ST. LOUIS -- As well as the St. Louis Blues
have played without Andy McDonald
, adding his dynamic play-making ability and speed at both ends of the ice makes this hockey team even better.
Sunday night, McDonald returned from a 51-game absence with a concussion, adding an assist in the Blues’ 3-0 win over the San Jose Sharks
Sunday night at Scottrade Center.
"Tonight, my decision-making was a little slower than it should be," McDonald said.
If McDonald has another gear or two in his arsenal, everybody else is officially on notice. The forward makes the Blues (34-14-7) deadly moving forward, more dangerous on the power play and gives a team already knee-deep in talent another healthy dose.
If the Blues can get back some of their other injured players – Alex Steen
, Jason Arnott
, Matt D'Agostini
and Kent Huskins
– there can be endless possibilities.
"I don't even know where to start," said Blues defenseman Alex Pietrangelo
. "Mac is such an influence on the ice, drawing that penalty into the game, 5-on-3 ... you can tell what he can do on that side. We can stand here all day and talk about how great Mac is. Certainly important to have him back.
"He's just another threat (on the power play). You guys know how dangerous he is. He's been like that his whole career. Tonight's a prime example. He hasn't played in four months. I don't think he missed a beat."
Added winger David Perron
, who knows all-too-well what it feels like to come back from a concussion: "Probably our best player on the team in terms of skill and speed and we're certainly used to it. I think it was great to see the ovation the crowd gave him, and he certainly deserved everything he got. For a first game it was a very good game."
With a power play that was much-maligned throughout the season, the Blues have finally caught the fire after a weekend set of home games.
On Sunday night, the Blues took advantage of some two-man advantages.
scored twice and added an assist. He and and Perron scored power play goals and Jaroslav Halak
stopped 25 shots for his sixth shutout of the season, fifth in 10 starts and 22nd of his career. Halak has won eight straight starts at home.
"We had a lot of engaged players," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. "We had no passengers. Everybody skated really well, competed at a very high level. I was really impressed right from the opening face-off.
"To play this hard (on back-to-back nights), I'm really proud of the team today."
The Blues continue to stay red-hot on home ice, improving to an NHL-best 24 wins (24-3-4) while going 16-0-3 in their last 19 at the friendly confines of Scottrade Center. They have now blanked the Sharks on home ice in three of the last four meetings and have a shutout streak of 124:56.
"I think there's a respect factor there that you have for them," Hitchcock said of the Sharks. "They were a final four team (last season), I think we have a real healthy respect for them. I think we're a little bit afraid if we don't check what's going to happen. We've seen them dominate teams and really steamroll teams. ... If we check hard, we give ourselves a fighting chance."
San Jose was blanked for the fifth time this season and second time in this building. Antti Niemi
stopped 26 shots in the loss. The Sharks (30-17-6) were the hot power play coming in, going 8-for-17 in the last five games and 10-for-22 in the last eight. But San Jose was 0-for-4 in the game.
The Blues that took advantage of some sloppy Sharks penalties. Pietrangelo and Perron benefited.
The Blues had a trio of 5-on-3 power plays in the game and were able to cash in accordingly on two of them. They were 4-for-11 for the weekend, after going 2-for-35 heading in the previous 12 games.
"We had eight minutes of power play and did nothing with it," Sharks coach Todd McLellan said when asked about the Blues' 5-on-3 opportunities. "I’m not going to question anything."
The Blues were the winners in the special teams battle, and that plays a big role in a game between two top-tiered teams.
"Our (penalty kill) did a great job," Sharks winger Ryane Clowe
said. "Two 5-on-3's, you can't ask them to kill that much. Our power play was horrible so they won that battle.
"We didn't capitalize. We didn't even get one. That's pretty disappointing after the way our power play has been going."
Earlier in the first, the Blues had a nine-second two-man advantage but then got another one for 52 seconds when Andrew Desjardins
was whistled for delay of game. Brent Burns
was already in the box for an interference call that gave the Blues their initial 5-on-3 edge, but the Blues cashed in when Pietrangelo used a David Backes
screen to beat Niemi with a slap shot from the high slot with 4:57 left in the period.
The Blues worked more magic with a two-man advantage in the second period, this time with Perron potting his sixth goal in four games.
Clowe and Brad Winchester
were whistled for consecutive two-minute penalties, Clowe for tripping Kris Russell
and former Blue Winchester for elbowing Roman Polak
. It was a full two-minute 5-on-3 and after keeping control in the Sharks' zone but not getting many quality chances, Perron was able to fire one from the left side of the goal, then bank in a rebound from just behind the Sharks' goal off Niemi for a 2-0 lead with 2:44 left in the period.
Once the Blues carried a lead into the third period, it was shutdown time. They are now 23-1-1 with a 40-minute lead. The Blues are also now 35-12-6 in games when Perron scores during his career.
Pietrangelo's empty-netter with 5.9 seconds remaining sealed another Blues win.
"It's finding ways to win. That's a quick turnaround for us," Pietrangelo said. "They rested up last night. Certainly a tough game last night, a long one there, going into overtime, an emotional win, but to bounce back like we did tonight, getting Andy back really gave us a boost and the crowd was as good as usual."
The Blues are 20 games over .500 for the first time since March 27, 2003, when Joel Quenneville was the coach. They were 41-21-9-6.