Blues declaw the Panthers

2013-10-06T00:05:00Z 2013-10-09T22:50:06Z Blues declaw the PanthersBy Jeremy Rutherford 314-444-7135

The skeptics wanted proof. They’re getting it.

After back-to-back playoff exits, there remains a percentage of Blues’ fans who understandably would like the team to give them a reason to believe that expectations should be any different in 2013-14.

It’s only two games — please note that the Blues started 6-1 last season — but the reasons are plentiful through the first two games of the season. Really the only problem is picking a place to start.

The Blues manhandled Florida 7-0 Saturday at Scottrade Center, a game in which goaltender Jaroslav Halak put his name in the record books, breaking Glenn Hall’s franchise record for career shutouts with his 17th.

The club improved to 2-0 and will have a few days off before continuing its five-game homestand Wednesday against Chicago.

Ken Hitchcock will find some shortcomings to work on in the coming days, and there are some if you look hard, but after 120 minutes of hockey, the offense is clicking, special teams are humming, and the goaltending is back to blanking opponents.

“I thought it was a really good team effort,” said Jaden Schwartz, who had the Gordie Howe hat-trick with one goal, two assists and a late-game fight, as the lopsided affair turned ugly with a combined 100 penalty minutes. “All four lines were playing well. Defense ... Jaro was kicking again. It’s a fun locker room to come into after a game like that. Everyone is energized and we’re working hard, so it’s fun.”

Almost everyone is scoring.

Seven players helped put a touchdown on the board for the Blues Saturday: Schwartz, Brenden Morrow, Vladimir Tarasenko, Derek Roy, Alexander Steen, Ryan Reaves and Patrik Berglund. Each of the team’s four lines contributed a goal.

The club has repeatedly said production would be a group effort and so far it’s played out precisely that way. The team has netted 11 goals in two games and they’ve been scored by 10 players, with Steen as the only one with two.

“We’re going to do it by committee,” forward Chris Stewart said. “It’s going to be a different guy every night. There’s no one on this team that comes in here after the game and looks at a stat sheet and says, ‘I got a couple of goals tonight.’”

For as lopsided as the score was Saturday, though, the game was tight through 32½ minutes. The difference between the teams at that point was a first-period power-play goal by Brenden Morrow, who beat Florida starter Tim Thomas with his 250th career goal.

The Blues were clinging to that 1-0 lead. In fact, if not for three saves by Halak early in the game, and another on former Blue Brad Boyes five minutes into the second period, the game could have been a lot different.

“He made three good saves on the first shift (of the game),” Hitchcock said. “They were hammering away there, trying to push him into the net. He made five or six quality saves in the first period, just to get us to the power play to score.”

The Blues broke the game open beginning with Tarasenko’s goal with 7:29 left in the middle frame. He cleaned up a rebound, providing a 2-0 lead with his first goal of the season.

A player’s “first goal of the season” has become a common phrase and it continued moments later.

Schwartz netted his first 2:19 after Tarasenko, a brilliant wrist shot that capped off a solid sequence. Vladimir Sobotka stole a puck behind the net and fed Schwartz in front for a 3-0 lead, one which the Blues would have been happy with had it stayed that way.

But before the teams headed to the locker room for the second intermission, Roy and Steen got in on the action.

With the Blues again working behind the net, Stewart fed Roy in front for his first goal of the year, handing the Blues a 4-0 lead.

Then with under one minute to play in the period, Steen had a clear-cut breakaway and was tugged on by Florida defenseman Erik Gudbranson, leading to a penalty shot. Steen made the shot with a backhanded move, giving the Blues four goals in a span of 6 minutes, 32 seconds.

Steen’s conversion was the Blues’ third straight successful penalty shot for the club, which has also made seven of its last eight.

So instead, the club went into the intermission with a commanding 5-0 lead.

The Panthers replaced Thomas with backup Jacob Markstrom to start the third period and he allowed two goals. Reaves had a 2-on-1 with Sobotka and elected to shoot himself, beating Markstrom with a rooftop shot.

“I was thinking he already had (an assist) ... it was my turn to get a snipe,” Reaves said, laughing.

Berglund later scored a tap-in in front of the net, and Halak closed out the victory with 19 saves and surpassed Hall for the team’s shutout record.

“I know he was a great goaltender and a Hall of Famer,” Halak said. “It’s a special feeling, but it’s only the start of the season. We’ve got two wins, I’ve got one shutout. But I wouldn’t be able to do it without my teammates.”

The Blues are looking strong, but as Schwartz reminded everyone, it’s still early.

“We don’t want to get too high when we’re playing well,” he said. “We want to be happy with our performance, and we should be good about it, but we’ve got to come to work tomorrow and make sure we’re doing the things we’re doing and improve on the things we can.”

Jeremy is a reporter at the Post-Dispatch. Follow him on Twitter at @jprutherford.

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