Saturday, January 7, 2012

Blues dominate Avalanche, jump into first place in Central

4-0 victory also vaults St. Louis into second in West at midpoint of season

ST. LOUIS -- They’re at the midway point of the season, 41 games into a grueling 82-game schedule, but when the Blues wake up today, they see that the teams in the Central Division are in their rear view mirror and the top team in the Western Conference (Vancouver) is within sight.

Something special is beginning to form at 14th and Clark Streets in front of Scottrade Center. The Blues are making it well known that they will be a prominent player in the NHL this season. Their numbers at the midway point can't be argued.

After a dominating 4-0 victory over the Colorado Avalanche Saturday night, the Blues (24-12-5 at at the midpoint of the season) are now in first place in the Central Division this late in the season for the the first time since January of 2001, they've climbed into second place in the Western Conference, two points behind the Vancouver Canucks and the consensus response:
(Getty Images)
Kevin Shattenkirk (left) celebrates a goal Saturday night with teammate
Matt D'Agostini in Saturday's 4-0 victory.

Nobody's content.

It's quite the remarkable story considering this was the first team in the league to make a coaching change 13 games into the season and were in 14th place in the conference.

"Been here, done that," said Blues coach Ken Hitchcock. "I know what's out there. Some big storms ahead."

Added winger T.J. Oshie, who assisted on two goals: "They said it there (about first place) at the end. I didn't even think about it. It feels good but a long way to go."

This is the attitude of a team craving success, as it's only been to the playoffs once since the 2004-05 lockout.

"That only lasts so long in the Western Conference unless you continue to play well and get points every night," captain David Backes said. "That's our goal."

Blues were catching a red-hot Avalanche (23-19-1) on back-to-back nights. So the best advice going in was to jump on a road-weary team early.

Mission accomplished, as the Blues blitzed Colorado with their own avalanche -- something the Avs had been doing to their opponents.

Kevin Shattenkirk knocked in a goal and assisted on another, Oshie, Alex Pietrangelo and Vladimir Sobotka chipped in two assists each as the Blues cooled off the Avs, who were 9-1 in their last 10.

"The big difference tonight was it wasn't one or two lines, it wasn't three lines," Oshie said. "It was all four lines. We were rolling them over."

Patrik Berglund, David Backes and Jason Arnott scored goals for the Blues. Brian Elliott had a light night in goal, stopping 15 shots for his fifth shutout of the season and 14th of his career as the Blues won their 17th home game this season, an NHL-best. They're now 17-3-2 at the friendly confines of Scottrade Center and 9-0-1 in their last 10 at home.

But Hitchcock said for the team to continue to move forward, they have to improve on a 7-9-3 road mark.

"We are playing well at home. We want to continue that," Hitchcock said, "but we have to have a better record on the road. We’ve played very well on the road. We haven’t seen it come out in wins. we have to start to see that is we want to be the top team at the end of the day. You have to be .500 or better on the road if you want to be a top team. We’ve got to start seeing reward for the good play."

The Blues improved to 19-0-0 on the season scoring three goals or more and are 18-1-1 when holding a lead after two periods.

Colorado came in winners of 10 of its last 12 and 13 of 18 to climb back into the Western Conference playoff chase. The Avs buzzsaw here. Former Blues defenseman Erik Johnson, part of the trade with Colorado going the other way from St. Louis, left the game in the first period with a reported hand injury and did not return.

"The team’s been playing well and they play with a lot of energy and they play a north-south game and they play physical so they’ve obviously done a good job there," Avs coach Joe Sacco said of the Blues.

Added goalie Jean-Sebastien Giguere, who stopped 35 shots: "You’ve got to give them credit for what they’re doing right now and we’ve got to take a page from their book right now."
(Getty Images)
Alex Pietrangelo's blast led to a David Backes goal in the second period of
a 4-0 victory over Colorado Saturday night.

Berglund opened the scoring as Matt D'Agostini's back-check forced a Kyle Quincey turnover in the Avs' zone. D'Agostini fed Oshie in the slot and he ripped a one-timer that caught a piece of Berglund and past Giguere 3:20 into the game.

Shattenkirk, a former Avs defenseman that was part of the blockbuster trade last February, notched his fifth point in five games against his former team when his shot from the right point through traffic snuck past Giguere inside the near post at 12:21 of the first, just as a Colorado penalty had expired, for a 2-0 lead.

Shattenkirk couldn’t hide his pleasure to once again bite the hand that once fed him.

"There’s a little something extra there every game," Shattenkirk said. "There’s obviously a point you want to prove. I think Chris (Stewart) will tell you the same thing.

"You really want to play well and show them that things are going great here in St. Louis and we’re happy to be a part of it."

The Blues continued their onslaught in the second period, as Arnott and Backes buried power-play goals.

Arnott was on the receiving end of Shattenkirk's hard rush into the Colorado zone, as he was able to wire a shot from the high slot just under the cross bar 1:20 into the second for a 3-0 lead. Backes then collected Pietrangelo's shot from the point on another power play and hammered it into an empty side 9:58 into the period for a 4-0 lead, as the Blues were outshooting the overwhelmed Avalanche 28-9 through two periods.

The Blues' power play, which came in 24th in the NHL after scoring twice on Tuesday, is now five for its last 13.

"We caught a team on back-to-back and I thought we took full advantage of it," Hitchcock said. "I thought we had a lot of good players. I thought our transition game was as good as it’s been. Our power play, we’ve simplified it here in the last month and it’s really been effective. Hopefully, we can continue down that path and play as well on the road as we have at home."

Now they can focus on the second half of the season, which begins Tuesday in Montreal.

* NOTES -- After the game, the Blues send defenseman Cade Fairchild back to Peoria. Fairchild was on recall and played three games filling in for Ian Cole, who is eligible to return Tuesday at Montreal after being suspended for three games.

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