Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Blues' specialty teams key in 2-1 win over Red Wings

PK unit goes 6-for-6, including killing five-minute major;
Stewart tossed for hit on Kronwall, could face suspension

ST. LOUIS -- Who says the Blues can't kill penalties?

Well, for one night anyway, they were as good as it gets.

Despite losing power forward Chris Stewart to a five-minute major and game-misconduct, the Blues rose to the occasion and knocked off another Central Division heavyweight.
(Getty Images)
The Blues' Jamie Langenbrunner (left) battles Detroit's Brad Stuart during
Tueesday's Central Division battle Tuesday. The Blues won 2-1.  

Matt D'Agostini and Alex Steen scored goals, Brian Elliott was solid again in goal and the Blues overcame the loss of Stewart by killing all six Detroit power plays in a 2-1 win over the Red Wings Tuesday night at Scottrade Center.

The Blues (9-7-1) are 3-0-1 since the coaching change that brought Ken Hitchcock behind the bench last week and they've found different ways to win. The special teams, which has been maligned for much of the early part of the season, got a big boost from the PK while also getting a goal with the man advantage.

But the PK gets the nod as a collective player of the game against a Red Wings team that moves the puck as well as any team in the league.

I wouldn't say textbook, but we were pretty good," said defenseman Barret Jackman, who led the charge with five of the Blues' 20 blocked shots to go with 22 minutes 25 seconds of ice time. "We were desperate. We really challenged them when they were coming into the zone. Detroit has a very dangerous power play when they get it in the zone and they start feeling comfortable with the puck."

The Wings, who had won four in a row and outscored their opponents 18-4 in doing so, got on the board 6:07 into the game on a goal by Drew Miller ... their second shot of the game. They had a chance to expand on that lead when Stewart was thrown out of the game for hitting Niklas Kronwall into the side boards near the Detroit bench 11:14 into the game.

Kronwall missed the rest of the period but returned for the final two periods.

"I think I got lucky there," Kronwall said. "I think it could have ended a lot worse.

"They brought me in there just in case, to do all the testing. I felt fine. ... When you take a hard hit, you feel it's a good impact, but I was fine. I haven't seen the replay, so I can't really say too much, but it felt like he was coming from an angle from behind."

Stewart could face a suspension from the league today. That will be determined then and if he will face a hearing, but the Blues did not wilt after losing a key piece to their squad. Instead, they rallied.

"He's obviously a key guy for us, a big horse for us, but the reality of the situation is he was done for the game and we had to go with 11 forwards," captain David Backes said of Stewart. "Kudos to some other guys for stepping up and taking roles. It was good to see Kronwall come back into the game and he wasn't seriously hurt.

"A five-minute major you have to kill against a Detroit power play can be a death sentence."

Elliott made key stops during the power play on Tomas Holmstrom twice and another on Brad Stuart.

"Yeah, we took a few penalties, but keeping them out of the zone, they could hardly break it in," said Elliott, who lowered his League-leading goals-against average to 1.43. "All the skill they have on their team, we did a fantastic job just pressuring them ... not giving them any space to get it in. If they did, we took away their time and space and they couldn't create anything."

Added Jackman: "It was big. We had a lot of guys going over the boards and helping kill that five minutes. Everyone had their legs going and we had the building as loud as it was there. Killing a 5-on-4 for five minutes, that's a big momentum swing for us."

The Blues swiped the momentum from the Wings when they got their first power play and D'Agostini, who was playing in his 200th career game, popped in a rebound of a Patrik Berglund shot past Jimmy Howard with 2:41 left in the period to tie the game.

"We gained a lot of momentum on that penalty kill," Hitchcock said. "It was a tough call on Stewy but we gained a lot of momentum off that kill."

The Blues had the better of it in the second period and got the only goal on Steen's team-leading seventh of the season. They outshot the Wings 19-8 in the middle 20 minutes and got Steen's goal off a turnover.

After Johan Franzen's ill-advised backhand clearing attempt, Steen picked off the pass at the blue line, skated in and beat Howard with a wrister near side 10:16 into the period.

"He made a great save on me the shift before," Steen said of Howard. "I figured I'd try another spot. Picked the short-side, low-blocker. I went off what he did to me last time. I figured he was looking glove again. Got a little fortunate ... it hit the post and went in."

Chris Porter nearly made it 3-1, as the Blues were buzzing and the Wings were turning pucks over, but Porter, playing his first game in six, nailed the near post after Howard fumbled the puck away behind his net.

The Blues had to kill off three more minors in the early portion of the third period and stood tall on each occasion, disrupting Detroit's puck movement and getting sticks into lanes.

"All our penalty kill has dug in in a good way," Hitchcock said. "I've said this before, power plays can win you hockey games, but for sure, poor penalty killing can lose you hockey games every night.
(Getty Images)
The Blues' Evgeny Grachev (left) pursues the Wings' Niklas Kronwall Tuesday
night at Scottrade Center.

"We're winning because our penalty killing is doing a great job, but we've got to take fewer penalties. Our angles are too sharp, too direct. We've got to do a better job."

After the Wings grabbed the lead, it was all the scoring they would get.

"They were better than us," Wings coach Mike Babcock said. "They did to us what we do to lots of teams. They dominate, they out-chanced us, caught us in a half-ice game, outplayed us.

"I didn't think we won enough battles, won enough faceoffs. Weren't good enough. We started every power play breaking out from behind our net, not in their zone with the puck."

Added Hitchcock: "It was a very emotional game. We are playing really hard right now. The second and third period, especially the second period was exceptional."

The Blues held the Wings to 22 shots in a game, including four in the third period after Detroit was given three early power plays.

"For 60 minutes, I thought we did a great job," Jackman said. "Our forwards were coming back really hard and coming above them and really not giving them a chance. The D-men, we really blocked a lot of shots tonight. We eliminated the shots on net and second chances."

* NOTES -- The Blues announced that defenseman Kent Huskins suffered a fractured ankle blocking a shot Oct. 28 at Calgary. It was said that Huskins initially had a fractured ankle, then a deep bone bruise, then a fracture when Huskins tried to skate Monday. He skated well in straight-line skating but experienced pain doing turns. ... Defenseman Ian Cole and winger Ryan Reaves were healthy scratches. ... Wingers David Perron and Andy McDonald (concussions) and winger B.J. Crombeen (fractured shoulder) remain on injured reserve. ... New Cardinals manager Mike Matheny dropped the ceremonial first puck. The Blues also had former manager Tony La Russa and players Chris Carpenter and David Freese in for a ceremonial puck drop Nov. 4.

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