Niedermayer, trying to pick up the slack defensively until fellow Norris Trophy winner Chris Pronger returns from a broken foot that already has cost him seven games, was on the ice every time the Blues scored in their 6-2 victory Tuesday night – including Dallas Drake’s short-handed empty-net goal with 3:38 to play.
“It’s probably just one of those nights for Nieds,” St. Louis forward Doug Weight said. “But he’s what we based our whole game plan around – trying to keep the puck away from him and trying to make sure we’re making him skate as much as possible. Most teams try to put the puck in his corner, make him go get it and then hit him. But we don’t want him even touching it.”
Eric Brewer had a goal and two assists for St. Louis, helping end Anaheim’s five-game winning streak against the Blues. Weight, Petr Cajanek and Keith Tkachuk also scored, Radek Dvorak had three assists and Jamal Mayers scored with his team down a man to cap a four-goal second period. It was the first short-handed goal given up this season by the Ducks, who were the only team that hadn’t allowed one.
Curtis Sanford finished with 30 saves after getting staked to a 5-0 lead. Manny Legace got the night off after starting 15 consecutive games.
Teemu Selanne and Corey Perry scored for the injury-plagued Ducks, who are 5-7-2 in their last 14 games after winning 10 of their previous 11.
“This team has too much pride to lose games like this,” Selanne said. “It was ugly. When any good team – even the greatest teams – play average hockey and get outworked out there, they have no chance to win. That’s what happened tonight. We lost every battle. Every loose puck. We can’t afford to do that kind of stuff.”
St. Louis scored on three of 14 shots against Ilya Bryzgalov, making his seventh straight start while Jean-Sebastien Giguere recovers from a groin injury.
“We were opportunistic tonight and we caught them on not one of their better nights,” Blues coach Andy Murray said. “This league is all about timing and scheduling and when you play teams and what their roster looks like. But, even with that, we took advantage of the chances we had.”
Brewer opened the scoring at 7:44 of the first period, just eight seconds after the Ducks received a bench penalty for having too many men on the ice. Cajanek made it 2-0 at 1:14 of the second period, 12 seconds after the Blues killed off a roughing penalty against Matt Walker.
Weight added his sixth goal at 5:13 of the period after getting a thread-the-needle pass from Martin Rucinsky that went through defenceman Sean O’Donnell’s legs. Tkachuk chased Bryzgalov to the bench with a 55-foot one-timer that beat the Ducks’ beleaguered goalie high to the glove side and gave St. Louis a 4-0 cushion.
The goal was Tkachuk’s seventh in 10 games and 15th this season, matching last season’s total, when he missed 41 games because of assorted injuries – including five weeks with cracked ribs.
Mayers made it 5-0 with his sixth goal, beating Sebastien Caron with a slap shot from the top of the right circle while teammate Christian Backman was serving a hooking penalty.
The Blues, who missed the playoffs last season for the first time since 1979 and had the league’s worst record, are 10-4-4 since Murray replaced Mike Kitchen as coach on Dec. 11.
“Every time we lace up the skates, we’re expecting to get two points,” Weight said. “It’s a good feeling. We haven’t had that in a while in this locker room. We’ve got a lot of character in this room and a lot of belief that we can be a playoff team. We’ve dug ourselves quite a hole, but we’re on the right path.”
Thursday night, Murray will return to Staples Center in Los Angeles for the first time since he was fired as Kings coach on March 31.
“It’s obviously more than just the next game,” Murray said. “You can’t spend the best seven years of your life in one organization and be around that long and not care. I loved every minute of being with the Kings, so it’s going to be special going in there, for sure. But I won’t make any difference in the hockey game. It’ll be these guys.”
Notes: The Ducks played their 1,000th regular-season game. Their first was a 7-2 home loss to Detroit on Oct. 8, 1993, with D Sean Hill scoring their first goal. Guy Hebert, acquired from St. Louis in the expansion draft, was the losing goalie. … Legace is 8-1-1 lifetime against Anaheim with a 1.98 goals-against average, but Sanford has started all three meetings this season.