Thursday, November 7, 2013

Blues hold off Flames 3-2

Steen nets NHL-leading 14th goal; Elliott earns 100th career victory


ST. LOUIS -- Even as the Blues skated off the ice victorious over the Calgary Flames Thursday night, there's one valuable lesson they should take from the victory: don't take the foot off the gas pedal.

Aftre nearly losing a three-goal lead, the Blues settled for a 3-2 victory over the Flames at Scottrade Center in a game they had complete control of before turning the tide of the game thanks to what coach Ken Hitchcock said were "unnecessary penalties."

(St. Louis Blues/Mark Buckner)
Maxim Lapierre (left) reacts with teammate Ryan Reaves after scoring his
first goal as a Blue Thursday night in a 3-2 win over the Calgary Flames.
The Blues wound up killing off all six Flames power play chances, but the disruption in the flow of the game was evident with the Blues unable to roll their four lines and using their best players in too many situations.

"It's not the penalties you take, it's who you take out of the game," Hitchcock said. "All of the sudden your top players are killing all of the penalties, young players who were playing really well. It took (Jaden Schwartz) and (Vladimir Tarasenko) right out of the game because they didn't get the ice time that they deserved based on their play. We've got to figure out a way to include more people and part of that is remaining disciplined and working.

"We were really going (early). We were on top of our game. Our puck play was crisp, our game was crisp. We did all the things we needed to do, all the things we talked about. The starts for us have been excellent. We've had really good starts, so we're prepared, we're ready to go, but we seem to drop off and have to re-catch ourselves. That's something we've got to figure out along the way."

The NHL's First Star of October has a pair of superstars in pursuit of his goal-scoring lead.

Alexander Steen took matters into his own hands Thursday night.

Alex Ovechkin and Steven Stamkos both tied Steen's pace of 13 goals earlier in the night, but the Blues left winger countered with his League-leading 14th to break the three-way tie. The goal turned out to be the game-winner.

"Everybody's talking about it, but quietly, he's the leader of our room," Blues defenseman Jordan Leopold said of Steen, who is the first player since Brett Hull to score 14 goals in the team's first 14 games since 1990-91 when Hull scored 16. "He works his butt off and it's nice to see him get rewarded. Whatever he's doing, he's got to keep doing it."

Maxim Lapierre scored his first goal with the Blues, Tarasenko also scored a power play goal, and Leopold, a former Flames defenseman, picked up his first two points of the season. Brian Elliott collected his 100th career victory by stopping 18 shots to help the Blues win for the fifth time in six games and improve to 10-2-2 on the season. It's the first time the Blues have won four straight against the Flames franchise on home ice, outscoring them 14-5 in the process.

However, the Blues nearly squandered a 3-0 lead against a Flames team (6-8-2) that scored twice in the third period to make it interesting.

"I think if we continued the way we were playing in the first period and then in the second, we should have really controlled that game mostly, but they battled back," Elliott said. "They're a hard-working team that doesn't quit. They got two on us, but we squeaked it out and battled that last couple minutes to get the win.

"When you get off to a lead sometimes you tend to relax when you shouldn't. It's another lesson we can learn from. ... You have to be careful out there and have a little desperation."

Kevin Shattenkirk assisted on the Blues' second goal, giving him an assist in a career-best seventh straight game, the longest current run in the League. He has eight in that span.

Tim Jackman scored his first goal of the season, Mike Cammalleri scored his fifth and former Blues draft pick Reto Berra made 24 saves for Calgary. The Flames have dropped five of six. Calgary is 3-8-0 in its past 11 after a 3-0-2 start to the season, and saw its futility on the power play reach eight games (0-for-28) after going 0-for-6.

"Two different teams," Flames coach Bob Hartley said. "First period we were tentative, we started on our heels, we made it tough on ourselves. [We gave] a goal so early in the game but we never quit. I felt like we got in the game, but it was little too late. If we could backtrack and play a different first 20 minutes, it might have been a different game."

The Blues dominated the first period, outshooting the Flames 11-2 and getting goals from Tarasenko and Lapierre as the ice was skewed toward Berra for much of the period.

Tarasenko's first goal in nine games gave the Blues a 1-0 lead 3:01 into the game. The power-play goal broke the Blues' modest 0-for-8 streak with the man advantage. He followed up former Calgary defenseman Jay Bouwmeester's shot from the slot and buried the puck into the open side past Berra.

It was the sixth straight game in which the Blues scored the first goal and 11th time in 14 overall. They've now won nine of those games.

Lapierre was able to position himself in front of Berra and redirect Jordan Leopold's shot from the left boards 10:12 into the game to give the Blues a 2-0 lead.

"It was a slow start for me," Lapierre said. "I played four games and three weeks off because of the suspension (Oct. 15). I felt like I had two training camps. I feel like my legs are coming back slowly and I think tonight is more of the player I am that we saw in the beginning.

"I just wanted to keep it simple. Just screen the goalie and that was a great play by Leo."

Hitchcock liked his team's play early, then noticed a drop-off after the Blues started taking penalties.

"The first period was terrific," Hitchcock said. "We did a lot of really good things. We played exactly the way we wanted to. We had rush-attack chances, our power play looked good. Everything we needed to do, we did in the first period and then we took those penalties and it took us out of rhythm and allowed their better players to play on easy ice. They ended up exiting the zone and then we ended up in a little bit of a prevent game. We weren't really in any trouble in the game, but you don't like seeing penalties we took today 200 feet from your net. When you've got something like that going, you want to hope that the players keep building on it.

"I would say they were unnecessary penalties, some of them were ... penalties you can't afford to take if you want to be a really good team. You can't afford to take those, so that's something we're going to have to learn."

The Blues extended the lead to 3-0 when Steen was able to take T.J. Oshie's centering feed and beat Berra in tight with a backhand 5:55 into the second period.

"It was a great play," Steen said. "We seemed to, especially the first half of that game, we were finding each other pretty good making small give-and-go's in tight spaces.

"We were just managing the puck well. We were making plays when we needed to. We were getting it deep when we needed to. We were coming out of our zone clean, quick, fast, with a lot of pace and that sort of got slower as the game progressed. We started getting longer and longer on our shifts. That's what happens. We ended up winning the hockey game. We're not happy with out third period, so we'll tidy it up. It's a win."

Jackman got the Flames on the board when he finished off Shane O'Brien's shot from the point. Elliott made the initial save, but Jackman was in the slot and buried the rebound high glove side 4:41 into the third period.

Jackman's goal snapped Elliott's shutout streak at 111:35.

(St. Louis Blues/Mark Buckner)
The Blues' Vladimir Tarasenko (right) gets off a shot in front of Calgary
defenseman and St. Louis native Chris Butler Thursday night.
The Flames were pressing late, and Cammalleri finished off a shot from the right circle at 14:49 to make it a 3-2 game.

Chris Butler's shot from the left point was blocked by Adam Cracknell and caromed to Cammalleri in the right circle, who one-timed a high shot past Elliott.

After Vladimir Sobotka took a delay of game (faceoff violation) penalty with 2:51 remaining, the Blues had to stave off a Calgary team that nearly accomplished something rarely done -- overcome a three-goal, third-period deficit.

The final penalty kill was the last of a series that Hitchcock felt kept his top line off the ice in 5-on-5 situations, an area the Blues' coach felt was dynamic in the game.

"I would have been really interested to see how good that line was, the way they started and how dynamic they were, if we would have kept them playing 5-on-5," Hitchcock said of Steen, T.J. Oshie and David Backes. "I would have been really interested to see how they looked. I think they could have really lit it up today. They were absolutely dominant 5-on-5 and they had continuity and chemistry going on and then we ended up having them kill a lot of penalties today."

The Blues started their second five-game homestand of the season well but know they need to finish stronger with some strong teams coming in, including the Pittsburgh Penguins Saturday night.

"We had a good start, but you look at the last couple periods, we let off the gas a little bit and gave them a reason to get back in the hockey game," Leopold said. "We'll have to address that, but a win's a win and we'll take the points."

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