The St. Louis Blues have had plenty of time to reflect on how poorly they entered the All-Star break. Coach Ken Hitchcock hopes it served as a wake-up call.
Sporting one of the NHL's top home records, the Blues return to the ice Friday night to meet the Los Angeles Kings, who begin their longest road trip of the season.
St. Louis hasn't played since Jan. 24, the only team not to have a game since the All-Star game.
The Blues were 8-0-1 from Jan. 3-21 before entering the break with losses at Detroit and at home to Pittsburgh in a shootout. Hitchcock said that the team, which has failed to reach the playoffs in five of the last six seasons, needed to learn from that.
"I think the last two games are eye-openers," said Hitchcock, 23-6-7 since taking over for the fired Davis Payne. "We're as good or better than 22 teams, but there's eight out there, they're big-time teams."
The Blues, who haven't won a division title since 2000, are 21-3-4 at home but play only 14 of their final 33 games there. St. Louis (29-13-7), Chicago and Nashville are all within striking distance of Central Division-leading Detroit but will enter Friday with three games in hand on all of those teams.
"We're going to really have to amp it up here when we get back," Hitchcock said. "That's what we told the players: Take a good break but, man, when we come back we're going to really have the temperature turned up to get better."
The Blues have given up a Western Conference-low 102 goals behind netminders Jaroslav Halak and Brian Elliott. The Kings are third in the West with 113 goals allowed thanks greatly to starter Jonathan Quick.
Halak has a 1.31 goals-against average in his past nine starts, the same mark as Elliott in his last six starts at home while going 4-0-2. While Halak is 3-2-0 with a 1.94 GAA versus the Kings since joining St. Louis last season, Elliott is 0-3-0 with a 3.65 GAA in four career games against them.
Quick has allowed two goals or fewer in 11 of 13 starts, but he's surrendered 10 over his last three in St. Louis - all losses.
The Kings begin their six-game road swing following Wednesday's controversial 3-2 win over Columbus. With Los Angeles on the power play, the game clock stopped briefly with time winding down, allowing Drew Doughty to score the winning goal with one second left.
The NHL's video room in Toronto looked at the play immediately after the goal, but didn't notice the scoreboard stopped while the Kings were around the net.
"We didn't even look to go back and say 'OK, did something happen (with the clock)?'" said Colin Campbell, the NHL's senior executive vice president of hockey operations. "When it crosses the line (and) you review it, you back the puck out and you see what the clock was. And the clock was 0.4 (seconds).
"And then ... minutes after the game, we see (it and say) 'Holy cow.'"
The result is expected to stand.
The Kings (25-16-10) now seek their third win of the season against St. Louis after dropping the previous seven meetings.
Quick turned aside 27 shots in a 5-0 victory Oct. 18 in Los Angeles, and Willie Mitchell scored the go-ahead goal with 5:49 to play in a 3-2 win Nov. 22 at Scottrade Center.
Anze Kopitar has a goal in both games against the Blues this season. Kopitar has a point in eight of 11 games at St. Louis, and Los Angeles is 0-3-0 there when he's held off the scoresheet.
Vladimir Sobotka and Alex Steen have the only Blues goals against Los Angeles.