By LOUIE KORAC
ST. LOUIS -- The Blues will have a welcomed addition in goal tonight when they face the defending Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings come to town.
The Blues, 0-3-1 in their last four games and 6-4-1 on the season, get Jaroslav Halak (groin strain) back after he missed the previous three-plus games. Halak was injured in the first period of a 5-3 loss at Detroit on Dec. 1.
Brian Elliott was 0-3-1 in Halak's absence and his numbers have dipped to 3-4-1 with a 3.51 goals-against average and .853 save percentage after leading the National Hockey League in both categories a season ago and tied with nine shutouts.
"The goalie gets the focus when things aren't going well," said Blues coach Ken Hitchcock, who backed off a bit Monday after vocally talking about Elliott needing to be better following Saturday's 6-5 shootout loss to Anaheim. "Sometimes it's warranted and sometimes it's not. I think this is a combination. If you're talking about telling the truth, this is a combination where we needed Ells to play better, but we needed to play better in front of him."
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If Ian Cole plays the game like he did Saturday night, consider him a permanent fixture in the Blues' lineup.
Playing alongside Alex Pietrangelo, the 23-year-old logged 24 minutes, 20 seconds of ice time and thought he had the game-winner on his stick in overtime Saturday. But Cole's goal with 22.2 seconds left in the extra session was waved off because of goalie interference called on Patrik Berglund.
Nevertheless, Hitchcock was just short of calling it Cole's best NHL game.
"Very good ... very good," Hitchcock said. "Just competitive, big, strong, smart. That's the player that we expected to have. If he continues down that path, he's going to be a great add for us."
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The Kings (3-5-2) are in a bit of a Stanley Cup hangover. They are laboring with the fewest points in the Western Conference, they're having trouble scoring goals and they're allowing roughly three goals a game.
Although coach Darryl Sutter didn't disclose his goalie for tonight, it looks like Jonathan Bernier will get his second start of the season. Jonathan Quick has struggled at the start with a 3-4-2 record and a 2.70 GAA and .891 save percentage.
Quick allowed what many felt like was a soft goal by Detroit's Jonathan Ericsson with 4.5 seconds remaining of a 3-2 loss at Detroit after the Kings' Alex Martinez tied the game with 52.8 seconds left. The Kings are playing their first back-to-back set of the season.
"You are allowed to ask," Sutter said jokingly about his starting goaltender for the game. "... Injury (to Quick's) a non-issue. That's a long time ago. That's a player that got hurt last year playing this year. That's not a factor. The factor that we have now is performance. It's simple. We're giving up three goals a game and you'll win one in three, which is kind of what we're doing. We need better goaltending; it doesn't matter who our goalie is to tell you the truth."
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Hitchcock is taking the positives out of Saturday's loss, even though it was the Blues' fourth in a row. It's a start but not quite all there yet.
"We had a lot of good stuff, but we're still not all-in," Hitchcock said. "We get puck-focused on hanging in the offensive zone two steps more, trying to create more where we need to take the two steps the other way trying to protect what's our turf.
"If we're guilty of anything, we're kind of over-working the offensive zone and a little bit under-working coming back, and when you under-work coming back, it just seems like every mistake we make ends up in our net and we're gonna just have to work a little bit harder for the goalies."
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The Blues' probable lineup:
Andy McDonald-David Backes-T.J. Oshie
David Perron-Alex Steen-Vladimir Tarasenko
Vladimir Sobotka-Patrik Berglund-Chris Stewart
Matt D'Agostini-Scott Nichol-Ryan Reaves
Ian Cole-Alex Pietrangelo
Wade Redden-Kevin Shattenkirk
Barret Jackman-Roman Polak
Jaroslav Halak, who is 3-0-0 with a 2.10 GAA and .889 save percentage, returns to the lineup and will start tonight; Brian Elliott is the backup.
Scratches include defenseman Kris Russell and wing Jaden Schwartz. Wing Jamie Langenbrunner (hip) is out indefinitely.
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The Kings' probable lineup:
Simon Gagne-Anze Kopitar-Dustin Brown
Kyle Clifford-Jeff Carter-Justin Williams
Dwight King-Mike Richards-Jordan Nolan
Dustin Penner-Trevor Lewis-Jarret Stoll
Keaton Ellerby-Drew Doughty
Rob Scuderi-Slava Voynov
Alec Martinez-Davis Drewiske
Jonathan Bernier is the likely starter for the Kings; Jonathan Quick is expected to be the backup.
Scratches include centers Colin Fraser and Brad Richardson and defenseman Jake Muzzin. The Kings are without two of their top defensemen because of injury. Willie Mitchell (knee), Matt Greene (back) are out indefinitely.