BLUES EXTRAS

Blues heed the alarm

2012-01-04T00:35:00Z 2012-01-10T09:47:11Z Blues heed the alarmBY DAN O'NEILL • doneill@post-dispatch.com > 314-340-8186 stltoday.com

Someone once told Ken Hitchcock that "winning starts losing." The thought is that a stretch of good results can sometimes cover up flaws in the method with which they are attained. Soon, the flaws catch up with the results.

"It erodes," Hitchcock said. "As you start winning a lot of hockey games, you start getting away with things and then something catches your attention. To me, the 3-0 game (a New Year's Eve loss at Detroit) caught our attention."

On Tuesday night at Scottrade Center, the Blues demonstrated the phrase can work both ways, i.e. "losing starts winning." Carrying a three-game winless dip and a 3-3-2 record in their last eight games, the awakened Blues skated to a 4-1 victory over the Phoenix Coyotes.

The Blues (22-12-5) are now 16-5-5 under Hitchcock since his appointment, which certainly represents a winning pattern. And they are among the NHL's best home teams with a 15-3-2 record at the Scotty.

That said, the Blues are no longer a novelty act under their new coach. That awareness was demonstrated during two losses in Detroit last week. The opposition has taken it up a notch; the Blues have to match.

"It's two things," Hitchcock said. "It's get ready to be played hard, because you're not sneaking up on anybody anymore. And No. 2, it's getting your 'A' game out there from a checking standpoint. You'll end up spending no time in your zone and a lot of time in the other zone."

Four Phoenix power plays skewed the shot totals somewhat, with the Coyotes enjoying a 35-31 advantage. In reality, the Blues had many more dangerous chances and spent considerably more time in the Coyotes' den than their end.

The Blues overcame an early penalty before getting the game's first goal. Referee Frederick L'Ecuyer raised his arm on Kevin Shattenkirk 32 seconds into the game. Shattenkrik committed the despicable act of nudging Mikkel Boedker and when Boedker lost a skate edge and slammed into the boards, L'Ecuyer called it interference. No word on whether video will be sent to NHL illegal hits sheriff Brendan Shanahan.

The Blues snuffed the Phoenix power play and scored moments later at even strength. Not known for his offensive skills, defenseman Barret Jackman created the play. Jackman pinched from the left point and kept possession al the way around the boards. The puck wound up on the stick of David Backes, who fired at Mike Smith.

Recently imbedded with the "Backes Bunch," Chris Stewart corralled the rebound and patiently waited for Smith to commit before backhanding the puck into the upper net. The goal was the eighth for Stewart, and perhaps his most dynamic in what has been a difficult first half.

Thing were going swimmingly when the Blues made it 2-0 with four minutes to play. Vladimir Sobotka sent the disc around the boards and Jackman stepped into a shot from the left point. Jamie Langenbrunner flashed in front and tipped the shot past Smith. It was Langenbrunner's third goal and first since Nov. 23.

Unfortunately, the Blues could not get to intermission with that cushion. On their second power play, the Coyotes got a goal with just 1:01 remaining. On an otherwise moderately dangerous rush, Radim Vrbata sent a shot from the high slot past Jaroslav Halak. The wrist shot appeared to catch Halak by surprise, or perhaps deflect off a sliding Jackman.

The late goal was particularly deflating in that, seconds earlier, Backes broke in alone on Smith only to have his hard shot rejected. The Blues are, after all, one for 17 in shootout attempts.

But the Blues got the two-score cushion back and re-established control with a power-play marker 4:32 into the second. Alex Pietrangelo unloaded a big shot at Smith and T.J. Oshie was at the net to knock in the rebound.

David Perron also had an assist on the goal, his second of the game. Perron has 13 points in 14 games since returning from a concussion that kept him sidelined for 97 games. The goal was the 13th for Oshie, tying him with injured Alex Steen for team honors. With 43 games remaining, Oshie is five goals removed from his career best of 18 in 2009-10.

The Blues should have improved on the lead during the period, which included stretches of dominating play in the Coyotes' end. But they went to the intermission with the two-goal lead. Their slight edge in shots at that point, 26-25, was not indicative of the play.

The third period was the least eventful, as the Blues hunkered down. Phoenix outshot the Note 10-5 during the final 20 minutes, but only occasionally posed a serious threat. Despite the awkward first goal, Halak was steady while making a season-high 34 saves and pushing his record (8-7-5) over the .500 mark for the first time this season.

Phoenix pulled Smith with over two minutes remaining. And with the crowd chanting "We want Big Macs," Patrik Berglund accommodated by scoring into an empty net. The goal was the ninth for Berglund. How many Big Macs get consumed because of it remains to be seen.

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