EDMONTON – The St. Louis Blues continue to whistle a happy tune this season, even on nights when they are a tad off key.
Vladimir Tarasenko had a goal and an assist as St. Louis continued its franchise-best start to a year by winning their season-high sixth game in a row, 5-2 over the Edmonton Oilers on Tuesday.
Chris Stewart, Maxim Lapierre, David Backes and Patrick Berglund also scored for the Blues (30-7-5) who have gone 11-1-2 in their last 14 games to move two points back of the Central Division-leading Chicago Blackhawks.
“We’ve got things to work on but we are certainly trending in the right direction,” Backes said. “We’ve done a lot of good things in these last six games. I didn’t play for half of those and our best player, Alex Steen, has been out for a little while. That left some holes, but guys have really stepped up and shown the responsibility and made the plays and we’ve had some timely saves from our goalie that certainly haven’t hurt.”
Blues goalie Brian Elliott made 16 saves to improve to 13-1-2 this season.
“We got away from our game plan a little bit tonight, but the way we have been playing of late we had the confidence to come back,” he said. “Guys have been scoring big goals and put us in a really good position when we went up by two.”
St. Louis head coach Ken Hitchcock wasn’t surprised to see his team look a bit flat at times, with the circus surrounding Olympic team selections on the day.
“We didn’t play well today,” he said. “I think it had to do with a lot of the drama that goes on today. It really affected our players. We didn’t have the focus that we have had and we will need to get it back on this road trip. I think the drama with all of the Olympic stuff…you could tell it was draining on people today.
Nail Yakupov and Mark Arcobello replied for the Oilers (14-27-5) who have lost five of their last six games and 11 of 14.
“I thought we competed pretty hard,” Arcobello said. “At certain points of the game we got away from what was working for whatever reason. The penalties and the penalty kills hurt us a little bit. If we take those power-play goals away from them, it’s a different game.”
The Blues were two for three with the man advantage while Edmonton did not receive a power-play opportunity on the night.
Oilers forward Taylor Hall said the Blues have really shown why they are one of the top squads in the league this season.
“It’s at that point in the year where the cream is starting to rise to the top,” he said. “These teams are really good and we know they’re at the top for a reason. We know it’s going to be a tough task. We have to play our game as best we can. But a loss is a loss, It’s getting a little late for the moral victories.”
St. Louis controlled the pace in the early stages of the game, out-shooting Edmonton 9-1 through the first eight minutes with Oilers starter Ilya Bryzgalov forced to make a number of big saves. Edmonton had the best scoring chance of the opening half of the first period, however, as Jordan Eberle picked up a rebound in the blue paint before Elliott dove across to make a pad save.
The Blues took a 1-0 lead with just over seven minutes to play in the first as Stewart teed up a blast from the point on the power play that cleanly beat Bryzgalov for his 14th goal of the season.
Edmonton had a great chance to pull even to start the second as Ryan Nugent-Hopkins had a clean short-handed breakaway, but Elliott was able to make a big glove save on his backhand shot.
The Oilers took advantage of another giveaway at the St. Louis blue-line a minute-and-a-half into the second period, however, as David Perron sent Yakupov streaking up the wing and he put a wrist shot past Elliott.
The Blues responded just 42 seconds later, though, as Lapierre pushed rookie Brad Hunt off the puck along the boards and calmly took the puck to the net and hooked a shot past Bryzgalov. It was difficult to tell how the goal actually went in, but the refs checked for a hole in the net and the goal counted.
“I didn’t see a hole in the net,” Elliott said. “I looked in the third period. I haven’t seen the replay, but I hear it was a bit of an optical illusion.
Lapierre’s goal came in his 500th career NHL game.
Edmonton kept pace with a goal five minutes into the middle frame to make it 2-2. Luke Gazdic sent a pass from behind the net and Arcobello was able to chip it up and over Elliott and into the St. Louis net.
St. Louis regained the lead with nine minutes left to play in the second as the Blues’ power-play unit kept the Oilers hemmed in their own zone for a minute-and-a-half before Backes finally picked the top corner for his 17th of the season.
The Blues made it 4-2 with six minutes left in the second as a face-off win allowed Tarasenko to score on a quick shot from the top of the circle.
Blues forward T.J. Oshie had to be helped off the ice late in the third period after a knee-on-knee collision with Taylor Hall.
“I don’t know what he caught there,” Hall said. “It didn’t really feel like much.”
Berglund iced the game with an empty-net goal in the final minute.
Notes: The Blues came into the game riding a wave of success against Edmonton, having defeated the Oilers in six of seven and in 12 of the previous 15 meetings. They had also won three in a row and six of their last eight in Edmonton…The disparity between the two teams was well illustrated as the final Olympic teams were announced on Tuesday. St. Louis has 10 players heading to Sochi for the Winter Olympics, while Edmonton has just three. One of those Oilers, Anton Belov was picked for the host Russian team, despite being a healthy scratch for Edmonton the last three games…Blues goalie Jaroslav Halak returned to the lineup from an illness. Defenceman Roman Polak (lower-body) and leading scorer Alex Steen (concussion) remain out…Oilers defenceman Corey Potter (groin injury) missed his sixth game while defenceman Philip Larsen continued to be absent with an illness…Oiler forward Ales Hemsky left the game after taking a first period hit from St. Louis’ Ryan Reaves.