Saturday, December 31, 2011

Blues fall yet again in a shootout

Nashville gets lone goal in 2-1 victory; St. Louis blanked on
five attempts, has now lost six straight shootouts dating to last season

ST. LOUIS -- It's getting to be a broken record: the Blues play well during the course of a game, only to leave an extra point on the table because they can't convert breakaways.

When one dissects the shootout, might as well call it breakaway practice, and let's face it, the Blues are not very good at them this season.

Friday night was no exception.
(Getty Images)
The Blues' Patrik Berglund (right) can't beat Nashville goalie Pekka Rinne
during Friday's shootout in St. Louis.

Martin Erat's goal in the fifth shootout, a roof shot past Jaroslav Halak, provided the lone goal as the Nashville Predators edged out the Blues 2-1, winning the shootout 1-0 at Scottrade Center, snapping the Blues' six-game winning streak.

The Blues (21-11-5), are now winless in five shootouts this year and six straight dating back to last season. They've lost four of the five by 1-0 results and Jaroslav Halak has been the victim of all five losses.

The Blues are now 1-for-17 on the season in shootout attempts, which translates to a paltry six percent.

What matters most, the Blues have now left five points on the table for opponents to grab.

"It's frustrating for the whole team, especially for someone like me who takes pride in scoring shootouts," said Blues winger T.J. Oshie, who scored the Blues' goal. "To see the effort that Jaro put forth for us tonight and to not get him that extra point ... it's unacceptable, I think."

Added captain David Backes, one of five shooters who missed his attempt: "Five rounds you expect to get at least one in. We don't do that. Jaro really deserved the win. Jaro kept us in there long enough, but obviously an area you'd like to get better at.

"If we're not going to win them, we might as well win them in regulation or put one in in overtime and skip that whole formality."

Halak, who stopped 33 shots in the loss and fell to 7-7-5 on the season, is beginning to wonder himself what it's going to take to win a shootout.

Personally, he's lost his last nine decisions in the shootout.

"The shootouts, it's just a 50-50 chance," Halak said. "It seems like this season we are having a hard time to win these. These are extra points for us. It can make a big difference at the end of the season."

The Blues sent in Oshie, David Perron, Patrik Berglund, Backes and Kevin Shattenkirk. All were either turned away by Pekka Rinne, who stopped 35 shots in the game, or in Perron's case, hit the post.

Since I've been here, this is the third time we've had a chance to win the shootout outright with the last shooter and not being able to do it is frustrating for the players and frustrating for Jaroslav," said Blues coach Ken Hitchcock, whose team caught a charter plane after the game and headed to play at Detroit Saturday.

When asked what he's seeing from his shooters, Hitchcock said succinctly: "No speed. ... Big goalie, no speed, can't score. Pretty simple."

It's getting to the point for the Blues where maybe players are thinking too much or squeezing sticks. Throw in every cliche one can think of.

"We might be grabbing sticks a little tight," Oshie said. "We've got some guys that have never scored a shootout goal. They're making good moves. It's just not going in for them.

"For me, I decided not to watch video on Rinne today. I think I was kind of thinking too much before. I had a little hole there and I just missed it."
(Getty Images)
Nashville's Martin Erat (left) beats Jaroslav Halak with the lone shootout
goal that gave the Predators a 2-1 victory over St. Louis Friday night.

As for the game itself, the Blues gave up a bad goal to start the game, and Halak blamed himself for not covering up a puck that eventually got to Matt Halischuk, who poked a shot in just 2 minutes 16 seconds in.

"We were a little light," Hitchcock said of the early play. "We looked like a team that had taken a couple days off. But we got going, really going. Especially in the second period."

But the Blues recovered nicely, getting Oshie's 12th of the season after Backes drove hard to the net, and Oshie picked up a loose puck in the slot and beat Rinne high glove side with 6:40 remaining in the opening period.

"Great shift by the line," Oshie said. "It was a good 200-foot shift. Great play by the d-men and obviously Backs driving the net created the whole thing. I just tried to get a whack at it."

The goalies would slam the door shut from there on out, with Rinne really keeping the Blues out of the goal, particularly in the second period.

"He made saves that ... I'm standing on the bench and he made four saves in the second period and I'm thinking the puck's in," Hitchcock said of Rinne. "He's good. Gonna have to find a different way to beat him.

"The second period's the best period we've played for a long time. Better than any period we played in Detroit."

But it wasn't enough to keep the Blues from falling to 0-1-2 on the season against the pesky Preds, who were without all-star defenseman Shea Weber (concussion) for the third consecutive game.

"That's the way the script goes, but we need to find ways," Backes said. "We're doing all the work. We've just got to reap the benefits from it."

Added Hitchcock: "This was a game, especially the way we played in the second and the last half of the first and into the third, we felt we could have taken one today. Too many just-abouts."

* NOTES -- The Blues played without winger Alex Steen, who Hitchcock said Friday morning has concussion-like symptoms from a hit they believe was absorbed in Monday's win over Dallas. Steen will likely not play tonight in Detroit and will be re-evaluated after that. ... Forward Andy McDonald skated again Friday, this time with the team at the morning skate. McDonald said he's not ready but feels he's at around 90-95 percent. ... Scratches for the Blues included wingers Chris Porter and Adam Cracknell.

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