ST. LOUIS – Returning from a triumphant season-opening Sweden trip, the St. Louis Blues had a dud of a home opener. The Atlanta Thrashers had a lot to do with that.
Ilya Kovalchuk made it a pair of two-goal games to open the season, scoring the go-ahead tally in the first period and adding an empty-netter in the Thrashers’ 4-2 victory on Thursday night. Kovalchuk scored his 300th and 301st career NHL goals and had a team-high five shots.
“He’s big every night,” goalie Ondrej Pavelec said. “He’s unbelievable. Two games and four goals, that’s a lot.”
Keith Tkachuk had a goal and an assist and topped 400 points with the Blues, perhaps suffering from jet lag after a pair of come-from-behind victories over the Red Wings in Stockholm last weekend. St. Louis, which unveiled a statue honouring Hall of Fame defenceman Al MacInnis before the game, hasn’t had a 3-0 start since 1993-94.
Andy Murray listed the reasons why it didn’t happen this time.
“We had a passive penalty kill, which is not our nature, that they scored on,” Murray said. “We had a guy get beat off the wall for the first goal, which isn’t our game.
“And we got caught in a terrible change because a couple guys tried to stay a little too long in the offensive side and we gave up a 3-on-2 and they capitalized.”
Team president John Davidson had a blunt assessment: “We got what we deserved.”
Atlanta has opened with a pair of strong efforts after going 35-41-6 last season, also beating the Lightning 6-3 at home on Saturday. The Thrashers prevailed despite getting outshot 31-22.
“The most important thing is we got a win,” Kovalchuk said. “I think we played a really good defensive game, especially in the third period.”
The Blues have trailed by two goals in all three games. This time they paid for it.
“It’s going to bite you,” Tkachuk said. “You’ve got to get yourself ready to play and find a way to motivate yourself to go out and play within the system that we’ve played in the second half of both games in Sweden.”
Roman Polak beat Pavelec with a slap shot from the point with 2:44 to go, cutting the Thrashers’ lead to a goal. But the Blues had no chances after pulling goalie Chris Mason with 1:10 to go. Kovalchuk’s fourth goal of the season ended the comeback bid.
“I don’t think any of us were happy with how we played,” Mason said. “That’s not our style.”
The Thrashers scored on two of their first three shots, wiping out Tkachuk’s goal from the slot just past the 5-minute mark on a 2-on-1 break. Eric Boulton scored his first goal off Chris Thorburn’s feed from behind the net less than three minutes later, and Kovalchuk netted the go-ahead score after a nifty move in the slot on a power play at 8:51.
Rookie Evander Kane, the fourth overall pick of this year’s NHL draft, made it a two-goal cushion. He scored his first goal of the season in the second period for Atlanta, which had been 1-3 in four previous games in St. Louis.
The Blues had won their three previous home openers and have their strongest team in several seasons after ending a five-year playoff drought last season.
NOTES: The Blues were 0 for 3 on the power play after going 4 for 9 the first two games. … The 18-year-old Kane has points in both games, earning an assist in the opener. … Rich Peverley had an assist for Atlanta and has two goals and two assists the first two games. He totalled 35 points last season.