Halak sharp; top line of Perron, Backes, Boyes in regular season form
By LOUIE KORAC
ST. LOUIS -- There certainly are a couple looming decisions for the Blues as the preseason comes to a conclusion as far as roster spots are concerned. However, there's one constant that will most certainly carry over to the regular season.
If this were basketball, David Perron, David Backes and Brad Boyes playing on the top line when the Blues begin the regular season is a slam dunk. All three seem to have their regular season game faces on and Thursday night's exhibition game against Chicago was no exception.
Perron got the Blues on the board, T.J. Oshie scored one of those Jumbotron highlight reel goals that will be shown throughout the season and Jaroslav Halak turned away 30 shots in his first action in nine days as the Blues downed the Blackhawks 4-1 Thursday night at Scottrade Center.
The Blues (4-2) and their seasoned vets seem to have their pecking order straightened out as far as the roster is concerned, aside from a few spots that will be decided over the next couple days ahead of the season-opener one week from Saturday here against the Philadelphia Flyers.
It's safe to say the Perron-Backes-Boyes line is locked in and etched in stone.
"They've been real consistent," Blues coach Davis Payne said of his top line. "You can tell not only are they thinking together but they're working together. The communication going on on the bench, the communication in practice, after a shift discussing what happened (and) how to make adjustments. I think they're doing a great job in reading of each other.
"You've got a couple different elements on that unit. You've got a couple puck-handlers, you've got some size, you got some speed and quite frankly, all three guys are playing a reliable game. We like that group right now."
Oshie's game-winning goal came after Alex Steen pinpointed a pass through the zone and sent Oshie in along on the Hawks' Marty Turco, who committed while sprawling to the ice but was beaten as Oshie waited the play out and tucked the puck inside the right post with 2:59 left in the second.
"The play was pretty much all Steener," Oshie said. "We've been talking all training camp about driving to the net and that's pretty much how my role started with that play. Steener dragged three guys to him and he made a nice pass. I was fortunate enough for Turco to be a little aggressive and took advantage of it."
Matt D'Agostini scored in the third period, a goal set up by a crushing check from defenseman Ian Cole in the Hawks' zone.
"I started out in my end. The guy turned it up and he was coming straight at me," Cole said. "Coach (Brad) Shaw talked to me early in the game about being able to make a play, get past him and make a rush. That's what I did."
Steen also added an empty-netter to aid in the victory for Halak, who was much sharper and appeared much more relaxed and crisp.
"I felt so much better than the first game," Halak said. "I got more shots early in the game. ... Even though they had less shots in the second and third, I was still in the game."
Halak aided his cause when he kicked out Jeremy Morin's penalty shot with 4:05 remaining. The Blues' No. 1 netminder was more assertive, challenged shots and is getting on par with his timing.
"You don't want to give up a goal on a penalty shot," Halak said. "I was just trying to not give up a goal.
"If you ask any goalie in the NHL, he wants to face more shots. Not every game it happens. ... My timing's coming back. Hopefully in a week or so, I'll be ready to go."
* NOTES -- Forward Andy McDonald (hip-flexor) and defenseman Carlo Colaiacovo (hip-flexor) did not play. Vladimir Sobotka (shoulder) also continues to rehab from off-season surgery. ... The Blues reduced their roster to 28 when they optioned goalie Ben Bishop to Peoria. ... Defenseman Barret Jackman led a group of six players at plus-2 or better by finishing at plus-3 with 15:44 ice time.