Thursday, February 28, 2013

Blackhawks keep rolling, blank Blues 3-0

Chicago continues record with points in 20 straight games

ST. LOUIS -- The Chicago Blackhawks are on another level, and it's obvious the Blues aren't close to the planet they're playing on right now.

Blackhawks' historic run will live to see another day -- and they didn't need a sixth straight one-goal decision to make it happen.

Jonathan Toews scored twice, including a goal 12 seconds into the game, and the Hawks made it 17 wins in 20 tries by downing the Blues 3-0 at Scottrade Center on Thursday night.
(St. Louis Blues/Mark Buckner)
The Blues' Chris Stewart (right) battles Chicago's Brent Seabrook (7) and
Duncan Keith (2) Thursday night.

The Blackhawks now have at least one point in each of their first 20 games this season and 26 in a row dating back to last March. They'll try to extend those streaks when they host Columbus on tonight.

The Blackhawks (17-0-3) also made it 17 straight games earning at least a point on the road dating back to last season (13-0-4).

They made the Blues (10-7-2) look very vulnerable, and right now, Chicago is getting points everywhere, no matter what building they play in.

"We’ve had some good games to date, but that might have been the best," Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said. "... I just think we're taking pride in playing the game that's in front of us, being consistent and everyone challenging and pushing one another."

Andrew Shaw also scored for the Blackhawks, and Marian Hossa collected a pair of assists, Corey Crawford stopped six shots before departing after one period with an upper body injury and Ray Emery came on in relief to stop 15 shots.

Jaroslav Halak kicked out 20 shots, but it wasn't enough as the Blues were blanked on home ice for the first time since a 6-0 loss to Calgary on March 1, 2011. The Blues have scored only three goals in the last four games, covering 12 periods and one overtime.

"That's tough to say," defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk said. "I think we still need to get a little hungrier around the net, as defensemen, we need to get out shots through a little better here. Early we were getting those pucks through, we were getting tips and getting those second opportunities and putting them in.

"It starts with us getting pucks to the net and it also starts with our forwards getting pucks to the net, taking shots and maybe not trying to find a pretty play all the time."

It didn't take Chicago long to break out on top, as Toews redirected Brandon Saad's centering feed past Halak 12 seconds after the opening faceoff for a 1-0 lead. It's the fastest goal to start a game in for the Blackhawks since Dave Bolland [10 seconds] scored on March 16, 2012. Brent Sutter [eight seconds] has the franchise record when he scored on Feb. 5, 1995.

Hossa's long cross-ice pass to Saad allowed the play to develop, and Toews finished. The play was reviewed as the puck went in off Toews' skate, but without an intentional kicking motion.

"It was a good passing play," Toews said. "All five guys touched the puck. I rushed to the net. It went off my stick or shin pad ... whatever. It doesn't matter to me. It was a great way to start the game."

Blues captain David Backes, who left the game for a stretch in the second period but returned after taking the standard protocol concussion testing following a collision with Chicago's Brandon Saad, said the Blues' top line takes full responsibility for the poor start.

"It's a terrible start on our line's part," Backes said. "We've got to be better in setting the tone for our team. I don't know if there's a worse way to do it than 12 seconds in giving a goal up. We've got to improve that. That's on our shoulders.

"If stuff like that does happen, we've got to have the poise at some point in the game to get that back. We'll take full credit for the terrible start against a really good hockey team that you can't have that against."

The Blues pushed for the equalizer and nearly got it, but the Hawks were helped once by a post and another time by Emery's glove.

Shattenkirk's wrister from the point on the Blues' third power play midway through the second period had eyes and found its way through traffic but hit the inside of the left post but stayed out. Patrik Berglund fed Chris Stewart all alone in the slot moments later, but instead of redirecting the puck from the crease, Stewart tried to flip a wrister from the right of the goal; Emery and his mitt were up to the task and preserved the 1-0 lead.

Shaw's fifth of the season came after Bryan Bickell won a puck battle with the Blues' Kris Russell behind the net, fed Shaw for a one-timer from the slot 2:11 into the third period for a 2-0 lead.

"The game was right there for us at 1-0," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. "We probably had more qualuty chances than they did, but the 2-0 goal took the wind out of our sails. I thought we had some opportunities in the first period like we talked about but didn't capitalize. ... I thought we had some good players today, but we also had some guys that looked like they struggled a little bit to keep up."

Toews got his second of the night off a rebound in front. Nick Leddy's shot from the top of the left circle was initially stopped by Halak, but Toews got inside position on defenseman Ian Cole to swat the rebound into the net at 6:56.

"On the last two goals, we made some pretty significant mistakes off the faceoff there and also down below our goal line," Hitchcock said. "... They're a good team, but they're a good team because they work. We didn't put them in enough vulnerable areas at times."
(St. Louis Blues/Mark Buckner)
The Blues' Scott Nichol and Chicago's Duncan Keith collide along
the boards Thursday night.

Added Shattenkirk: "We came out in the third and we just got out-battled, out-worked. Tough to see, but that's a team that's playing their best hockey and it's a team that's playing hockey the right way. I think that's what we were so well last year and we need to get back to it. We need to simplify, check hard, win those puck battles in the corner."

The Blues host Edmonton tonight and don't have time to fret. But being ordinary against Chicago is not good enough.

"I think our whole performance was OK," Hitchcock said. "But that's not good enough to beat a team like Chicago. That's probably the best way to describe it. We made too many mistakes in critical areas offensively and defensively to be effective. I don't think we went to the net hard enough and I think we got beat at our net a few times. That was the difference in the hockey game."

* NOTE -- Backes ties Gary Sabourin for 15th all-time on the games played list with 463.

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