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Blue Jackets, Blues hope to build off shutout wins

by Brian Compton

BLUE JACKETS (18-19-4) at BLUES (28-7-5)


Last 10: Columbus 5-4-1; St. Louis 7-1-2

Season series: This is the second and final game between the Columbus Blue Jackets and St. Louis Blues this season. David Backes' overtime goal lifted St. Louis to a 4-3 win on Dec. 14 at Nationwide Arena.

Big story: It was a long time coming, but right wing Nathan Horton made his Blue Jackets debut Thursday night and scored in a 2-0 victory against the Phoenix Coyotes at Arena.

Horton signed a seven-year, $37.1 million contract with Columbus last summer, but missed the first 40 games of the season after undergoing shoulder surgery.

"Sometimes I felt good, sometimes I felt bad. It's been a long time but I was playing and we won and that's all that matters," Horton said. "You can tell we're a good team when we work hard.

"It was nice to get hit a couple of times and hit someone, it made me feel more comfortable on the ice. We have a great structure, [Todd Richards] is a great coach and if we do what he asks I think we'll be in good shape."

Team Scope:

Blue Jackets: Horton wasn't the only Columbus player who impressed Thursday. Goalie Curtis McElhinney responded after allowing five goals in back-to-back starts by stopping all 34 shots he faced for his second shutout of the season. Twenty-one of those saves came in the third period.

"It felt great," McElhinney said. "Obviously I had been in a tough couple of games the last few, but this was a tremendous game by us. The penalty kill did a great job when we were put in that situation. Just a nice overall feeling for everybody."

Blues: St. Louis announced Friday it has activated defenseman Jordan Leopold off injured reserve. Leopold has missed the past 26 games with a ligament injury in his right hand. He underwent surgery in mid-November.

"If we get the clearance, then (Leopold) is going to go in and play," coach Ken Hitchcock told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. "But yeah, it bought us more time. They made themselves a good pair. It gives us a lot of confidence that (including the injured Roman Polak), we've got eight defensemen here who can play in the National Hockey League.

"You look at any of the good teams that are doing well right now, they've got eight guys. They don't have seven; they've got eight guys that can come in and play. You look at Chicago, they rotate those three guys in that one position all the time. Everybody gets a game, so they're staying sharp. I think we'll do some of that same stuff. We'll keep all eight guys on the move here."

Leopold rejoins a team that has won four straight games; the Blues extended their streak with a 5-0 victory against the Los Angeles Kings at Scottrade Center on Thursday night. T.J. Oshie, who was named to the U.S. Olympic team on Wednesday, had two goals and Brian Elliott stopped all 30 shots he faced.

Oshie was the recipient of a "USA, USA" chant from the capacity crowd after his second goal of the game.

"I thought that was pretty special," Oshie said. "I definitely didn't expect it, but once I heard it, I thought, 'What a cool 24 hours for me.'"

Who's hot: Blue Jackets forward RJ Umberger has three points (one goal, two assists) in the past two games. … Oshie has four goals and an assist in the past three games for the Blues. Defenseman Alex Pietrangelo has four assists in the past four games. Elliott has allowed two or fewer goals in each of his past five starts.

Injury report: Columbus forwards Marian Gaborik (collarbone), Matt Calvert (shoulder), Jared Boll (ankle) and Oliver Gabriel (torn Achilles tendon) are on injured reserve. Forward Jack Skille is also likely to miss the game Saturday due to an upper-body injury sustained during a 5-3 loss to the Colorado Avalanche on Tuesday. … Blues forward David Backes (upper body) is questionable. Polak (ankle) and forward Alexander Steen (concussion) are out indefinitely.

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