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Halak set to return to Montreal for first time

by Davis Harper
BLUES (24-12-5) at CANADIENS (16-8-7)


Last 10: St. Louis 6-3-1; Montreal 3-7-0.

Season Series: This is the only meeting of the season between these teams. In their last meeting on March 13, 2011, Blues goalie Jaroslav Halak made 23 saves to lead St. Louis to a 4-1 win against his former team.

Big Story: Halak will return to Montreal, where he helped the Canadiens to an unlikely Eastern Conference finals berth in 2010, for the first time Tuesday night. Part of a two-headed monster in St. Louis, Halak will get the start Tuesday over Brian Elliott, despite the latter's shutting out Colorado, 4-0, on Saturday.

"This is once-in-a-lifetime," coach Ken Hitchcock said. "Ideal situation, you want to support the shutout, but I mean, come on. First time going back. In fairness to Jaroslav, he had a heck of a time there, and I think it would be dismissive of me to not recognize that."

Team Scope:

Blues: With all the talk of the goaltending tandem under the Gateway Arch, it's easy to overlook the Blues' burgeoning attack. But the Blues wouldn't be fourth in the West and two points off Detroit's pace without a bevy of rising stars, all of whom employ an opportunist and balanced strategy. No player has more than 30 points – five have at least 20 – or 13 goals, though three share that scoring mark.
St. Louis just swept a three-game homestand, outscoring opponents 12-4 and converting 5 of 13 man-advantage chances. However, St. Louis is just 1-3-2 on the road since December began, and Halak is just 1-5-3 away from home (though he has only allowed 8 goals over his last five).

"We've played very well on the road, but we haven't seen it come out in wins," Hitchcock said. "We have to start to see that if we want to be a top team at the end of the day."

Canadiens: After winning just once in a six-game road trip to close out 2011, Montreal has won two straight back at Bell Centre. That's thanks in large part to the netminder Montreal chose over Halak after the 2009-10 season -- Carey Price. Montreal's No. 1 goalie hasn't been as good as 2010-11, when he tied for the League lead with 38 wins, but his most recent outing proved his value. Following a 7-3 win against Winnipeg, Price thwarted Steven Stamkos and the Tampa Bay Lightning, making 23 stops in a 3-1 win.

"It's a good start to the year for us," said captain Brian Gionta, who made his return after 11 games out with a foot injury. "This January we knew was going to be a big swing month for us and that's the way we wanted to start."

Who's Hot: St. Louis defenseman Alex Pietrangelo has three-straight multipoint games. … Lars Eller, who came to Montreal in the Halak deal, had 4 goals and an assist in the win against Winnipeg.

Injury Report: Little-used Blues winger Ryan Reaves (hip) was activated from injured reserve. Defenseman Kris Russell will miss three weeks with a groin injury. Alexander Steen (concussion-like symptoms), Kent Huskins (bruised left ankle) and Andy McDonald (concussion) are on injured reserve. … Habs center Scott Gomez (groin) and Ryan White (sports hernia) are on IR.

Stat Pack: Elliott ranks in the top 5 among goalies in virtually every category, including his second-best .940 save percentage. But after a rough start, Halak is challenging him with an 8-1-5 record and .931 save percentage since Nov. 8.

Puck Drop: "Obviously, when you play for a team and then you get traded, you want to beat them every time you play them. We play Montreal only once a year, so that was my chance this year. I needed to make sure I gave it my best." – St. Louis goaltender Jaroslav Halak, after outdueling Price for a 4-1 victory in the team's most recent meeting

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