Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Special teams fuel Blues' win over Red Wings

30th-ranked power play scores twice; Elliott bounces back with solid outing

ST. LOUIS -- A power play unit that has been much-maligned this season floundering at the bottom of the NHL, the St. Louis Blues were more than happy to talk special teams after their 3-2 win over the Detroit Red Wings.

The Blues came into Tuesday night's game with only eight power play goals on a whopping 87 opportunities, or a 9.2 percent clip. They were the only team below the 10 percent marker.

David Backes and Alex Steen scored power play goals, Patrik Berglund also scored and Brian Elliott stopped 27 shots for the Blues, who won for the third straight time over the Wings dating back to last season. It's the first time the Blues have won three straight games against Detroit since winning four in a row during the 1990-91 season (Dec. 7-Jan. 26) when they won four in a row.
(Getty Images)
David Backes reacts after scoring a goal in
the third period Tuesday night in a 3-2 win
over the Detroit Red Wings.
Not only did the Blues (15-9-3) score with the man advantage, they did so twice in a game for the first time this season and first time since March 30 of last season -- also against Detroit (16-9-1). It had been 31 games since the Blues scored two or more power play goals in the game same, but the Blues, who have been on the wrong side of games too many times because of special teams this season, had one go their way.

"For our power play to score two, which has been a little anemic and kind of a crutch for us," said Blues captain David Backes, who put the Blues ahead 2-1 45 seconds into the third period with a power play goal, "... to have it be a strong suit, to win that specialty teams battle and to get two points after a couple tough games, it's good to see the resiliency and the character in here to play a good 60-minute game and make sure we got our two points."

Spending extra time on the power play during off-days has been a must for the Blues, who were 2-for-8 in the game and now stand at 10.5 percent, which is still a league-worst but for the first time all season, the Blues have broken the 10 percent barrier.

"If it's not working, you need to work on it to make sure that it's a positive attribute that you have," Backes said. "Enough's enough and hopefully this is a springboard to teams not being able to take those liberties because they know they can kill our power play."

And it was a nice bounce-back game after being humbled 5-2 here Saturday night against Chicago.

"The second and third periods were really good for us," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. "I thought the second period set up the third period for us. The second period was about as well as we've played in this building, and we've had some really good runs here lately. ... We played with a real straight-line definition. I thought we put a lot of pressure on their defensemen and I thought it set up the start of the third period for us."

The Blues blitzed Detroit with two goals at the start of the period, scoring 1:53 apart to take a 3-1 lead on goals by Backes and Patrik Berglund.

"We started off really slow in the first period, but we took a good step in the second," Berglund said. "We lined that up for the third.

"... It was a great job by the D-zone all the way down (on the Berglund goal). It was a great shot, and luckily it went in."

Johan Franzen and Jiri Hudler scored power play goals for the Red Wings and Jimmy Howard stopped 23 shots after making his 18th start in 19 games.

But Wings coach Mike Babcock was not pleased with the Red Wings' penalty kill.

"Those are free goals," Babcock said. "You just give those away."

But Howard was upset after feeling like he was ran over by the Blues' David Perron in the third period, when replays showed Perron was pushed in by Wings defenseman Brad Stuart.

Howard took liberties by jumping on Perron and a scrum ensued.

"I'm not taking that," Howard said. "I don't care who it is. If you're going to run me like that or try to go through me like that, you're going to pay the price.

"You're playing hard and both teams want to win. At the same time I'm going to protect myself."

To which Stuart responded, "It wasn't a real harmful collision, I didn't feel. I don't feel like (Perron) went in with a lot of force."
(Getty Images)
The Blues' Scott Nichol (right) battles with Detroit's Dan Cleary during
Tuesday night's game at Scottrade Center.

The Wings could have easily thought it was retaliation for a play in which Elliott was ran over by Detroit's Justin Abdelkader earlier in the period.

"An accident waiting to happen. That's what this whole thing is," Hitchcock said of Perron, who got a two-minute minor for goaltender interference, along with Franzen and the Blues' Chris Stewart getting coincidental roughing minors for mixing it up after the play. "You could call that 10 times a week now.

"I don't know what they're going to do. I don't know what you can do about that stuff. Every time you turn on the TV, you're watching Brendan Shanahan. It's tough to watch right now. He's a nice guy, but he's tough to watch."

Franzen broke the scoreless stalemate after gaining the corner on Roman Polak and lifted a puck that caromed off Elliott's back and into the top corner on the near side 7:42 into the second period for a 1-0 Red Wings lead on Detroit's fourth power play of the game.

Steen would quickly answer with a power play goal for the Blues to tie it 1-1 at 9:20. After Jason Arnott won a face-off, Steen would skate to the top of the slot and rip a shot through Howard.

Arnott also won a face-off to help set up Backes' go-ahead goal.

"That's key," Oshie said. "We've had a tough time winning face-offs on the power play lately. It's always tough starting in their end, then losing the face-off and having to go back and break out again. It takes a good 20 seconds off the clock.

"Those face-off wins are huge. It starts with us in their zone and setting up where we want to be."

Oshie had the best chance early in the second period to give the Blues the first goal of the game, going in on a 2-on-0 with Vladimir Sobotka, but Oshie kept the puck and snapped a shot trying to catch Howard cheating off the near post. Howard was able to get a pad on the shot sliding across 3:01 into the period.

Hudler would pull the Wings to within one with a power play goal with 1:20, but the Blues' bounce-back ability played a key role.

"I think the best part about tonight was it was a good team win," Oshie said. "Rolling the lines over, playing hard, obviously getting the matchup on (Pavel) Datsyuk when we could. Everyone playing hard, playing great ... it's amazing how fun the game is when everyone's playing hard."

* NOTES -- Blues defenseman Kris Russell played in his 300th NHL game.

... Blues scratches included defenseman Ian Cole and wingers Ryan Reaves and Evgeny Grachev.

... Former Blues coach Davis Payne was in the press box and at a Blues game for the first time since being fired on Nov. 6, "I'm a hockey guy. Coming to a rink, it's what I do," Payne said. Payne, who is under contract through this season, will be a pro scout for the team.

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