After enjoying contributions from unusual suspects in a win Friday night, the Blues were tested further Saturday in the second game of a back-to-back. Already down a defenseman in Colton Parayko, who was unavailable after getting injured in the second period of Friday’s game, the team learned late Saturday that they would also be without first-line centerman Paul Stastny due to an illness.
For Mike Yeo, that meant calling upon more names down the depth chart to chip in as St. Louis eyed its fourth straight win. Though the box score didn’t feature quite the same unlikely goal-scorers as the night before, frequent healthy-scratch candidates like Nail Yakupov, Ivan Barbashev and rookie defenseman Jordan Schmaltz all saw the ice as the Blues held off the New York Islanders 4-3 at Scottrade Center despite the less than ideal circumstances.
“In my eyes, that was a character win,” Yeo said. “We said that before the game, it was going to be a character game. I was confident that with the character in our locker room that guys would recognize that, and we would respond."
Yeo was aware Parayko would likely be out for Saturday’s game after saying Friday night that the team wanted to take precaution with him. While the Stastny news threw a wrench in the gameplan, Yeo wasn’t overly concerned.
“I got word when I got to the rink, and it was full panic from there,” Yeo smiled. “Nah, I’m just joking. The one thing that we’ve got here is we’ve got good players that have been out of the lineup. Whether it’s Barby, whether it’s Yak, we’ve got Zach (Sanford), Schmaltzy came in and did a great job tonight. We’ve got a group here, this time of year, we need everybody and we proved that tonight.”
Even with a less-traditional lineup, it was familiar names handling the scoring for St. Louis. Vladimir Tarasenko notched his 31st and 32nd goals of the season, while Patrik Berglund and Alexander Steen contributed tallies as well. Jaden Schwartz still hasn’t found the back of the net since Feb. 15th, but he continued providing his teammates a spark with another assist in the win.
One facet of the Blues’ game that could have conceivably suffered in the absence of Stastny pertains to face offs, but Yeo found even that area thriving, his team managing timely face off wins to keep the puck in their hands when they needed it most.
“I don’t have all the numbers, but every one of our guys at key points tonight won huge face offs,” Yeo said. “And so yeah, it was not just a matter of the face off wins, but the importance of a lot of those wins.”
A collective effort got the job done again, compounding the perception that the Blues have been especially streaky of late. Saturday made four wins in a row, which directly followed five consecutive losses. And that streak came after racking up six straight wins.
“I don’t know if I’ve seen it like this,” Saturday’s winning goaltender Carter Hutton said of the Blues' streaky ways. “It’s something that we obviously want to get away from. We’re okay with the winning streaks, but the losing streaks can’t happen. We want to be a good team; try not to lose two in a row is the mindset we’re going to have to have coming down the stretch here if we wanna be pushing for this and be a contender when the playoffs start.”
The next big opportunity to build a playoff-caliber resume comes Monday in Los Angeles. The Kings currently trail the Blues by three points for the second wild card in the Western Conference playoffs, so that head-to-head tilt will be one of the most critical games remaining on the schedule as St. Louis continues its pursuit of a playoff berth.
“That’s a great challenge for us,” Yeo said. “We’ll continue to do what we’ve been doing, and our focus will be on LA right now, but this is obviously a key point of our season right now.”
Yeo said there is a chance both Parayko and Stastny will be able to return to the lineup for Monday’s game in Los Angeles. Though both would certainly be welcomed back, at least for one night on Saturday, the Blues didn't need either to keep rolling along.
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