James Brown would love this kind of hockey.
The “Godfather of Soul” recorded “It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World” in 1966 and the song reached No. 1 on the Billboard R&B chart. The Blues are performing their own version in April 2013 and, likewise, it’s a big hit. In fact, it’s a lot of big hits, and even a little good old-fashioned animosity.
Bodies banged, tempers flared and the hits kept coming as the Blues beat the Phoenix Coyotes 2-1 in another feisty, fretful shootout evening Thursday at Scottrade Center.
Andy McDonald scored the only goal in the shootout, while goaltender Brian Elliott denied all three Phoenix attempts, topping a night in which he had 34 saves.
A poor shootout team last season, the Blues are 5-1 in the man-on-man sessions this season. They are now 9-1-1 in games that extend beyond regulation. McDonald is batting 1.000 in shootouts, going 4-for-4 in his extra-session attempts.
The Blues were happy with two points, but not pleased with the manner in which they came, for several reasons. With just over two minutes to play, the Blues were clinging to a 1-0 lead when David Backes received a boarding penalty for a hit on Oliver Ekman-Larsson.
The hit was not unlike one delivered by Ekman-Larsson on Blues forward Vladimir Sobotka moments earlier. Worse, as Phoenix pulled its goalie and desperately clawed for a tying goal with a 6-on-4 manpower advantage, Martin Hanzal cross-checked Blues defenseman Alex Pietrangelo in the corner.
The puck came free to Radim Vrbata, who slipped it past Elliott for the tying goal with 1 minutes 7 seconds to play. The crowd of 17,205 rained boos down on referees Tim Peel and Mike Leggo. When the shootout ended, Blues coach Ken Hitchcock came on the ice to protest to the referees, who paid him no mind. Instead, they gave Hitchcock a game misconduct for his inquiry.
“A guy (Pietrangelo) almost went into the fifth row,” Hitchcock said. “There’s no ice in the fifth row the last I looked.”
Hitchcock was not pleased about the penalty on Backes, but he was more upset about the lack of law enforcement on what appeared to be a perilous hit on Pietrangelo.
“Listen, the penalty that David took, you can’t take that penalty, OK?” Hitchcock said. “You can’t take that penalty at that time and he knows that. But that’s not the one that bothered me. The one that bothers me is the dangerous play.
“We could have lost a player. Never mind that they scored a goal, we could have lost a player and that bothers me. When you’re killing a penalty, and you’re trying to clear a puck, you’re in a very vulnerable position. That one bothered me.”
The contentious nature of the game was evident early on. To get things off on a properly rambunctious foot, Ryan Reaves and Phoenix forward Paul Bissonette squared off just more than two minutes into the action. His first tussle since March 19, Reaves landed a big right before throwing Bissonette to the ice.
Midway through the period, the Blues landed another blow. With 10:02 to play, Backes threw a shot at the Phoenix net. And in what might qualify as another “Festivus Miracle,” David Perron tipped it past goaltender Chad “I’m not Ochocinco” Johnson.
Perron had gone 16 games without a goal. Moreover, the Blues had gone three games without any forwards scoring a goal. A forward had not turned on a red light for the Blue Note since the third period of a 2-0 win at Minnesota on April 11. Perron’s precision tip cracked a string of 205 minutes 28 seconds without a forward goal, but who’s counting.
“I’m just glad it went in, and we can turn the page on the slump there,” Perron said.
Asked if he felt a monkey on his back, Perron added: “Yeah, but it was more of a gorilla lately.” Testament to how thin things have gone offensively, Perron ranks third on the team in goals with 10, despite going more than a month without one.
The Blues continued a push and with 5:40 remaining defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk ripped a shot off the post behind Johnson. But penalties stunted the home team’s momentum and Phoenix spent most of the final five minutes on power plays. The Blues’ 1-0 edge held up thanks in large part to terrific work by Elliott.
In a man’s man’s man’s hockey game, goals don’t come easy. Six of the Blues’ last seven games have featured two or fewer regulation goals. Playing for their playoff lives, the Coyotes made it clear they were not about to go gently into the rainy night. At the same time, the Blues allowed the visitors to press the issue.
“We didn’t play our best game,” Barret Jackman said. “I think we let the way that they play dictate the way we played. And it should be the other way around. We were trying to pick them apart instead of playing in straight lines.
“The two points is huge and (Elliott) stood on his head again.”