Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Blues blank Wild 3-0

Steen scores twice, Halak earns 27th career shutout, 18th with the Blues

ST. LOUIS -- Three seems to be the magic number for the Blues on home ice.

When the Blues score three times, count it as money in the bank.

And when their goaltender can toss a goose egg into the mix, it makes this hockey team and Scottrade Center that much tougher to conquer.

The Blues improved to an incredible 45-0-1 in their last 46 games when scoring three times. Alexander Steen helped consummate that statistic when he dumped a puck into an empty net with 1 minute, 22 seconds remaining. It capped off a 3-0 victory against the Minnesota Wild Monday night.

(St. Louis Blues/Mark Buckner)
Vladimir Sobotka (17) got the Blues going early with a goal in the first
period of a 3-0 victory against the Minnesota Wild on Monday.
Blues offense had things going early, then turned to their goalie to finish off another victory.

Jaroslav Halak didn't have much work early, but the Blues goaltender saved his best for last, turning aside all 22 shots he saw.

It was Halak's 27th career shutout, a franchise-record 18th as a member of the Blues and second this season.

Halak, who is 13-3-2 with a 2.21 goals-against average and .911 save percentage, was busiest in the third period when Minnesota outshot the Blues 12-1. He turned aside all 12 shots, including a couple of high-percentage looks.

"The first two periods, it was no shots again, no action for me, just a couple shots," Halak said. "I just needed to stay focused tonight. It wasn't easy, but going into the third and having the lead, that's what we wanted."

Steen's 18th and 19th goals pulled him within one of the Washington Capitals' Alex Ovechkin for the NHL lead, and Vladimir Sobotka scored his second in as many games.

The Blues are now a League-best plus-32 in goal differential despite missing Kevin Shattenkirk (flu) Monday.

"I just thought our 5-on-5 play was really good today," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. "I thought this was one of the best games we've played 5-on-5 for a long time. I thought any of the scoring chances they got were on the power play. I thought 5-on-5, we really competed and I thought we created a lot of pressure and presence, especially in the first two periods."

Minnesota thought it had a 1-0 lead 30 seconds into the game when Zach Parise deflected in Ryan Suter's shot from the left point. But the goal was immediately waved off, with the call that Parise's stick was above the crossbar, and after a lengthy review, it was determined video was inconclusive.

Obviously, both sides had a difference in opinion.

"I think what saved us was the call on the ice," Hitchcock said. "It has to be really definitive. When you see it from the low angle -- we never saw that low angle until after the game -- the stick was up there pretty good. It's hard to turn that over. It's in somebody else's hands, but unless it's really definitive when the referee waves it off right off the bat, not many times do those go against you.

"It could have had maybe a little bit of difference in the game, but the way we played in the first period, man we were really going. Every part of our game was going in the first period, which was nice to see."

"To me it was clear it was a good goal," Wild coach Mike Yeo said. "The call on the ice impacts it. Fair to say we came unraveled for a few minutes after that. It was a big moment in the game.

"It’s bad enough we should be up 1-0 and now all of a sudden we’re down 1-0. But we still had plenty of game in front of us and not going to make excuses but it was very disappointing."

Added Halak: "It was luck on our side tonight, on my side. If it was probably a little bit lower, it would be a goal. Giving up a goal from the first shot, that's not how we want to start a game. I'm glad it was no goal and after that, we kept playing. It didn't bother us."

The Blues immediately pounced on the opportunity of the video review, with Sobotka scoring when he collected a rebound of a Carlo Colaiacovo shot from inside the blue line and beat Wild goalie Niklas Backstrom 50 seconds later for a 1-0 St. Louis lead. It was Colaiacovo's first point in his first shift since signing a free-agent contract Nov. 12.

"I'm just trying to get my speed and go to the net," Sobotka said. "It was a good shot by Carlo and I just found the puck in front of the net and I put it in.

"We talked about that we need a fast start. They're playing hard, kind of similar to us. I think we did a good job."

Colaiacovo, signed by the Blues on Nov. 12, stepped in for Shattenkirk, who was ill.

"Lucky play. Obviously I was pretty fortunate for it to happen the way it did," Colaiacovo said of the first goal. "I'll take them when I can get them. I'm going to contribute any way that I can. If that's the way I can, great.

"That's one thing that this team is really good at, establishing the cycle in the offensive end, getting the d-men involved and getting shots through with traffic. You can see forwards are looking for deflections, they're setting themselves up with good screens. That's how you create offense in this league. We've done a pretty good job of it as a whole. Tonight was just another example of it."

The Blues were doing a solid job getting shots from the point and putting bodies in front of Backstrom, and Steen benefited with his first goal in five games when he took in Jay Bouwmeester's shot from the left point and beat Backstrom with a backhand upstairs at 13:38 of the first period for a 2-0 Blues lead. After a 13-game point streak, Steen had only one assist in the past four games.

"Our 'D' did a good job of getting pucks through," Steen said. "The first two were a result of that."

The middle period saw no scoring, but Halak made a key point-blank stop on Zenon Konopka with 1:49 left off a rebound at the top of the crease, and the Blues' Jaden Schwartz -- off a 3-on-2 rush -- rang a shot off the left post with 15 seconds remaining.

Halak also was up to the task on Dany Heatley twice. He went from post to post to save a shot off a one-timer from the right circle late in the game, and Steen's empty-netter with 1:22 remaining sealed the Blues' victory. Steen trails Sidney Crosby by two points for the overall NHL points lead (30-29).

"A lot of credit goes to Jaro," defenseman Ian Cole said. "They didn't get a ton of chances, but the ones they did were really good ones. He made some unbelievable saves. Defensively, any time there's a shutout, you've got to be very happy with how we played."

(St. Louis Blues/Mark Buckner)
The Blues' T.J. Oshie (right) looks to redirect a shot past Wild goalie Niklas
Backstrom on Monday night.
The Blues kept their franchise-best start to a season going, improving to 17-3-3. They are 11-1-2 on home ice, and they're 9-1-1 in their past 11 games and 12-2-1 in the past 14. They're also 11-3-2 against teams with a .500 record or better, 6-1-1 against teams in the top 10 in points.

The Blues have won six in a row against the Wild, outscoring Minnesota 19-7 over that span. They are 8-0-3 in the past 11 against Minnesota at Scottrade Center dating back to the Wild's most-recent regulation win there Oct. 20, 2007.

Backstrom stopped 18 shots for the Wild, who were shut out for the first time this season. Minnesota (15-6-4) came in 6-1-0 in its past seven and 9-1-1 in November.

"When you can roll four lines and six defensemen in this League, it makes yourself a very tough team to play against," Colaiacovo said. "I believe that's what we are. We've just got to keep it going.

"Overall, we played a solid team game. We did a lot of good things well and we got a good win out of it."

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