Saturday, January 23, 2016

Blues like position they're in as break looms

Despite points being left on the ice, team in solid 
spot with one big game remaining before deserved rest

CHICAGO -- At 28-15-8, the Blues have one game remaining before a well-deserved week off for the NHL All-Star break that will enable what seems like a season's worth of injured players to finally heal up.

One huge Central Division game remains Sunday against division leader Chicago, a chance to get to 66 points and for all intents and purposes, have the Blues feeling extremely good about the position they'd be in for the final 30 games.

One way of looking at what the Blues have done is can be viewed as remarkable considering they've had 183 man-games lost due to injury, which is in the top five in the league.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Ty Rattie (18) has three goals in five games played since being recalled
from the Chicago Wolves.

But on the other hand, there have been points the Blues have left on the table.

Blown third-period games in which they were either tied or leading, including those games in which they've allowed late goals that resulted in a loss, such as Friday's 2-1 shootout loss at Colorado in which Nathan MacKinnon scored a goal with the sixth attacker with 53.7 seconds remaining to erase a 1-0 deficit, the Blues could conceivably be in a better position.

MacKinnon has victimized the Blues twice in that situation this season, and for all intents and purposes, the Blues can consider two points given away in that situation while handing the Avalanche four.

In those late-game scenarios, let's take a look at how things have transpired.

The Blues have allowed four sixth-attacker goals and have scored none; twice they were able to win:

Oct. 16 at Vancouver -- Daniel Sedin in a 4-3 victory
Dec. 29 vs. Nashville -- Colin Wilson in a 4-3 overtime victory
Jan. 6 at Colorado -- Nathan MacKinnon in a 4-3 overtime loss
Jan. 22 at Colorado -- Nathan MacKinnon in a 2-1 shootout loss

And in the empty-net category in which the Blues are either trying to seal a regulation win or come up with some late-game magic of their own, they've been outscored 9-6.

Goals for:
Oct. 8 vs. Edmonton -- Troy Brouwer in a 3-1 victory
Oct. 27 vs. Tampa Bay -- Troy Brouwer in a 2-0 victory
Nov. 28 vs. Columbus -- Alexander Steen in a 3-1 victory
Dec. 8 vs. Arizona -- David Backes in a 4-1 victory
Jan. 12 vs. New Jersey -- David Backes in a 5-2 victory
Jan. 18 vs. Pittsburgh -- Kevin Shattenkirk in a 5-2 victory

Goals against:
Nov. 3 vs. Los Angeles -- Trevor Lewis in a 3-0 loss
Nov. 12 at New York Rangers -- Dan Girardi in a 6-3 loss
Nov. 14 vs. Chicago -- Artem Anisimov in a 4-2 loss
Nov. 17 at Columbus -- Brandon Saad in a 3-1 loss
Dec. 10 vs. Philadelphia -- Ryan White in a 4-2 loss
Dec. 13 vs. Colorado -- Carl Soderberg in a 3-1 loss
Dec. 27 at Dallas -- Cody Eakin in a 3-0 loss
Dec. 31 vs. Minnesota -- Thomas Vanek in a 3-1 loss
Jan. 2 at Toronto -- Michael Grabner in a 4-1 loss

While fans can view some of the games this season with a level of frustration, the big picture can be viewed as the Blues have gutted out a number of games to leave themselves in a very good position within the division and most importantly, the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

"We're getting points. That's all that matters. Now we're getting points," coach Ken Hitchcock said after Friday's loss, as frustrating as it may have seemed. "We've got to take this one. When it gets to a shootout, on the road with what we're dealing with, pretty happy. Move forward and we're playing Chicago."

Alexander Steen, who scored what looked to be the winning goal until the Avalanche's late-game, views the positives that the team has been able to persevere through. Not Friday.

"Not tonight. We lost one," Steen said after the game. "We should have had this one. We let them get too much momentum in the third period, but I think if you look over the last seven or eight games, it's been a battle. The boys have been battling hard. You see the guys after the games put everything we've got into it. We're working."

But looking at the big picture, with all the players out of the lineup and the young players that have had to fill roles, and Brian Elliott's recent brilliance in the absence of Jake Allen (lower-body injury), it's been a heck of a stand to this point.

"When you go through injury trouble like we have this year ... we started the year with a bunch of bodies down and then started to get healthy and then a bunch of guys went down again, you need that commitment from everybody," said Steen, one of five players to play in all 51 games. "I think if you see over their last span here, the type of games that we've been playing, they're all like this. It's a grind. They're hard-fought, they're emotional games and they've been pretty much one-goal games for a while. There's not a lot of space out there. Collectively, I think we've been doing a good job of keeping it tight together and trying to get the goals. Up until tonight, we've done a good job of holding onto them recently. There were times before that when we weren't, but recently we've been doing a much better job. 

"Guys are battling."

Consider what Joel Edmundson and Colton Parayko as rookies have done on the blue line, what Robert Bortuzzo does when he steps into the lineup and the team doesn't miss much, Robby Fabbri is doing as a rookie at forward and the recent impact Ty Rattie has had with big goals in absence of key players up front, and then there's Elliott, who has picked up where Allen left off when he went down Jan. 8.

All Elliott's done is give the Blues a chance at two points every game, despite who's in and who's not.

"He's our best player right now," Hitchcock said of Elliott. "He's playing outstanding."

Said Steen: "'Moose' has come in and done an unbelievable job when 'Snakey's out. Some of the saves he makes, he makes them look easy and they're not. He's been standing on his head.

"I think Brian's done it, our kids have done it."

It's nothing new for Elliott, who is 5-1-2 since Allen went down. He has a 1.97 goals-against average in that time and a .942 save percentage.

"He's done that to us a few times now," Shattenkirk said of Elliott. "He's a goalie who we have to battle against every game when we play them. We had some great chances tonight and overtime we know is back and forth. Brian made some big saves for us as well to keep us in it.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Brian Elliott (left) and Joel Edmundson (right) have helped alleviate the
injury bug for the Blues, helped them continue to collect points.

"We all couldn't be happier for him right now. He's come in and he's been great for our team all year and obviously this year, or the last few games, him stepping in and playing the way he has is just amazing. We'd really love to get him some run support there in the shootout. He makes two huge saves there. If we can just get one and keep it going, that's what we've got to work on."

Elliott and the Blues will look to have one more solid game with a bit of a patchwork lineup, guys feeling battered and bruised and leave it all on the line.

"It's kind of that time of year when bumps and bruises start showing," Elliott said. "Guys are playing their hearts out blocking shots and that's when you get those little injuries that can mess with things. Luckily we've got one more game here we can battle it out before the break and guys can kind of heal up."

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