By LOUIE KORAC
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- St. Louis native Mike McKenna has been a busy guy in the past year.
The Columbus Blue Jackets goalie, who became a father to a daughter, was on the move again after playing last season with the Blues' American Hockey League affiliate in Peoria.
On the move again, McKenna signed a one-year contract with the Blue Jackets organization and was playing for their AHL affiliate in Springfield, Mass. when he got the call to join the parent club.
An injury to starter Sergei Bobrovsky (groin) forced the Blue Jackets to go with McKenna as their backup.
And with the recent injury of Curtis McElhinney (lower body) Thursday against the New York Rangers, McKenna is not thrust into the spotlight.
He will get the start Saturday night when the Jackets (14-15-3) play host to the former Central Division rival Blues (21-6-3) at 6 p.m. (FSN, KMOX 1120-AM).
McKenna, who came on in relief of McElhinney in a 4-2 victory Thursday, thought of his grandfather Bill McKenna, a pioneer of hockey in the St. Louis area and former official.
"It's hard not to think about him sometimes," Mike McKenna said of his grandfather. "Not that I try to avoid it, but it's easy to get emotional because he did have such a positive influence on myself and so many other people within that community with hockey. ... There's moments in your career that you look back at people who've helped you. He's always there."
McKenna, 30, is 4-9-1 with a 3.41 goals-against average and .890 save percentage in 18 NHL games spanning a decade. The former sixth round pick of the Nashville Predators in the 2002 NHL Entry Draft has faced the Blues once in his career with the New Jersey Devils and lost 3-2, stopping 24 shots on Nov. 20, 2010. Coincidentally, that was his last NHL start.
"I think playing that first game in St. Louis a few years ago was kind of a shell-shock feel because there were so many people watching, so much that's kind of riding with it," McKenna said. "It's lost some of that (luster) now, and I'm also a few years older.
"I'm trying as hard as I can to just approach it as just another game. Anytime you grow up in your hometown, you have that childhood memory of that team. There's always some sentimentality towards it, but we're trying to build something here, and I'm trying to be a part of that. I'm trying to approach it like another game."
McKenna, trying to juggle a young family and settle into one city, was on the move quickly.
"It's just the nature of this thing. Some things can happen," McKenna said. "When you're watching the game and somebody gets injured, it's literally 15-20 minutes after a game where you get a phone call. That's pretty much how it happened. It's pretty quick and you've got to get on a 5:30 in the morning flight, and it's about 11:30 (p.m.). You try to get a nap in and hit the road."
McKenna has made stops with Peoria, Binghamton, Albany, Norfolk, Portland, Omaha, Milwaukee and Springfield along his AHL stops in nine seasons. He's also played in the NHL for the Devils and Tampa Bay.
"What it's come down to is to even keep a job in the American League as a veteran guy, you've got to be one of the best in the league looking at it realistically," McKenna said. "I know that I have to push myself. I want to play in the NHL, but to even keep getting jobs at that level, you've got to be just as good. That's pushed me. I've always prided myself in doing the best job that I can at whatever level I'm at. It's been a few years, but it's something that I've been working for, for a long time."
Blues coach Ken Hitchcock knows a thing or two about McKenna, having to follow the Blues' minor league players closely.
"I liked him in Peoria," Hitchcock said of McKenna. "I thought him and Jake (Allen) were a great fit there. He came in and Mike had a lot of tough games there. He played tough travel outings, he got the middle game a lot. It was hard. I was really impressed with him."
McKenna's father Terry, an NHL off-ice official in St. Louis, will be among a throng of fans cheering McKenna on Saturday. They all made the trek across I-70 Friday night.
"A grand caravan," McKenna joked. "There's not that many. There's a couple friends here. They all beat the snow in here yesterday, thankfully. There will be a few."
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Toronto Maple Leafs forward David Clarkson was suspended for two games Saturday as a result of an illegal hit to the head of Blues center Vladimir Sobotka.
Clarkson, who was suspended 10 games for a preseason altercation as a result of leaving the bench during an altercation, caught Sobotka with his left shoulder to the jaw inside the offensive zone for the Blues (related video: http://video.nhl.com/videocenter/console?catid=60&id=510248&lang=en).
Sobotka did not suffer any type of injury as a result, but Clarkson was penalized two minutes for an illegal hit to the head at the 6-minute, 28-second mark of the second period.
Sobotka skated Friday briefly with the team but left the ice early, and Hitchcock said there was nothing related to the hit.
"I didn't like the hit, but it was just wear and tear," Hitchcock said.
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Adam Cracknell will play in only his ninth game of the season Saturday night, but the Blues' fourth-line winger is getting into a comfort zone playing with a pair of veterans.
Cracknell, along with vets Brenden Morrow and Maxim Lapierre have forged an identity as an impact line for the Blues, which bodes will for a team that relies on four lines on a consistent basis.
"I trust them a lot," Hitchcock said. "They're three veteran players. They should play well, but I think they forge their own identity and it's based on forecheck. Hopefully they pin this team in, too."
Cracknell might not be the guy that brings what Ryan Reaves, out with a hand injury, brings to the table, but he does bring an offensive element, along with Morrow.
"Where Cracks is good is he's got anticipation as an offensive player, so he understands next lane, stick in the right position," Hitchcock said. "He's not the quickest guy, but he's able to pick off passes, get pucks pinned, so he adds an element of forecheck. He doesn't bring the fear that guys like Reaves and (Jared) Boll would bring, but he brings positional play with size that really helps us. That line's had a big impact in the last two games."
Lapierre, who played a couple games on right wing to bring an element missing in Reaves' absence, said the line is gaining traction.
"I think we're getting better," said Lapierre, who has four points in 25 games. "We've had a few games to get to know each other. I think right now, we're doing what we want to do. We want to be heavy on the puck in the corners. The only thing is we want to take the puck a little more to the net and create some more chances."
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The Blues are in a stretch of eight games in 14 days leading up to Christmas. They continue to be one of the teams that have played the fewest amount of games in the NHL.
The Blues, Dallas Stars and Colorado Avalanche all came into action Saturday having played only 30 games. Five teams (Chicago, Anaheim, Minnesota, Vancouver and Edmonton) all have played 34.
"At the start, it was, 'Are we in the league, are we out of the league' because there was so much stop and go," Hitchcock said. "I think that we're a team that plays better with rhythm.
"I think the players just assume not practice in pregame skates, so we've adopted the attitude that we skate once as a group, whether it's a pregame skate or like we did yesterday. We skated full as a group, and I think the players like that. I think they like it. It feels like it's playoff mode, and I think when you look at this right into Christmas, that's what we're in, playoff mode and lots of good teams so this will be a good challenge for us."
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The Blues' probable lineup:
Alexander Steen-David Backes-T.J. Oshie
Jaden Schwartz-Vladimir Sobotka-Chris Stewart
Derek Roy-Patrik Berglund-Vladimir Tarasenko
Brenden Morrow-Maxim Lapierre-Adam Cracknell
Jay Bouwmeester-Alex Pietrangelo
Barret Jackman-Kevin Shattenkirk
Ian Cole-Roman Polak
Jaroslav Halak will get the start in goal; Brian Elliott is the backup.
Healthy scratches include Carlo Colaiacovo and Magnus Paajarvi. Jordan Leopold (hand) and Ryan Reaves (hand) are on injured reserve.
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The Blue Jackets' probable lineup:
Nick Foligno-Ryan Johansen-RJ Umberger
Matt Calvert-Brandon Dubinsky-Cam Atkinson
Blake Comeau-Artem Anisimov-Boone Jenner
Derek MacKenzie-Mark Letestu-Corey Tropp
Fedor Tyutin-Jack Johnson
Nikita Nikitin-Dalton Prout
Ryan Murray-David Savard
Mike McKenna will get the start in goal; Jeremy Smith will be the backup.
The healthy scratch includes Tim Erixon. Marian Gaborik (knee), Nathan Norton (shoulder), James Wisniewski (upper body), Sergei Bobrovsky (groin), Jared Boll (foot) and Curtis McElhinney (lower body) are all injured for the Jackets and out of action.