Friday, December 31, 2010

Winning streak now at five in a row as Blues top Coyotes 4-3

Halak strong; Steen bags goal, assist, Jackman earns pair of assists

ST. LOUIS -- It's looking more and more like the Blues of the first 12 games this season, the one that got off to a franchise-best 9-1-2 start.

The Blues began this streak of five straight wins after downing the Phoenix Coyotes 4-3 Friday night with good goaltending, having their top six defensemen all in the lineup and healthy again and they're also getting timely scoring.

The mix has the Blues (20-12-5) in a logjam in the Western Conference right now, but they're in fifth place right on the heels of the Los Angeles Kings.

"When we're playing well, we're on the body, we're skating really well and guys are making plays," Blues defenseman Barret Jackman said. "It's not about fancy plays and being over-confident. It's just about making the right play and everybody playing together. It kind of gives us a bit of mojo, I guess."

That "mojo" started with Jaroslav Halak on this night. The Blues' netminder, despite allowing three third-period goals, stopped 30 shots and won for the third straight time and ran another shutout streak over 100 minutes. When he was beaten by Shane Doan 6 minutes, 20 seconds into the third period, it snapped a shutout streak of 129:29. He also had shutout streaks of 160:08 and 153:03 as well.

"I'm not trying to think about streaks or anything like that," Halak said. "I'm just trying to get the wins obviously. It would have been nice to get a win 4-zip, but a win is a win and we got two points."

The Blues got goals from Brad Boyes, Erik Johnson, Alex Pietrangelo and Alex Steen, whose goal put the Blues up 4-0 3:05 into the third period and seemingly gave the home team control.

"They didn't go away," Steen said of the Coyotes. "They battled back, worked hard, but we got the 'W' in the end."

Phoenix (17-13-7) got two Shane Doan goals sandwiched around a Lauri Korpokoski goal to make the game interesting late, but the Blues picked up what they set out for: two points.

"Their comeback was due to some negligence on our part," Blues coach Davis Payne said. "A couple plays that we certainly could have cleaned up, but at this point, we've got two points and we'll move on.

"We did enough in the second period and at the start of the third. I thought we were a little slow to get to the type of game from an engagement standpoint that we talked about that we certainly finished against Chicago. ... I thought we played a really good second period, a lot of zone time, more directed intent as far as our back pressure and our responsibilities there. I thought the game kind of seemed in control after Steener's fourth."

Halak kept the Blues at bay in the first period, making 14 saves as the Blues were outshot 14-6 but led 1-0 on Boyes' ninth of the season.

"The first period, he was outstanding," Payne said of Halak. "The stuff in front of him, quick whistles ... I thought that he controlled that game, read plays extremely well. Very, very sharp tonight."

Johnson's shorthanded goal came off a great individual effort from David Backes, who powered his way to the net from the corner, got a shot off on Ilya Bryzgalov before Johnson snapped in his third of the season from the right circle 7:23 into the second period.

"That was probably the moment that allowed the game to tilt a little bit more in our favor," Payne said. "... Great individual play, great read, and now all of the sudden, we feel like we're in more command of the game."

Pietrangelo's power play goal with 1:29 in the second gave the Blues a 3-0 lead and Steen's 2-on-1 effort with Eric Brewer produced the fourth goal before the Coyotes got it cranked up late.

Korpikoski scored with 1:27 to play before Doan made it 4-3 with 20.9 seconds remaining.

"Apparently bringing the new year some excitement," Jackman joked. "A couple goals, a couple bounces that went their way at the end. They were pressing. they've got a good offensive team, and they made it close at the end.

"They kind of took their game to us in the first 10 minutes, but once we got on track, chipping pucks and getting things deep and trying to get some possession in the offensive zone, I thought we played pretty well."

The Blues ended the calendar year much better than the one that ended 2009, when they also played here, blew a 3-0 third-period lead to Vancouver, lost that game 4-3 in overtime and ultimately cost Andy Murray his job as head coach.

"We wanted to finish the year on a winning note," Halak said. "Fortunately for us, we got a 4-0 lead. We got a little comfortable in there, giving them opportunities to score goals, but they all count. We got the two points and that's all that matters right now."

* NOTES -- Halak faced the Coyotes for the first time in his career. ... Steen has at least a point in 12 of 15 games. ... The Blues' current winning streak is two off a season-best seven-game winning streak from Oct. 22-Nov. 7. ... Defenseman Carlo Colaiacovo now has a four-game point streak against Phoenix after picking up an assist tonight.

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