With a primary goal of staying healthy the remainder of the regular season, the Blues couldn’t even make it out of the first period Saturday against Columbus.
On the night that defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk returned, Alexander Steen left 8 ½ minutes into the game when he and the Blue Jackets’ Cody Goloubef collided with their right knees. Steen did not return.
Already playing without T.J. Oshie, who was sick, the Blues were missing two members of their top line. The offense still managed 31 shots and had six power-play opportunities, but Columbus ignored its postseason-less fate once again, walking out with a 4-2 win over the Blues in front of a crowd of 19,431 at Scottrade Center.
The loss of Steen, though, potentially will be the night’s chilling reminder of what the team experienced last season when a rash of injuries down the stretch wreaked havoc with its finish. There was no further update on his status after the game.
“I don’t know,” Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. “We’ll evaluate him tomorrow.”
On Saturday, the Blues were playing their first game at home following a six-game road trip, a formula that tends to lead to sluggish performances. But they had three days’ rest and were facing an opponent which was playing for the second straight night after winning Friday in Chicago.
Columbus is one of two non-playoff teams remaining on the Blues’ schedule, but scoring three goals on just 17 shots, the Blue Jackets stretched their NHL-best winning streak to six games and have now won a franchise-high eight straight on the road.
Boone Jenner scored the game-winning goal with 21 seconds left in the second period for a 3-2 lead, and Cam Atkinson added an empty-netter with 1:18 remaining in regulation. The Blues outshot the Blue Jackets 13-3 in the third period.
“We’re going to have to watch that one back and see where our breakdowns were,” Blues goalie Brian Elliott said. “But we know that they’re a team that capitalizes on your turnovers. We knew that going into it, but it’s a team coming on a back-to-back that we should get the jump on, but we didn’t tonight.”
The Blues received goals from Patrik Berglund and Vladimir Tarasenko, but needed those to play catch-up. They played their ninth consecutive game without scoring in the first period, trailing 1-0 at intermission after a goal by William Karlsson 7:06 into the game.
Karlsson buried a wrist shot, following a feed from teammate Scott Hartnell. The Blues’ Jori Lehtera, who failed to break up a neutral-zone pass that led to the scoring opportunity, was late back-checking Karlsson.
The injury to Steen came 1 ½ minutes after the goal. He took a shot that hit teammate Chris Porter in the chest, and while many eyes were focused on Porter, Steen ran into Goloubef near the net and skated to the locker room in pain.
That was double trouble with Oshie out, too.
“It changes the dynamic of our team, especially losing Steener during the game, having a lot of guys early on having to fill in and play more minutes,” Shattenkirk said. “There’s no real chemistry out there with the lines, it messes things up. Two guys who drive the bus for us.”
The Blues’ power-play unit suffered, going zero for two in the first period.
The Blues got on the board 52 seconds into the second period on Berglund’s ninth goal of the season.
A turnover by Columbus’ Nick Foligno left the puck for Lehtera, who sprung Jaden Schwartz and Berglund on a 2-0 rush. Schwartz fed Berglund, who beat Blue Jackets goalie Sergei Bobrovsky for his first goal in 13 games.
A series of five minor penalties over a 10-minute span in the second period turned the game into a special-teams affair. Three didn’t develop into goals, but then each team’s power-play unit picked up a goal.
After a hooking call on the Blues’ Jay Bouwmeester, Columbus opened a 2-1 lead on Jack Johnson’s sixth goal of the season with 8:21 remaining in the frame. Johnson teed up from the blueline and his shot traveled through traffic before beating Elliott.
But the Blues struck back with Tarasenko’s 36th goal of the season, which came with the Blue Jackets’ Jeremy Morin in the penalty box for elbowing. After the unit went scoreless on its first four chances Saturday, Tarasenko took a pass from Berglund and put the puck past Bobrovsky for a 2-2 score with 5:16 left in the second period.
“It was us finally getting back to the recipe that works,” Shattenkirk said. “We got a couple shots early in that power play and it just established everything for us.”
But with 21 seconds left in the period, Columbus grabbed the lead again, 3-2, on Jenner’s goal. A pass from Atkinson hit the skate of Alex Pietrangelo and went to Ryan Johansen, who passed to Jenner for the easy tap-in.
“It bounced straight to their guy, so I challenged him,” Elliott said. “He faked the shot and put it back-door. Not much you can do on that one.”
Two of Columbus’ three goals, not including the empty-netter, came in transition.
“They scored two goals off of odd-man rushes, where we made plays that were kind of ‘hope-for’ plays,” Hitchcock said.
Despite the loss, the Blues remained in second place in the Central Division, but they are now three points behind Nashville with seven games to play (one in hand).
“Not many games left, so we’ve got to figure it out,” Berglund said.