In a successful start to the 2013-14 campaign, the St. Louis Blues defeated the Nashville Predators Thursday night at Scottrade Center by a score of 4-2. St. Louis never trailed and received goals from David Backes, Vladimir Sobotka, TJ Oshie, and Alexander Steen. Jaroslav Halak stopped 28 of 30 shots to backstop the win.
The Blues came out buzzing in the 1st period, quickly building a 3-0 lead thanks in part to special teams and some special plays from top-line guys. As I mentioned yesterday, strong special teams play will be crucial to St. Louis success this season and they didn’t disappoint Thursday night, going 2-for-3 on the power play and killing off all four minor penalties against. Backes got the Blues on the board early in the game and only seconds into the first man-advantage.
Sobie’s break-away goal a few minutes later came courtesy of a brilliant outlet pass from Jay Bouwmeester and strong skating with a slick finishing move by “the little guy with gumption,” as Darren Pang likes to call him.
Oshie’s goal, making it 3-0, was a thing of beauty and involved the entire front line in a tic-tac-toe scoring clinic.
Aside from the obvious, another fantastic thing about the quick start for St. Louis is the fact that four different forwards netted goals Thursday night, while the defense pitched in with 4 assists. The issue of scoring had been something of a sore spot last season, and many still think the Blues lack a true goal-scorer. The boys made a nice push against a talented goaltender in Pekka Rinne, whom they chased from the game before the 1st period was over.
Nashville’s backup goalie, Carter Hutton, performed admirably in relief, and the Preds recovered after the opening 20-minutes to eventually cut the lead to 3-2 (with goals from Mike Fisher and David Legwand) but Steener snuck a long slap-shot, another power-play goal, past Hutton halfway through the 2nd frame to essentially seal the deal.
The final (almost) 4 minutes of the game saw the Blues on a power-play with Victor Bartley in the box on a double-minor High Sticking penalty, but St. Louis didn’t get much set up in the offensive zone. There were actually a number of times in the 3rd period when they seemed hemmed in behind their own net and, as Lou Korac described to perfection, the Blues looked
“a bit scrambly in their own zone.” (via Twitter)
Honestly, despite the 4-2 lead, my thought as the final period reached the 10 minute mark was, “Man, the Blues can’t seem to put teams away.” Seeing some high scoring games already from other teams this young season only amplified this thought, but then it hit me: Hitchcock’s system is team defense. St. Louis is going to need to keep scoring goals to win, obviously, but they simply aren’t going to be blowing teams out of arenas.
Two of the most solid guys on the ice Thursday night were barely heard from or talked about, yet had excellent games overall: Barret Jackman and Roman Polak. The Blues roll four lines of guys who play a gritty, end-to-end game and possess a shut-down defense that is going to stifle opponents. That’s Hitch’s formula for winning, and we’ve seen it work.
The final, perhaps most important cog in the machine is the netminder and Jaro was excellent in goal for the Blues, making a very big save late in the 3rd as Nashville pressed with the puck short-handed. Halak looked comfortable and confident between the pipes and I’ll be surprised if he doesn’t start again Saturday.
So, we got excellent goaltending, scoring and points from the usual suspects, and even the new guys were prominent in the gritty play (Brenden Morrow, Derek Roy, and Maxim Lapierre) but what about some of the “kids?” Jaden Schwartz was all over the ice, as usual, and he’ll get his goals this season. He plays too hard not to cash in from time to time and I look for a big season from him. Contrastingly, the one guy I was a bit disappointed in Thursday night was Vladi Tarasenko. I really thought he looked lazy with the puck and getting up and down the ice. Maybe you saw something differently, share it in the comments below or on the Bleedin’ Blue Facebook page.
LONG LIVE THE NOTE