Thursday, November 19, 2015

Special teams critical in Blues' 3-2 shootout win against Sabres

Penalty kill thwarts pair of 5-on-3's, 
power play scores twice, Steen nets SO winner

ST. LOUIS -- It's not often a team can can skate away from a pair of two-man advantages by the opposition and claim two points at the end of the night.

But when the Blues thwarted the Buffalo Sabres for a total of 2:36 of 5-on-3 power play time and score two power play goals themselves and get the necessary timely saves from Jake Allen, it made for a perfect night.

And when Alexander Steen scored in the third round of the shootout, it gave the Blues a 3-2 victory before 17,359 at Scottrade Center.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Alexander Steen (20) fights for a loose puck with Buffalo's Brian Gionta on
Thursday. Steen scored in a shootout to give the Blues a 3-2 victory.

The Blues have defeated the Sabres seven straight times and outscored them 24-7. The Blues have won 17 of 19 meetings since 1999 and outscored them 66-31.

The score was tied 2-2 on both occasions when the Blues (13-6-1) first thwarted the Sabres (8-9-2) during a 49-second two-man advantage at the end of the second and into the third period, and then in the third five minutes in, Buffalo had a 5-on-3 man advantage for 1:47.

Each time, the Blues and goalie Jake Allen slammed the door, and gave St. Louis the opportunity at a second point, which they would eventually get.

Buffalo had six shots during the two-man advantage in the third period, but Allen stopped all six, including a sprawling glove save on Ryan O'Reilly.

"I don't see my specific stops. I see it as a whole unit killing the penalty," Allen said. "I'm just part of the group that kills the penalty. Our job's to weather that storm for as long as need be and get back to 5-on-5, and we did that.

"Just get over there (on O'Reilly), be as big as you can and got bat on it."

The Blues, who got power play goals from Kevin Shattenkirk and Vladimir Tarasenko, were 2-for-3 on the power play and completed a night of special teams' success.

"It was special teams and the goaltender that won the game for us," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. "Penalty killing was outstanding. Power play, we scored early in the five-minute power play and then we kind of logged around the rest and then had a great power play goal in the second period. The guys that killed penalties, especially those guys that were out there on the 5-on-3, did an outstanding job."

But Steen, who beat Sabres goalie Linus Ullmark in the third round of the shootout, said the penalty killing starts and stops with the goalie.

"You're best penalty killer is your goalie and again he made some big saves," Steen said of Allen, who made 32 saves. "... We kind of structurally kept them to the outside. They got a couple of bounces through. O'Reilly gets a good look and [Allen] challenges him. He's just such a solid goalie, it's unbelievable."

Steen started the third round by sneaking a backhand shot inside the near post past Sabres goalie Linus Ullmark. The goal stood after a video review. Sabres forward Evander Kane then hit the post behind Allen, ending the game.

"It's kind of one motion," Steen said of his shootout. "It's even tough for me to say. I felt like (Ullmark) was coming so far out on 'Shatty' and 'Vlad' that if I make a quick move and beat him to the post, without getting it up, I thought I'd beat him. He was quick. He got back in a hurry. I was fortunate, it just squeaked over the line."

Each team had scoring chances in the 3-on-3 overtime. Tarasenko hit the post with 1:32 remaining.

Sam Reinhart and O'Reilly scored goals, and Ullmark made 27 saves for the Sabres (8-9-2). But Buffalo came away lamenting the missed opportunities, especially with the man advantage.

"We had a plus-2 on the 5-on-5 tonight," Sabres coach Dan Bylsma said. "I thought the special teams pretty much dictated the whole game right from the beginning with the major penalty that we took. We obviously had the two 5-on-3 situations at the end of the second and the third period, but 5-on-5, we're playing a tough team, a hard place to play, a hard place to get points and I thought we battled them pretty good."

"It's frustrating, you know," O'Reilly said. "I thought we had a good jumping start. We have to be better in the PK. It's my responsibility as well. Power play again; two 5-on-3's, that's a must-convert. That's on me. I had multiple chances to bury them."

The Blues had five minutes of power-play time to work with after Buffalo's Tyler Ennis was given a major penalty for boarding when he shoved defenseman Alex Pietrangelo into the boards at 5:00. The Blues capitalized quickly when Shattenkirk took a pass from Steen and fired a slap shot from the top of the right circle that beat Ullmark at 5:34. It was Shattenkirk's second goal of the season. But the Sabres regrouped and killed off the remaining 4:26 of the power play without allowing the Blues another shot on goal.

Buffalo tied the game 1:31 into the second period when Reinhart took a cross-ice feed from Jack Eichel and beat Allen for his fourth of the season.

The Blues converted on the power play again at 4:28. Tarasenko scored his team-leading 12th of the season on a wrist shot from the slot to Ullmark's stick side for a 2-1 lead.

The Sabres tied the game for the second time at 11:56 when Brian Gionta fed O'Reilly all alone in the slot, and O'Reilly scored his team-high seventh of the season with a wrist shot over Allen's glove.

The Blues were able to kill off 49 seconds of Buffalo's 5-on-3 power play late in the second and escaped the period even at 2-2 when the Sabres put the puck in the net after time expired.

Each team had scoring chances in the 3-on-3 overtime. Blues forward Vladimir Tarasenko hit the post with 1:32 remaining.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
The Blues' David Backes (left) and Kevin Shattenkirk (22) battle Buffalo's
Jack Eichel for the puck during Thursday's game at Scottrade Center.

"It's just pond hockey, but it's fun pond hockey," Allen said. "It's meaningful and two points on the line. We've been pretty good at it so far. I don't think we have structure, I don't think many people do. It's go. I think we did a great job tonight on changing on the O-zone, which gave us some extra time down there."

The Blues were just feeling good about the two points and in the fashion it took to get them. Being able to kill off lengthy power plays down two men makes it even a better feeling.

"That was huge," Shattenkirk said. "Especially being a power-play guy, when you come out of two of those and you don’t have anything to show for it, it’s discouraging, especially for your top-end guys when you can’t seem to get a goal on those. I think for the guys who went out there and killed it for us, they did a great job. Jake made some big saves on it. We were able to really feed off that, especially in the third period. That’s a huge momentum swing for any team when you can kill that off."

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