Leclaire, Blue Jackets Stymies Blues 3-0

Monday, November 5th 2007, 7:23 am
By: News On 6

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) _ One month into the season, the Columbus Blue Jackets are the biggest surprise in the NHL.

Pascal Leclaire stopped 21 shots for his fifth shutout of the season and the Blue Jackets maintained their franchise-best start with a 3-0 victory over the St. Louis Blues on Sunday night.

Instead of the air of doom and gloom that usually filled the Columbus dressing room within the first six weeks, the current Blue Jackets are looking ahead _ cautiously.

``Last year when we'd win three or four games in a row, everybody would think 'This is it.' Then when we'd lose a couple, everybody would think it was the end of the world,'' said Rick Nash, who scored his 10th goal on a nifty catch-and-shoot in the second period. ``Right now, we're taking it game by game and not worrying if we can keep this going down the road.''

Manny Malhotra and Jason Chimera also had goals for the Blue Jackets (8-3-2), who are off to the best start in their seven seasons. Malhotra added an assist and Adam Foote had two.

Columbus didn't pick up its eighth win last season until Dec. 5.

In the only other games Sunday, Ottawa beat Boston 2-1 in a shootout and Nashville topped Chicago 5-2.

The only team to never appear in the playoffs, the Blue Jackets are 5-0-1 in their last six games. In their first full season under head coach Ken Hitchcock, they're tied for second place in the Western Conference.

``It's working for now,'' said Leclaire, who had one shutout in his 59 career games coming into the season but now has a league-best five in nine starts. ``We can't get too cocky about it. It's still extremely early. We're part of a really strong division. Everybody has a lot to prove this year. We've got to keep playing the same way.''

With the Blues pressing the issue in the second period, Leclaire stopped Keith Tkachuk on a mini-breakaway, then made two sterling saves when St. Louis had a two-man advantage, blocking a hard shot by Martin Rucinsky and gloving a laser of a one-timer by Paul Kariya from the left circle.

The Blues have been shut out twice this year, both times by Leclaire.

``I don't really have to say much about that, do I?'' St. Louis coach Andy Murray said. ``There's been enough written. He's shut us out twice in a row, so he's obviously played pretty well against us.''

Columbus controlled the puck on a delayed penalty late in the first period, pulling Leclaire for an extra attacker and swarming the net for 52 seconds. Foote then saucered a pass to Malhotra who faked goaltender Hannu Toivonen and went high for his second goal of the year.

After Leclaire had held off a Blues surge, Nikolai Zherdev flipped a high, backhanded pass that Nash caught at the right circle. He dropped the puck, settled it, waited while two Blues slid out of his way and then rocketed a low shot inside the far post.

Chimera's goal came on a shot from the left point in the third period.

Asked if the Blue Jackets' start felt like it was real, Nash grinned and said, ``It's as real as it's going to get.''

Senators 2, Bruins 1, SO

Daniel Alfredsson and Antoine Vermette scored on visiting Ottawa's first two chances in the shootout and Martin Gerber stopped Boston's initial pair of shooters to lift the Senators to their 12th win in their first 13 games.

Chuck Kobasew, who scored both goals in a 3-2 loss Saturday night in Ottawa, had Boston's goal in regulation. Vermette scored a short-handed goal for the Senators, who were held scoreless in six power-play chances.

Ottawa's fast start is still far still off its best opening deep into a season. The Senators began 2005-06 by winning 19 of their initial 22 games.

Predators 5, Blackhawks 2

Alexander Radulov and Jason Arnott each had a goal and an assist, and Chris Mason made 30 saves to end a seven-game personal losing streak in Nashville's victory.

David Legwand, Martin Erat and Jordin Tootoo also scored for the Predators, who have won three straight games, all on the road, and five of six following a six-game losing streak.

Robert Lang and Yanic Perreault scored for Chicago.