Canadiens-Blues Preview

The Associated Press

The St. Louis Blues are dealing with injuries to some key players as they try to avoid losing three straight for the first time.

A visit Thursday night from a Montreal Canadiens team that hasn't posted a regulation win in the series in nearly seven years could help them overcome those absences.

St. Louis (22-7-4) has been a streaky club over the past month. The Blues won a season-high five straight Nov. 19-27, then lost three of four before winning three in a row.

That run ended with a 3-2 overtime loss at Ottawa on Monday, and St. Louis fell 4-2 at home to San Jose the next night as forwards David Backes, Jaden Schwartz and Vladimir Sobotka sat out with upper-body injuries.

Backes missed his first game since Jan. 25, 2010, a string of 274 consecutive regular-season appearances, and is expected to be out at least a week. Backes, Schwartz and Sobotka have combined for 29 goals, 38 assists and a plus-31 rating.

"It's part of the game, everybody goes through it," said leading scorer Alexander Steen, who on Wednesday agreed to terms on a three-year, $17.4 million contract extension. "It's an 82-game season. Teams are going to get injuries. We're not the only ones. ... There's no excuses. This is our team."

Defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk said being short-handed wasn't the reason why the Blues lost Tuesday night. St. Louis trailed for the third straight game after the first period, getting outscored 6-1 in the first 20 minutes over that span.

"It's like a broken record. We've got to get better on our starts," Shattenkirk, who scored his fourth goal, told the Blues' official website. "We did initially early for a couple minutes and then got away from it."

The Blues have been strong on the penalty kill of late, holding opponents to one goal in 16 chances over the last four games. They'll likely need to keep that up against the Canadiens (21-12-3).

Montreal is among the league leaders with a 22.4 power-play percentage, and it went 2 for 4 in a 3-1 home win over Phoenix on Tuesday. The Canadiens have scored three times in eight opportunities on the power play in the last two games after an 0-for-15 stretch in the previous six.

They have also allowed one power-play goal in 32 chances over the past 12 contests and own an 87.2 penalty-kill percentage to rank near the top of the NHL.

"Special teams are huge every game," said defenseman Andrei Markov, who tied Tuesday's contest at 1-all with a power-play goal in the third period. "If you kill a penalty, score a couple of goals, you have a chance to win the game."

Forward Max Pacioretty broke the tie with a power-play goal of his own with 6:42 left and added an empty-netter.

Coach Michel Therrien put Pacioretty's line on the ice for every power play.

"When coach gives you that type of opportunity, you want to deliver," said Pacioretty, who also assisted on Markov's goal. "Especially when things aren't going how you want them to go, when he gives you an opportunity like that you want to prove that he's making the right decision.

"I think that was our motivation as a line to step up."

Montreal will look to step up its play against the Blues, who are 5-0-1 in the series since the Canadiens' 4-3 victory in St. Louis on March 10, 2007. The Blues won 3-2 in a shootout at Montreal on Nov. 5.