By Lou Korac
It’s no secret that the Blues have had tons off offensive success and a lot of it’s been driven by top-line forwards Vladimir Tarasenko, Ryan O’Reilly and Brayden Schenn.
That trio has done the bulk of the work, but it had to carry a great workload, including when Schenn and Tarasenko missed games, and most importantly, David Perron out 24 games with a concussion.
It affected many in the lineup when the Blues needed balanced scoring among their forwards. But on Tuesday, Tarasenko was back, Perron has been back for three games, and the balance was put to work, and the visual was impressive.
Having those key guys back seemed to light a fire under Jaden Schwartz, who has been in a goal-scoring funk all season but not on Tuesday.
Schwartz broke out with his fourth NHL hat trick and third four-point game, and Perron continued his impressive run with two goals and an assist to help the Blues blitz the Edmonton Oilers, 7-2, at Enterprise Center.
The Blues (38-27-8) remained two points ahead of the Dallas Stars for third place in the Central Division and five behind Nashville for second place, but this was an impressive display of balanced scoring, and with a plethora of forwards at interim coach Craig Berube’s disposal, a newly formulated line of Schwartz, Oskar Sundqvist and Perron accounted for nine points (five goals, four assists) against the Oilers (32-34-7).
Schwartz played arguably one of his more dominant games of the season and thrived off playing with the aforementioned linemates.
“It’s a nice feeling,” Schwartz said. “Maybe you grip the stick a little bit less when you see a couple going in and see a little bit more of the net. Obviously the linemates and the other players made great plays on those goals and some nights, they just seem to find a way and others they don’t.
“Today was the first game we were together. I thought it was a good start for us. Both guys were strong on the puck, find open areas to make plays, both responsible defensively. It’s just one game, it’s our first game together but I think it’s something to build off of.”
Schwartz was his usual dogged self puck hunting, and he was also puck sniping, foreign words much of the season when his stick is concerned and the puck on it.
But Perron, who extended his personal point streak to 16 games (nine goals, 12 assists), including five (three goals, two assists) in three games since returning, and he actually felt things would work out with Schwartz, but to this degree?
“Yeah, why not,” Perron said. “He actually brings it up a lot that when I play with him I get hat tricks because I got two against Calgary in the last two years and he was on the line. So I’m glad to turn it around on him a little bit. We both had two there, it was nice for one of us to get one.”
Schwartz’s four-point game is the third of his career and first since getting four (one goal, three assists) against the Oilers on Nov. 21, 2017.
“Obviously it’s going to give him confidence,” Berube said of Schwartz. “When a player like that, that hasn’t produced the way he wants to and we expect him to, it’s tough. Again the hat trick tonight will give him confidence for sure.”
The Blues put in the kind of performance needed against a team lower than then in the standings, something that has been a season-long issue.
“We touched on it before the game and know we haven’t had the best starts against some teams and that’s something we wanted to prove to ourselves that we could do that and we wanted to be more responsible and more disciplined that way and just be ready to play all around,” Schwartz said.
After passing up a Grade-A chance in the slot earlier in the game, Schwartz gave the Blues a 1-0 lead at 11:41 of the first period when he cycled a pass from Perron and going against the grain, snapped a shot from the left circle top shelf over Mikko Koskinen.
“I think he was leaning a little bit and opened up a little bit of room,” Schwartz said. “I think I was looking to pass at first but then had a little bit more time to walk on so I was a little bit surprised by that and then I just tried getting it off quick.”
Alex Pietrangelo made it 2-0 27 seconds into the second period on a breakaway after getting a saucer pass from Schwartz and darted in alone, deked and going top shelf backhand on Koskinen.
“No, no. That’s only in like game speed,” Pietrangelo said when asked if he should he considered for shootouts. “Shootouts, no-no. Too much time to think.”
Schwartz made it 3-0 at 5:42, and the Oilers pulled Koskinen after allowing three goals on 20 shots and replaced him with Anthony Stolarz. Perron scored from below the goal line, a bank shot on Stolarz’s second shot against, to make it 4-0 at 7:14.
“Great play by Bouw,” Perron said. “He sees I’m coming around the net. He’s being patient, it’s kind of a [Sidney] Crosby tip that we call, like on the side of the net. I missed it, but I’m glad I stayed with it. The second one, I don’t know if I could re-do that one. It worked out.”
Edmonton came back late in the second when Nugent-Hopkins cut the lead to 4-1 at 18:28, and Kassian made it 4-2 at 19:23.
Both were goals that Jordan Binnington, who made 15 saves, overplayed and was beat on backside goals, including a wraparound by Kassian, but the Blues didn’t sit on their heels in the third, poured it on and finished the Oilers off.
Perron scored on the power play 6:00 into the third period for a 5-2 lead, and Pat Maroon’s third goal in as many games at 13:22 made it 6-2 on a wraparound goal of a Robert Thomas shot.
Schwartz completed the hat trick at 18:48 for the 7-2 final with another quick snap shot far side from the right circle.
“We were clicking on all cylinders,” Pietrangelo said. “We hit a few posts. [Sundqvist] hit the post there late. We had a lot of chances to maybe even get a couple more.
“When we have four lines that can score like we do, it’s tough to play against.”
As for Sundqvist, he took a shove and cross-check from behind by Milan Lucic that resulted in a five-minute major and game-misconduct. After the game, Berube said he expected Sundqvist to be fine.
Photo by AP courtesy of KSDK Sports