Friday, September 28, 2018

Schwartz leads way, Blues buckle down defensively in 3-1 win over Stars

Forward nets goal, two assists; Allen solid in 
goal with 21 saves; O'Reilly nets first goal as a Blue

ST. LOUIS -- Getting back to more of an identity was key for the St. Louis Blues on Friday.

An identity that includes playing sound defense, proper puck management, playing for one another and Jaden Schwartz leading the initiative.

The Blues improved over their defensive game against the Washington Capitals on Tuesday and were much more disciplined and in unison against the Dallas Stars on Friday, and Schwartz had an all-out effort including a goal and two assists in a 3-1 win over the Stars at Enterprise Center.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Ryan O'Reilly (right) celebrates with teammate Vladimir Tarasenko after
scoring in the second period of a 3-1 win over Dallas on Friday.

Ryan O'Reilly scored his first of what he hopes is many goals as a Blue and continued a solid repoire with linemates Vladimir Tarasenko and Pat Maroon, young defensemen Jordan Schmaltz and Jake Walman had a nice game and Jake Allen looked sharp again in goal, stopping 21 of 22 shots and falling 1 minute, 57 seconds short of a shutout in his first complete game of the preseason; he played the first two periods on Tuesday and made 19 saves on 21 shots, good for a .930 save percentage.

The Blues (4-2-0) have one more tune-up game remaining, on Sunday at Washington, before opening the regular season.

"Getting closer to the start here, I think we geared up," O'Reilly said. "We obviously wanted the game to be better than the last one. We focused up a bit and said, 'We've got to be better here.' Season's coming soon and we've got to be sharp."

"We're a team that knows we defend hard, hard to play against," said center Brayden Schenn, who had an assist on Schwartz's goal early in the third period. "Better details tonight. A little bit better with the puck. Can still clean a lot of things up, but we're pointed in the right direction."

When Schwartz is hounding pucks, playing determined, turning the opposition over and creating offensively, he's as good as anyone at doing it in the league. His efforts on the ice become contagious with his teammates and seem to resonate throughout the game.

"You see how he impacted (the game)," O'Reilly said. "He was awesome tonight. Every little play he made, both sides of the puck he was making an impact. The goal, two assists, he's working and he's creating and it's nice to see him get rewarded for it."

It started when he helped create a turnover that led the O'Reilly's goal 31 seconds into the second period, and Tarasenko finished off the passing to O'Reilly in the right circle for a one-timer that beat Stars goalie Landon Bow.

"It's nice to connect," O'Reilly said. "I feel like we've had a lot of chances. This line's creating a lot. We're right there, we're just not putting them in. It was nice tonight to get a little success 5-on-5 and score some goals, which is nice."

Schwartz is gearing up to be in top form after injuring his right shoulder at the IIHF World Championship in Denmark over the summer. Sure looks like he's coming along well.

"I'm just trying to get back up to speed," Schwartz said. "First two games, we were creating a little bit, but a little bit too much swinging in my game and maybe not doing the little things as much as what I usually need to do. I just tried to focus on that. Good things happen when you take care of the little things and take care of the puck. I thought overall it was a good team game. 

"I just try to play that way every game. If I'm not playing that way, then I don't think I'm very successful and I'm not helping the team as much as I can. That's the only way I feel like I can help the team out and help myself out. If other guys see that and it helps them out, then that's good."

Schwartz's goal 1:30 into the third period was typical of how he plays, dogged, determined and persistent. He finished off a chance after initially being stopped by Bow but falling down, stayed with the play and swatted the puck in sliding by the right post.

"Maybe I got lucky with the puck coming back to me," said Schwartz, who missed on a penalty shot at 11:33 of the first period. "I had some chances earlier and it wasn't going in. Sometimes you just keep hacking away and stay with it and that one went in."

"I thought he had a really good game," Blues associate coach Craig Berube said of Schwartz. "His tenacity and speed on the puck and quick plays he makes was very noticeable tonight. I thought he played very well. Looks in good form, midseason form right now."

Schenn made the pass in a continued effort to keep that solid chemistry with Schwartz.

"It just doesn't happen overnight," Schenn said. "It's going to take some time to get back. It was a step in the right direction to playing the way we can play and obviously we got more levels to go here but a step in the right direction.

"He had a great game tonight. He was around the net, he made plays. Obviously three points. He's obviously a huge piece to our team. Just by talking to him, obviously felt better than the games in the past. ... He's obviously a huge piece to our team. We know that. He's able to kill penalties, play on the power play, play in different spots on the power play. He's a huge piece that drives our team. We expect a big year out of him."

Allen looked calm in goal for a second straight game. He tracked pucks well, didn't allow many rebounds and made the necessary saves when called upon. His workload got busy in the second period when he stopped all 11 shots faced.

"I think if you count that (game Tuesday) and practices in between, I felt we were good," Allen said. "Just trying to get better every day right now until next Thursday. It was another good step tonight.

"I felt solid last game for a first game. I honestly felt better than I thought I would out there comfort-wise, so I took that into practice and tried to build off that yesterday. ... I felt pretty smooth."

Blake Comeau scored on a goalmouth scramble for the Stars (4-1-1), who had pulled Bow for a sixth attacker, but that was Allen's only blemish on the night.

"He looked really good in net, calm, made a lot of good saves, handled the puck really well," Berube said of Allen. "He looked relaxed in net."

Tarasenko scored into the empty-net with seven seconds left.

The Blues had a couple scares in the game when Maroon was drilled by a Tarasenko shot moments before O'Reily scored, and Sammy Blais was hit on the left leg/knee in the second period by a Julius Honka wrister.

Maroon limped to the bench and had trouble getting down the tunnel but returned not too long after and Blais initially stayed on the bench but in some discomfort. He then went down the tunnel but immediately returned after walking it off.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Jake Allen makes one of his 21 saves on Friday during a 3-1 win over the 
Dallas Stars at Enterprise Center.

Schmaltz finished with 14:24 of ice time, and Walman was at 13:44. They were on the ice for the Stars goal but handled themselves well.

"Dallas came in here with a good lineup, so they were out there against some really good players," Berube said. "I thought they handled themselves really well."

The Blues will fly to Washington on Saturday, play the Capitals at 2 p.m. Sunday and stay over and visit the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md. before returning home Tuesday following a team bonding trip.

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