Blues riding high under Hitchcock

BY foxsports • January 18, 2012

Seventy-one days after Ken Hitchcock took office in St. Louis, the Blues were outright No. 1 in the Western Conference and were tied for the most points in the entire NHL with 60.

"Before the season started, if you would have told us at this point of we would be first in our conference or division, it would be really impressive," Blues goaltender Jaroslav Halak said after recording his second shutout in his last three games with a 1-0 win over Dallas Monday.

Only the fact that the New York Rangers have played two fewer games is keeping the Blues from being the top team in the league. The Blues haven't been in this position this late in the season since January 2000. The team has made just one trip to the postseason in the past six years.

"There's still a lot of games to go, but everybody's been patient, the organization, the fans and we're reaping the benefits now," defenseman Barret Jackman said. "The fans are really behind us now. It's fun to be out in St. Louis now. People are talking hockey. It's a great feeling."

With Monday's victory, which came compliments of T.J. Oshie's 14th goal of the season in the third period, the Blues are now 21-5-6 under Hitchcock and 27-12-6 overall, good for 60 points.

"Has it come a little quicker points-wise? Sure," Hitchcock admitted. "But the play is what I expected. I expected that the team could play at this level. The point totals are good, but when you look at things, geez we're going to need these points because to have four teams going like this in the division is ridiculous. This is just going to be a battle to the end. Hopefully we keep playing well."

The Blues improved to 19-3-3 at Scottrade Center this season, setting a franchise record by earning at least one point in a 13th consecutive game (11-0-2). The club will be off until Thursday when it hosts Edmonton.

NOTES, QUOTES

Halak points Blues in right direction

-- The Blues have blanked three of their last five opponents after Monday's 1-0 win over Dallas. The club has not allowed a goal in the third period in their last nine games, dating back to a 3-2 loss to Detroit on Dec. 27. Jaroslav Halak, who has two of the three shutouts, has only allowed two goals in his last 211 minutes, 3 seconds of play.

"It's all timing," Halak said. "Sometimes I need to make the key saves for them to keep the score tied and sometimes, they come up big for me. It's a combination right now."

--Before Monday's game, Blues coach Ken Hitchcock made a key switch with his forward combinations, swapping right wingers T.J. Oshie and Chris Stewart on his top lines. The move paid off in a 1-0 win for the Blues, as Oshie was set up by new linemate David Perron for the game-winner with 8:34 left in regulation.

"I just felt like we needed a different energy," Hitchcock said. "I just felt like we were too focused on checking other teams' players and their top players were struggling. I thought we needed a different energy. I thought Osh could fly around and create some energy. Osh is an attack player and that's what he did."

QUOTE TO NOTE: "We still think there's a whole other gear when we get people back ... hopefully this week." –- Blues coach Ken Hitchcock, alluding to the news that injured players Alex Steen, Kris Russell and Andy McDonald could be rejoining the lineup soon.


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