Sunday, February 10, 2013

Steps taken, hurdle not crossed for Blues

Team gets good news Sunday with goalie Jaroslav Halak coming off IR

ST. LOUIS -- It wasn't a victory, but it was a start.

The Blues did earn a point in Saturday's 6-5 shootout loss to Anaheim -- and probably deserved better -- but considering they had nothing to show for the previous three losses in which they were outscored 16-5, the Blues (6-4-1 and now winless in four straight at 0-3-1) had to start somewhere to climb out of the funk that had suddenly struck their game.

"If anything we showed (Saturday) is that we can get our spirit back," said defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk, who picked up two assists and now leads the team with 12 points. "It shouldn't take us three goals to respond like that in the second, but we did. We came out in the third and played a great period. We can use it as a building block and use it as a lesson."
(Getty Images)
Kevin Shattenkirk (22) said the Blues showed their spirit is back despite a
6-5 shootout loss to Anaheim Saturday.

The Blues blitzed the Ducks (8-2-1) with a barrage that led to a 3-1 lead after 20 minutes. But that one blemish was a soft goal allowed by Brian Elliott, who has struggled since Jaroslav Halak's groin strain suffered in Detroit Feb. 1.

Elliott (3-4-1 with a 3.53 goals-against average and .853 save percentage on the season) has allowed 14 goals on only 63 shots faced so far in this three-game homestand.

Hitchcock didn't use those exact words but finally voiced his displeasure with Elliott's recent play since he felt the team game for the most part was deserving of a victory Saturday.

"We're giving up 20 shots a game. We don't need to complicate it right now," said Hitchcock, who will have the luxury of going back to Halak, who was activated from injured-reserve Sunday afternoon and goalie Jake Allen was assigned to Peoria. "It is what it is, there's no point in beating it up.

"We know what we're doing really well. There's a lot of things we're doing really well. We've just got to build on it. Pucks are going in our net, they're hitting people, they're going off shin pads. Those things happen. We'll fight through it, but I was very impressed with what we did (Saturday). The first period was the best period we've played in this building for a long time, third period was terrific also. We'll just keep building it."

Teammates defended Elliott afterwards.

"He's getting hung out to dry," Shattenkirk said of Elliott. "You look at some of them (Saturday), he's facing a first shot and there's guys sitting backdoor putting in rebounds. That's on us, that's not on him. I think we know that.

"I know he's frustrated, but we've just got to work for him better. Those are things last year we took pride in. We just have to get back to it."

Some of the same lapses that crept into the Blues' recent games stung them again in the second period against the Ducks, who erased that 3-1 deficit and turned it into a 4-3 lead after two periods with three goals in a minute, 41-second span.

One goal came as a result of a bad bounce off a blocked shot, another was a bad-angle goal and a third came as a result of broken coverage.

"I think it was a matter of thinking and coming to expect that things would just fall into place again," Shattenkirk said, talking about the Blues building a 3-1 lead. "We had a great first period, we played our game. We were shooting the puck, we were hitting. We just have to stick with it more and not expect it to show up ... go out there and make it happen."

The Blues made it happen, getting goals from T.J. Oshie and Chris Stewart. Stewart's came on the power play, as the Blues were 2-for-2 in the game and increased their league-lead to 15-for-41 (36.6 percent). But the Blues got production from players looking to get their offensive games going (Alex Steen and Stewart each had three points, David Backes, Shattenkirk and Andy McDonald each had two points).
(Getty Images)
The Blues' Vladimir Tarasenko (91) beat Ducks goalie Viktor Fasth in a
shootout attempt Saturday night but was victimized by the goal post.

"It's good for them. It's good for their psyche and everything," Hitchcock said. "I thought the difference in the third period was when we put (David) Perron with Steen and then that line started to be way more effective. I thought that was a good line in the third period.

"These games are a tough go for a guy like (Vladimir) Tarasenko. I think for me, he's a guy that probably was a little overwhelmed and then when Perron went there, I thought he settled down and played a little bit."

But it wasn't the 60 minutes -- or in Saturday's case, 65 -- that the Blues were looking for.

"We need to play better through 60 minutes," Steen said. "We start well, finish well. ... I think once we got back to (puck possession), we played well. If think that if we play well and work the way that we usually work, we'll start winning hockey games again, but we're not putting together 60 consistent minutes."

Added defenseman Ian Cole: "We are making strides in the right direction. ... I think we've just kind of got to get back and eventually we'll go back to trusting everybody. We'll get there. We'll be alright."

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