GAME DAY: vs. St. Louis
Jackets looking for a road win in the Arch City
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|Blues GM Doug Armstrong appears to be getting the desired result after he hired Ken Hitchcock as the team’s head coach on Nov. 7. St. Louis has 12 wins since the veteran bench toss took over the struggling club, and the Blues have vaulted to fifth place in the Western Conference.
It’s been a remarkable turnaround for a team that started 6-7-0 and opted to replace Davis Payne, but the Blues have received contributions up and down their lineup each time they take the ice. Look no further than goaltender Brian Elliot, an under-the-radar free agent signing over the summer who figured to be the backup to No. 1 guy Jaroslav Halak. All Elliot has done is post the best goaltending numbers in the NHL this season, going 13-2-0 with a 1.43 goals-against average and .948 save percentage – you have to like a team’s chances to win when it gets goaltending like that.
In the last meeting between these two clubs, there was no shortage of playoff-style hockey. Both teams had to earn every inch of ice and all checks were finished – and of course, there was expected extracurricular activity with the heated rivalry already in place. Elliott was in goal for that game at Nationwide Arena, and the Blue Jackets got on the board first in the second period. Sammy Pahlsson checked Alex Steen off the puck and fed Derek Dorsett on a quick lead pass, and Dorsett buried a wrist shot past Elliott’s glove for a 1-0 lead.
That goal didn’t rattle the Blues, who have made a habit out of climbing back into hockey games they trail early. In the closing seconds of the second period, Steen carried the puck into the Columbus zone in a 4-on-4 situation and backhanded it toward Curtis Sanford. The puck bounced around in the crease and was eventually put in by Kris Russell, scoring a momentum-changing goal that brought the Blues back to life as the third period began.
David Backes scored the game-winning goal on the power play in that game, and that’s all the Blues needed. They have played a stout defensive game since Hitchcock took over and though they have struggled on the power play (11.1 percent, 30th in the NHL), 5-on-5 play has been one of their greatest strengths. St. Louis has the third-best even strength scoring ratio in the NHL (1.56), trailing only Boston and Detroit.