By LOU KORAC
ST. LOUIS -- The Blues were riding high with a franchise-record 13-game point streak when they played the Columbus Blue Jackets on Friday.
But a 7-1 defeat in Columbus sent that streak crumbing down and leaving the Blues (34-14-4) left to begin anew.
And even though the Blues were 12-0-1 prior to the loss Friday, there were similarities in their game the previous few games that culminated with Friday's loss and concerned coach Ken Hitchcock.
"Same stuff. Poor puck management and the five-man group ... the gaps are too big, poor puck management leads to turnovers, leads to improper spacing between your forwards and your D's and then there's gaps in your games," Hitchcock said. "Same stuff that we had earlier in the year.
"We've got to figure out a way to grab it quickly without practicing. We grabbed it before because we had a ton of practices. We played a little bit, practiced a lot, got it back. That's what we need to do, but we've got to do it without practicing right now."
The Blues are in the middle of playing nine games in 15 days, including Sunday against the Chicago Blackhawks (11:30 a.m.; NBC and KMOX 1120-AM).
Perhaps the best way to start new? Throw away the game tape from the Friday debacle.
"Throwing away that tape might be the best thing, but I think you can learn from any time," defenseman Ian Cole said. "Any type of material you can get on tape, you can always learn something. That being said at the same time, we're right back at it, it's not a long break, we're playing a good team, we know how to play, we've obviously played very well throughout the course of the year, throughout the course of these last 13 games or 14 games, so it's not like we don't know how to do it. It's not like you need a visual reminder. Everyone knows what they're doing, everyone knows how to be successful. It's just a matter of doing it."
The Blackhawks (32-18-2) are coming off a 2-1 victory against the Winnipeg Jets on Friday that ended a two-game losing streak. The Blues are Blackhawks are currently in second and third place respectively in the Central Division. Chicago trails St. Louis by six points; the Blues are two points behind the Nashville Predators.
"(The Blackhawks) came out of the break playing OK, we came out of the break playing OK, but I think both teams feel they probably can play a little bit better than they've played," Hitchcock said. "I know we do, and I'm sure they do too. They didn't play well against Minnesota, came back and had a gritty effort against a good team in Winnipeg. We've gotten points with probably not playing our best hockey and then we kind of got it tilted to us a little bit (Friday)."
And even though both teams are jockeying for position, it's all about the here and the now, according to Hitchcock.
"To me, it's just about how you're playing," Hitchcock said. "You want to really be playing well in big games, you want to be playing well in games that are leading into the playoffs, so you take a game like tomorrow, it's a good measure for us, good measure for Chicago. You want to be able to test yourself against the top teams. I think that's a bigger issue for us, how do we play against the top teams and let our record speak for itself because you don't know from time to time. ... When you get big games, you want to see how your team measures up.
"I'm more concerned right now with the way we've played the last three games than I am with where we're going to be down the line. For me, down the line is (today) at 11:30."
Added center Paul Stastny, "After the All-Star break, now it's 30 games, everyone's probably got 30 or less games and that's going to fly by and goes downhill from there. ... We've been playing well; it doesn't matter who we play against. If we play our own way and our own systems and not worry about our opponent, we'll be in a good position."
- - -
The Blues' projected lineup:
Alexander Steen-David Backes-T.J. Oshie
Jaden Schwartz-Paul Stastny-Vladimir Tarasenko
Dmitrij Jaskin-Patrik Berglund-Ty Rattie
Steve Ott-Marcel Goc-Ryan Reaves
Jay Bouwmeester-Alex Pietrangelo
Carl Gunnarsson-Chris Butler
Barret Jackman-Ian Cole
Brian Elliott will start in goal. Jake Allen is the backup.
Joakim Lindstrom will be a healthy scratch. Jori Lehtera (concussion symptoms) and Chris Porter (ankle) are skating and close to returning. Kevin Shattenkirk (abdomen) is expected to have surgery sometime in the next week and is out indefinitely.
- - -
The Blackhawks' projected lineup:
Brandon Saad-Jonathan Toews-Marian Hossa
Patrick Sharp-Brad Richards-Patrick Kane
Bryan Bickell-Andrew Shaw-Teuvo Teravainen
Daniel Carcillo-Marcus Kruger-Ben Smith
Duncan Keith-David Rundblad
Niklas Hjalmarsson-Brent Seabrook
Michal Rozsival-Johnny Oduya
Corey Crawford will start in goal. Antti Raanta is the backup.
Expected scratches are Tim Erixon and Joakim Nordstrom. Kris Versteeg (hand) and Trevor van Riemsdyk (knee) are out with injuries.