LOS ANGELES, Calif. – The St. Louis Blues finally found a solution to their January struggles. They just needed an opponent that’s slumping even worse than them—and a key goal from a rookie who doesn’t really score.
Ryan Reaves put St. Louis ahead with his second NHL goal, Jaroslav Halak made 24 saves, and the Blues snapped a five-game skid with a 3-1 victory over the Los Angeles Kings on Thursday night.
Reaves broke a tie late in the second period when he pounced on a rebound of Philip McRae’s shot in front. The Blues recalled Reaves from the AHL’s Peoria Rivermen on Tuesday for his second stint with St. Louis this season, and he immediately scored his first NHL goal in Anaheim, albeit late in the Blues’ 7-4 loss.
The 23-year-old Reaves hasn’t scored more than eight goals in a pro season, and he has just four goals in 33 games in Peoria this season.
“I’m not known for my goal-scoring, but two in two games is pretty good, I guess,” Reaves said. “It’s a little easier to come up (to the NHL) this time. The nerves are a little bit better now. I’m settling in a little bit, trying to get to know the guys.”
Reaves kept the puck from his Anaheim goal, but happily gave up Puck No. 2. That goes to McRae, his Peoria teammate and fellow callup, who made his NHL debut in Anaheim and got his first point with the assist at Staples Center.
“Both of those guys bring energy and effort,” said St. Louis coach Davis Payne, who coached Reaves in Peoria. “(Reaves) has taken steps each year as a pro to get better and more valuable. He did a great job going to the net, a great job finishing off the play.”
B.J. Crombeen and Alexander Steen also scored for St. Louis, which finally won a game in 2011 with a solid defensive effort against the Kings, who have lost seven of eight. Payne praised his club’s execution of a shutdown defensive game plan in the third period, and the Blues beat Los Angeles for the sixth time in seven meetings.
“Five (losses) is too many, clearly, but that’s what we have to work with right now,” Blues defenceman Barret Jackman said. “When you’re looking for wins and trying to get things started, you have to do it any way you can. If we can play this type of game again, we’ll have a better outlook at the end of games. Play a consistent game and plug away at the process, and we’ll be OK.”
The Kings struggled to generate any offence against the Blues, who had Halak back in net after backup Ty Conklin was shredded by the Ducks. Halak got little work early, but punctuated his 16th victory with an exceptional sprawling pad save with 5:05 to play.
Michal Handzus scored and Jonathan Quick stopped 18 shots for the Kings, who dropped to 1-6-0 on a disastrous eight-game homestand concluding Saturday against Edmonton. After leading the overall NHL standings earlier this season, Los Angeles was leapfrogged by St. Louis for ninth place in the Western Conference with the loss.
“It’s a matter of finding it collectively within this locker-room,” Kings forward Ryan Smyth said. “Everybody’s got to look themselves in the mirror and be prepared to come to play. We’re not getting a full 60, and we’ve got to find ways to keep the momentum that we usually gain from the first period into the second.”
Los Angeles has lost seven of eight for the second time this season, matching a similar skid in November. The Kings are 21-5-1 outside those two prolonged funks, but the streaky club is losing midseason ground in the chase for its second straight playoff berth.
“Right now we’re having a little problem with creativity and getting some enthusiasm,” said Kings defenceman Jack Johnson, who had an assist on his 24th birthday. “When you’re losing like this, it’s easy to get frustrated. It’s more mentally demanding than it is physically to keep the enthusiasm and the passion up, and that’s what we have to remain focused on right now.”
St. Louis scored first midway through the opening period when Crombeen tipped Alex Pietrangelo’s long wrist shot in front of Quick’s net for his fourth goal—Crombeen’s first in 21 games since Nov. 27.
Los Angeles evened it right after a power play expired early in the second period. Alec Martinez saved the puck from leaving the Blues’ zone before firing it at the net, where Handzus deflected it for his seventh goal.
After Reaves’ goal, Steen scored 64 seconds before the period ended, firing home a wrist shot after teammate Brad Boyes forced a turnover by Drew Doughty in the corner.
In his 200th NHL appearance, Doughty’s goal drought reached 13 games. The 2010 Norris Trophy finalist has just two goals in 37 games this season.
NOTES: Los Angeles rookie Kyle Clifford also turned 20. … Blues D Carlo Colaiacovo was scratched one night after getting hit in the face with the puck in Anaheim. … Dodgers manager Don Mattingly dropped the ceremonial first puck.