Thursday, March 13, 2014

Sobotka stars in Blues' 6-2 thumping of Oilers

Center returns after missing 12 games, ties career-high in 
points with three; Schwartz, Oshie, Steen add seven points in victory

ST. LOUIS -- Vladimir Sobotka may be up to speed with his game on the ice, but his Blues teammates may want to help him with English vernacular.

Especially when those teammates are paying him high compliments.

After missing the past 12 games due to injury, Sobotka returned Thursday night with a goal and two assists to lead the Blues to a 6-2 win against the Edmonton Oilers at Scottrade Center. 
(St. Louis Blues/Mark Buckner)
Vladimir Sobotka returned to the Blues lineup after missing 12
games. He scored a goal and added two assists in a 6-2 win over
the Edmonton Oilers Thursday night at Scottrade Center.

Sobotka, who broke his left kneecap Jan. 31 against the Carolina Hurricanes, is more known for his 200-foot game, but his offensive skill set was on full display against the Oilers as he matched his career-high for points.

But Sobotka, a Czech Republic native, isn't familiar with the term, "He didn't miss a beat."

"I told him that on the ice ... he didn't know what I meant," joked Jaden Schwartz, who scored his 20th and 21st goals of the season. "He worked hard to get back. He's a guy that's got good instincts and works hard. It's good to see him have a game like that.

"He's doing his job and we want to make sure we're following guys like that. It's fun to watch. You want to push yourself to the next level when you see guys playing like that."

It was the fifth time Sobotka matched three points in his career, the last being March 9, 2013 when he scored his only hat trick against the San Jose Sharks. Sobotka was on par the entire night playing with T.J. Oshie and Vladimir Tarasenko.

"I would say it probably took me two or three shifts," Sobotka said. "Then I kind of got going. I just kept it simple on the ice. I tried to keep up with Vladi and Osh.

"As a line, we skated. We put the puck deep and didn't turn it over too much. That was our game plan."

Blues coach Ken Hitchcock was impressed.

"He's a smart player," Hitchcock said of Sobotka. "Take control of the middle of the ice, smart, had good tempo to his game and distributed the puck. It looked like the same guy that ... I think it's pretty impressive for a guy to miss six weeks and really has not practice other than he's got worked a lot at optionals."

The Blues scored three times in a 7:14 span in the third period to snap a 2-2 tie on the way to the big win, which gave them 97 points, four more than their closest competitors, the Anaheim Ducks and Sharks. 

Oshie had a goal and two assists, Tarasenko had a goal and an assist, and Alexander Steen had two assists for the Blues, who improved to 45-14-7. Ryan Miller stopped 23 shots to improve to 5-0-1 in six games with the Blues. Miller has a 1.82 goals-against average and a .924 save percentage while stopping 134 of 145 shots. He's 7-0-0 for his career against the Oilers. 

The Blues won all three games against the Oilers this season and eight of the past nine. St. Louis outscored Edmonton 17-4 this season. 

The Oilers got goals from former Blues forward David Perron and defenseman Mark Fraser. Ben Scrivens stopped 31 shots.

Giving up four goals in the third period did not sit well with Oilers coach Dallas Eakins.

"I don't care how good they are," Eakins said of the Blues. "We were able to play with them for two periods. We should certainly be able to do it for another 20 minutes."

The teams went to the second intermission tied at 2-2, but the Blues blew the game open in the third. Alex Pietrangelo scored 42 seconds into the period on a feed from Sobotka, who stripped Oilers defenseman Andrew Ference of the puck behind the Edmonton goal. It was Pietrangelo's eighth goal, second in as many games.

"It certainly looked like he didn't miss a beat," Pietrangelo said of Sobotka. "It's a big return. It's certainly helped us here. We kind of needed that.

"Sometimes when you find those holes, you tend to find them again. Sometimes the bounces go the other way. Hopefully I keep getting the bounces." 

Schwartz scored at 4:25 to make it 4-2 on a one-timer from the slot off a David Backes feed. Oshie scored his 17th goal on another one-timer from the side of the goal with the Blues on a two-man advantage at 7:56. Schwartz scored his 21st goal when he cleaned up another rebound, this time off a Maxim Lapierre shot, to make it 6-2 at 12:56. 

Perron fired a wrister past Miller for his team-leading 25th of the season off a pass from Taylor Hall to give Edmonton a 1-0 lead 7:39 into the game. 

"I thought we had them when we scored there because ... well, obviously I knew there was a lot of time [remaining], but at the same time I know they get the first goal most of the games and I remember from playing over there, when the other team would get the first goal, it would be hard to get back in the game," Perron said. "They're set up to play with the lead and when they get the lead, it's impossible to come back on them pretty much.

"But it's good for our team to see what it's like to play one of the teams that's going to go far in the playoffs. We know what we're missing and we'll try to adjust slowly and slowly."

Sobotka took a saucer feed from Tarasenko in the slot and made a strong drive to the net, fighting through Ryan Nugent-Hopkins before going backhand to forehand in tight to beat Scrivens at 18:48 of the first to tie the game 1-1. It was Tarasenko's sixth assist in the past seven games. 

Oshie, Sobotka and Tarasenko combined on the rush to give the Blues a 2-1 lead 5:05 into the second period. Sobotka dropped the puck just inside the Edmonton blue line to Tarasenko, who sent a cross ice feed to Oshie before taking the return pass and wristing his 20th goal past Scrivens high stick side. 

The Oilers tied the game when Fraser scored his first of the season, fourth of his career, with 1:57 left in the second period. 

Barret Jackman took a knee to the head from Oilers forward Jesse Joensuu, leaving the Blues defenseman lying face-first on the ice. But instead of blowing the play dead, referees Kevin Pollack and Chris Rooney allowed play to continue as per rule 8.1 of the NHL Official Rule Book, and Fraser's shot from the slot trickled through Miller, who immediately began arguing with Pollack for not stopping the play immediately and for not blowing the play dead when he felt Joensuu interfered with him in the crease.

Jackman returned for the third period after receiving stitches on his right ear from the skate blade of Joensuu.

"I got bumped as I challenged the play, I couldn't make my move the other way," Miller said. "I had to spin off of it. If the guy's going to set a pick ... it is what it is.

"We came out and played a great third period and didn't have to worry about it. I was a little ticked ... go out and take it to these guys a little bit."
(St. Louis Blues/Mark Buckner)
Vladimir Sobotka (17) fends off Edmonton defenseman Andrew Ference
during Thursday night's game at Scottrade Center. 

"I know the rule and unfortunately unless it's a catastrophic injury, if it's in your zone and you don't have possession of it, you've got to play," Hitchcock said. "What I didn't like was the interference on the goalie. I didn't like that part. The other part, Jacks is like Bergie. They're both tough guys."

The Blues got back to getting pucks behind the Oilers and played in the offensive zone. The fast-skating Oilers were not allowed to get into a transitional flow. 

"It was like three games," Hitchcock said. "The first period was exactly what we needed to do and half the third period was exactly what we needed to do. When we play with tempo, when we play with speed through the neutral zone, we're really effective. We put a lot of pressure on people, our players skate with the puck, we play that north game."

Patrik Berglund left the game late in the third period after getting undercut by Edmonton's Boyd Gordon. He needed to be helped off the ice by trainer Ray Barile, but Hitchcock said afterwards Berglund was fine and will be day to day. 

"Bergie's a tough Swede, Jacks is a tough Canadian," Hitchcock said. "I knew both would get up and get going again."

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