BLUES (5-1-0) at BLUE JACKETS (2-4-1)
TV: FS-Midwest, FS-Ohio
Season series: The Central Division rivals will meet four times this season. The Blues took two of three in both Scottrade Center and Nationwide Arena, but the Jackets won the last meeting 5-2, handing the Blues only their fifth home loss of the season and throwing a wrench in their division-clinching plans at the time.
Big story: After a grueling six games in nine days, the Blues welcomed a three-day breather. If anything, the object now is not to lose the momentum they gained by winning five of those games. The Jackets start a six-game homestand, their longest of the season, and will try to use home ice to find a scoring formula that hasn't added up after the trade that sent Rick Nash to the Rangers. More important, they need to find the defensive groove they expect will carry them past more skilled teams.
Blues: The Blues are off to their best start since opening the 1997-98 season at 7-1-0, and it comes primarily from having so many scoring options. Rookie sensation Vladimir Tarasenko shares the team lead in goals with Chris Stewart at four, but seven other Blues have lit the lamp at least twice. The team's depth has proven an asset to coach Ken Hitchcock, enabling him to use the third and fourth lines more and distribute ice time more evenly.
"I think our depth is obviously going to play a factor this year," Stewart told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
"We have that ability to play four lines that can play hard and I think that has showed. It's huge for us."
It certainly did on Sunday, when they came back from two goals down against the Wild and won on Vladimir Sobotka's overtime tally. That came after winning another one-goal game in Dallas the night before. Overall, four of the Blues' six games have been decided by a single score and they've won three.
Blue Jackets: It's not necessarily the lack of scoring that has coach Todd Richards on edge these days. After coming back from a 2-0 deficit Tuesday night only to lose 3-2 to the Wild, Richards had some choice words for the team's overall effort.
"We played 30 minutes of hockey," Richards said. "We played the first 10 minutes and then we played the last 20. We tie it up and you want the point or the two points, but when you sit back and think about the game and how it went, how we played … in the end we got exactly what we deserved because we weren't good enough for 60 minutes."
After discounting fatigue as a factor, Richards lit into any perceived lack of confidence.
"You get confidence by doing things the right way, over and over and over," he said. "I can't give the guys confidence. I can help in certain areas, but it's got to come from the guys. It's got to come from within."
Who's hot: Stewart's four goals so far have come a lot faster than they did last season, when it took him 23 games to score as many. Kevin Shattenkirk's eight points match Tarasenko's, but they're all assists, and that's good for a tie for third in the NHL with Joe Pavelski of San Jose. … Jack Johnson's power-play goal on Tuesday ended an 0-for-22 slump for the Jackets.
Injury report: No doubt the Blues' early success and superior depth have contributed to their current clean bill of health. … The Blue Jackets sustained some casualties on Thursday as defensemen Adrian Aucoin (lower body) and Nikita Nikitin (head) left with injuries. Of these, Nikitin's appears to be more severe. Forward Matt Calvert (lower body) went on IR and Cam Atkinson will miss 2-3 more weeks with a high ankle sprain.