The St. Louis Blues turned in a full-team effort Thursday night to outlast the New York Rangers 2-1 at Madison Square Garden. The Blues got goals from Alexander Steen, his team leading 26th, and from local product Kevin Shattenkirk. Jaroslav Halak stopped 34 of 35 shots in a terrific bounce-back from his dismal showing Tuesday versus the Devils.
When a team suffers a potentially demoralizing loss as St. Louis did just 2 nights earlier, the way they come out in the 1st period of their next tilt is a pretty good gauge of their mindset, and for the Blues Thursday night it seemed they’d overcome their bedevilment. The Blues killed off a Rangers power-play and scored the game’s first goal, Steen tipping in a brilliant feed from Jaden Schwartz at 8:38.
The point was Steen’s 12th in his last seven games against the Rangers and was the product of a typical, hard-nosed forecheck by Schwartzy and David Backes. Schwartz, playing in his 100th game, is having his best pro-season by a long shot, now with 16 goals and 19 assists. It was only the 2nd time in their last 10 games that the Blues did not allow a 1st-period goal.
Blues-killer Rick Nash tied the game 1-1 in the 2nd with his 10th goal in his last 10 games. Few players have been hotter since being named to their country’s (Canada) Olympic squad. It would be all the offense the Rangers could muster against Halak who had one of his best games of the season. Jaro was seeing everything and in perfect position to make the easy saves, and seemed to have a sixth-sense about him Thursday night, snatching pucks out of traffic and corralling rebounds with ease.
I find it particularly frustrating knowing that he can play like the Halakness Monster one night but then give up 4 goals on 14 shots in another. He’s very up-and-down, much more so than Brian Elliott. Is Jaro the better of the two goaltenders? Jury’s still out as far as I’m concerned, but Thursday night he may have stolen another win for the Blues, and at a time when they desperately needed the lift.
The St. Louis penalty killers were back in form against New York, After allowing 3 power-play goals to the Devils, the Blues shut-out the Rangers on 3 chances, only allowing a single shot out of the 3 attempts. The Blues’s own power-play got back in the action as well in the 3rd period when Shatty, a New York native playing in his first ever NHL game at the Garden, ripped a slap-shot past Henrik Lundqvist for what would be the game winner.
Backes earned his 2nd assist on the goal, and Cappy lead the Blues charge with 2-points and 8-hits. He was everywhere Thursday night, playing with fervor and focus, as a Captain should. Alex Pietrangelo also earned an assist on Shattenkirk’s goal, and logged 23-minutes of ice time to lead St. Louis along with his partner, Jay Bouwmeester (23:03.)
Petro has not looked like a top defenseman lately, fumbling pucks at his own blueline, giving up chances and position to opposing forwards, and generally looking tired. I’m hoping it’s just a mid-season lull, as he consistently plays top minutes game-in and game-out for the Blues. With Schwartz and Shatty each notching their 35th point of the season, the Blues now have SIX players with 35 or more points. The Chicago Blackhawks are the only other team with that many on their roster.
The Rangers out-shot St. Louis 35-25 Thursday night, but were held to only 7 in the final 20-minutes. The Blues were back in good defensive form, blocking 17 shots (they blocked only 4 Tuesday night) and were strong in all three zones for most of the game. Their 34th victory tied the franchise record for best start after 50 games. It also saw Lundqvist, one of the NHL’s best netminders, fall to 0-4-0 versus St. Louis, the only team he has never beaten.
One dark cloud hung over the win for St. Louis as Steen left the game late in the 2nd period and did not return. He’s listed as Day-to-Day with a lower-body injury. He’s already missed a dozen games this season to concussion symptoms and had 4-points in the 5-games since his return.
Losing Steen for another extended period could seriously hurt the Blues, though their depth has already been sorely tested and proved a strength this season. If Steen were to go on IR the Blues could call on Dmitrij Jaskin, Adam Cracknell, or Chris Porter to fill in the forward lines.
St. Louis will finish up their Eastern trip with a matinée Saturday on Long Island against the New York Islanders. The Blues beat the Isles 5-1 at Scottrade Center back in December. The Isles will be coming off a tough 6-4 loss in Pittsburgh but have been surging going 8-4 since January 1.
GO BLUES! LONG LIVE THE NOTE!