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St. Louis Blues vs. Colorado Avalanche @NHLdotcom
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GAME: St. Louis Blues (29-23-7-2) at Colorado Avalanche (33-15-10-4).

TIME: Thursday, 8 p.m. EST.

St. Louis Blues coach Joel Quenneville lost his job in part because he couldn't lead the team to the level of fellow Western Conference powers like the Colorado Avalanche.

On Thursday, the Blues will play their first game without Quenneville, who was fired Tuesday, when they face the Avs at the Pepsi Center.

Quenneville was the franchise's winningest coach with 307 victories and earned NHL coach of the year honors in 2000, leading the Blues to at least 40 wins in five of his six full seasons. But St. Louis has won just four of its past 16 games, a skid that helped seal Quenneville's fate.

Despite all their regular season success under Quenneville, the Blues were 34-34 in the playoffs and couldn't duplicate the success of West rivals Colorado or Detroit, who won three Stanley Cups between them during Quenneville's tenure.

"I think Joel did everything he could," said Blues general manager Larry Pleau, whose club is in ninth place in the conference. "I just felt that the way the team had been playing, that a change was needed - and a new face.

"In these positions, you make decisions, and I felt it was time. I didn't think it was going to get back on track."

Taking over for Quenneville is assistant Mike Kitchen, who was given a multiyear contract. The new coach inherits a two-game losing streak (0-1-1), with the defeats coming at the beginning of a five-game road trip.

St. Louis has been off since its 3-2 overtime loss to Chicago on Sunday in Quenneville's final game as coach. Defenseman Stephane Robidas scored with 19.5 seconds left in the extra period to lift the Blackhawks.

Eric Weinrich and Keith Tkachuk scored for the Blues, and Chris Osgood made 27 saves.

Kitchen will be looking for his club to take advantage of the struggling Avalanche. Colorado lost 2-0 at home to Calgary on Tuesday night, its fourth defeat in five games.

The chief culprit during the Avalanche's slide has been lack of offense. The Avs were shut out for the second time in five contests and have scored only five goals during the stretch.

"We have to find a way to get some ugly goals, and hopefully we will turn it around," Avalanche captain Joe Sakic said.

Colorado still leads the Northwest Division by three points over Vancouver, but the Avs are winless in their last five at home (0-3-1-1), scoring only four goals.

The Avs' David Aebischer made 23 saves against the Flames, but was outplayed by Miikka Kiprusoff, who stopped 26 shots.

While the absence of center Peter Forsberg, who missed his fourth straight game with a groin injury, is hurting the Avalanche's offense, Colorado did get back its top two defenseman Tuesday. Rob Blake returned after missing seven games with a hairline fracture of his left leg, and Adam Foote was back after sitting out two games with a groin injury.

Colorado acquired some help up front Wednesday, trading a 2005 fourth-round draft pick to Minnesota for center Darby Hendrickson.

STANDINGS: Blues - 67 points, 3rd place, 14 PB, Central Division. Avalanche - 80 points, 1st place, Northwest Division.

TEAM LEADERS: Blues - Tkachuk, 25 goals and 57 points; Doug Weight, 40 assists; Mike Danton, 136 PIM. Avalanche - Milan Hejduk, 27 goals; Alex Tanguay, 46 assists and 67 points; Jim Cummins, 131 PIM.

SPECIAL TEAMS (through Feb. 24): Blues - Power play: 17.4 percent (47 for 270), 8th in NHL. Penalty killing: 83.8 percent (253 for 302), 20th. Avalanche - Power play: 21.8 percent (58 for 266), 3rd. Penalty killing: 85.1 percent (234 for 275), 10th.

GOALTENDERS: Blues - Osgood (22-19-5, 2 SO, 2.36 GAA); Reinhard Divis (3-3-1, 3.37). Avalanche - Aebischer (26-14-7, 4, 2.04); Phil Sauve (7-5-3, 2.64).


LAST MEETING: Feb. 12; Avalanche, 4-0. At St. Louis, Aebischer stopped 29 shots for his fourth shutout of the season as the Avs extended their point streak to 11 games.

ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Blues - 11-15-2-2 on the road; Avalanche - 16-11-3-1 at home.

Associated Press
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