Blues-Blue Jackets Preview
By MATT BEARDMORE
(AP) -- The St. Louis Blues have been getting plenty of offensive production throughout their lineup.
The struggling Columbus Blue Jackets are just looking for someone to step up after trading star forward Rick Nash last summer.
St. Louis will try to extend its best start in 15 seasons on Thursday night when the Blue Jackets open their longest homestand of the season.
Playing six games in the opening nine days of the season was a daunting task, but the Blues (5-1-0) completed that stretch with three straight wins following a 3-2 road loss at Chicago on Jan. 22.
Led by Chris Stewart and Vladimir Tarsenko, who each have four goals, seven Blues have found the back of the net at least twice. Nine have recorded at least four points in St. Louis' quickest start since opening 7-1-0 in 1997-98.
"Everybody's scoring right now, so it's working good," defenseman Roman Polak told the Blues' official website after assisting on Vladimir Sobotka's game-winner in their last game, Sunday's 5-4 overtime victory over Minnesota.
It's a different story in Columbus, where the Blue Jackets will play their next six games. They are struggling to score goals without Nash, who was traded to the New York Rangers in July after leading the team in goals and points in each of the previous five seasons.
Center Artem Anisimov, who was acquired in that deal, is tied with Mark Letestu and Vinny Prospal with a team-high two goals. That trio has combined for four of the Blue Jackets' seven goals during their last five games.
The lack of scoring makes it even more critical for Columbus (2-4-1) to avoid falling behind. They've given up the first goal five times, been outscored 7-2 in the first period and have fallen behind 2-0 on three occasions. The Blue Jackets were down by two in the first period of Tuesday's 3-2 loss at Minnesota.
"We play our best hockey when we're playing from behind, but it seems like we're always playing from behind," said defenseman Jack Johnson, whose third-period power-play goal was the team's first score with the man advantage in five games. "It would be nice to get a lead for a change."
More shots would also be nice after Columbus had a season-low 19.
The Blues, though, are yielding a league-low 19.5 shots per contest.
Columbus is hoping a pair of call-ups can generate a spark after center Jonathan Audy-Marchessault and defenseman Tim Erixon were recalled Wednesday. Marchessault had 16 goals and a team-high 45 points in 42 games for the Falcons, while Erixon led all Springfield defensemen with five goals and 24 assists in 40 games.
It's uncertain if Jaroslav Halak or Brian Elliott will be in net for Blues coach Ken Hitchcock, the Blue Jackets former coach, but either one could give Columbus fits.
Halak is 3-0-0 with a 1.69 goals-against average and two shutouts in four starts, and another clean sheet would tie Glenn Hall's franchise record of 16. Halak, though, has allowed six goals on 34 shots in his two road starts.
Elliott won both of his starts against the Blue Jackets last season, giving up one goal each time.
First-year Blue Jackets netminder Sergei Bobrovsky has yet to face St. Louis.
Backup Steve Mason has turned aside 60 of 62 shots while winning his last two starts against the visiting Blues.
St. Louis won 2-1 in its last visit to Nationwide Arena on March 11, and has won four of five there.
Updated January 30, 2013