He’s alive! Jaroslav Halak finally returned to the ice Thursday night, despite a lingering fever, helping the St. Louis Blues blank the Calgary Flames 5-0 for the team’s 7th straight victory, an NHL best. Halak made 33 saves, the Blues got goals from five different skaters and killed off all 6 Calgary power-plays to earn Jaro his 3rd shutout of the season, 28th of his career, and 19th wearing the Bluenote, extending his franchise record.
Thursday night’s game didn’t start off as well for the Blues as the scoreboard would indicate. St. Louis looked like it was skating in sand for the majority of the 1st period and the Flames actually had more frequent, better scoring chances until Chris Stewart scored at 9:32. Stewie was working in the tough area in front of Flames goaltender Karri Ramo when Derek Roy made a spinning pass through the legs of defenseman TJ Brodie right to Stewart’s tape. It would be only the first of many highlight-reel plays for St. Louis.
Despite the final score, Ramo was excellent at times for the Flames, making point-blank stops on Stewart, Magnus Paajarvi and Jaden Schwartz, but Halak was even better and sent Calgary to its 4th shut-out loss in its last five games. Jaro even got in on the scoring action, assisting on Vladimir Sobotka’s goal at 11:37 of the 1st to put St. Louis up 2-0.
Ian Cole, playing some of the best hockey of his career lately (particularly when NOT paired with Carlo Colaiacovo) notched the only tally of the 2nd period, beautifully set-up by Vladi Tarasenko on a cross-ice pass. Cole buried a wrister for his 2nd goal of the season marking his first ever multi-goal season at the NHL level and giving the Blues a 3-0 lead.
The game was filled with whistles, each team getting 6 man-advantage opportunities. The Blues have now killed 16 penalties in their last five games and are 5th overall in the league at 85.4%. The St. Louis power-play is clicking at a 24.7% rate, good for third in the league, and Alex Pietrangelo potted their first power-play goal of the night just over a minute into the 3rd period, blasting a slop-shot past Ramo off a Kevin Shattenkirk feed. Blues defensemen continued piling up points Thursday night, finishing with a goal and 3 assists between them.
Tarasenko, who appears to see 3-4 seconds into the future out on the ice (re-watch the Cole replay) tacked on another power-play goal for St. Louis to close out the scoring at 3:32, setting a new career-high with a 5-game point streak. Talk about highlight-reel goals, Vladi’s 15th of the season brought back memories of Brett Hull sniping for the Blues from the late 1980′s and into the ’90′s. Jordan Leopold fired a laser-beam of a pass from left to right and Vladi absolutely crushed a one-timer, going down to one knee to fire a bullet into the net. Ramo never stood a chance.
The win vaulted the Blues into 1st place in the Central Division, tied with the Chicago Blackhawks with 67 points but will 3 games still in hand on their Windy City rivals. It also saw TJ Oshie take to the ice after a scary collision in Edmonton just days earlier left him day-to-day with a knee injury. What was feared to be ligament damage turned out to be a deep bone bruise, obviously painful but not season or career threatening.
St. Louis continued its dominance in the face-off circle, both Sobie and David Backes winning better than 70% of their draws Thursday night. The Blues also blocked 20 shots, Petro leading the way with 4 of his own. It’s growing increasingly difficult to find a weakness in this team, stacked from top to bottom with big, fast, strong, tenacious skaters both up front and on the blueline. It speaks to their depth knowing that 35 goals have been scored since Alexander Steen last played a game. St. Louis has now scored 5 or more goals 14 times in 43 games this season. The feat was accomplished only 14 times in their previous 138 games.
The Blues finish up their Western Canadian trip tonight against the Vancouver Canucks. St. Louis is 9-0-4 versus teams from north of the border, and the ‘Nucks have lost 5-straight. As long as they don’t take the game lightly and can shut down Daniel Sedin (5 points in his last 5 games) the Blues will likely extend that winning streak to 8 games.
GO BLUES! LONG LIVE THE NOTE!