ST. LOUIS -- A penalty-killing unit that had been a thorn early on the season was suddenly a rock for the St. Louis Blues on Tuesday night.
Entering the game, the Blues' PK unit ranked 26th in the league. But after thwarting the Detroit Red Wings on all six attempts, including a huge five-minute major in the first period, the Blues came away with another key conference win against a team ahead of them in the standings.
Down 1-0 early, the Blues got goals from Matt D'Agostini and Alex Steen. Brian Elliott was sharp again in goal, stopping 21 shots to get his seventh win of the season in eight decisions as the Blues dropped the Red Wings in front of the 49th straight sellout at Scottrade Center.
The Wings (9-6-1), who saw their four-game winning streak snapped, got a first-period goal from Drew Miller. Jimmy Howard, who was the NHL's second star last week, stopped 35 shots. Detroit had outscored their opponents 18-4 during their four-game winning streak.
The Blues -- 9-7-1 overall, but 3-0-1 since coach Ken Hitchcock took over the team behind the bench -- saw their much-maligned PK unit put to the test in the first period when power forward Chris Stewart was given a major penalty – and a game misconduct -- for checking Detroit's Niklas Kronwall from behind.
They responded accordingly, and gained momentum by scoring not too long after the kill, drawing a raucous roar from the capacity crowd.
"It was big," said defenseman Barret Jackman, who had five of the Blues' 20 blocked shots and had 22:25 of ice time for the game. "We had a lot of guys going over the boards and helping kill that five minutes.
"Everyone had their legs going and we had the building as loud as it was there. Killing a 5-on-4 for five minutes, that's a big momentum swing for us."
Stewart was tossed from the game at 11:14 after what Hitchcock called more of a "push" than a hit. Kronwall was taken to the locker room and missed the rest of the period, but came back shortly after and played the rest of the game.
"I think I got lucky there," Kronwall said. "I think it could have ended a lot worse.
"They brought me in there just in case, to do all the testing. I felt fine. ... When you take a hard hit, you feel it's a good impact, but I was fine. I haven't seen the replay, so I can't really say too much, but it felt like he was coming from an angle from behind."
Stewart could face a suspension from the League on Wednesday. Whether a hearing will be scheduled has yet to be determined, but the Blues did not wilt after losing a key piece to their squad. Instead, they rallied.
"He's obviously a key guy for us, a big horse for us, but the reality of the situation is he was done for the game and we had to go with 11 forwards," captain David Backes said of Stewart. "Kudos to some other guys for stepping up and taking roles. It was good to see Kronwall come back into the game and he wasn't seriously hurt."
"Yeah, we took a few penalties, but keeping them out of the zone, they could hardly break it in," said Elliott, who lowered his League-leading goals-against average to 1.43. "All the skill they have on their team, we did a fantastic job just pressuring them ... not giving them any space to get it in. If they did, we took away their time and space and they couldn't create anything."
The Blues got on the power play themselves not too long after the penalty kill and got a goal from D'Agostini, who was playing in his 200th career game. The Blues' winger scored a power play goal with 2:41 left in the first period, cleaning up Patrik Berglund's rebound into an empty side after Berglund used his strength to get a backhand that Howard initially saved.
"We gained a lot of momentum on that penalty kill," Hitchcock said. "It was a tough call on Stewy but we gained a lot of momentum off that kill."
The Blues had the better of it in the second period and got the only goal on Steen's team-leading seventh of the season on a turnover. They outshot the Wings 19-8 in the middle 20 minutes.
After Johan Franzen's ill-advised backhand clearing attempt, Steen picked off the pass at the blue line, skated in and beat Howard with a wrister near-side 10:16 into the period.
"He made a great save on me the shift before," Steen said of Howard. "I figured I'd try another spot. Picked the short-side, low-blocker. I went off what he did to me last time. I figured he was looking glove again. Got a little fortunate ... it hit the post and went in."
As the Blues were buzzing and the Wings were turning pucks over, Chris Porter nearly made it 3-1, but Porter, playing his first game in six, nailed the near post after Howard fumbled the puck away behind his net.
The Blues had to kill off three more minors in the early portion of the third period and stood tall on each occasion, disrupting Detroit's puck movement and getting sticks into lanes.
"All our penalty kill has dug in in a good way," Hitchcock said. "I've said this before: Power plays can win you hockey games, but for sure, poor penalty killing can lose you hockey games every night.
"We're winning because our penalty killing is doing a great job. but we've got to take fewer penalties. Our angles are too sharp, too direct. We've got to do a better job."
Miller got his second of the season after Abdelkader won a puck battle behind the Blues' goal with defenseman Kris Russell. He then slid a quick pass into the crease, where Miller poked a backhand past Elliott for a 1-0 lead 6:07 into the opening period.
That was it for the Wings score sheet.
"They were better than us," Wings coach Mike Babcock said. "They did to us what we do to lots of teams. They dominate, they out-chanced us, caught us in a half-ice game, outplayed us.
"I didn't think we won enough battles, won enough faceoffs. Weren't good enough. We started every power play breaking out from behind our net, not in their zone with the puck."
1 - 0 DET
1 - 1 Tie
2 - 1 STL
Checking from behind (maj)