Friday, November 2, 2018

Sundqvist two goals spark Blues' 5-3 win over Golden Knights

Forward's first multi-goal game in NHL helps St. Louis to 
second straight win in Fabbri, Gunnarsson's return to lineup

ST. LOUIS -- Mike Yeo insisted that there was something there, that Oskar Sundqvist put in the time and work to make himself a relevant player for the Blues and was deserving of a spot in the lineup even as the lineup was filling up from injured players.

Sundqvist has been noted as a fourth-line energy guy, someone who can kill penalties effectively but was never looked upon much as an offensive threat.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues center Oskar Sundqvist (70) looks to make a play on the puck against
Vegas defenseman Colin Miller Thursday in St. Louis' 5-3 win.

One wouldn't have known it had they watched Sundqvist on Thursday. He had his first multi-goal game in the NHL, doubling his career total in one night to help the Blues win their second in a row in a 5-3 win over the Vegas Golden Knights before 16,813 at Enterprise Center.

Sundqvist was part of the fourth line, which included the long-awaited return of Robby Fabbri, who played for the first time in the regular season since the first of two torn left ACL's on Feb. 4, 2017, and Robert Thomas, who had his first multi-point game in the NHL with two assists.

Blues coach Mike Yeo put Fabbri in the lineup and pulled out Ivan Barbashev, who had been playing well, but with the numbers game as it is, was one of the odd players out of the lineup.

Yeo has taken criticism from demanding Blues fans, first for the way he's handled the ice time of defenseman Jay Bouwmeester, and now for this decision to leave Sundqvist, who had an assist in his season debut last Saturday against Chicago after missing nine games following a concussion stemming from a hit to the head from Washington's Tom Wilson in the preseason. 

But the move paid off, at least for one night.

"That's the thing that we've seen in training camp," Yeo said. "Last year, we knew every single game that he was going to be good defensively, he was going to be reliable, you could match him up against anybody. You could put him on the ice and feel confident you weren't going to get scored on. This year what we've seen in training camp is that there's more offense to his game, that's why he was drafted highly, that's why he was a high pick and that's why we traded for him. We've seen that upside and it's the progression of the player. 

"I don't know that we're going to expect him to score two goals every single game that he plays this year, but he's moving better, he's playing with more confidence, and he's not taking away from that defensive part of his game. You look at how sound he and how solid he is on the penalty kill. Obviously we had him on the ice at the end of the game with the goalie out and he did a heck of a job there too."

Sundqvist had two goals in his first 72 regular-season games (with the Blues and Pittsburgh Penguins) and doubled that total Thursday.

"Tonight was extra fun," Sundqvist said. "... I feel like every practice and every game I'm out there that I'm quicker, I'm stronger, I'm better this year. I'm really happy that I put in all that work in the offseason and also now when I've been gone."

Fabbri missed the past 122 regular-season games as a result of two ACL surgeries, a sore back, sore hip and Grade 1 groin strain. He had an assist on Sundqvist's first goal, his first shift of the game, finished with 8 minutes 45 seconds of ice time, was a plus-2 in the game, had four shot attempts and one hit.

"It was good," Fabbri said. "Our line was going well. It makes it easier when all three guys are going.

"It was exciting for me and my family. I think they were all watching tonight. It's just great to get back in the lineup with the guys. It makes it even more special. We got a big win tonight."

Tyler Bozak had a goal and an assist, and Vladimir Tarasenko and Colton Parayko scored for St. Louis (4-4-3), which has won two straight and is 3-1-1 in its past five. Jake Allen made 31 saves, including 14 in the third period when the Golden Knights (5-7-1) were pressing for a tying goal when it was 4-3.

"I felt locked in right from the start of the game. I felt great today," said Allen, who almost missed the game stemming from the collision with teammate Zach Sanford that caused a head injury last Saturday in a 7-3 win against Chicago. "Things have been going well. Obviously I missed a couple practices, but I felt I haven't been missing too many beats lately. Just try to give the boys a chance. They've got a good hockey team, they're quick. They have a quick transition. We were able to fend them off. It was another big win. Try to get something going here."

Sundqvist gave the Blues a 1-0 lead 2:02 into the game on a spin move and score from his knees, whipping the puck in past Vegas goalie Marc-Andre Fleury.

"I think Fleury got a stick on it so I kind of saw that he was out of position," Sundqvist said. "I just tried to hit the net there from the knees. I was glad to see that one go in."

It was a solid first shift for the fourth line, their first of the game. Fabbri got the puck along the back wall and tipped it while getting hit to Thomas, who made a play to Sundqvist in the slot.

"Yeah, that was exciting," Fabbri said. "Great play by 'Sunny' to get it deep and Robby with the great pass out front.

"With where that puck was, I'm taking a hit. I was wanting to get the puck off my stick before I got hit and so I did."

Tarasenko's power-play goal, the ninth game the Blues have scored with the man advantage in 11, for a 2-1 lead 3:11 into the second period after Bozak's shot from the slot deflected to Tarasenko's backhand on the doorstep, but Vegas tied it 23 seconds later on Erik Haula's tip goal through the wickets of Allen.

"It was a late tip there," Allen said. "I read the play, it was actually a good tip by the guy [Haula]. I should have had it, but still, I felt great from the start of the game. 

"I was glad to be back for this game. I was close to not playing, but I was glad to come back and be with the guys. It was a big win for us. Try to get some momentum here."

As good as Sundqvist's first goal was, his second one was even better when he poke-checked the puck at the Blues' blue line and he and Thomas took off the other way. Thomas left the puck for Sundqvist outside the top of the left circle. Thomas ran some interference  taking the defenseman with him to the net before Sundqvist wired a wrist shot over Fleury's left shoulder for a 3-2 lead at 6:29 of the second.

"I actually thought it was going to hit the d-man, but I was happy that it went in," Sundqvist said.

The fourth goal, which gave the Blues a 4-2 lead, came courtesy of a Parayko cannon after Ryan O'Reilly and Sanford's forecheck helped turn Vegas over. O'Reilly, who extended his point streak to six games (three goals, eight assists) threaded a cross-seam pass to Parayko in the left circle for the one-timer inside the near post at 14:49 of the second.

And so the Blues carried a third-period lead again, and when Alex Tuch converted on a scramble in close at 8:02 after Brayden Schenn took an ill-advised penalty, the Blues were in survival mode again. And that's when Allen was called upon. 

He made a stick save before the Tuch goal when the Blues had a disastrous power play and Allen made a point blank stop on William Karlsson, he then made a key save on Tuch's bid from the slot that kept it a 4-3 game when Vegas was coming on.

"To me, this game for Jake, he was outstanding tonight, especially in the third period," Yeo said. "They made it 4-3, there's absolutely nothing he could do on that, but they had four quality chances after that. To me it was like attitude-wise, 'OK, this is my job, here I go.' And I thought he rose up to that challenge."

Bozak restored the Blues' two-goal lead at 5-3 when he was able to collect Joel Edmundson's save at the blue line and get it in the slot before snapping one high glove side on Fleury with 8:13 remaining.

"I think he made a great play," Bozak said of Edmundson. "Whether it was a pass or a shot, either way he got it past the guy and to the net toward me so it was a great play by him. The goalie kind of went down thinking it was going to be a shot and I had quite a bit to shoot at.

"I thought I had a step on (the defenseman), or could keep my stick away from him, so I knew I had an opportunithy to shoot and I saw the goalie was down so I tried to put it up top."

And for a second straight game, the Blues were able to hold a lead.

"Two in a row, 3-1-1 in last five, not bad, I feel like we're getting closer," Yeo said. "We're not there yet. For me, I still think we're in the process of building and every game is a lesson. There's lessons in your wins and lessons in your losses and we have to make sure we keep learning from that. I thought there was a lot of times when I thought we tried to shoot ourselves in the foot and we forced Jake to be outstanding in the third period and he was outstanding. There was other times tonight when we were doing the right things and when we did we got rewarded. It's just a matter of making sure we keep building off of that and keep building confidence in those things that bring us that success."
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Forward Robby Fabbri skates during pregame warmups Thursday before the
Blues take on Vegas. Fabbri played his first regular-season game since 
Feb. 4, 2017, a span of 122 games.

Along with Fabbri, Blues defenseman Carl Gunnarsson made his season debut following offseason surgery on his torn left ACL and right hip. Gunnarsson, who played 13:52, hasn't played an NHL game since injuring the ACL on March 23, 2018.

"I was really happy with Gunny's game too," Yeo said. "There was a couple of times where it looked like toward the end of a shift it looked like he was starting to fade, obviously those are hard minutes for a defenseman against that team, those are hard minutes, but I thought other than that, it didn't look like he missed any time. Smart reads, played composed, I thought he added a lot to our group."

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