Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Blues beat Lightning 3-1 by playing their gritty, hard-nosed style

Winless streak snapped at three with effective forecheck, puck 
possession, forced turnovers, keeping puck away from skilled team

ST. LOUIS -- Want to know how to keep a high-flying team from wrecking havoc in one's own zone, wiring shots left and right at your goalie? 

The Blues' blueprint for how to beat the Tampa Bay Lightning, which came into the game as the the fifth-best scoring team at 3.56 goals per game and averaging 32.6 shots per game, was in full force on Tuesday in their 3-1 win at Enterprise Center.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues forward Klim Kostin (37) lays a check on former Blues and Tampa
defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk Tuesday in St. Louis' 3-1 win.

Sometimes, stats can be a bit deceiving, considering the Lightning outhit the Blues 33-18 for the game. It didn't seem that skewed, but the Blues' ability to force turnovers and possess pucks in the offensive zone is the perfect elixir for limiting the high-flying Lightning, and former Blues Pat Maroon and Kevin Shattenkirk, at bay.

The Blues (13-4-5) were winless in three straight (0-1-2) but needed to get back on the horse. Their goal scoring was drying up, so in order to win, they would need to win the kinds of games they won here on Tuesday, by being tough, gritty and a pain in the you-know-what in order to win, and get the timely, key saves, which Jordan Binnington, who seemed a bit miffed to be credited with seeing only 18 shots on goal, was giving them.

"I just think we needed our game for a full 60 minutes," said Blues forward Oskar Sundqvist, who scored the go-ahead goal in the third period off a pretty no-look pass from Robert Thomas. "It was a while ago since we did that. It feels like tonight was finally the night where we were putting up our complete game for 60 minutes."

How often you hear coaches and players say playing a full 60 minutes? In this locker room, quite often. And when you hear the Blues play a full 60 minutes, then you know it was a good night.

Despite falling behind 1-0 in the first period on Anthony Cirelli's close-range goal, the Blues turned things around by harassing and hounding the Lightning puck handlers into turnovers and forcing a quick-skating tam to chase and defend with their backs to the ice, because when Tampa Bay was able to pounce on turnovers itself, the Lightning's transition game was quite noticeable. So the Blues did their best to neutralize that.

"I think it just comes with good puck management," said Thomas, who played center for the first time this season. "We had a couple turnovers in the neutral zone and you just see how fast they transition and they create stuff off the rush there. I think for us, that was our big key was taking care of the puck and making sure we weren't turning it over at the blue line, red line, getting it in and making them turn.

"Binner was great. He made some key saves throughout the game. I think we did a good job of keeping them to the outside and try to limit their second chances. Binner did a great job controlling the play and controlling the rebounds."

Binnington's top saves may have come on two quick shorthanded chances by Cirelli and Alex Killorn when the puck bounced past Alex Pietrangelo at the point, and Ryan O'Reilly couldn't dive to break up the rush. Those saves kept it 1-0 and enabled David Perron to get the equalizer late in the second before the Blues took control in the third.

"We were on the power-play, they got a break and it's all about timing in this game," Binnington said. "I think that was big for us. We got momentum and we got some chances. I think we played a pretty solid game tonight. We're happy to come out with this win.

"They're a highly offensive team with some skill. They lost Kucherov there in the second period. It was a good hit there by Schenner, but it's how it goes sometimes. I think the d-men and the forwards did a great job in coming back. The PK, we had a number of blocked shots. It just shows how hard this club sacrifices for one another right now."

That "good hit by Schenner" that Binnington was referring to was Brayden Schenn laying a heavy check on Lightning forward Nikita Kucherov on a hit along the wall right as Kucherov had released the puck.

"I just seen him dump the puck in, turned up, just went through him, finished him," Schenn said. "I thought it was a clean check and hopefully he's OK." 

It drew a skirmish from Erik Cernak and knocked the high-scoring Lightning forward, who led the NHL with 128 points last season, out of the game.

"We feed off when we're hitting people and getting the puck deep and grinding them down," Sundqvist said. "That's when we know we're at our best. That's what we need to do night in and night out. Today was a good night."
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues forward Oskar Sundqvist scored the game-winning goal and had six
shots in a 3-1 win over Tampa Bay on Tuesday.

The Blues know they can't out-skill a team like Tampa Bay, so checking, grinding, puck-possession with an effective cycle, defending in layers is how it has to be effective for this team.

"We can't think we're going to play the Tampa Bay Lightning or the run-and-gun teams in the league and think we're going to run-and-gun with them," Schenn said. "We're not going to be successful like that and if we buy into our system, we're usually good on most nights; tonight we were."

That they were.

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