St. Louis Blues coach Ken Hitchcock has made no secret he believes his team needs goaltender Jaroslav Halak back from injury as soon as possible, but rookie Jake Allen is proving to be a suitable replacement in the meantime.
He'll be staring across the ice Sunday night at a veteran who is having plenty of success in his own right.
Halak has been out since suffering a groin injury in the first period of a loss to Detroit on Feb. 1, and backup Brian Elliott went 0-3-1 with a 5.04 goals-against average during the remainder of St. Louis' five-game losing streak.
The Blues (8-5-1), though, have won two straight with Allen between the pipes. He made 15 saves in his first career start to beat Detroit 4-3 on Wednesday before stopping 30 shots - one being a save-of-the-year candidate - in Friday's 5-2 win at Calgary.
While Hitchcock praised his 22-year-old goaltender, he still is hoping to have Halak back soon.
"This is now five periods of really strong hockey. Moving forward, we'll see if he gets another start and if he does, hopefully he can continue to play the same way,'' Hitchcock said.
"But, we need Halak back. He's a heck of a goalie and we need to get him back and running here."
With Halak still ailing, Allen will get the nod again after making a spectacular save on Calgary's T.J. Brodie that made plenty of highlight reels.
"Probably the best save of the year and impressive that he did that in his second NHL game,'' said David Perron, who scored twice.
Luongo, meanwhile, is proving he remains one of the NHL's best goaltenders despite being the subject of constantly swirling trade rumors. He's won four straight starts while posting a 0.96 GAA in that span after losing his first two in shootouts.
Luongo, whose 1.45 GAA leads the league, made 29 saves in Vancouver's 2-0 win over St. Louis in the most recent meeting March 1, improving his GAA to 2.12 in 30 career starts against the Blues, including the postseason.
Cory Schneider started Friday's 4-3 loss to Dallas that ended a six-game winning streak for the Canucks (8-3-2).
Henrik Sedin had two assists to become the franchise's all-time leading scorer, but Vancouver allowed each goal in 5-on-5 situations. It still ranks first in the league, though, allowing 15 even-strength goals.
"That just doesn't happen to this team," Sedin said. "There are going to be games when these things happen. We've just got to move on and be better on Sunday."
Ryan Kesler had an assist in his season debut after having shoulder and wrist surgery.
"He had good energy and a good jump on the ice," coach Alain Vigneault said. "He played more than I had wanted him to, but he looked good."
Vancouver concludes a four-game homestand Sunday and could have its hands full with a Blues team ending a three-game road trip. Though St. Louis has played well following its recent skid, Hitchcock believes it's capable of being better.
"For us to get to the next level, we have to collectively enjoy the competition and not want it to be something different," Hitchcock said. "For me, we need to find 60 minutes in our game. We've been playing 40 minutes but we've had our foot off the accelerator. We're making some strides but we aren't there yet."
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- Jaroslav Halak
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