Sometimes you can have too much of a good thing. After losing last Friday, the St. Louis Blues looked to an extended weekend to rest, recuperate and gear-up for a return home Tuesday against the Phoenix Coyotes. The Blues beat the ‘Yotes 2-1, but it was ugly. Good teams find ways to win when they’re not at their best, and thanks to Jaroslav Halak, TJ Oshie and a bit of luck St. Louis pulled out 2-points at Scottrade Center.
The Coyotes defeated St. Louis in their last match-up, an overtime win on November 12. They limped into town Tuesday night on the heels of a 5-1 drubbing at the hands of the Winnipeg Jets and looked to right their ship against a Blues team that had won five-straight on home ice.
St. Louis appeared a bit rusty after a 3-day weekend break and despite taking a 1-0 lead in the 1st period on Oshie’s 9th goal of the season, the team had trouble connecting on outlet passes, cleanly entering the offensive zone, and even simply hanging on to the puck. With the exception of 3-4 guys, Jaden Schwartz foremost among them, the Blues looked sluggish and slow. There was little flow to the game early on, though Oshie’s goal was a beautiful play, set-up by good puck movement and a brilliant feed from Alex Pietrangelo.
The 2nd period was even more bogged down by clutching, grabbing and whistles, as 5 of the 6 penalties in the game all came during the middle frame. The Blues took a 2-0 lead on a power-play goal by Oshie at 12:54 with Schwartz working hard to screen Phoenix goalie Mike Smith. David Backes made a strong play on the puck in the corner to feed Oshie out at the point, who deftly kept the puck in the zone and rifled a wrister through traffic.
St. Louis finally failed to fend off the Coyotes attack when their lead was cut back to a single goal with less than a minute to play in the 2nd. Oliver Ekman-Larsson scored on a Phoenix man-advantage at 19:12, breaking the Blues’s streak of 21 straight penalty kills and dramatically shifting the momentum of the game in favor of the Coyotes heading into the final 20 minutes.
Phoenix out-shot the Blues Tuesday night 21-18, and St. Louis blocked an additional 17 shots. Halak was sharp, especially late, to hold off the visitors through the 3rd period to earn the victory, making it 6 in-a-row at home for St. Louis. Jaro stopped 20 shots, the biggest save coming on Dave Moss near the start of the 3rd. He got some help late on a Phoenix chance that probably should’ve tied the game. Radim Vrbata beat Halak with just over 4-minutes left but rang his shot off the crossbar.
Good teams win ugly games and once in a while, like on Tuesday night, they need their goalie to steal one for them. Halak was able to do that while still fighting off a fever he can’t quite shake. St. Louis is now 19-0-2 when leading after the 1st period and are one of only 2 teams (Chicago Blackhawks (17-0-2)) in the NHL without a regulation loss when leading after one period. The Blues also improved to 27-1-3 when scoring first and are 10-1-1 in their last 12 games.
St. Louis finally got Roman Polak back after he missed nearly a month with a lower-body injury. Roman played his typical rough-and-tumble game, and the Blues got a solid showing from all their blueliners Tuesday night. Dmitrij Jaskin, called up from Chicago with Vladimir Sobotka out with the flu and Max Lapierre added to IR, couldn’t quite get his skates under him in only his 5th NHL game this season, though he did have a couple nice scoring chances. In addition to Schwartz, I really liked the energy Magnus Paajarvi brought to the ice. He has a bright future with this team as he continues to grow into his size, speed and skill.
There were a few flashy numbers from Tuesday’s game: Petro has posted 9-assists in what is now a 6-game point streak for St. Louis. Patrik Berglund played in his 400th career game and is now the longest tenured Swedish-born player in Blues history. With a helper on the power-play goal, Backes has a 5-game assist streak versus the Coyotes. Osh seems to have found an extra gear to his already high-octane playing style since being named to the U.S. Olympic team. He’s been especially hot this season at home, and with the 2-goal night now has 20-points (6 goals & 14 assists) in his last 13 games at Scottrade. Surprisingly, he has not yet recorded a hat-trick at the NHL level.
The Blues will continue their 3-game homestand Thursday night when the Los Angeles Kings return to town seeking to avenge the 5-0 whitewashing handed down by the Blues on January 2. St. Louis line-combo’s and the starter in net will likely be clarified after today’s skate. Stay tuned to @BleedinBlueBlog and visit our Facebook page for updates.
GO BLUES! LONG LIVE THE NOTE!