Thursday, November 17, 2011

Shorthanded Blues declaw Panthers

Nichol ejected, Colaiacovo injured in 4-1 victory;
Hitchcock best five-game start as Blues coach at 4-0-1

ST. LOUIS -- Scott Nichol: gone. Carlo Colaiacovo: gone. T.J. Oshie's would-be goal: gone. All strikes against the Blues on Thursday night.

Didn't matter.

The Blues lost Nichol to a game-misconduct after a major penalty was called, Colaiacovo to a hamstring injury during the same sequence. So they're playing down two players and they get a goal taken away on a very questionable call.

In the end, the Blues got two goals from David Backes, another each from Kris Russell and Chris Porter, and Ken Hitchcock set a record for best start to a Blues coaching career after five games in a 4-1 win over the road-hot Florida Panthers Thursday night before 17,642 at Scottrade Center.
(Getty Images)
The Blues' Vladimir Sobotka (17) battles with Florida's Tomas Kopecky for
a loose puck during Thursday night's game at Scottrade Center.

The Blues (10-7-1) helped Hitchcock surpass the starts of Leo Boivin (1976) and Jacques Demers (1984), who both began their careers with 4-1 records, and they did it already playing without the suspended Chris Stewart, who sat the first of three games.

"That's when you know other guys step up and they get to play bigger minutes," said Russell, who scored his second goal since being acquired by the Blues three games ago. "I thought we did a great job with that.

"When (Colaiacovo) goes down and Scotty gets an unfortunate call like that ... other guys have got to step up. In my case, I had to play a little bit more."

Russell stepped up and contributed 19 minutes 3 seconds of ice time and had four (along with Alex Pietrangelo) of the Blues' 17 blocked shots in the game. Barrett Jackman and Alex Pietrangelo each surpassed 24 minutes of ice time, among some of the efforts players put forth.

"It was a great job throughout the whole lineup," Russell said. "Guys stepped into roles that they had to play and I thought everyone handled it as well as can be."

Jaroslav Halak stopped 20 shots to earn his third win of the season.

"We're sticking to the game plan," said Halak, who is 2-1-1 with a 1.23 goals-against average and .950 save percentage in his last four outings. "Our PK (3-for-3) was great again tonight.

"Some nights it won't be easy when we face more adversity, but tonight we were able to get it done and grab those two points."

The Panthers, who lead the league in road wins with seven, had their four-game road winning streak snapped. They got a goal from Mike Santorelli. Jose Theodore stopped 27 shots, but the Blues also shut down the red-hot top line of Stephen Weiss, Kris Versteeg and Tomas Fleischmann. The trio came in with 52 points in 17 games, including an eight-point effort Wednesday in a 6-0 win at Dallas.

e just weren't good tonight that's pretty much what it comes down to," said Versteeg, who leads the team with 20 points.

"We just seemed to never get going here tonight for whatever reason," Panthers defenseman Ed Jovanovski said. "Just one of those nights where you feel like you're on your heels for the majority of the night."

Since Hitchcock's arrival, the Blues have not allowed a goal in the second and third periods of all five games, a franchise record.

A pair of veteran mistakes wound up in the net during the first period, first Brian Campbell of Florida and Jason Arnott of St. Louis.

Campbell's bad outlet pass was picked off by Backes, whose quick snap shot beat Theodore upstairs glove side for a 1-0 Blues lead 6:04 into the game.

Arnott's bad outlet pass was picked off by Santorelli, who beat Halak with a quick wrister from the left circle at the 13:07 mark of the first period.

The Blues' penalty killers were solid once again in that second period, killing off the remaining three minutes of Nichol's major, then a couple more minors.

Halak was the last line of defense, coming up with some key stops when the Blues' penalty killing unit seemed to tire in the second period.

"I was able to make some saves for the guys," Halak said. "In the third period, they were great for me. They didn't give up anything against. They were blocking the shots. They were there for me."

St. Louis grabbed a 2-1 lead on Porter's first of the season after the Blues picked off a puck that was rimmed around the boards and fell right on Porter's stick. The Blues' winger whirled and surprised Theodore with his shot, beating the Panthers goalie between his pads 5:48 into the second period.

"It was a fortunate bounce. It bounced through a few of their defensemen," Porter said. "I was just trying to get it on net. Nothing fancy. My game's not fancy. I just caught (Theodore) off-guard, I guess."

The Blues thought they had grabbed a 3-1 lead on T.J. Oshie shot but the goal was waved off for goaltender interference when Oshie and Florida's Jason Garrison got their skated tangled up on a Barret Jackman shot. Falling down, Oshie, who was playing in his 200th career game, beat Theodore but the goal was waved off, much to the displeasure of the crowd.

"That's a tough one for Osh," Russell said. "That's an unbelievable individual effort to get that. When that gets called back, it's tough. On the bench, we kind of thought it was a goal."

Hitchcock was puzzled himself.

"I've got to go back to school, because I don't understand that," he said. "I think we want to protect the goalies, but my look was, the goalie fell down. I don't even know if he got touched. I haven't looked at it that closely, but I know Oshie wasn't in the crease. Even when he shot it in, he was outside the crease.

"That could have been a big turning point. ... I thought Oshie made such a great play on it. To do it outside the crease was even better."
(Getty Images)
Jaroslav Halak stopped 20 shots in helping the Blues to a 4-1 victory over
Florida Thursday. Halak is 2-1-1 with a 1.23 goals-against average and
.950 save percentage in his last four outings.

The Blues did in fact make it 3-1 in the third period, when Russell finished off Vladimir Sobotka's saucer feed from in tight, beating Theodore at the left post 9:46 into the third period.

Backes added an empty-netter with 1:50 to play after the Panthers pulled Theodore with 2:17 remaining.

"The play by Sobotka and the goal by Russell really gave us the breathing room," Hitchcock said. "After five games, we've got some underrated guys. We've got guys that maybe people in the league don't know that much about ... (Matt) D'Agostini, Sobotka ... these are good players ... (Kevin) Shattenkirk ... these are really good players that are starting to gain their strides.

"We've certainly gotten ourselves back in the race here with the games at home. Now we've got to take that good play on the road."

* NOTES: Halak is now 7-1 in his career against the Panthers. ... The Blues are one of three teams (Los Angeles and Tampa Bay) to not lose a game this season when leading after the first and second periods. The Blues are 3-0 when leading after one, 8-0 when leading after two. They were tied Thursday after one, leading after two.

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