Blues shut out Wild
By Rob Rains, The Sports Xchange
Minnesota 0 St. Louis 3
ST. LOUIS -- With almost every passing game, St. Louis Blues coach Ken Hitchcock is becoming more and more impressed with how well his team is playing.
He watched Monday night as his team posted a workmanlike 3-0 victory over the Minnesota Wild, who had come into the game with the best record in the NHL during the month of November (9-1-1).
The Wild's success didn't matter to the Blues, who got two goals from left wing Alexander Steen -- one into an empty net -- and a shutout from goalie Jaroslav Halak in keeping the Wild scoreless for the first time this season en route to their fourth consecutive victory.
The Blues increased their league-leading goal differential to plus-32 in raising their record to 17-3-3, the best start in franchise history.
"I thought our five-on-five play was really good today," Hitchcock said. "I thought it was one of the best games we've played five-on-five in a long time. Any scoring chances they got were pretty much on the power play. I thought we created a lot of pressure and presence, especially in the first two periods. We did a lot of good things today.
"I think you get in a stage where you don't want to let go of the rope. I think all of us recognize that as many points as we've gotten in the last little while, we might have even lost ground to Chicago if you can believe it. We're trying to chase them down. We want to keep going and guys don't want to let go of the rope. When you have that feeling on your team you want to run with it as long as you can and that's where we are right now."
The Blues took a 2-0 lead on first-period goals from center Vladimir Sobotka and Steen, who snapped his mini slump of not registering a goal in four games. Adding his empty-net goal increased his season total to 19, one behind league-leader Alex Ovechkin of the Capitals.
Sobotka's goal came just 50 seconds after the Wild thought they had taken a quick lead just 30 seconds into the game when defenseman Zack Parise deflected a puck past Halak. The referee ruled he hit it with a high stick and disallowed the goal. A video review found no evidence to overturn the call on the ice.
The call frustrated the Wild, and coach Mike Yeo said the team likely let it affect them, leading to the first St. Louis goal.
"That was really frustrating," Yeo said. "We were obviously prepared and engaged right from the start and came out and did what we're supposed to do. To me it was clear it was a good goal. The call on the ice impacts it. It's fair to say we came unraveled for a few minutes after that. It was a big moment in the game. It's bad enough we should be up 1-0 and now all of a sudden we're down 1-0. We still had plenty of game in front of us and we're not going to make excuses but it was very disappointing."
The Blues outshot the Wild 12-4 in the first period, including the two goals, and right wing Jason Pominville knew it would be difficult for them to overcome that deficit.
"They're a tough team to play against anyway but when they get the lead it makes it even tougher," Pominville said of the Blues. "We battled to the end. They play really well defensively. We got behind the eight ball and it's tough to come back in this league."
Halak made certain the Wild could not come back as he stopped all 22 Minnesota shots to record his second shutout of the season. He faced only 10 shots in the first two periods combined before turning aside all 12 shots in the final period. The Wild had three power-play chances, one in the second period and two in the third.
"The first two periods there was no action for me, just some shots once in a while," Halak said. "I just had to stay focused and it wasn't easy."
Halak said it might have been a lucky break for the Blues that the would-be goal for the Wild was disallowed.
"Getting a goal on the first shot is not the way you want to start," he said. "It was a lucky bounce. Not giving up a goal like that was huge. It would have been a big boost for their team."
The Wild also lost Parise to an injured left foot in the second period when he blocked a shot by Steen. He did not return to the game and the Wild said his condition will be re-evaluated when the team returns home on Tuesday.
NOTES: Blues RW Ryan Reaves underwent surgery Monday on the right hand he broke in a fight during Saturday night's game. He was placed on injured reserve and will be re-evaluated in six weeks. ... St. Louis D Kevin Shattenkirk missed his first game of the season suffering from the flu. He was replaced in the lineup by D Carlo Colaiacovo, playing his first game since signing with the Blues on Nov. 14. ... LW Mike Rupp played his first game for the Wild after missing the first 24 games because of a lower-body injury. ... Monday night's game began a stretch in which the Wild will play 10 of 12 games against Western Conference teams, including Wednesday night's home matchup against Phoenix. ... The Blues hit the road on Wednesday night to open a three-game trip in Colorado against the Avalanche.