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Leclaire blanks Blues again

by Brian Compton
Pascal Leclaire leads the NHL in shutouts, as the Columbus netminder eanred his fifth blanking of the season in Sunday's 3-0 win over St. Louis.
Pascal Leclaire entered the 2007-08 campaign with one career shutout in 59 games.

Now he has six.

Making his ninth start of the season, the Columbus Blue Jackets’ netminder recorded his fifth shutout of the new campaign as he stopped all 21 shots he faced in a 3-0 victory over the St. Louis Blues ( 700K ) at the Nationwide Arena on Sunday.

Leclaire’s scorching-hot play has allowed the Blue Jackets to get off to their best start in franchise history at 8-3-2. Columbus – the lone team in the NHL that has yet to reach the Stanley Cup Playoffs – is 5-0-1 in its last six games.

Two of Leclaire’s shutouts this season have come against the Blues. He also picked up a 3-0 win over St. Louis on Oct. 25. The teams will meet again in St. Louis on Nov. 16.

"I don't really have to say much about that, do I?" said Blues coach Andy Murray, who saw his team drop consecutive games for the first time this season. "There's been enough written. He's shut us out twice in a row, so he's obviously played pretty well against us."

Despite his torrid start, Leclaire – the Blue Jackets’ first-round pick (No. 8 overall) in the 2001 Draft – isn’t about to take the bulk of the credit. After all, Columbus did hold St. Louis to 21 shots on goal, with 15 of those coming in the second period. The Blues were out-shot 12-2 in the first, and failed to reach Leclaire for the final 15:46 of the frame. They also went 0-for-4 on the power play, as the Blue Jackets’ penalty kill – which entered the game tops in the NHL at 93.6 percent -- continues to shine.

“I think it’s a team thing,” Leclaire said. “We just gave up (21) shots again tonight. There’s a lot of factors. Our penalty killing’s first in the League. It looks good for me, but everybody works hard.”

Manny Malhotra gave Ken Hitchcock’s Blue Jackets a 1-0 lead at the 15:41 mark of the opening period. With a delayed penalty against St. Louis, Leclaire was pulled for an extra attacker. Columbus dominated control of the puck in the 6-on-4 situation, as it took nearly a minute off the clock before Adam Foote fed Malhotra, who fired a shot over the shoulder of Blues’ goalie Manny Legace for his second goal of the season.

The Blues seemed primed to right the ship in the second period, as Columbus mustered only one shot on goal over the first 15 minutes. But after St. Louis failed to capitalize on a two-man advantage that was 54 seconds in length, Rick Nash put the Blue Jackets up by a pair when he collected Nikolai Zherdev’s pass out of the air, placed it on the ice and fired it past Legace for his 10th tally of the season.

"It's everybody just buying into the system and believing in Hitch's game plan," said Nash. "The guys are getting more mature and understanding that you need to trust the system. I don't know what the issue was last year. It seems like we're buying in, and it works."

Of course, much of the Blues’ failure on the two-man advantage had to do with Leclaire, who stopped Keith Tkachuk on a mini-breakaway before robbing both Martin Rucinsky and Paul Kariya on point-blank chances.

“Five-on-3, we’ve got to score,” Blues forward Brad Boyes said. “But the thing is, we didn’t score. He made the saves when he had to. We had a few chances, hit a couple of crossbars. He’s playing well. There’s no second chances. That’s a problem for us right now – getting those second opportunities. We’re not doing that. Chances are great, but when you don’t score, it’s definitely a sour taste.”

St. Louis failed to generate much offense in the third period, as it was held to just four shots in final 20 minutes of play. The Blue Jackets grabbed a three-goal lead when Jason Chimera beat Legace on a shot from the left point with 7:24 to play.

Predators 5, Blackhawks 2 | Video
Chris Mason finally has that confidence he’s been looking for.

The Nashville netminder made 30 saves, while Alexander Radulov and Jason Arnott each had a goal and an assist as Mason snapped his personal losing streak at seven games with a win at Chicago.

“When you’re not feeling great, you’re kind of hoping that you’re going to play well or you’re hoping that things go your way,” Mason said. “When you have that confidence and that edge, you know it’s going to go your way and you know you’re going to make it happen. It’s a fragile thing, but it makes a huge difference.”

With the victory, the Predators evened their record at 7-7-0. They have won three straight games -- all on the road – and five of their last six.

Nashville's Scott Nichol falls while battling for the puck with Chicago's Yanic Perreault.

They used an early scoring spree that chased Blackhawks’ goalie Nikolai Khabibulin to win this one. David Legwand and Radulov scored on Nashville’s first two shots, and Khabibulin allowed three tallies on six shots before coach Denis Savard replaced him with Patrick Lalime.

“You just can’t blame him,” Savard said. “I just took him out to get our team going. He’s not the only one to be blamed, obviously. Those three goals they scored … there’s not much he can do about it. We’ve just got to be better.”

Robert Lang made it a 2-1 game at the 9:43 mark of the opening period as Chicago was able to capitalize on a two-man advantage. But Martin Erat regained Nashville’s two-goal lead with just 1:39 to play in the first with his second goal of the season.

“With them playing last night, our game plan was to get on them early which we did with three first-period goals,” Nashville coach Barry Trotz said, referring to Chicago’s 3-2 win at St. Louis on Saturday night. “We took some bad penalties, but I think that Erat goal really gave us the momentum back.”

Yanic Perreault got the Blackhawks within a goal for a second time at the 9:23 mark of the second period, but Chicago would not get any closer. Jordin Tootoo made it a 4-2 game 4:20 into the third, when his shot from the left circle went off Lalime’s arm and trickled into the net. Arnott added a power-play, empty-net tally with 47 seconds remaining to seal the victory.

“They’ve got a great team this year,” Mason said of the Blackhawks, who also now stand at 7-7-0. “Those young kids are really impressive. They’re throwing pucks at the net and they’re getting a lot of traffic. If you’re not focused, they’re going to score a couple early, and it could be a different game.”

Material from wire services was used in this report.

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