Blue Jackets-Blues Preview
A mediocre eight-game span has St. Louis coach Ken Hitchcock recalling the kind of assertive play his team showed earlier in the season, and 60 minutes of the more forgettable form came against Columbus.
The teams meet again Saturday night in St. Louis with the Blues looking to get back on track and end a three-game skid to the Blue Jackets, who will be trying to climb from last place for the first time this season.
After Wednesday's 4-3 overtime loss in Pittsburgh, the Blues (14-6-3) are 3-3-2 with 3.25 goals allowed per game since ending a span of six wins in seven games with consecutive shutouts.
"We have too much slowness in our game," Hitchcock told the team's official website. "Too much slowness. From where we were before, we were in attack mode, and we're on our heels now. We're way too much on the heels now. We're constantly trying to slow the play down instead of trying to get the pace back up again. That's something we want to improve."
They did get some help with a goal and an assist from Paul Stastny in his second game back after missing 16 with a broken right foot, and Kevin Shattenkirk stretched his point streak to seven games.
St. Louis, though, has trailed entering the third period in six of the last eight games, including the last two at Buffalo and Pittsburgh, but it emerged from those games with four points.
"It's not easy playing comeback hockey," said defenseman Alex Pietrangelo after managing a goal and an assist following a seven-game point drought. "Good character shown coming back, but we have to find a way to get up on teams early and bury them."
The Blue Jackets swept the two-game series in 2014-15 and opened this season's with a 3-1 home win on Nov. 17 behind a pair of goals from Brandon Saad, which matched the former Chicago forward's scoring total in 18 previous games including the postseason against St. Louis while with the Blackhawks.
Columbus has a 14-4 scoring advantage on the winning streak but has been much more modest in its consecutive overall wins.
Friday's 2-1 home overtime win against Pittsburgh was its second straight by that score, and the Blue Jackets (10-14-0) have shown some defensive aptitude over a 6-2-0 span while limiting teams to 1.75 goals per game.
Sergei Bobrovsky has unsurprisingly been a big part of it, going 6-1-0 with a 1.42 goals-against average. He faced the Blues less than two weeks ago and has a 1.33 GAA during a personal three-game winning streak in the series.
Should backup Curtis McElhinney start, he'll be looking for his first win after going 0-4-0 in six games. He beat the Blues once last season but is 0-5-0 with a 4.91 GAA in St. Louis.
Against the Penguins, Cam Atkinson scored the game winner for his second in three games, and Ryan Johansen scored for the third time in four games and fourth in seven after starting the season with one goal in 15 contests.
"It's easy to get up for these games - big crowd, at home against a division rival like Pittsburgh," said Brandon Dubinsky, who assisted Atkinson. "We have to find the consistency (coach John Tortorella) has talked about and carry it over against St. Louis."
Jake Allen will start for the Blues after playing both games on the road trip. Since posting consecutive shutouts on Nov. 7 and 10, he is 3-1-2 with a 2.97 GAA in seven games. He didn't face Columbus in the most recent meeting and is 1-1-0 with 3.17 mark in three games against them.