Saturday, February 8, 2014

Oshie, Tarasenko shootout goals send Blues to Olympics atop division

Shootout victory over Jets ties St. Louis 
with Chicago atop Central Division standings

ST. LOUIS -- The goal was to be sitting atop the Central Division standings when the Olympic break came.

Mission accomplished for the Blues.

It wasn't easy. It certainly wasn't pretty by any stretch, especially during the recently-concluded four-game homestand. But the Blues finished it 3-0-1, took a possible seven of eight points and they now have 84 on the season, which is tied with the Chicago Blackhawks for the top spot in the Central Division (the Blues have three games in hand).
(St. Louis Blues/Mark Buckner)
Vladimir Tarasenko (right) scores the game-winner off Winnipeg goalie Al
Montoya to win a shootout for the Blues Saturday afternoon.

T.J. Oshie and Vladimir Tarasenko wanted a quick ending to Saturday's contest with the Winnipeg Jets. They got it, sort of. 

It took a another shootout, the third in the homestand, but the the United States Olympian Oshie and hometown Russian Olympian Tarasenko boarded planes Saturday night with smiles after scoring in the shootout, and Brian Elliott stopped both shooters he saw in a 4-3 victory at Scottrade Center.

Oshie also scored in the shootout for the Blues, his seventh in 10 tries this season and 25th in 46 career attempts, and Brian Elliott stopped attempts by Bryan Little and Andrew Ladd.

The Blues are now 7-3 in shootouts this season, and the trio of Oshie, Tarasenko and Alexander Steen is a combined 14-for-23.

"It's kind of the fun part of the game where you do it at the end of practice with goalies since you were a kid," said Oshie, who will now depart for Russia as a member of the United States Olympic team. "It's something I've always had fun doing. You just try to switch it up. I know (goalies) watch video just like we do. I just try to be unpredictable out there."

St. Louis won in a shootout for the second time during its concluded four-game homestand. The Blues finished 3-0-1, with three of the games ending in shootouts and one ending in overtime.

The Blues, who were 0-for-8 on the power play and they're not without a goal in 20 straight man advantage opportunities, used Steen in the first round and Montoya made a stop. After Elliott grabbed Little's wrister, Oshie dangled a shot before roofing a shot over Montoya. 

Ladd's attempt went off Elliott and the post, then Tarasenko jetted in and slapped a shot to Montoya's right to end it. 

"We know that we have some good shooters in the shootout and if we make a save or two on the backend, it works out," Elliott said. "Before the third period, Tarasenko was next to me in the urinal. He was saying, 'Keep going.' I said, 'Go get one for me,' and he did in the end, so it's pretty cool going into the break here."

Brenden Morrow and Derek Roy each had a goal and an assist, Jaden Schwartz scored and Elliott stopped 28 shots. The Blues (39-12-6) and Chicago Blackhawks each have 84 points, but St. Louis has played three fewer games.

The Blues set a goal to get to the break by being in first place.

Mission accomplished.

"Everybody's excited," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. "I think today's game was typical of what this last 10 days has been like. Really good in the first, poor in the second and then good again in the third with much better control. 

"It's been a very difficult challenge for the players to maintain a hard focus, and they deserve a lot of credit for every time we got pushed and shoved, we answered the bell."  

St. Louis improved to 15-0-1 against divisional opponents. Blues coach Ken Hitchcock passed Scotty Bowman into sole possession of fourth place for all-time franchise victories with 111. 

Mark Scheifele scored twice, Dustin Byfuglien scored a power-play goal, Blake Wheeler had two assists and Al Montoya made 23 saves for the Jets (28-26-6), who dropped their second in a row despite battling back from three one-goal deficits. Winnipeg is now 9-4-0 under coach Paul Maurice.

But the Blues somehow mustered up enough to grab two points and catch the Blackhawks, and with a rugged March schedule coming up, getting all the points now is a must.

"Everybody knows that we've got a whole other gear we're going to have to play at and we've got another gear we can play at," Hitchcock said. "To get points every night is pretty important right now."

Schwartz broke a 2-2 tie by scoring 34 seconds into the third period after an offensive-zone faceoff win by Patrik Berglund and a feed from Barret Jackman, who picked up the 139th assist of his career in his 700th regular-season game. 

The Jets tied the game for the third time when Byfuglien took a drop pass from Wheeler and fired a slap shot from the right point that got through Elliott with 6:17 remaining. 

Scheifele's second of the game came after a failed clear by the Blues. Wheeler sent Scheifele in on Elliott, and the rookie curled to the net before flipping home a backhander at 10:22 of the second to tie the game 2-2. 

Morrow's second goal in three games got the scoring started 7:39 into the game. He took a drop pass from Tarasenko and fired a wrister from the right circle past Montoya. 

The Jets got even at 12:33 when Scheifele set up in the low slot and fired Devin Setoguchi's pass from behind the net behind Elliott as a power play expired. The Blues were serving a bench minor for too many men, which has been problematic for them in the past. 

Roy's first goal since Dec. 12 against the Toronto Maple Leafs (25 games) came after the Blues got a break, when Alex Pietrangelo fired a puck into the Winnipeg zone and the puck hit referee Jon McIsaac. Morrow picked up the loose puck and made a cross-ice feed to Roy for a one-timer from the low left circle with 2:22 left in the first to give the Blues a 2-1 lead.

Morrow and Roy gave the Blues a lift when needed early.

"We're fortunate with a couple good bounces," Morrow said. "... It felt early in an afternoon game to get out and get a couple under your belt. We were able to get a big two points.
(St. Louis Blues/Mark Buckner)
Blues goalie Brian Elliott (1) makes a glove save on Winnipeg's Bryan
Little during a shootout Saturday at Scottrade Center.

"The last couple weeks have been real strange hockey for us. There's parts of our game we're going to have to clean up down the stretch, but this is the point of the season where there's some sloppy things that are happening and you've just got to grind it out and find ways to collect points." 

The Blues played the final 45 minutes without defenseman Jordan Leopold, who collided awkwardly with Jets defenseman Zach Bogosian behind the Winnipeg net and had to be helped off the ice. He was favoring his right leg. Hitchcock said afterwards Leopold is "not good." 

Both goalies made key saves in the third, with Montoya gloving Schwartz's shorthanded effort to keep it a 3-2 game, and Elliott thwarting Scheifele's hat trick bid with a stop on a one-timer from the slot with 2:18 left of a 3-3 game.

The Blues now send nine players to the Olympics. The Jets are sending four. The teams reconvene for the remainder of the NHL schedule on Feb. 26.

* NOTE -- The Blues assigned Dmitrij Jaskin to the Chicago Wolves of the American Hockey League Saturday. Jaskin has played in seven games and has one goal and picked up his first NHL assist Tuesday against Ottawa.

No comments:

Post a Comment