GLENDALE, Ariz. – The St. Louis Blues came into town sputtering and their first 23 minutes didn't indicate much improvement. But they can always rely on their suffocating defense and their power play is humming pretty well too right now, and those two facets were more than enough to plow over the dog-tired Phoenix Coyotes.
Alex Pietrangelo and David Backes scored power-play goals, Kevin Shattenkirk notched three assists and goalie Brian Elliott did the rest with 20 saves as the Blues steamrolled the Coyotes 4-0 at Jobing.com Arena on Sunday night to jump ahead of the idle New York Rangers in the race for the President's Trophy.
Patrik Berglund and Ryan Reaves piled on goals late for the Blues, who were 1-2-2 in their last five games but took it to shorthanded Coyotes – who played their third game in four nights without four regular skaters and starting goalie Mike Smith.
The Blues recorded their 14th shutout this season – eight by Elliott and six by Jaroslav Halak – to set a new St. Louis franchise record. Elliott, who now has a shutout streak of 127 minutes, 38 seconds after blanking the Kings on Thursday but a 1-0 shootout in Los Angeles, moved into a tie with Henrik Lundqvist and Jonathan Quick for the individual NHL lead in shutouts despite making only 33 starts this season – compared to 56 for Lundqvist and 63 for Quick.
"The guys do a lot of the work and if you make a couple of saves you have a good chance to win," said Elliott, who had lost five of his last six starts. "They didn't have many chances tonight. Guys were throwing their bodies in front of pucks and giving me a lot of help."
The Blues have now allowed just 147 goals in 76 games this season – a total that includes eight goals credited to them for shootout losses. That's 10 fewer than the 1968-69 Blues allowed in a 76-games season to set the NHL record at the time. The 2003-04 New Jersey Devils hold the 82-game standard, allowing 164 goals – a mark that is certainly appears to be in serious jeopardy.
"Anytime we can go into tough environment get wins against teams that are really, really desperate, it's nice to know we're bringing the same intensity," said Shattenkirk, who now has 32 assists for the season. "We knew they were on a back-to-back with key guys out and it was important for us to stay on top of them."
It was a bitter loss for the Coyotes, who remain in seventh in the Western Conference with 87 points but have now played 77 games – two more than three other teams (Dallas, Los Angeles and San Jose) slugging it out for the Pacific Division title and two other playoff spots with Colorado. Backup goalie Jason LaBarbera fell to 3-9-3 on the season with 25 saves, but didn't get any help on the other end. Shane Doan sat out of the final game of his suspension while four other regulars including leading scorer Radim Vrbata remain injured.
"It's not easy when you have your top guys out, but you can't make excuses. It gives everybody else a chance to step up," LaBarbera, who is 0-6-3 since last winning Dec. 21 in Carolina. "I had a chance to do that tonight and I wasn't able to."
The Coyotes have scored just three goals in three losses to the Blues this season and still have to go to St. Louis on Apr. 6 needing points desperately to hold on to a playoff spot.
St. Louis fashioned another goose egg despite a very sloppy first 23 minutes, taking five penalties – including delay of game penalties by Barrett Jackman, Vladmir Sobotka and Backes and a too many men on the ice call. But the Coyotes, dead last in the NHL on the power play and without Vrbata and Doan – managed only four shots in more than five minutes with the man advantage, hardly testing St. Louis.
"The mistakes we made over the glass were a direct reflection of being light with the puck in our zone and not being sharp," St. Louis coach Ken Hitchcock said. "Our penalty killing has been good for two months and it saved us again until we got our legs under us."
Meanwhile the Blues – approaching 25 percent efficiency on the power play since the All-Star break – didn't waste their chances.
They needed just 33 seconds opening the second period for Shattenkirk to slide a pass across the blue line to Pietrangelo, who put a hard wrister by LaBarbera for his 12th goal. It was the first Blues' goal with Elliott in net in a span of 158 minutes and 22 seconds, dating back to a Mar. 10 win over Columbus.
It stayed that way until the third period, when the Coyotes had a glorious chance to tie the game in the first two minutes. But on a quickly developing 2-on-0, Elliott made a brilliant pad save on Lauri Korpikoski and the Blues salted the game away soon after when Phoenix's Martin Hanzal took a high-sticking penalty.
Backes parked himself in the slot and tipped Shattenkirk’s shot from the point down and under LaBarbera at 4:09 for his 23rd goal. Shattenkirk added a third assist on Berglund’s 18th goal at 13:16 and the Coyotes were in a deep hole.
Elliott needed one more big save, gloving a Mikkel Boedker bid with four minutes left.
The Blues are also getting healthy. They welcomed back both Alexander Steen and Kris Russell to the lineup – both for the first time since suffering concussions. Steen had missed 39 games while Russell was down for 14. Steen, who played 14 minutes, left the game late after taking a skate from Phoenix's Alexandre Bolduc in the mouth. He lost some teeth but didn't appear to suffer any other ill-effects.
"I thought he was really good," Hitchcock said of Steen. "He's really competitive, he's heavy on the puck. He's going to really help us."