ST. LOUIS – The NHL-leading St. Louis Blues are getting such good goaltending that league goals-against leader Brian Elliott is fighting for playing time.
After sitting for three games in favour of Jaroslav Halak, Elliott returned to make 21 saves in the Blues’ 4-1 victory over the Columbus Blue Jackets on Saturday night. Elliott lowered his GAA to 1.61 and helped the Blues tie a franchise record with their 29th home victory of the season.
“We try to stand tall, and hold them in there and give us a chance to win,” Elliott said about the tandem with Halak. “I don’t think anyone is trying to win the game themselves out there.”
St. Louis is an NHL-best 29-4-4 at home with four games left. The Blues went 29-7-4 at home in 1980-81.
Overall, St. Louis is 44-18-7 for 95 points, and has won four in a row and eight of nine.
Count Columbus interim head coach Todd Richards as a believer.
“They play fast. They play big,” Richards said. “I think the depth on their team is one factor. I don’t think (Blues coach Ken Hitchcock) is concerned with any matchups. He’s kind of just rolling his lines.
“The defence they have, they do a great job of moving the puck up the ice and at key times, they’re getting the saves they need from their goalies.”
With Halak getting the bulk of the playing time, St. Louis has allowed just one goal in each of the last four games and two or fewer in nine straight.
But as good as his team has played, Hitchcock believes they have another level.
“I know we can play a lot better than we’re playing right now and I think we will when we get pushed here,” Hitchcock said. “I think we have another gear that we can play at. We’re playing nice right now. I think we can go a lot higher than this.”
As the Blues have moved up the standings, they are becoming a bigger target. Elliott said he knew Columbus would give the Blues its best shot.
“They are pretty much out of the playoffs, so they don’t have that much pressure,” Elliott said. “We have to stick to our game and know that the hockey we’re playing now is what we’re going to carry into the post-season. It’s important games and we really have to take advantage of these situations.”
David Perron, Chris Stewart, T.J. Oshie and Alex Pietrangelo scored for St. Louis, 36-0-0 when scoring three or more goals. Andy McDonald added two assists.
Cam Atkinson scored for Columbus. The Blue Jackets had won four straight.
After Perron opened the scoring in the first period, and Atkinson tied it early in the second, Stewart gave the Blues the lead for good at 9:17 of the second. Stewart powered down the left wing and backhanded a shot from inside the circle over goalie Curtis Sanford while fending off defenceman Brett Lebda.
Oshie made it 3-1 on a power play with 5:22 left in the second, beating Sanford with a one-timer from the right circle. Pietrangelo put it away with another power-play goal with 12:49 left in the third.
“They just come at you,” said Sanford, who made 25 saves. “They come at you in waves. They work hard from the first drop of the puck until the last buzzer. You always have to be paying attention because they have some skilled guys as well that can make some really quality plays.”
NOTES: Oshie’s goal was the 2,700th power-play score in team history. … Columbus hasn’t won five straight since Nov. 17-24 2010. . . . The last regulation loss for the Blues in a game in which they scored three times came on March 19, 2011, at San Jose. … St. Louis is 12-1-1 in its last 14 home games.