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Blues try to shut down Avs

by Frank Mentesana /

BLUES (14-8-2) at AVALANCHE (11-13-1)


Last 10: St. Louis 7-1-2; Colorado 4-6-0

Season Series: Friday's game is the first of four meetings between these Western Conference foes. The Avalanche took three of four last season, including two one-goal victories. They have won four straight against St. Louis in Denver, outscoring the Blues 22-11 in that span.

Big Story: St. Louis looks to extend its season-best winning streak to five games, as it continues to move up the West standings under Ken Hitchcock's guidance. Since Hitchcock took over on Nov. 6, the Blues have gone 8-1-2 to shoot up from 14th in the West to fifth. The team's 30 points have them one point behind Detroit and Chicago for the Central Division lead and only four points behind Pittsburgh for the overall NHL lead. The Avs come into the seventh of an eight-game homestand off perhaps their best effort of the season, a 6-1 demolition of New Jersey on Wednesday.

Team Scope:

Blues: The Blues had another strong defensive outing on Tuesday, holding the Capitals to just 19 shots en route to a 2-1 road victory. St. Louis won in Washington for the first time since Jan. 28, 2003, spoiling Dale Hunter's debut behind the Caps' bench. The Blues fell behind midway through the opening period, but T.J. Oshie scored less than six minutes later to even the contest. Matt D'Agostini's sixth goal of the season 8:54 into the second gave St. Louis a lead they would not relinquish. The Blues dominated play, evidenced by the shot attempt totals: 61-30 in favor of the visitors.

"We hemmed them in for 2 1/2 periods. They got no zone time and we got the zone time," Hitchcock said. "We made them take penalties on us. We got into their defense early in the game and stayed on the hunt. I think the players really dug in today. We didn't just dig in to survive -- we played a heck of a hockey game."

Avalanche: The Avalanche had been struggling to score -- especially on home ice -- but broke out in a big way against the winningest goalie of all time. The Avs, who were averaging fewer than two goals per game at the Pepsi Center, put three of their first five shots past Marty Brodeur and rolled over the Devils. Six players scored, as Colorado posted just its fifth victory in 14 home games. Milan Hejduk and TJ Galiardi snapped long droughts with goals that came 6:37 apart in the first. Hejduk scored his first goal in eight games since being named team captain, and Galiardi registered his first tally since the third game of the season on Oct. 12. Ryan O'Reilly tied a career-high with three points.

"We had the start we hoped for, something we haven't had for a while," Hejduk said after the blowout win. "It was a great team effort. Hopefully we can duplicate this effort and put a few wins together. The pucks went in for some reason. We've had games where we had tons of shots and scoring chances when they didn't go in. They did tonight, finally."

Who's Hot: Jaroslav Halak picked up the win over the Caps, but it will be tough to imagine Brian Elliott won't be in net on Friday. Elliott, the NHL's Third Star last week, is 10-1-0 with a League-best 1.31 goals-against average after going 6-0-0 with two shutouts and a 0.99 GAA in six November starts. Elliott also boasts the highest save-percentage (.951) for goalies with at least 11 starts. … Colorado's Semyon Varlamov has also been playing well as of late. The Russian has won two of his last three starts and surrendered no more than two goals in any of his previous four outings.

Injury Report: The Blues are still without David Perron (concussion), B.J. Crombeen (shoulder), Andy McDonald (concussion), Kent Huskins (ankle) and Carlo Colaiacovo (hamstring). They also added forward Evgeny Grachev to IR this week after a deflected puck struck him in the face during Monday's practice. Vladimir Sobotka is questionable with an oral fracture and Alex Pietrangelo is ill, but is probable. … Colorado forwards Peter Mueller (concussion) and Mark Olver (head) are on IR. Defenseman Erik Johnson (groin) may be activated from IR in time for Friday's game.

Stat Pack: With the drubbing of the Devils, the Avalanche improved to 6-1-0 against Eastern Conference teams this season. They went 4-for-4 on the penalty kill and have now killed off 14 straight opponents' power plays, a season-high. … The Avs' lack of scoring was not for a lack of effort. According to the team's website, the club finished November with 479 shots, falling just one shy of its franchise record for shots-on-goal in a single month (480 in March 2004). Overall, Colorado is seventh in the League with 32.7 shots per game. … The Blues' offensive output has remained virtually the same since Davis Payne was fired (2.46 goals per game under Payne and 2.45 under Hitchcock), but their defensive play has vastly improved. St. Louis surrendered 32 goals in its first 13 games with Payne at the helm, but has allowed just 13 goals in 11 games under Hitchcock.

Puck Drop: Avalanche rookie defenseman Stefan Elliott was one of the six goal-scorers on Tuesday, making a little bit of team history in just his third NHL game. The tally was his second in three contests and gave him three straight games with a point, making him the first defenseman in franchise history to open his NHL career with points in three straight games.

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