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Blues visit Islanders for Saturday matinee

by Matthew Mankiewich
BLUES (28-27-9) at ISLANDERS (24-32-9)


Last 10 --
St. Louis 4-6-0; New York 5-3-2

Season series --
An inter-conference one-and-done this year -- the Blues swept the two-game set in 2009-10 and have won five of the last seven meetings overall, including four of six at Nassau Coliseum.

Big story --
A season can turn on a dime this time of the year, and it has for the Blues, who have lost six of seven. That translates into 10 points out of a playoff spot from only five a couple of weeks ago. While mathematically still in it, time is running out on the Blues to get back in the race. For the Islanders, it's already a case of too little, too late, a strong post-All-Star break record nowhere near enough to overcome a disastrous first half.

Team scope:

Blues --
Like several teams teetering on the playoff brink, getting consistent offensive production has been a problem for the Blues. Miikka Kiprusoff and the Flames snuffed out their attack two nights in a row and ran them off the ice for the last 15 minutes of the second game, scoring five times in a 6-0 win on Tuesday.

Things got better against the Capitals on Thursday, as they ended their 133:32 scoreless drought with an Alex Steen goal midway through the first period, but the Caps had an answer for every Blues score plus one by newly acquired Jason Arnott, resulting in their third straight loss, 3-2.

"The 15 minutes left in the third against Calgary were pretty atrocious," David Backes told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. "But tonight we played a much more solid 60 minutes. But mistakes against teams that are playing really good hockey are going to make you pay, and they did that tonight.

"We need to find a way to win games. There's no question that's a good team, but if we plan on being a good team we need to find ways to play with the best."

Islanders --
The verdict on Trevor Gillies is out. Ten games is the call for the retaliatory hit on Cal Clutterbuck in the Islanders' 4-1 win over the Wild on Wednesday, a punishment no doubt amplified by the previous nine games Gillies received in the free-for-all against the Penguins in February.

The suspension is one of the few negatives in a win that ended an 0-2-2 skid for the Isles. Blake Comeau scored twice and Frans Nielsen had 3 assists to back up a 33-save performance by Al Montoya. Just as important was the Isles' 2-for-6 performance on the power play against the best penalty kill in the NHL, a team that had squelched 23 of their previous 24 man-down situations.

"It's obviously really encouraging," Andrew MacDonald said on the Islanders' official website. "We were pretty happy with the way we were moving the puck around on the power play. We weren't really getting results, weren't shooting enough. Tonight it was really good to get that monkey off our back."

Who's hot --
Nielsen's two-way play has been impressive enough for him to be mentioned as a Selke Trophy candidate, given to the League's best defensive forward. His plus-8 rating is second on the team only to Michael Grabner's plus-10. Montoya is 3-2-1 with a 1.83 goals-against average in six starts since being called up.

Injury report --
Blues center Vladimir Sobotka is still weeks away from returning with a broken bone in his foot. Goalie Jaroslav Halak has a broken bone in his hand suffered Feb. 14 and remains day-to-day. Defenseman Nikita Nikitin (lower body) is also day-to-day. … Of the injured Islanders with hope of returning this season, forward Michael Haley (knee) is day-to-day and defenseman Milan Jurcina (groin) should be back by mid-March while defenseman Radek Martinek (lower body) remains out indefinitely. Defenseman Mark Streit (shoulder surgery) is skating and shooting but is not yet cleared for contact.

Stat pack --
Steen's goal against the Capitals was his first in seven games and only his third in the last 21. He's still second on the team behind Backes with 18 goals. … BJ Crombeen's goal in that contest ended a 13-game points drought. … Four of the five opponents the Isles face on their current homestand do not hold playoff seeds.

Puck drop --
In the Islanders' last set of back-to-back games earlier in the week, Nathan Lawson started the Tuesday game against the Capitals and carried a shutout into the final minute before Washington rallied for a 2-1 overtime win. This is also the start of a stretch of three games in four days for New York, so expect to see Lawson involved at some point this weekend.

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