Monday, March 24, 2014

Blues have been model of consistency all season

St. Louis, Boston only two teams in NHL not to go winless in three straight games

By LOU KORAC
PITTSBURGH -- Maintaining a level of consistency over an 82-game schedule is tough for even the best of teams to endure.

There comes a time during a rugged season when teams have to overcome some adversity. It's inevitable.

So when the Blues (48-16-7) once again defied some odds and kept that third straight loss -- or going winless in three straight -- off the record this season, it's no surprise why they lead the Western Conference and are just a point behind the Boston Bruins for the Presidents' Trophy race.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
David Backes (42) lays a hit on Pittsburgh's Robert Bortuzzo during
a 1-0 Blues victory Sunday at Consol Energy Center.

Oh by the way, the Blues and Bruins share the distinction of not going winless in three in a row. No wonder they have 104 and 103 points, respectively.

"As you've probably heard time and time again, that 82-game season is a long grind," said captain David Backes, whose lone goal in the third period provided the difference in a 1-0 victory against the Pittsburgh Penguins. "You try and keep it as even-keeled as possible. That's not always an easy thing to do. You lose two in a row and you're closer to the playoffs, there's a tendency to maybe want to panic, but when we fall back on our foundation what's made us successful, a game like (Sunday) comes out. You get 20 guys that are engaged going out there doing the right things all over the ice. The result is two points and you stop that streak before it becomes something too many people are talking about."

People were talking about the Blues losing once, when they were handily beaten by the Chicago Blackhawks 4-0. Then when it happened twice in a 4-1 loss to the Philadelphia Flyers on Saturday, things didn't look good heading into Consol Energy Center on Sunday.

But the Blues, who have only scored two goals in three games, found a way. 

"You lose one game, we don't panic, but just losing one game is unacceptable for us," defenseman Barret Jackman said. "When you go two, I thought we kept our composure (Sunday). I thought we played a real solid, team game, didn't try and over-think it. The result was shutting down some of the best players and getting the win instead of the the third loss."

Perhaps the simple philosophy and cliche of looking at games one at a time has benefited for the Blues. So when there is a loss, the team has done a good job of not dwelling on the past. They focus on the task at hand: the next opponent.

"We approach everything like a new game and new day," said goalie Brian Elliott, who backstopped all 33 shots faced Sunday to earn his 16th shutout with the Blues, tying Glenn Hall for second all-time in franchise history. "Whatever happened in the past, you can't change it. You just move on from there. Two in a row, one in a row, none in a row, you just try to play the same way and get our points and keep moving up in the standings."

Besides Elliott's clutch stops, the penalty kill was a mainstay against the NHL's top power play in the Penguins. The Blues thwarted all five Penguins opportunities, including 1 minute 38 seconds of 5-on-3 at the end of the first and start of the second on a new sheet of ice.

"I think we were well-prepared going into the game," Jackman said. "Shawsie (associate coach Brad Shaw) breaks down the penalty kill and gives you every option. He doesn't overwhelm you with information. We just went out there and we executed (Sunday)."
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Jaden Schwartz (9) and the Blues have not gone three games in a row
without a win this season, a big reason the Blues are on top in the West.

The Blues wanted to get their PK swagger back. After going through a stretch when they stopped 56 of 60 opposing power plays from Jan. 23-March 17, the Blackhawks and Flyers converted 3 of 8 opportunities.

"It's an assertive effort," Backes said. "I think we're a little desperate losing two in a row against two tough tests in Chicago and Philly coming into a building with another great team. If we don't assert ourselves on the penalty kill, play well, do all the little things and win those little battles, with the power play they have and the chances they got on the power play, potentially it could get pretty ugly and I think that scares you into playing the right way. Guys blocking shots and when we didn't do the job, Brian Elliott was 'Johnny on the Spot' making the great saves."

The Blues will hope for more of the same when they conclude the four-game trip and a shot at splitting the four games with a game against the Toronto Maple Leafs (36-29-8), who are clinging to the final wild-card playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.

The Blues defeated the Maple Leafs 6-3 at Scottrade Center on Dec. 12.

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