ST. LOUIS -- The St. Louis Blues had been so good playing under Ken Hitchcock that it took some time for the team to have adversity smack it square in the mouth.
But after a humbling 3-0 loss at Detroit on New Year's Eve that saw the Blues ensure their first three-game winless skid, it was time to really see how this team would respond under some pressure.
The Blues, who were 0-2-1 in the last three, got back to doing some fo the things they did best during their success: being hard on the forecheck, driving the net and putting pucks on goal.
The result was a positive one, as they got a goal and an assist from Jamie Langenbrunner in a 4-1 victory against the Phoenix Coyotes at Scottrade Center on Tuesday night.
T.J. Oshie and Patrik Berglund scored goals while David Perron and Alex Pietrangelo had a pair of assists for the Blues (22-12-5), who improved to 17-0-0 on the season when scoring three or more goals in a game and tied the Detroit Red Wings for most home wins (15). Jaroslav Halak stopped 34 shots -- a season-best -- and has not lost in regulation in eight straight starts, going 5-0-3 in that stretch.
After losing twice to Detroit (the Blues lost 3-2 on Dec. 27 in which they coughed up a 2- lead) and at home against Nashville Friday and then again in Detroit Saturday, the Blues were hit with a dose of reality: teams were not going to take them as one that had not been among the Western Conference's elite. It was time to get back on the horn and push back those attempts that the opposition was ramping up against them.
"I think any time you're playing those top teams ... Detroit, Chicago, San Jose, Vancouver, you have to have everybody, especially our team," said Langenbrunner. "Our team doesn't have a superstar that can carry us and we can just lean on them to score two goals a night. We've got to go by committee. That works well for us. We got away from it a little bit. We weren't playing as five-man units and going one after another and putting pressure on teams. When you don't do that against Detroit, they're going to make you pay for it.
"I think we learned something about our composure in those games. It's going to be tight and it's not going to be easy. It's not always going to go your way. We've got to learn how to battle through that. That's part of growing and getting better. That's hopefully something we learn from."
Hitchcock said his team, for the first time since he's been here, lost not only some focus but its confidence as well. It was time to get that back.
"We lost a little bit of confidence against Detroit," Hitchcock said. "When you play that well and you lose, you lose a little bit of confidence. I think coming back tonight and getting a win is a big step for us."
The Coyotes (19-17-4), who began a stretch of games in which eight of 10 are on the road, got a goal from Radim Vrbata and fell to 1-4-1 in their last six games. Mike Smith, who was activated Tuesday from injured reserve because of a groin injury, stopped 27 shots in his return to the lineup.
"It's always nice to get back, but it's not the outcome we were looking for," Smith said. "We got out-competed tonight. We've got to find ways to win hockey games."
Added coach Dave Tippett, whose team is 0-2-0 against the Blues this season: "We needed to put more will and commitment into the game. They won a lot more of the one-on-one battles than we did. Our execution was slow and poor."
The Blues came out with zip, and their top line set the tone. Stewart gave them a 1-0 lead when he found a rebound in the slot of a David Backes one-timer and beat Smith 4:43 into the game.
Langenbrunner tipped a Barret Jackman point shot past Smith with four minutes left in the first to make it 2-0, but the Blues had a chance to make it 3-0 when David Backes flew past Ray Whitney and got a shorthanded breakaway attempt. Smith closed the pads with 1:40 left and Phoenix cashed in on the power play with Vrbata snapping one past Halak just 29 seconds later to make it 2-1. In essence, it was a two-goal swing that got the Coyotes back in the game instead of a 3-0 hole.
The Blues continued their hard forecheck, getting pucks to the net as well as driving it into the second period, and Oshie restored their two-goal lead with a power play goal of his own.
"You want to have that check-first mentality," Stewart said. "We came out the first four, five shifts in the game and we definitely took the body to them, established our forecheck early. When we're going to do that, we're going to control the puck.
"It's a lot easier to play when you're the aggressor."
Oshie drove the net and put himself in place to get Pietrangelo's blast and backhand it past Smith 4:28 into the period for a 3-1 Blues lead.
"Phoenix has a good defense and I thought we got into them a little in the second period, got the momentum," Hitchcock said. "The third goal was huge."
The Blues got a bit conservative in the third period protecting a two-goal lead but got an empty-netter from Berglund with 37.9 seconds left. They improved to 17-1-1 when leading after two periods.
"We had a lot of good players today. We had a lot of good play," Hitchcock said. "We did a lot of things that we wanted to do, and we stayed with it. Phoenix is a lot like us. They work hard, they battle, they compete and I thought the way we played for two-and-a-half periods was really sound. From the goalie out, we competed at a pretty high level and we were forced to do that."
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