Thursday, November 14, 2013

Blues blast Avalanche 7-3

Oshie's career-best four-point night leads the way;
Backes, Roy each pick up goal, two assists in fight-filled second period

ST. LOUIS -- Once the Blues orchestrated arguably their best 20 minutes of hockey in the second period of Thursday night's 7-3 victory against the Colorado Avalanche, their opponents tried to turn physical.

Nothing else worked, so why not try fisticuffs.

The Blues (12-2-3) really turned up the heat in the second period, outscoring the Avalanche 4-0 before having to go into protection mode.

(St. Louis Blues/Mark Buckner)
T.J. Oshie (left) looks to escape with the puck from former teammate and
Avalanche defenseman Erik Johnson. Oshie had a career-best four-point
night in a 7-3 victory over Colorado Thursday.
Chris Stewart, Vladimir Sobotka and Ryan Reaves all were involved in one-round fights -- and all won them handily.

The Avalanche (14-4-0) came in as the surprise of the NHL and rightfully so.

The Avalanche came in with the best winning percentage (.823) and Colorado earned 28 of a possible 34 points.

The young Avalanche were still being tested and saw a schedule that had the St. Louis Blues first on the docket.

In humbling fashion, the Blues were able to play one of their most inspiring games of the season before 14,190 at Scottrade Center.
T.J. Oshie assisted on four goals (his first career four-point game), David Backes and Derek Roy each had a goal and two assists, Alexander Steen scored his League-leading 15th and 16th goals of the season and Vladimir Tarasenko and Alex Pietrangelo each had two points as the Blues (12-2-3) improved to 4-0-1 in their past five games and 7-1-1 in their past nine.

The Blues did it with special teams, going 3-for-4 with the man advantage, they did it with their top unit of Oshie, Backes and Steen collecting nine points in all, and the Blues were able to handle themselves when the game got physical after the Avalanche tried to change the course of the game when it was out of hand. Jaroslav Halak stopped 21 shots, helping the Blues beat the Avalanche for the fifth straight time at home.

"It just feels good to get the two points," Oshie said. "It feels good to be playing the right way and get a win against a good team. Whether they played well tonight or whatever, we got the two points and that's the main thing to look at here."

Added Blues coach Ken Hitchcock, who was pleased with his team's effort but saw some flaws.

"I think we learned that the plan against them works, but what they're good at, we need to work on and what we're good at, they need to work on," said Hitchcock, who picked up his 617th coaching victory, which ties him for ninth all-time with Jacques Lemaire. "There wasn't much play in the neutral zone. There was a ton of play in each zone. Both teams, with the way they play in the offensive zone, gave each other trouble. So we've got some things moving forward that that we need to get better at and I'm sure they do to."

Nathan MacKinnon, Matt Duchene and Ryan O'Reilly also scored for the Avalanche. Jean-Sebastien Giguere and Semyon Varlamov combined for 22 saves, as Varlamov replaced Giguere for the second period. Giguere returned to the game at the start of the third period. Varlamov allowed two goals on six shots in relief.

"There are nights like this," first-year Avalanche coach Patrick Roy said. "One thing I like about our team even when it was 7-2 we never stopped. We kept going at them. We lost our focus a bit in the second but I thought we got it back in the third.

"We're 14-4 and we played a really good game in Carolina [Tuesday] and the puck didn't bounce our way tonight. But I think we learned a lot from this."

The Avalanche lost back-to-back games for the first time this season -- they lost 2-1 against the Carolina Hurricanes -- and allowed the most goals in a game this season.

The teams traded goals in the first period, with Derek Roy putting the Blues ahead with a power play goal -- the Avalanche came into the game a perfect 20-for-20 on road penalty kills -- before MacKinnon, the top pick in the 2013 NHL Draft, equalizing with a power play goal of his own.

It was the ninth straight game the Blues scored the first goal of the game and 14th time in 17 games overall.

The Colorado goal extended Paul Stastny's point streak to five games [three goals, two assists] and it was the 27th point of his career against the Blues [17th assist] in 22 games.

The Blues took over the game in the second period, outscoring the Avalanche 4-0 and doing so in doing so, the game took a crazy turn with a plethora of penalties that featured a trio of fights.

Backes gave the Blues the lead for good with his first goal in 10 games when he slammed a shot top shelf past Giguere 2:49 into the second period for a 2-1 lead.

Steen's first of the game put the Blues up 3-1 when the Blues' top line outworked the Avalanche in their end, and Backes fed a backhand to Steen, whose slap shot beat Giguere high top shelf that chased the Colorado goalie. Giguere, who was 5-0-0 on the season and had allowed only five goals on 165 shots, was pulled after Steen's goal. Giguere allowed five goals on 23 shots as he returned for the third period.

The goal extended Steen's NHL-leading point streak to 12 games [11 goals and four assists]. The last Blue to have such a streak was Keith Tkachuk during the 2002-03 season. Steen also tied with Pittsburgh's Sidney Crosby for the NHL lead in points with 24.

Tarasenko scored his sixth of the season when he raced to a puck in the Colorado zone and greeted Varlamov with a slap shot top shelf at 12:09 of the period for a 4-1 lead.

The former Avalanche connection would strike against their former team as Chris Stewart would get the Blues' third power play goal on four tries when he collected Kevin Shattenkirk's shot from the high slot and lifted a backhand over Varlamov on the doorstep at 14:39 to make it a 5-1 game. It was Shattenkirk's 10th point in the last 10 games.

Shattenkirk and Stewart were acquired by the Blues from the Avalanche as part of a blockbuster trade that sent Erik Johnson to Colorado in 2011.

"We really dialed up our checking," Hitchcock said of the second period. "Our checking caused them to take penalties, checking created turnovers. When we did that, it created the tempo in our game that we wanted to. When we dialed up our checking, (it) really had an impact in the game."

The Blues were rolling four lines, and then they do so, their top players seem to be fresh as a game progresses.

"We were able to roll four lines, four lines that were willing to play hard on the puck and win battles along the walls and just kind of keep them it and getting into the o-zone and let some skill interchange and shots with traffic at the net," Backes said. "... A good win for our guys, but it's one win out of 17 so far. There's 82 in the year.

"(Colorado's) played good hockey for a month and a half now. They're a force to be reckoned with. It was a see-saw first period and we found our game maybe before they found theirs. We really had a textbook second period for us and in the third, a couple where bad luck seemed to follow them. We'll take it. We've been on the other side of that too. There's some pride there and they kept playing."

The fun really started then, as Stewart would fight Colorado's Cory Sarich at 16:46, then the Blues' Vladimir Sobotka took on Matt Duchene 40 seconds later and Ryan Reaves finished it off with the Avalanche's Cody McLead with 33 seconds left in the period.

This fight seemed to incense the Avalanche.

"There's no brains there. It's just a guy who fights his whole life," Avalanche defenseman Jan Hejda said.

Added Giguere: "It's a little gutless by (Stewart), but it's an emotional game and these things will happen."

Reaves said the Blues were just fending for themselves after Oshie was able to successfully deliver a reverse hit on Jamie McGinn as well.

"Osh lays that hit. That guy [McGinn] goes to hit him and Osh delivers a reverse check on him and they throw out their fourth line to obviously stir something up," Reaves said. "Hitch throws us out there ... [Patrick] Bordeleau's looking at me, McLead's looking at me. I just took the first guy that wanted it. That's how that went down.

"They obviously wanted to stir something up and they tried. I don't know if whoever fought Stew knew what he was getting into. They tried pushing back with some physical play and some fights, but I think we handled it pretty well."

Steen's second of the game and 16th of the season came after Backes lifted a puck towards Giguere, and in an attempt to catch the puck, it dropped at his skates and Steen charged in and poked it in 2:11 into the third period to make it 6-1.

Duchene would speed between a pair of Blues defensemen and lift a puck past Halak 4:36 into the third to make it a 6-2 game.

(St. Louis Blues/Mark Buckner)
The Blues' Derek Roy (12) celebrates with teammates after a goal against
the Colorado Avalanche Thursday.
Jay Bouwmeester's first of the season came from the high slot, beating Giguere top shelf at 8:36 to make it 7-2, and O'Reilly would knock in a loose puck to the left of Halak with 8:54 remaining in the game to make it 7-3 and give the Blues a convincing victory.

"When we kept them on the run, it's better for us," Hitchcock said of the Avalanche. "The minute you pulled back on your checking, they just come at you in waves.

"The way we played in the second is something you want to really build on. We really just kept building momentum through the period and really put them on their heels. That's the way we have to play that game against them."

Steen left the game for the ladder portion of the third period after taking a slash. But Hitchcock said he was fine and that "We're 100 percent."

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