ST. LOUIS -- It is said that opposites attract. In hockey opposites sometimes do more than that -- they make for good defensive pairings.
Such is the case with Barret Jackman and Kevin Shattenkirk. They seem like a blue-line version of Abbott and Costello, Mutt and Jeff or Rocky and Bullwinkle. Jackman is a 30-year-old, battle-scarred veteran from British Columbia. Shattenkirk is a precocious 22-year-old from Connecticut.
The two couldn't be much more dissimilar in background or style. Yet, they live together on the Blues' defense, in perfect harmony.
"Once I came here, toward the end of the year, 'Jacks' and I started playing and it just seemed to fit," Shattenkirk said. "For me, it's just a comfort thing, knowing there is a guy back there who is so solid and can bail you out when you make a mistake trying to make a play."
Too much can be read into hockey's plus-minus statistic, which is an ambiguous measurement at best. At the same time, disclaimers aside, it may be interpreted as an indicator. Jackman and Shattenkirk lead the Blues' defensemen in the plus-minus category, which certainly suggests they are coagulating.
Jackman might be playing as well as he ever has, or since he won the NHL's Calder Trophy in 2002-2003 as the rookie of the year. He beat out Henrik Zetterberg and Rick Nash to win the award that season, no small feat.
Jackman's play is "simple and hard," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. "Nothing bad happens as long as you get the puck quickly to the forwards, and he's doing a great job of that right now. He's really playing with his legs, not his eyes.
"He's doing less thinking and more moving the puck, and I really think it's had an impact on how he's playing. Less is more with 'Jacks."'
In an unfortunate way, a 3-2 loss to Los Angeles on Tuesday served to underline the point. While killing a penalty, Jackman perhaps made things a little more complicated than they needed to be by making an ill-advised pass to the middle of the ice. The puck was intercepted in the Blues' zone and instantly turned into a goal for the Kings.
But afterward, Jackman demonstrated another reason he is so respected by his peers. He was the first player available in the dressing room, ready to answer questions about his mistake, available and accountable. He is a stand-up defenseman, in every sense of the term.
"Off the ice, the intangibles speak volumes about the type of character he has," Shattenkirk said. "That's why he's such a leader in here."
For his part, Shattenkirk has given the Blues another quarterback-caliber pointman to complement Alex Pietrangelo. When the Blues made a big trade last winter with Colorado, acquiring power forward Chris Stewart and Shattenkirk in return for Erik Johnson and Jay McClement, Stewart and Johnson were thought to be the primary figures.
But Shattenkirk had 15 points in 26 games for St. Louis last season, and he has 12 points in 21 games this season, including a team-leading 10 assists. As Jackman puts it, "I know how to get points, I just get the puck to Kevin Shattenkirk."
Nobody on the Blues has more innate "hockey sense" than No. 22.
"I think he's very predictable in the defensive zone," Jackman said. "You know what he's going to do, when he's going to pressure, when he's going to join the rush. He's really good at coming back hard and giving me options, like I try to do with him.
"He really makes it a simple game in the defensive zone and moving forward, which really helps my simple game. When 'Shatty' is in the right position, it's an easy first pass for me."
The skill factor in Shattenkirk's game came well advertised, but it also tends to overshadow his defensive play. He has proven to be a dependable, unyielding protector, perhaps more so than some anticipated from a relatively small defenseman.
"He looks like (Brian) Rafalski," Hitchcock said, referring to the former Detroit defensive standout. "Because he's not oversized, but he's positionally sound, so you have to plow through him all the time. And when it's a big guy, he lets him go get the puck and then he takes it away from him, which is what smart smaller players do.
"They're a good pair. We've had good play from a lot of guys back there, because we've been short-staffed with injuries. They've been a pair that you are comfortable playing against top players, which is a good sign."
Jackman said there have been times in recent seasons where he has tried to push the envelope of his abilities. One of the toughest challenges for any athlete in professional sports is to accept who he is, to be realistic about his talent and recognize his limitations. Jackman knows he is a lot closer to Bobby Plager than Bobby Orr. But when a team struggles ...
"You always want to do more to help the team," said Jackman, who has experienced the playoffs just twice during his previous eight full seasons in St. Louis. "But most of the time it is keeping it simple and realizing that if you play within yourself, if you play your game, it helps the team more than trying to score a goal or beat someone one on one."
Jackman keeps it simple, Shattenkirk keeps it moving. Together, they are two "D's" in a pod for the Blues this season.