Blues-Blue Jackets Preview

The St. Louis Blues and Columbus Blue Jackets have been playing

much better over the past few weeks, and strong showings from a

pair of backup goaltenders have been the key.

In the first meeting of the season between these Central

Division rivals, the Blues look to win for the sixth time in eight

games Sunday night when they visit a Blue Jackets team seeking a

fourth victory in five contests.

St. Louis is 6-1-2 since Ken Hitchcock took over as coach, but a

change behind the bench hasn’t been the only reason for the

turnaround.

Brian Elliott, who has started the last two games for the Blues

(12-8-2), has posted a 0.99 goals-against average with two shutouts

in winning his five starts this month. He stopped 24 shots in

Friday’s 2-0 win over Calgary to record his third shutout and

improve to 9-1-0. Elliott also leads the league with a 1.34 GAA and

a .951 save percentage.

“He’s making saves he has no business making,” said David

Backes, who had a goal and an assist Friday. “When you’ve got that

behind you, it gives you confidence to make a few more plays in

front of him. … Kudos to him.”

Backes has also played a role in St. Louis’ surge, scoring four

goals in the last five games after scoring four times in the first

17.

Teammate Patrik Berglund is still mired in a funk, scoring once

in the last 13 games, but a game against Columbus might be what he

needs. He had four goals and an assist in helping the Blues go

4-2-0 against the Blue Jackets last season.

Columbus (6-13-3) got off to a brutal start to the season,

opening 2-12-1, and still owns the worst record in the Western

Conference, but it is starting to show some signs of life.

With Friday’s 5-1 win over Buffalo, the Blue Jackets won for the

third time in four games and improved to 4-1-2 since Nov. 12.

Curtis Sanford – between the pipes for the last five while Steve

Mason recovers from a concussion – has been outstanding.

Sanford, who stopped 28 shots Friday, is 3-0-2 with a 1.34 GAA

since Nov. 17, yielding one goal in four of those starts. He

appeared in 73 games for the Blues from 2002-07, but has yet to

face his former team.

His counterpart, Elliott, is 2-0-1 with a 2.91 GAA lifetime

against Columbus.

St. Louis’ opening day starter Jaroslav Halak, who is 3-7-2 with

a 2.57 GAA and .895 save percentage, went 3-2-0 with a 2.96 GAA

against the Blue Jackets last season.

While Sanford has been solid in goal, Columbus’ offense is

suddenly finding the back of the net with regularity.

Rick Nash scored twice against the Sabres, while Mark Letestu,

Marc Methot and R.J. Umberger also scored for the Blue Jackets, who

recorded their highest goal output and largest margin of victory

this season. Columbus has reached the four-goal mark three times in

the last four games after scoring that many once in its first 18

contests.

“We already got ourselves in a huge hole so it had to start

coming to salvage the season,” Umberger said. “We still have a

long way to go.”

Umberger is also starting to come around, tallying two goals in

the last four games after only scoring once in the team’s first 18

contests. Umberger, who had eight goals in his first 22 games last

season, had three goals and three assists against the Blues in

2010-11.