Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Blues rebound after tough opening seconds, top Sabres 4-1

Morrow scores twice, Stewart assists on both
after battling flu, Halak sharp with 23-save effort

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Starting the game down a goal 10 seconds into the game Tuesday against the team with the worst record in the league was not what the Blues had in mind.

But that was the predicament for the Blues when Tyler Ennis and the Buffalo Sabres struck before 17,710 spectators could even get settled into their seats at First Niagara Center.

However, instead of wilting against a team going through a cultural change in their front office and behind the bench, the Blues turned up the heat and they turned to a trio of players that contributed in different fashions.

(St. Louis Blues)
Brenden Morrow (10) scored twice Tuesday night in a 4-1 victory against
the Buffalo Sabres.
Brenden Morrow had his first two-goal game as a Blue, Chris Stewart turned a 24-hour period of battling the flu with one of his better workmanlike efforts of the season, assisting on both Morrow goals and Jaroslav Halak, after being pulled in his last start, was strong with 23 saves as the Blues rebounded from a loss at Washington Sunday with a 4-1 victory against the Sabres.

It was a case of Stewart saving his energy, and Morrow was the beneficiary.

After missing the Blues' morning skate Tuesday with flu-like symptoms, Stewart was told to stay at the team hotel to rest.

Without any disgusting details, it was a rough Monday night and Tuesday morning for Stewart but well worth it with the end result that enabled the Blues to recover from a loss Sunday.

"I've probably been struggling for the last 24 hours," Stewart said after getting his fifth and sixth assists of the season. "I haven't felt like that in a while. ... It hit me hard, probably as soon as we got in here. It started going through the team a little bit and that time of the year. We've got a little time here before the Boston game (Thursday), get some rest, get hydrated and get back after it."

The Blues (14-3-3) also got a power-play goal from Vladimir Tarasenko, and Magnus Paajarvi scored his first goal with with the Blues, who are off to their best start in franchise history after 20 games.

Halak bounced back after allowing three goals on six shots and being pulled in the first period Sunday. Halak stopped 23 shots in earning his 11th win.

"I was hoping to get a few shots early in the game but not the way it was," Halak said. "I started feeling more comfortable as the game went along."

The Blues improved to 13-2-0 against the Sabres dating back to 1999, including 8-1-0 in Buffalo. They also improved to 31-9-5 against Eastern Conference foes since the 2010-11 season, the best inter-conference record in the NHL.

Ken Hitchcock also earned his 619th coaching victory, which is one off eighth place all time behind Ottawa Senators general manager Bryan Murray. Hitchcock helped his cause by going back to Halak two days after pulling him in the first period against the Capitals.

"First, Jaro stepped up and made some big saves," Hitchcock said of his goalie. "I don't think there was much difference in the scoring chances. They were pretty closer even. I thought we scored on our chances, they didn't on theirs. Getting the third goal was a big benefit for us, but even in saying that, we needed Jaro today. He was good. He was right back to task where he was before."

Tyler Ennis scored and Ryan Miller stopped 27 shots for the Sabres, who fell to 1-2-0 under interim coach Ted Nolan.

"I think our youth really showed tonight," said Nolan, whose team fell to 0-15-0 when trailing after two periods. "This is one of the better teams in the National Hockey League that can really expose your flaws. ... We knew it was going to be tough. We've just got to keep teaching, keep learning. You could tell some the difference between some of the young players we have and some of the mature players they have. It's just part of maturing."

Ennis opened the scoring before the 17,710 spectators could get settled in, as he was able to one-time a centering feed from Ville Leino past Halak 10 seconds into the game. Leino got to a bouncing puck after Blues defenseman Jay Bouwmeester couldn't handle it. It was the Sabres' fourth goal in the first period in 23 games.

"We learned to have a start. Sometimes we've been starting slow," Ennis said. "This time we started fast and scored. Then we kind of let off the gas. Those are the things we need to fix."

But the Blues applied heavy pressure and struck 59 seconds later when Morrow took Stewart's no-look backhand feed and snapped a shot past Miller to tie the game 1-1.

"They scored a quick one there, 10 seconds in and it kind of caught us by surprise," Stewart said. "We answered back quick there and set the tempo for the game."

The Blues took a 2-1 lead with 35.9 seconds left in the first period when T.J. Oshie's second-effort play following a Mike Weber blocked shot enabled Tarasenko to hammer a shot home from the low slot. It was the 14th time in 20 games the Blues have scored a power-play goal.

Buffalo has now been outscored 31-4 in the first period of games this season.

Morrow got his second of the game when Stewart stripped Cody McCormick behind the Buffalo goal and fed Morrow, who made no mistake in beating Miller with 5:51 left in the second period.

Morrow was asked if Stewart should get the flu more often. He laughed it off but praised his linemate.

"He was an F-1 out there tonight. It didn't look like he was under the weather at all," Morrow said. "He had some good jump out there and was turning pucks over and made some good plays tonight."

After a not-so-stellar game against the Capitals, the line with former Sabre Derek Roy, Stewart and Morrow was a plus-6 and accounted for two big goals.

"(Morrow) can score. He's been able to score all the time," Hitchcock said. "He's not going to miss on those opportunities. It's nice to see for him.

"That line was good. That line was good in the offensive zone, so it's good to see. I think the puck pursuit part of their game was there. The two down-low goals are the ones we want to score. ... It was nice to see another line step up today."

Halak preserved a 2-1 lead in the second period as the Sabres were coming on, and the Blues goalie made two key stops from close range on Leino.

(St. Louis Blues)
The Blues' Jaden Schwartz (9) gives chase to Buffalo's Tyler Ennis during
Tuesday's 4-1 Blues victory.
"It's not the way you want to start (the game), especially me," Halak said. "First shot on net and it went in, but I just needed to refocus after that first goal and tried to stay sharp. After getting pulled last game, you just want to get out there and you want to help the guys.

"I started feeling comfortable as the game went on, especially in the second when I made some saves there. It got my confidence back. ... I gave up a rebound to (Leino) and I just wanted to get there with my pad. Lucky for me that he didn't raise it over my pad and I was able to get there. That was a key save for me. It could have been 2-2, but instead it [became] 3-1 and it was a huge goal for [Morrow]."

Paajarvi's blast from the top of the left circle beat Miller high to the short side 6:10 into the third period to give the Blues a 4-1 lead. Bouwmeester's assist gave him points in five straight and six of seven games. He has 16 points in 20 games.

Paajarvi can relax after getting the first one out of the way. He even celebrated by double-pointing to his back in reference to getting the monkey off his back.

"I've been always relaxed, but it's always nice to get the monkey off I guess," Paajarvi said. "The last game was a little bit rusty and today was rusty, too, but better. I'm always calm out there. It was nice to get a goal.

"I saw last year somebody do it and it just came up. It was just a reflex. But it was nice. We played up and down today, but we got the good ones."

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