Relentless Oshie helping drive the Blues

News-DemocratOctober 31, 2013 

— With Tuesday's game tied 1-1 early in the third period, St. Louis Blues winger T.J. Oshie was at his creative best to put his team back on top.

Winnipeg's Olli Jokinen and Evander Kane were battling for the puck, but Oshie beat them to it while on his knees. Oshie jumped up quickly, faked a shot that drew defenseman Grant Clitsome his way, then fed Blues defenseman Alex Pietrangelo for what amounted to an empty-net goal.

"That's the work ethic from Osh," Pietrangelo said. "I knew he was coming, he's got that fake and he's got that patience. I'm surprised I didn't panic.

"When someone gives you an open net -- and when he works that hard to get that puck -- you want to make sure you score for him."

Oshie is tied with Pietrangelo for the team assist lead at eight apiece and his hard work later helped lead to the game-winning goal.

"He's just such a major factor on our team," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said of Oshie, who has two goals and 10 points in 10 games.

Oshie blamed himself for not being able to keep a puck in during a Blue power-play in the third period that led to a short-handed goal for the Jets that tied it 2-2.

But with just over two minutes remaining, Oshie's relentless skating allowed him to draw a crucial interference penalty on Winnipeg's Tobias Enstrom.

That penalty led to the power play that set up Alexander Steen's game-winning goal, a goal scored with Oshie on the ice and coming with just under a minute left.

"That's the way he's been playing," Steen said. "He's been playing really well, he's just relentless on the forecheck. He's got a lot of energy, but (he's) smart."

The Blues' top line of Steen, Oshie and David Backes has combined for 19 goals and 37 points through 10 games.

Oshie said Steen has been the Blues' early inspirational leader. That leadership includes much more than Steen's league-leading 11 goals or team-high 16 points.

Incredibly, 35.5 percent of Steen's shots have wound up in the net this season. He has 11 goals on just 31 shots.

"He's been great all over the ice, not just on scoring goals," Oshie said. "On the forecheck, on the back check, our defensive zone, making plays, making it easier on me and Backes and the defensemen to make plays out there.

"It's showing up on the scorecard, but it's everywhere on the ice right now where he's good. It's fun to play with a guy like that."

However, Hitchcock wants to make the team a bit less reliant on his top line. On Tuesday, only defensemen Pietrangelo and Jay Bouwmeester had more ice time than Backes (24 minutes, 47 seconds) and Steen (23 minutes, 24 seconds).

Oshie wasn't far behind at 22 minutes, 45 seconds. Oshie, Steen and Backes all are averaging more than 20 minutes per game, easily more than any other Blues' forwards.

Hitchcock gave the team an optional skate Wednesday instead of a full-scale practice. The Blues don't play again until Friday in Florida.

"Those are our best players right now and they're like our team," Hitchcock said. "There were fits and starts in this game, but they went out there and played very determined when the game was on the line. We need to rest them right now, that line was tired."

Hitchcock said there's an easy fix to limiting his hot trio's lopsided ice time.

"We're in that thing right now where we're really overplaying players and that's not how we're built," Hitchcock said. "We've got to find a way to not overplay players and get more from the rest of the group. We've got to get a lot more from some people if we expect to get to the next level."

Paajarvi to IR

The Blues on Wednesday placed winger Magnus Paajarvi on injured reserve with an apparent upper-body injury, The 22-year-old from Sweden has played in four games and has yet to register a point.

Paajarvi was injured on a hit midway through the first period Saturday in the Blues' game at Nashville.

Blues center Maxim Lapierre is ready to return to the lineup Friday after sitting out a five-game suspension for his hit from behind on San Jose's Dan Boyle.

Contact reporter Norm Sanders at 239-2454, nsanders@bnd.com or on Twitter @NormSanders

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