No matter the time of year, players and coaches alike stress the importance of divisional games. Forty minutes into the first game of a five-game homestand Saturday, the Blues trailed the Wild 2-1. The offense was held in check and the Blues needed a kick-start for a sprint to the finish.
That’s when Jaden Schwartz became the garbage man, emulating the kinds of goals the Blues prided themselves upon during their playoff run last spring. First, a nifty redirect on a shot by David Perron tied the game early in the third period. Before the celebration of that play ended, the Blues were on the power play and clamoring for the lead.
Schwartz struck again, cleaning up a rebound amid some net-front chaos. In 63 quick seconds, Schwartz had his 7th and 8th goals of the season, and the Blues flipped a deficit into a lead.
“He's really on top of his game right now; he's really playing well,” Ken Hitchcock said of Schwartz. “It's really good to see. He's just tenacious. The skill level and the timing of everything, I'm really happy for him. He's put so much work into it and his level of determination is high. It's great to see.”
Schwartz’s goals Saturday put him second on the team for the season, one behind Vladimir Tarasenko’s nine goals. Schwartz might not admit it, but his early success this season has plenty to do with his return to full health. Though Schwartz came back from an ankle injury late in the 2015-2016 campaign, finding his top form proved challenging.
After recovering from that injury as well as an elbow injury in camp, Schwartz is hitting his stride.
“It’s a tough thing to come over and then to play at the level that he was,” the captain, Alex Pietrangelo said. “He was always a good player, but certainly a full offseason of training and strengthening gets you right back to where you were. He looks really good out there, really good.”
Schwartz’s linemate Paul Stastny owned the Blues other regulation goal, an equalizer 7:41 into the second period. Pietrangelo emphasized the efforts of both Schwartz and Stastny as the duo continues to blaze a trail for the Blues offense.
“He’s been going to the hard areas,” Pietrangelo said of Schwartz. “I think if you look at the way he’s scoring, and Paul too, I think both of them, they’re creating a lot of offense by going around the net. I think when we’re getting the puck there and we’re getting bodies in front, you have guys with that type of vision, they’re going to find the puck like that.”
The Blues had the Wild on the ropes late in the third period, but Minnesota capitalized on a six-on-five chance after pulling its goaltender. The Blues weren’t thrilled to hand Minnesota a point, but the tied score gave David Perron a chance to complete the pseudo-hat trick for his line. In round four of a scoreless shootout, Perron lit the lamp, leading to Jake Allen’s denial of Wild’s last attempt.
All four Blues goals were accrued by a trio developing great chemistry. The Schwartz-Stastny-Perron line is creating the model scoring opportunities Hitchcock likes seeing from his forwards.
"Yeah, it's going good. We're getting chances,” Schwartz said of his line’s success. “Both guys are smart players, can make plays in tight areas, working hard for each other. ‘Stas’ is doing a great job on faceoffs, he's taking a lot of D zone draws, winning a lot of faceoffs, doing a lot of little things. Just trying to work with one another.”
Perron had two assists Saturday to extend his point streak to seven games. Schwartz’s streak moved to six games, and Stastny is building a streak of his own, which has reached three games. Hitchcock is known to tamper with line combinations at the first sign of a drought, but if this line keeps up its recent production, there won’t be any reason for the head coach to tinker.
Copyright 2016 KMOV (Meredith Corporation). All rights reserved.