Thursday, January 2, 2014

On this night, Blues get best of Kings

Oshie shines for teammates, USA 
Hockey with two goals; St. Louis blasts L.A. 5-0

ST. LOUIS -- T.J. Oshie knew Brian Burke was in the press box but he forgot.

It was probably for the best, so the Blues' right winger soaked what the past 24 hours have meant to him with actions on the ice instead of accolades.

With Burke, the USA Hockey Director of Player Personnel watching atop Scottrade Center observing three of the country's selections for the 2014 Sochi Olympics, Oshie was more than willing to leave a lasting impression. 

Perhaps Oshie needed a reminder that he was already chosen for the U.S. team. His performance Thursday night against the Los Angeles Kings could have been viewed as a final audition.
(St. Louis Blues/Mark Buckner)
Blues and USA Olympians T.J. Oshie (left) and Kevin Shattenkirk celebrate
one of Oshie's goals Thursday night in a 5-0 win against the Kings.

However, no audition was needed. 

With fellow Blues and U.S. Olympic teammate David Backes still sidelined by an upper-body injury, Oshie took on some of the offensive brunt with two goals in a 5-0 victory against the Kings. 

Oshie, who has four goals in three games after going without a goal in 15 games, helped the Blues (28-7-5) win their fourth straight and sixth in seven games (6-0-1).

Oshie, who has 35 points (27 of them assists) is one point behind team leader Alexander Steen's 36. He got a subtle reminder that auditions were over.

"That's what 'Stewy' (teammate Chris Stewart) told me after the second period," Oshie said jokingly. "It was a great night. 

"It was a great team win tonight. I got two of them, but those two could have easily been 'Sobe' (Vladimir Sobotka) or 'Schwartzy' (Jaden Schwartz) on my line." 

Brenden Morrow scored his 21st career goal against the Kings, Ken Hitchcock earned his 100th win as Blues coach, and Brian Elliott stopped 30 shots in his third shutout this season. Vladimir Tarasenko and Barret Jackman also scored for St. Louis.

The Blues did to the Kings what the Kings have done to them throughout much of their dominance in recent seasons. They checked, they bogged L.A. down in their zone and the defensive zone exits were clean. No turnovers, no vulnerability to being checked. 

"We stuck to our game plan," Jackman said. "We were trying to get the puck in, just keep going at them and making them turn and making it a tough night for them to exit out of their zone. We knew we were going to get some turnovers.

"We were just making sure we don't blow the zone, make sure it's a five-man exit at all times and not hang each other out to dry. They come hard, we know that we're going to get hit, so you've got to move the puck quick. A lot of talk in the defensive zone really helps."

The Kings (25-13-4) lost their fifth straight. It's L.A.'s longest drought since losing five from Dec. 3-13, 2011.

"Anytime you're losing five games in a row, it's going to be tough," Kings captain Dustin Brown said. "It's how you respond. It's easy when things are going right, you're getting the bounces, it's easy to sit there and play. It's time like this when we really need to step up and play our game. Tonight, we didn't do it." 

The Kings had beaten the Blues five straight games in the regular season, and including the playoffs, they had won 14 of 17 games between the teams.

"We know their team for sure and they know us," said Elliott, who won his 12th straight home game dating back to last season, a franchise record. "There's no surprises when you go out there who you're playing."It's good to get a win and a win like that is key for us."

Hitchcock said not to put a lot of stock into one win.

"I don't think you can judge anything until (Jonathan) Quick's back in," Hitchcock said of the Kings' USA Olympian, who has been out since Nov. 12. "I think you can judge it then from their standpoint. 

"From our standpoint, I'm looking at the way we're playing and we're playing with a five-pack mentality. We're back, we're not spread out, trying to create goals too early, we're back in support. We're creating our scoring chances fom our checking again, which is a really good sign for me. We're up and down the ice as a pack of five, we're creating neutral zone turnovers as a pack of five, we're transitioning the puck quickly because of that. I think that's what I'm looking at. Whether it's Los Angeles or in two days it's Columbus or Minnesota, it doesn't matter to me. When you're creating scoring chances from your pursuit and checking, it's a good sign because you're willing to work to create scoring chances."

Alex Pietrangelo, who had two assists, felt there was an opportunity Thursday night. The Blues had been 0-for-California this season, with five of their seven regulation losses coming at the hands of the Kings (once), San Jose Sharks (three times) and Anaheim Ducks (once).

"They've had a couple losses in a row here and we thought we can come here and have an opportunity to do some good things.

"When you're playing against a high-quality opponent like these guys, you've got to be able to get to your game early. It shows that we can play our game for 60 minutes, which is what we did tonight. They had some opportunities in spurts, but when you're playing against a team of that quality, they're going to get their opportunities." 

Kings coach Darryl Sutter pulled rookie goalie Martin Jones in the second period after he allowed two goals on 14 shots. Ben Scrivens stopped nine shots in relief. 

St. Louis improved to 50-0-1 its past 51 games at Scottrade scoring three or more goals, and the Blues passed the Chicago Blackhawks and Ducks for most home victories (16) in the Western Conference.

"You can't really put too much stock in one game," Jackman said. "To play well against LA ... we know they didn't play their best, but we'd like to think that we kind of dictated some of the play and had a complete effort tonight. We didn't lay off. Our special teams was pretty good where we've struggled against them on the past. It's not one game was everything, but it's definitely a good sign for our team."

Oshie scored twice in a span of 1:31 in the second period to give the Blues a 3-0 lead. His first goal chased Jones from L.A. goal. 

Oshie gave the Blues a 2-0 lead when Jaden Schwartz, who has 21 points (11 goals, 10 assists) his past 19 games, had his shot deflected off a Kings player's stick into the slot. Oshie was there to put the puck into an open net at 11:41. 

Oshie struck again, this time taking Vladimir Sobotka's faceoff win in the left circle and beating Scrivens with a quick wrister off the far post at 13:12 for a 3-0 Blues lead. It was his eight goal.

"He just keeps proving how worthy he is of that honor," Jackman said of Oshie. "He's pretty proud of it and I think every guy in this dressing room's proud of all three of our Olympians so far. In a few more days, there's going to be a lot more named.

The standing room-only crowd of 19,839 went into a "USA USA" chants after the goal.

"I thought that was pretty special," Oshie said. "I definitely didn't expect it, but once I heard it, I thought, 'What a cool 24 hours for me.'" 

The Blues killed off a 5-on-3 that lasted 1:26 late in the second, not allowing a shot and blocking two in that time span. Schwartz, Jay Bouwmeester and Pietrangelo led the penalty kill.

"It's big. Penalty killing's huge. It gives you a lot of momentum," Schwartz said. "It obviously got the crowd going as well."

Hitchcock agreed.

"It was huge," Hitchcock said. "... These are guys that haven't killed three versus four, three versus five pretty much this year. It's mostly been Steen and (David) Backes. They've been huge. It's another aspect of checking and defense and it's creating our offense."

The Kings lamented the missed opportunity, feeling it was their chance to get back into the hockey game.

"You've got that one there and you cut it to two," Kings center Anze Kopitar said. "We didn't score, we didn't take enough shots. Bottom line, we didn't score, so it didn't really matter."

The Blues had an apparent third-period goal from Derek Roy waved off when officials ruled Morrow had touched the puck with a high stick before Roy could put it in. But Tarasenko scored on Magnus Paajarvi's pass into the slot at 3:24 for a 4-0 lead. 

Jackman's one-timer from the top of the left circle at 6:11 made it 5-0. It was his first goal. 

Jackman's teammates went into their crossed arms motion of 'Jax Jax Jax.'

"The kids that made the video might have the trademark," Jackman joked.

Despite getting outshot 13-6 in the first period, Morrow's goal, which came on a power play, gave the Blues a 1-0 lead. It was Morrow's seventh goal; he also assisted on Jackman's goal. 

After Kevin Shattenkirk's one-timer caromed off Kings defenseman Drew Doughty, the puck took a big bounce off the back boards. Morrow, at the left side of the goal, popped the backhand off Jones and into the goal 4:42 into the period. 

The Blues were on a four-minute power play when Kings defenseman Matt Greene got called for high-sticking Roy. 

Elliott was able to preserve the Blues' lead in the opening period, with his best save coming off Jarret Stoll's break-in late in the period. 
(St. Louis Blues/Mark Buckner)
Blues goalie Brian Elliott (1) stretches out to stop one of 30 shots against
the Kings and Jarret Stoll (right) Thursday night in a 5-0 victory.

With the win, it was Elliott's first career win against the Kings (1-4-1). He improved to 7-0-1 in his past eight decisions in earning the 24th shutout of his career and 15th with the Blues.

The Blues scored five or more goals in four of the past seven games, and while that's eye-popping, Hitchcock chose to view it another way.

"Everybody talks about we're scoring goals, but what we're not doing is giving up very much and it's allowing us to manage the game properly," he said.

He also credited the Schwartz, Sobotka and Oshie for stepping up in the face of adversity without two of their top scorers.

"That line, they support each other well," Hitchcock said. "They play the game the right way. They have success, they have great continuity. Their puck support ... they don't give up anything. This is three games in a row they've created scoring chances, (created) penalties off of their checking. When they play that way, I think it allows us to follow that suit too."

* NOTES -- After being recalled to back up Elliott Thursday night, the Blues sent Jake Allen back to the Chicago Wolves of the American Hockey League. Allen was called up to back up because the Blues left Jaroslav Halak (flu) home to recover. ... Hitchcock on if he retrieved the game puck for his 100th coaching win here: "No ... I got it though. I didn't know that stuff. I don't read the game notes. I should read the game notes a little more."

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