Friday, October 25, 2013

Rested Blues fall to tired Canucks in overtime

Kesler's second of game late in OT caps Vancouver's 5-1-1 trip

ST. LOUIS -- The Blues were the well-rested team. The Vancouver Canucks were the team trudging along at the tail end of a seven-game trip that saw the visitors play the previous night and fifth in seven days.

But it was the road-weary Canucks that found a way, even after playing the previous night and facing a team waiting in the wings.

The Canucks were a tired bunch, playing their NHL-leading 13th game of the season and fifth in seven days. The St. Louis Blues were playing only their eighth game of the season and first since a shootout loss Oct. 18 at Winnipeg.

(St. Louis Blues/Mark Buckner)
The Blues' Alex Pietrangelo (right) and Canucks' Henrik Sedin battle for
position in front of the St. Louis goal Friday night.
But the Canucks were the team that came out engaged early and set the tempo, got tired as the game progressed Friday night but counted on one of their key forwards to come through in the end.

Ryan Kesler's second goal of the game with 14.7 seconds left in overtime gave the Canucks a 3-2 victory against the Blues at Scottrade Center, capping off a 5-1-1 trip.

Kesler popped in a rebound from in front of Jaroslav Halak after the Canucks were given a power play with 33.6 seconds remaining when Patrik Berglund was called for hooking Daniel Sedin in the Blues' zone. Kesler was able to coral Sedin's initial shot at the top of the crease before knocking a backhander high over Halak.

Daniel Sedin was initially allowed easy access into the Blues' zone and cut towards the slot when Berglund was called for hooking.

Blues coach Ken Hitchcock was asked if the call late in the game was upsetting since there was a potential non-call on a play involving Alex Pietrangelo. Hitchcock's concerns he displayed earlier in the week were what came to fruition.

The coach talked earlier in the week about fearing his team could have issues getting into the flow of the game and catching up to the pace after being off for so long.

"I'm not going to comment on the decisions at the end of the game, both ways," Hitchcock said. "The penalty on Berglund and the non-call on Petro ... decisions are made. That's not my concern. The concern was the first 35 minutes ... weren't very good, weren't engaged. We got a couple good shifts by (Ryan) Reaves and (Chris) Stewart that got us back into the hockey game. We were just dis-engaged, throwing our sticks on the ice and just playing."

The road-weary Canucks have won three in a row; two in overtime and one in a shootout and go home for three before heading back on the road for four.

"Throughout the trip, we won in different ways," said Canucks coach John Tortorella, whose team improved to 8-4-1 on the season. "We kept our composure.

"Day by day, it's a really good trip but you need to flat-line it here and just stay within ourselves and just keep on working as a team."

Chris Higgins also scored for the Canucks and Eddie Lack, making his third career start, stopped 22 shots. Lack played after Roberto Luongo beat the New Jersey Devils 3-2 in a shootout on Thursday.

Alexander Steen scored his team-leading eighth goal and assisted on one by Vladimir Sobotka. Kevin Shattenkirk had two assists, and Halak made 21 saves.

But the Blues (5-1-2) were lamenting the fact they allowed a point to get away for the second game in a row. They lost the shootout in Winnipeg after squandering a 3-1 third-period lead and failed to take advantage of a tired team Friday.

"It's unacceptable," Blues captain David Backes said. "They're a team that played last night, which we knew they were going to be ready to go. They don't even get time to think about it and they're right into the game and we had a week off. We can't start slow, we can't dig holes like that and expect to be able to dig out.

"We found a way 5-on-3 and 5-on-4 to get back in the game. ... We just need a full, better effort from all 20 guys for a full 60 minutes in order to win games. Tomorrow we've got another tough test from a team that's hot as well."

The Canucks got on the board first when Higgins' wrister from the top of the left circle deflected off the skate of sliding defenseman Roman Polak and into the top right corner at 17:11 of the opening period.

Vancouver took advantage of a Shattenkirk turnover behind his net, as he was picked by Mike Santorelli, who then fed Kesler in the slot for a quick snap shot past Halak 9:34 into the second period for a 2-0 lead.

"Schwartzy tried to make a pass to me behind the net so I can take it out the weak side," Shattenkirk said. "Someone got a piece of it and it came a little slow. I tried to force a pass through the middle, which is a poor mistake.

"I probably should have just eaten it behind the net. At that point, you've just got to cut your losses. I was trying to make something out of nothing. I'm not too happy about my decision there and obviously the way that it ended up."

But the Canucks' tired legs finally caught up to them a bit late in the second when Zack Kassian (charging) and Kevin Bieksa (hooking) took penalties that gave the Blues 1:28 of 5-on-3 play.

Steen took advantage with 6.4 seconds left in the second when he ripped a one-timer from the slot past Lack to make it 2-1. Steen's eight goals have come in eight games; he had eight in 40 games last season.

Sobotka tied it 1:38 into the third period -- two seconds after Bieksa's penalty expired. He took a feed from Steen and snapped a shot through Lack from the right circle. That goal snapped a streak of 179:10 since someone other than Steen or David Backes scored for the Blues. Polak's goal with 7:32 left in the third period of a 6-2 loss to San Jose came four games ago.

"It is a week, but we discussed it before the game. There's no excuses for not coming out harder than we did, but as the game progressed, I thought we got into it more and started taking over," Steen said. "They kind of got us back a little bit in the third, but we kept coming. We had our fair share of chances to win the game. ... We've got nobody to blame but ourselves. Now we regroup and head to Nashville."

The Blues, who were in Charleston, S.C. for four days for a team bonding trip where they were able to practice as well as relax, preached and practiced when they got back to St. Louis and were guarding themselves against a slow start to no avail.

Getting down 2-0 and battling back to put themselves in position to win wasn't quite what the doctor ordered. It was setting the tone early and get a tired team bogged down.

"I think we didn't take advantage of them being a little tired," Shattenkirk said of the Canucks. "We didn't really press them enough and allow them to do it the other way, cough some pucks up and give us some chances.

(St. Louis Blues/Mark Buckner)
Blues goalie Jaroslav Halak (left) makes a save in front of teammate Roman
Polak (right) and Vancouver's Daniel Sedin Friday night.
"We were a little rusty to start, something that we needed to work through, but I think the easiest way to work through that is to keep things simple and play the way that makes us successful. Just some sloppy mistakes that lead to goals."

Added Backes: "They were playing their game and they were right into it. It took a while for us to wake up. It's not acceptable. We needed two points tonight and to have a 4-on-3 with 30 seconds left and not be able to get that job done, that's frustrating too.

"There's no excuses. We've had practices that were high-tempo. You've been warned about it and you talk about it ... it's preparation individually so we can go out there and collectively have some success. Tonight, it's unacceptable that we weren't ready to go from the drop the of the puck and play the right way for a full 60 minutes. We hope to learn a lesson from it, but you hope in April you're not looking at a point going, 'Man, that's something we wish we had.'"

The Blues were knocking in the third but couldn’t get the third goal they needed.

"My worries were there. We're not engaged, so whatever happened today, getting a point is good, coming back is good," Hitchcock said. "We probably deserved a lot better fate. Vancouver was dead in the third period. All they were doing was icing it or either flipping it out. They were really tired. We couldn't get the third goal. Lots of scoring chances there, but we've got to get engaged. We're not going to come close to winning tomorrow if we don't get engaged at the start, so hopefully this is a good wake-up call. We're back in the league and playing and we can really get engaged from the start to the end and see what we got."

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