Yeo Improves to 4-1 as Head Coach
TORONTO (AP) — Vladimir Tarasenko strode through the neutral zone, dipped around a Toronto forward, deked out another and fired a shot past Frederik Andersen for another victory for the surging St. Louis Blues.
The Blues improved to 4-1-0 under new coach Mike Yeo, beating the Maple Leafs 2-1 in overtime at the Air Canada Centre on Thursday night. St. Louis has allowed only six goals in five games under Yeo — including one in the last three outings — with goaltending from Jake Allen primarily taking a big leap forward.
Allen stopped 31 shots against the Leafs after posting a 30-save shutout two nights earlier.
“I think guys are all just jumping on board, playing hard for each other and doing the little things,” the 26-year-old Allen said about the energy around the group since the coaching change that saw Yeo replace Ken Hitchcock last week.
An assistant coach with the club previously, Yeo was due to take over the St. Louis bench next season, getting a head-start when the 65-year-old Hitchcock was dismissed amid a shaky first few months this season. The Blues had the third-best record in the NHL last season and went all the way to the Western Conference final, unable to hit those notes consistently this year.
“I really appreciate the mindset of our players right now,” Yeo said. “We recognized that that was an area of our game that we needed to improve. You can see that the commitment’s there as far as how we’re blocking shots, how we’re paying a price and doing the little things.
“But I’m going to keep saying this: we’re not there yet, we’ve got a lot of work to do.”
Among the better defensive clubs in hockey last year, the Blues were surrendering more than three goals per-game at the time of Hitchcock’s firing. The worst goaltending in the league — from Allen and backup Carter Hutton — was largely to blame, though players have noted an uptick in defensive details along with some strategic tweaks from Yeo, who served as Minnesota’s head coach for five seasons.
“I think just more commitment, more discipline,” Allen said.
Playing their third game in four nights, the Blues persisted without Paul Stastny for much of the game, the 31-year-old center leaving the game with a lower-body injury after one shift in the second period. The team had no update on his status after the game.
Yeo was pleased not only with Allen’s performance but his team’s response to a “little adversity”, namely losing Stastny, who leads the team’s forward group in ice-time at nearly 20 minutes per game.
Patrik Berglund also scored for St. Louis. Morgan Rielly scored for Toronto, and Andersen made 38 saves.
The Blues outshot Toronto 17-4 over the first 20 minutes, grabbing the first goal from Berglund. The 6-foot-5 Swedish center pounced on a blocked shot in the high slot and whipped a shot under Andersen’s glove.
The Leafs finally got one past Allen with 1:04 left in the second. Nazem Kadri drove down the right side and fired a shot at Allen, the rebound trickling off William Nylander toward the weak-side to Rielly.
It was only the second goal of the season for Rielly and the first since Nov. 11.
NOTES: Toronto had a scary moment early in the third when Mitch Marner, leading the Leafs and all NHL rookies in scoring, blocked Jay Bouwmeester’s shot with his right hand. Marner winced in pain, but remained on for the remainder of his shift and the game. Marner nearly scored a few shifts later when he got some space in tight on Allen, the puck just bouncing over his stick as he attempted to get a shot off. … The Leafs are in midst of a heavy home schedule, with six of the next eight at Air Canada Centre.