The St. Louis Blues have climbed to the top of the NHL standings behind a tremendous penalty-killing display.
Taking fewer penalties going forward, however, could make things a whole lot easier on Ken Hitchcock’s team.
The Blues look to regroup from a disappointing loss as they continue a seven-game road swing Thursday night against the Carolina Hurricanes.
While St. Louis’ penalty-kill percentage of 84.5 ranks among the league’s top ten, it’s taken 347 penalties - the NHL’s third-highest total.
Two nights after killing all eight of Columbus’ chances on the man advantage to open their trek with a 2-1 win, the Blues’ lack of discipline caught up to them during Tuesday’s 4-3 shootout loss at Chicago. St. Louis failed to generate any offense after taking a 3-1 lead into the second period and ultimately saw its run of 51 consecutive penalties killed come to an end with the game-tying power-play goal 7:41 into the third.
St. Louis (45-18-8) was whistled for a combined nine penalties and found itself short-handed six times - including three over the final 20 minutes.
“I think it’s obviously tough to win a game when we’re in the penalty box a whole lot. (Tuesday), too. We play the same guys on the penalty kill as much as we do on the power play,” said center Patrik Berglund, who scored for the third time in four games and added an assist.
“It’s frustrating, you get tired, especially when you’re in the box that long in those important minutes in the third. I think we gave them momentum to get back in the game. It’s our fault and we didn’t respond back, this is what happens.”
Despite Tuesday’s loss, St. Louis sits at 9-1-1 over its last 11 games and leads the New York Rangers by three points in the race for the Presidents’ Trophy. The Hurricanes (26-29-15), in contrast, are running out of time to make a push in the East.
Carolina took five of six points during the first three stops on a five-game trip before closing with back-to-back defeats.
After the Hurricanes suffered their third shutout of the season in Sunday’s 2-0 loss to Florida, they fell 4-2 to the Rangers on Tuesday at Madison Square Garden. Carolina fell behind 3-0 before rallying to within one, but couldn’t claw all the way back.
“We weren’t able to get that tying goal,” said coach Kirk Muller, whose team sits 11 points in back of eighth-place Washington. “… The guys fought back. We just came up a little bit short. We threw everything at them and went right at it to the end.”
Cam Ward turned away 24 shots, dropping to 2-3-2 with a 2.85 goals-against average in seven games this month. Ward was 4-1-0 with a 1.58 GAA in five career meetings with the Blues before making 40 saves in a 3-2 overtime road loss Oct. 21.
Ward could have a hard time trying to contain St. Louis’ Andy McDonald, who has 13 points over his last 10 games after recording a goal and an assist against the Blackhawks.
Jaroslav Halak made a season-high 43 saves Tuesday but saw his career-best eight-game winning streak come to an end. He’s 1-2-1 with a 2.22 GAA in four lifetime starts versus the Hurricanes.
Carolina was without defenseman Jaroslav Spacek (lower-body injury) and forwards Jiri Tlusty (illness) and Anthony Stewart (unknown) on Tuesday. All three players are uncertain to be available in this one.