BLUES (21-6-3) at BLUE JACKETS (14-15-3)
TV: FS-MW, FS-O
Last 10: St. Louis 7-3-0; Columbus 6-4-0
Season series: After competing for years as rivals in the Central Division, these teams are playing for the first time since the Columbus Blue Jackets moved into the Eastern Conference's new Metropolitan Division. The St. Louis Blues won three of four against Columbus last season.
Big story: St. Louis has been arguably the NHL's most consistent team this season. Columbus has not matched that consistency but has gone 4-1-0 in December and has an opportunity to climb the division standings with three of its next four games at Nationwide Arena.
Blues: St. Louis recently experienced a rare losing stretch, dropping three of four with all three losses coming against California teams. But the Blues rebounded this week with wins against a pair of Canadian franchises. Following a 2-1 road win against the Winnipeg Jets on Tuesday, the Blues welcomed the Toronto Maple Leafs to Scottrade Center on Thursday.
St. Louis scored three times in the first period, and Chris Stewart gave the Blues a commanding 4-0 lead 29 seconds into the second. Nazem Kadri replied 76 seconds later, but Alexander Steen scored his 22nd of the season 7:04 into the third and the Blues eventually wrapped up a 6-3 win.
"We jumped on them early," said forward Jaden Schwartz, who had a three-point night. "We threw a lot of pucks on net. We got a lot of second-chance opportunities tonight. Everyone played well."
Blue Jackets: A difficult season for Columbus appeared even more challenging when franchise goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky was lost for a month with a groin strain on Dec. 3. But the Blue Jackets have gone 3-1-0 since losing the Vezina Trophy winner and received solid goaltending from some unlikely sources.
That was especially the case Thursday at Madison Square Garden against the New York Rangers, when Curtis McElhinney was forced to leave after one period with a lower-body injury. With Columbus up 3-1, Mike McKenna came in relief and stopped 17 of 18 shots in his first NHL action since Dec. 2, 2010 to secure a 4-2 win that saw Artem Anisimov score against his former team.
Despite the unusual circumstances, McKenna felt comfortable in net and he will get the start Saturday against his hometown team.
"You play this game so long. It's not like I'm 15 years old. I'm 30 years old. I've done this for a while," McKenna said. "You go in and you play your game. You do your best and try to play within yourself. It worked out for us tonight."
With McElhinney out short-term, Columbus called up Jeremy Smith from the American Hockey League on Friday.
Who's hot: Schwartz has two goals and four points in his past three games, and Blues captain David Backes has three goals and four points in that span. … Blue Jackets forward Matt Calvert has goals in three straight games, and linemate Cam Atkinson has six points in his past four games. Forward Ryan Johansen has nine points during a career-high seven-game point streak.
Injury report: Blues defenseman Jordan Leopold (finger) and forward Ryan Reaves (broken hand) are on injured reserve. … McElhinney and Bobrovsky are out for Columbus, as are forwards Marian Gaborik (knee), Nathan Horton (shoulder), Cody Bass (thumb) and Jared Boll (foot) and defenseman James Wisniewski (upper body).
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