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Notebook: Top six shuffle, Calvert returns vs. Blues

by Rob Mixer / Columbus Blue Jackets

The Blue Jackets welcome the NHL’s hottest team to Nationwide Arena tonight, and according to coach Todd Richards, it’s easy to see why the St. Louis Blues are on this tear.

“It’s pretty simple to me: they play hard,” Richards said. “They play an honest game.”

After a 3-0 win on Thursday night in Buffalo, the Blues are 12-0-1 in their last 13 games and have beaten some of the league’s best, including a dramatic overtime win over the Tampa Bay Lightning a few nights ago. They’re balanced, they’re physical and above all else, they’re a consistent team that brings the same thing to the table every night – which can make it maddening at times to play against.

If you look at the Blues’ numbers on the season, the picture gets even clearer: they score 3.12 goals per game and allow just 2.33, they win 54.0 percent of the face-offs, and at even strength, their 51.51 Corsi For (CF%) is top half of the NHL despite dealing with some key injuries. Taking blocked shots out of the equation, the Blues Fenwick at 5-on-5 (FF%) is sixth-best in the NHL at 52.94.

One of those injuries is a recent one, with All-Star defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk going down due to an abdominal injury earlier this week.

“They have talented players, skilled players back on defense and up front,” Richards said. “They have different line combinations that can bring different things, too. They play with an edge. They’re big, they’re strong and what they do is they do it for 60 minutes.”

Richards has tried some different combinations in practice the past two days, and it looks as though they’ll start tonight’s game with a new-look top six. During today’s morning skate, Scott Hartnell skated with Ryan Johansen and Cam Atkinson on the top line, while Nick Foligno was paired with Brandon Dubinsky and Corey Tropp.

“Joey’s really been driving the team wherever he’s been,” Richards said. “In the Tampa game, I thought he was the best player on the ice, so he’s really been the catalyst for whoever he’s been playing with. Hartnell plays the game hard and goes to the front of the net, and Cam can provide some speed and energy.

“But what we’re looking for from that group is to continue to be responsible defensively, and if they do that consistently throughout the game, the opportunities are going to happen.”

The Blue Jackets are also hoping to jump start Foligno (one goal in 15 games) and Dubinsky (one goal in 12 games), two players they rely on for secondary scoring.

Matt Calvert
rejoined practice on Thursday after missing the team’s previous two games due to illness, and he will be back in the lineup tonight. He said he lost approximately 10 lbs. due to a flu bug, but has felt better the past few days and will skate on the fourth line tonight with Mark Letestu and Jared Boll.

“Previous to him going out of the lineup, looking at his speed, that’s probably the best we’ve seen him move all season,” Richards said of Calvert. “He’s missed some time, and it might take him one game, maybe two games to catch up, but I’m expecting him to come out and play with speed and energy.”

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