ST. LOUIS -- Jaden Schwartz was given a golden opportunity Friday night for the St. Louis Blues. The 14th pick of the 2010 NHL Draft was given a role to play on the Blues' top line against the run-and-gun Edmonton Oilers -- and he didn't disappoint.
After a slow start, Schwartz and the Blues staged a rousing finish -- one they desperately needed after some recent lackluster performances at home.
Vladimir Sobotka scored the game-winner and added an assist, Schwartz and David Backes also had a goal and an assist each, and the Blues broke out of a 1-5-1 home-ice slide with four unanswered goals in a 4-2 victory over the Oilers Friday night at Scottrade Center.
Playing on a line with Backes and T.J. Oshie, Schwartz, who for most of the season has been relegated to a third- or fourth-line role, was a buzzsaw all night. His play resonated throughout the lineup as the Blues (11-7-2), who hit the road for five games beginning Sunday afternoon in Dallas, also got a goal from Kevin Shattenkirk. Jaroslav Halak stopped 15 shots.
"I was excited," Schwartz said of getting bumped up to a more offense-oriented line. "I was really looking forward to playing with them. I was a little bit nervous at the start, but they're great players. They're easy to play with. They're so smart and they see the ice so well. They're easy to read off of. I thought we had a pretty good game for the most part."
Backes, the Blues' captain, couldn't help but marvel at Schwartz and the role he took upon himself.
"No offense ... 5-foot-10 Schwartzy's going into the hard areas -- there's no reason that the 6-foot-2, 6-foot-3 guys shouldn't be in there, too," Backes said. "From a 21-year-old kid that is just getting his feet in the League, that's a lot of character shown and some great leadership, too, that's leading the charge in those areas."
Blues coach Ken Hitchcock, who's dealing with injuries to Andy McDonald, Alex Steen and rookie Vladimir Tarasenko [who was picked two slots behind Schwartz in that 2010 draft], removed David Perron from the top line and inserted Schwartz in his place. Hitchcock played Perron with Patrik Berglund and Chris Stewart and was happy to see the results Schwartz provided.
"The line was good," Hitchcock said of Backes, Oshie and Schwartz after the trio combined for six points, "but he was the catalyst. He played very well. He played the right way, which was really good to see. I thought he gave the line some real moxie. They were able to read off of him. I thought he played his best obviously for us."
After the Blues had knotted the game 2-2 in the second period, Sobotka put the Blues ahead 3-2 at 4:28 of the third when he curled around the Oilers' goal and fired a shot through Devan Dubnyk after grinding work by Adam Cracknell and Chris Porter made the play happen. Backes added an insurance goal with 5:23 remaining when he hammered Oshie's one-handed pass to the slot past Dubnyk.
Sobotka took some good advice from Hitchcock, who remembered Sobotka scoring a similar type goal recently in Vancouver.
"That's what [Hitchcock] said before the third period in the locker room," Sobotka said. "Just funnel the puck, try to hit the net and it went in."
The Oilers (8-8-4), playing third game of their nine-game trip, got first-period goals from Taylor Hall and Ryan Whitney to take a 2-0 lead-- but managed only 10 shots on goal in the final two periods. Dubnyk, who fell to 0-7-0 in his career against the Blues, stopped 26 shots.
"It was a good road game after the first period," Oilers coach Ralph Krueger said. "You're feeling quite confident. It's just disappointing that we really allowed them back into the game with a turnover. It was what we gave them, really. They came strong, they came hard from then on."
The Blues carried much of the play for most of the first period, but the speedy Oilers struck for a pair of late goals 23 seconds apart.
Hall's fourth of the season came off a crowded scrum in front of Halak. Hall's initial shot was stopped by the Blues' goaltender, but Hall crashed the net and popped home his fourth of the season at 17:30.
Whitney and Ryan Smyth then caught the Blues on a 2-on-1 rush, and Smyth's cross-ice feed found Whitney for a one-timer over an outstretched Halak at 17:53 for his first of the season and a 2-0 lead.
But everything began to unravel for Edmonton from then on.
"I was just happy to contribute," Whitney said. "It would have been a lot nicer if we'd have gotten a win.
"I think we just started turning the puck over, and we didn't get any shots; pretty frustrating. I think we got comfortable. I don't know really what it is. They're a big, heavy team and we could do the same thing, but it seems like we don't want it sometimes."
The Blues came out angry in the second and got the necessary push they needed and got the equalizing goals from Schwartz and Shattenkirk.
Schwartz scored his second of the season when Nick Schultz blocked an Oshie shot and the puck came down in the slot. Schwartz ripped a shot past Dubnyk 3:38 into the period to cut Edmonton's lead to 2-1.
"That's what a goal is, to try and spark the team," Schwartz said. "Being down 2-0 is never a spot you want to be in, but we needed to get that next goal and I was glad I stepped up. That's my job, I guess, and playing with those two, it's a big role and a lot of minutes, so you've got to make sure you're [making] an impact."
Shattenkirk helped the Blues tie the game and snap an 0-for-14 slump on the power play when his slapper from the blue line grazed the leg of Oilers defenseman Jeff Petry and beat Dubnyk at 10:30.
"I thought our second period was excellent," Hitchcock said. "I thought we did a lot of good things in the second and really started to take the game over."
Hall did not play in the third period due to a leg injury. Krueger said he could miss a couple of days.
|Back to top|