Saturday, January 17, 2015

Elliott, top line help Blues blank Leafs 3-0

Steen, Backes, Oshie lead offense with combined five points

ST. LOUIS -- Brian Elliott was extremely busy in the first period Saturday against the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Maybe it was exactly what the Blues goalie needed, because once the Blues settled in, the game eased up for Elliott, and he was on top of his game.

Elliott made 27 saves for his 28th NHL shutout and the Blues defeated the Maple Leafs 3-0 at Scottrade Center.

Elliott, who leads the NHL with a 1.90 goals-against average and is fourth with a .929 save percentage, faced 15 of his 27 shots in the first period.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Brian Elliott (1) makes one of his 27 saves on Toronto's Daniel Winnik in a
3-0 shutout victory by the Blues against the Maple Leafs on Saturday night.

After sustaining a knee sprain Nov. 25 against the Ottawa Senators that sidelined Elliott for roughly five weeks, he's played in seven games and looked like the Elliott of old for the first time, according to his coach.

"I thought he had a lot of work to do," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said of Elliott. "This is, for me, the best he's played; not just because he got a shutout, but this is the best he's played since coming back from the injury for sure. He had work today because we gave up odd-man rushes. We don't normally do that, but we gave up some. They were interesting odd-man rushes because that's the first time in a long time where we played a team that was able to create turnovers in their own zone that led to odd-man rushes. He had some saves he had to make today."

Elliott challenged shooters, and his rebound control was obvious from the first save.

"I just wanted to kind of take the no prisoners approach," Elliott said. "Just go out there and worry about my own game and everybody else takes care of the rest outside of me, and I was able to do that."

Elliott has 19 shutouts with the Blues, one less than the franchise record held by Jaroslav Halak. He received help from the top line of Alexander Steen, David Backes and T.J. Oshie, which combined for five points. Steen led the way with a goal and an assist, Backes had two assists and Oshie scored a goal. The line has 49 points in the past 11 games and the line held Toronto's line of Tyler Bozak, Phil Kessel and James van Riemsdyk to six shots.

"They step up," Blues defensemen Alex Pietrangelo said of the group. "They’re the leaders of this team up front for a reason. They step up on big occasions. When we need them to score a goal or make a defensive play, they’re always there for us.

"Their checking is creating that offense. The odd man rushes, the opportunities in the other zone. We’re out there quite a bit and we see how easy it is for us to stay in the offensive zone when they’re creating turnovers the way they are. The way they forecheck, it’s going to make the defense be on their heels."

Elliott, in his teammates' minds, also stepped up.

"'Moose' was real solid in the net, I thought," Steen said. "Our 'D' played really well tonight as a corps."

"We’ve had no questions inside this room," Pietrangelo said of Elliott. "We know what he can do. Tonight’s a prime example. Outstanding performance by him. 

"I thought we did a great job, too, as a group eliminating second chance opportunities. He’s pushing pucks where they can’t get them and we’re clearing in front of the net. It’s a good overall effort defensively."

Kevin Shattenkirk also scored for the Blues (28-13-4), who are 6-0-1 in their past seven games and moved two points ahead of the Chicago Blackhawks for second place in the Central Division.

The Blues have outscored the opposition 33-13 in the seven games. They are 4-0-1 during a seven-game homestand. It was the first meeting between the two teams since the trade that sent Roman Polak to the maple Leafs for Carl Gunnarsson and a 2014 fourth-round pick.

Hitchcock moved into sole possession of fifth place on the NHL all-time wins list with 685. He passed Pat Quinn on Saturday.

The Maple Leafs (22-21-3) went 0-4-0 on their four-game trip and were outscored 12-1. They are 1-5-0 since replacing Randy Carlyle with interim coach Peter Horachek.

Toronto has been shut out five times this season and in three of the four games on its road trip. The Maple Leafs have scored one goal in the past 241:13.

Goalie Jonathan Bernier made 30 saves and lost his third straight start and fifth in six games.

Shattenkirk's eighth goal of the season came off when he split two players, then backhanded a shot that went off the stick of Toronto forward James van Riemsdyk, off Bernier's glove and inside the near post with 3:20 remaining in the first period to give St. Louis a 1-0 lead.

The goal was Shattenkirk's 39th point, tops among NHL defensemen. Mark Giordano of the Calgary Flames had 37 points prior to facing the San Jose Sharks on Saturday.

It was a strong finish to the first period by the Blues, who outshot the Maple Leafs 7-1 after being down 14-6 for much of the period.

Steen, a former Maple Leaf, gave the Blues a 2-0 lead 1:38 into the third period when he waited out Bernier before lifting a backhander high into the net. 

"He’s extremely patient as a goalie, and doesn’t really bite on a lot of stuff," Steen said of Bernier. "I was just trying to wait as long as I could."
(St. Louis Blues photo)
T.J. Oshie (left) and Ian Cole (right) celebrate a goal scored by Alexander
Steen (middle) on Saturday night. The Blues blanked Toronto 3-0.

Oshie made it 3-0 when he converted Steen's pass on 2-on-1, beating Bernier with a wrist shot from the slot with five minutes remaining.

The Blues tightened up the defense and helped Elliott post his second shutout of the season and the team's fifth.

"I thought the second half of the second period and then as we ground down the game in the third, I thought we really started to get on top of our game and start to play really well there in the third," Hitchcock said. "[Toronto] poured a lot into it too early. They really wanted these points badly. They poured a lot into it and it forced us to really compete at a high level. 

"I didn't think we were at the level we needed to be at the start of the hockey game on our 1-on-1 puck battles, but as the game went on, I thought we got better and better with it."

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