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In winning fourth straight, Blues shut down game's best after 2-1 win over Oilers

In the past two games, the Blues have faced the game's three top point producers.
Credit: AP
St. Louis Blues' Zach Sanford (12) reaches for the puck as Edmonton Oilers' Connor McDavid (97) watches during the second period of an NHL hockey game Wednesday, Dec. 18, 2019, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

ST. LOUIS — There are superstars in the NHL, the ones that people pay lots of money to see. They're the kinds of the players that get fans in the edge of their seats and make the kinds of plays that are rare.

It takes special kinds of talent to do the things that some of the top stars in the league do today, and it's also a special talent for the opposition to try and shut them down.

In the past two games, the Blues have faced the game's three top point producers. On Monday, it was Colorado's Nathan MacKinnon. On Wednesday, it was the Edmonton dynamic duo of Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl.

And in winning their fourth straight, 2-1 over the Oilers in front of 18,096 at Enterprise Center, the Blues (22-8-6) held the trio to a combined two assists (one for MacKinnon and one for Draisaitl).

McDavid (59 points), Draisaitl (58) and MacKinnon (52) have combined for 169 points this season. This is no surprise, though. This is what the Blues do.

It's not some complex formula that the Blues are using to thwart the game's best. So what is it all about?

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"Just committing to defense. That's all it is, taking care of pucks," said Blues center Brayden Schenn, who matched up against Draisaitl's line Wednesday and scored the opening goal of the game. "We know when we play top players, we've got a lot of horses on the back end that frustrate those top guys. When the forwards chip in and help defend, we feel like we make it hard on those guys because they have a lot of skill and you have to try and find ways to frustrate them.

"You try and shut them down the best you can. They're going to get chances, they're going to get opportunities, they're probably going to get points, but at the end of the day, you try and play hard defensively. I think especially our D, we have a lot of guys there on the back end that can frustrate a lot of guys around the league with how well they skate and how well they defend. We've seen that the past couple games here."

MacKinnon has such speed and skill, can turn players into cork screws on a dime, beat you on the edge, much like McDavid can with his lightning-fast skating. Draisaitl is more direct, can be deceptively fast and has a lethal shot.

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Hello Jay Bouwmeester and Colton Parayko, who were on the ice when McDavid was and to Ryan O'Reilly, who assisted on Mackenzie MacEachern's third-period goal to make it 2-0, shadowed McDavid all over the ice. O'Reilly finished with 23:28 ice time for the game.

And for guys like that, limiting their real estate is the best recipe.

"Just taking away their time and space, really," said Blues goalie Jake Allen, who made 35 saves to improve to 6-2-2 on the season with a 2.21 goals-against average and .930 save percentage. "A lot of it just goes to our d-core get handed the job most of the time. It's a big job for our centers to stay on top of those guys, those fast, big, strong centers like McDavid and Draisaitl, especially when they're split up.

"You obviously get 'O'Ry' and whoever else. Usually it's Bozie [Tyler Bozak], but whoever stepped in tonight shut those guys down. That's their job. It's 90 percent of the time 'Bouw' and 'Pary' out there against those guys and you've got to give them all the credit in the world. Bouw's a guy that doesn't get any accolades really outside the locker room. He's a well-respected player in here and guys know how important he is for us."

It can be a difficult task to ask a player to focus on being a shutdown guy rather than being the one to go out and be the playmaker, but in coach Craig Berube's system, it's predicated on limiting time and space from those players and taking away as many opportunities as they're used to.

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"The guys that are on the ice against those guys, they're all focused on shutting them down," Berube said. "They really are, with the puck and without the puck. They do a good job when they have the puck of keeping it and being patient with it, hanging onto it and slowing them down. And when they don't have it, everybody's really cautious and have got good sticks, backtracking and they're tight on them. They don't give them time and space. When you have that focus from your team, that buy-in, then they can shut them down.

"We had numbers back and we were tight. We weren't loose. We were tight. We held our blue line a lot tonight. Either we had good sticks at them, killed it or they had to dump it in, and Jake did a good job of moving the puck, broke out of our zone."

And in the case of the Oilers, who came in with the NHL's No. 1 power-play unit at 31.4 percent and with at least a goal in eight straight games, the Blues put an end to that streak, going a perfect 4-for-4.


And when the Oilers have a power-play, and in Wednesday's case, an extra attacker on the ice, and even a 6-on-4 when the Blues were handed a delay of game penalty for a late goalie interference challenge on James Neal's goal with 1:50 remaining, it's nonstop McDavid and Draisaitl on the ice, and when those guys walk off the ice feeling empty-handed, there's a good feeling to the job that you did in keeping them off the scoresheet.

"It's a good feeling. Those guys are world-class players," said Blues defenseman Robert Bortuzzo, who saw the most penalty kill time among Blues players at 4:24. "I think when we play our tight-checking game, it's not all the back end. Our tight-checking game starts in the o-zone. It starts with forwards tracking, tight gaps. You put 'Bouw' and 'Pary,' the way they can skate and their sticks against any high-end talent in the world, they're going to do a job.

"We've gotten to our identity here and that's a big part of it."

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