Penalties, lack of composure, poor decisions with puck hurts St. Louis early, who've dropped 7 of 8 at Scottrade
BY LOUIE KORAC
ST. LOUIS -- It was a thing of beauty watching the Blues play in the third period. They had the Nashville Predators on their heels, outworking them, pressuring them in their own end, and getting another loyal fan base out to do whatever they can to get the Blues out of their home funk.
Problem is, there were two periods to play prior to that, and the Blues were doing all those things that got them into this home mess to begin with.
Down by three goals, the Blues made a fast and furious comeback attempt at the Predators, but it was all for naught in a 4-3 loss to the Predators Tuesday night at Scottrade Center, also known as the House of Horrors for the home squad.
The Blues, who dropped back to .500 at 17-17-5, have lost three in a row since a western Canada sweep, but more distressing, they are 1-6-1 in this building, with the lone win coming on the night they honored Brett Hull.
They put some life back into a sellout crowd of 19,150 when they got goals from Alex Steen -- who has nine points in six games -- and Andy McDonald with 7:30 to play.
But the problems the Blues dealt with in this game -- penalties -- crept back into the equation in the third and they could never get the equalizer.
"I think it magnifies the issue tonight when you outshoot the opponent 12-4 in the third period and in reality, the shots were 10-4 with about eight minutes to go and we proceed to take two minor penalties in the last eight minutes in the hockey game when we've got the team on their heels and we're down by one goal," said Blues coach Andy Murray, referring to a interference penalty on Keith Tkachuk with 6:10 remaining. "Unacceptable to take those penalties. It also reveals the problem that we get outshot (15-6) in our own building in the first period. It's unacceptable."
The Predators (23-14-3) scored four unanswered goals -- two of them coming in dominant fashion in the first period where they outshot the Blues 15-6 despite falling behind 1-0 a minute and a half into the game -- and then getting a third early in the second when the Blues were hit with a rash of unnecessary penalties that included 2 minutes, 9 seconds of 5-on-3.
"It's definitely tough to get momentum killing penalties," said goalie Chris Mason, who stopped 26 shots in the loss. "The first two periods, I thought we could have been a lot better. Third period, we laid it all out there, but that's still not good enough. We have to be ready at the start of games. I don't think we were again."
The Blues, on the receiving end of some Bronx cheers when they were finally able to get a puck out of their zone on Nashville's seemingly endless power play chances in the second, and then again when they got their first shot on goal in the period with 8:10 remaining, used Steen's goal to give them some life 9:08 into the third. Then McDonald tucked in a power play goal with 7:30 left and suddenly, there was a glimmer of hope.
But having to come from behind like that in one's own building is what really has this team scratching its head and brings up a question always asked: why can't this team sustain that energy and passion for 60 minutes?
"I really don't have answers," Mason said. "We have to be so much better at home. I guess it starts with hard work and using our brains and our hearts."
"We have a lot of questions in the room right now with the way we play at home," defenseman Barret Jackman said. "If we had the answers, we'd be correcting them and we'd be translating them into some wins."
Carlo Colaiacovo jumpstarted the crowd and the Blues by slamming home Andy McDonald's centering feed 1:29 into the game for a 1-0 Blues lead, but the Predators would tie it 5:04 into the period on a goal by Marcel Goc, a goal Murray was frustrated to talk about afterwards.
"We got the first goal the first two minutes, but then we have a guy (Goc) that's in our zone and he's the only player on the Nashville team that's in our zone," he said. "We have four guys in there and we give him enough time to hang onto the puck, to manage it and get some help coming in and they end up scoring a goal where he should have been eliminated, stripped of the puck.
"We needed to play assertive and not give him any time. We gave him too much time and it ended up being in the back of our net. Certainly you score a goal, as we've talked to our team the next few shifts after a goal are very, very important. We weren't accountable in that moment."
The Preds led 2-1 on Patric Hornqvist's goal, and that's when the Blues took a rash of penalties, including a double-minor on Jackman for high-sticking J.P. Dumont behind the Blues' net to set them back two men before Mike Weaver's delay of game penalty prolonged the Preds' man advantage.
"It's tough. You get some excitement on the bench when you kill a penalty, but when you go out there and take another penalty and you're back in the box, the penalty kill can give you only so much momentum," Jackman said. "It starts to wear on some guys and then other guys don't get to play."
Dumont scored 5:16 into the third period put Nashville up 4-1, and some folks started heading for the exits.
They missed the Blues' best, which was 50 minutes in the waiting.
Steen rifled a shot over the shoulder of Preds goalie Pekka Rinne with 10:52 to play and brought some life back to the home team.
Steen then set up McDonald when his one-timer from the point caromed off Tkachuk to McDonald on the doorstep.
"I think when we got to 4-2, we lifted ourselves a little bit," Steen said. "Then when we got to 4-3, I think everybody knew there was still a lot of time on the clock and it was going to be close hoping we would get that fourth one. We didn't tonight."
The Blues have two more games remaining on this four-game homestand, and it won't get any easier playing Vancouver on New Year's Eve, followed by the first trip into town by the Chicago Blackhawks Saturday.
"Somehow, we've got to bottle up what we had here in the third and bring it into the start of the next game," Steen said. "We obviously have to change this. Our record at home is not getting us into the playoffs right now. That's the thing that needs to change. On the road, we've been playing good. If we want to be a playoff team, we've got to turn this thing around quickly at home."
* NOTES -- Steen has three goals in two games. ... Blues D Erik Johnson was a healthy scratch, replaced in the lineup by Darryl Sydor. ... Blues LW Paul Kariya missed the game with an upper-body injury. Kariya took an elbow to the head in the first period during Sunday's 5-3 loss to Buffalo. ... Predators RW Martin Erat (lower-body) and D Kevin Klein (upper-body) both left the game in the first period with injuries and did not return. Klein only played 32 seconds and left after a big hit by Tkachuk, and the Predators claim that Erat was the victim of a knee-on-knee hit by Jackman. He played 5:49.