Blues sprint out of the gates in victory over Toronto
ST. LOUIS — Slow starts? What slow starts?
The St. Louis Blues must be tired of hearing about the slow starts that contributed to recent losses against the Sharks, Kings and Ducks.
After scoring first in a win at Winnipeg on Tuesday, the Blues tallied three goals in the first period Thursday on their way to a 6-3 win against the visiting Maple Leafs in front of 16,073 at Scottrade Center.
“I think you learn from it,” Blues winger Jaden Schwartz said. “We had a few games there with bad starts against good teams and you can’t be turning pucks over. I think if we stick to our game plan and everyone’s doing it, that’s when good things are going to happen, and tonight was another example of it. They played last night, so we wanted to make sure we got on them early.”
The Blues (21-6-3, 45 points) led 4-0 21 minutes into the game on goals by four players — David Backes, Jaden Schwartz, Derek Roy and Chris Stewart. Schwartz and Vladimir Sobotka both had a pair of assists as St. Louis jumped to the four-goal lead.
You can’t ask for a better beginning than that.
“I really liked the way we played in the first period,” Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. “I thought in the second half of the second period we got away from it. We grabbed it again in the third. … I thought up until the 10-minute mark of the second period we played exactly the right way. I don’t know where the shots were at that time, but I thought the way we needed to play — we were really dialed in on the way we need to play. We were creating offensive opportunities. I think we hit four or five goal posts today.”
St. Louis improved to 18-1-2 when scoring first this season. The 18 wins are the most in the NHL. Hitchcock’s club went into Thursday’s game tied with Colorado, Chicago and Pittsburgh with 17 wins when scoring first.
On the flip side, however, the Blues are 3-5-1 when they fall behind. Three of those losses came against San Jose, Los Angeles and Anaheim during the recent four-game stretch. St. Louis was outscored 9-0 in the first period of those games.
It was a wake-up call for a club that had raced out to an 18-3-3 start.
The Blues knew they couldn’t afford to get down early and they emphasized that on their road trip to frigid Winnipeg on Tuesday.
They were able to score first, on a goal from Alexander Steen in the second period, and after the Jets tied it early in the third, Kevin Shattenkirk scored a late goal to give St. Louis a 2-1 win and a happy flight back home.
“We’ve seen our starts cost us — dig us deep holes against good teams in a few games prior, and those are tough to recover from,” Backes said of the win at Winnipeg. “So we had a concerted effort to start better, to have our game for a full 60 minutes. That may be one of the more complete games we’ve played.”
On Thursday, the Blues buried the Maple Leafs (16-14-3, 35 points) in the first period by hunting pucks, getting on the forecheck and rolling four productive lines.
“We were all on the same page at getting pucks behind them and making their defensemen go pick it off the end wall and go forecheck them and check the puck back,” Backes said. “We did a really good job for two periods. Then we tried to find a different way to play. It’s a little bit of a less satisfying feeling giving up a couple there at the end, but it’s two points nevertheless and we’ve got to move on to our next task.”
Backes scored the first and last goals of the night, his 14th and 15th of the season. Alexander Steen made it 5-1 with his 22nd goal, at 7:04 in the third period, before Toronto answered with a pair of tallies that led to that less satisfying feeling for the home team.
“The first two periods were really how you draw it up and we played a good game,” Backes said. “The third we get a little overzealous and they make us pay for two. It’s another lesson that it’s a full 60-minute game. And teams that played last night and traveled, they are going to make you pay if you make mistakes. Lesson learned.”
The Blues will hit the road for a Saturday game in Columbus (14-15-3) and a Monday game in Ottawa (13-14-6) before a quick turnaround and a Tuesday night showdown with San Jose (19-6-6) back at Scottrade Center.
That recent 6-3 loss at San Jose on Nov. 29 is still very fresh in the minds of these Blues players. We’ll find out on Tuesday night how much they’ve learned since.
You can follow Nate Latsch on Twitter (@natelatsch) or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.