Even with points in four of their last five games, the Blues were looking for more when the faced off with the Blue Jackets tonight at home. The search was for consistency in their overall game at the start of a long home-stand and, while they didn't fully achieve that goal, they did start the journey. Kevin Shattenkirk was looking for a point in his eighth straight game, while Jake Allen was looking to bounce back from a few recent "rough" outings, by which I mean more than 1 goal allowed. Columbus was without Brandon Dubinsky as he was suspended this afternoon for his cross check to league goody goody Sydney Crosby.
The biggest issue for the Blues this year has been slow starts and it looked like we were in for another doozy tonight as the zone clears were very poor to start and Columbus had multiple chances including Nick Foligno who hasn't scored in 19 games. Matt Calvert slipped past the defense on a bouncing puck but a timely pokecheck by Allen flipped the script and led to a Blues 4 on 2 chance that was ended with a Sergei Bobrovsky save. The Blues continued to posses the puck and had great zone pressure but shots just weren't making it to the net.
The Blue Jackets would draw first blood tonight on a heads up play by David Savard, as he would fire the puck wide of the net and the bounce back came quickly to Allen's side. Unfortunately, Allen wasn't quick enough and Ryan Johansen got his stick on it and slipped it between the skate and post for the early lead.
Coming off a win against Pittsburgh last night, Columbus was riding a high of confidence, especially now that the had the lead. They would use this to continue to push the rest of the period and Cam Atkinson would get a great look in front with under a minute to play but Allen was right on the puck and denied the chance. The first would end disappointingly with the Blues trailing 1-0, tied at 6 shots and the fourth line being the best line of the period.
1st Intermission Interlude
(Hitchcock: So boys, now that we looked like stuffed turkeys, let's actually go out there and kick some ass like we should be doing)
Now I am not sure what anyone said in the locker room but whatever it was sure seemed to have worked. Winning the opening face off (one of 37 on the night) and gaining the offensive zone does wonders and it did this night as Boone Jenner would pick up a tripping penalty 24 seconds in. Then the power play went to work and you can see what a HUGE difference having Paul Stastny back does. Another face off win and the Blues just owned the zone the whole time. Tarasenko would ring one of the post but would get his second chance shortly after as Alex Steen made an amazing keep in off a blocked shot, saucered a puck to Shattenkirk who slid it to Tarasenko for this:
With the primary assist on the goal, Shattenkirk's point streak reached eight straight games.
The Blues would continue to push the Jackets tired legs as shot after shot started going toward the net including a nifty redirect by Jori Lehtera with his stick between his legs, but Bobrovsky was up for the challenge. The Jackets one really good chance was a lucky break as the puck bounced off a Blues skate and found him all alone in the slot but his shot would go high and miss the net.
Tarasenko and Johansen would get a little testy midway thru the period after Vladi was knocked down from behind in front of the Jackets goal and then behind his own net he was kneed a little by Johansen. Vladi slashed him as they left the zone and they started shoving before being restrained near center ice. While not a great thing to have your star fight, it was nice to see Vlad stick up for himself and almost enjoy it as he was smiling all the way back to the bench.
The Blues would have a real good opportunity late in the second as the Jackets would get back to back penalties leading to an extended 5 on 3 advantage. Once again, faceoff wins led to optimal zone time and good looks on goal, but this time the shots started to miss the net almost as if they were pressing. The best chance was foiled only by Stastny being a left handed shot when a right hander was needed on a great cross ice pass through the crease. Stastny wound up hitting the outside of the net that was wide open.
Even though only one went in for the Blues in the second, we out shot Columbus 18 to 8 in the second and really dominated the play of a team that was starting to tire.
The third started exactly as the second in that the Blues carried the play in the Columbus zone but were limited to zero shots and with Alex Pietrangelo pinching in led to an odd man break. A 3 on 1 turned into a 3 on 2 as Petro made his way back in time to get in position to block the shot attempt and make up for his lapse. Lehtera would get the first shot of the period 4:45 into the third on a nice feed while in the slot but once again Bobrovsky was there.
But as good as Bobrovsky was, he still has those moments where you don't know if he is even thinking about hockey and Scottie Upshall took advantage of that. After getting the puck from Backes off the boards, Upshall cut to the middle of the ice and waited for Bob to think about what is the universe really about before firing his shot.
Pretty sure his head was elsewhere because he barely moved at all on this shot. To be fair it was a hell of a shot. Allen would have to stay focused, though, as Brandon Saad zipped into the zone right after the goal and fired a puck low and to the glove side that Jake snared with ease to preserve the lead. Columbus would really make a push after that and combined with some sloppy clearances, allowed the momentum to slowly swing back their direction, but Allen was sturdy like a rock and kept it a 2-1 lead.
We would start to get some chances as the Jackets d-men started to jump into the play and Tarasenko almost had another highlight reel goal as he took on two Columbus defenders, triple deked between a guys legs and got two good shots on his buddy Bobrovsky but could't capitalize. Stastny and Robby Fabbri would follow that up with two more good looks but could do nothing with them.
It wasn't until Bobrovsky was pulled that the Blues finally put this game away. Steen would make a strong defensive play on Jack Johnson, using his stick to disrupt his timing without taking a penalty, and Tarasenko would lift the puck into the Columbus zone for Steen to grab and lace into the empty net:
Fittingly the game would end exactly as the previous game against Columbus but the Blues skated away with the 3-1 victory. While the power play did only net one goal, you could see that the cohesiveness is back with Stastny and, Shattenkirk for that matter, installed back into the top unit. If they can keep winning faceoffs at the clip they did tonight, this group can continue the 30% clip they are on and maybe even improve on that.
The Blues next host another Eastern Conference team in Florida Tuesday night as 4 of the next 5 are against the Eastern members of the league.
#3 - Scottie Upshall: game winning goal after changing sticks at the insistence of Steen
#2 - Vladimir Tarasenko: another goal, another assist, another star of the game. Ho Hum
#1 - Jake Allen: Speaking of Ho Hum, 23 saves on 24 shots. Another 1 goal or less effort. Will Elliott play again?