After being shutout by Jonathan Quick on Thursday night, the Blues entered Sunday’s contest in Phoenix with an offensive mindset; get pucks to the net. St. Louis put thirty shots on Phoenix goaltender Jason LaBarbera and defeated the Pacific Division leaders 4-0. Alex Pietrangelo, David Backes, Patrik Berglund, and Ryan Reaves all contributed to the Blues’ offensive explosion in the second and third periods. With the win in their final game of a seven-game road trip, St. Louis moved back into first place in the race for the President’s Trophy, taking a two-point lead over the New York Rangers. St. Louis takes their NHL leading 103 points back to the Scottrade Center on Tuesday night to take on the surging Nashville Predators.
The Blues’ goaltending tandem has undoubtedly been the most underrated story of the entire NHL season. Just as Blues fans were coming to grips with the announcement of a permanent starting goaltender, Brian Elliot returns to the crease with two shutout performances. With Jaroslav Halak’s outstanding play over the last month, most Blues fans expected Ken Hitchcock to announce that Jaro would become the permanent starter heading into the playoffs. Many fans would have welcomed this decision, but Hitchcock stood firm in his system and decided to go with Elliot for the final two games of the road trip. Elliot faced fifty-seven shots over the course of six periods and one overtime session. He surrendered zero goals, recording his league-leading seventh and eighth shutouts. Hitchcock had this to say about the NHL’s first goaltending tandem to each record six shutouts in a single season, “One gets hot, cools off and then the other one gets hot. Halak was going good about 2½ weeks and now it’s Brian. It’s a great situation.” Look for Hitch to play his hot hand in net for the remainder of the season and throughout the playoffs.
Steener returned to the ice for the first time since suffering a concussion in Detroit in late December. Steen’s return was somewhat uneventful, recording two shots in just under fifteen minutes of ice time. He skated with the second line for the majority of his ice time but look for Hitch to cycle him into the top line once he gets back into skating condition. The return of Alex Steen means a lot for the Blues. Not only does it add flexibility offensively and another scoring threat, but it adds an overall toughness and resiliency to the top -six forwards. Hitch had this to say about Steen’s style of play following the game, “Heavy game, competitive, engaged, old school, a throwback. Take ten or twelve of him and win championships.” Hitchcock essentially thinks of the twenty-eight year-old grinder as a winner.
The Blues’ special teams play may be the only facet of their game that rivals the proficiency of their goaltending. Over the past month, St. Louis’ power play efficiency has skyrocketed, moving from twenty-eighth in the league to seventeenth. Much of the Blues’ recent success on the man advantage can be attributed to Norris Trophy candidate, Alex Pietrangelo. Pietrangelo has grown into his role on the power play, serving as the Blues’ quarterback. Pietrangelo scored and assisted on the power play in Phoenix, bring his season point total to forty-eight. The penalty kill has also been a major strength for the Blues this season. After killing fifty-one straight penalties earlier this month, a streak that fell two shy of the NHL record, St. Louis has continued the strong play on the man disadvantage. The Blues killed all four of the power plays they faced against Phoenix, halting any type of momentum the Coyotes had built each time.