Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Blues looking to continue strong start

Team is 4-0 to start season for only second time in franchise history, 
looking for first-ever 5-0 run to begin season, doing it without key injured players

SUNRISE, Fla. -- Honestly, did anyone think the Blues would be in this position four games into the season?


Come on!

Even without a handful of injured players (Alexander Steen, Jay Bouwmeester, Robby Fabbri, Patrik Berglund and Zach Sanford) that would have logged key minutes and played significant roles?
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues center Brayden Schenn (10) takes a shot on Tuesday in a 3-1 win at 
the New York Rangers. Schenn has five points in four games this season.

You may be among the few if you honestly answered yes.

But here the Blues are, sitting at 4-0-0, trying to become the first team in the NHL to reach five victories when they continue a season-tying long four-game trip Thursday against the Florida Panthers (1-1-0), who opened the season with a home-and-home set against the Tampa Bay Lightning, who the Blues will finish the trip against Saturday night.

The Blues and Panthers will drop the puck at BB&T Center at 6:30 p.m. (CT) on FS-MW and KMOX 1120-AM.

We already know Fabbri (knee) will miss the remainder of the season, Sanford (shoulder) will not be available until at the very least, late February, and Berglund (shoulder) will is out until December.

Steen (hand) and Bouwmeester (ankle) are on the horizon, and Steen was projected to possibly join the team on this trip, but the Blues have done this with a mix of key veterans, young players and two kids (Tage Thompson and Vince Dunn) who made their NHL debuts this season.

The Blues have started 4-0-0 one other time (2013-14) and have never won five straight games in franchise history to open a season; they've opened with three straight wins on the road only twice, and are inching closer to the 2002-03 team that started with five straight wins away from home to begin a season.

Wins against the New York Islanders (3-2 in a shootout) on Monday and 3-1 on Tuesday against Kevin Shattenkirk and the New York Rangers has kick-started this trip off on the right foot.

But the Blues are not content.

"It's no secret we’re missing top players on our team and whether its veteran players or goalies or whomever, guys are stepping up each night and that’s what makes a good team," said center Brayden Schenn, who scored his second goal of the season, the game-winner, against the Rangers. "The guys are doing that so far.  We’re 4-0 and we'll take it. We have two tough games in Florida. Good start to the season so far though."

The Blues have done it in a variety of ways. They've outscored their opponent (5-4 in overtime to open the season at two-time defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh), hit Ken Hitchcock and the Dallas Stars with a quick-strike ability and solid goaltending from Jake Allen in the home opener, a 4-2 win last Saturday, and used Allen's sharp play and Vladimir Tarasenko's timely goals in the win against the Islanders before throttling the Rangers for two periods before relying on Carter Hutton's strong effort in goal to hold off the Blueshirts.

And the win over the Rangers wrapped up a stretch of three games in four days.

"Given the schedule here, three games in four days, less than four days really, I thought the guys battled really hard," Blues coach Mike Yeo said after the win Tuesday. "There were some moments and some times where the fatigue showed up, especially in our execution. Some uncharacteristic turnovers, but the guys really battled hard and I thought 'Hutts' did a great job."

Hutton's effort Tuesday was especially impressive when the Rangers fired off 17 shots at the Blues netminder.

"That was a key moment in the game," Yeo said. "(Hutton's) first game of the regular season, the guys want to play well in front of him and dig in defensively. Again, I thought there were some times when fatigue started to kick in, and we weren’t really moving our feet, and we started to turn some pucks over, and when that happened he was there. But for the most part, most of the night we were pretty solid in our game."

Look for Allen to get the nod again against the Panthers, but it's reassuring to know Blues goaltending is up and running already.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Goalie Carter Hutton (40) makes one of his 32 saves Tuesday during a 3-1
win against the New York Rangers to help the Blues start the season 4-0. 

"We worked hard and played well," Hutton said. "They're a pretty dangerous team.  Every time you face them, you know they’re going to get their chances.  I thought we settled in and our penalty kill was huge after we let up the first one. We played solid and it was a great game. After we went up 2-1, I thought 'Hank' (Henrik Lundqvist) made a lot of big saves and kept the game tight but we were able to hang on.

"... I always put pressure on myself either way, even if we had been 0-3. That is my job. I play a lot of the back-to-backs on the road. I am pretty comfortable in my career playing in a different and tough building. I thought the guys did a great job in front of me."

Potting these early-season points could be beneficial for the Blues as the season moves along. The players say it all the time that points in October as just as important as those in March or April. So keeping this season-opening run going is imperative to the team's success, especially when Steen and Bouwmeester return in the very near future, the Blues hope.

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