ST. LOUIS - Jaden Schwartz is finding the net, and the Blues' penalty kill continues to bend but not break.
They wanted to get back to creating an identity, and the Blues have laid a foundation at least with another victory, this time avenging a Western Conference Final series loss to the San Jose Sharks after Schwartz scored twice and the penalty kill was 6-for-6 in a 3-2 victory against the Sharks on Thursday before 17,618 at Scottrade Center.
The Blues (9-6-3) have won two in a row after what they hope is the low point in the season, an 8-4 drubbing in Columbus last Saturday.
"That Columbus game was probably the bottom for us and it took a real hard look in the mirror; we all did, especially myself," said captain Alex Pietrangelo, who assisted on Schwartz's first goal. "We realized that we need to do what we've been good at, which is predictable, simple and seems like when we're going to the net like we are now, it opens up some space for some skills guys. We're getting lot of goals around the net."
Against the Sharks (9-8-0), the Blues had to feel the heat in the early stages. San Jose, which got goals from Logan Couture and Kevin Labanc, struck early and was applying the pressure with their big-bodied forwards.
Matt Nieto had his first goal of the season all on his stick, but Allen would have none of it in the blue paint. Allen got the paddle of his stick on Nieto's rebound with 15:21 remaining in the first to keep it scoreless.
But the Blues settled in, started to tilt the ice and created traffic in front of Sharks goalie Martin Jones.
"They pushed hard the whole first period," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said of the Sharks. "We pushed back hard the second half of the game. It was good, but we talked for two days about, can't let them dictate, can't let them dictate, they dictated. They just come out so fast and so hard. They did it in the playoffs and they did it again really even more, they did it in the regular season, they swamped us early, and they almost did."
David Perron got the game-winner for the Blues, who improved to 7-1-2 at home and 5-0-2 in their past seven.
Jake Allen, who is 5-0-2 at home, made 29 saves for St. Louis, which avenged a loss to the Sharks in the Western Conference Final last season.
"It's a good measuring stick for us more than anything I think," Schwartz said. "They're a team that's always at the top of the standings. ... A good team over there. They've been together for a while. It was a good test for us."
Schwartz has five goals the past six games after scoring once in eight.
"It always feels nicer," said Schwartz, who has five goals in the past six games after starting the season with one in eight. "It's guys in front doing a good job, taking the goalie's eyes away; that gives you the opportunity to pick a corner. That's big obviously.
"When pucks are going in as a team, it's a little bit of weight off your shoulders. Not relaxed, but you get a better feel shooting the puck."
San Jose took a 1-0 lead on Couture's first even-strength goal of the season at 6:16 of the first period. Robby Fabbri turned the puck over just inside the Sharks blue line trying to make a backhand pass to Vladimir Tarasenko, but San Jose intercepted the pass, went back the other way 3-on-2, and Couture finished Joonas Donskoi's pass with a shot through Allen's pads.
But the Blues tied it 1-1 on Schwartz's first of the game at 10:38. Pietrangelo pinched along the boards and forced a turnover by knocking the puck off Labanc's stick, and Schwartz converted on a wrist shot from the slot beating Jones stick side.
"We got the momentum back a little bit off that, especially at home when you can score early on there," Pietrangelo said. "It certainly builds you up moving on forward in the game."
Schwartz scored his second of the game at 8:45 of the second period to give the Blues a 2-1 lead after great sustained pressure from the Blues' fourth line, including Ryan Reaves.
"He's shooting the puck, he's going to the net, he's around it, he's attacking the net, he's playing in north straight lines," Hitchcock said of Schwartz. "Every time he does it, he has success. Every time he goes east-west, he doesn't. He's getting more and more determined to score. The two goals he scored had great traffic, too. We could see both from the bench. The goalie couldn't see anything. The first shot was perfect over his pad, there's no way he could see it."
Labanc tied the game 2-2 after turning in the slot and shooting through Blues defenseman Jay Bouwmeester and Allen's legs 19 seconds later, but Perron's power-play goal ended San Jose's streak of 26 straight penalties killed and put the Blues ahead 3-2 on a snap shot from inside the top of the left circle at 15:56 of the second.
Perron's goal may have caught Jones by surprise with how quickly he released the shot, but Paul Stastny did a nice job of finding his teammate, giving Perron a lane to shoot for the eventual game-winner.
"Yeah, all three goals were kind of almost similar that way," Perron said of the quick shot for his goal. "Even in the third, I had one high-blocker, I think it was really close to going in. Same thing, glad (the goal) it went in."
"Well from (Stastny), can't really be surprised by much. That's the type of vision he has. Really that's the plays we need to make if we want to score more goals and he did that, so that's good."
The Blues, who were 6-for-6 on the penalty kill, are 42-for-44 on home ice this season.
They continue to put themselves in bad situations with having to kill off so many penalties, but the mindset is that the Blues won't be scored on.
"We've got some chemistry and a lot of the same guys we've had over the years," Pietrangelo said. "We haven't changed much from last year and we're predictable to each other. We know when a guy want to pressure, we know when we want to sit back. Rick does a good job pre-scouting what we want to do in the mornings before the games. That's obviously a big help."
It couldn't have been more nerve-wracking than at the end when the Blues had to kill the final 55.2 seconds off playing 6-on-4 when Kyle Brodziak was called for delay of game.
San Jose came close but could not get anything past Allen.
"PK was good and Jake was great again," Schwartz said. "Some good sticks in the D zone. We had chances to make it 4-2 and their goalie made some big saves to keep them in it. Everyone did a good job of bearing down defensively and keeping that one-goal lead."
"Those are big players there, they had their best players out there," Hitchcock said of the Sharks. "I thought we did a great job killing penalties tonight. I thought we were just excellent, we did so many good things against a great power play. Again our power play came through for us, chipped in again."
Pietrangelo added, "Six-on-four is tough. You've got to hope that you can keep them to the outside, hope that they make a mistake. They were trying to force the play in and Jake made a save or two there. I think when your penalty kill's got as much faith in each other as we do right now, you get a little more confidence."
The Blues got solid minutes again from the fourth line, which was on the ice for crucial minutes and the game on the line late in the game.
"Brodziak's line is helping us win hockey games and they're getting ice time according to it," Hitchcock said. "They're playing the right way, other than that last shift, playing the right way, they're getting ice time, others are getting less, it's helping us forge a really strong identity right now.
"We don't need them to stir the pot. They did that last year and it was ineffective. It didn't work. We need them to pin the other team's ears on the boards and that's what they're doing now. Some of those guys have more points than some of the second line players. And they're doing it because they're pinning people's ears against the boards and they're making them play in their own zone and there is enough skill. Brodziak and Upshall, most of their career they've been third-line players, and they know how to score, know to put it in the net, they're making the other team defend way more than they want to. I used them four shifts in the third period against the (Joe) Thornton line. A year ago, I never would have done that. I wouldn't have known which end the puck would be in. They're playing smart, hard, determined hockey and it's really forging a good identity for us."
The Blues played the game without forward Alexander Steen, who missed after taking the morning optional skate but was unavailable to play. Hitchcock hopes to have Steen on the ice for practice Friday and available for the game against Nashville on Saturday.
Also, defenseman Robert Bortuzzo (lower body) was activated from injured-reserve before the game but he did not play and missed his 10th game.