Saturday, January 2, 2010

New coach, same result for Blues

6-3 loss to Blackhawks sees many of same flaws, including goaltending

ST. LOUIS -- Davis Payne's coaching debut began the same way Andy Murray's ended -- with a loss on home ice.

In Murray's case, it happened all too often this season. Payne got his first bad taste of what has been problematic throughout the season.

The Blues came our energetic in the opening 20 minutes and matched the Chicago Blackhawks skate for skate but quickly reverted back to some old habits that resulted in a 6-3 loss to the Hawks before a packed Saturday Scottrade Center crowd of 19,150.

The loss for the Blues (17-18-6) saw them tie a season-high five-game losing slide (0-4-1) that saw their home mark plummet some more -- falling to 6-14-3 (5-14-3 in this building).

So the magic wand fans thought Payne, who came in after guiding Peoria the past two seasons, would wave never materialized, as the Blues were forced to play catch-up hockey against one of the more explosive teams in the league.

"I told the guys we certainly came out with some good work, some good intensity and some decent direction," Payne said. "I thought we made a couple mistakes in D-zone coverage. A couple turnovers that I thought we did a job of kind of feeding their transition game and certainly the right (Chicago) guys had the right opportunities to dig ourselves a hole. I feel there's work to be done. I feel that we can get this team directed towards the other team's end and create a bit of predictability for ourselves. We made some plays difficult, a little bit of crowding in the offensive zone that we'll look to clean up."

Some deficiencies that plagued the Blues even during the previous tenure were defensive lapses, the inability to make plays through the neutral zone and a recent trend that's alarming -- shoddy goaltending.

Ty Conklin was not at his best despite stopping 27 shots. He allowed three goals on the short side, including goals by Tomas Kopecky and Patrick Sharp, who each had two goals.

"I thought his ability to disrupt their fore-check and make some plays on pucks was good," Payne said of his goaltender. "I don't think it was a spectacular performance. I think it was, from what I've seen, an average performance. I think that Ty feels he can keep a couple of those out, but there were a couple that hit some things and went in the net off skates.

"I'm not sure of that first one was tipped twice before it went in. Those kind of plays are tough to fault your goaltender on. It looked like (Kris) Versteeg fanned on the 2-on-1 there (at the end of the second period) and put it short side. Those are ones if you get a big save, that's a moment there perhaps we go into the locker room 3-2, it makes a difference coming out."

The Blues, who got goals from Eric Brewer, Andy McDonald and Keith Tkachuk -- who took a puck off the face on his goal and immediately left the ice in pain late in the third -- played inspired for the first 20 minutes. They got a big open-ice hit from Mike Weaver that flattened Sharp that eventually led to seven minutes in power play time for the Blues.

"He had his head down," Weaver said. "You probably don't see Sharp with his head down too often. We were talking about being physical before the game. That was a perfect opportunity for that.

"I really didn't have too much time actually. I got up and there were three guys there. I got up and didn't know where the punches were coming from. You've got to have that. Everybody just has to sacrifice your bodies here and play Blues hockey."

However, they could not muster much of anything during that time and came out of the first tied 2-2. It was Chicago from then on.

"If you look at Chicago and their neutral zone, they were very willing to take the space that was given and create forechecks," Payne said. "I thought we were much more in tune with trying to create clean passes and skating entries into the offensive zone. Their pressure was applied in the right area. They were OK with getting the puck in and letting the fore-check do the work. Mistakes lead to offensive opportunities like that. I thought we kind of jammed ourselves up and we didn't have a lot of momentum going through the neutral zone, and when you're doing that, your forecheck's late. Late against a mobile group of defensemen like that can cause you some problems."

Chicago (27-10-3) scored twice in the second period, including Versteeg's goal with 1:18 remaining that gave them a 4-2 lead.

"I thought in the second period, we stopped taking such big steps," Payne said. "Our anticipation and our defensive reads seemed to be a little hesitant. We want to make sure we're trusting ourselves, trusting our reads, trusting our support and continuing to play what we saw the first 25-27 minutes of that hockey game."

Sharp's two third-period goals put the game well out of reach before Tkachuk got a power play goal when T.J. Oshie's point shot deflected off a body and then off Tkachuk's face.

Payne said he liked, "The battle level. I thought our team stuck together. I think they responded in every situation. I thought we kept it pretty even keel even once we got down. We talked about that. We knew there were going to some good things that would happen in this hockey game and we knew that there were going to be some things that went Chicago's way. We just want to take steps.

"It's going to take some work, it's going to take some focus. I think that some were some reads, some were hesitancy in trusting each other to do our jobs. I think you saw in the third period ... and again, they perhaps came off the pedal there in the third period when they got the big lead there, but we made some plays where our support guy was making his read quickly and all of the sudden, the separation was there as opposed to the second period. They're a good possession hockey team in in their zone, no question about it. Our ability to read and close down space is something that we're going to focus on."

The Blues ended the whirlwind day thinking it's time to step back and refocus with their new leader.

"There's definitely been a lot going on, but at the end of the day, we're hockey players. That's what we do is play the game," forward David Backes said. "There's no excuses for some of the mistakes we made, odd man rushes we gave them. As much as six goals against hurts, they could have had a few more with some of the opportunities we gave them.

"It wasn't like he came in here and tried to build Rome in one day. That's not at all with what he's trying to do."

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