Many Blues fans left Scottrade Center Thursday feeling the brunt of a cold December breeze against the tops of their heads.
Though their temples may have been covered upon entering the arena, Vladimir Tarasenko altered wardrobes through his feats on the ice. After notching two early goals in the first period, Tarasenko willed a third puck between Lightning goaltender Ben Bishop and the goal post to secure a hat trick in the third, spurring fans to send caps of all kinds hurtling onto the ice.
“(Do) I get (them) after?” Tarasenko inquired after a reporter asked him what he was going to do with all the hats. “I don't know. I just want to say thanks to fans for the support. It was really a good feeling.”
Tarasenko’s hat trick propelled the Blues past the Lightning 5-4 Thursday, as St. Louis extended its streak of three or more goals per game to nine-straight. Amazingly, the majority of this streak has ensued sans Alexander Steen. Even without Steen in recent weeks, the Blues have found a groove offensively that had been notably absent during the early portion of the schedule.
“It wasn't like this when the season started,” Tarasenko said. “We had a tough time from you guys and it was so many bad words about our offense, but we just keep working. We just fight for each other every game and try to stay on our program, and most important thing, we believe in each other. We believe in our game.”
Their game is now earning belief from beyond just those in the locker room. Their play has rendered the confines of Scottrade Center especially friendly, as Thursday’s win improved the Blues home record to 11-1-2 on the season.
Steen’s return to the lineup Thursday coincided with Tarasenko’s third career regular season hat trick and first since December 16, 2014. In re-entering the lineup, Steen fortified an already-potent attack by replacing one of the Blues few offensively dormant forwards, Jori Lehtera, centering the Tarasenko line. The move paid immediate dividends for St. Louis, as Steen was on the ice for four of the Blues five goals Thursday.
Three of those goals came off the power play. With seven chances on a man-advantage for the game, St. Louis found early power play success to set the tone offensively.
“First four power plays were just a clinic,” Ken Hitchcock said. “They were really well organized and we shot the puck at the right time. People were in the right position, it was impressive.”
The power play operated with machine-like precision; Tarasenko, Steen, Kevin Shattenkirk, Robby Fabbri and David Perron comprised the unit responsible for all three power play goals.
Several of them stuffed the box score thanks in large part to that power play. In addition to Tarasenko’s hat trick and one assist, Steen had three assists, and Shattenkirk had two goals and two assists. Even David Perron – whose point streak came to an end in the win – served an active role in the power play success. Both Steen and Fabbri credited Perron as a significant variable in the goals because his screens in front of the crease took the goaltender's eyes away from the puck on multiple occasions.
Each member of the group complemented the others, allowing the power play to thrive.
“I think the cohesiveness, the chemistry throughout the five – but for Shatty, Vladdy and myself – we've been playing together for a long time,” Steen said. “It's easy to adjust minor things and things that we see on the ice. Even after we score there seems to be a discussion about where the next one might be open. It's a good dialogue to have. I think Fabs does a great job in the middle and Perry was the main reason we scored today.”
Though Thursday ultimately presented another two points in the standings, the Blues – for the third game in a row – jeopardized the outcome late after controlling the action early. Intent upon instilling in his club a killer instinct, Hitchcock had detailed the problems after similar situations occurred in the previous two wins. Thursday, however, Hitchcock was reticent; it wasn’t because he desired to withhold information, but because he seemed at a genuine loss for an explanation.
As his team keeps winning despite its warts, its record perhaps becomes a less authentic reflection of it performance.
“I don’t know the right way to tell you,” Hitchcock lamented. “I just know where it’s going to take us in a week or so. It’s not going to be comfortable. But we just take the two points and probably move on, but it’s not going to be comfortable in a couple weeks.”
Hitchcock said the Blues were winning games with spirit rather than consistency. Their issues – which as Hitchcock reiterated include struggles with communication, tenacity and play in their own zone own zone – continue to be minimized by results on the scoreboard. Hitchcock seemed resigned to an irksome reality: the Blues probably won’t address the errors ailing them until those errors actually start costing them games.
“I think we’re just better off riding the horse and seeing when it needs a drink of water,” Hitchcock said in the quote of the season thus far.
Frustrated though he may be, Hitchcock is experiencing how tough it is to muster the energy for anger when your team doesn’t lose any games.
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