Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Tarasenko Schwartz, Schenn lead charge in Blues' 4-2 win over Kings

Trio combines for five points; St. Louis matches franchise record 
for wins in October, win fourth in a row, 6-0-1 past seven games

ST. LOUIS -- Finding different ways to win seemingly each time they do, the Blues had a trio of talented forwards lead by example in a marquee matchup against another Western Conference heavyweight.

On Monday, Vladimir Tarasenko, Jaden Schwartz and Brayden Schenn, a trio of young but ever-growing talent took charge against a team always known for their big, burly, physical style that's added a speed element to their arsenal.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Jaden Schwartz had a goal and assist helping the Blues stay red hot with 4-2
win over Kings on Monday. Schwartz is third in NHL with 17 points.

The line combined for five points, led by Tarasenko and Schwartz each with a goal and an assist, and the Blues won their fourth straight game with a 4-2 victory over the Los Angeles Kings on Monday before 17,423 at Scottrade Center.

After a 4-1 victory against the Columbus Blue Jackets on Saturday in which the Schwartz, Schenn and Tarasenko line was held without a point, it was their mission to come up large in a battle of the top two teams in the Western Conference.

"I thought we were better than last game," Schwartz said. "I thought we were moving a lot better, supporting each other better and just making strong plays with the puck. We weren't  too happy with the last game. Our team played well. I know it was a big win against Columbus, but we knew we had better and we talked about it. We wanted to come out tonight and play a hard game against these guys."

Boy, did they ever.

Knowing that the Kings like to filter pucks into the offensive zone and impose their will on opponents, the Schwartz-Schenn-Tarasenko line took the lead on reversing the tactics on their opponents, and then everyone else followed suit.

But in a game where the Blues were going to need some of their top six forwards to play a large role in the outcome, this trio came out with a vengeance, and did so with purpose.

"You could see the purpose in their game from the start," Blues coach Mike Yeo said. "The forecheck pressure, that's a really tough team to create offense on. You're not going to get easy ice, you're going to really have to assert yourself, you're going to have to force them into mistakes and create opportunities with work ethic, with good sticks, with checking. I thought they did that tonight."

"I feel like every night, we get better," Tarasenko said. "We get more understanding where we are because we never played together before. I play with Jaden for five years and 'Shenner' is first year here, so you just try to talk a lot and just make some plays, not dumb play like dump-and-chase hockey."

The Blues are 6-0-1 in their past seven games and 5-0-0 at home this season.

Carl Gunnarsson and Vladimir Sobotka also scored, and Jake Allen made 26 saves, with a number of them of the clutch variety, for St. Louis (10-2-1), which tied the franchise record for wins in October with the 1997-98 team that went 10-2-2 in October.

"I think we've got a good thing going right now," Allen said. "We're relaxed, have confidence instilled in us right now. I think we're just finding ways to win games. It's fun to watch from my end. Guys are blocking shots; we're doing everything. It's the same stuff we comment on every game. We're just consistently doing it, and I think the more consistent you are, the better chance you're going to win."

The Kings (9-2-1), who completed a six-game road trip 4-2-0, got goals from Tanner Pearson and Dustin Brown. Jonathan Quick made 26 saves.

"Their team game is very strong and their defense is big and they play fast," Kings coach John Stevens said of the Blues. "Kind of a sour note to go home on but to be honest with you, I thought the guys played hard tonight. We'll learn from this game and continue to get better."

Tarasenko scored the first of five goals in the second period, giving the Blues a 1-0 lead on a shot from the left circle at 7:25. It was as if Tarasenko knew what he was doing when Schwartz intercepted Derek Forbort's neutral zone pass, then fed Tarasenko in stride for a quick snap shot high blocker side past Quick.

"Every time we get a puck off the forecheck or off their D's, I know where 'Schwartzy' (is) and I'll get used to 'Schenner,'" Tarasenko said. "It makes a game easier."

"Yeah, it was kind of a scrambled puck," Schwartz, who is third in the NHL with 17 points behind Tampa Bay's Steven Stamkos (24) and Nikita Kucherov (21) said. "Just cut to the inside and he had a little speed, a little step on the guy. It was a great shot by him."

Yeo and the coaching staff should get some credit for their ability to read that Doughty, who logs the most minutes for the Kings, was caught in the LA zone and was on the ice against the Blues' fourth line, so there was a chance to change, and the coaches got the Schenn line back on the ice, and after a heavy forecheck and puck pursuit, Schwartz scored on a rebound at 10:17 for a 2-0 lead.

Tarasenko, at the right point, found Schenn in the slot, and the Blues' center quickly backhanded a shot on goal, creating a rebound, one in which Schwartz banged home.

The lead was cut in half on Pearson's breakaway goal at 13:20 after Gunnarsson's outlet pass was picked off my Alec Martinez, who sprung Pearson in on Allen. Pearson, who was stoned earlier in the period by Allen's glovehand, deked and went five-hole.

But Gunnarsson, who got the Jimmy Roberts Hard Hat Award Monday, redeemed himself when he fired a wrister from the left point through traffic that beat Quick short side at 16:19. The Kings challenged for goalie interference, claiming Kyle Brodziak interfered with Quick, but the call on the ice was upheld, displeasing the Kings goalie and prompting Brown to criticize the process.

"If you look at the replay, [Quick's] stick gets pulled out but no one knows what the rules are anyway so it's kind of a ... I mean tonight, it was not goaltender interference and two weeks from now, it might be; I don't know," Brown said. "That's part of the problem, I think. Quite honestly, I think all these challenges and reviews should be done in Toronto."

Gunnarsson said the puck will go to his new baby daughter Elise.

"Oh yeah, I got it," he said. "We'll frame that one.

"I saw the guy coming in my lane, so I just tried to fake and then just try to get it to the net. I know that (fourth) line likes to get in there and get a little dirty, so I tried to get it to the net, got really lucky, but we'll take it."

Brown made it 3-2 with a power-play goal at 17:17, deflecting Doughty's shot in after Colton Parayko's tripping penalty in the neutral zone in Doughty's 700th NHL game.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues defenseman Carl Gunnarsson looks to move the puck up ice past the
Kings' Tanner Pearson Monday. Gunnarsson scored in a 4-2 victory.

But the Blues were able to clamp down in the third period. Allen came up with a couple doozy saves, including one on Doughty at 3:38 diving back to his left after a caromed puck and a couple more quick ones moments later off a lost puck before Sobotka's empty-net goal with 1:05 remaining in the game made it 4-2 to seal the win.

"We're doing a good job that way," Allen said of closing down games. "We really are and we're finding ways to hold the fort down. Other teams are going to find ways to get goals. That's the name of the game, but to find ways to slow the momentum, I think ... the biggest thing for us in the third period like that for me is try to get whistles. Don't let the flow of the play go. That's what they want. If we can slow that down, it gives us a better chance to win the game. The guys do a great job lately when it's 6-on-4, penalty kill, empty net or whatever it is. That was a big goal (Sobotka) there."

"We're a good team. We're a good hockey team," Yeo said. "We've still got a long difficult road ahead of us here. We haven't accomplished anything yet except for a good start."

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