|The St. Louis Blues made early headlines in the NHL this year by dismissing head coach Davis Payne on Nov. 7, and GM Doug Armstrong made it clear that he was not pleased with his team’s 6-7-0 start to the season. Armstrong’s next move was to hire veteran coach Ken Hitchcock, a man who has won over 500 games in the league and won the 1999 Stanley Cup as the coach of the Dallas Stars. |
Much of what Armstrong and the Blues management team envisioned when they made the coaching change has developed: the players immediately bought into Hitchcock’s style of play and though he did not make drastic changes to their systems, the philosophies were most important to the new coach. The Blues have long been a hard-working, physical hockey team that is difficult to play against, but under Hitchcock, they have increased their tempo and are working on playing faster in their own end of the rink.
So far, the results are there. St. Louis is 6-1-2 since Hitchcock took over, and with a 4-1 win over the Florida Panthers on Nov. 17, he claimed the best five-game start in Blues history (4-0-1). They have done so despite owning the league’s 20th-ranked offense (2.50 goals per game) and worst power-play unit (8.4 percent), but have received tremendous play in goal from Brian Elliot while regular starter Jaroslav Halak has struggled.
Alex Steen leads the Blues in scoring, and since being acquired from the Maple Leafs in 2008, has quietly emerged as one of the most underrated two-way forwards in the game. His 15 points in 22 games this season are one better than team captain David Backes, who shares the team goal-scoring lead with Steen (8). St. Louis has the kind of lineup that can play in waves, with many players of the same mold. T.J. Oshie plays a power-forward game with skill that blends well with Backes and winger Chris Stewart. Armstrong signed two familiar faces in Jamie Langenbrunner and Jason Arnott over the summer to add experience to the Blues locker room, and they have also helped stabilize the lineup.
The blue line is a young group that is filled with upside. A blockbuster trade brought Stewart and Kevin Shattenkirk to the Gateway City last season and added to a defense corps; and with Alex Pietrangelo, Kris Russell and Roman Polak, the Blues are capable of making quick transition with the puck.
| || || |
|Prospal (6) ||Steen, Backes (8) |
|Prospal (13) ||Oshie (8) |
|Prospal (19) ||Steen (15) |
|Dorsett (64) ||Stewart (44) |
|Johansen (+4) ||Steen (+13) |
|Sanford (3-0-2) |
|Elliot (9-1-0) |
|Sanford (1.27) ||Elliot (1.34) |
|Sanford (.950) ||Elliot (.951) || |
|• The Blue Jackets now have points in five-straight games, and six of seven, after Friday’s 5-1 win over Buffalo. It is the first time the club has points in five-straight games since going 5-0-1 Feb. 11-25. Columbus is now 4-1-2 in its last seven games. |
• Vinny Prospal played the 1,000th game of his NHL career against Buffalo. He became the 268th player in NHL history to do so.
• Tonight marks the first of six meetings overall and first of three meetings at Nationwide Arena this season between the Blue Jackets and Blues. Columbus is 23-27-13 all-time against St. Louis, including a 15-10-6 mark at Nationwide Arena.
• Columbus has scored 14 goals the last four games (3.5 per game), compared to 11 the previous six games (1.83). The Jackets have allowed 13 goals in regulation or overtime the last seven games (1.85 per game) compared to 19 the previous three games (6.33).
• The Blue Jackets have scored power play goals in six of the last eight games. The club is 8-for-34 (23.5 percent) on the man advantage during that stretch after going 1-for-20 (5.0 percent) the previous five games.
• In their last 10 games, Blues goaltenders Halak (6 starts) and Elliott (4 starts) have recorded three shutouts and held opponents to 13 total goals. They have led the team to a 6-2-2 mark on the strength of a collective 1.35 goals-against average and .950 save percentage.
C - #44
• At age 37, Arnott is still finding a way to keep his game in top form and sustain his already-successful NHL career. Now in his 19th season as a professional, Arnott joined the Blues in the offseason after finishing 2010-11 with the Washington Capitals.
• He has scored 20-or-more goals in nine of the past 11 seasons and is currently the fifth-leading scorer for the Blues.
LW Kristian Huselius (upper body); indefinitely
D Radek Martinek (concussion); indefinitely