NEW YORK, N.Y. – Suddenly it doesn’t matter who the St. Louis Blues put in the net. Pucks aren’t getting past either of their goalies.
Jaroslav Halak staked an early claim to Vezina Trophy front-runner status with three shutouts in his first 10 games. Ty Conklin gave him a break Sunday night, and posted a goose egg, too.
Conklin, in just his second game this season, made 27 saves for his 15th NHL shutout as the Blues beat the New York Rangers 2-0 for their seventh straight win.
Alexander Steen scored a second-period goal and added an empty-netter for the Blues (9-1-2), who earned their first shutout of the Rangers in 129 meetings since joining the NHL in 1967.
“I heard that,” Conklin said. “It’s fine with me. I’m glad it came when I was in net. It would’ve been great when Jaro was in net, but I’ll take it.”
Conklin looked every bit as good as Halak, who took the night off after beating Boston on Saturday in a shootout. The Blues are enjoying their longest winning streak since they ran off nine straight from Oct. 15 to Nov. 5, 2002. St. Louis has scored 16 goals and allowed only six during this run, posting four shutouts.
“It’s a great job by them,” Blues coach Davis Payne said. “Our goaltenders have bailed us out in real key situations, allowed us to play with a one-goal lead, and allowed us to either build upon it or solidify a victory. As much as it is a team performance, what they’re bringing to the table is not going unnoticed.”
Conklin faced his biggest test in the third period after B.J. Crombeen received a five-minute major penalty for boarding Derek Stepan with 12:35 left. New York managed four shots during the long advantage, but couldn’t solve the veteran Conklin.
“We had a couple of chances, but not enough,” Rangers forward Ryan Callahan said. “We knew they were going to be aggressive on their penalty kill, and we just didn’t match it.”
Crombeen caught Stepan from behind as the Rangers rookie turned his back to him at the end boards in the St. Louis zone. The Blues didn’t bicker about the penalty.
“I think it was the right call,” Payne said. “It was an unfortunate play. I don’t think Beener was looking for any sort of contact, he just kind of caught him off-guard. We were able to kill the five-minute penalty with one of our PK guys in the box.
“It was a great job by our killers.”
This marked Conklin’s first action since Oct. 16 at Dallas when he lost in a shootout. That was the only other game in which Halak didn’t play. Steen’s goal with 3.9 seconds left sealed Conklin’s first win since March 20—also a shutout at New Jersey.
“Guys are stepping up. It seems like a different guy every night,” said Conklin, in his eighth NHL season. “Jaro has been a pretty familiar face playing well, and the team has been playing well in front of him, too.
“We haven’t been scoring tons, but we get goals when it matters and everybody defends well.”
Martin Biron subbed for Rangers’ No. 1 goalie Henrik Lundqvist for only the third time 14 games and made 20 saves. He was solid, despite some adventures while playing the puck in traffic.
His only blemish came on Steen’s second goal of the season, but that was enough to send the Rangers (7-6-1) to their fourth loss in seven games as they started a four-game homestand.
Steen took a pass from Brad Boyes during a 3-on-2 rush and snapped a shot from the high slot past Biron to make it 1-0 at 5:16 of the second period.
“You are not going to lose too many games giving up one goal,” Biron said. “We need to be better. We are going to get better.”
The Rangers thought they had taken a 1-0 lead with 1:56 left in the first period, but the goal was immediately waved off by an odd and confusing call by referee Bill McCreary.
Blues defenceman Nikita Nikitin reached up with a high stick as the puck sailed past him in the neutral zone, but never made contact with it. A delayed high-sticking call was indicated as play continued, and the puck bounced in on Conklin. Rangers forward Alex Frolov corralled it and scored, but it didn’t hold up.
St. Louis, which failed to score on back-to-back penalties against Ruslan Fedotenko, finished the period with a 14-8 edge in shots.
NOTES: Ottawa is the only team the Blues have never shut out. … Callahan returned after missing one game because of neck soreness following a hit at Philadelphia on Thursday. … Blues LW David Perron missed his second straight game because of headaches following a hit by San Jose’s Joe Thornton on Thursday. Perron is tied for the team lead with five goals. … Biron is 0-7-0-2 against St. Louis in 10 career appearances.