PITTSBURGH — This seemed like it had the potential to be a bad matchup for the St. Louis Blues.
Entering Tuesday’s game in Pittsburgh with losses in five of their past seven games — including three in a row — and with an unsettled goaltending situation that was bleeding goals against, they had to go up against a Penguins team that is not only one of the highest scoring teams in the league this season, but had been absolutely lighting up teams over the past week.
Naturally, the Blues completely shut them down in a 3-0 win thanks to a 34-save shutout from Carter Hutton.
Given the direction both teams were trending in entering Tuesday, it is a pretty surprising result.
Not necessarily because the Blues won — even with their recent slump they are still an excellent team — but because of the manner in which they did it.
The Blues’ goaltending situation has devolved into a mess in recent weeks with the team giving up 29 goals in its past seven games and starting goaltender Jake Allen not even traveling with the team on a recent road trip to Winnipeg. That came after his coach said he was a little “locked up” mentally. Things did not go much better for recent call-up Pheonix Copley making his first career start in that game against the Jets.
As a team, the Blues entered play on Tuesday with the worst save percentage in the NHL after leading the league just one year ago.
Hutton, however, was able to stop the bleeding a little bit on Tuesday night and get the Blues back into the win column with his second shutout of the season.
For as promising as it had to be for the Blues to see one of their goaltenders play as well as Hutton did, this was a pretty perfect team effort by the skaters in front of him as they systematically shut down one of the league’s best offenses. They took away shooting lanes, disrupted passes, and managed to limit the number of quality chances the Penguins were able to generate, shutting down the middle of the ice directly in front of the net.
They were also nearly flawless on the penalty kill, going 6-for-6 on the night.
“That’s a good hockey team over there, and I thought we did a great job eliminating their chances,” said Hutton. “They are going to get their chances at this level, but teams like that, they tend to weave through the zone and make a lot of cross-ice plays and I thought we did a great job eliminating that tonight.”
Coach Ken Hitchcock said a lot of the success on Tuesday came form the fact that they were able to play with focus because they were able to get an early lead thanks to a Colton Parayko power play goal (shown above).
“When we play with focus we defend well,” said Hitchcock. “But when you’re chasing the game and you’re trying to crack it open you lose all of the little details. We’re not built like Pittsburgh. We’re not built like some of the teams out here, like Washington. We’re not built like that. Ours is attention to defending detail and then all of our offense flows from there.
“When you have a lead or you’re tied you can do that. When you’re chasing the game sometimes that is the focus you lose. You are so busy trying to get up ice, you forget to defend your own area. They had some scoring chances, they had some zone time, but we defended the scoring areas really well tonight. That is what we do when we are on top of the game, then our offense flows from there.”
Parayko’s goal, a booming slap shot that snuck through Penguins goalie Matt Murray, turned out to be all the offense the Blues would need.