Saturday, November 24, 2018

Blues get physical, play for one another, thump Predators 6-2

Maroon, Schenn set tone with early-game fights; six different goal 
scorers help end three-game losing skid, give Berube first win as coach

ST. LOUIS -- Following a 6-2 statement win against the Nashville Predators, who came in holder's of the most points in the NHL with 33 heading into Friday's games, another blueprint had been established by the Blues.

And Pat Maroon, who set the tone by predictably dropping the gloves with Nashville's Austin Watson two seconds -- or right after the opening puck drop -- into the game in his first game after missing four with an upper-body injury, had the answer Blues fans are looking for and want to see moving forward.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues defenseman Jordan Schmaltz (left) watches as teammate Brayden
Schenn (right) and Nashville's Ryan Hartman get in a first-period fight.

"We should be this team that played tonight," Maroon said. "This is what we should do every single night. There's no reason why we can't do that every night, controlling the puck, playing good defensively, closing hard, physical, going to the net, being a frustrating team to play against. I think when you finish your checks on the forecheck, it gets exhausting for D-men. It gets exhausting that they have to go back and do it again and do it again. It makes it easier for our defense moving the puck. They play an easy game back there when we're doing that kind of stuff, doing the right things and chipping in and playing for each to other. This is the team we’re supposed to be every night and hopefully we can carry that into tomorrow."

The Blues (8-10-3), who snapped a three-game losing streak, have been down this road before. A 4-1 win at Toronto on Oct. 20 was supposed to fuel the fire and propel them to greater heights. A 4-0 shutout was supposed to be another statement win against San Jose here on home ice Nov. 9 was supposed to right the ship again. And a 4-1 win at Vegas on Nov. 16 was supposed to once and for all, turn a downward trend up again. But what it all amounted to this past Monday was Mike Yeo getting fired in an effort to jumpstart a team that was not supposed to be laboring near the bottom of the standings. 

But after losing in interim coach Craig Berube's first game behind the bench Wednesday, 4-1 in Nashville, a game in which the Blues did show passion and fight for one another but netted a familiar result, Friday was different for obvious reasons.

Maroon and Brayden Schenn, who followed up Maroon's fight and dropped the gloves himself with Ryan Hartman, certainly fired up their teammates and fired up the 16,192 at Enterprise Center watching. It wasn't just the fights, but it was Alex Pietrangelo drilling Predators center Kyle Turris with a clean check. 

Remember this Blues team, which finished with 29 hits Friday? The one that played with an edge?

"You should have heard our bench," Schenn said. "A lot of emotion on our bench. It got us going. I think the last game, we played hard, we were physical, obviously the fights weren't involved in the game, but it was a hard game, guys were engaged emotionally and I think we carried that over tonight."

Maroon set the table for his fight with Watson, and it didn't take much prodding to engage.

"Oh I don’t know. I thought about it after he was running around and hit 'Dunner' [Vince Dunn on Wednesday]," Maroon said. "If I had the opportunity, I was going to take advantage of it. Hopefully it got the guys going. It’s kind of a way to get me engaged in the game … It was a good fight. He respected it, so it went well.

"I think he knew it was coming. Watson is hard player, plays the game hard so he knew. So you kind of respect guys like that. He did a really good job of standing up for himself. I’m just trying to go out there and do my job."

And then it was Schenn's turn to one-up his teammate.

"I don't know about one-upping him but trying to keep the emotion going," Schenn said after finishing with his second Gordie Howe Hat Trick.

He also did something similar in a game last season with Colorado's Gabriel Landeskog at opening puck drop which the Blues went on to win 6-1. "I felt it's always part of my game," Schenn said. "Getting in fights been 16 or 17 games or whatever it's been now, it's good to get in one, it gets you involved in the game. It gets you involved emotionally."

The Blues were emotionally invested, playing for one another, and got that proverbial 60-minute game they speak of after every game, notably losses when they often mention how they didn't play for 60 minutes.

Ryan O'Reilly, Schenn and Alex Pietrangelo each had a goal and an assist, and Jake Allen made 26 saves to give Berube his first win.

"We're obviously happy to get a win," said Berube, who got the game puck after the win. "That's them. I don't know. Nothing I tell them (about the early-game fights). That's just about being ready. We know it's going to be a hard game. We just played them the other night and a tough game, a physical game, so it might have carried over, I don't know.

(But the fights) create energy and emotion in the game. Guys feed off that for sure."

The Blues fed off it early and often, and it continued throughout.

Ivan Barbashev got things started when he finished Jordan Schmaltz's feed, beating Juuse Saros at 9 minutes 26 seconds into the first for a 1-0 lead. It started when Barbashev intercepted Miikka Salomaki's offensive zone pass that sprung a 2-on-1 than turned into 3-on-1 when Schmaltz joined the rush.

O'Reilly made it 2-0 at 13:09 of the first, finishing off Sammy Blais' pass, but the play started back in the Blues' zone when Pietrangelo broke up a 2-on-1 with Ryan Johansen and Roman Josi. The Blues got to the offensive zone, kept the play alive with Pietrangelo getting it to Blais in the high slot, and he punched it to O'Reilly, who beat Saros in tight.

"I got caught on a change there," O'Reilly said. "One guy came and I just jumped tried to get in the play. It was a great play by 'Blaiser', and we're just trying to get pucks into the net and a nice little tip by him to pick me up. I was trying to get it off."

Nick Bonino cut it to 2-1 when he scored a power-play goal for Nashville on its first shot of the game at 14:12, but Schenn's breakaway goal at 15:09 made it 3-1 when he picked off Frederick Gaudreau's pass in the neutral zone and off to the races he went.

"We've talked about it before," Schenn said. "... This is supposed to be a tough building to play in. I know from first hand playing in here as the opposition, and it just hasn't been that the past year and a half so we're going to keep on establishing that, keep playing hard. Obviously the fights are one thing, but I think everyone was physically engaged tonight, hard to play against and that's the type of hockey team we have to be."

This is when games usually got tricky for the Blues, and against a top team like the Predators (16-6-1), there would be a push after feeling like they were outplayed early. Good teams usually have a good response.

But the Blues made it known that they were not going to play the sit-back game and stay on the hunt, and when Zach Sanford scored 36 seconds into the period to make it 4-1, it was the proper response.

"I think it was good," Sanford said. "It ended up being good timing early in the second period to get that lead up to three goals instead of two. We've seen a couple two-goal leads disappear. To show that we were going to keep coming was really huge for us too."

The Blues made another timely play in the defensive zone to get the puck out when Colton Parayko played it to Vladimir Tarasenko, who was able to get a chip out of the zone under pressure to O'Reilly, whose cross-ice pass sprung Sanford into the zone.

"That was a great pass," Sanford said. "I kind of saw it developing, so I thought I'd stay wide and if there was anybody that was going to get me the puck, it was him."

Robby Fabbri made it 5-1 when he converted Robert Thomas' pass that caromed off Filip Forsberg's skates through Josi and Fabbri was there to slam it into the net and finish Saros' night at 11:53.

Pietrangelo at 14:50 of the third period and Ryan Hartman at 16:13 traded goals for the teams to make it 6-2, but this one as never in doubt, despite the Blues' getting three power-plays in the third period and extending that futility to 24 straight without a goal.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Ivan Barbashev (left) celebrates after scoring a first-period goal on Friday
against the Nashville Predators in a 6-2 Blues victory.

But in the end, the Blues scored more goals Friday than they had in their previous five games (five).

It will all go for naught, though, if they can't follow this blueprint up with another one Saturday when Winnipeg, another strong opponent, comes calling.

"I think at times we do our game plan and then we just get away from it," O'Reilly said. "Too inconsistent. I thought we did a much better job tonight of sticking to it. And it's that consistency that we need constantly. There's times when we won't have it. ... And you got to find a way to be more disciplined and consistent and stick to it. And find a way to get out of those times when they made a push."

"We have a plan, have to follow through with it," Schenn said. "Tonight's nice for guys to score goals and get confidence, I think that came from guys playing good defense, guys working hard for one another and being tough to play against."


  1. Has 91 recovered from off season surgery? He hasn't been fully engaged and doesn't seem to be working at 100%. I hope its due to injury and not laziness. Any thoughts?

  2. I completely disagree he's not working. In fact, this might be the most he's done in his seven seasons here away from the puck. His shot seems to be off at times, not getting it off as quickly as in the past. The shoulder injury he had could be a factor but not likely. He had two Grade A chances last night and was thwarted on both. I think it's a matter of time before they go in for him, but we'll see.