The St. Louis Blues are in need of a spark as they try to salvage the finale of a four-game homestand.
The return of goaltender Jaroslav Halak may just be what the club needs.
Halak is expected to get the start for the struggling Blues on Monday evening as they take on the visiting Los Angeles Kings.
Halak has missed the past three games with a strained groin suffered in a 5-3 loss versus the Detroit Red Wings on Feb. 1. He gave up two goals on 11 shots before departing, while Brian Elliott stopped 17-of-19 shots faced in relief.
That loss, though, was the first of what has snowballed into a four-game skid (0-3-1), with Elliott getting charged with each defeat. He has given up 14 goals in his last three starts, including five on 23 shots faced in Saturday's shootout defeat to the Anaheim Ducks.
Elliott was also beaten four times by six skaters in the shootout, falling to 3-4-1 in eight games this season with a 3.51 goals against average and .853 save percentage. The 27-year-old went 23-10-4 a season ago with a 1.56 GAA, .940 save percentage and nine shutouts.
"Not playing very good. Not much I can say ... not playing very good," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said of Elliott's play. "He'd be the first to tell you too. He's got to play better."
He won't get the chance to improve on Monday as Halak was activated from injured reserve the previous day and is expected to start versus the Kings. He is 3-0-0 in five games this season with two shutouts as well as a 2.10 GAA and .889 save percentage.
Halak will try to get a Blues club that opened the season with wins in six of seven back on track, though at least the offense found its form in Saturday's loss after notching just two goals combined the previous two setbacks.
Alexander Steen and Chris Stewart had a goal and two assists each, helping St. Louis build a 3-1 lead in the first period that it failed to hold. David Backes had a goal and an assist, but the Blues had a game-winning goal with 22.2 seconds waived off due to incidental contact with the goaltender by Patrik Berglund.
While the Blues remain winless in February, it has been a season-long struggle thus far for the defending champion Kings. They are tied for the fewest points in the Western Conference with eight and are just 1-3-0 on a five-game road trip that ends on Monday.
Los Angeles seemed on the verge of at least a point on Sunday versus Detroit, potting a game-tying goal with 52.8 seconds left in regulation off the stick of defenseman Alec Martinez, but the Red Wings' Jonathan Ericsson scored with just 4.5 ticks left on the clock to hand the Kings a 3-2 setback.
Ericsson ripped a slap shot from the right point that squeaked by Los Angeles goalie Jonathan Quick and trickled across the goal line.
It was a heartbreaking loss for a Kings team that was all over the Red Wings, who were saved by a stellar performance from Jimmy Howard. The Detroit netminder made 45 saves, including 23 in a scoreless second period.
Anze Kopitar also lit the lamp for the Kings, who have lost two in a row and four of their past five overall. Quick stopped 28 shots and was on the bench when Martinez backhanded home a rebound.
"Certainly not the finish that we wanted. I thought we gave it a good go in the end, got the tying goal," Kopitar said. "We arguably played one of the best games this season and didn't come out with the result that we wanted."
The Kings certainly had solid results last season versus the Blues, winning three of the four meetings with a pair of shutouts at home. However, they were bested 1-0 in their most recent trip to St. Louis, where they have dropped nine of their last 12.
Halak posted a 22-save shutout in a Feb. 3, 2012 meeting in St. Louis and is 6-2-0 in his career versus the Kings in eight starts with a 1.70 GAA, .935 save percentage and two shutouts.