Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Lehtera's return fuels Blues' 2-1 win against Coyotes

Jaskin scores fourth game-winner of season; Allen makes 
13 of 25 saves in third to help snap two-game losing streak

ST. LOUIS -- With the return of center Jori Lehtera back to the Blues' lineup, it was a trickle-down effect on many fronts.

It gave the Blues their second-line center back playing as the "STL Line" with Jaden Schwartz and Vladimir Tarasenko, but even more importantly against the Arizona Coyotes on Tuesday, it assembled the line of Dmitrij Jaskin, Paul Stastny and Patrik Berglund that's been so effective.

And it turned out to be Jaskin that was the biggest benefactor with another game-winning goal.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Dmitrij Jaskin celebrates after scoring the eventual game-winning goal
Tuesday in a 2-1 victory against the Arizona Coyotes.

Jaskin's seventh goal of the season turned into his fourth game-winner, and the Blues defeated the Coyotes 2-1 at Scottrade Center on Tuesday. 

Jaskin gave the Blues a 2-1 lead in the second period after he chipped a puck past Coyotes defenseman Keith Yandle in the Blues zone, took off for the races and beat Smith with a backhand shot from the right dot that squirted through Smith's pads 11:08 into the period. It was Jaskin's third goal in six games.

"The guy was coming behind me so I was just trying to protect the puck and didn't really have a chance to put it on the forehand so I tried to put it on the net and maybe make some rebound for 'Bergie,' but it went through," Jaskin said. "... I was just trying to put my body in front of the guy who was coming behind me. Don't force it, just put it on the net and see what happened after.

"I didn't see it (go in) until I went behind the net. It was a good surprise to me."

What wasn't a surprise for the Blues was how effective their lines flowed with Lehtera, who missed six games with concussion symptoms, back in the lineup.

"I think everybody saw how much we missed Lehtera," said Blues coach Ken Hitchcock, who tied Dick Irvin for fourth on the all-time NHL coaching victories with No. 692. "It's two-fold. First of all, Lehtera is a big help to Tarasenko and Schwartz and secondly, Stastny's line's got great chemistry. They cycle the puck, they bring it off the wall, they did a heck of a job controlling it. They've got weight, they've got size. Jaskin was outstanding today. We had a lot of people playing awful well today."

It was a night in which the Blues experimented with their defensive pairs. With Kevin Shattenkirk (abdominal surgery) out for the foreseeable future, it was clear to Hitchcock he wanted to try something different on the back-end.

Hitchcock played Chris Butler with Alex Pietrangelo and Carl Gunnarsson with Jay Bouwmeester on the right.

"It's a work in progress," Hitchcock said. "There were signs that it was very good. I liked the way Bouw played on the right side, yeah. But it's a work in progress, and hopefully it continues to get better. If we can make this work, it gives us the depth throughout the three-man group that we need right now."

Added Gunnarsson: "That was good. That was easy. Bouw's a great player. I was happy to play with him tonight. It was really good. Made easy for me.

"... Not too many 2-on-1's and odd-man rushes today. Forwards came back today and helped us out really good. Jake was good. They had some chances at the end too, but he was really good for us back there at the end."

Alexander Steen scored and goalie Jake Allen made 25 saves, including 13 in the third period, for the Blues (35-15-4), who had lost their previous two games. They defeated the Coyotes (20-28-7) all three times this season and outscored Arizona 14-2.

"We knew coming in they were playing good," Blues right wing T.J. Oshie said of the Coyotes. "They obviously beat a good team (Monday) night (3-2 shootout win at the Chicago Blackhawks). We just wanted to get back to our hockey. I don't think we played a full 60 minutes in a while here. It was a little bit better. They made a couple big pushes, especially in the third period. 'Snake' was great back in the net for us."

Allen preserved the Blues' one-goal lead with a point-blank save on Tobias Rieder with under two minutes left on the Coyotes' only power play.

"Jake obviously huge, a couple that squirted out in the slot, especially the one left pad save he made," Steen said. "He's made a few of those this year."

The Blues are 8-0-1 in the past nine against the Coyotes. 

Arizona, which had its three-game road winning streak end, got a goal from Sam Gagner. Goalie Mike Smith, after a 36-save performance in a 3-2 shootout victory against the Blackhawks on Monday, made 34 saves.

St. Louis outshot Arizona 14-4 in the period, and it was a period where the Blues felt they took control of the game.

"We did it on our toes," Hitchcock said. "I think that's what I was happiest about. Sometimes you're nervous in the third when you're defending a one-goal lead on a game you should win, but I really liked the way we played in the second period. We played on our toes the whole period and that's the way ... we've got to expect these types of games every night for the rest of the year, and I think our players had fun playing that way. It was good to see. We were on our toes the whole period."

And it was Backes' line that led by example.

"I liked the way Backes' line played from start to finish," Hitchcock said. "They played the right way. From the opening puck drop to the end of the hockey game, they played the right way. They probably could have scored five goals today, but if that's the way they're going to play on a nightly basis, that's going to really, really help us down the stretch here."

Gagner's first goal in six games came after the Coyotes took advantage of a 2-on-1. Butler got caught in a neutral zone pinch and Gagner skated in with Martin Erat. He beat Allen with a shot on the short side after the Blues goalie vacated his position on the post 4:42 into the first period to give Arizona a 1-0 lead. 

Steen's first goal in five games came after Pietrangelo hit Steen with an outlet pass, and Steen quickly tipped it to David Backes, who sprung T.J. Oshie in on Smith. Oshie's power move to the net and shot on created a rebound, and Steen was on the doorstep to tie the game 1-1 with 4:50 remaining in the first. It was Steen's 10th point (third goal) in the past six games against Arizona.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Defenseman Jay Bouwmeester comes into celebrate with T.J. Oshie
(middle) and Alexander Steen (20) after Steen's goal in the first period.

"A great play all the way all the way up the ice," Oshie said. "I think all five guys on the ice touched it. That's when you know you're going good.

"It worked out really well. Whoever was on me I think might have lost an edge or fell down or dove, which opened me up a little more. Those other four guys, that was pretty crisp passing up the ice towards their end."

Arizona pressed in the third. They pulled Smith with 2:03 remaining but Allen was up to the challenge.

"They were throwing pucks at the net and got a few through," said Allen, who has won his past five starts. "Guys boxed them out hard, didn't give them too many rebounds. It was nice. Picked up a big win."

Getting the forwards back on track made life easy for all, including Stastny's group.

"That's the way we have to play, our line," Jaskin said. "Heavy, go to the net, a lot of shots, a lot of hits, control the puck in their zone."

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