Earth to St. Louis Blues: Welcome back.

After getting off to a 9-1-1 start despite playing without defenseman Chris Pronger, power forward Keith Tkachuk and their top two goalies, the Blues had a reality check last week.

They dropped three of four, including 6-3 and 5-0 drubbings to Vancouver and Edmonton, respectively, and went into the weekend 12-5-1.

"The first 10 or 15 games [after an injury], you get that rallying point," St. Louis center and leading scorer Doug Weight said. "Then you start missing the skill. We have to make sure we believe in our depth as a team."

St. Louis quickly righted the ship with a 1-0 shutout last Saturday Calgary, with Eric Boguniecki scoring his team-high ninth goal. Newly acquired Tom Barrasso became the fifth Blues goalie to win a game this season.

Fred Brathwaite, who was the backup to injured starter Brett Johnson, is back and will share the duties with veteran Barrasso until Johnson returns. Barrasso's first game wearing the Blue note was forgettable for him -- the 6-3 loss in Vancouver.

"Tommy was great," Blues Coach Joel Quenneville said Saturday. "He said that he will be better and he was."

Just when Tkachuk started light skating after a broken foot, the Blues lost Jamal Mayers to a torn ligament in his right knee in Edmonton. He is out for the rest of the season.

Hungry Bruins

The Boston Bruins might be the model for every NHL team that believes it's being held up by players asking for multimillion-dollar contracts.

The Bruins let forward Bill Guerin walk to Dallas and goalie Byron Dafoe find greener pastures in Atlanta after a long search, and are letting defenseman Kyle McLaren sit without a new contract.

Yet the Bruins lead the Eastern Conference and headed into the weekend with a 12-3-3-1 record. With Guerin gone, Joe Thornton has emerged, leading the Bruins in scoring. Boston's 64 goals are near the top of the league, and the Bruins play an all-out attacking game.

"It's nice when everyone is hungry and aggressive and attacking the net," Coach Robbie Ftorek said.

John Grahame and Steve Shields have combined to replace Dafoe and have backstopped the Bruins to the NHL's seventh-best defensive mark.

Slap Shots

The referees and league officials recently had a conference call to evaluate the way games are being officiated. The referees were told to allow a little more leeway on battles in front of the net and battles on the puck.

Veteran referee Bill McCreary has been impressed with how quickly the players have adapted.

"The learning curve has been tremendous," McCreary said. "The players have adjusted tremendously and they've been very professional." . . .

The Southeast Division used to feature the whipping boys of the NHL. With the fast start of Tampa Bay, Carolina's run to the Stanley Cup finals last spring and the expectations for a solid season for the Capitals, the division is no longer a soft touch.

In fact, three of the five teams would qualify for the playoffs right now, Florida believes it can sneak into the postseason and even Atlanta won three in a row last week. . . .

The Dallas Stars lead the Western Conference and their counterparts in the NBA, the Mavericks, are the only unbeaten team in the NBA. Dallas has a chance to be the first city with its hockey and basketball teams in the finals since 1994, when the New York Rangers won the Stanley Cup and the New York Knicks lost to Houston in the NBA Finals.

Martin Rucinsky, battling Kings' Jaroslav Modry, and the Blues have struggled recently since 9-1-1 start.