Friday, April 6, 2012

Coyotes keep Blues in a funk with 4-1 win

St. Louis now winless in a season high four
games (0-2-2), play season finale Saturday in Dallas

ST. LOUIS -- The Blues were given life again Thursday night. The Western Conference top seed and Presidents' Trophy was back in play again.

But what has suddenly becoming an alarming trend for the Blues, as one player put it: "We're getting out-competed."

Two teams controlling their own destinies met in the only game in the NHL on Friday night. One team played with a purpose. Unfortunately for the3 Blues, it wasn't them.

Goals by Radim Vrbata and Shane Doan 2:10 apart in the second period broke open a tie game, and the Coyotes move within a victory of winning the Pacific Division title by beating the St. Louis Blues 4-1 at Scottrade Center.
(Getty Images)
Alex Steen (second from right) can't get the puck past Phoenix goalie Mike
Smith Friday night at Scottrade Center.

The Coyotes (41-27-13) jumped a point in front of both Los Angeles and San Jose, and a win Saturday in Minnesota guarantees Phoenix its first division title since the franchise entered the NHL as the Winnipeg Jets in 1979. The Coyotes avoided being swept in the season series against St. Louis, winning for the first time in four tries.

Mikkel Boedker had a goal and an assist, Yandle scored and Antoine Vermette added a pair of assists for the Coyotes. Mike Smith made 31 saves for the win despite having his shutout streak snapped at 234:25. He has allowed just one goal in his last 13 periods of play.

The Coyotes have never won a division title in franchise history, which includes the franchise being in Winnipeg from 1979-1996.

The Blues, who are winless in four straight (0-2-2) for the first time all season, saw their hopes of winning the Presidents' Trophy evaporate with the loss. They still remain in the hunt for first place in the Western Conference but now need a win at Dallas on Saturday night along with a Vancouver loss in regulation to Edmonton to get it.

"There's still a chance, there's still something to play for," defenseman Alex Pietrangelo said. "We've got a lot of fighters on this team and we're going to keep doing what we do."

The Blues, who ended their home slate with a 30-6-5 mark, which was the most wins in franchise history, are talking about how to get their game back as the playoffs are just five days away.

"It's just not enough guys going," Blues center David Backes said. "Playoff teams have every guy committed to the team game and contributing one way or another whether it’s just starting a faceoff in your end and ending up in another team’s end, that's progress. We don’t have that buy-in and that accountability and we haven’t in the last few games where we're willing to let the role players play their roles and there's little wins and little details to make sure that we have advantages in all game and we haven't done that consistently enough to win."

Patrik Berglund scored for the Blues, and Brian Elliott stopped 28 shots.

Coach Ken Hitchock was brisk and to the point during his press conference. He made one statement and walked off, noticeably displeased. The Blues are 3-4-4 in their last 11 games.

"This is what happens when you play with skill ahead of work," Hitchcock said. "This is what happens when you don't want to put your work boots in and the other team doesn't want to have anything to do with it. They pushed us out of the game competitively-wise. They made us play and act as individuals. They started with the puck off of faceoffs. They defended well, they blocked shots, they did all the things that we do as a team, and they did them very well.

"Their level of defensive checking commitment confused and frustrated our players. We wanted the game to be easier, and it wasn't. We lost 4-1 because of it."

The Blues have become vulnerable in their end, being inconsistent at both ends of the ice and pucks are making their way into the net.

"We're just getting out-competed at home ... not just at home but the last few games," winger Alex Steen said. "Other teams have come in and been a little sharper than us.

"Bottom line is other teams have come in and just out-worked us. We've just been a step behind and it's showing in the scorebook."

After a 1-1 period, Vrbata and Doan struck within a 2:10 span as the Blues broke down and allowed a pair of odd-man rushes. It's an area that the team has prided itself in.

"We didn't play the way we wanted to and we kind of got away from our game," Pietrangelo said. "That's kind of been our trend the last little bit and we've got to find a way to get it back on track.

"We know we're not playing our best, but we won the Central Division. We know how to play good hockey, we're going to the playoffs. We've just got to find a way to get back to it."
(Getty Images)
The Blues' Vladimir Sobotka (left) goes for a wraparound against Coyotes
goalie Mike Smith Friday in a 4-1 Blues loss to Phoenix.

Phoenix got the scoring started early when Yandle's bullet from the top of the left circle, a shot Elliott never saw thanks to a screen by Raffi Torres, hit the top upper right corner just 2:13 into the game to give the Coyotes a 1-0 lead. Yandle fired home his 11th of the season after getting the puck from behind the net from Daymond Langkow.

"It got us going a bit," Coyotes coach Dave Tippett said.

After the Blues killed off the third Phoenix power play of the period, T.J. Oshie came out of the box and St. Louis wound up with a 4-on-1 rush that ended with Berglund hammering home a loose puck from the crease with 5:34 left in the period to tie the score. It also ended Smith's shutout streak as well as his streak of 161 consecutive saves. Oshie took two shots that Smith stopped but the puck lay in the crease and Berglund rifled it in with Smith out of position.

Later in the period, Smith was knocked down by an inadvertent knee to the head by teammate Rostislav Klesla after getting tangled up with Oshie but remained in the game.

The Blues wasted a huge chance to get back in the game when they had 1:48 of a two-man advantage late in the second period and came away with nothing.

Boedker gave Phoenix a comfortable lead when he skated across the ice past Kevin Shattenkirk, then fired a wrister past Elliott 10:19 into the third period. It's the first time Elliott allowed four goals in a game since Feb. 22 in a 4-2 loss to Boston.

The Blues hope to end the slide they're on with a good effort against the Stars.

"For us, it's the last one before the playoffs start," Steen said. "We'll have that and a few days of practice. It would be nice to finish the season on a high note."

When asked how do they get out of this rut, Steen said, "We work harder, play better. You go back to basics and just work your (tails) off."

* NOTES -- The Blues used their same lineup as Wednesday against Detroit, which meant scratches included forwards Scott Nichol, B.J. Crombeen, Chris Porter and Jaden Schwartz as well as defensemen Kent Huskins and Ian Cole. ... Jaroslav Halak gets the start in the season finale at Dallas.

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