As with most sports, hockey is a game of numbers. The St. Louis Blues defeated the Minnesota Wild Thursday night and generated some pretty impressive numbers in the process. The win was the 6th in a row for the Blues, giving them 48 points and sole possession of 6th place in the Western Conference Standings. Brian Elliott stopped all 23 shots he faced for his 3rd consecutive shut-out, breaking the team record fora road shut-out streak and extending it to 189:31. Roman Polak and Andy McDonald provided the offense as the Blues won 2-0.
In another ugly-but-effective effort Thurday night, the Blues managed to withstand numerous bouts of heavy pressure by the Wild. The boxscore shows the Wild out-shooting St. Louis 23-20, out-hitting the Blues 21-18, and dominating the Blues in the face-off circle, and yet even those numbers don’t accurately describe what a slogging mess the game was as times for St. Louis. They had their chances against Minnesota goalie Niklas Backstrom though, capitalizing on a beautiful cross-ice pass from Chris Stewart to a wide open Polak at 10:37 in the 1st period.
It was Polak’s first goal since March 2011. That’s some perseverance! The play also saw excellent forechecking from Jaden Schwartz, one of the most consistently hard-working Blues forwards this season. Schwartz, Chris Porter, Adam Cracknell, Ryan Reaves, Vladimir Sobotka: these are not the top-line names we usually hear from in St. Louis but these are the guys who have really sparked this team this year.
The 2nd period was all Minnesota though the Blues continued to be stifling in their own zone. The pressure was there, but St. Louis did another fantastic job of clogging up passing lanes and keeping Elliott’s view of shots clear. Ells played with confidence and looked cool, calm, and collected even with Wild players falling on top of him in the crease.
A potential 3rd straight 1-0 road win (which would’ve been an NHL first, by the way) was avoided at 9:30 of the 3rd period on an amazing play by Vladi Tarasenko, who fought off Minnesota’s Justin Falk and one-handed a pass to Mac streaking through the slot.
I know Hitchcock’s game-plan has always been one of defense first, but despite these goals Thursday night I still don’t see the Blues being aggressive enough with the puck in the offensive zone to be successful in the playoffs. Maybe I’m being too greedy. They’re playing their game and it’s working for now, and because of tight team defense, and of course the outstanding goaltending, the Blues are winning.
To say Elliott was hot right now would be a gross understatement. What’s perhaps most impressive though, aside from the fact he’s been able to post these shut-outs on the road, is that it’s all happened after he had, arguably, one of the worst starts to a season a guy could have. Prior to his 2-game conditioning stint in Peoria earlier this month, Ells was 3-6-1 with a GAA of well over 3 and a dismal .851 Save %.
He’s now won 5 straight and has the shut-out streak going, looking much more like the Jenning’s Trophy winning from a year ago. The fact Ells accepted the conditioning assignment and has kept working hard all season long says a LOT about his character and his commitment to the St. Louis Blues. The team’s faith and loyalty have paid off.
The road trip ends tonight in Columbus as the Blues once again take on a very dangerous Blue Jackets team. Hitch said earlier in the week that Jake Allen would get this start, being the 2nd game in as many nights and pretty standard operating procedure. We’ll see if the shut-out streak makes a difference but I’m guessing it wont. If it was up to my Allen would start and Ells would have a well-earned rest, until the Blues return home Sunday versus the Blackhawks.
St. Louis has been playing lock-down defense and getting superb netminding in winning 6 straight. Imagine what a force they’ll be when the talent up front gets to firing on all cylinders as well. We saw a brief flash of what could be during the first week of the season. If the Blues can just get a couple more goals per game to go in, they might be unstoppable.
GO BLUES! Long Live the Note!