Friday, March 1, 2013

Blues down early, fight back to double up Oilers

Schwartz provides big spark with goal, assist

ST. LOUIS -- With names like Backes, Oshie, Perron, Pietrangelo, Shattenkirk ... who did the Blues turn to when they needed someone most?

How about little 5-foot-9, 179-pound Jaden Schwartz.

Of course, if Blues' color analyst Darren Pang would have been asked, he'd call Schwartz "little guy with gumption."
(St. Louis Blues/Mark Buckner)
The Blues' Jaden Schwartz (9) goes airborne on a wraparound chance
against Oilers goalie Devan Dubnyk (40). Schwartz scored a goal and had
an assist in a 4-2 victory Friday night.

Schwartz was given a golden opportunity Friday night for the Blues. His response: 'hop on my back.'

The 14th pick of the 2010 NHL Draft was given a role to play on the Blues' top line against the run-and-gun Edmonton Oilers, and Schwartz didn't disappoint.

After a slow start, Schwartz and the Blues staged a rousing finish -- one they desperately needed after some lackluster recent results at home.

Vladimir Sobotka scored the game-winner and added an assist, Schwartz and David Backes also had a goal and an assist each, and the Blues broke out of a 1-5-1 home-ice slide with four unanswered goals in a 4-2 victory over the Oilers Friday night at Scottrade Center.

Playing on a line with Backes and T.J. Oshie, Schwartz, who for most of the season has been relegated to a third- or fourth-line role, was a buzzsaw the entire game. His play resonated throughout the lineup as the Blues (11-7-2), who hit the road for five games beginning Sunday afternoon in Dallas, also got a goal from Kevin Shattenkirk. Jaroslav Halak stopped 15 shots.

"I was excited," Schwartz said. "I was really looking forward to playing with them. I was a little bit nervous at the start, but they're great players. They're easy to play with. They're so smart and they see the ice so well. They're easy to read off of. I thought we had a pretty good game for the most part."

Backes, the Blues' captain, couldn't help but marvel at Schwartz and the role he took upon himself.

"No offense ... 5-foot-10 Schwartzy's going into the hard areas, there's no reason that the 6-foot-2, 6-foot-3 guys shouldn't be in there, too," Backes said. "From a 21-year-old kid that is just getting his feet in the league, that's a lot of character shown and some great leadership, too, that's leading the charge in those areas."

Blues coach Ken Hitchcock, who's dealing with injuries to Andy McDonald, Alex Steen and rookie Vladimir Tarasenko [who was picked two slots behind Schwartz in that 2010 draft], removed David Perron off the top line and inserted Schwartz there. Hitchcock played Perron with Patrik Berglund and Chris Stewart and was happy to see the results Schwartz provided.

"The line was good," Hitchcock said of Backes, Oshie and Schwartz, which combined for six points, "but he was the catalyst. He played very well. He played the right way, which was realy good to see. I thought he gave the line some real moxie. They were able to read off of him. I thought he played his best obviously for us."

After the Blues had knotted the game 2-2 in the second period, Sobotka put the Blues ahead 3-2 at 4:28 of the final period when he curled around the Oilers' goal and fired a shot through Devan Dubnyk after grinding work by Adam Cracknell and Chris Porter made the play happen. Backes added an insurance goal with 5:23 remaining when he hammered Oshie's one-handed pass to the slot past Dubnyk.

Sobotka took some nice advice from Hitchcock, as he remembered Sobotka scoring a similar type goal recently in Vancouver.

"That's what [Hitchcock] said before the third period in the locker room," Sobotka said. "Just funnel the puck, try to hit the net and it went in."

The Oilers (8-8-2), playing third game of their nine-game trip, got first-period goals from Taylor Hall and Ryan Whitney to take a 2-0 lead,-- but managed only 10 shots on goal in the final two periods. Dubnyk, who fell to 0-7-0 in his career against the Blues, stopped 26 shots.

"It was a good road game after the first period," Oilers coach Ralph Krueger said. "You're feeling quite confident. It's just disappointing that we really allowed them back into the game with a turnover. It was what we gave them, really. They came strong, they came hard from then on."

The Blues carried much of the play for most of the first period, but the speedy Oilers struck for a pair of late goals 23 seconds apart.

Hall's fourth of the season came off a crowded scrum in front of Halak. Hall's initial shot was stopped by the Blues' goaltender, but Hall crashed the net and popped home his fourth of the season at 17:30.

Whitney and Ryan Smyth then caught the Blues on a 2-on-1 rush, and Smyth's cross-ice feed found Whitney for a one-timer over an outstretched Halak at 17:53 for his first of the season and a 2-0 lead.
(St. Louis Blues/Mark Buckner)
The Blues' Matt D'Agostini fires a shot during Friday night's game.

It's easy to understand that some harsh -- and loud -- words echoed throughout the Blues' locker room.

"It's reality," Backes said. "We played a darned good 17 minutes to start the hockey game and take your foot off the gas for 60 seconds and they got two in the net. We talked about this last night. You can't have those lapses. Another team that can just fly, has a ton of offensive weapons when they have chances.

"We needed to limit them and I think we did a great job for the majority of the game. That last three minutes of the first period, we'd like to have back. We showed some character down 2-0 against a team that can run-and-gun. We found a way to get back in the game and get two points."

The Blues came out angry in the second and got the necessary push they needed and got the equalizing goals from Schwartz and Shattenkirk.

Schwartz scored his second of the season when Nick Schultz blocked an Oshie shot and the puck came down in the slot. Schwartz ripped a shot past Dubnyk 3:38 into the period to cut Edmonton's lead to 2-1.

"That's what a goal is, to try and spark the team," Schwartz said. "Being down 2-0 is never a spot you want to be in, but we needed to get that next goal and I was glad I stepped up. That's my job, I guess, and playing with those two, it's a big role and a lot of minutes, so you've got to make sure you're [making] an impact."

Shattenkirk helped the Blues tie the game and snap an 0-for-14 slump on the power play when his slapper from the blue line grazed the leg of Oilers defenseman Jeff Petry and beat Dubnyk at 10:30.

"I thought our second period was excellent," Hitchcock said. "I thought we did a lot of good things in the second and really started to take the game over."

* NOTES -- The win was the Blues' sixth straight over the Oilers at home, outscoring them 20-9. ... Porter played in his 100th NHL game Friday. ... Halak had one of the more unusual plays of the game when he raced out and beat the Oilers' Ben Eager to a puck -- all the way out to the blue line. The puck caromed into the high slot and Shattenkirk batted it out of air and out of harm's way. ... The Blues picked up two more too-many-men penalties, giving them five in seven games. "It's not line changes. It's dozyness," Hitchcock said. "We get caught at the end of power plays because we use two forwards all the time. We get caught. That's the fourth time we've got caught on the gate. ... It's unfortunate. Unless we play just defensemen back there, I don't know what we're going to do."

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