|Blues' goaltender Manny Legace has three shutouts
in 29 games played this season for St. Louis.
On New Year’s Eve, Legace turned aside 31 shots to record a 2-0 victory over his former employer, the Detroit Red Wings. It marked the first time since Jan. 11, 1993, when Guy Hebert blanked the Red Wings, that a Blues goalie notched a shutout at the famed Joe Louis Arena.
”It was pretty cool doing it last year (shutting out Detroit) in St. Louis,’’ said Legace, a former Wing who still owns a home in Detroit. “But to go into that building, where it’s tough to win, and do it, was really special. In my six seasons in Detroit, the people were unbelievable and winning that game was something I won’t forget.’’
The shutout over Detroit was the first of two in six days for Legace, who was named the NHL’s First Star of the Week Monday. His stellar play has enabled the Blues to climb within two points of the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Confere
nce standings. As of Jan. 8, the Blues, second to Detroit in the Central Division with 45 points, sported a 20-14-5 mark. At the halfway point last winter, the team was 13-21-7 for 33 points.
The triumph over his former team was a quick turnaround for Legace, who suffered a 5-0 setback to Detroit Dec. 26. In the loss, Legace was yanked by coach Andy Murray midway through the second period after allowing four goals on 16 shots.
The nine-year veteran, who celebrates his 35th birthday Feb. 4, admits his experience has enabled him to quickly overcome the highs and lows of being on either end of a shutout.
”As you get older, you just gain more experience and start to figure out the game a little better,’’ he said. “The travel is tough, especially when you get to the playoffs because it’s every other night. You’ve just got to learn how to control the game in your own best interest. I’ve also come to realize that even if you have a good game, it’s equally important to forget it and move on.’’
Illness forced Legace out of a game against Edmonton Jan. 2, but he returned to play last Saturday and made 27 saves in a 1-0 win over Carolina, the third shutout of the season and 21st of his career.
Legace is quick to point out that he’s also been the beneficiary of a healthy defensive corps this season.
”I think we played with our full defensive team three or four times last season,’’ Legace said. “This year, we’ve only gone three or four games without one of them in the lineup. We have a great nucleus of guys on the blue line and it’s made a huge, huge difference having them their every night.’’
In addition to Legace, who missed 25 games with a mid-season concussion and season-ending knee surgery last season, defensemen Christian Backman (21 games lost to injury), Barret Jackman (11 games), Jay McKee (59 games), Bryce Salvador (18 games) and Matt Walker (14 games) were all sidelined on more than one occasion. The veteran goalie still managed to finish the season with a 23-15-5 record and a 2.50 goals-against average, which led to a two-year contract extension last February.
Behind a defensive unit that is as healthy as it has been in two seasons, Legace is 15-10-2 with a 2.09 GAA (fifth best in the League) and 92 percent save rate through 29 games. The Blues have also been killing penalties at an 86.5 percent clip, which ranks fourth in the League.
”Having a healthy team has been important because, if not for those guys in front of me, I would not be in the position I’m in,’’ Legace said. “It’s just been phenomenal. I’d like to see where we rank in blocked shots and our penalty killing has been great. The dedication and hard work that we’ve had all season long with the defensemen in position and the forwards getting back have really put us in a good position. It’s been a treat to be standing behind these guys all year long.’’
To answer Legace’s question, McKee leads the team with 81 blocked shots, which ranks 16th in the league. Salvador (63), Jackman (60), Brewer (49) and center Ryan Johnson (42) are also prone to sacrifice their bodies on a regular basis. The Blues average 12.6 blocked shots a game. No wonder Legace is smiling.
”There’s a lot of excitement around St. Louis and I do believe it all started when Andy (Murray) got here last year,’’ Legace said. Murray, who coached the Kings for five-plus seasons, was hired by the Blues Dec. 11, 2006, to replace Mike Kitchen.
Legace isn’t alone in witnessing the resurgence of the Blues. According to Street and Smith’s Sports Business Journal, the Blues have seen a 55.10 percent increase in attendance at the Scottrade Center through 16 homes games.
”Andy and his staff have just been doing a phenomenal job preparing us for every game and that’s a big reason for the turnaround,’’ Legace said. “We made a strong run at the end of last season and I think that has carried over into this season. The work ethic has been there and the guys are doing a great job executing the game plan.’’