ST. LOUIS – Like a good Neighbour[s], Jake [from St. Louis] was there. Right place, right time to deliver a Columbus-crushing blow as the Blues rallied for three late goals and a 5-2 season-opening win.
Jake Neighbours picked up some big insurance Saturday just 20 seconds after his new linemate Ivan Barbashev potted a late go-ahead goal. Trenched in a 2-2 tie for nearly half an hour’s worth of regulation, the Blues pulled ahead just halfway through the third period and doubled their output in a short manner of time.
“The building had so much energy,” said Neighbours. “Everyone was kind of on their feet. It was a high-energy moment. Getting two back-to-back there was pretty big for the team.”
Neighbours tacked on so quickly that the Blues P.A. announcer Tom Calhoun couldn’t even finish announcements from Barbashev’s goal just moments before. The two goals now rank within the Blues’ Top 10 for the fastest pair of goals scored at any point of a game in franchise history, according to Records.NHL.com.
Neighbours recalls the rush, which ended with him deking around three Blue Jackets defenders and elevating a back-hand to the middle, right side of an open net.
“It’s kind of hard-working play by my linemates and obviously by Bortuzzo there on the wall. [He] just poked the puck to the middle, I tried to turn to the middle and put the puck on net. I never really had control of it and kind of till the last second I saw the goalie had stumbled and just tried to put a shot on net.”
Now in his second NHL stint, Neighbours logged 13 minutes of ice time, delivered four hits and needed only one shot on goal to find the back of the net in the 2022-23 season opener. He and Barbashev are handling the wings on a line centered by 13-year veteran Brayden Schenn, who assisted on both of the fast third-period goals.
Barbashev says it didn’t take long to find chemistry with Neighbours.
“He’s a really smart player,” said Barbashev. “He doesn’t make a lot of mistakes. He plays it simple, and it’s really easy to play with him. He had a really good game, and he deserved that goal.”
Neighbours also began the 2021-22 season with Blues, scoring just one goal and one assist over nine games. But after a small sample size and an unclear role, the Blues opted for him to spend another season in the minors, rather than exceed a games limit that would’ve burned a contract year.
The 2020 first-round draft pick thrived with the WHL’s Edmonton Oil Kings upon assignment, scoring 62 goals in 49 games between regular season and playoffs. In 2022, the Oil Kings won their 3rd Ed Chynoweth Cup, and Neighbours capped the run with the final goal of playoffs.
Months later, Neighbours has a chance to build on that experience and proves he belongs at the NHL level.
“He got a nice goal. He was on top of things. Doing his job working, being heavy on the puck,” said Blues head coach Craig Berube on the line with Neighbours. “Their work ethic [Neighbours and the third line] and hard work paid off in the third,”
“He’s just a player that works hard,” said Blues defenseman Colton Parayko. “He goes in the corners, he’ll go for pucks, he makes hits, works for the puck and finds his teammates and also get scored a goal. He’s got it all.”
Neighbours credits his linemates for his steady contributions Saturday.
“Schenner and Barbie are two pretty elite players in this league.” said Neighbours. “Their offensive talents kind of swept under the rug. They’re two very talented players and two players who can provide a lot of offense for this team.”
Neighbours maintains rookie eligibility for the new season, one the Blues had to wait for longer than every other NHL team. By the time St. Louis opened its season Saturday, every other NHL team played at least one game and some had finished up to three games.
“We were excited and getting antsy to get going,” said Nieghbours. “It was good to get out there in front of our fans and get a win.”
Like the victory, the 20-year-old Neighbours adds his second NHL goal was well worth the wait.
“It’s good to get the first [goal] on the season and try to build on it,” said Neighbours.
Neighbours and the Blues have three days off before embarking on their first road slate of the season, a three-game set that begins against the Seattle Kraken.