Sunday, October 26, 2014

Victory against Blackhawks gets Blues back on right track

Not a must-win but 3-2 victory against Chicago resulted in crucial two points

ST. LOUIS -- It was only the seventh game of the season, and only is used very delicately since points are just as meaningful in October as they are in April.

But for the Blues, the two points earned in a 3-2 victory against the Chicago Blackhawks on Saturday night, they were in a sense, desperately needed.

But looking at the big picture as the Blues (3-3-1) will continue their series of early tests at Dallas Tuesday and Anaheim at home Thursday. Starting to assert themselves against some of the tougher opponents now could go a long way in the future.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Jaden Schwartz (17) and his teammates had reason to celebrate on
Saturday after a 3-2 victory against the Chicago Blackhawks. 

"I just think after a while, it's a fight for the identity of the hockey club," Blues coach  Ken Hitchcock said. "The people that are proud of the identity have to win that battle if you're going to be successful. That's what was impressive (about Saturday). We started to look like the team we are. We got goals from unsung people, which is really nice. Get a goal from (Dmitrij) Jaskin and a goal from (Ryan Reaves), but the identity of our hockey club was we were trying to play some other game that I've never seen before (and) I think the players that have been here long enough haven't seen before and they wanted to get back to some of the foundations we've built here."

The Blues have been hit with some early-season adversity, whether it's the injury bug (Paul Stastny and Carl Gunnarsson to start the season) or a surprising bacterial infection that's been going around the past week. It's much like the injury train that hit them like a ton of bricks that resulted in a six-game losing streak to end the season and ultimately, end their season against these same Blackhawks in the playoffs.

"It's slowly getting out of our system, but we're not going to use that as an excuse," said defenseman Alex Pietrangelo, who had two assists against the Blackhawks and now has seven in the past six regular season meetings. "It's never going to help the cause, but we've had a couple days here to relax and rest.

"We had to win one game to get things going back in the right direction. Nothing better than playing against an opponent like this, a division rival, big game for us. We know what they've done and coming after losing to them in the playoffs last year certainly gives you a little extra edge. I thought we all stepped up to the plate."

It didn't start out that way, as the Blues fell behind for the third straight game (1 minute, 2 seconds into the game Saturday) following Patrick Sharp's power play goal as the Blues were shorthanded by two men.

But unlike losses at Anaheim (3-0) and Vancouver (4-1), the Blues were able to regroup this time. They got a tying goal from Jaden Schwartz in the first and got two late second-period goals from Ryan Reaves and Dmitrij Jaskin (his second-career goal) in a period that was arguably the team's best.

"I though the second period was one of the best periods we've played in a long, long time, including the playoffs against them last year," Hitchcock said. "We're going to be able to take a lot of stuff from that. I thought we calmed down and started to play the way we're capable of."

The Blues' top players all didn't produce on the scoreboard, but they contributed in ways that don't always show up on the stat sheet. Captain David Backes felt it was his best game of the season in 19:01 despite no points.

"We got effort, but we got some foundational effort," Hitchcock said. "Some of our best players have worked really hard, but we haven't had any foundational effort, so we don't have any team play to draw from. (Saturday), we got some foundational efforts so we got some building blocks. We can turn around and show some video on Monday which is stuff that players can recognize that that's familiar ground and the type of game that we want to play."
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Dmitrij Jaskin (23) celebrates with his teammates after scoring on Saturday
against the Chicago Blackhawks. Jaskin's goal was the game-winner in a
3-2 victory at Scottrade Center. 

Hard to call them in October must-win games, but for the Blues, it sure felt like one. Losing three in a row would not have made the task tougher while the likes of the Ducks, Los Angeles Kings and some surprising teams in the Western Conference are setting a precedence.

"It's a big one for us; it's a big opponent, someone that's had our number the past few years," said goalie Brian Elliott, who made 22 saves. "We just wanted to get another win at home here and feel comfortable with how we need to play as a team. I think we came together and realized that, 'Hey, this is how we need to play. Let's go do it and come out with a win.'

"In a high-intensity game against a good opponent like that, we responded from our last couple games."

* NOTES -- It's early in the season, but so far, after winning 12 of 19 faceoffs Saturday, Jori Lehtera is off to a strong start in the faceoff dot and has helped alleviate the loss of Vladimir Sobotka, who was arguably the Blues' best faceoff specialist last season. Lehtera, who has won 62.6 percent of his draws, is second in the NHL in winning percentage and only trails Montreal's Manny Malhotra (67.5 percent) heading into Sunday's action. Lehtera leads the league in home winning percentage among league leaders at 68.3 percent. ... The Blues took Sunday off and will practice Monday at 10:30 a.m. at St. Louis Outlet Mall's Ice Zone before departing for a quick one-game trip to face the Stars on Tuesday. They'll then play seven of the next nine at home.

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