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
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
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
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
“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