All in all, the Blues posted a terrific 8-1-2 mark in January, but the club dropped two straight on Jan. 23 and 24 to head into the All-Star break on a down note. After nine days off, St. Louis will be the last NHL team to emerge from the break when it finally takes the ice tonight.
St. Louis enters today's action tied for fifth in the Western Conference with Chicago. That standing is due in large part to the 23-6-7 record since Hitchcock took over as head coach for the fired Davis Payne. The Blues have only one three-game slide under Hitch and it came during an 0-2-1 stretch that closed the month of December.
Despite the long layoff, the Blues are not expected to have forwards Andy McDonald or Alex Steen back tonight. Both players have been practicing, but neither are ready to return to game action after suffering concussions. McDonald hasn't played since mid-October, while Steen has been out since suffering his head injury on Dec. 27.
Blues defenseman Kent Huskins is also close to returning from a broken bone in his left ankle, but he is not expected to play tonight. Forward Scott Nichol is also questionable for tonight due to personal reasons.
St. Louis is 21-3-4 as the host this year and had won four straight in the Gateway City before getting dealt a 3-2 shootout loss by Pittsburgh on Jan. 24.
The Kings will aim for a third straight win tonight after an apparent clock error helped them post a win Wednesday against visiting Columbus. Drew Doughty rammed home the game-winning goal with just four-tenths of a second remaining to send the Kings to a 3-2 victory over the Blue Jackets, but replays showed that the clock had stalled at 1.8 seconds for what appears to be at least a second.
The play was reviewed and was allowed to stand, but after the game there were questions from the Blue Jackets about the clock delay. Although Columbus has been all but mathematically eliminated from postseason contention, the two points gained by Los Angeles could play a big part in the playoff race. The Kings are currently seventh in the West with 60 points and are three points ahead of eighth-seeded Minnesota.
Although the league has not released an official statement on the controversy, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman addressed the clock glitch in his weekly radio program on Thursday.
"Not good, not acceptable -- if [the clock] had run straight through, the game would have been at a tie at that point, would have gone to overtime," Bettman said. "And maybe LA would have won anyway, maybe not. That's not the point. We are taking this very seriously. We're investigating as to how it happened. Obviously it's either human error or a technology glitch. We don't know which, but we've already begun investigating and we will get to the bottom of it.
Doughty's controversial winner came on the power play after Blue Jackets' center Samuel Pahlsson was whistled for holding with 1:06 to play. The Kings went to work with the man-advantage, bombarding Jackets goalie Curtis Sanford with shots. LA defenseman Jack Johnson ripped a slap shot from the right point that was kicked out by Sanford, but Doughty went down to one knee and ripped it past Sanford from the slot just before the clock hit zero.
LA hasn't won three straight since Nov. 12-17 and the current stretch marks the first time the club has won consecutive games since Dec. 26 and 28. The Kings are opening a six-game road trip tonight and are 10-5-6 as the guest this year.
The Kings have won both encounters against St. Louis this season after losing the previous seven meetings. LA ended a three-game slide at Scottrade Center with a 3-2 decision there on Nov. 22.