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Blues' Hitchcock set to return to Columbus

by Brian Compton
BLUES (12-8-2) at BLUE JACKETS (6-13-3)

: FS-MW, FS-O (HD)

Last 10: St. Louis 6-2-2; Columbus 4-4-2.

Season Series: This is the first of six meetings between the Central Division rivals. St. Louis went 4-2-0 against Columbus in 2010-11.

Big Story: He insists it's just another game, but Blues coach Ken Hitchcock returns to Columbus for the first time Sunday night since being fired by the Blue Jackets on Feb. 3, 2010. Hitchcock replaced Davis Payne behind the Blues' bench on Nov. 7 after St. Louis won only six of its first 13 games. The Blues are 6-1-2 since Hitchcock took over.

"I've been out two years (in Columbus) doing work for them," Hitchcock told "I've developed a friendship with obviously the American (Hockey) League guys and some of the business people there just for fun, getting to know other people in the business.

"If it was (a big deal), I'd tell you. It isn't."

Team Scope:

Blues: Brian Elliott's remarkable start to the 2011-12 season continued Friday night, when he stopped all 24 shots he faced to lead St. Louis to a 2-0 victory against the Calgary Flames at the Scottrade Center. It was the third shutout of the season for Elliott, who improved to 9-1-0 while lowering his League-leading goals-against average to 1.34. Elliott also leads the NHL with a .951 save percentage.

"I just try to stay even-keeled, not really get up on yourself," Elliott said. "Those things can sneak through just the same. I try not to really think about it. You can be playing the same way and not getting the wins or results. You just try to keep it rolling when you can."

Blue Jackets: Elliott won't be the only hot goaltender on the ice Sunday. Curtis Sanford has been solid for Columbus as of late, as the Blue Jackets improved to 3-0-2 in their last five with Friday's 5-1 win against the Buffalo Sabres at Nationwide Arena.

Columbus is 4-1-2 in its last six after a horrid 2-12-1 start to the season.

"We're getting pucks deep, we're not making it hard on ourselves," Blue Jackets captain Rick Nash said of his team's surge. "We're trying not to have any turnovers at the blue lines. It's just a lot simpler game. It seems to work for the people we have in this room."

Who's Hot: Blues center Alexander Steen has 2 goals and 2 assists in the last five games. He leads the club with a plus-13 rating. Alex Pietrangelo has scored in each of the past two contests. … Nash has 3 goals and 2 assists in the last five games for Columbus.

Injury Report: St. Louis is expected to be without David Perron (concussion), B.J. Crombeen (shoulder), Andy McDonald (concussion), Kent Huskins (ankle) and Carlo Colaiacovo (hamstring). … Steve Mason (concussion), Kristian Huselius (torn pectoral muscle), Mark Dekanich (groin) and Radek Martinek (concussion) are out for Columbus.

Stat Pack: The Blues have outscored their opponents by a 23-13 margin since Hitchcock replaced Payne. … The Blue Jackets have earned a point in five straight games. It's their longest stretch since Feb. 25.

Puck Drop: "He's making saves he has no business making. When you've got that behind you, it gives you confidence to make a few more plays in front of him. Kudos to him." -- Blues captain David Backes on goalie Brian Elliott

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