Thursday, November 4, 2010

Blues continue to dominate at home, down Sharks 2-0

Halak earns third shutout; D'Agostini, Perron notch goals

ST. LOUIS -- Davis Payne continues to preach a five-man game for his hockey team. If you don't have the puck, make life difficult for the opposition to maneuver around the ice.

And if a team does get a scoring opportunity, rely on your last line of defense.

The Blues are getting a concerted five-man defensive game, and that last line of defense (goalie Jaroslav Halak) is doing a heck of an impersonation of playing a force field in front of the Blues' net.

Matt D'Agostini and David Perron scored their team-leading fifth goals, respectively, the Blues continued San Jose's goal-less drought and Halak pitched his third shutout in nine games as the Blues blanked the Sharks 2-0 Thursday before 19,150 at Scottrade Center, the Blues' franchise-best 12th straight home victory. It's also the Blues' fifth straight victory, the longest streak in the league this season.

The Blues (7-1-2) are off to the second-best start in franchise history (the 2002-03 team started 9-1-1) and are doing it as stingy as possible. They've allowed 17 goals in 10 games, with Halak and the defensive game at the forefront of the success.

"The fact that we got five guys back and even if it had to get all the way to the top of our crease to get five guys back, we got them all back there," Blues coach Davis Payne said. "(San Jose) made a real directed effort to get to the blue paint and get on top of Jaro, but we had bodies down there to deny those opportunities. It was a key concept in our game."

The Sharks (5-5-2), who lost leading scorer and captain Joe Thornton early in the second period after he was tossed for arguably a blindside hit on Perron at center ice, have now been shut out in back-to-back games and have gone scoreless in 144 minutes, 43 seconds. The Sharks have now been blanked in three consecutive road games totaling 185:15.

And it's Halak, who now is 7-1-1 on the season with a 1.53 goals-against average and .940 save percentage and tied with Boston's Tim Thomas with three shutouts on the season, that stopped all 25 shots he faced and has another shutout streak of 100:03. His numbers are even more astounding at home, as he's posted a 6-0-0 record with a 1.14 GAA and .954 save percentage.

Just another day at the office, right?

"I wouldn't say another day in the office, but our guys, they stayed disciplined all night long," said Halak, deflecting credit as usual. "That was a big key for us.

"It always feels great to win the game, especially a game like we had tonight facing the best team (in the Western Conference) for many years. In our building, we were able to beat them, so it's a great feeling right now."

The Blues, whose power play struggles continued -- they were 0-for-7 in the game and are 3-for-28 in the last seven games, saw D'Agostini score with 2:19 left in the second period when he got a stretch pass from Barret Jackman and surprised Antti Niemi with a blast from a tough angle in the right circle.

"I looked up quickly as soon as I released it and I saw (Niemi) was cheating a little bit," D'Agostini said. "I think it was the middle of a change. We didn't really have anyone going to the net. I don't really think that he thought I was going to shoot it. I think I just caught him off-guard a little bit.

"It's a great play by Jax, a little airlift (pass) kind of over top of everyone."

The Sharks, who came out and played with an aggressive edge, lost Thornton for the game after he came out of the penalty box and caught Perron with a blindside hard shoulder that knocked the Blues' winger to the ice and rendered him motionless for a minute or so.

"I never saw him at all," Perron said of Thornton. "I asked the guys who hit me actually because I didn't know who it was. Obviously Joe's not a dirty player. ... He's not going out for that obviously.

"I had a pretty bad headache, but thankfully, I'm fine right now. ... I went in the (locker) room to make sure everything was fine. I got back out there for the rest of the power play."

It was the last straw for the Blues, as defenseman Alex Pietrangelo took exception and engaged in his first NHL fight with San Jose's Logan Couture.

"I didn't see (Thornton) coming out of the box," said Pietrangelo, who assisted on both goals. "Obviously, I don't think Perry did either. But I was just trying to stick up for him. You've got to do what you've got to do."

Thornton, who was given a five-minute major and an automatic game-misconduct, came into the game without a penalty minute to his resume. He said there was no intent.

"I haven't seen the hit, but I felt like I established myself on the ice and then I thought it was just a north-south hit," Thornton said. "I braced myself for the hit and he just ran into me. That's all I thought had happened.

"I know he hit my shoulder. I don't get my arms up in any hit, but I know he hit my shoulder. That's all I know."

Perron got a measure of revenge when he tallied a goal with 5:48 left in the second to give the Blues their two-goal edge.

"It's good that I got to score a goal, and it was a big one for us," Perron said. "... It was kind of stuck in my pants for a half a second. It came down and I was able to bat it in. I don't know if it was on the ice or out of the air. It was kind of a bang-bang play, kind of lucky. Thankfully, it went in."

From there, the Blues, playing without defensemen Roman Polak (wrist) and Carlo Colaiacovo (concussion), went into lockdown mode. They get a lead and are learning on the fly how to protect it.

"We got a great team effort," said forward David Backes. "Obviously our power play wasn't as desirable as we would have liked it, but such is life and we played pretty well on the penalty kill. They've got a dynamic power play that is the heart of their game. ... We really clamped it down, and Jaro was fantastic for us like he always has been. It's a winning equation for us."

Halak was especially calm, cool and collected. But then again, what else is new for the Bratislava, Slovakia native?

"He's got that type of personality," Payne said of his netminder. "He's got that type of approach. He's very matter-of-fact in everything he does from one save to the next. If one goes in, it's matter-of-fact he's got to make the next one. His play very much fits his personality."

Said Halak, "You don't want to panic or do anything to show your guys that you are panicking. You just want to keep your cool all the time for all 60 minutes and that's what I'm trying to do.

"I always say it's a team. We stay disciplined, and when we had some penalties, we were able to kill them. It was a team effort."

The Blues outshot San Jose 29-25 in the game but had to be on their toes in the third period when the Sharks tried to make their run.

"They got a lot of firepower up front," said Pietrangelo, who totaled 22:01 of ice time in the game. "I think everybody knows that, especially those top two lines. When we stopped moving our feet (and) stopped moving the puck, the puck was in our zone pretty quickly. The big thing for us is when we're skating, we're playing in everybody else's end. I thought we did that in the second and third."

The Blues started a stretch of 14 games in 27 days on Thursday. They hit the road for a weekend back-to-back series at Boston Saturday and New York Rangers Sunday before going to division-rival Columbus Wednesday.

"It's always fun when you're winning the games, especially at home in front of the crowds we have," Halak said. "It's a great thing, but right now, we've got a tough stretch."

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