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Wednesday Night Hockey

Blues keep forging ahead despite host of key injuries

Defending Cup champs sticking to winning formula with 'Wednesday Night Hockey' match against Penguins next

by Tracey Myers @TraMyers_NHL / Staff Writer

CHICAGO -- The St. Louis Blues weren't even a month into their season when they lost forward Vladimir Tarasenko for at least five months to a shoulder injury.

It was tough news for the defending Stanley Cup champions, and it wouldn't be the last injury to hit them. But the Blues haven't buckled.

"There's no panic," center Ryan O'Reilly said before the Blues defeated the Chicago Blackhawks 4-0 at United Center on Monday. "Guys just know that if we do things the right way, we're going to have a chance to win a lot of games, and we stick to that."

The Blues (18-5-6) are playing without four injured forwards, including Tarasenko, who had surgery on his left shoulder on Oct. 29. But it hasn't stopped them from finding success. St. Louis has won four straight games, holds an eight-point advantage over the Colorado Avalanche for the Central Division lead and play the Pittsburgh Penguins at PPG Paints Arena for "Wednesday Night Hockey" (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN).

Tarasenko had a good start to his season, with 10 points (three goals, seven assists) in 10 games. He has 428 points (214 goals, 214 assists) in 507 NHL games, all with the Blues. He last played when St. Louis defeated the Los Angeles Kings 5-2 on Oct. 24, and in 19 games without him, the Blues are 13-3-3. Only three NHL teams have a better record over the past 19 games: the New York Islanders (15-2-2), the Boston Bruins and Washington Capitals (each 14-2-3).

"You need everyone on board," defenseman Vince Dunn said. "Different guys have to step up at different spots when guys get injured. I think we're a really deep team and we're not just a team that relies on our first line to score goals. Our fourth line is more than capable of helping our offense. Our goalies have been playing great all year, so that definitely helps, too. Just as a whole, our team plays very well together."

Video: STL@CHI: Allen makes 38 saves to shut out Blackhawks

That cohesiveness was key with the injuries among forwards adding up last month; Alexander Steen was expected to miss four weeks when he was placed on injured reserve with a high ankle sprain on Nov. 7; he had five assists, in 17 games. Sammy Blais had surgery on his right wrist on Nov. 20 and was expected to miss 10 weeks; he had eight points (five goals, three assists) in 20 games. Oskar Sundqvist, who had 12 points (eight goals, four assists) in 26 games, was placed on injured reserve with a lower-body injury on Thursday. 

"Any time you lose a guy who can be a game changer with [Tarasenko], and a depth guy like [Steen], who's actually played some outstanding hockey -- he's been one of our most consistent forwards the last couple of years -- it takes a collective effort," defenseman Alex Pietrangelo said. "I think the biggest thing is trust the process, not only during the year, the ups and downs, but throughout a game. 

"We know that our system works and when we play the way we want to play, we're going to come out either with a win or a good chance to win. Goaltending's been big for us this year, it was last year, too. Both goalies are playing well. But I just think we trust the process as we go."

Video: The NHL Tonight guys talk Binnington's demeanor.

The Blues have stuck with what works for them: playing a defensively sound game (fifth in the NHL at 2.48 goals allowed per game), being physical and being smart with the puck.

"We're a hard-working team, we play good defense, we play a north-south game," coach Craig Berube said. "That's our identity and it works, so why would we change it?"

On offense, St. Louis has gotten the right responses from its top players; five Blues have at least 20 points in 29 games this season, the top four of them forwards. David Perron leads St. Louis with 28 points (11 goals, 17 assists), including nine points (three goals, six assists) in an eight-game point streak. O'Reilly is next with 26 points (six goals, 20 assists), Brayden Schenn has 25 (14 goals, 11 assists) and Jaden Schwartz has 22 (eight goals, 14 assists). Pietrangelo has 20 points (six goals, 14 points).

Goaltending has also been great. Jordan Binnington has played in 21 games, going 13-4-4 with a 2.26 goals-against average and .926 save percentage. Jake Allen is 5-1-2 with a 2.35 GAA and .926 save percentage. Allen, who stopped all 38 shots he faced against Chicago on Monday, has 20 career NHL shutouts, tied for second in St. Louis history with Jaroslav Halak; Brian Elliott, now with the Philadelphia Flyers, holds the record with 25.

Despite the Blues continuing to miss key players -- in Tarasenko's case, they likely will be without him the rest of the regular season -- they haven't strayed from their formula for success and continue to pile up wins.

"We all talked at the start of the year that there was going to be, at some point, a lull or bump in the road and we'd have to have some adversity," Allen said. "Everyone's committed right now. As you guys watch upstairs, I'm sure you're not oohing and aahing all the time. Sometimes it might be boring hockey but that's the way we play and that's the way we won last year and continue to have success."

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