Many have wondered in the past week or so what specific effect Mike Yeo has had on the Blues. None, he claims.
“It’s the players,” Yeo said. “Their commitment.”
That’s not entirely true, said a couple of Blues players, who after their 4-3 victory over Vancouver on Thursday night at Scottrade Center retold Yeo’s message to the team during the second intermission.
The Blues and Canucks were tied 2-2 at the time, and both teams looked fatigued. The Blues were back home following their perfect five-game trip, playing the second night of back-to-back games to boot, while the Canucks were wrapping up a six-game, 10-day road trip.
“(Yeo) just said, ‘It hasn’t been our best, but we have an opportunity to win this game,’” Blues defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk said.
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“It was a great message,” goaltender Jake Allen said. “We were tired, there was no question. I think that long road trip, we’ve been battling hard, we’ve been finding ways to win games.”
The Blues found a way to win another Thursday, breaking a game open in the third period on two power-play goals by a unit that had been struggling of late.
Vladimir Tarasenko scored the go-ahead goal, his team-high 27th of the season, and Alexander Steen added another for a two-goal lead, and though Vancouver scored a third goal themselves, matching what the Blues surrendered on their entire recent trip, Allen closed out the victory with 18 saves, including one that he defended without a mask.
The Blues thus stretched their winning streak to a season-high six games and improved to 7-1 under Yeo for the best start for a coach in franchise history.
“I think as coaches, we were a little bit nervous about this game, coming back off a five-game road trip,” Yeo said. “It’s always a challenge in itself, then you’re faced with the fact that you played the night before. Through two periods, I would say in a lot of ways it was frustrating. It didn’t look the way that we would like for it to look, but what really impressed me was our response in the third. I think our guys really regrouped well inbetween the second and third period, recognized the areas that we needed to do better and then went out and got the job done.”
The Blues scored first for the sixth straight game, on Magnus Paajarvi’s third of the season, and led 2-1 at the first intermission on Jori Lehtera’s sixth goal of the season. But in the second period, the Canucks tied it 2-2 on Henrik Sedin’s 12th of the year.
At that point, the Blues’ power play was zero for two with no shots on goal. But they scored on their two opportunities in the third period to break the game open.
After a high-sticking penalty to Vancouver’s Alex Burrows late in the second period, carrying a man-advantage to the third, Tarasenko netted his seventh power-play of the season just 58 seconds into the period. Using Lehtera as a screen, he beat Canucks goalie Jacob Markstrom on a wrist shot glove-side.
“Good job by all guys,” Tarasenko said. “It’s always every goal is not totally [about the] guy who scored, it’s all five guys on the ice. They created a good chance for me and good screen by Jori, and just put it in almost an empty net.”
A few minutes later, Vancouver was guilty of another high-sticking penalty, this time a four-minute, double-minor against Sedin. In the second half of that penalty, Steen scored for a 4-2 lead five minutes into the third period.
Steen looked off at the Canucks defensemen, peeling Markstrom off the post, and scored his 12th of the season.
“Make it look like you’re going on the back side and hopefully he bites a little bit and gives you a little room,” Steen said.
Vancouver got one goal back, from Brandon Sutter with 13:11 remaining, but the Blues held on, winning on a night when it wasn’t pretty.
“I think we all knew that if we won this one, it was going to be kind of the sweetest one we’ve had in the last few weeks because it wasn’t pretty and it wasn’t one that we were just handed — we had to work for it,” Shattenkirk said.
“Sometimes that’s the way you get paid back when you’re playing the right way,” Shattenkirk added. “We had an example of how to play well, we’ve been doing it for the last few games, and for us to be able to come out in the third period and really show that was a big step for us.”
Was it Yeo? Was it the players?
“I think that the mentality that we’ve had day in and day out — we come to the rink, we try to get better,” Yeo said. “Whatever the result was the day before, if we win, we lose, we want to come back the next day and we want to start preparing. We want to start getting ready for the next one and when you do that, more often than not you’re ready to go.
“The biggest part of that challenge is that we don’t start feeling too good about ourselves, about what we’ve done, and that we recognize all the little things — whether it’s the blocked shots, the sacrifice and the commitment to the game that we’re playing. That’s why we’re having success.”