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Game Preview: Jackets host Blues seeking third straight win

by Rob Mixer / Columbus Blue Jackets

If it weren’t for the ridiculously good Central Division, the St. Louis Blues might be one of the top teams in the NHL.

Entering Monday night’s slate of games (the Blues had a home game against the Winnipeg Jets, another strong team and division rival), St. Louis sported a record of 11-5-1, good enough for first or second place in every other division except the Metropolitan, but a three-way tie for second in its own.

Times are tough in the Central and these seven teams absolutely beat up on one another. The Blues, despite their solid record, were five points back of first-place Dallas entering Monday night and the defending champion Chicago Blackhawks were on the fringe of the Western Conference playoff picture with 21 points.

If the Blues are going anywhere this spring (and some recent first-round exits have the locals a touch restless), they’ll be doing so on the shoulders of Vladimir Tarasenko, their young star who’s quickly become one of the top snipers in the NHL. A first-round pick of the Blues in 2010 under the hockey operations leadership of John Davidson and Jarmo Kekalainen, the 23-year-old Tarasenko burst on the scene last year with 37 goals – several of the highlight reel variety.

He’s on quite a roll to start 2015-16, with 10 goals in his first 16 games and humming along at a point-per-game pace. Right with him is Alexander Steen, who’s been about as consistent as they come over the last few seasons, with 14 points already and eight goals to sit second behind Tarasenko on the Blues’ scoring list.

For all the talk about the Blues’ forward depth, one of their young defensemen has been a popular name around the league. Colton Parayko, who made the team out of training camp, has been anything but a passenger in the first month-plus of his NHL career; the 6-foot-5 right-handed shot has five goals and 11 points so far, making him a go-to option for head coach Ken Hitchcock.

Less than 24 hours after the Blue Jackets got rode a Cam Atkinson hat trick to victory at the United Center, they made a stop in St. Louis in late March to see if they could keep on their late-season roll.

Sergei Bobrovsky, making his second straight start after picking up the win in Chicago, was stellar between the pipes and made several key, timely saves to keep the Blue Jackets either tied or in the lead. They never trailed, and left Scottrade Center with a 4-2 win – their sixth in a row in what would eventually be a franchise record-tying winning streak of nine games.

As if there wasn’t already a lot to like about the Blues defense, they’ve added two rookies in 2015-16 and one of them, Colton Parayko, has been a headline-grabber.

The 22-year-old native of St. Albert, Alberta was a third-round pick of the Blues in 2012 and spent three seasons playing for the University of Alaska in Anchorage. Parayko, who plays a solid two-way game and owns a bomb for a shot, is an impressive +10 this season and is logging nearly 20 minutes per game (19:56 average) – so it’s safe to say he’s quickly earned the trust of Hitchcock and the Blues coaching staff.

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