There was no white smoke billowing from the rooftop at the Scottrade Center late Thursday night. But there was reason for excitement, nonetheless.
The Blues beat the Phoenix Coyotes 3-0 in front of a hockey conclave of 17,852. The victory was team’s third in succession at home, the team’s first home winning streak since it beat Minnesota 5-4 on Jan. 27.
The victory also was the third in succession for Ken Hitchcock’s homeboys, also a first three-game winning streak since January. The team completes the stand by hosting Anaheim on Saturday before leaving for a three-game trip through Canada.
“This looked like us,” Blues coach Hitchcock said. “This looked like our team. This looked like the team we envisioned our team. There’s an engagement that is starting to connect now, starting to get better and better every day.”
And if that’s enough for optimism, the Note is now 1-0-0 under Pope Francis.
There were a few other positives. Chris Stewart continued his roll with a three-point night, including two goals and an assist. Forward Alex Steen, missing for eight games with a shoulder injury, returned in a pivotal role with a goal and two assists. The Steen, Stewart and David Backes line accounted for all eight points registered.
And last but not least, St. Louis continued the process of changing its name to Allentown.
Rookie goaltender Jake Allen backstopped the victory with 28 saves and his first NHL shutout. For Allen, the victory was a seventh in eight starts for the Blues. Is he the team’s “starting” goalie? Draw your own conclusions. But Hitchcock thinks Allen has the right stuff to have that role in the future.
“From a skill set and a technical aspect, he has all the attributes to be a really good goalie,” Hitchcock said. “He tracks the puck well. He gets outside the net and makes the right decision. He’s calm under pressure with the puck. And the biggest thing to me is (the puck) swallows into his equipment. So there’s no second, third or fourth chances … that creates rebounds and creates extra work for our defensemen.
So, with all due respect to last year’s Jennings Trophy-winning tandem of Jaroslav Halak and Brian Elliott, is the future now? Hitchcock suggested a transition from promising to prominent takes care of itself.
“Mental mindset is everything to being a starter,” Hitchcock added. “Can you handle the weight of the day, can you handle the weight of the game, can you keep playing every or third night and continue to be able to handle it? You don’t know that until you go through it.”
The Blues flirted with danger by not taking advantage of the first 12 minutes of the evening, minutes they dominated. The home team enjoyed three power plays during the segment, including 12 seconds of a two-man advantage with possession in the Coyotes’ end.
But 6-foot-3 Phoenix netminder Mike Smith would not yield. At one point, the Blues were out-shooting the visitors 13-1, but the score remained 0-0.
As you would expect, the Coyotes came on. First, Matthew Lombardi broke in solo on Allen, who smothered the shot. Moments later, the Blues left Antoine Vermette alone in front. But Vermette couldn’t fool Allen or stuff home a rebound. The period ended scoreless, despite 24 shots on goal, 16 by the Blues.
Stewart changed the scoreboard less than six minutes into the second. An adept clearing play by Steen started the play; Backes then broke in deep. The captain’s shot zinged wide, but the puck caromed out the other side. Stewart was there to hit the net. The rebound play was either genius by Backes or more Stewart mojo. Maybe it was both.
“It was genius in disguise,” Backes said with a smile. “I had a shot with rebound in mind, not necessarily in that manner, but it worked.”
As for Stewart: “He’s on fire,” Backes said. “It’s great to see.”
A disappointment last season, Stewart has 12 points in his last six games. He is tied for the team lead in goals, with 13, and leads in points with 26. Steen and Backes had helpers on the play and the Blues had a 1-0 lead with 14:06 to play.
“I’m not necessarily worried about the points,” Stewart said. “But I feel like I’m generating a lot of offense and getting a lot of opportunities off the rush. I’m just really starting to work for my chances and it’s starting to pay off.”
Minutes later, with the Blues on a power play, Allen continued his magic by stopping Lauri Korpikoski on a breakaway. Korpikosi got the shorthanded chance when Alex Pietrangelo – no kidding — stepped on the puck and fell down.
The Blues were still clinging to a 1-0 lead entering the third – thanks largely to a sterile power play. Allen then stood firm through back-to-back Phoenix manpower advantages before Steen gave his team what it needed most – breathing room.
On a broken rush into the Coyotes’ zone, Steen wheeled and blasted a loose puck past Smith from the top of the slot. Stewart and Backes assisted on Steen’s fifth goal of the season and the Blues led 2-0 with 15:55 remaining.
“It’s a bad pass on my part,” Steen explained. “I was trying to hit Backes breaking and if I hit him he’s in all alone. It kind of hits a stick and bounces out. I spin and shoot and it’s just lucky it goes in.
“But it’s nice to get timely goals. It’s something that, unfortunately, at times we haven’t gotten them. So it was great to see one like that go in.”
With just over five minutes remaining, Stewart intercepted a clearing pass, stepped in and whipped another shot past Smith. Steen picked up another assist on Stewart’s second of the night, and second two-goal game in three nights.