Friday, October 4, 2013

Blues start fast, finish strong in 4-2 win over Predators

Power play scores twice, penalty kill perfect
in season-opening victory; Halak strong in goal

ST. LOUIS -- The Blues' early barrage of goals against the Nashville Predators wasn't a coincidence.

"We've beat the crap out of each other for two, three weeks," captain David Backes said after a 4-2 season-opening win over the Predators Thursday night at Scottrade Center. "It's nice to finally play for keeps and finally play against a different opponent.

"You get the rah-rah stuff in before, you've got a lot of adrenaline going. The Cards scored nine today (over the Pittsburgh Pirates). We were trying to keep up but couldn't do it."

(St. Louis Blues photo)
Teammates congratulate Vladimir Sobotka (right) after scoring Thursday
night in a 4-2 win over the Nashville Predators.
The Blues couldn't do it, but they did what they had to. They jumped on the Predators, chasing Pekka Rinne from goal after allowing three goals on six shots in the game's first 10 minutes.

"You always want to start off well and if you can get on a team early ... lots of energy, home opener is always going to be energetic for the home team," said defenseman Alex Pietrangelo, who picked up his first two assists on the season. "To get that crowd into it like that early on, it was definitely a good thing."

And it was Backes along with linemates T.J. Oshie and Alexander Steen that paved the way. Backes and Steen each notched a goal and an assist, Oshie and Vladimir Sobotka scored and Jaroslav Halak was strong in goal stopping 28 shots.

The Blues' special teams was up to task, as the power play scored on its first two attempts and the penalty killing unit killed off all four Nashville attempts.

"We really worked hard against a lot of pressure, and then on the PK, we had the people that killed penalties kill penalties in penalty killing," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. "... I thought our special teams was excellent tonight, especially our penalty killing.

"I think because we just worked on (penalty killing). We spent a lot of time with people that don't normally kill because your best players are usually finding other areas in their game, but we worked really hard here with our normal penalty killing groups killing penalties. We made them do it at practice, we made them do it in the exhibition season, and I think there's some continuity there because of it."
The Blues scored the first three goals in a span of 7 minutes, 40 seconds on six shots and Rinne was done for the night, getting the hook from coach Barry Trotz.

Backes got it started with a power play goal, picking up Pietrangelo's shot from the point after Patrik Berglund won the offensive zone faceoff, whirled and slid the puck into the open net just three seconds into the power play and 2:05 into the game.

Sobotka's individual effort, fighting off Kevin Klein after taking an outlet pass from Jay Bouwmeester, got the Blues in front 2-0 as he patiently out-waited Rinne and lifted a backhand into the goal at 5:43 of the first period.

"To me, I don't know how to describe it other than he's such an important player," Hitchcock said of Sobotka, who was seven of nine in the faceoff circle.
The Predators had a lengthy shift in the Blues' zone with nothing to show for it, and the Blues cashed in after Oshie cashed in another backhand attempt off passes from Backes and Steen at 9:45. The goal chased Rinne in favor of Carter Hutton, who held the fort down the remainder of the period and the game.

"I think as a line, we feel like we've got some responsibility to set the tone and set the bar for work ethic and with the skill that those two guys have and me getting in everyone's way, it seems to work out with some offensive prowess as well," Backes said.

But the Predators cut the Blues' lead down to one when Mike Fisher scored in the first and David Legwand beat Halak with a high redirection shot 5:09 into the second and suddenly it was 3-2.

"It was pretty ideal the first 10 minutes. I don't know if we got complacent, but that level ... we played pretty well that first 10 and maybe took a step back," Backes said. "They're a team that just keeps coming at you, they found a couple and kind of woke us up there where we had to play our style of hockey. It's a result we love and it's one step along the way."

(St. Louis Blues photo)
David Backes (middle) had a goal and an assist in the Blues' season
opening 4-2 win over the Nashville Predators Thursday.
Added Hitchcock: "You practice getting forechecked all training camp and then you really get forechecked hard, like they did. They came at us in waves. We struggled with some of the pressure early, and then I thought in the last eight minutes of the second period and in the third period we caught up to speed. But their work and their determination, you're going to have to really compete for pucks and you're going to have to really ... especially in your own zone, there's going to be some times when you're going to be under heat and we were under some heat today.

"I thought Jaro was excellent. I thought all the players that we talked about that have been here a little while really put their best foot forward today. It gave us a chance to build on some stuff, but I think we're like every other team. You leave here and you're happy you won and then you've got a list of things you need to work on, and you pick a few and you get working on them."

Steen would give the Blues some breathing room with a second power play goal 11:16 into the second, using Chris Stewart as a screen on the play and it was the only goal Hutton would allow.

But the Blues would clamp down and and keep the Predators at bay.

"I think getting the first one at home is nice," defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk said. "... It was nice to get off to a hot start."

* NOTES -- The Blues were able to get veteran Brenden Morrow into the lineup after the 34-year-old was able to get his working visa papers completed in order and in a timely manner.

Morrow flew to Detroit Wednesday night and got across the boarder into Canada and was able to complete his paperwork and landed in St. Louis around 4:30 p.m. Thursday.

The team knew around 12:30 that Morrow would be available and he wound up playing 11:32 in the game.

"When a guy puts in that type of effort to play, especially a veteran player, you've got to pay him that due," Hitchcock said of Morrow. "We told him if you're going to do all these things and get back on the plane from Detroit and come in here, we're going to put you back in the lineup."

Morrow's entry back into the lineup made Magnus Paajarvi a healthy scratch, along with Ian Cole and Adam Cracknell.

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