Blues rediscover their style to fashion win streak
DETROIT -- The St. Louis Blues understand it's a new season, but getting back their game that was so successful a season ago would bode well for a team trying to make the Stanley Cup Playoffs this season.
That means winning tough, gritty and sometimes even ugly games -- but with plenty of character.
Count Sunday's 1-0 victory against the Detroit Red Wings at Joe Louis Arena as one of those tough, gritty, character wins.
Of the Blues' 49 victories in 2011-12, many were of this variety.
"It's not always pretty," said Blues left wing Chris Porter, who had the goal Sunday. "We would like to play better in certain situations, but that's the game of hockey. Four [wins] in a row is great, but we can't look too far ahead."
The Blues (21-14-2) also have found the goaltending necessary to win these gritty games. Brian Elliott earned his 19th career shutout with 28 saves, but once the Blues got Porter's goal, it was a lockdown game the rest of the way.
That means limited scoring opportunities; efficient penalty killing, which has now denied 18 straight over seven games and 27 of 28 over 12 games; and a hard forechecking style of play in all three zones.
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"It's that time of year. Find a way to get it done," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. "We played a great first period [Sunday], managed the game well in the third.
"This is the third game in three-and-a-half days. Both teams poured a lot into this. This was a playoff game with a playoff atmosphere. Both teams had hard matches going. I thought we really did a good job."
The Blues had to do it with a makeshift of lineup. Porter, whom Hitchcock said is "one of our better players now," earned the role playing in the top-six with the absence of Andy McDonald, who was a late scratch with the flu. T.J. Oshie, still nursing a lower-body bruise, missed his fourth straight game and seventh in the past 11. Defenseman Kris Russell was inserted into the lineup as a forward.
"I can't even remember," Russell said when asked if he's ever played there in the NHL. "Just keep it simple. Try and do what they ask, try and follow our systems."
Porter's goal was typical of how the Blues have to win. Throw pucks at the net, get bodies in front, and play physical. Porter was able to corral a puck off Patrik Berglund's skate and lift it over Red Wings goalie Jimmy Howard.
"We're back to where we kind of played the games last year," Berglund said. "We've had some really close games, but we've really been able to stay with it. That's four in a row now, and three of them have been on the road. The team's getting stronger and stronger.
"We have the goaltending that helps us out now, but I think we are helping them out, too, to minimize the mistakes. We've played much more solid now. We don't give them the chances. We've just got to keep building, stay humble and keep going."
St. Louis jumped over Detroit in the standings into seventh place and could hold the sixth spot in the Western Conference by Monday morning.
As Hitchcock said, it's time to look ahead.
"We've got to get to the point where we stop looking behind us," Hitchcock said. "We've got to start looking ahead of us.
"We've got to start thinking about getting a higher seed. We spent two months looking over our shoulder. Ten days ago we were in 11th place. We were not looking good, and then we win four in a row against real good teams. Now we're looking at can we get to sixth place. I think the teams that narrow their focus at this time of year are going to be successful."