Saturday, October 12, 2013

Blues' top line leads way in 5-3 victory over Rangers

Steen, Backes, Oshie combine for nine points, help
team begin season 4-0-0 for first time in franchise history
ST. LOUIS -- The Blues' top line gets plenty of accolades for its defensive game and shutting down the opposition's top line.

But the trio has come out of the gates flying in 2013-14, with a plethora of offensive production.

Alexander Steen, David Backes and T.J. Oshie combined for nine points Saturday night, with Steen leading the way with his first four-point game since Dec. 21, 2009 with a goal and three assists. The Blues have opened the season with four straight wins after a 5-3 victory against the New York Rangers at Scottrade Center.

Backes scored twice and had an assist, and Oshie contributed a pair of assists, and they've combined for 18 points in four games as the Blues (4-0-0) opened a season for the first time in franchise history with four wins. It was also the Blues' 10th straight regular season home ice win dating back to last season in which they've outscored the opposition 33-13.

(St. Louis Blues/Mark Buckner)
T.J. Oshie (right) celebrates with teammate Alexander Steen after
Steen's goal Saturday night in a 5-3 win over the New York Rangers.
Known for their ability to match up against top players and shut them down, but the bounces are falling into place and Steen, Backes and Oshie are finding ways to contribute offensively, and on a night where the Blues didn't play their best, their top line grabbed the team on its shoulders and carried the load.
"We're getting bounces right now. It's a long year. It's been four games," said Steen, who's second in the NHL behind Pittsburgh's Sidney Crosby in points. "We've been working hard trying to do simple things, read off each other and right now, it's been a lot of inspiration.
"I think everybody was kind of itching to get going all throughout camp. It was just one of those years where camp felt really long."
But once the chute was opened, the group jumped out of the gates flying.
"Hitch will tell you that it's his fault that he's told us not to check the other team, to outplay them," Backes said, referring to Blues coach Ken Hitchcock. "It's kind of the mindset we've had to adopt, but just three guys that are willing to work hard every night and be interchangeable in positions and where we're at. Those guys with their skill, I try to get in someone's way to give them a little room. It seems to be something that's clicking right now, but it's only four games ... four good games. But we've got a tough task on Tuesday and then we hit the road. It's only going to get tougher now and we've got work to do every day."
Jaroslav Halak also improved to 4-0-0 by stopping 26 shots. The Blues also improved to 10-1-3 since the 2000-01 season against the Rangers, including 6-1-2 on home ice.

Derek Roy (one goal and one assist) and Kevin Shattenkirk (two assist) each had two points for the Blues.

The Rangers, who dropped to 1-4-0 on their season-opening nine-game trip, got a goal and two assists from Brad Richards, and Ryan Callahan notched his first two goals of the season. Martin Biron spelled starter Henrik Lundqvist in goal and recorded 13 saves, but was replaced by Lundqvist at the start of the third period.

Steen scored his fourth of the season and fourth in as many games when he followed Oshie's shot up to the net and slammed it past Biron for a 1-0 Blues lead 5:38 into the game.

The Rangers settled in and eventually got the equalizer with 5.8 seconds remaining in the first, when Callahan was on the doorstep and backhanded Richards' centering feed past Halak with one seconds remaining on a 5-on-3 man advantage.

Backes scored his third goal of the season -- he didn't reach that mark until the 20th game last season -- by snapping a wrist shot from the top of the right circle between Biron's pads 5:11 into the second period for a 2-1 Blues lead.

Roy skated from his blue line and unloaded a slap shot from the high slot, beating Biron stick side at 12:44 to give St. Louis a 3-1 lead.

Richards came back and converted a Blues turnover when Roy had the puck picked in his zone, and Richards converted a rebound of a Derick Brassard shot to slice the Blues' lead to one at 3-2 with 3:04 left in the second.

But Backes got his fourth of the season -- he scored his fourth in the 35th game last season -- when he redirected Oshie's shot towards the net with 1:33 left in the second for a 4-2 Blues lead in a period the Blues felt like wasn't their best but were opportunistic on five shots. They scored on three of them and Biron's night was done.
"We had a great start. We did exactly what we wanted, and then I thought we thought it was going to be too easy, and then we really sunk ourselves in the second period," Hitchcock said. "And then the fourth line gave us that shift after the goal and that rallied us and then we played great for 12 or 13 minutes.
"The second period was exactly what our biggest fear for two days has been. We got wanting to make plays around people and we got sloppy with the puck and they started to come at us. I think they were sniffing that they were in the game."

Callahan picked up his second of the game 2:54 into the third when he was able to redirect a puck that caromed into the air above the net and somehow bounce past Halak in traffic to once again cut the Blues' lead to 4-3.
But the Blues turned up the volume and outshot the Rangers 17-5 in the third period and clinched it on Vladimir Tarasenko's power play goal.

Tarasenko restored the Blues' two-goal lead again when Roy won a faceoff off a power play, got it to Shattenkirk, who fed Tarasenko for a snap shot from the high slot past Lundqvist at 10:42 for a 5-3 lead. It was Tarasenko's third goal in as many games.
(St. Louis Blues/Mark Buckner)
Blues players (from left) Jaroslav Halak, Jay Bouwmeester and Roman Polak
try to keep a puck out of the net Saturday night against the Rangers.
"You saw what we did in the last 12 minutes. That's who we are," Hitchcock said. "That's the way we play defense, and when we play like that, we're awesome. We're capable of it, but the whole focus is playing the right way, managing the puck the right way. That's what got us excited. We gathered it in.
"When it went to one goal, we didn't let go of the rope. We gathered it in, we scored a great power play goal, great shot, great screen, great faceoff and then we went from there. I really liked the way we gathered it in. We need to play 60 minutes like that and get focused in that area."
The Blues have also played 240 minutes this season and have not trailed yet. And running their record to 4-0-0 was no reason to celebrate. It marks the attitude of a team learning to win and do it on a consistent basis.
"(4-0) is great, but this was not our game today," Hitchcock said. "I'm not complaining. The way we gathered it in was great, but we need to include more players.
"We're a team when we keep it 5-on-5 and 5-on-4, we're really good, so we've got to find a way to include more guys, and the way to include more guys is to keep it more 5-on-5."

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