Saturday, February 6, 2010

Blues fall behind early again, drop 2-1 decision to Blackhawks

Lack of scoring punch hurts again despite
35 shots; team is seven points out of playoff position

ST. LOUIS -- For the second consecutive game, the Blues spotted the top two teams in the Western Conference a two-goal lead. Yet, they were in it until the very end.

But the difference between being at the top of the Western Conference and being seven points out of a playoff spot -- which the Blues are as they wake up today -- is what's plagued this team for much of the season: they can't put enough pucks in the net.

It cost the Blues once again on Saturday despite getting a late goal from Alex Steen in a 2-1 loss against the Chicago Blackhawks Saturday night at Scottrade Center in a rematch of Wednesday's game in Chicago.

Patrick Sharp and Jonathan Toews scored for the Blackhawks (38-15-5) in the first period, and they rode the glove and pads of Antti Niemi, who was supposed to face the Blues in Chicago but missed the game because of a stomach virus. Niemi made 34 saves.

But yet again, the Blues (25-24-9) could not get enough pucks past a backup goaltender (they faced San Jose's Thomas Greiss Thursday). Chris Mason stopped 28 shots in the loss.

"I thought we had very good energy, I thought there was physical play there early on in the period," Blues coach Davis Payne said.

The Blues had plenty of jump in a game that featured 48 penalty minutes and a pair of fights from a couple unlikely pairings.

Yet it was Chicago gaining the upper hand when Sharp converted a Toews opportunity five minutes, 33 seconds into the game and it's 1-0.

"The puck ends up in our zone. ... I don't know if Mase got spun out of there with (Marian) Hossa coming through the slot," Payne said. "We lost our return and they were able to make that play to an open net.

"I felt like we can deal with that type of situation. You can't pour everything into the start and expect it to go well. You have to be prepared for things that don't. I thought we were prepared for that."

The lead balloons to 2-0 after a mis-communicated play between defenseman Roman Polak and forward T.J. Oshie.

Both Blues players were trying to converge on a loose puck, but instead, Oshie winds up tripping over Polak's skates and it created a 2-on-1 for Toews and Patrick Kane, who got the puck to Toews for a quick one-time strike 15:51 into the period.

"We get into a battle along the wall, and I thought through communication, we could have cleaned it up," Payne said. "It looked like Roman tried to get back and recover a loose puck, yet Oshie was in position. I think he bumped him off-track and we looked like we were turning up ice because we had clean possession. All of the sudden you give the wrong guys a 2-on-1, and it is 2-0."

Polak said he never saw his teammate coming.

"I was just playing the puck along the wall and I was battling with Sharp, I think, and all of the sudden, the puck just bounced there and I didn't know it was coming there," Polak said. "Osh just tripped on my foot and I lost the puck and they went on a 2-on-1. I just turned and was trying to get the puck and he was already on the ice."

Despite outshooting Chicago 11-8 in the opening frame, the Blues were down two goals.

"We talked about (turnovers)," said Mason, who beat Chicago four days ago. "You play the team with the offensive firepower of Chicago and San Jose, you can't give them free chances. They're going to get enough on their own. I think early in the first period, we gave them a few chances that they didn't need to get."

The Blues, who outshot Chicago 35-30 in the game, threw 14 more pucks at Niemi in the second and even had the first of two 5-on-3 power plays. They had one for 41 seconds in that period and thought they had narrowed the Hawks' lead to 2-1 on an apparent Boyes goal, but on a scramble in front of Niemi, referee Dan O'Halloran whistled the puck dead -- replays clearly showed it wasn't -- and waved off the goal with 3:33 left in the period.

"The puck obviously was loose, we were banging away," Boyes said. "What (O'Halloran) saw was what it kind of what it was. It was sitting there and it kind of popped out and I was able to put it in. He blew it dead obviously before. He thought it was under the goalie and that's it.

"It's a big goal. It kind of gets us going. I felt like it was in, but it didn't (count). We still had other chances, we still had other opportunities, but we didn't get enough."

What disappointed Payne more in that sequence was the execution early in that power play.

"We have some situations that we want to go to," Payne said. "We went to it in the second 5-on-3 and had success on it. We've got to make sure we stick to the plan.

"(O'Halloran) lost sight of the puck and he blew the whistle. To me it looked like ... from the body language on all the players out there that it was a pretty hotly-contested puck. Those are decisions they have to make. Unfortunately, they can work for you or against you. There's no gray area there. ... That was a loose puck there. You could see the guys battling for it. The ref's got to make his call."

The Blues needed a big push in the third period and for spurts, they got it.

They got another chance at a 5-on-3, and Alex Steen ripped a one-timer from the high slot past Niemi with 1:46 to play but could not muster any more chances to get the equalizer.

"I thought there were some individual moments, but we've got to make sure we understand that we're going to face four guys in the neutral zone, we're going to face heavy numbers," Payne said. "I thought at times we didn't direct ourselves as quickly through that neutral zone to establish some forechecks and let the pressure work in that area. Beyond that, it was a pretty tight game from start to finish both ways. We knew we were going to have to battle. We knew we were going to have to win some individual battles to get those chances.

"Down 2-0, we had enough chances through two periods to get ourselves even in that hockey game. We've got to find a way to make that happen."

* NOTES -- Blues defenseman Erik Johnson has gone 31 games without a goal and has just seven assists in that span after 18 points in 25 games. ... The Blackhawks are 9-1-2 in the second of back-to-back games, including 7-0-2 on the road. ... Blues center Keith Tkachuk (68 games) and left winger Paul Kariya (65 games) each have 67 career points against the Blackhawks. ... Blues right winger David Perron played in his 200th career game Thursday, becoming the youngest Blue (21) in franchise history to do so. ... Rams coach Steve Spagnuolo was in attendance, sitting in a suite with Blues minority owner Tom Stillman.

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