Saturday, November 12, 2011

Blues solve Tampa Bay's 1-3-1, blank 'Bolts

Elliott earns second shutout of season in 3-0 victory; Russell scores in debut

ST. LOUIS -- Beating the Tampa Bay Lightning's 1-3-1 formation can be effective. However, the St. Louis Blues showed Saturday night there are ways to beat it.

Now 28 other teams around the league have a blueprint.

Blues coach Ken Hitchcock spoke that if his team can play with the puck, get into transition, get pucks behind the Lightning and get a lead, it forces the Lightning to play out of its element. And the Blues were able to do just about everything. They played incredibly stingy, then smothered the Lightning in all three zones.

Kris Russell scored in his first game since being acquired by the Blues, who also got goals from Kevin Shattenkirk and T.J. Oshie, and Brian Elliott backstopped 19 shots to earn his second shutout of the season as the Blues blanked the Lightning 3-0 Saturday night at Scottrade Center.
(Getty Images)
Blues goalie Brian Elliott stopped 19 shots Saturday and earned his
second shutout of the season in a 3-0 win over Tampa Bay.

The Blues (8-7-1) are now 2-0-1 under new coach Ken Hitchcock, who's puck-control, transition game was something the Lightning, which had a three-game winning streak snapped, couldn't control.

"The way you have to play against that system is the old way that you used to play in the 90's and 2000's when there was a lot of 1-4 (formations)," Hitchcock said. "But there isn't that much anymore. So your defensemen are really critical in moving their feet. If they don't move their feet, there's a turnover. Every time we moved our feet, things were really good."

The Blues, who held the Lightning (8-6-2) without a shot for 15:07 in that game (the last 14:04 of the second period), moved their feet. They also possessed the puck, and they took advantage of transition plays that led to scoring opportunities.

"With a lot of speed," winger Alex Steen said. "I think we were short-chipping to ourselves a lot and really trying to 2-on-1 their guys all over the ice, whether it was in their zone or neutral zone. It ended up being pretty efficient."

Added Russell, who played 14:19 in his Blues debut, "I thought we did a good job. We practiced it this morning how we were going to handle it. I thought the guys did a great job really getting pucks deep and really hounding on their D. It worked out.

"We knew if we got it in deep and let the forwards with the big bodies and the speed we have up front, if we get it down in their zone, we would be able to get the puck back than they had coming forward."

The Blues limited the high-flying Lightning to only two shots on goal in the second period, a period Hitchcock was really enjoyed.

"I was really impressed with the second period," Hitchcock said. "The second period was the best period we've played since I've been here. We didn't finish, but that second goal right at the end really gave us some breathing room. We really played well and did a lot of really good things in the second period, which is really nice to see.

"We managed the game properly. We didn't get frustrated when we didn't score. We knew we were going to get a push in the third period. There are things that we're still learning to do to win to nail games down, but first and second periods are really good periods to build on. If we just show the team the whole second period, that's the way this team is gonna have to play to win games, and if we play like that, we're going to win a lot of hockey games."

Russell wasted little time settling into his new uniform. His first shot found the back of the net for a 1-0 Blues lead. The Blues' fourth line did a good job of the fore-check down low. The puck eventually got to the right point, where Evgeny Grachev fed Russell, whose shot slightly changed direction, deflecting off Lightning defenseman Bruno Gervais and past Mathieu Garon with 1:09 left in the opening period.
(Getty Images)
Defenseman Kris Russell (left) is congratulated by Ryan Reaves
and Evgeny Grachev (78) after scoring his first goal as a Blue.

"It was a great job by our forwards down low," Russell said. "They worked their D, got the puck around and we had bodies in front. I just wanted to get it on net. Fortunately, it went in."

The Blues got a big goal with 4.6 seconds left in the second to take a 2-0 lead. After Jamie Langenbrunner blocked Gervais' shot, he sent Steen and Shattenkirk onto a 2 on 1 break. Steen patiently saucered a feed to Shattenkirk, who beat Garon with a quick snap shot high glove side. Langenbrunner's assist was the 27th point in 36 career games against the Lightning.

"It was just a matter of time," Shattenkirk said. "We were obviously pressing them, especially in the second.

"It was just a matter of us not getting too frustrated with it and sticking with the game plan. Finally one of them goes in."

More solid fore-checking by the Blues' David Backes created a shorthanded goal for Oshie, who had an easy slam dunk after Backes forced the Lightning to turn the puck over behind their goal, then feed Oshie in the slot at 6:26 of the third period for a 3-0 lead.

The Blues were also able to shut down a pair that had been producing against them. Steven Stamkos had four goals and eight points in three career meetings going in, while Martin St. Louis had four goals and 13 points in the last seven meetings against St. Louis.

"The first and second periods ... sloppy all the way around," Lightning coach Guy Boucher said. "That's the story of the game."

Added defenseman Eric Brewer, a former Blue, "
I don’t think we played well enough. They just kept moving forward much more than we did.

"I don’t think we were quick enough on pucks. They pushed the pace, they wanted to make the plays and they made them. It was as simple as them moving more forward than we did. We were just backpedling."

Including Thursday's win shootout loss against Toronto, the Blues went the last two periods and overtime, plus the first two periods Saturday night allowing only 16 total shots.

Elliott was appreciative.

"It was kind of a crazy game that way," said Elliott, who lowered his goals-against average to 1.49 and increased his save percentage to .946, both third in the league. "That's the kind of team that tends to come at you down the wall and try to funnel pucks in. We just did an unbelievable job just skating over top of them, having more guys back than they had coming forward. Basically, that's how we want to play the game to a tee. We've just got to keep doing that for 60 minutes and that's what we did tonight. I didn't have to do too much.

"Down to a man, we just competed and did our job."

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