Defenseman lost due to lower-body injury, Backes for game-misconduct;
Blues find way to win despite losing two players for second time in three games
WASHINGTON -- Without two of their most important pieces, and doing so for the second time in four days, the Blues are finding ways to win.
In the grand scheme of things, this is where a team's depth is magnified, and for the Blues, they're persevering.
Playing much of the game without defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk and captain David Backes, one from injury and the other because of a major penalty and subsequent game-misconduct, the Blues got three points each from Alexander Steen and T.J. Oshie in a 4-3 victory against the Washington Capitals on Sunday afternoon before 18,506 at Verizon Center.
|(St. Louis Blues photo)|
Vladimir Tarasenko (91) celebrates with T.J. Oshie (left) and Jay
Bouwmeester after scoring in the third period of a 4-3 win Sunday.
The Blues (32-13-4), improved to 10-0-1 in the past 11 games, which is one game off the last time they went 12 straight games with a point (11-0-1 in 2000-01, a franchise record).
And not only did they win, they did it in impressive -- and shorthanded -- fashion.
And they did it in front of their dads, who now leave after seeing their sons go 3-0-0 with them watching above. Some of the dads will hang around longer, but for most, the Blues sent them off in grand style.
Steen, Oshie, Jaden Schwartz (two assists) were among the top forwards to step up, Vladimir Tarasenko scored a huge goal, Alex Pietrangelo played the most minutes in a game of his career (32 minutes, 15 seconds), Brian Elliott made 33 saves -- and some crucial ones -- and players that don't normally get tons of responsibility (Ian Cole played 20:42 and a big goal from Dmitrij Jaskin) really stepped up.
"This was a real gutsy win," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. "This was ... missing players like that, you lose one of your top defensemen the (third) shift into the game, your captain goes out and we didn't hang on, we played really well. There's wins and then there's really impressive wins. This was a very impressive win for us.
"... It's the same people that you count on coming and doing the job for you. Guys like Steen and Oshie really pick up their game. They went to another level. Backend, Petro went to another level. They recognize time, score, place, circumstances and stepped up big time ... big, big time."
Despite two goals and an assist from Alex Ovechkin, the Blues won in a building where the Capitals (25-15-10) lost only five previous times in regulation.
"It was hard," said Oshie, who had three assists. "They're a good team. It seems like a different team from the one we remember from the past. They worked hard, they're physical, they got some good goaltending back there and their 'D' can move the puck. It was a really good battle for us, a really good test. Definitely hurts losing those guys, but everyone in here stuck together and we played hard. The guys that got more minutes that they don't normally get, they stepped up to the plate for us."
Said Steen, who had two goals and an assist: "This stuff happens all the time. It's just part of the game. It's unfortunate losing two big pieces. Our focus had to be on winning the game. I think we did a good job. We got a big goal from 'Jask' there and then 'Tank' kind of gave us a little bit of a breather."
"I thought we were pretty disciplined and caught them on a couple changes and neutral zone turnovers where we can get going," Steen added. "'Tank' had a couple chances, I had a couple chances. There's still a few mistakes, but then they happen, 'Moose' makes some killer saves. There's a couple odd angles which he somehow gets a piece of, which is obviously the reason why we were winning."
The first period was a heavy-hitting game, and Ovechkin led the charge early with a big hit on Alex Pietrangelo behind the Blues' net.
But the Blues' big news came with losing Shattenkirk to a lower-body injury.
Shattenkirk impeded Ovechkin's path to the goal, and the two collided and Shattenkirk slid into the corner defensive boards, slowly got to the bench and limped off to the locker room. He did not return after playing only three shifts and 2:26.
"Uh, oh," Pietrangelo said of the team's reaction. "First thing you've got to make sure he's OK. We didn't know what happened. He's such a key player on this team. It's tough to lose a guy like that. We'll see how he feels moving forward here, but if he's not playing, might as well step up again."
The teams traded power play goals in the period, with Steen scoring 2:34 in after Peters made a point-blank save on Schwartz, but Ovechkin's 30th of the season, a one-timer from the left circle -- heard that a time or two -- that beat Elliott short side at 9:50.
With Shattenkirk out, things got worse the Blues, who also lost Backes 5:25 into the second period when a check from behind on Washington defenseman Karl Alzner resulted in a cut by the left eye and Backes was given a five-minute boarding major and game misconduct.
According to Rule 41.5, any injury to the head/face results in an automatic game misconduct, so the Blues were down two of their best players but managed to find themselves ahead after two periods.
They first were able to kill off Backes' major and allow only two shots while getting one of their own.
The momentum swung heavily in the Blues' favor.
"The key to the game was how we did on the five-minute major," Hitchcock said. "They had one scoring chance. We took the energy out of the building, took the energy out of their team. Our guys did a great job killing the penalty. We did it with a lot of pressure. We ended up with two scoring chances with it. That to me gave us the wind that we needed to believe. We really started to play after we got through that kill. We really started to play."
"The five-minute penalty that we had and killed off, that was kind of a turning point," Elliott said. "We said we're going to be here and we're going to try and take two points away from it.
"The way we did it was the biggest thing. Guys were pressuring when we needed to pressure and working together. When our penalty kill's doing that, there's usually not much the other team can get on us."
Pietrangelo added: "It's confidence for us and frustrates their best players. This is a team that thrives on the power play. They expect to go out there and score every time. ... We showed some real good character."
The Blues then got goals from Steen and Jaskin sandwiched around Ovechkin's second of the game.
Steen's second of the game came after a Carl Gunnarsson outlet pass, then Steen, T.J. Oshie and Vladimir Tarasenko's tic-tac-toe passing led to Steen knocking in his own rebound 11:45 into the second for a 2-1 lead.
But Ovechkin tied it back up 2-2 at 14:30 after he got a stick in front of Jay Bouwmeester's outlet pass, Niklas Backstrom kept the puck in at the blue line and wheeled to Ovechkin, whose shot from the left circle caromed off Bouwmeester's stick and inside the far post.
But Jaskin, playing with Schwartz and Paul Stastny, gave the Blues a 3-2 lead at 15:57 when he followed up Schwartz's shot, took a shot himself and collected the rebound that caromed off Troy Brouwer and beat goalie Justin Peters from the slot.
Tarasenko gave the Blues a 4-2 lead 6:13 into the third period after Oshie made a smart read and ensuing backhand chip to spring Steen and Tarasenko loose.
Steen slid a pass to Tarasenko in the slot and the Blues' leading goal-scorer (25) made no mistake with a one-timer past Peters.
"I know when Steener plays center, for whatever reason, once we get going, Steener likes to go," Oshie said. "I thought if I could just get the puck by Carlson, I believe it was, who was pinching the wall, I thought if I could just get to the inside, they'd be able to skate onto it. You can't really aim for someone's stick there, but it just so happens it was there and they made a great play."
"It was a good read," Steen said. "He had a little peak over his shoulder and saw that we were gone. He just kind of tapped it out in the neutral zone; it was a great play. Great finish by Tank."
|(St. Louis Blues photo)|
Alexander Steen's two goals and assist helped lead the Blues to a 4-3 win
at Washington against the Capitals on Sunday.
Alzner's seeing-eye goal from the left boards through traffic that Elliott saw made it a one-goal game with 7:32 remaining, but the Capitals couldn't come up with the tying goal.
"We're back to finding ways to get points," Hitchcock said. "This game can really be a building block for us in the future."
And as far as the dads?
"We wanted to do it for the dads up in the stands and make it a happy trip home," Elliott said. "That's what you've got to do on the roads sometimes, especially in buildings like this when a team is playing pretty hot and pretty dangerous scoring-wise. We got some goals and hung onto a lead."
And Elliott's dad?
"It was probably a double-fist pump up there," Elliott said.
* NOTE -- Hitchcock said afterwards that all injured players, including Jori Lehtera and Patrik Berglund will be evaluated on Monday and a further update won't come likely until Tuesday. The Blues are off Monday before hosting Tampa Bay on Tuesday.