Monday, January 19, 2015

Blues stay red-hot with 3-1 win against Avalanche

Steen, Backes, Oshie remain on fire with four 
points; St. Louis is 7-0-1 in past eight, 5-0-1 on homestand

ST. LOUIS -- Maybe the All-Star break isn't coming at a good time for the St. Louis Blues.

With the Blues playing the way they are these days, it might not be a good idea to break the momentum built off of arguably the best hockey they've played all season. Players and coach Ken Hitchcock agreed Monday was their best game of the year.

Alexander Steen, T.J. Oshie and David Backes, who account for the Blues' top line, combined for four points against the Colorado Avalanche in a 3-1 victory at Scottrade Center on Monday.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
The Blues' Alexander Steen (20) extended his point streak to 10 games
with two assists in a 3-1 victory against Colorado on Monday night.

"We finished off the right way for sure," said left wing Jaden Schwartz, who had a goal and an assist. The Blues are 12-0-1 in the past 13 games Schwartz has played in and have outscored their opponents 60-27.

"We're happy with how the homestand went," Schwartz added. "Everyone's ready for a little time off to refresh the body and recharge for a big second half."

"Sometimes when you're playing well like we are now, you want to keep going, but the break's going to be nice," defenseman Barret Jackman said. "Going down the stretch mentally and physically, get prepared for the battle.

"The last six or seven games, this has been our best hockey. I think we've been getting contributions from a lot of different people. I think everybody's in sync right now. The forwards are battling and making a lot of smart decisions, getting pucks deep and they're back-checking is making it easy for the D-men to step up and make our transition game pretty deadly."

Steen had two assists to extend his point streak to 10 games (seven goals, 12 assists). Oshie scored a goal and has 16 points in his past 12 games, and Backes had an assist to extend his point streak to seven games (seven goals, seven assists).

"We've been rolling and we wanted to keep it going," Steen said. "Tonight I think was probably our best game this year, from goalie out. Our 'D' I thought were the key to the game, joining the rush and quick plays out of our zone. All six of them were terrific."

The Steen-Backes-Oshie line has 53 points in the past 12 games and the Blues are 7-0-1 in their past eight and 5-0-1 during their seven-game homestand. They won't play again until Jan. 29 to close out the homestand against the Nashville Predators. The eight-game point streak is a season-best.

"I think the break's at a good time," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. "I think for us, we have to pour a lot into it. A lot of physical labor has to go into the way we play; we need a break. What we do out of the break is important because we play nine games in 15 days and we play significant opponents. Look at the teams we've got right out of the break; that's a four-point game [against the Predators]. We know that the games are going to be important. 

"I think these guys getting away ... we'll get refocused. We've got three full days to get ready to play [starting Monday, Jan. 26]. That's plenty of time. We don't need three full practices to get ready to play; we need two. Our guys will know how to take care of themselves, they're mature. But I think right now with the way we have to play to win, we need a break."

Goalie Brian Elliott made 17 saves and the Blues (29-13-4) finish the season 4-1-0 against Colorado. 

Elliott has lowered his league-leading goals-against average to 1.86 and his save percentage is fourth in the NHL at .930.

"Just take the positive from (the break), enjoy it and get refreshed," Elliott said. "Try to come back even better.

"... We had a good homestand, (now) a good break and we'll fuel up for the stretch."

The Avalanche (19-18-10), who finished a five-game road trip 1-2-2, got a goal from Matt Duchene. Semyon Varlamov made 27 saves.

With the game tied 1-1, Schwartz put the Blues ahead 32 seconds into the second period with a power play goal. Steen gave Schwartz a drop pass in the slot, and his slap shot was blocked by Avalanche defenseman Erik Johnson, which came back to Schwartz, who put the rebound into an open net.

"It was a great play by [Steen] entering the zone there," Schwartz said. "Just tried to find an open spot in the slot and kind of a lucky bounce came back to me and Varlamov was cheating for the first shot, so it felt good when it went in."

Oshie gave St. Louis a 3-1 lead after the Blues' top line and top defensive pairing (Jay Bouwmeester and Alex Pietrangelo) had a lengthy amount of time in the Colorado zone. Steen passed to Backes, whose slap shot from the slot was stopped by Varlamov, but Oshie was on the doorstep for a goal 10:40 into the second period.

The goal epitomized the Blues' period of dominance and play of the top line.

"That goal is every offensive principle that we practice every day, is in that goal," Hitchcock said. "Our positioning, our full-zone activity, everything we wanted to do and everything we practice every day, pregame skates, our practices, that's the concept that we want to see and we put it in. There's five passes with a shot with traffic. We spread them out in the zone; it's exactly what we practice every day.

"... I thought the second period was the best we've played all year. Really managed the game well in the first period, played Blues hockey in the second where we just played defense by staying on our toes."

Defenseman Carl Gunnarsson's second goal of the season and first in 21 games gave the Blues a 1-0 lead after his slap shot from above the blue line deflected off Avalanche forward Alex Tanguay in the slot and past Varlamov 8:06 into the first period.

The Avalanche tied the game 1-1 after Gunnarsson lost control of the puck, and Duchene's blind backhand pass in the slot caromed off Paul Stastny's stick and past Elliott at 13:02 of the first period.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
The Blues' T.J. Oshie (left) tries to get past Colorado's Brad Stuart during a
3-1 St. Louis victory Monday night. Oshie scored the Blues' third goal.

The Blues are an NHL-best plus-37 in goal differential, they're playing at a high level in all three zones, and with this recent stretch of games, have pulled within two points of first-place Nashville in the Central Division. 

"This is about as good as it gets," Schwartz said. "We're playing really good systems, good team game right now. Everyone's involved. It seems like we've got a new hero every night. They're fun games to play in. We're controlling a lot of the game as well. Definitely a good feeling going into the break."

"We've been rolling a little bit lately and wanted to keep it going," Steen said. "Tonight I thought was probably our best game of the year from goalie out." 

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