GLENDALE - As the Blues get set to meet the Arizona Coyotes tonight (8 p.m., FSMW, KMOX), it’ll be Alexander Steen, David Backes and T.J. Oshie leading the way.
The Blues’ top line has contributed 20 points in their last five games. And while it’s Oshie and Steen showing up most on the score sheet, both are crediting Backes for making it happen.
“He’s creating so much space for us, it’s unbelievable,” Steen said of the Blues’ captain. “He’s been great. He does a lot of stuff that doesn’t really get a lot of credit, but us boys, we know what he does.”
Added Oshie, “He’s occupying the front of the net and he’s taking the goalies’ eyes away. Without Backs doing his job, me and Steener aren’t on the score sheet.”
Last week alone, Oshie led all NHL players with five goals and shared the League lead in points with seven. Saturday against San Jose, he netted his second career hat trick and his second career four-point game.
Steen also tallied seven points last week, recording an assist on Dec. 30 against Nashville, a goal and an assist Jan. 2 in Anaheim and a four-point game Saturday in San Jose.
“They play the game the right way. There’s no other way to describe it,” Blues Head Coach Ken Hitchcock said of the Steen-Backes-Oshie line. “Between ‘pucks deep’ and ‘puck support’ and ‘second-man quick’, all of the terminology that we use, they do it. They’re a perfect example of the way we need to play to win, and I can trot them out all the time.
“It’s a good feeling from a coaching standpoint, knowing you’ve got your top players playing the right way every night, it really gives you something to follow.”
Added Oshie, “I think when we play together, we all seem to play the same way. It’s good. I think we complement each other really well, and when all three guys are working, it just makes the game that much easier.”
The Blues were glad to get Jaden Schwartz back in the lineup Saturday. The Blues forward missed seven games with a foot injury and contributed immediately with a goal and an assist in a 7-2 win Saturday against the Sharks.
Overall, Schwartz has a four-game point streak (three goals and three assists).
Earlier this season, Schwartz scored his first career hat trick in a 6-1 win against the Coyotes at Gila River Arena on Oct. 18.
With Schwartz in the lineup, the Blues have won six in a row and are 22-8-2 this season.
The Coyotes currently sit sixth in the Pacific Division with 34 points (15-19-4). Arizona has won four of its last five games.
Defenseman Keith Yandle leads the team in scoring with 26 points (four goals, 22 assists). Center Antoine Vermette (25 points) and Martin Hanzal (22 points) are second and third, respectively.
The Blues have won five straight games in Arizona, outscoring the Coyotes 23-8 in that span. Overall, the Blues have points in their last seven games against the Coyotes (6-0-1).
Brian Elliott will start in goal tonight. Dating back to the 2011-12 season, Elliott leads all NHL goalies in road goals-against average (1.84), road save-percentage (.931) and road shutouts (10). “He’s always battling his butt off and making saves when he needs to,” said Backes. “We love having goaltenders like that.”
Oshie will dress in his 403rd game as a Blue tonight, which ties him with Frank St. Marseille for 18th on the all-time games played list for forwards.
Steve Ott is one PIM shy of 1,400 in his career. With his next penalty, he will become the fourth active player to reach that mark (Ottawa’s Chris Neil, Boston’s Zdeno Chara and Columbus’ Scott Hartnell).
In Saturday’s win, Oshie, Steen and Kevin Shattenkirk became the first trio of Blues to have four points in one game since Brendan Shanahan, Brett Hull and Craig Janney did it on Jan. 26, 1993 vs. Ottawa.