Saturday, January 8, 2011

2-1 loss to Rangers continues Blues' slide

Team holds players-only meeting afterwards
after falling to 12th in Western Conference

ST. LOUIS -- It was a rarity to find Blues players sequestered in the locker room long after coach Davis Payne's postgame press conference.

But considering the Blues are on another one of those stretches of games where they're sliding in the standings and playing into a funk, the spoken words from the team's leaders were far overdue.

Unresponsive to a tired team that played 24 hours earlier, the Blues laid another egg in front of the 22nd sellout crowd of the season. The New York Rangers got second-period goals from Derek Stepan and everybody's favorite agitator Sean Avery in a 2-1 win over the Blues Saturday night, the Blues' third straight loss.

The Blues (20-14-6), who fell to the Rangers (25-15-3) for the first time in regulation since Nov. 22, 2000, failed to generate much of anything against a Rangers team that played in Dallas on Friday night and played through a shootout.

The Blues came out and generated a season-low two shots in the first period, then were able to sustain stretches of decent chances, but Martin Biron, who came in 0-7-2 lifetime against the Blues, turned aside those chances. And then the Blues committed a pair of turnovers that led to both Rangers goals and failed to generate anything on a four-minute power play in the third period.

Pretty much typified the night -- and the last three games. It's happened all-too-often this season, and the players were finally holding themselves accountable as the Blues have gone from fifth to 12th in the Western Conference in this stretch of three losses.

"It's up to the 20 guys that are wearing the jerseys that night to say, 'Hey, we're going to get to our game first. We're going to stay at it longer, we're going to persevere tonight,'" Blues forward David Backes said. "Until we have that, unless we have that, this is going to be the result. We're going to be answering more questions and trying to find out why not rather than telling you why we won."

Brad Winchester's seventh goal of the season, a redirection of Eric Brewer's wrister 2 minutes, 13 seconds into the second period, gave the Blues a 1-0 lead, but not much else was generated on the night.

"I thought there were spurts where we stuck to the game plan, when we were committed to doing the right things with the puck, when we were committed to being on the right side and executing the details of our game through structure and puck decisions," Payne said. "We had the type of momentum and direction we wanted. The problem was we didn't have enough of it."

Then the problems began for the Blues, who also were whistled for three offensive zone penalties and another too many men on the ice while on the power play.

Patrik Berglund's turnover in the offensive zone led to Stepan's goal 9:12 into the second that tied the game up. Instead of making a direct read and finding an open Barret Jackman coming in off the right side, Berglund turned the puck over near the left boards leading to a 3-on-2 rush.

"We've got a chance to make a play in deep, keep the cycle east-west against their d-zone coverage," Payne said. "They've got five guys in the picture, five guys in a compressed area. We're trying to force things up through a bunch of people, and the next thing you know, it's coming towards our net. That's decision-making.

" ... Making sure we're sharp enough to know the right guy that is going on the ice for the right guy when we're on the power play. To take a too many men on the ice penalty there is really quite inexcusable. ... We talk about the fine line. We've got to be right on the positive side of this thing every time. When we don't, this is what happens."

Jay McClement had the chance to get a puck out of his zone but could not, and Avery was able to bang home a rebound after Marian Gaborik's shot from the open side hit the crossbar and into the crease with 4:34 left in the second.

The Blues did generate chances against Biron, but the Rangers' backup was up to the challenge.

"I thought we had some good opportunities," Blues winger Alex Steen said. "(Biron) made some good saves."

The Blues, who were 0-for-6 on the power play that included 11 seconds of a two-man advantage, had the chance to not only tie but get a lead when Avery high-sticked Alex Pietrangelo, drawing a four-minute double minor.

But instead of generating any momentum, the Blues regressed, had all kinds of issues even gaining entry into the offensive zone and did nothing with the power play time.

"We were just being sloppy," Steen said. "We weren't patient. We weren't poised. They kept putting pressure to us and we couldn't settle it down, get set up or gain any momentum from it. It's not good enough, especially when we draw a four-minute one like that."

Said Backes, "It's obviously not the result we want. To have a four-minute power play with 10 minutes left ... their four guys outworked our five throughout the four minutes. That kind of typifies the game.

"They're a team coming in here tired. We didn't make them skate or make them pay for everything they achieved and we didn't capitalize on our chances when we had them. The result is they get two points and we end up with leaving here with our heads down."

Once the Rangers got through that penalty kill, they were consistently clogging the neutral zone and making it tough on the Blues to get pucks in deep.

"I thought we generated some opportunities," Brewer said. "We didn't obviously get enough out of them. Obviously, it was a slow (third) period and we took a bit to get into it, but we had every opportunity to win. We just didn't."

So before the Blues host Phoenix here Monday, players have talked about nipping it in the bud before a losing streak grows into something insurmountable.

"We've kind of stepped away from our consistency in the games, in the 60-minute game," Steen said. "That's ended up costing us a couple games. These are obviously hard-working teams in Toronto and New York, but these are definitely games I thought we should have put forth a better effort throughout the 60. We would have had better results. This is another one that's tough to swallow."

* NOTES -- Peoria Rivermen coach Jared Bednar has been named the co-coach of the Western Conference All-Star team for the 2011 AHL All-Star Classic, to take place Jan. 30-31 in Hershey , Pa. Bednar will be beside John Hynes of the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins.

The 38-year-old Bednar earned the honor because the Rivermen own the best record in their respective conference. The Rivermen are leading the Western Conference with a record of 24-10-2-1 (.689).

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