Ducks-Blues Preview


Coach Ken Hitchcock is getting tired of seeing the St. Louis Blues squander opportunities during their slump, but the return of one of their top goal scorers could provide some relief.

Alexander Steen will play his first game in nearly a month Saturday night as the Blues host the Anaheim Ducks, who are coming off a rare defeat.

St. Louis (32-9-5) scored 34 non-shootout goals while going 7-0-1 in its first eight games after Steen suffered a concussion Dec. 21, but it's tallied just four while dropping two of its last three contests.

The Blues, whose plus-58 goal differential leads the NHL, got their lone score in Thursday's 4-1 loss to Los Angeles from T.J. Oshie on a penalty shot in the second period.

"They rose to the occasion. We didn't," Hitchcock said. "I'm kind of getting sick of watching it. If we're going to figure this out, we're going to have to get more people coming up a lot bigger."

Steen was second in the league with 24 goals at the time of his injury, which came shortly after he signed a three-year, $17.4 million contract extension. His return could provide a boost for the Blues, but he may have to shake off some initial rust after sitting out 11 games.

"I think we're going to play him as much as he can handle," Hitchcock told the team's official website. "Hopefully he can get up to speed right away and play the minutes that he did before and contribute the way he did before. He was a huge impact player for us."

St. Louis has dropped four of the last five meetings with the Ducks, including a 5-2 home loss Dec. 7. Andrew Cogliano, Nick Bonino and captain Ryan Getzlaf each had a goal and an assist in that contest for Anaheim, which had its eight-game winning streak snapped with a 4-2 loss to Chicago on Friday.

The Ducks (36-9-5) entered having won 18 of 19 but allowed the Blackhawks to score the first three goals.

"We didn't come out and have the start we wanted," said Kyle Palmieri, who scored. "A couple bounces and it could've gone the other way. It would've been a different game. Overall, I don't think we played our best for the first two periods. Against a team like that, you have to bring a 60-minute game."

Getzlaf scored and has five goals and seven assists over his last eight.

"Tomorrow night we get to go out and do it again," Palmieri said. "Hopefully we get off to a good start and go from there."

Jonas Hiller had won 14 straight starts while posting a 1.97 goals-against average to give him the second-longest winning streak in a single season in NHL history, but he suffered his first regulation loss since Nov. 26.

Frederik Andersen, 11-2-0 with a 1.98 GAA in 13 outings, could get the nod in the second game of a back-to-back set, though. He stopped 31 shots in Wednesday's 9-1 victory over Vancouver.

St. Louis will counter with Brian Elliott, who has allowed two or fewer goals in each contest while going 7-1-0 with a 1.41 GAA over his last eight appearances.

Elliott made 13 saves after relieving Jaroslav Halak in the third period of the most recent meeting with Anaheim, but he's 1-2-2 with a 3.83 GAA in five career starts against the Ducks.