Netminder earns second straight shutout;
shorthanded Steen goal is first of season, game-winner
By LOUIE KORAC
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Jaroslav Halak made the crucial stops early. His Blues teammates continued to push over the game's final 20 minutes.
The result was a recipe for success against a team that has been a thorn in the Blues' side for the better part of five years now.
The Blues got goals from Alex Steen, Patrik Berglund and Matt D'Agostini, and Halak was a bullet-proof wall once again, earning his second shutout in a row as the Blues blanked the Nashville Predators 3-0 Thursday night before 15,506 at Bridgestone Arena. Coupled with their shutout win over Pittsburgh Saturday, it's the team's first back-to-back shutouts since Nov. 2-4, 2000 when they beat Washington 2-0 and tied Toronto 0-0.
The Blues (5-1-2), winners of three in a row, played a fundamentally sound team game against a team that had beaten the Blues six of the last seven meetings, including a 4-3 win here on Oct. 14.
Steen netted his first goal of the season, a shorthanded effort. Berglund netted a key goal in the third period to make it a two-goal lead for the Blues, and D'Agostini iced it with a power play goal late. Halak stood tall again, and the Blues outshot the 5-1-3 Predators by a 34-24 margin.
"I haven't played here too many times, but every time, it seems like they get the better of us and are outworking us that much more," said D'Agostini, who is tied with Berglund and David Perron with four goals. "Tonight, we came in with a goal and played pretty well."
It was Halak, who has a shutout streak that stands at 151 minutes, 10 seconds dating back to the second period Friday against Chicago, who lit the fire under the team on this night.
He stopped Nashville's J.P. Dumont in the crease with 14:21 left in the opening period, then snagged Patric Hornqvist's shot on a breakaway with 11:40 left in the first period to preserve a scoreless game. He also made a big pad save on Shea Weber's big blast from the high slot with 13:09 left in the second to keep the game scoreless.
"Overall, I thought we played a good first period even though we gave them two chances," said Halak, who improved to 5-1-1 on the season with a 1.55 goals-against average and .939 save percentage. "That's what I'm there for."
Added Blues coach Davis Payne, "We have a pretty good understanding of what he's capable of doing. Although we don't want to string him out like we did the first period ... we had some point-blank turnovers that he had to stop. The second period we had some plays along the wall at our blue line that turned back at our net and he was very sound in making those saves for us."
The only downfall in the game was when Blues defenseman Carlo Colaiacovo took a hard shoulder with 6:49 to play from Predators agitator Jordin Tootoo. Tootoo received a five-minute major for charging and a game misconduct that left Colaiacovo laying on the ice before leaving on his own power.
"I didn't really get a good look at it, but I heard he jumped and left his feet and that kind of stuff," D'Agostini said of Tootoo. "It's not the first time he's done it. You gotta crack down on guys like that sooner or later."
Tootoo and the Predators did not feel like there was any head-hunting on the play.
"My understanding is that it was a blow to the head, but if you look at the replay, it looks like shoulder-on-shoulder," Tootoo said. "It's a tough league that we play in. You've got to keep your head up out there and I think the bottom line is that when you hit someone hard, obviously the refs are going to take a second look at it."
Payne would not comment on of Tootoo should receive a suspension, but did say he felt like Colaiacovo would be fine.
"We'll take a look at the hit and exactly what the hit looked like," Payne said. "Carlo will bounce back and we got our win."
The Blues, after a scoreless first period, got to work on Thursday and it was Steen and Perron who worked their magic together playing 4-on-4 hockey.
Steen scored his first of the season and the Blues' first shorthanded goal of the season at the end of a 4-on-4. Perron's nice little saucer pass from behind the net as the Blues pressured in the Nashville zone found Steen in the slot, and he beat Pekka Rinne low to the stick side 12:56 into the second period for a 1-0 Blues lead.
"It was a good play by Perry, really good play," Steen said. "We got Rinne going from post to post and I knew that if Perry got it out to me, Rinne was still going to be on that post.
"We knew the time on the clock ... if the puck doesn't go in, we've got to find a way to get off. We knew, but it was right when the penalty expired, so there wasn't much time."
The Blues, instead of laying back protecting a one-goal lead, continued to press the action. They did not allow the Predators to get a shot on goal until the 12:04 mark of the third period, but the Blues did press offensively and Berglund pounced on a play.
Brad Boyes' booming slap shot was kicked out by Rinne, but Berglund was charging the net and was able to rip one from the high slot with 7:12 to play to make it 2-0.
"It was a real big goal, kind of cut their momentum off," Boyes said. "It was a great play by Bergy, we needed that.
"We can't sit back at all, against any team. Keep going, get that next one. That was the type of goal that solidifies that. We know when we're in that position to keep going."
Said Payne, "Good read there by Andy McDonald recognizing an opportunity to come in transition out of our own zone and execute on the rush. We don't have a heck of a lot of pull-back in our game. It's all designed with intent to put ourselves in good position to manage the game correctly, to manage the puck correctly. I thought the third period was real solid for us in that aspect. We're willing to attack the net, but we're also willing to return as five guys. When they did have possession coming out of their zone, it was real solid back-pressure, it was real solid gap by our d-men. We did a pretty good job once all five guys got back in our zone, established our shape and defended well."
Seconds after the Blues scored is when Tootoo went hard behind the Blues' net to finish a check and hit Colaiacovo flush on the chin.
"The big emphasis is on shots to the head and I saw a shoulder-to-shoulder check," Predators coach Barry Trotz said. "To me, (Tootoo) didn't leave his feet, so I'm a little bit confused on that. ... To me, looking at the factors, I didn't see anything. I thought it was a fairly clean hit."
Tootoo received a five-minute major for charging and a game-misconduct. The Blues took advantage with D'Agostini on the doorstep of a David Backes pass with 4:45 to play.
"We were clicking all night on the power play," D'Agostini said. "We were getting chances and good movement. It was good to see one get in there."
The Blues, now 10-19-9 in the last 38 meetings with Nashville (5-8-6 here in Nashville), did not want a repeat of what happened last time in this building when the Predators jumped out to a 3-1 first-period lead en route to a 4-3 win.
"We worked, and we knew coming in here from a couple weeks ago that they jumped on us," D'Agostini said. "So we knew we had to come out with some pace, and I think we did that for the full 60."
Especially in the third period, when the Blues continued to march on looking for more offense.
"That's key for us and I think that's been our downfall in the past is letting off the gas pedal a couple times," D'Agostini said. "You can't play any differently with the lead than if you were behind by a goal. We just kept playing our game and got a couple more."
The Blues flew home after the game, and now prepare for Chris Mason and the Atlanta Thrashers on Saturday at home, where they're 4-0-0.
"We're playing well," Boyes said. "It's big to get the one on the road. At home, we've been pretty dangerous so far. We get that road record going again and it will look pretty good."