Thursday, January 8, 2015

Blues pour it on Sharks again with 7-2 victory

Seven players had two points or more in third 
straight win in which they've outscored opponents 20-4 

ST. LOUIS -- Confidence is a funny thing.

When the Blues were in the middle of a 1-5-1 rut, confidence wavered in multiple directions

And most of it was in the direction of hesitancy, which is not good when hockey plays need to be made in a split second.

But after the Blues' 7-2 thrashing of the San Jose Sharks on Thursday night at Scottrade Center -- their second win against the Sharks by identical scores in six days -- the Blues' confidence has never been higher.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Jori Lehtera (12) moves the puck away from the Sharks' Logan 
Couture during Thursday's 7-2 Blues victory at Scottrade Center.

As coach Ken Hitchcock would say, the team is "playing the right way." The Blues are rolling four lines, mistakes are being minimized, plays are being made without hesitation and the goaltending has stabilized. But most importantly, the Blues (25-13-3) are healthy.

"The first 12 minutes was just a continuation of the way we played on the road pretty much. We were dialed in," Hitchcock said. "We actually looked the same. There was good energy, good focus, really unselfish hockey. Unselfish hockey for me is what's really evident right now. A lot of things we're doing, the team play aside, when you're unselfish, you come off the ice at the right time, you change at the right time, you leave your teammate in a good spot, you're going to have success. To me, the goals are a result of the way we're playing. We're playing the right way and it's having a big impact on keeping the group together.

"... You can either stay unselfish and have success, or you can go the other way, and we're at that area right now where we hope that we remain unselfish. We need to be really unselfish until the end of the (All-Star) break here. That's going to require real strong performances by our leaders the right way. I've said this before, we play the right way because we've got people to follow. If we lose the people that we need to follow, we're going to be stumbling around like a lot of other teams are. We've got a really good situation going right now. The right people have followed; we just can't let go of it."

The Blues haven't let go of anything in their way here in wins against the Sharks twice and the Arizona Coyotes. 

"We’re making positive steps, it seems like each night, and it starts with getting pucks deep," said right wing T.J. Oshie, who had a goal and an assist to extend his point streak to seven games (six goals, seven assists). "Now we’ve really got everyone playing really good hockey. We’ve got our D skating for the forwards, our forwards getting back and tracking for the D. Everything’s kind of coming together. Now we just have to keep our heads level and stick with it.

"... We’re really helping each other out. Even with some mistakes, with our positioning, our tracking, we’re covering over for each other and that’s limiting the other team’s grade-A scoring chances. The other stuff, for the most part, our goalies are cleaning up for us as well."

The Blues, who got a goal and an assist each from Oshie, David Backes, Alexander Steen, Jori Lehtera and Paul Stastny, also got three assists from Jaden Schwartz and two from Vladimir Tarasenko.

Offensively, three lines are contributing at the same time, which is something Hitchcock has been searching for since the start of the season, and it's given the Blues potency that hasn't been seen around here in quite some time.

"You look at the Stastny group (with Dmitrij Jaskin and Patrik Berglund), they've been going very hot lately," said Hitchcock, whose team has outscored their opponents 20-4 the past three games. "The first 10 games, it was Lehtera. You look at the third packet, it was Lehtera's group. We've never had both groups going, but there's always been one group that's been really focused, energized and carrying us. I find that really unique. The trade-off between one group that's struggling and the other group that seems to be picking it up. That's what to me has kept us at a high level."

And how about Backes, Steen and Oshie? Six more points between them tonight give them 35 in the past seven games. Steen has 12 points in seven games and Backes has 10 in seven.

"My linemates are playing pretty good right now," Oshie said. "So that makes it a lot easier. Steener and Backs and myself, we’re all taking pride in playing the same way and playing a very north direct game. When we first got back together (Dec. 27) we were putting pucks into areas that we want to on the team and now we’re starting to get that chemistry back to where we’re putting pucks in areas where we know where each other are going to be and that’s extending our zone time, that’s extending our puck possession time and that’s where most of our offense is coming from."

Steen, Jay Bouwmeester and Stastny scored first-period goals sandwiched around a Logan Couture shorthanded goal, and even after San Jose (22-15-5) scored 29 seconds into the second on a Melker Karlsson goal, Lehtera and Oshie responded and chased Antti Niemi from the Sharks goal for the second time in as many games against the Blues.

Niemi allowed five goals on 21 shots and gave up 11 goals on 48 shots in the two games against the Blues.

Berglund and Backes added third-period goals against backup Alex Stalock.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
The Blues' (from left to right) Kevin Shattenkirk, Alexander Steen, David 
Backes and T.J. Oshie have been celebrating a lot of goals lately. Here,
they celebrate a goal during a 7-2 win against San Jose on Thursday. 

"We haven't let the other team up off the mat; we've kept the pressure up," Hitchcock said. "We've got four lines right now that can really play."

No kidding.

"We've had leads and teams have had to take chances on us," said Stastny, who has 10 points in seven games. "... Hitch has kind of spread out the forwards more than he has probably early in the season and it's paying off.

"It was a tough stretch for a little bit. Guys weren't having too much fun and maybe some guys felt there was too much pressure, but sometimes you've just got to loosen up a little bit. I think Christmas break did that for us."

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