Thursday, October 30, 2014

Undermanned Blues rise to occasion, blank Ducks 2-0

Without four of their top forwards, St. Louis 
wins third straight; Allen earns second NHL shutout

ST. LOUIS -- There comes a time when one backs a rabid dog into a corner, it can turn out to be a dangerous situation.

The Blues were backed into a corner with a quarter of their forwards out of the lineup. And the big, mighty Anaheim Ducks, with their NHL-leading 16 points, were in town ready to prey.

No David Backes, no T.J. Oshie, no Paul Stastny and no Joakim Lindstrom. No worries for the Blues.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Jake Allen (left) and Maxim Lapierre (right) played a key role against Corey
Perry (middle) and the Anaheim Ducks in the Blues' 2-0 victory Thursday.

The Blues found a way to persevere against the Ducks on Thursday despite playing without four of their top nine forwards, players who had accounted for 19 percent of their offensive production through the first eight games and roughly 25 percent of their payroll. 

Nobody was going to feel sorry for the Blues for missing such key pieces, and neither were they.

Alexander Steen's first-period goal proved to be the difference, and Jake Allen stopped all 24 shots he faced to earn his second NHL shutout in the Blues' 2-0 win against the Ducks at Scottrade Center, the Blues' third win in a row.

The Blues' most impressive victory on this young season came without their top two centers and two of their top three right wings.  

So instead of relying on their captain (Backes), assistant captain (Oshie), prized free agent signing (Stastny) and another of their free agent signings (Lindstrom), the Blues relied on the likes of Ryan Reaves, who scored his second goal in three games after going without a goal in 54 straight games; Maxim Lapierre, who played the most minutes (19:40) in a regular season games since playing 20:12 for the Montreal Canadiens against the New Jersey Devils on March 17, 2009; Chris Porter and Magnus Paajarvi, both healthy scratches Tuesday, played key minutes.  

"You lose those four key offensive additions and key parts of our team, our captain, but to be able to see guys from my perspective step up, watching them out there -- watching Ports, Mags, Lappy, Revo -- those guys filled those guys roles. … I had to do my part," Allen said. "Every team in the league is going to have losses all season long and unfortunately we have them right now. So just to see everyone step up and stick together, they are one of the best teams in the League with so much firepower, guys were sacrificing themselves tonight and it was a big win."

The Blues (5-3-1) were missing Backes and Oshie, each of whom was diagnosed with a concussion earlier Thursday after they sustained injuries Tuesday against the Dallas Stars. Stastny (shoulder) missed his fifth consecutive game, and Lindstrom became the latest to fall prey to a bacterial infection the Blues have dealt with over the past two weeks. 

It didn't matter. 

Those players were replaced up front by Paajarvi and Porter, and Jordan Leopold, a healthy scratch against Dallas, played as the seventh defenseman.

And then there was the line of Patrik Berglund, Jaden Schwartz and Dmitrij Jaskin, which had the daunting task of shadowing the Ducks' dynamic duo of Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry.

Mission accomplished.

"I just think we managed the game the way we had to," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. "... I thought we did a really good job of managing the lines on the ice. This is really eight of the last nine periods we've done a better job of managing the lines and when we do that with our work ethic, we can take advantage of it." 

John Gibson stopped 27 shots for the Ducks, who fell to 8-3-0 and were shut out for the first time since Feb. 5. The Ducks play in Dallas on Friday.

On paper, the Ducks had a tremendous edge with their key pieces in the lineup and tried to stay cautious of the Blues' situation. 

"They were a hungry team tonight," Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau said of the Blues. "We talked about it before the game. Teams that are down some of their best players, they dig deeper and they played as hard as they could. If you are not ready to meet their work ethic, then you are not going to have success. They just worked harder."

Ducks captain Ryan Getzlaf agreed.

"We didn't work," he said. "It doesn't matter what you do. If you are standing still in this League, you can't make plays. It's a pretty simple explanation. We were standing around watching. It's all mental. Our responsibility as professionals is to be ready to play. You can make mistakes on the ice but not moving our legs, not being mental between the ears is our fault."

Steen's goal, his second, came off a deflection of a left-point shot by Carl Gunnarsson. Despite being tied up by Anaheim defenseman Mark Fistric, Steen got in front of the shot, and the puck got past Gibson off Steen's body 4:29 into the first period to give the Blues a 1-0 lead. 

"It's basically the way the team played tonight," Steen said, describing his goal. "... I thought we played a pretty solid game. We got back to playing our style. ... We played a simple, extremely smart hockey game tonight."  

It was the Blues' first goal against the Ducks in 129:58 dating back to Jan. 18 of a 3-2 Anaheim victory in St. Louis.

The Ducks had a great opportunity to tie it late in the first when the Blues turned over the puck in their zone while on the power play, but Getzlaf fired a wrist shot high from the slot in the waning seconds. 

The Blues took advantage of a Cam Fowler turnover, as he fanned on his outlet pass from his own zone, and Reaves fired a wrist shot from the slot past Gibson 2:02 into the third period for a 2-0 St. Louis lead. 

The Ducks had 20 seconds of a 5-on-3 power play midway through the third period, and Allen robbed Corey Perry from the slot with 10:54 remaining to preserve the two-goal lead. 

Once the Blues gained the two-goal advantage, they felt like they wouldn't be denied. 

(St. Louis Blues photo)
Patrik Berglund (21) looks to fend off a Ducks defender 
Thursday night at Scottrade Center.
"I thought we played the third period the way we needed to ... on our toes," Hitchcock said, "and we kept up the pressure right until the very end when they were able to pull the goalie and then took the power play there."

Maxim Lapierre, who got an assist on Reaves' goal, saved the Blues from surrendering the Ducks' first goal by pulling a shot off the goal line after it trickled past Allen with the Anaheim playing with a sixth attacker with less than two minutes remaining.

"I thanked him after the game," Allen said of Lapierre. "There was a screen. I think [Ryan] Kesler shot it and I just saw it at the last second and got my glove on it and I didn’t really want to move in case I knocked it in my own net. Great second effort by him. Those guys are sacrificing, paying the extra price."

After allowing 13 first-period shots, the Blues limited the Ducks to 11 the rest of the way.

"We were skating out of our zone, using our speed, using our feet, our smarts and that's the way we want to play -- it doesn’t matter who's in the lineup," Allen said. "But we played great. It was great to see. We've been making a lot of strides lately so it was great to see."

* NOTES -- The Blues were unable to recall a player at this time because of salary cap implications. According to, the Blues are roughly $400,000 under the salary cap, and recalling a player from an AHL contract would kick in their NHL salary, which would be over the cap number they have available.

Even if the Blues put players on injured reserve, they still count against the cap. The only way they would get cap relief is if a player was placed on long-term injured reserve. 

With Stastny ($6.5 million salary, $7 million cap hit), Backes ($4.75 million salary, $4.5 million cap hit) and Oshie ($4.5 million salary, $4.175 million cap hit) shelved because of injuries, the Blues were missing $15.75 million in salary from their 2014-15 roster. The trio account for 23 percent of the team's salary cap.

"I look at it as a high-class problem," Blues general manager Doug Armstrong said. "I think if you had $15 million of cap space, you'd probably (be) wishing you were a cap team and dealing with these issues. So these are issues that we have to deal with. We knew going in that we were going to be close. I think the last time I looked, we were so close to the cap, I think we're 16th in the league. Over half of the league is dealing with these issues on a daily basis. I know teams have already played short this year. I hope we don't have to get to that spot, but we have 24 guys on contracts right now and that's just the nature of the beast when you've got four guys out. ... you play with the 20 you have."

. . . After winning 11 of 14 faceoffs (79 percent), center Jori Lehtera now leads the NHL in faceoff percentage at 63.9 percent. He's won 85 of 119 draws on the season. ... The Blues' shutout of the Ducks is their first since beating them 5-0 on Oct. 17, 2009.

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