal Thursday in a 2-1 win at the New York Rangers, but unfortunately for St. Louis it lost Steen's services again later in that game due to a lower-body injury. His status is day-to-day.

The Blues held practice Friday afternoon at Ingalls Rink on the campus of Yale University so they could also attend the beginning of the women's game Friday night against Brown, which will celebrate the life of late Yale player Mandi Schwartz, the sister of Blues forward Jaden Schwartz. She died of leukemia in 2011.

"He's just humble, down to earth, and it comes from his family," Steen said of Schwartz in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. "They're all the same; I've had the pleasure of meeting his parents. It's going to be a special night for us as well. The hockey aside, it's important for us to show him what he means as a friend, not just as a player."

Islanders: Among the hottest teams in the NHL in the new year, New York scored at least four goals for the fourth consecutive game Thursday and the seventh time in 12 games this month. The surge has lifted the Islanders to 13th in League scoring at 2.74 goals per game.

On the flip side, they're the second-worst defensive team, after the Edmonton Oilers, allowing 3.24 goals per game. That turned out to be a poor recipe for success against the Penguins; after jumping out to an early 2-0 lead, the Islanders gave up the next four goals and found themselves playing catch-up the rest of the way.

"For some reason, we're not good enough without the puck, I guess," forward Frans Nielsen said in Newsday.

"Not everybody had a good night for us," coach Jack Capuano added.

Who's hot: Halak has won his past two starts, allowing a single goal in each game. Schwartz and linemate David Backes each have two-game assist streaks. … Islanders forward John Tavares, second in League scoring to Pittsburgh's Sidney Crosby, has 10 goals and 15 assists in his past 15 games. Forward Kyle Okposo has two goals and four assists during a four-game point streak. Forward Brock Nelson has three goals in his past four games.

Injury report: Steen is the only injury concern for St. Louis. … New York defenseman Lubomir Visnovsky (concussion) is practicing and hopeful of returning before the Olympic break. Goalie Evgeni Nabokov (lower body) could also be back soon. Defenseman Travis Hamonic (concussion) is out indefinitely.

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