Sunday, February 12, 2012

Blues sparked by return of McDonald, blank Sharks 3-0

Pietrangelo scores twice, Perron nets sixth goal in last four games

ST. LOUIS -- As well as the St. Louis Blues have played without Andy McDonald, adding his dynamic play-making ability and speed in both ends of the ice makes this hockey team scary-good.

The Blues got McDonald back Sunday night, and as well as he played, he offered up the following: "Tonight, my decision making was a little slower than it should be."

If McDonald has another gear or two in his arsenal, 29 teams in the NHL need to be fully aware.

McDonald returned to the lineup after missing 51 games with the concussion. He added an assist in the Blues' 3-0 win over the San Jose Sharks Sunday night at Scottrade Center.
(Getty Images)
The Blues Andy McDonald (10) returned to the lineup Sunday night after
missing 51 games with a concussion. He had an assist in a 3-0 win over
the San Jose Sharks.

McDonald makes the Blues (34-14-7) deadly moving forward offensively, he makes them instantly more dangerous on the power play and gives a team already knee-deep in talent that much deeper.

If the Blues can get back some of their other injured players (Alex Steen, Jason Arnott, Matt D'Agostini and Kent Huskins), there can be endless possibilities.

"I don't even know where to start," Blues defenseman Alex Pietrangelo said. "Mac is such an influence on the ice, drawing that penalty into the game, 5-on-3 ... you can tell what he can do on that side. We can stand here all day and talk about how great Mac is. Certainly important to have him back.

"He's just another threat (on the power play). You guys know how dangerous he is. He's been like that his whole career. Tonight's a prime example. He hasn't played in four months. I don't think he missed a beat."

Added winger David Perron, who knows all-too-well what it feels like to come back from a concussion.

"Probably our best player on the team in terms of skill and speed and we're certainly used to it," Perron said. "I think it was great to see the ovation the crowd gave him, and he certainly deserved everything he got. For a first game it was a very good game."

Blues coach Ken Hitchcock, who said before the game he didn't know much about McDonald, knows him well now.

"He makes you real nervous," Hitchcock said. "If you're a defending player, he's on you so fast. He creates one-man turnovers. Touch wood that he can stay healthy and keep going. That's a huge boost for us to have that type of speed. When you have a player that plays with that puck patience and that type of skill level, I think over time, it wears off on other people. I think more than anything, his patience with the puck and his determination with the puck will have a real positive impact on his linemates and the rest of the team."

A power play that was much-maligned throughout the season, the Blues have caught the fire again after a weekend set of home games.

On Sunday night, the Blues took advantage of some two-man advantages.

Alex Pietrangelo scored twice and added an assist. He and and Perron scored power play goals and Jaroslav Halak stopped 25 shots for his sixth shutout of the season, fifth in 10 starts and 22nd of his career.

"We had a lot of engaged players," Hitchcock said. "We had no passengers. Everybody skated really well, competed at a very high level. I was really impressed right from the opening face-off.

"To play this hard (on back-to-back nights), I'm really proud of the team today."

The Blues continue to stay red-hot on home ice, improving to an NHL-best 24 wins (24-3-4) while going 16-0-3 in their last 19 at the friendly confines of Scottrade Center. They have now blanked the Sharks on home ice in three of the last four meetings and have a shutout streak of 124:56 and are 20 games over .500 for the first time since March 27, 2003 when they were 41-21-9-6.

"I think there's a respect factor there that you have for them," Hitchcock said of the Sharks. "They were a final four team (last season), I think we have a real healthy respect for them. I think we're a little bit afraid if we don't check what's going to happen. We've seen them dominate teams and really steamroll teams. ... If we check hard, we give ourselves a fighting chance."

San Jose was blanked for the fifth time this season and second time in this building. Antti Niemi stopped 26 shots in the loss. The Sharks (30-17-6) were the hot power play coming in, going 8-for-17 in the last five games and 10-for-22 in the last eight. But San Jose was 0-for-4 in the game.

The Blues that took advantage of some sloppy Sharks penalties. Pietrangelo and Perron benefited.

The Blues had a trio of 5-on-3 power plays in the game, a rarity to get two, and were able to cash in accordingly. They were 4-for-11 in the two games, after going 2-for-35 heading in 12 games into the game against the Avalanche.

"We had eight minutes of power play and did nothing with it," Sharks coach Todd McLellan said when asked about the Blues' 5-on-3 opportunities. "I’m not going to question anything."
(Getty Images)
Blues goalie Jaroslav Halak (left) makes a stop in front of San Jose's Joe
Pavelski (8) and Barret Jackman. Halak earned his sixth shutout of the
season and fifth in 10 games in a 3-0 win over San Jose.

The Blues were the winners in the special teams battle, and that plays a big role in a game between two top-tiered teams.

"Our (penalty kill) did a great job," Sharks winger Ryane Clowe said. "Two 5-on-3's, you can't ask them to kill that much. Our power play was horrible so they won that battle.

"We didn't capitalize. We didn't even get one. That's pretty disappointing after the way our power play has been going."

The Blues earlier in the first had a nine-second two-man advantage but then got another one for 52 seconds when Andrew Desjardins was whistled for delay of game. Brent Burns was already in the box for interference that gave the Blues their initial 5-on-3 edge, but the Blues cashed in when Pietrangelo used a David Backes screen to beat Niemi with a slap shot from the high slot with 4:57 left in the period.

The Blues worked more magic with a two-man advantage in the second period, this time with Perron potting his sixth goal in four games.

San Jose's Ryane Clowe and Brad Winchester were whistled for consecutive two-minute penalties, Clowe for tripping Kris Russell and former Blue Winchester for elbowing Roman Polak. It was a full two-minute 5-on-3 and after keeping control in the Sharks' zone but not getting many quality chances, Perron was able to fire one from the left side of the goal, then bank in a rebound from just behind the Sharks' goal off Niemi for a 2-0 lead with 2:44 left in the period.

Once the Blues carried a lead into the third period, it was shutdown time. They are now 23-1-1 with a 40-minute lead. The Blues are also now 35-12-6 in games when Perron scores during his career.

Halak held down the fort. This, after being pulled from his last start in New Jersey.

"He was just solid," Hitchcock said of Halak. "I don't worry about the goals that go in on goalies. I look at the body language of the team, and I didn't like the body language of the team in that game (at New Jersey) at all. I felt like it was my obligation, my duty to make a change to stop the bad body language and do something. Whether it was Jaro or Ells, it wouldn't have really mattered there. I've got a lot of confidence in Jaro going right back to him. ... I'm really happy for him."

Pietrangelo's empty-netter with 5.9 seconds remaining sealed another Blues win.

"It's finding ways to win. That's a quick turnaround for us," Pietrangelo said. "They rested up last night. Certainly a tough game last night, a long one there, going into overtime, an emotional win, but to bounce back like we did tonight, getting Andy back really gave us a boost and the crowd was as good as usual."

No comments:

Post a Comment