Thursday, December 9, 2010

Special teams valuable in Blues' win over Jackets

Power play, penalty kill both perfect in 4-1 victory

ST. LOUIS -- The Blues spent the last two days at their practice facility inside St. Louis Mills working on a stagnant power play. Whether it came down to making the extra pass, being hesitant with a shot from the point, making the wrong play or not gaining enough zone time, it just wasn't working.

Whatever necessary changes the Blues implemented, they sure worked -- at least for one night.

The power play got back on track, going a perfect 3-for-3, the penalty kill was even better, stopping all eight chances by the Columbus Blue Jackets and Jaroslav Halak helped the Blues avenge an embarrassing loss to the Jackets earlier this season with a 4-1 victory Thursday night at Scottrade Center.

Alex Steen, Jay McClement and Vladimir Sobotka tallied man-advantage goals for the Blues, who won their second straight and improved to 14-9-4 on the season. The Blues were able to kill off three Columbus two-man advantages that totaled 2 minutes, 28 seconds.

Whatever the recipe for success was this night, the Blues will take whatever they can get. But to get solid power play working along with the penalty kill and key goaltending, it typically adds up to a victory.

"The power play had some extended time in the zone," Blues coach Davis Payne said. "I thought we moved more freely without hindrance in our thought process. It was work put in over the last couple days that these guys felt that it would break through if we kept at it."

The Blues, who entered the game in an 0-for-22 drought, dating to Nov. 20, it got going early against a Columbus team that embarrassed the Blues 8-1 on Oct. 10. There was no "Soccergate" to worry about this time for the Blues, no injuries to deal with (T.J. Oshie broke his ankle in the previous meeting) but there was plenty of jump from the Blues, who grabbed the lead just 1 minute, 14 seconds in.

The power play clicked from the get-go, and the Blues were well on their way.

"Quick movement. I thought we moved around well, supported each other, but the puck moved quick, too," said Steen, who gave the Blues a 1-0 lead. "We weren't hesitating, we weren't waiting to set anything up. It was just the next play was there. We gave it, we shot, rebound, got it back to the point, new shot. We kept attacking.

"In order for us to be good, that's the mindset we have to have."

The last time the Blues scored three or more power play goals was Dec. 21, 2009 during a 7-2 victory at Edmonton. That was 74 games ago.

Steen scored his third goal in two games after Carlo Colaiacovo kept an errant puck in the zone.

McClement netted his first goal since Oct. 30 when he redirected Erik Johnson's centering feed past Garon with 6:41 left in the first.

"It's been a while since I had a power play goal, but it felt good to finally contribute," said McClement, who went 17 games without a goal. "EJ made a great play and I was just trying to be strong on my stick and got my stick on it."

The reason the Blues preserved the lead was not only the penalty kill in general, but by killing three 5-on-3 power plays in the first two periods.

Not only did the Blues not allow a goal by the Jackets (15-11-1), but they allowed minimal chances as well.

"Our penalty kill and our power play were the stories of the game," defenseman Barret Jackman said. "Those goals early really took the pressure off of the penalty kill, and we did a good job of playing together and getting pucks the length of the ice and getting kills."

The Blues made it 3-0 lead and made it a perfect trifecta on the power play when Sobotka redirected in Johnson's shot from the left point with 44 seconds to play in the second period.

"Pretty good vision there by EJ to see Sobe coming to the net," Payne said. "... We made a play that mattered."

Halak, who was pulled after allowing four goals against Columbus on Oct. 10, only allowed the one goal by Jan Hejda early in the third, but he protected the lead when he stopped Derick Brassard's breakaway attempt with 4:20 to play.

"I think our guys did a great job, especially on the (penalty kill)," Halak said. "We gave up eight penalty kills and we killed them all, so it was a huge effort from our guys.

"We had two 5-on-3's and the guys who were out there, they did an amazing job. They were skating and blocking the shots. I don't think they got many shots on the 5-on-3's. We've got to give them the credit because it was a big key for our win tonight."

The Blues almost got a couple scares in the game, when defenseman Alex Pietrangelo took a hard hit from Rick Nash and did not play most of the first period but returned and played fine. Also, Pietrangelo fell on Halak late in the third, and the Blues' netminder was laying face-first on the ice but was fine and finished the game.

It's not what the team needs right now since they're already missing center Andy McDonald (concussion), winger T.J. Oshie (broken ankle), winger David Perron (concussion) and defenseman Roman Polak (wrist). Oshie injured himself during the teams' only previous meeting this season.

David Backes finished with three points on a goal (an empty-netter in the third period) and two assists, and Johnson added a pair of assists, his fourth game with at least one assist in the last five games.

The Blues will look to build on a third straight win when they entertain Carolina here Saturday.

"We'll take just about any formula if it adds up into a win," Payne said. "We need good special teams, we need good team hockey, we need to limit chances ... The formula of solid special teams ... the power play made a difference for us tonight and we need that to continue."

No comments:

Post a Comment