BLUE JACKETS (31-26-7) at BLUES (28-28-9)
TV -- FS-O (HD),FS-MW (HD)
Last 10 -- Columbus 5-3-2; St. Louis 3-7-0.
Season series -- Columbus has taken two of three from St. Louis this season, both wins coming of the blowout variety. The Jackets beat up the Blues 8-1 in their first meeting of the year, and took the most recent matchup 5-2 on Jan. 22 at Scottrade Center.
Big story -- With both Columbus and St. Louis struggling, Monday is the opener of a home-and-home that could very well serve as the last stand for the Blue Jackets' fading postseason hopes.
Blue Jackets -- As February drew to a close, Columbus appeared to be surging toward an unlikely second playoff berth in three years. However, since starting a five-game road trip, things have taken a dramatic and frustrating turn for the Jackets, who have lost at each of the first four stops on their current trek. Those losses have not come without anxiety either, as the Jackets have dropped all four by a combined total of five goals.
One reason for the slump may be goalie Steve Mason, who is slumping at an inopportune time, going 0-2-1 and on the road swing with a 3.33 goals-against average. And while recent acquitision Scottie Upshall has scored twice in three games with Columbus and R.J. Umberger has seven points in his last seven games, Mason has gotten a noticeably lower amount of support than usual, as Rick Nash has been conspicuously absent from the scoresheet the last four games.
Blues -- Like Columbus, the Blues, too, are suffering from a four-game skid, but if Columbus' losses have been frustrating, St. Louis' have been disillusioning. The Blues have been outscored 15-4 over the current stretch and have struggled to keep down the scoring by finding a solution in net. With the absence of offseason pickup Jaroslav Halak, St. Louis has turned to Ty Conklin and Ben Bishop to split time between the pipes and neither has managed to fill the void. Bishop, in particular, has given up 11 goals in his last two games.
In addition to goaltending woes, the Blues' offense has been having its own difficulties. St. Louis has been shutout twice over the current losing streak, and the stretch has knocked them down to 13th in the West, where instead of competing for a playoff spot, the Blues are just 11 points up on NHL cellar-dwelling Edmonton.
Who's hot -- Chris Stewart has been an offensive force for St. Louis since arriving from Colorado. The sturdy power forward has seven goals and two assists in nine games with the Blues. ... Defenseman Kris Russell has been producing from the blue line for Columbus, tallying a goal and five assists in the last six games.
Injury report -- Columbus recently lost Andrew Murray with a lower-body injury, while Anton Stralman is going to be out 2-3 more weeks with a left knee injury. ... St. Louis, too, is dealing with the injury bug after losing Philip McRae (knee) and Vladimir Sobotka (broken left foot) late last month. The bigger concern however, is easily Halak, who is still out with a broken right hand.
Stat pack -- How tough have the breaks been for Columbus? In the past three games, the Jackets have been awarded three penalty shots -- and been unable to convert any of them.
Puck drop -- With two games between these two teams in the next three days, both St. Louis and Columbus are desperately searching for answers to their current slides. In the case of Columbus, if the losses don't stop coming soon any chance of playing in spring may disappear, and the 2011-12 season could very well be the next item on the docket in Ohio.