Thursday, October 13, 2016

Yakupov scores, helps Blues top Wild 3-2

New right wing has two-point night; line combined 
for five points to help St. Louis move to 2-0 on season

ST. LOUIS -- The stat sheet reads Nail Yakupov played a whopping 8 minutes, 30 seconds in his home debut for the Blues Thursday.

But considering Yakupov's impact, it sure made it seem a lot more.

Yakupov gave a glimpse to Blues fans what they see more of, his speed and tenacity, and obviously, scoring to go with it; he scored a goal and added an assist in a 3-2 victory against the Minnesota Wild before 19,673 at Scottrade Center.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
The Blues' Patrik Berglund (left) and Wild's Matt Dumba battle for
a loose puck in the Blues' 3-2 win Thursday at Scottrade Center.

The Blues' right wing, acquired in a trade with the Edmonton Oilers last Friday, was fast and did something he claims he's never done before.

Yakupov, the first overall pick in the 2012 NHL Draft, not only changed venues but also altered the way he shoots a puck; he said it's the first time he's ever taken a slap shot in a game. Yakupov normally goes with the wrist shot.

"Gotta (try) it once in a while, right," Yakupov said. "That was tonight. I tried and you have to try to do something. Nothing wrong with the shot, as coach (Ken Hitchcock) said between periods to have shot-first mentality." 

Yakupov played less minutes Thursday than he did Wednesday (10:38), but Hitchcock sees playing him in more situations rather quickly.

"Yakupov's starting to understand the things we want in winning hockey," Hitchcock said. "He's starting to understand that. As he starts to gain more steam 5-on-5, we'll bleed him into the power play starting next week. He's starting to figure it out."

Alexander Steen and Magnus Paajarvi also scored and Patrik Berglund had two assists for the Blues, who played their home opener after defeating the Chicago Blackhawks 5-2 on Wednesday. Jake Allen made 19 saves.

"It's good, but that's all it is; it's a start," Steen said. "We wanted to come out of the gates quick and we have."

Ryan Suter and Charlie Coyle scored for Minnesota, which was playing its season opener, and Devan Dubnyk made 28 saves.

Yakupov, who was acquired by the Blues in a trade with the Edmonton Oilers last Friday, got a puck near center ice, skated into the Minnesota zone and beat Dubnyk with a slap shot from the top of the left circle with 7:24 remaining in the second period to make it 2-1.

Yakupov gained speed through the middle of the ice and stepped into a slap shot that seemed to handcuff Dubnyk, sending the crowd of 19,673 into delirium. 

"... We wanted to make some real good plays and play defense too, but at the same time, I have to have some fun in (the) offensive zone," Yakupov said. 

Steen put the Blues up 1-0 at 10:51 of the first period, his third point in two games.

Hard work pays off, and on Steen's goal that gave the Blues a 1-0 lead, it was certainly evident. Steen and Robby Fabbri worked a cycle in the right corner after a Wild turnover. Fabbri was able to stay with the play, slide the puck to Steen in the right circle after Steen won a board battle with Zac Dalpe to give Steen an open wrist shot from the right circle short side, top shelf.

Suter tied the game 1-1 at 3:03 of the second period.

Suter's forecheck helped give the Wild, who were being outshot 16-2 at the time, some life. He forechecked Vladimir Tarasenko and Kevin Shattenkirk into turning the puck over and went in alone on Allen, who made the first save but stayed with it and put in the rebound to tie the game 1-1 in the second.

Paajarvi scored off an odd-man rush, taking Yakupov's pass in the left circle and beating Dubnyk 4:25 into the third to give the Blues a 3-1 lead.

"Bergy kicks it out to Yakupov and he puts it right on my blade," said Paajarvi, who made his season debut in place of Dmitrij Jaskin. "I'm just trying to find an opening and I did, so it was nice.

"We tried to stay really hard on the forecheck and that's what we did. We were good tonight." 

Coyle scored with 7:11 remaining in the game off a Jason Zucker centering pass to make it 3-2, and the Wild pulled Dubnyk with 1:32 remaining but couldn't pot the tying goal.

Allen was superb despite seeing only 21 shots (he faced 19 Wednesday in Chicago). He stopped three breakaways in the game (one on Zucker in the first period, and one each in the second period on Eric Staal and Zach Parise).

"He was great," Steen said. "He's so good at reading the momentum of the game as well."

Allen was not very busy in the first period, facing only two shots. But one of them was a Zucker's shorthanded breakaway, and Allen came up with a dandy glove save on the backhand with 11:25 remaining in the period to preserve a scoreless game.

"Yeah, some moments where I didn't have shots for 10 minutes and then I get a breakaway," Allen said. "But that's my job, be ready when they come at me.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Wild goalie Devan Dubnyk makes a save on the Blues' Robby Fabbri
during the Blues' 3-2 victory Thursday night.

"... Guys played great, especially coming off our first back-to-back, which is never easy on the body. They just went out there and played a phenomenal game. It was fun to watch from my end. Really dictated the pace most of the game."

And with five points from the third line, it makes the Blues a tough out of they can get this kind of production.

"Managing the puck the right way, playing with tempo," Hitchcock said. "Berglund made a heck of a play on the (Paajarvi) goal, great separation on the exit that allowed them to be a rush-attack.

"... Obviously we've got some competition for spots, so a guy like Paajarvi made a big step today to help us out."

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