Blues look to keep rolling vs. Canes

ST. LOUIS — The Blues have won three straight games, have outscored those opponents 20-4 in the process and have the NHL’s most effective power play going right now at the halfway point of the NHL’s 82-game regular season.

Coach Ken Hitchcock’s club, which improved to 25-13-3 with 53 points after beating the San Jose Sharks on Thursday night, will try to keep that rolling against the visiting Carolina Hurricanes on Saturday night at Scottrade Center.

“I think we’ve just been playing a much better team game,” Blues defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk said. “We had that little three-game stretch right after break where we weren’t playing consistently the right way. I think we went into Nashville, we didn’t have a great performance in the third period, and that kind of really ate away at us. But when we went out West we had to really wake up and get back to what we do best and we’ve just been playing simple hockey. Our forwards have done a great job of playing physical and ultimately that’s what’s creating the offense.”

The Blues lost 3-2 against the Predators in Nashville on Dec. 30 after allowing the game-winning goal at the 9:02 mark of the third period. They followed that up with a 4-3 loss against the Ducks in Anaheim on Jan. 2, which was their sixth loss in seven games.

But they were able to finish up the four-game road trip on a positive note after getting forward Jaden Schwartz back from his foot injury and then earning wins against the Sharks in San Jose and the Coyotes in Arizona to close out the trip. Then they followed that up with the 7-2 win against the Sharks at Scottrade Center on Thursday.

Carolina coach Bill Peters called the Blues’ a “very deep team” following his team’s morning skate on Saturday.

“They play very fast,” Peters said. “They’re a quick team but they have gap speed, puck speed and foot speed and they are hard to play against. I like their team a lot right now the way they are playing.”

How do the Blues keep their offensive surge going?

“We just have to do basic stuff, work hard, play simple, and after that it’s more time for skilled hockey,” Blues center Jori Lehtera said.

What’s made the difference?

“Well, Schwartz came back,” Lehtera said. “I think we’ve played pretty good now because all lines are working pretty good now. I don’t know why it didn’t work before, when we were losing, but now it feels good. Everybody has a good feeling. Everything is because Schwarty came back, probably.”

Lehtera was laughing as he delivered that last line, but he’s got a point. Schwartz has six points in his three games since returning from his foot injury, including a three-assist game against the Sharks on Thursday, and has helped make the Blues’ top three lines even more dangerous.

The Blues have won eight consecutive games with Schwartz in the lineup. Despite missing seven games, the left winger ranks third on the Blues in goals (13) and is tied for third in points (33).

One of the recent catalysts for the Blues has been their work on the power play.

They have scored eight power-play goals over their last four games and at least two goals on the advantage during their three-game win streak.

“We’ve kept it simple,” Shattenkirk said. “It’s an easy recipe to deal with. It’s shooting pucks, getting to the net, and that forces teams to back off a little bit. I think it’s important that we stick with that and realize that’s what works and then the pretty plays seem to come off that once we tire teams down a little bit.”

That philosophy has helped the Blues ascend to the No. 1 spot in the NHL in power-play percentage (26.4).

“I think the main thing with our power play is we have so many threats,” Shattenkirk said. “I feel like I have someone I can pass the puck to that’s going to score a goal. I think that scares teams. It forces them to maybe play on their heels a little bit earlier and we’ve been able, lately, to take advantage of that and really expose teams.”

Peters, the Hurricanes’ coach, is well aware of the Blues’ work on the advantage.

“I like to sleep at night, so I don’t watch it a whole bunch,” he said. “(Assistant coach) Steve Smith is running our penalty kill, so we’ve talked about it for sure, but they’re doing a good job with motion, they are doing a good job with shooting the puck and on retrieval so their power-play is playing very well, just like their five-on-five game right now.”

The Hurricanes, who come to Scottrade Center with a 13-24-4 record and 30 points, have one of the best penalty kill units in the NHL. They are currently ranked fifth at 86.6 percent.

That will be one of the areas to watch on Saturday night, which will be the second of seven consecutive home games for St. Louis.

You can follow Nate Latsch on Twitter at @NateLatsch or email him at natelatsch@gmail.com


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