Blue Jackets-Blues Preview
With their defense and special teams leading the way, the St. Louis Blues have surged to the top of the Western Conference standings and are in contention for the second Presidents' Trophy in team history.
The Blues will try to continue that success during a home-and-home set that begins Saturday night against the surging Columbus Blue Jackets, who likely won't have starting goaltender Steve Mason available.
St. Louis (43-18-7) has allowed two goals or fewer over eight straight games and has won seven of those. That stretch has vaulted the Blues to a one-point lead over Vancouver in the West.
"It's always nice to look at the standings when you are first," goaltender Jaroslav Halak said. "More fun that way. This was important for us."
St. Louis is also vying with the Canucks and New York Rangers among others for the best record in the league. The Blues won their only Presidents' Trophy in 1999-00.
Halak has recorded all seven of those wins for his second such win streak this season and second of his career. He matched his run from Jan. 3-21 by stopping 24 shots in a 3-1 win over Anaheim on Thursday.
St. Louis also extended a streak of consecutive penalty kills to 35 in that victory and improved to 20-1-3 in its last 24 home games.
"We're not the most talented team in the National Hockey League," coach Ken Hitchcock said. "We just find ways to win. That's what this team is about."
Brian Elliott might start Saturday in place of Halak, who could return for Sunday's game in Columbus that starts a season-high, seven-game road trip. Elliott has lost three straight, including a 2-0 defeat in Vancouver on March 1, but is still among the league leaders with a 1.63 goals-against average and a .937 save percentage.
He made 23 saves in a 2-1 win in Columbus on Nov. 27 and is 3-0-1 with a 2.45 GAA in four all-time starts against the Blue Jackets (22-38-7). If Elliott starts, he'll face a team that's won four in a row - its longest win streak since a five-game run Nov. 17-24, 2010 - but lost Mason to an injury during a 3-1 home victory over Los Angeles on Thursday.
Mason's left hand was cut by teammate John Moore's skate after Moore was knocked into the net in the second period. The former Calder Trophy winner needed 15 stitches to close the wound and is not expected to play this weekend.
"It's frustrating but we still got the win so that was the most important thing," Mason said. "We'll see how quickly the hand heals."
That leaves Curtis Sanford or Allen York, recalled from the team's ECHL affiliate in Chicago on Friday, to start the next two games. Sanford stopped all 13 shots he faced Thursday but couldn't end a three-game losing streak.
He was on the losing end of the Nov. 27 matchup, his only career game against St. Louis. York has appeared in five NHL games, none versus the Blues.
Whoever starts will try to lead Columbus to only its ninth victory in 28 games against St. Louis. The Blue Jackets snapped a five-game skid in the series with a 2-1 home win Feb. 14 in which Mason outdueled Halak.
St. Louis is 12-1-1 in its last 14 home matchups, including a 6-4 win Dec. 18. The Blues scored four goals in the third period of that contest.