Thursday, January 25, 2018

Blues start fast, Hutton strong again in 3-1 win over red-hot Avalanche

Stastny, Schenn, Steen score to help Blues win 
fourth in five games heading into All-Star break

ST. LOUIS -- Knowing the opponent and understanding the solid, consistent hockey the Colorado Avalanche were playing gave the Blues no other choice but to play with a purpose.

And considering the fact that a three-day break awaits all but Alex Pietrangelo and Brayden Schenn for All-Star weekend, the Blues wanted to go out on a nice note and with a good feeling against the NHL's hottest team.

The Blues set the tone early, scored two power-play goals, and Carter Hutton turned in another gem in goal with 36 saves as the Blues defeated the Avalanche 3-1 on Thursday before 18,817 at Scottrade Center.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues goalie Carter Hutton makes one of 36 saves in a 3-1 victory over the
Colorado Avalanche on Thursday.

The Blues were looking to build off their 3-0 win over the Ottawa Senators and keep gaining momentum after a lackluster effort last Saturday against the Arizona Coyotes that saw coach Mike Yeo bag skate his players the following day looking ti get their attention.

Needless to say, the Blues have responded well, and they had no choice considering Colorado has been one of those Central Division teams nipping at their heels for third place in the standings.

"For sure, it's nice," defenseman Vince Dunn said. "Last break we were going in, we were a little upset with how we were performing. I think this time we can be a little more confident and proud of our efforts. We have to bring it back right from the start like the last game we did. We're doing a good job right now. We're finding ways to win and finding ways to hold leads all the way to the very end."

"It's nice," Hutton said. "Sometimes you have those games where you play and then you get a break and you have to sit on it. The Florida game (a 7-4 loss), we sit on it, it wasn't the nicest feeling going into break very disappointed. It's nice having a big win and when you do take a look at the standings, it's a little more comfortable knowing you grabbed those two points to end the break and we'll come back and ramp it up after a couple days off.

"... I've played in the Central Division the majority of my career and it never ceases to amaze me. If it's not one team, it's another. It's always a battle. I think it's always been on of the better divisions in the league and it's always fun to race, that's for sure."

Hutton made his fifth straight start and ninth in the past 11 games for St. Louis (30-18-3), which is 8-0-1 in the past nine against Colorado.

Hutton is 7-1-1 with a 1.81 goals-against average, a .938 save percentage and one shutout in his past nine starts and is definitely going to make it tough for coach Mike Yeo to take him out of the lineup.

"I try to just chip away, I try not to think too much into it," Hutton said. "I just play, compete when I do play, try to help us win. 

"We're playing really well too. You've got to give a lot of credit to our team and our defensemen. We've got a big defensive group that doesn't give up a lot of secondary chances and I'm able to see a lot of chances and when I do give up rebounds, guys are there fighting to eliminate pucks, and now getting a player like [Jaden Schwartz] back, it just adds to our arsenal."

"He played great again," Yeo said of Hutton. "So obviously he's got confidence right now and we all know what confidence can do for a player. He was real solid. I know he didn't let any in the other night and let it one tonight, but to me this game was better than even the other night. I thought he was real solid."

Alexander Steen had a goal and an assist, and Paul Stastny and Brayden Schenn scored power-play goals for the Blues.

"I really liked the start to our game tonight," Yeo said. "I thought that there was a good investment in the game itself as far as trying to send a message that it's going to be a hard night. I think that we do have a lot of respect for the team that we were playing tonight as far as their skill level and their ability to create offense."

Schwartz returned to the lineup after missing 20 games with a hairline fracture in his right ankle. He was injured Dec. 9 against the Detroit Red Wings and it was quite evident that his presence balanced out the Blues' lineup and had a trickle-down effect, even the power play, which was 2-for-3 for the second time in three games.

"Everything, it moves some pieces around," Steen said on what it meant having Schwartz back. "We're able to get back to, I think, lines that that we had prior to his injury that we really liked. Our line (with Steen, Schwartz and Schenn), I think, especially early on in the game, I liked our jump. It's easy playing with those two guys. They work extremely hard and all three of us read off each other. I think we turned a lot of pucks over and we were able to push the momentum into their offensive zone in the first period because we were so hungry on them."

Not only did the line pitch in two goals but also blanketed the hottest line in the NHL going right now with Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen and Gabriel Landeskog.

"I think as a line, as a five-man group, if we get that matchup, the responsibility to go out there, you have to play tight-checking, but the best defense is a good offense where you're in their end and taking time and space away from them," Schenn said. "How red-hot MacKinnon is, how good he's playing right now, how fast he is, you have to be on him quick or else he'll make you look silly."

Alexander Kerfoot scored and Jonathan Bernier made 31 saves for Colorado (27-18-3), which has lost two straight after a 10-game winning streak.

Stastny, the former Av, scored on a rebound at 15:53 of the first period to give St. Louis a 1-0 lead; he followed up Alex Pietrangelo's one-timer from the top of the right circle.

"I think we're just working harder to get the puck, whether it's off rebounds, or off the faceoff or off the breakout," Stastny said of the power play. "And then from there it's more like second chances.

"My goal, we had a few chances before, we hemmed them in for a while and then eventually you get rebounds, score. And then Schenn's goal is the same thing. We hemmed them in for a while, couple point shots and then all of a sudden they're tired, hemmed in there, and then a nice shot.

"Sometimes it's simple, but if all five guys aren't on the same page it won't work. So whether it's off the draw or from the breakout I think we had all five guys working. Just to hound the puck back and try to keep it simple and get shots on net."

The Blues, who have won four of five and are 7-3-1 their past 11 games felt they needed a good start against an opponent playing well. St. Louis outshot Colorado 17-8 in the first period.

"Especially early on, we were extremely hungry on the forecheck and turned a lot of pucks over," Steen said. "The second period, the reason why they get a little bit of life is because we take that foot off the gas a little bit and we give them a little bit space to pick up passes and get their head up and move it. I think that's what we liked the most out of the first period is just how aggressive and quick we got on them."  

Schenn's goal at 11:28 of the second period gave the Blues a 2-0 lead. He was able to collect a rebound of Dunn's shot, curl into the right circle and wire a wrister off the near post through Steen's screen for his fourth goal in as many games.

"Normally I've been pretty streaky," Schenn said after getting his 21st of the season. "It wasn't going in there for a while, but I was getting chances. You can't complain when the chances are coming. I think when you're getting chances, goals will come."

Colorado pushed and Kerfoot scored to make it 2-1 on a rebound in the slot at 17:09. He found a rebound of Anton Lindholm's shot from the left point after Lindholm picked off Ivan Barbashev's backhand clearing attempt.

But the third period saw the Blues absorb some body blows from the explosive, y oung and talented Avalanche before Steen scored with 1:20 remaining in the third period to give St. Louis a 3-1 lead.

The goal moved Steen past Red Berenson into eighth place in Blues history for goals with his 173rd. Steen also has a five-game point streak (four goals, three assists).
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues center Paul Stastny (26) and Avalanche defenseman Nikita Zadorov
battle for a loose puck Thursday. St. Louis won the game 3-1.

"Yeah, I mean those things are always ... it's very touching to me," Steen said. "I'm honored. Those are some big names, big guys that are on those lists and I really respect what those guys did before we got here and that's a big honor for me."

Hutton shut the door when called upon and the Blues can head out for a little refresher feeling good about what they're starting to build again.

"Yeah, now we just have to keep it," Yeo said. "It just doesn't carry through for you. I think that we look at these home games and we had the one game we were disappointed with. But obviously we have one more coming out of the break and we have to make sure that we're ready for that game. It seems like as far as when we play some of these Western Conference or divisional opponent teams, I don't want to say that they're easy to prepare for, but I would say that we need a little bit more focus and determination to prepare the right way for some of these teams that we play from the Eastern Conference."

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