Thursday, December 11, 2014

Steen returns with three-point night, fuels Blues' 6-3 win against Islanders

Backes plays, Bouwmeester returns as team 
wins third in a row; top line combined for seven points

ST. LOUIS -- Alexander Steen's return to the lineup for the Blues came just in time Thursday against the New York Islanders, a team Steen has success against. 

Steen scored two goals, including the tiebreaker 4:32 into the third period, and had an assist in a 6-3 Blues victory at Scottrade Center. He missed the previous two games with a lower-body injury.

Adding Steen to a top line with David Backes and T.J. Oshie saw the trio combine for three goals and four assists.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Alexander Steen (20) returned to the Blues lineup tonight and scored twice
and had a three-point night against former teammate Jaroalav Halak (41).

"We've been put together maybe one or two games this year and seemed to break up in the middle of the game, but tonight, we found that chemistry that we left off with last year," said Oshie, who had a goal and two assists. "All three guys were working and when we're doing that, that's when we get all our success."

The Blues weren't sure Wednesday whether they'd have Steen, Backes (facial lacerations) or Jay Boumweester (groin) for the game, but all three made triumphant returns and helped the Blues' cause.

Steen has 18 points (five goals, 13 assists) in 17 games against the Islanders. 

"I thought all the guys that came back in gave us some structure and some continuity in our lineup," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. "... I thought (Steen) was real good; I thought that line was real good. They set the tempo early in the hockey game, set the tempo in the third period. That's what we need. 

"To me, the points are coming because of it. Points aren't coming because they're just playing hockey. They're playing hockey the right way and it's a big line that can compete. They're getting it everywhere. They're looking more and more like they did last year to be honest with you, which is real good for us."

The Blues (19-8-2), who blew a two-goal lead, got a goal and an assist from Barret Jackman, Kevin Shattenkirk had two assists giving him six points (five assists) in five games, and Jake Allen made 25 saves. 

With the game tied 2-2, Backes threw a puck high off the glass in his zone, Oshie won it at center ice to create a rush into the Islanders zone, fired a shot at former Blues goalie Jaroslav Halak, and Steen knocked in the rebound.

"I was shooting for a rebound there," Oshie said. "I tried high blocker once and then I don't know if I tried five-hole on [Halak] already, but I figured I'd shoot for a rebound. I saw guys coming from the weak side. Luckily, Steener was there."

Oshie took Patrik Berglund's behind-the-net pass in the slot and beat Halak high glove side with 4:13 remaining to make it 4-2. 

Paul Stastny's power-play goal, the Blues' fifth in seven tries against the Islanders this season, made it 5-2 with 2:12 left. Jaden Schwartz scored into an empty net with 1:04 to play. 

Stastny has a four-game point streak (four goals, one assist). 

The victory was the Blues' third in a row and their second against the Islanders in six days. St. Louis has defeated the Islanders five straight times and seven of the past eight. 

The Islanders (19-10-0) got second-period goals from John Tavares and Mikhail Grabovski to tie the game 2-2. Kyle Okposo scored with 1:44 to play. 

Halak, playing in his first game in St. Louis since being traded by the Blues last season, made 27 saves. He faced the Blues for the first time Saturday in a 6-4 loss.

But it was New York's third consecutive loss, their second such streak this season, and the Islanders have given up 17 goals.

Tavares scored with 3:57 remaining in the period after the Islanders won an offensive-zone faceoff, and Tavares' shot dribbled through Allen's legs. 

Late in the period, Frans Nielsen poked a faceoff win forward, and Grabovski caught the Blues and Allen napping with a wrist shot from the high slot with 5.3 seconds remaining. 

The goal had the Blues reeling a bit.

"We just let our foot off the gas for three minutes," said Allen, who improved to 9-3-1 on the season. "A team like that that's so offensive, they took advantage of the opportunities. 

"It's tough letting a goal in with five seconds of a period. But the guys came out strong in the third, which to me, is pretty impressive to watch that."

It's the fifth time this season the Blues have seen a team overcome a 2-0 deficit on them to tie the game. But the Blues are 4-0-1 in those games because of the ability to regroup and dictate play.

"I don't know which part is the killer instinct," Hitchcock said. "This is like the fifth row evaluation, but I think one of the things that we have to get into our game is we get trapped a lot when the other team gets behind and then they amp up the risk. We go with the risk, so they're risking, we're risking, but it's going in either net. It's going in  our net as much as it's going in their net. 

"We've got a team where we don't need to amp up the risk, but you look at the second period, it's 2-0, we got a breakaway, we've got two 2-on-1's, we can hammer it home, but then they start adding extra players on the attacks, then we start adding extra players and all of the sudden, you've got this track meet going back and forth and then they end up tying the game up. What I'd like to see is understand score, and then play the game properly. That's the instincts that I'd like to have. ... If we didn't have a killer instinct, we wouldn't have done what we did in the third period. We've done that a lot in the third period. We've got that element. I just think we've got to know when the other team is starting to apply the risk, and then we've got to make them pull it 200 feet, take their chances and that's when we'll get more odd-man rushes."

With Islanders defenseman Brian Strait off for interference, the Blues were able to get good movement on their first power play. Steen stepped into a slap shot from straight away that beat Halak 5:58 into the game for a 1-0 lead. 

Jackman made it 2-0 at 14:18 of the first when Steen found the defenseman with a cross-ice pass, and Jackman stepped into a slap shot from the top of the left circle that went in off the right post. 
(St. Louis Blues photo)
T.J. Oshie (right) moves past Islanders forward Kyle Okposo Thursday. The
Blues won 6-3 as Oshie had three points with a goal and two assists.

It was Jackman's first multipoint game since March 13, 2013 against the San Jose Sharks.

"Steener has got great vision and he sucked three guys to him and sauces one far side and I just had to get the shot off and a little knuckler beat Jaro," Jackman said.  

The win for the Blues was enough to keep pace with the red-hot Chicago Blackhawks and Nashville Predators in the Central Division. All three teams won.

"There's a lot of elements to like," Hitchcock said of his team's game. "This is the likes and dislikes of our season. Tonight's game is a microcosm of our season. We've got great spirit, which is stuff you love, but understanding and managing the game the right way, I think it's going to be important that we figure out when the other team's got the push, then that's when we've got to have the right push back." 

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