Saturday, January 19, 2013

Blues roast Red Wings in season-opener

Tarasenko debuts with two goals in 6-0 bludgeoning of division rivals

ST. LOUIS -- The Blues felt all along that they were good. But 6-0 good? Who knew.

If the Blues could have scripted a better blue print that the one that unfolded Saturday night inside a packed Scottrade Center against their hated rival Detroit Red Wings, it would be hard-pressed to do so.

All aspects of the Blues' game was as good as one could have envisioned. Vladimir Tarasenko's NHL debut brought out a pair of goals, Chris Stewart netted his first two goals of the season after a sub-par 15-goal season a year ago, the power play was 4-for-5, the penalty kill was a perfect 4-for-4 and Jaroslav Halak recorded his 14th shutout as a Blue, 23rd overall as he became the first Blues goalie to record a shutout in the season opener.

"I thought we worked, and I think when we work and we initiate, we're a good team," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. "And that's what we did tonight. We worked.

"We hunted the puck, we stayed on the puck, we were hungry. When you play like that, you can roll four lines and you can keep people energized. I thought the biggest thing we did was we worked."
Blues manhandle Red Wings 6-0 in opener
Vladimir Tarasenko (middle) celebrates with teammates Andy McDonald
(left) and Alex Steen after scoring his first NHL goal Saturday.
As the cameras and recorders converged on Tarasenko, there was an intimidating grin.

"I need (a) Russian translator," Tarasenko smiled, speaking in a soft-spoken voice.

If Tarasenko continues to put up numbers like in his National Hockey League debut, a translator will be at Tarasenko's disposal instantly.

There was a reason the Blues wanted to move up in the 2010 NHL Draft. A certain Russian sniper had caught their eye that they felt was worth a gamble on a first-round pick.

The Blues already had the 14th pick and selected Jaden Schwartz but moved up to select the left-handed Tarasenko by trading first-round defensive prospect David Rundblad to Ottawa.

Judging by Tarasenko's debut, the Blues like the results thus far. Tarasenko finally made his long-anticipated debut Saturday night, and the native of Novosibirsk, Russia, didn't disappoint. Tarasenko scored on his first two NHL shots, quickly attracting chants of "Tara-senko!" as the Blues dominated the Detroit Red Wings from start to finish.

"I thought we worked, and I think when we work and we initiate, we're a good team," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. "And that's what we did tonight. We worked. We hunted the puck, we stayed on the puck, we were hungry. When you play like that, you can roll four lines and you can keep people energized. I thought the biggest thing we did was we worked."

The Blues, coming off a Central Division title, wasted little time ridding themselves of the foul taste left by a playoff sweep at the hands of the Los Angeles Kings last spring. Familiarity is something this team feels like it has going for it. It was obvious.

"I don't think we're going to have to go through those growing pains," said Stewart, who added two power play goals. "We did that last year and there's a lot of the same faces in the room and that's definitely been a bonus."

The Blues, with high hopes in the abbreviated season, want to mirror what their Saturday opponent has accomplished for decades. In order to be respected as one of the best, you have to beat the best. On opening night, a statement was made ... at least for one game.

"That's a pretty good start," said defenseman Alex Pietrangelo, who picked up his first two assists of the season. "It's only one game, we've got lots to go but considering the time off we had and the short training camp, that's pretty good to see."

For the Red Wings, a team accustomed to being at the top of the NHL standings and making the postseason familiar ground, it's rare to see such a humbling loss.

"They were just better than us," Red Wings coach Mike Babcock said of the Blues. "If i had the answer, I would have fixed it before it happened but obviously we'll look at this and get ready for tomorrow and have a good practice and get back at it. But to be successful, all good teams have to be competitive and we weren't.

Added captain Henrik Zetterberg: "There was a lot of stuff that went wrong tonight and we've just got to be ready for tomorrow and look at what we did wrong and what we did right and move on."

Tarasenko scored a pair of highlight-reel goals, both going in alone on Wings goalie Jimmy Howard, who did his best to keep the score respectable.

On his first goal, Tarasenko said: "It was like dreaming ... I dreamed it now.

I was a little bit nervous before the game. But now I'm happy to be here. I want to say thanks for my teammates. They really helped me. Over here, it's new hockey and they really helped me mentally."

T.J. Oshie scored a shorthanded and Patrik Berglund added a power-play goal. Jaroslav Halak breezed to his 23rd career shutout and 14th with the Blues, stopping all 14 shots and becoming the first Blue to record a shutout on opening night. Alex Steen, Kevin Shattenkirk and Oshie also added two assists each.

"We worked right to the end," Hitchcock said. "We battled hard on the boards and that allowed us to control the tempo of the game.

"I just think you throw out the first 10 games. We looked good tonight ... who knows what happens. You try to find out who can and who can't play. After 10 games, you're going to know what you've got."

The Blues had all the legs and momentum rolling their way in the opening period, getting goals from Tarasenko and Stewart. The train continued to roll over the final two periods.
Blues manhandle Red Wings 6-0 in opener
Chris Stewart (25) beats Jimmy Howard through the legs for one of his
two goals Saturday night.

Tarasenko joined fellow 2010 first-round pick Schwartz in scoring score in his first NHL game and on his first NHL shot -- Schwartz did it on March 17, 2012, at Tampa Bay -- taking a stretch pass from Ian Cole and snapping a rooftop shot over Howard's paddle for a 1-0 lead 6:36 into the game. But Tarasenko outdid his teammate by scoring on his first two shots in the same game. Schwartz also scored on his first two NHL shots but in separate games.

Stewart, who had a disappointing season with only 15 goals last season following back-to-back 28-goal campaigns, scored a power-play goal at 14:44 for a 2-0 lead as the Blues blitzed the Red Wings, outshooting them 17-2.

Tarasenko undressed Wings defenseman Kyle Quincey before lifting a backhander over Howard for a 3-0 lead in the second. Oshie took a long stretch pass from Pietrangelo and snapped a shot through Howard for a shorthanded goal late in the second. The shots (27-7) and score (4-0) were very indicative of how the first 40 minutes were played.

Howard's night ended when Stewart got his second early in the third, the Blues' third power-play goal on four chances. Howard stopped 23 shots before he was replaced by Jonas Gustavsson. And after Berglund added a fourth power play goal on five chances, it was a picture-perfect night for the home squad.

"We looked like a really good team today, but who knows when we've got to go play tired or we've got to play road games," Hitchcock said. "... We looked like a strong, determined team today, but then we're going to play against teams who have the same conditioning position that we are. Then we'll see what we've got."

* NOTES -- The Blues recalled LW Jaden Schwartz after RW Chris Porter cleared waivers Saturday morning. Schwartz was in the lineup and played alongside Berglund and Stewart. ... Blues scratches included wingers Jamie Langenbrunner and Matt D'Agostini and defenseman Jeff Woywitka.

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