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Senators-Blues Preview @NHLdotcom

Despite a promising finish to a poor first half of the season, the Ottawa Senators stumbled again in their first game after the All-Star break.

The St. Louis Blues will look to avoid an identical fate when they see their first action in eight days on Thursday, hosting the Senators in a matchup of last-place clubs.

Ottawa (16-22-7) was one of the NHL's worst teams throughout the first half, but went 3-0-1 in its final four games before the break, closing with a 3-2 win over the high-scoring Washington Capitals.

The Senators' woes resumed on Tuesday, however, as they managed just 22 shots on goal and lost 4-1 at home to New Jersey. According to coach Craig Hartsburg, Ottawa's problem isn't just an offense that ranks among the league's meekest with 2.4 goals per game, but more specifically a lack of effort.

"When you start losing battles - and to me, that's an individual part of the game - then it seems like your whole game falls apart," Hartsburg told his team's official Web site. "It's very disturbing that we cannot consistently work for 60 minutes."

The Senators have qualified for 11 straight postseasons, but that streak is in serious jeopardy as they sit in the Northeast Division cellar, 13 points out of the Eastern Conference's eighth spot.

"We just have to look at ourselves in the mirror," said goalie Brian Elliott, who will make his seventh straight start on Thursday. Elliott, who had only one NHL start prior to this month, is 3-2-1 with a 2.48 goals-against average.

"We know we have to work harder and make our own breaks," he added. "If we do that, we'll give ourselves a chance to win but if we're not going to do that, it's going to be few and far between."

The Blues (19-23-4) remain in last place in the Western Conference, as they press on without important injured players such as Paul Kariya, Andy McDonald, Eric Brewer and Erik Johnson.

Like the Senators, St. Louis closed the first half with a 3-0-1 surge, including impressive wins at Boston and Chicago in their last two games. They beat the Blackhawks 2-0 on Jan. 21, with goalie Chris Mason making 21 saves for his second shutout of the season.

"In order for us to be successful, we have to work very hard and we did that (against Chicago)," said Mason, who replaced injured starter Manny Legace in the win over the Bruins and has now won consecutive decisions after nine straight losses.

"They let me see the shots, cleared the rebounds, were tough in front of the net, they were tough in the corners, they cleared the puck," Mason added. "We just battled hard and we're starting to see the results."

St. Louis has generally played its best hockey at home, where it is 11-9-3 while outscoring opponents 73-69. The Senators, meanwhile, have been outscored 71-45 while going 5-14-3 on the road.

The Blues have lost three straight games to Ottawa, with their last win in the series a 4-2 victory on Nov. 27, 2001.

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