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NHL Preview from The Sports Network
Saturday, January 4th (All times Eastern)
Columbus Blue Jackets (18-19-4) at St. Louis Blues (28-7-5), 8 p.m.
(SportsNetwork.com) - Nathan Horton had a strong debut for the Columbus Blue Jackets in helping the club halt a two-game losing streak their last time out. The highly-paid forward will try to make a difference again on Saturday, as the Blue Jackets visit the streaking St. Louis Blues at Scottrade Center.
Horton lit the lamp in his long-awaited Blue Jackets debut, as Columbus earned a 2-0 victory Thursday night in Phoenix. Columbus signed Horton to a seven- year, $37.1 million contract in July, but the 28-year-old forward underwent shoulder surgery not long after inking the deal, causing him to miss the Blue Jackets' first 40 games this season.
"You can tell that we're a good team when we work hard," said Horton. "I really enjoyed being out there with the guys. It was so much fun."
Horton, a six-time 20-goal scorer, notched 13 games in 43 games for the Boston Bruins last season. He also added 19 points (7 goals, 12 assists) in 22 playoff games last spring for the Bruins, who made it to the Stanley Cup Finals before bowing out to Chicago.
Columbus went into Thursday night's game scoreless in its last 16 power-play chances and just 1-for-24 on the man advantage over the previous seven games. Horton ended those droughts with his second-period, power-play tally, putting home a gritty rebound from in close.
Curtis McElhinney stopped 34 shots for his second shutout of the season in Thursday's win at Jobing.com Arena. R.J. Umberger registered Columbus' other goal, while McElhinney turned aside a whopping 21 shots in the final frame to help the Blue Jackets hang on for their fourth victory in six tries. The win pushed Columbus to 9-10-2 as the guest this season and improved the Jackets' record on a four-game road trip to 1-1-0.
While Horton made his season debut on Thursday, the Blue Jackets could have No. 1 goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky back in the crease tonight for the first time since Dec. 3. Bobrovsky, the NHL's reigning Vezina Trophy winner, has been out for a month with a strained groin, but he suited up as the backup to McElhinney on Thursday and the Russian netminder could get the start tonight.
Bobrovsky has struggled this season, going 10-11-2 with a 2.72 goals against average in 23 games. He was 21-11-6 with a 2.00 GAA in his award-winning season of 2012-13.
Blue Jackets center Derek MacKenzie, meanwhile, will miss the next three games after receiving a suspension from the league for boarding Phoenix defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson on Thursday. MacKenzie, who has two goals and two assists in 33 games this season, will be eligible to return on Jan. 11 in Winnipeg.
Columbus faces a tough test on Saturday, as the Blues enter the tilt having won four straight and six of their last seven games. St. Louis also has dominated the Blue Jackets in recent years, winning four of five, six of eight and 11 of the last 14 meetings. Columbus also has lost two straight and five of its last six games at Scottrade Center.
The Blues are coming off an impressive win on Thursday, as they slammed the visiting Los Angeles Kings by a 5-0 score. T.J. Oshie scored two goals and Brian Elliott made 30 saves to help the Blues send the struggling Kings to their fifth straight loss.
Brenden Morrow had a goal and one assist for the Blues. Elliott recorded his third shutout of the season in the 100th win for Ken Hitchcock as St. Louis' head coach.
"When you're creating scoring chances from your pursuit and checking, it's a good sign because you're willing to work to create scoring chances," said Hitchcock.
It was the third straight win on home ice for the Blues, who boast a superb 16-3-2 mark in the Gateway City this season.
Elliott could get a fourth straight start in net tonight, as Jaroslav Halak is still battling an illness. Captain David Backes is questionable after sitting out the last three games with an upper-body injury.
In other news for St. Louis, defenseman Jordan Leopold was activated off injured reserve on Friday and he could play Saturday for the first time since Nov. 7. Leopold had been sidelined after undergoing surgery to repair a tendon in his right hand.
St. Louis enters Saturday trailing Chicago by five points for first place in the Central Division. The Blues have four games in hand over the Blackhawks and will use one today, as Chicago is idle ahead of its home game Sunday against the San Jose Sharks.
01/04 10:47:06 ET