Thursday, March 1, 2018

Blues snap skid with 2-1 win over Red Wings

Upshall, Pietrangelo score, Hutton strong in goal; Yeo sets 
tone by starting fourth line to help end seven-game losing streak

ST. LOUIS -- With the way things have gone the past two-plus weeks, all the chaos and turmoil that boiled over with upset players and an angry coach following an 8-3 loss to the Minnesota Wild, Mike Yeo continued to reach into his bag of tricks to find some sort of way to spark his team out of its deep funk.

Seven losses will do that to a team, and even before the start of Wednesday's game against the Detroit Red Wings, Yeo had already sent a loud and clear message by scratching veteran center Patrik Berglund in favor of Chris Thorburn.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Jaden Schwartz (17) and Alex Pietrangelo celebrate Pietrangelo's goal on
Wednesday in the third period of a 2-1 win against the Detroit Red Wings.

And in another twist, why the heck not start the game by allowing Thorburn, Kyle Brodziak and Scottie Upshall, also known as the fourth line, set the tone by starting the game and playing early and often?

It wasn't a picture-perfect game plan at times, but at the end of the night, the Blues regained that winning feeling again with a 2-1 victory over the Red Wings on Wednesday before 18,813 at Scottrade Center.

Brodziak, Upshall, who scored, and Thorburn lined up to start the game and immediately set a tone that this would be the blue-collar Blues of old, the one that worked for success.

And that's what Yeo had in mind.

"That we’re going to work. Those guys are workers," Yeo said. "Those guys have had success this year. Whether it’s [Paul Stastny] being out, or just kind of where we’re at, we need guys to step up and I believed that those guys were ready to step up."

When was this idea something Yeo would consider?

"I don’t know. I can say it wasn’t this morning," Yeo said. "Just looking at sort of what they started, we had a plan as far as some of their skilled guys out there against them. So I know that they wanted to use that line as a checking line tonight and I thought that we had put some checkers against them."

An so it went for the Blues (35-26-4), who were 0-6-1 their previous seven games and outscored 29-10. There wasn't anything particular that was going wrong. Everything was going wrong, so when their names were called to start the game Wednesday, it was a chance to lift their teammates onto their shoulders and lead by example.

"Tonight was a big opportunity for our group to start well," Upshall said. "I think the point was, 'Follow these guys, they'll go out and bang and crash and lead by example and work hard.' I think that was the motive tonight. Getting the start, you've got to take advantage of it, just get out there and create some energy for the guys.

"... I think just changing it up to something more or less was probably [Yeo's] vision with that. Our group has been ... we've been starting games well, just being down a couple goals really kills us. Tonight, we got a couple timely saves. If you look at our bench, we just stuck together. Even though when things got tough in the third period, we're all one unit and we believed in each other. It was a good win."

Added Thorburn, "We know we're responsible for bringing energy and just being responsible, too. It was an opportunity for us to show that. The first shift off the bat wasn't exactly how we drew it up, but throughout the game we showed that we were playing on our toes and were responsible."

Brodziak agreed.

"Yeah to start the game, I think we haven't done it yet this year, so yeah it was nice to get involved early," said Brodziak, who was also surprised to hear his name called before the game as a starter. "They come in and tell the lineup right before we go on the ice before the game. It doesn’t mean anything, just maybe they wanted us to go out there and set the tone a little bit. I thought we did a fairly decent job of that.

"... When we can do that and get in on the forecheck, be physical, it might put the other team on their heels a little bit. Yeah, obviously with the two wingers I have – 'Thorbs' and 'Uppy' – they’re always going full speed ahead and looking to get on the body, so yeah it was nice to get a little more action to start the game tonight.”

Upshall and Alex Pietrangelo scored for the Blues, who got 35 saves from Carter Hutton to improve to 16-7-2.

"Yeah, it's good. Get back to what we need to do," Hutton said. "Found a way against a good hockey team. They played a good game and we battled. And there were moments where they had us hemmed and we just held on.

"... I think it was a good. I thought we did a good job. Even in the first, I thought that's when they had some good chances early. It was just like some shots off the rush, and things I could see and fight off. And then from there we get into a flow. I think we get some confidence going and we hold it. And then we get the first goal and it seems like the first goal's been big for us."

The music leading to the locker room was boisterous for a change, the mood was good and laughter filled it.

Considering how the Blues felt just 24 hours earlier after a discouraging 8-3 loss at Minnesota, a loss defenseman Jay Bouwmeester said he wondered when the Blues would feel rock bottom, Wednesday was a good start, a building block of sorts.

"Especially after last night I think a lot of guys put a lot in today, especially on the defensive side of the game to make sure that things stayed out of our net," said captain Alex Pietrangelo, whose third-period goal proved to be the difference. "Overall, a pretty good game. Got away from us a bit there in the second but I thought we grabbed it there in the third. It was big push.

"... Yeah, it's nice to get one. Especially in an effort where you only score two goals but defensively you did a pretty good job. There wasn't many second opportunities and 'Hutts' played well again. It's a good feeling, but still a lot of work to do. Saturday's a big one for us."

The win pulled the Blues into a tie with Anaheim for the second and final wildcard in the Western Conference. The Blues will hold the first tiebreaker (ROW's) when the teams play the same number of games and same amount of points, but Anaheim is technically ahead of the Blues going into Friday having played one fewer game.

"That's huge, especially after a night like last night, to come back and … not to say today was perfect, it was a grind, a mental grind, and I think it's a good test for us and to come out with a win is good for our confidence," Thorburn said. "... That was a big win for us. It wasn't pretty, it wasn't how we drew it up, but at the same time, we got the two points that we've been searching for for a while. Coming off the back-to-back, we all knew how last night's game went. We could have easily went the other way. I've been saying it all year. We've got a strong group in here, a lot of character and it showed tonight."

Upshall scored 1:12 into the second period to give the Blues a 1-0 lead. Colton Parayko made a move past Henrik Zetterberg toward the net. Howard made the initial save, but Upshall poked the loose puck for his first goal since Dec. 30 (19 games).

It was the first time the Blues have scored first in six games.

"I told Parayko just to skate the puck all the way down the ice and into the blue paint and you'll get an apple every time," Upshall said. "... We need to fin ways to get dirty goals, no question. The puck, for example, on my goal, those pucks have been going behind the net or very rarely have they stopped before the net where we can go get second opportunities."  

Pietrangelo's one-timer from the right circle made it 2-0 at 14:37 of the third period and it was a thing of beauty.

Jaden Schwartz did all the dirty work by chipping and chasing; he retrieved the puck, worked towards the right corner before feeding Pietrangelo for blast that went bar-down off the cross bar.

"There wasn't much room but it's a great play by 'Schwartzy' if you just watch the whole play develop," Pietrangelo said. "That's why the kid's top-notch and I think maybe under-appreciated for the little things that he does. Without that move to get in there and then to get the puck back in the offensive zone and make that play and know I'm coming down. There's not many guys that can do that. That's the stuff that he can do to really control the game."

"The [Pietrangelo] goal, there's only a few guys in the league that can go get pucks like that, make moves and feed guys for one-timers," Upshall said. "That's his bread-and-butter. We feed off those type of plays 'Schwartzy' makes on a daily basis."
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues forward Nikita Soshnikov (middle) tries to poke a puck past Detroit
goalie Jimmy Howard (35) with Trevor Daley training on the play.

Detroit had game on this night, though.

Andreas Athanasiou scored with 1:45 remaining, an extra-attacker goal that made it 2-1 following up Tyler Bertuzzi's shot off the cross bar, beating Hutton high glove side, but Detroit couldn't get the equalizer.

Hutton made sure of it.

"What I liked about him, and what we’ve liked about him, is he’s a battler and he’s a competitor," Yeo said of Hutton. "Again, we’re going to need more of that. We’re going to have to really battle our way in here."

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