Sunday, March 27, 2016

Lessons learned in Alberta, Blues have soared since

Losses to Calgary, Edmonton dusted aside, refocus 
made clear; response has been four straight shutouts

ST. LOUIS -- Those two games the Blues played in Alberta, Canada against Calgary and Edmonton ... remember those?

Those games that were supposed to simply be a blip on the radar? An easy two points on each occasion that turned into a train wreck twice? Two losses that could have sent the Blues into a late-season downward spiral that would have pulled them away from the race for the Central Division title and with more questions heading into the Stanley Cup Playoffs?
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues players Colton Parayko (55) and Vladimir Tarasenko are all
smiles, which has been a common theme lately.

Yeah, a distant memory.

Long gone.


With two days to lament after a discouraging 6-4 loss to the Oilers that came on the heels of an even worse 7-4 loss to the Flames, how would the Blues respond to those two stinkers?

For starters, ask Brian Elliott. Ask Jake Allen, who was pulled from the loss at Calgary and then allowed five goals in the loss to Edmonton.

Since allowing 13 goals in the two losses, the Blues have been a full-proof seal. They haven't allowed a goal since. Four straight shutouts (a franchise record), 240 minutes, 18 seconds without allowing a goal (a franchise record), and it goes to 261:51 of shutout hockey since the last time they allowed a goal with either Elliott or Allen in net, and it goes to 286:28 since the last 5-on-5 goal ... scored by Taylor Hall at the 13:32 mark of the first period on March 16.

It didn't take much reflection on those clunkers, that's for sure, even though those losses came after a six-game winning streak.

"We took it to heart for the time being and we erased it completely," said Allen, who pitched a 32-save shutout Saturday in a 4-0 victory at the Washington Capitals. "It happened. It is what it is and we had a meeting and said, 'Forget it; let's move on.' From myself to everyone in the lineup, it wasn't us and we sort of erased that from our season and not worried about it and got back on the path. We're moving up now."

Are they ever.

Even though those points would certainly be precious at this point, they're gone and dwelling on them too much would have hindered any progress, so the Blues (45-22-9), who have won four in a row and 10 of 12, righted a couple of very bad wrongs.

And according to coach Ken Hitchcock, all it took was different outcomes on special teams.

The Blues gave up five power play goals (four to Edmonton) and a pair of shorthanded goals at Calgary. Yikes.

But since, the Blues have killed 10 straight penalty kills, and the power play, well it hasn't been lighting things up but it hasn't had to be.

"I don't think there's much difference (to the way we're playing now)," Hitchcock said. "The difference in the games in Alberta, the two games were just sloppiness on special teams. Five-on-five, we've been playing at this level for a long time now. So I don't think our 5-on-5 game's gone anywhere. What's picked up is our penalty killing. Since our penalty killing's been better, it was unnerving in Calgary and Edmonton because every mistake seemed to end up in our net. It's not doing that now, so I think our power play still has to pick up, but overall our 5-on-5 play has stayed pretty consistent."

Elliott has a three-game shutout streak going, and he'll get the chance to extend that Tuesday against the Colorado Avalanche. Allen was given the keys to contain that potent Capitals offense that was second in the NHL and tops in the Eastern Conference, and most importantly, get his game going.

"It was the first time we've played them all year, first time I've ever actually played against them," Allen said of the Capitals. "You always watch and see the Capitals power play and they're the standard to get to in the NHL, especially with (Alex) Ovechkin out there. You've got to be on your toes and stay out of the box as much as you can."

Hitchcock has downplayed the play of the goalies, always referring to just putting them in there and they just play. But even he was impressed following the latest shutout.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues players (from left) Patrik Berglund, Alex Pietrangelo, Colton Parayko
and Paul Stastny celebrate a goal Saturday in Washington.

"To me it's about the process and the process for me is that we're getting better at not allowing space and time for people to score and I think we're learning when to collapse and when not to collapse from a coverage standpoint," Hitchcock said. "So to me, we're giving up initial chances but we're not giving up second and third chances now. I think that's helping the goalies. In saying that, man, the goalies have been just outstanding. They've been the story all year. They're what's kept us afloat all year and they're doing it again. We missed three really good players (Saturday) and they're doing it again for us. They are the story of the team this year and they're keeping us afloat again."

"This is the way we want it," Allen said. "We've had a weird year with injuries, missing bodies. We really haven't had a full team all year and we still don't. We're still missing 'Bouw'  (Jay Bouwmeester) and 'Steener' (Alexander Steen) and 'Otter' (Steve Ott), which are huge key pieces to our team. I think we're only going to get better coming into the playoffs whenever they're healthy again. It's just a credit to everyone in this locker room to get to first in the division with the year we've had."

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