Saturday, January 18, 2014

Same script, outcome for Blues in 3-2 loss to Ducks

St. Louis falls to 1-7 against California 
teams with similar result against quality opponent 

ST. LOUIS -- After another puzzling defeat against an elite team, the Blues are starting once again left to wonder where do they go from here.

Ryan Getzlaf had a goal and an assist, Nick Bonino had a pair of assists, and Frederik Andersen stopped 34 shots and improved to 12-2-0 in his rookie season for the Anaheim Ducks, who jumped out to a 3-0 lead before holding off the Blues 3-2 Saturday night before 19,910 at Scottrade Center. 

The Ducks (37-9-5) are 19-2-0 in their past 21 games and have beaten the Blues (32-10-5) twice this season at home.
(St. Louis Blues/Mark Buckner)
Alexander Steen (left) returned to the Blues' lineup but the Ducks' Corey
Perry (right) made sure it was a somber night in a 3-2 Anaheim victory.

But this latest loss to the Ducks has followed a disturbing pattern for the Blues against a number of elite teams: start slow, fall behind early, make a push and give fans a false sense of hope and skate away with nothing to show for it.

The game was on the plate to be had Thursday against the Los Angeles Kings, but the Kings made the necessary push in the third period and won 4-1. It's happened often this season, particularly against the three California teams (also the San Jose Sharks).

Coach Ken Hitchcock and his team are at a loss for words after another game in which the Blues allowed the opposition to set the tempo early and get established.

"When you're getting behind, you're allowing the other team to set the tempo," Hitchcock said. "You're on your heels, they're on their toes. Happened again tonight, on our heels. 

"It's really just the same movie, different day. We're going to have to figure out a way to fix it. ... We're going to have to have better starts, we're going to have to have more people engaged, we're going to have to play on our toes. Can't beat good teams playing on your heels. That's what we did. On our heels, quiet."

The Blues, who came into the game Saturday on a 10-2-1 run, dropped back-to-back regulation games for the second time this season, and both sets have come against California teams. The Blues are 1-for-California this season, a combined 1-7-0 against the Ducks, Sharks and Kings. Those teams have outscored the Blues 31-19.

"We talk about listless first two periods where they're down our throats making us make plays we don't want to and capitalizing on their chances while we are kind of disjointed and discombobulated all over the place," Blues captain David Backes said. "We're concentrating on what we've got in here, what we're bringing to the table. 

"We've seen it before. We're a force to be reckoned with, but we need that sort of effort from everybody, myself first."

Before this recent four-game stretch in which the Blues have six goals over 12 periods, they scored 21 goals in four games, winning all four of those games and scoring five-plus goals in each game. 

Barret Jackman and Jaden Schwartz scored third-period goals to get the Blues close. St. Louis goalie Brian Elliott made 18 saves, but his 13-game home winning streak came to an end. Elliott's last loss at Scottrade Center came in a 2-0 loss to the Blackhawks on April 14, 2013.

The Blues' late push is another all-too-familiar script. 

Getzlaf, Beleskey and Fowler put Anaheim up 3-0 half way through the game. It's the sixth time against California teams the Blues have fallen behind by 3-0 or more.

"We haven't had good first periods in any of those games and it's costly," Jackman said. "We're not moving our feet, we're not getting the energy up. We did in the third period there. You're not moving your feet, you're checking with your eyes and you're not creating any space for guys with the puck. We weren't working together, we weren't communicating, just doing a lot of little things that we've been so good at throughout the year. You dig yourself a 3-0 hole is never a good thing, especially against that team.

"We need more guys at the beginning of games to find a way to get engaged, whether it's a hit or a pass or just talking on the bench, getting a little more life. I think it'll trickle through our lineup. It's going to have to start with our leaders and go from there."

Elliott was able to make some key stops to keep the deficit from being even bigger, but he allowed the Beleskey goal that seemed to be the start of breaking the Blues' backs, and those goals have been evident from not only Elliott but Jaroslav Halak as well.

After a Blues turnover early in the second period, Elliott appeared to have Beleskey's shot from the left circle, but the puck crawled over the Blues goalie and trickled into the net for a 2-0 Anaheim advantage 2:27 into the period.

"It was a hard shot. I tried to squeeze it," Elliott said. "I thought I'd get the whistle. It's a goal you definitely want back. That's the game."

Alexander Steen's interference penalty led to Fowler's power-play goal, a slap shot from the left circle 9:13 into the second period to make it 3-0. Getzlaf earned an assist with his cross-ice pass, his 14th point in nine games.

For all intents and purposes, the game was over then.

"No life, nobody moving our feet, waiting until the third period to play hockey," Jackman said. "That's going to have to start with our big players, our leaders. You have to have something from every line contributing. Tonight throughout our lineup, we were dead in the first two periods and then finally showed some life. It's too little, too late."

The Blues made it interesting in the third period. It wasn't enough.

"The third period maybe they started to get tired from the game [Friday] traveling and we started to step on the gas, but a three-goal deficit in this league against any team is tough and against the good teams, it's a real tall order," Backes said. 

"Hopefully that third period, we can gain something out of that and say that's where we start on our first drop of the puck in Detroit on Monday."

Jackman thwarted Andersen's first career shutout bid by firing a wrister past a screened Andersen into the near side at 9:12 to make it a 3-1 game. 

Schwartz scored his 16th of the season when he banked a puck from the side of the net off Andersen on the power play with 5:29 remaining, but the Ducks were able to hold on after Andersen stopped T.J. Oshie's shot from the right circle with 2.6 seconds remaining.

They're a good team and they came at us and got up," Elliott said. "It's tough to come back. We did a good job in the third period trying to and came up short.

"We knew that if we could keep going and keep our heads about us, we could come back. They played back-to-back so you definitely want to keep chugging along. I thought we did a good job of that and came up short at the end."
(St. Louis Blues/Mark Buckner)
T.J. Oshie (left) and Jaden Schwartz celebrate Schwartz's goal in the third
period against the Anaheim Ducks Saturday. The Blues lost 3-2.

The Blues are getting good, consistent play from the same people game in, game out. But there are too many right now that seem to be derailing the train and the process finds a way to go awry. The Blues couldn't even get energized by the return of Alexander Steen, who missed the past 11 games with a concussion.

"You've got to play the game on your toes," Hitchcock said. "You've got to initiate, you've got to have everybody engaged. It's hard to initiate when the puck keeps coming back at you. When you turn the puck over like we turned the puck over -- in the neutral zone -- you can't build any momentum. You're on your heels all the time. That's what we did. We turned the puck over, we got beat back into our zone because of it. It's hard to build momentum on that stuff. That's what we're doing. We're not managing the puck very well and it's allowing the other team to play on their toes. That's what's happening. We're having tentative starts because of that. When you manage the puck properly, good things happen, which is exactly what we did in the back half of the second period and in the third period. We managed the puck better, we created momentum, they were on their heels, they couldn't get out. But you can't play 30 minutes like that and dig yourself a hole. When you don't manage the puck well, especially against top teams, they burn you, and that's what's happening.

"We're a team right now that needs everybody engaged. We need four lines, six defensemen playing to their potential and both goalies playing well. We're not the kind of team that can have one or two people carry us. We need everybody engaged. Right now, we don't have everybody engaged. We've got too many cracks and holes in our game right now and maybe against a lesser opponent, we can win but not against significant opponents. That's what's happened. We don't have enough players playing well and  that's our job, to find a way to get more players playing better hockey. One of the problems we're having is we have the same players playing really well, night in, night out. We all know who they are. They're playing exceptional, but we need way more people playing that way if we're going to win hockey games."

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