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McKenna to start against hometown Blues

by Craig Merz

COLUMBUS -- Some goaltenders don't like to talk to the media the morning of a start.

That has never been an issue for Mike McKenna of the Columbus Blue Jackets, who spoke for more than 15 minutes with reporters in front of his locker in Nationwide Arena on Saturday.

The affable McKenna has quite a story to tell. Because of injuries to starter Sergei Bobrovsky and backup Curtis McElhinney, the journeyman minor-leaguer will face his hometown St. Louis Blues in his first NHL start since Nov. 20, 2010.

And who did he face in that game? The Blues, who won 3-2 when McKenna stopped 24 of 27 shots for the New Jersey Devils.

Adding to the intrigue for McKenna, 30, is that his father, Terry, is the official scorer for the Blues and his grandfather, Bill, is considered one of the founding fathers of hockey in St. Louis and is honored in the Blues' amateur hockey hall of fame.

"Playing that first game in St. Louis a few years ago was kind of a shell shock," Mike McKenna said. "There were so many people watching, so much that was riding with it. It's lost some of that now and I'm a few years older too. I'm trying to approach it as much as I can as just another game.

"You have that childhood memory of that team so there's always sentimentality towards it but we're trying to build something here and I'm trying to be a part of that."

McKenna gets the start due to McElhinney sustaining a lower-body injury Thursday, forcing McKenna to come off the bench for the final 40 minutes to save 17 of 18 shots in a 4-2 win against the New York Rangers.

It was McKenna's first NHL action since Dec. 2, 2010, when the Devils lost 5-1 to the Montreal Canadiens. He has not had a win in the NHL since making 33 saves for the Tampa Bay Lightning in a 2-1 overtime victory against the Blue Jackets on March 24, 2009.

McKenna, who was called up from the Springfield Falcons of the American Hockey League last week when Bobrovsky (groin) went out, has a 4-9-1 record in 18 NHL games since debuting in 2008 for the Lightning.

He isn't overwhelmed by the thought of trying to lead the Blue Jackets (14-15-3) to their fifth win in six games.

"I've done this for a while," he said. "I haven't been in the NHL for a while or even a full season but I've done nine years of this. Emotions run just as high in the American League or the ECHL."

Adding to the plot is that McKenna played for the Blues' AHL team in Peoria, Ill., last season before signing in the summer with Columbus.

"I liked him in Peoria," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. "I was really impressed with him. From a teammate standpoint, guys really liked him. The teammates liked the things he brought to the locker room."

The Blues (21-6-3) are expected to start Jaroslav Halak, who stopped 35 shots to spoil McKenna's homecoming to St. Louis three years ago.

Here are the projected lineups for St. Louis at Columbus:


Alexander Steen - David Backes - T.J. Oshie

Jaden Schwartz - Vladimir Sobotka - Chris Stewart

Derek Roy - Patrik Berglund - Vladimir Tarasenko

Brenden Morrow - Maxim Lapierre - Adam Cracknell

Jay Bouwmeester - Alex Pietrangelo

Barret Jackman - Kevin Shattenkirk

Ian Cole - Roman Polak

Jaroslav Halak

Brian Elliott

Scratched: Carlo Colaiacovo, Magnus Paajarvi

Injured: Jordan Leopold (hand), Ryan Reaves (hand)


Nick Foligno - Ryan Johansen - RJ Umberger

Matt Calvert - Brandon Dubinsky - Cam Atkinson

Boone Jenner - Artem Anisimov - Blake Comeau

Mark Letestu - Derek MacKenzie - Corey Tropp

Fedor Tyutin - Jack Johnson

Ryan Murray - David Savard

Nikita Nikitin - Dalton Prout

Mike McKenna

Jeremy Smith

Scratched: Tim Erixon

Injured: Sergei Bobrovsky (groin), Curtis McElhinney (lower body), James Wisniewski (upper body), Jared Boll (left foot), Marian Gaborik (left knee), Nathan Horton (left shoulder)

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