Netminder "saved" team from home loss; Oshie scores twice in victory
ST. LOUIS -- Jaroslav Halak was bogged down and he knew from a goalie's standpoint, he needed to get healthy.
Since coming back from the bout with the flu that forced him to miss five straight games, Halak has found a near-clean slate.
Halak, whose last outing prior to getting sick saw him get pulled after the first period in a start against the Chicago Blackhawks on Dec. 28, returned to earn a shutout against the Calgary Flames this past Thursday. On Tuesday night, the Phoenix Coyotes were able to penetrate the Blues' netminder once, but Halak was a barrier the rest of the way and helped his team earn two points.
|(St. Louis Blues/Mark Buckner)|
Jaroslav Halak (41) makes one of 20 saves on the Coyotes' Tim Kennedy
in Tuesday's 2-1 victory.
Halak didn't get much work, stopping 20 shots, but he stood tall in the third period and thwarted the slumping Coyotes on every turn in a 2-1 Blues victory Tuesday night at Scottrade Center.
The Coyotes (21-16-9) outshot the Blues 8-2 in the third period, but Halak stood tall on each occasion, including two saves in the first two minutes, including a sprawling stop on David Moss just 1:42 into the period that preserved the victory for the Blues (32-8-5).
"I knew the guy was backdoor," Halak said. "I tried to get there. I didn't know what I was doing. I just tried to put a stick on it and it hit me and stayed out. I think for the most part, we did a good job except the last period. We didn't play our game.
"I had a fever that wouldn't go away and I kept getting tired real fast. Now that the virus is gone, I'm feeling pretty good."
Blues coach Ken Hitchcock credited the win to his goalie.
"This is a game where our goalie saved us," Hitchcock said. "We wanted to play a different game than was out there, and our goalie saved us. He was terrific from the start to the finish. He made three big saves in the third period early and this was a game probably if you look at it, we didn't deserve to win. We probably deserved a better fate in Vancouver (Friday), a much better fate and we probably deserved a worse fate tonight. Hopefully it equals out, but this is a game that we were looking for an easier game and we didn't get it."
Halak's teammates were equally thankful for his efforts.
"He had an unreal game. He made some big saves for us," said Blues forward T.J. Oshie, who scored both goals. "... He made some huge saves. That game could have been easily turned the other way into a 5-2 victory for them. Big saves and that's what we expect out of him every night."
"He's a huge reason," Blues captain David Backes, who had two assists in the game, said of Halak. "We need to play better in front of him and get better as the game goes instead of tail off."
Since being named New Year's Day to the U.S. team for the 2014 Sochi Olympics, Oshie has stepped up his game.
Oshie second two-goal game since Jan. 2 provided the Blues the necessary offense they needed in winning their fifth in a row on home ice.
The Blues won for the seventh time in nine tries (7-1-1) against the Coyotes, who lost their fourth in a row and sixth in seven games.
Oliver Ekman-Larsson scored the lone goal for the Coyotes. He also scored Monday in a 5-1 loss to the Winnipeg Jets. A night after seeing 38 shots, Mike Smith stopped 16 shots, but fell to 0-5-2 in his past nine appearances.
Oshie gave the Blues a 1-0 lead when he took an Alex Pietrangelo feed at the top of the right circle and ripped a one-timer past Smith 9:54 into the first period. It was Pietrangelo's ninth point (seven assists) during a six-game point streak.
"I was yelling from about the red line when I got on the ice," Oshie said. "... (Pietrangelo) kind of put it on a tee. I didn't even see it go in. I just heard everyone started cheering."
Halak saw little action in the first, stopping four shots, but he made a nice blocker save on Ekman-Larsson with 4:42 left to preserve the Blues' slim lead.
Oshie struck again to give the Blues a 2-0 lead when his shot from the blue line found its way through traffic and past Smith, who was screened on the play by Jaden Schwartz. The power-play goal came at 12:54 of the second period and had a Team USA connection, with Backes and Kevin Shattenkirk getting assists.
|(St. Louis Blues/Mark Buckner)|
T.J. Oshie (left) and Alex Pietrangelo celebrate the Blues' first goal on
Tuesday in a 2-1 victory against the Phoenix Coyotes.
But the Coyotes would strike late in the period on the power play to get to within 2-1, when Ekman-Larsson's wrister from the right circle got past Halak with 47.9 seconds left. Defenseman Keith Yandle kept the play alive with a terrific stop of an attempted clear on the blue line in front of the Coyotes bench.
Ekman-Larsson's goal snapped the Blues' streak of successful penalty kills at 21.
Halak regrouped and had to be sharp right off the bat in the third period, making a point-blank stop on Lauri Korpikoski 14 seconds in. Halak outdid himself with 18:18 remaining in the game, taking a sure goal away from Moss with a stick stop sliding from left to right.
"I tried to settle it down and get it up," Moss said. "Probably should have shot it quicker, but he got across and got a block on it. Made a good save."
Radim Vrbata had another great chance for the Coyotes with 4:16 remaining in the game, but his wrister rang off the cross bar from the left slot.
"You have to earn it against him," Vrbata said of Halak. "We didn’t play well enough to earn it I guess so this is the result. We have to keep working and hopefully it will change."
The Blues are 8-1-0 in their past nine games and 10-1-1 in the past 12, outscoring opponents 48-19 in that stretch.
The Blues' record held true to form when leading after the first period. They are now 19-0-2 when taking a lead into the first intermission. The Blues and Chicago Blackhawks (17-0-2) are the only teams in the NHL without a regulation loss when leading after one period. The Blues also improved to 27-1-3 when scoring first.
"We just needed more help down the lineup, and we didn't get it," Hitchcock said. "We'll address that tomorrow."
The Blues pulled within two points of the Blackhawks for the Central Division lead with four games in hand after the Hawks dropped a 3-2 overtime decision to the Colorado Avalanche.