Thursday, December 15, 2016

Blues score five unanswered in 5-2 victory against Devils

Tarasenko continues torrid pace with goal, two assists; Yakupov, 
Lehtera, Berglund all score; St. Louis extends home point streak to 14 games

ST. LOUIS -- Something magical about Scottrade Center that brings out the best in the Blues, even when it starts bleak.

The Blues, on the heels of one of the, if not the worst losses of the season Tuesday at Nashville, fell behind by two goals against the slumping New Jersey Devils, who were looking for any reason to break their three-game losing streak in which they were outscored 14-3.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues defenseman Alex Pietrangelo (27) is all smiles after scoring past 
Devils goalie Cory Schneider in a 5-2 victory Thursday night. 

But Vladimir Tarasenko, as he often can, happened. And Jori Lehtera happened. Nail Yakupov, who didn't even know he was in the lineup until he arrived at the arena, happened. And Patrik Berglund happened.

They all made offensive contributions, including the red-hot Tarasenko, who had a goal and two assists as the Blues rallied to score five unanswered goals in a 5-2 victory against the Devils Thursday before 18,347 at Scottrade Center.

Tarasenko has a five-game point streak (two goals, eight assists), 15 points (six goals, nine assists) the past nine games and 28 points (11 goals, 17 assists) the past 20 games; he's second in the NHL with 37 points (15 goals, 22 assists), two behind Edmonton's Connor McDavid.

"It was really important for us to get a win today because we knew New Jersey have a good team, especially after the last couple tough losses for us on the road," Tarasenko said. "We do a pretty good job tonight. We have tough opponents coming now and we need to win these games and we always try to prepare for them. It's always nice to have two points at home."

Lehtera, Alex Pietrangelo, Yakupov and Berglund scored for St. Louis (17-10-4), which extended its point streak at home to 14 games (11-0-3), second-longest in franchise history (18-0-3 in 2011-12). Jake Allen made 24 saves to extend his home winning streak to eight games; he's 11-0-2 at Scottrade Center this season.

But the Blues falling behind 2-0 in goals by Adam Henrique and Miles Wood had the home faithful grumbling after the Blues allowed six unanswered goals in a 6-3 loss to the Predators, making it eight in a row Thursday.

But the home factor is nothing to brush aside. It matters, and the Blues are 13-1-3 at home on the season.

"Fans help us a lot," Tarasenko said. "I feel like we feel more confident here, so now we have job to figure out why our road record (4-9-1) is not really good. ... We believe in our work, we believe in our coaching staff and now we try to stay as close as we can together to try and win games like this." 

The Blues rallied to defeat the Devils (12-11-6) for the second time in seven days. St. Louis won 4-1 in New Jersey on Dec. 9.

"I thought the first period, they were fresh and their pace was high," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said of the Devils. "Their puck movement was ahead of our pressure, so we were going in and they were moving it by us. In the second period, which was our best period, we played for a long time, we caught up to them and hemmed them in quite a bit. Our pressure game ended up giving us all the scoring opportunities."

The Devils have been outscored 19-5 on a four-game losing streak. Adam Henrique scored a shorthanded goal and had an assist. Miles Wood got his second goal and Cory Schneider made 26 saves.

"It's a big concern," Schneider said. "We're here to win games and make the playoffs and be relevant here in the standings and when you go on losing streaks, it's hard to recover. It's really hard to play catch-up later in the year with three-point games playing against your division all the time. It's really difficult to make up ground so we we have to find a way to put the brakes on the skid and go on a streak of our own because it's tough to lose three, four, five in a row and survive after that."

Henrique scored on a backhand against Allen at 7:49 of the first to give New Jersey a 1-0 lead. Tarasenko had to feel the worst since he was the one that whiffed on wrist shot that led to Travis Zajac springing Henrique, who beat Allen with a backhand top shelf.

Wood put the Devils ahead 2-0 at 11:36 of the first when he followed up Henrique's miss off the back boards around the opposite side.

But that's when the Blues got it going, and Tarasenko made it 2-1 with a power-play goal at 17:06. 

Tarasenko's goal was typical Tarasenko. Just when you think there's nothing going on, Tarasenko was perhaps looking to move the puck back to the point when he quickly turned and snapped a quick wrister top shelf over Schneider.

"I thought the one that got us going was the first goal," Hitchcock said. "He's not feeling great, he's on for both goals, and then to get one back on the power play kind of just brought us back. To me, we were off and running after that goal. It brought him back into the game, started feeling good about himself and then the line really started to play, especially in the second."

"Jaden (Schwartz) made a nice screen and he was a right-handed goaltender so I tried to shoot high glove and good that it goes in," Tarasenko said.

Lehtera tied it 2-2 at 2:05 of the second period when he gave the puck to Robby Fabbri, went to the net and deflected Fabbri's shot five-hole after Fabbri used Ben Lovejoy as a screen.

Then Tarasenko and Pietrangelo went to work, and the Blues' defenseman gave them a 3-2 lead at 7:45.

Playing 4-on-4 and what almost looked like a set play, Tarasenko came around teammate Kevin Shattenkirk, took a drop pass from the Blues' defenseman and pinpointed a pass to Pietrangelo backdoor for the easy tap-in that gave the Blues a 3-2 lead.

"We have kind of a play like that, and 'Shatty' and I are out there together we like to move around like that," Pietrangelo said. "Great pass by 'Vladi.' It just kind of hit my stick. Right spot at the right time … I almost missed the net."

Pietrangelo was shocked he was that open.

"Yeah," he said. "I was shocked that he passed it that hard, too. I had to make sure I shot it as hard as I could to make sure it went in."

"Not a kind of set play, but when you play 4-on-4 it's more like a creative game. We have really good players like Alex and he can read the game well so if he gets open its easier to get the puck to him."

Yakupov's first goal since Oct. 20 (14 games) put the Blues up 4-2 at 9:00 of the third period. He took Paul Stastny's drop pass going hard to the net, then snapped off a wrist shot that caromed off Andy Greene's leg and over Schneider.

"You've just go to shoot the puck and see what happens," Yakupov said. "Last few games, when I play a lot of games, I haven't really had the chance to shoot the puck and right now, I'm trying to bring the puck to the net and find a good spot to shoot the puck. I know everyone on this team can make really good plays and you just have to be ready every second. I think I've got a good shot; I just have to use it often.

"... I think I played good. I did everything I could. I was really excited to play today. It's been a while since I played. I think I had lots of time on the ice today (13:06) and I was real excited about it."
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk checks the Devils' Sergey 
Kalinin during action Thursday at Schootrade Center.

Berglund's empty-net goal, his first goal in 25 games (Oct. 22) at 18:39 made it 5-2 and capped off a game in which the Blues, who Hitchcock said were outworked at the puck Tuesday resulting in the loss, turned the tables Thursday.

"Well it was an emphasis we looked at," Pietrangelo said. "We knew we had to play hard in our end, especially to take care of those 1-on-1's. In the O-zone, forwards were great tonight. Anytime the 'D' had an opportunity to make a play, it seemed like our guys were right on top of them. That allows us 'D' to be more aggressive, too, so it seemed like we were working real well as a group of five. We’ve done that a lot at home, and it’s always good to see."

Defenseman Brad Hunt registered a point in his fourth straight game since being recalled from the Chicago Wolves.

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