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Payne coaches first NHL game as Blues host Hawks

by Brian Hunter
BLACKHAWKS (27-10-3) at BLUES (17-17-6)

Last 10: Chicago 8-2-0; St. Louis 4-5-1

Season Series:
Second of six meetings this season between Central Division rivals. Cristobal Huet stopped all 27 shots he faced and Chicago received goals from Troy Brouwer, Brian Campbell and Marian Hossa in a 3-0 win at the United Center on Dec. 16. Patrick Kane assisted on all three goals.

Big Story: The first coaching casualty of the 2009-10 season came Saturday when St. Louis relieved Andy Murray of his duties and promoted Davis Payne from its AHL affiliate in Peoria. While the Blues made the Stanley Cup Playoffs last season after a tremendous second half, they never really managed to get going after a sweep of the Red Wings in Stockholm to begin this season. They entered Saturday 12th in the Western Conference standings.

"I have been coaching for 10 years now and 8 1/2 have been as a head coach," Payne said after putting the team through the morning skate in preparation for Saturday night's game against Chicago. "It felt the same when I got on the ice this morning as it did two days ago in Peoria for a pregame skate. It's hockey. Obviously the buildings are bigger and there is lots of star power on the ice, but it's the same game."

Team Scope:

Blackhawks: What a calendar year 2009 was for the Blackhawks. They not only made it back to the postseason last spring, they won two rounds before eventually bowing out to the then-defending Stanley Cup champion Red Wings. Following the summer break, they picked right back up where they left off, compiling the most wins and the second-most points in the Western Conference this season. That included a 5-1 win over Martin Brodeur and the East-leading New Jersey Devils on New Year's Eve.

"Everybody played well; everybody got chances," John Madden told the Chicago Tribune after picking up a goal against his old team. "You're not going to score on the best goalie ever to play unless you put a couple on net."

Blues: Finishing an up-and-down month of December, St. Louis followed up a three-game win streak with four straight losses, ultimately leading to Murray's demise as coach. They did manage a point out of Thursday's 4-3 overtime loss to Vancouver, but it was hardly the kind they would pat themselves on the back for afterward. The Blues led 3-0 after Andy McDonald scored with 5:30 left in the second period and couldn't hold it.

"You shouldn't lose the game when you're up 3-0 in your own building," forward Keith Tkachuk told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. "It just seems like when we get a break (that goes against us), things start to unfold on us."

Who's Hot: Kane, who leads Chicago with 45 points, has seven goals and four assists during a six-game points streak. Captain Jonathan Toews has two goals and eight assists during a five-game points streak. Madden has three goals in as many games and Brouwer has scored goals in two straight.

Alexander Steen has four goals in his last three games for St. Louis. McDonald has a goal and an assist in each of his last two games. Tkachuk has a goal and three assists during a four-game points streak.

Injury Report:
Knee surgery has Blackhawks forward Adam Burish on the shelf while back surgery has sidelined forward Dave Bolland. … The Blues are awaiting the return of forward D.J. King, who had surgery on his right hand in October, while forward Paul Kariya has missed the last two games after taking an elbow to the head against the Sabres on Sunday.

Stat Pack:
Huet has a 1.01 goals-against average in his last four starts against the Blues. … Chicago has scored at least four goals in each of the past four games, while St. Louis has allowed at least four goals in each of the past four games.

Puck Drop:
Chicago has played 23 of its 40 games this season at the United Center, but the schedule is going to even out in January. The Blackhawks, who are 9-6-2 on the road, will play 11 of their 15 games away from the Windy City, including an eight-game trek to conclude the month.

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