Blues Hose the Hosers, go 2-1 in W. Canada

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Every time the Blues travel through Western Canada, the games are explosive. The past few seasons have allowed intense rivalries to develop between these teams, most notably against the Canucks. This latest run through Calgary, Vancouver, and Edmonton lived up to the hype as the Blues went 2-1 against some of Canada’s (and the NHL’s) finest teams.

1/25            vs. Calgary Flames – STL 2, CAL 0

The Blues opened up their Canadian road trip in Calgary against a tough, hard-hitting squad. The grittiness was immediately apparent when a heavyweight bout broke out between Janssen and McGrattan 3 minutes in. it’s not often that Cam find himself outmatched, but I’d say McGrattan’s long reach gave #55 some trouble. Regardless, ‘ol Cammy was smiling on his way to the sin bin.

Janssen wasn’t satisfied just taking on ONE of the Flames enforcers; he picked on Brandon Prust, again at the top of a period. it was another tough, heavyweight scrap.

The 1st period proved to be tougher than Janssen’s fights. Conklin made plenty of highlight-reel saves against a team with some real net presence. Kiprusoff was equally superb in the 1st, making a shorthanded stop on Kariya and robbing Brad Winchester on a diving shot.

The saves kept piling up at both ends when the Blues got a break. Patrik Berglund wristed a shot that pinballed off three skates before beating Miikka Kiprusoff at 18:42 in the 2nd period.

The Blues may have needed a little luck to grease the wheels but they certainly earned their second goal of the night. Darryl Sydor made an excellent pass off the endboards to Andy McDonald, who saw David Perron on the far post. It was a bang-bang passing play that gave Perron an empty net. “Kipper” never had a chance.

Conklin continued to rob Flames’ skaters time and time again. He stopped all 15 shots in the 3rd to earn his third shuout of the year.

After the Blues’ embarrassing game against Anaheim, I’m sure there was plenty of chatter in the locker room. Chatter about how this team can’t afford to give away games. ESPECIALLY 3 point games in the extremely competitive West. Thankfully Payne decided to give Conks the start following Mason’s SO loss.

Conklin won this game for us. Period. He stopped 34 shots on the night, with at least 5 showstoppers. This goalie tandem is finally starting to work. If one goalie fails, then the other will be ready to take over for a few games, until he starts stinking it up. It’s a cycle. That’s the benefit of having two veteran goalies.

1/27            vs. Vancouver Canucks – VAN 3, STL 2

With Conklin’s huge shutout two nights before, the Blues were pumped and ready to face their playoff eliminators from last season. The Blues have been good against the Canucks this year and were 2-1 going into Wednesday’s game. After winning the first matchup 6-1, I had hopes that the Canucks would continue to crumble against the Blues. Sadly, Luongo and Co. evened up the series winning 3-2.

The Blues didn’t wait to get the jump on the Canucks. Keith Tkachuk scored his 12th of the year, a PPG at 4:24 in the 1st. the goal came after a nice bang-bang passing play from Perron and McDonald.

Just 1:17 later, the Canucks answered with a tip-in goal from one of their up-and-comers, Mason Raymond. Raymond scored another goal in the 3rd, giving him 20 goals on the year, a personal best. Raymond added an assist on the night  for a total of 3 points. Ryan Kesler was the other Canuck to pick up 3 points on the night ( 0G, 3A).

Shortly after Raymond’s second, former Blue Pavol Demitra almost widened the margin to 2 goals when Conklin made a spectacular save. The puck had appeared to go in, but further review showed that the puck nicked the post and landed behind Conklin, who quickly covered the puck.

That single save started a chain reaction for the Blues, who started getting quality scoring chances, starting with Andy McDonald. After intercepting a costly in-zone giveaway, Perron and A Mac had an easy 2-on-1 with plenty of time and space. McDonald was all alone on Luongo, but couldn’t elevate the puck on the backhand to beat him.

That near miss seemed to further motivate the young Notes, who capitalized on a bouncing puck soon afterwards. David Backes calmly settled a bouncing puck in the slot and dished it to TJ Oshie, whose quick release surprised Luongo.

The Blues had tied the game and things were looking up, until one of the Canadian refs overreacted and made a bad call. The furthest official from the play called a high-sticking on PErron, who NEARLY grazed the face of a Canuck, but missed. The ref’s poor angle made it appear like PErron HAD connected.

Speaking of connecting, the Canucks did so on that blown call. Christian Erhoff, another young standout, fired a bullet pass toward Conklin that ricocheted in. It was some bad luck for the Blues, who battled their asses off against a talented squad.

I liked the way to Blues handled themselves in this one. Neither side seemed to back down, which always makes for great hockey. Each goal just motivates each team to score more. In the end, the game was lost on that poor call. The back ref has no business calling plays that are out of his field of vision. That’s just common sense. What looks like a penalty from afar is nothing up close.

1/28            vs. Edmonton Oilers – STL 2, EDM 1

Coming off a fluky loss to their rivals, I’m sure the Blues were a bit frustrated.  If I were in their skates I’D feel like I was just shortchanged. You don’t battle that hard without a win, unless the refs get in your way, which they did. Regardless, the Blues needed to forget that bad break, come out with good effort, and end this road trip with a W. They certainly did that, beating the Oilers 2-1, thanks to a late tally from Alex Steen.

Steen’s 12th goal of the year came early in the 3rd period, a short-side rocket that beat Jeff Deslauriers. Steen has consistently been one of the Blues’ best skaters.  He moves the puck very well, he is solid defensively, and he has a great shot. His 23 points in 40 games is only 5 away from tying last year’s numbers (8G, 20A).

Steen’s goal was the later of back-to-back tallies from the Blues. Eric Brewer tied the game at 1 when his wristshot found its way through heavy traffic at the goalmouth. This is Brewer’s 5th goal of the year. We haven’t seen this much offensive production from this trade bust since his first season with the Notes, when he scored 6.

Brewer’s 2nd period tally came only 17 seconds after Dustin Penner scored his 22nd on the season. Robert Nilsson made a nice cross-ice pass, which found Penner alone on Mason’s far side. It was all too easy for him.

This game was not all too easy for the Blues. In fact, many things about this came could be called “Uneasy.” The defensive-zone giveaways, the shoddy coverage on line matchups, the transition mistakes; they all made this game a lot closer than it had to be.

The Blues were outshot 25-20, so really they lucked out on this one, especially on that Brewer goal. Sure, it was the right decision to fire the puck on net, but that doesn’t make that goal any less fluky. Thankfully, Steen showed up to play, and the defense kept the Oilers average offense at bay.

Bottom Line

I really liked the way the Blues handled this road trip. Since they appear unable to stop the giveaway games at home, they’ve decided not to change a thing on the road. They kept it simple – they got pucks on net (81 SOG through 3 games), they got traffic in front, and they did some good ol’ fashion bangin’ and bruisin’. Goaltending was superb all three nights; it’s just a shame that “Conks” got stuck with that bullshit loss in Vancouver. I even thought the offense was better. Okay, they only scored 6 goals through 3 games, but they’re facing some SERIOUS talent in Kiprusoff, Luongo, and even in newcomer Deslauriers. The Blues’ seem to fail at home because they want to make the perfect play. On the road for some reason, the Blues simplify, to their benefit. If they can find a way to make the system work at home, we’ll be looking at a real playoff contender down the stretch.

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