St. Louis in 3-8-1 slide after beginning
season 9-1-2; feel margin of error is small
By LOUIE KORAC
ST. LOUIS -- In season's past, when the Blues would drop four or five games in a row, there would always be a question of work ethic or simply a lack of talent.
After the Blues fell Wednesday night to the Washington Capitals 4-1 for their fourth straight loss, it wasn't a question in the locker room whether the effort is there or of the talent is lacking, it's a small margin of error.
And right now, the Blues seem to be finding themselves on the wrong end of a timely save needed, a neutral zone turnover, a coverage mistake in the defensive end, allowing a power play goal and most glaring right now, not scoring a power play goal.
The Blues (12-9-3), coming off a 7-5 loss at Chicago Tuesday, saw the smallest of errors victimize them once again at home Wednesday, where they have now lost two straight after starting the season 8-0-1.
The Blues allowed another power play goal, saw a bad-bounce go against them in the second period and miss out on coverage on another goal.
It all added up to another loss in a game that the Blues would seem to find a way to win early in the season.
"I don't think we're far off," Blues coach Davis Payne said. "You look at our last four games -- all losses -- but there's a small margin there ... there's some good hockey there.
"For us, it's staying faithful to the process. It's trusting the process. We'll get through this."
The Blues, just as they did Tuesday in Chicago, outshot another potent offense. This time, the margin was 38-26 over the Capitals (18-6-2), but Washington was opportunistic in its chances and came out on top.
They grabbed a lead when the Blues took an undisciplined too many men on the ice penalty after killing off the first Caps power play. Brooks Laich made the Blues pay with a rooftop goal after Nicklas Backstrom's centering feed went off Barret Jackman's stick, off Jaroslav Halak and into the crease for Laich.
"It's an undisciplined penalty inside our room and on the bench," Payne said. "Those are the ones that are tougher to overcome than anything. We get towards the end of it, a broken play comes back towards Jaro, it hits the stick and gets to a guy on the back door that you can't allow that chance to."
The second goal, which gave the Caps a 2-0 lead when Boyd Gordon scored his first of the season, was a fortuitous bounce for Washington, as Gordon threw a puck into the crease. Halak tried to catch the puck but instead knocked it off the backside of defenseman Eric Brewer and back into the net.
It was an opportunistic goal and a lucky bounce that went the Caps' way.
And then there's the Blues' power play, which went 0-for-4 in the game and is now 0-for-13 in the last five games (0-for-16 dating back to Nov. 20), which didn't produce nothing but problems.
Those problems stem from a lack of shooting the puck when the opportunities arise.
"Obviously it's a big part of our game," said winger Alex Steen, who scored the Blues' lone goal Wednesday. "Right now, it's not helping us out; it's hurting us. We need to assess that tomorrow for sure."
Added Payne, "The chances and shots were there, but the power play seemed to bog us down. We seemed reluctant to shoot pucks. I think that pulled back some of the downhill skating we had in our 5-on-5 game.
"It's the decision to shoot quickly or to provide our net-front guys to provide a stick to play to. Extending their PK out of the shot lanes. We've got to do a little bit better job than that."
Steen did get the Blues on the board, beating Semyon Varlamov from a tough angle along the left boards with 31.6 seconds left in the second period to cut the Caps' lead to 2-1. But as the Blues did begin to create more quality chances against Varlamov in the third period, the Caps' netminder was up to the task.
"We got a lot of shots, and that was the thing, we controlled the play fairly well," said winger Brad Boyes, who was robbed on a power play attempt in the first period. "The power play's one of the biggest things we've got to get going. It's killing us right now. The power play's an opportunity for us to get that goal when we need it. We've been struggling with that lately. We've had some good looks, we've had some good chances ... bottom line is we've got to score."
The Blues have now been outscored 16-9 in the past four games, but they feel if they can tilt some pieces of the game towards their favor, the wins will once again be within reach.
"We can't keep dwelling on it," said forward David Backes. "We've got to keep plugging away, keep playing our game, which is in their zone and which is rough and tough and puck control and pucks to the net. We outshoot a high-powered team tonight but don't get any rewards for it.
"The margin's small, but we need to do things that (make) small margins in our favor and not fight from behind, fighting against that small differential between winning and losing in this league every night."
"I think for the most part, almost every game we come out and we battle," Boyes said. "It's little things ... not scoring when we need it, not getting that penalty kill or the save. Little things like that. Getting that power play when we really need to and it doesn't show up. Those are things that are the fine line. As far as work ethic, as far as us going in and playing somewhat our style, it's been there most nights."
Backstrom would go on to score two third-period goals, including the one that iced the game for the Caps 7:06 into the third period off a big rebound of a Halak stop.
The Blues would never get back any swagger they thought they had after the Steen tally.
"The big picture is we need to get back to what was making us successful before, and that was those tough, tight playoff games," Steen said. "Right now, we're letting games slide and we need to stop it right now."
* NOTES -- Forbes Magazine released their list for franchise values of all 30 NHL teams. The Blues came in as the 23rd-highest valued franchise in the league, or seventh from the bottom. The Blues came in at an estimated value of $165 million, which is down 6 percent from the report of 2009. Meanwhile, the highest-valued NHL franchise: the Toronto Maple Leafs, who are valued at an estimated $505 million, up 8 percent from a year ago. ... The Blues recalled forwards Dave Scatchard and Stefan Della Rovere, who made his NHL debut Wednesday night. They optioned forwards T.J. Hensick and Chris Porter to Peoria. ... Blues scratches included defenseman Nikita Nikitin and enforcer Cam Janssen. ... Former Blue D.J. King picked up his first point of the season after assisting on Gordon's goal. King was traded to Washington over the off-season for Della Rovere.