Physical Blues now come with scoring punch, too

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That the St. Louis Blues are among the league’s top teams in the early going isn’t much of a surprise. That they’re the second highest-scoring team in the league certainly is, though.

Entering tonight’s game against the Blackhawks at the United Center, the Blues are averaging 4.2 goals per game, up from just 2.7 last season. Only the unbeaten San Jose Sharks are averaging more, at five goals per game. The Blues have long built their team around sound defense, solid goaltending, and aggressively physical, often agitating play.

But Hawks captain Jonathan Toews said this year’s squad is a little different. Maxim Lapierre’s Tuesday night boarding of San Jose’s Dan Boyle aside (Lapierre is suspended for the game pending an in-person hearing), Toews said the Blues are toning it down a bit.

“I think there’s maybe less stuff after there whistles, that was probably the one thing I noticed,” said Toews, a frequent target of Barret Jackman and David Backes last season. “Maybe they’re focusing more on their skill game and controlling the puck — focusing their energy where it really matters. I might have seen that.”

Blues coach Ken Hitchcock agreed with Toews. To an extent.

“That goes with the game of ice hockey when you don’t like the other team,” he said of the extra-curriculars. “I don’t know that we’re more focused on the offense, but we’re more focused on puck control, we’re more focused on the ability to maintain possession of the puck. But I think our game’s evolving, and we tried to work on getting balance more than anything.”

Then Hitchcock smirked.

“We’ll try to not hit Jonathan today,” he said.

Hawks coach Joel Quenneville said the Blues are a better offensive team than they get credit for.

“You look at their lines up front, they can do a little of everything,” he said. “They’ve got some guys that check, and they’ve got some guys that can score and make plays. But there’s a lot of skill up front for them, and they’ve got a very active defense that complements them, as well. They attack, but they defend pretty well.”

NOTEWORTHY: Brandon Pirri will be in the lineup tonight, playing on the fourth line with Brandon Bollig and Marcus Kruger. Ben Smith is the odd man out. … Sheldon Brookbank is back in the lineup tonight, with Michal Rozsival still sick (he missed today’s morning skate). … Michael Kostka likely will play Saturday against his old team, the Toronto Maple Leafs. … Corey Crawford gets the start tonight, and likely Saturday, too. Quenneville said Nikolai Khabibulin will play next week at either Florida or Tampa Bay.

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