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Steen continues fast start, leads Blues to route of Predators

The SportsXchange

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Since coming to St. Louis in an early-season trade with the Toronto Maple Leafs in 2008, Blues center Alexander Steen has distinguished himself with his close attention to detail, a booming slap shot and a quiet professionalism on and off the ice.

Compiling points at a rate Blues' fans have not witnessed since Brett Hull's quick start to the 1994-95 lockout-shortened season, Steen has never made more noise during his steady eight-year career. On Saturday night at Bridgestone Arena, Steen continued his early-season flurry with two goals in a 6-1 win over the Nashville Predators.

The Blues, which opened the season with a 4-2 win over Nashville on Oct. 3, improved to 6-1-2. St. Louis notched its fourth straight victory in Nashville for the first time in franchise history.

Steen opened the scoring in the first with a wrist shot past Predators goaltender Carter Hutton. With the power-play goal, Steen recorded his 14th point in only nine games. It took Hull one game fewer to reach the point total nearly two decades ago.

"I'm never comparing myself to Brett Hull," Steen said.

Trailing 1-0 after the first, the Predators (6-5-1) opened the second period with six consecutive shots but could not beat Blues goalie Jaroslav Halak, who finished with 22 saves. St. Louis increased the margin to 2-0 on a short-handed goal by center T.J Oshie at 7:34 of the second. Oshie redirected a shot from defenseman Alex Pietrangelo just outside the crease past a frozen Hutton for his second goal of the year.

Less than five minutes later, the Blues took a 3-0 lead thanks to some nifty stickhandling from Vladimir Sobotka. The Blues' center deked past two Predators and drew it back to Jaden Schwartz, who defeated Hutton with a low slap shot.

Beset by shoulder, ankle and wrist injuries over the last several seasons, Steen last reached the 20-goal mark in 2010-11. At the start of the season, a fully-healthy Steen declared himself in the best shape of his career.

"I think he said it best, he feels like he's fresh on the ice," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. "When you're fresh, you're confident. He scores a lot of goals late in shifts. He's still working well when other people are tired."

The Predators scored for the only time on the night on a short-handed goal by center Nick Spaling in the opening minute of the third. The Blues, though, put the game away with goals by Steen and center Derek Roy over a four-minute span.

Steen's two goals Saturday night give him 10 on the season. Steen already surpassed his season-total from last year when he finished with eight goals in 40 games. The humble Blues' center credited teammates David Backes and Oshie for his surge of late.

"A lot of Osh's efforts on the forecheck and Backes' reads and hits are causing the situations for me," Steen said. "That's what we're about in here."

Roy's goal at 7:48 of the final period prompted Predators coach Barry Trotz to pull Hutton for backup Magnus Hellberg. Pietrangelo capped the scoring with a power-play goal at 12:58.

The Blues, which entered the game ranked in the top 5 in the NHL in goal percentage on power plays, added two more Saturday.

"I think we're really unselfish," Hitchcock said. "We take the shots that are there, we're patient and we don't force anything. We feel like we just need one shot, our shot selection has been good all year."

Hutton, who entered the game with a .959 save percentage, received his second straight start since Predators' goalie Pekka Rinne underwent arthroscopic hip surgery Thursday. Rinne is expected to miss up to four weeks.

Following the loss, Trotz criticized several forwards for their lack of offense -- most notably centers David Legwand and Mike Fisher, as well as left winger Gabriel Bourque. In six defeats this season, the Predators have five goals combined.

"Fish and Leggy we need more from them," Trotz said. "And Gabriel Bourque, does he even have a goal yet?"

NOTES: Cici Collins, 11, served as the game's child ambassador as part of the NHL's initiative to fight cancer. In 2006, the Predators fan underwent a 14-hour operation and six weeks of radiation to treat a brain tumor. Though Cici went into remission following the treatment, a tumor returned to Cici's spine in 2012. In May of 2013, however, Cici was declared cancer-free and has been stable with no signs of cancerous growth ever since. Cici dropped a ceremonial puck before the game and received sticks from Predators captain Shea Weber and Blues captain David Backes. ... Legwand entered Saturday's matchup with 34 points in 71 career games against St. Louis -- the most by a Predators' player against any opposing team all-time. ... Heading into Saturday's game, Weber tied for the league-lead in goals among defensemen with three. When Weber opened the scoring in Thursday's 3-2 win over the Jets, he scored his 51st career power play goal -- a franchise record. ... Blues D Jay Bouwmeester appeared in his 643rd consecutive regular season game, a streak which is currently the longest in major professional sports. Bouwmeester, a 10-year veteran, last missed a regular season game March 3, 2004. Canucks C Henrik Sedin ranks second with 642 straight games, while Detroit Tigers 1B Prince Fielder is third with 489. ... Blues LW Magnus Paajarvi and RW Chris Stewart both left the game with upper-body injuries. Hitchcock said both will be re-evaluated Sunday.
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