Thursday, December 27, 2018

Blues string together another solid game with 4-1 win over Sabres

O'Reilly scores against former team; Allen strong in goal with 30 
saves; Thomas has goal, assist; Blues win for fifth time in seven games

ST. LOUIS -- The Blues have been down this path before, winning games in impressive fashion -- and against good teams -- but not being able to sustain any sort of consistency.

It's a sample size again, but in winning five of seven games after an impressive 4-1 win against the Buffalo Sabres on Thursday at Enterprise Center, the Blues (15-16-4) are showing signs of -- dare it be said -- consistency, being on the same page.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Ryan O'Reilly (90) fires off a shot against the Buffalo Sabres on Thursday.
O'Reilly scored playing against his former teammates for the first time in a 
4-1 Blues victory at Enterprise Center.

And getting a grasp of winning is curing a lot of ails that have plagued the Blues throughout this first half of the season. 

The reunion game with Ryan O'Reilly of the Blues and the Sabres' Carter Hutton, Vladimir Sobotka and Tage Thompson went O'Reilly's way. He scored the insurance goal in the third period that sealed the deal for the Blues, who have won three of four and six of their past nine.

"It's a big game for us in general, coming off the break and trying to get back into the hunt here. It's a big game, especially against a team like that being traded from, it always means a bit more. It feels really good to win that one.

"It took us a little while to get going. They had some key opportunities and 'Jakey' [Jake Allen] made some spectacular saves that it could have been messy in that first, but he held on. He made some big plays until we found our legs in the second that kind of took the game over. He's definitely a huge reason why we won that game."

Allen made 30 saves in outdueling friend and partner of the past two seasons in Hutton, who made 24 saves. Robert Thomas had a goal and an assist, Alexander Steen and David Perron each had two assists and Pat Maroon and Jay Bouwmeester scored for St. Louis, which began a five-game homestand and six of eight here.

"It's good to see," Allen said. "Sometimes it's tough to see what you're going to come out with and after four days off, not practicing, you have a heavy belly probably on you. For both teams, I think in years past, this game was a struggle for us a little bit so it was great to see us come out with some jump and find a way to win."

The Blues, who played the same lineup and same lines and d-pairs for a season-high fourth straight game, are getting what it takes and they're getting it from all facets.

"Absolutely. I think when before and things would go bad, we fall back in these tendencies," O'Reilly said. "But now we're starting to get quick out of these little areas that we have. We move forward and we build towards something. It wasn't a perfect game tonight, but we found a way to get it done. We're finding ways to do that more and more and it's important. That's the thing that's going to keep this thing moving forward."

"Yeah. For sure," interim coach Craig Berube said. "I think we're working together. Our puck support's been really good. The last four or five games our puck support's been very good. When you can make those 10-foot plays and passes, and stuff like that, it's good stuff."

The first period was a perfect example of coming off a break where a team hasn't played for five days, come out a little flat and the goalie needs to make saves to keep things at level ground. The Blues came out of the first scoreless and outshot 10-6, but Allen came up large on a handful of saves, including one on Rasmus Dahlin with 5 minutes 32 seconds left in the period.

"I think in a sense, you have to be prepared for anything," Allen said. "We haven't even had a practice. This morning was a 10-minute skate. I think (you have to) be able to be zoned in at the start. I think if they would have got a goal in the first period, it would have changed momentum. Just giving the boys a chance and they plugged away and plugged away and got some greasy goals."

Thomas gave the Blues a 1-0 lead at 2:03 of the second period on one of those greasy-goal efforts where he was able to get a past touch on the puck during a goalmouth scramble before Hutton backed his body onto the loose puck underneath him and pushed it into his net.

"I know I kind of whacked it underneath him," Thomas said. "I heard the ref call goal and I put my hands up. I was pretty excited for us. It was kind of a funny one."

Bouwmeester scored at 10:01 to make it 2-0, and Maroon scored 54 seconds later at 10:55 for a 3-0 lead.

Perron did the brunt of the work by pushing the puck into the Buffalo zone, reverse checking defenseman Lawrence Pilut, protecting it before finding Bouwmeester coming down the slot after he jumped onto the ice following a line change.

"Yeah, it was off a change, it was just kind of … the middle of ice opened up," Bouwmeester said of his first of the season. "'Perry' made a really good pass and you just shoot it.

"... Who knows? We don’t get a lot of shots in practice, defensemen. [Hutton] probably didn’t see that one coming, I guess.

Jack Eichel's power-play goal at 17:25 of the second made it 3-1 and gave the Sabres some life, but the Blues, as has been common these last set of games, stayed on their toes, continued the initiative and put the game away when O'Reilly scored at 13:47 for a 4-1 lead.

"It was kind of nice to put the nail in the coffin," O'Reilly said. "That two-goal lead and kind of getting late there, it didn't solidify the win, but it just kind of as a team, we were like, 'OK, we got this here.' We were putting them away, especially against them too. Finding a way to get a big goal like that to seal the deal, it felt really good."

Putting teams away wasn't a strong suit earlier in the season.

"I liked the third period a lot tonight," Berube said. "I thought we were aggressive and you know, we've been preaching aggressiveness from Day 1 and guys are starting to get more aggressive, and I think there's still another level."

And think, Alex Pietrangelo, Robby Fabbri and Carl Gunnarsson are on the cusp of returning. But the Blues, winning with this lineup of guys that normally would be in San Antonio, is a welcomed sight that depth has been key.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Brayden Schenn (10) attempts to screen Sabres goalie and former Blues
netminder Carter Hutton (40) on Thursday during the Blues' 4-1 win.

"I don't know, I think he's going to make any lineup better, that's for sure," O'Reilly said of Pietrangelo. "Obviously getting healthy and that's a big piece that's going to help us find ways to win games. That's a huge piece of our team and we're excited to get back."

And during the third period, those boos reigning down from the stands when the Blues were at times, getting pummeled and humiliated on home ice, turned to cheers with the effort, hard work and positive results that followed.

"I think we're at the point where we've probably played four or five good games out of the past six or seven," Allen said. "So we've built a little bit of something but we still have a long way to go. We're still a below .500 team right now. We're trending in the right direction, I think we can't take our foot off the gas at all. There's really no time left now. If we can keep this going, we should be able to get back in shooting distance anyway."

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