BLUES (5-6-3) at THRASHERS (6-6-1)
St. Louis 3-4-3; Atlanta 4-5-1
These teams meet for the second and final time this season. Atlanta paid a visit to the Scottrade Center in St. Louis on Oct. 8 and left with a 4-2 victory as part of its 4-1-0 start. Ilya Kovalchuk scored a power-play goal and an empty-netter to back up the 29-save performance of Ondrej Pavelec. The Blues received a goal and an assist from Keith Tkachuk.
Since Kovalchuk went down with a broken foot that will keep him out for several more weeks, the Thrashers have gradually come back down to earth. Their 6-3 loss Saturday night on Long Island was their sixth in eight games since the fast start. The Blues have struggled to find any sort of consistency after starting the season overseas, going 3-6-3 since a two-game sweep of Detroit in Stockholm.
One win in the last six isn't cutting it for St. Louis, which has a six-game homestand coming up after Sunday's game. At least the Blues have picked up a point in each of their last two games, a 2-1 overtime loss to Calgary on Thursday and a 2-1 shootout defeat in Philadelphia on Saturday.
"It was a 1-1 hockey game and both teams were going hard to the net," coach Andy Murray said. "We watched the Flyers team dismantle Buffalo (5-2 on Friday) -- and Buffalo has been playing very well. Our team battled hard and as long as you keep working like this, you get rewarded down the road. We'll find a way to get two points if we keep playing this hard."
Philips Arena has hardly felt like home for Atlanta this season -- after a 6-3 win over Tampa Bay in their season opener, the Thrashers have lost four in a row on their own ice. The road didn't treat them much better Saturday as the Islanders built a 3-1 lead after 20 minutes and cruised to a 6-3 triumph.
"It was like we had three or four guys show up and the rest of the guys didn't," coach John Anderson said. "That's embarrassing. We can't play like that. That's absolutely embarrassing."
Atlanta defenseman Pavel Kubina has goals in three consecutive games. Forward Maxim Afinogenov, often an enigma during his time in Buffalo, has recorded 11 points in 13 games for the Thrashers, including one goal and five points in his last four games.
St. Louis is close to getting defenseman Barret Jackman
(high-ankle sprain) and forward Andy McDonald
(upper-body injury) back in the lineup. Forwards D.J. King (broken hand) and Alexander Steen
(broken wrist) remain out long term.
Pavelec isn't in danger of losing his No. 1 job anytime soon, as Atlanta goalie Kari Lehtonen recently underwent a second surgery on his back and will miss at least six-to-eight more weeks. Kovalchuk could be back later this month or early next month.
An early lead could prove crucial in this game -- the Blues and Thrashers are among seven NHL teams with a 1.000 winning percentage when leading after the first period.
Will this be a battle of the backups? Chris Mason started for St. Louis on Saturday and Pavelec for Atlanta -- with a second game in less than 24 hours, don't be surprised if Ty Conklin is between the pipes for the Blues, with the Thrashers' Johan Hedberg at the other end of the ice.