Friday, October 24, 2014

Listless Blues drop second straight, 4-1 to Canucks

Vancouver scores three times on four third-period 
shots to give St. Louis third regulation loss in six games

ST. LOUIS -- This is a similar script from the recent past when the Blues played poorly, a culmination of a listless 4-1 loss to the Vancouver Canucks on Thursday.

No puck possession, a plethora of turnovers, lack of communication, poor positioning on the ice, giving up odd-man rushes ... and as coach Ken Hitchcock put it, "It's a recipe for disaster."

And the Blues, who dropped to 2-3-1 on the season with their second straight loss, right now are playing like a disaster waiting to happen.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues' Alexander Steen (20) and Kevin Shattenkirk celebrate Shattenkirk's
tying goal Thursday against the Vancouver Canucks. The Blues lost 4-1.

It started from the first minute of the game when Alex Pietrangelo mishandled a puck in the neutral zone and Vancouver's Chris Higgins converted a rebound off a 2-on-1 just 41 seconds into the game.

The Blues were down 1-0 and fighting from behind once again, just like Sunday in Anaheim when the Blues fell behind 1 minute, 37 seconds into a 3-0 loss.

"We're not playing the right way," Hitchcock said. "We've made a heck of a run here playing the right way; no odd-man rushes, no forced offense, don't give the puck away and make hope-for plays offensively. We've had a shoot-first mentality that's allowed us to be top-five in the league in scoring goals, but we don't want to play the right way. We want to play a different game right now, so until we buy into that, we're going to have some rough water we're going to have to go through, and that's what we're in right now. We're in rough water."

Which begs the question if the players right now are on the same page.

"We're on the same page," defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk insisted. "It's just we're not playing detailed. We're not playing disciplined and following our structure and doing what makes us good. We always hear 'Hitch' say it, put skill ahead of work and these are the results you get and that's a clear example of what we're doing right now."

The Blues, who have a handful of players dealing with sickness (they weren't using it as an excuse), were listed for four giveaways on the night, but Hitchcock said the coaching staff could count at least 20 turnovers between the blue lines. 

The Blues seemed to play hot potato with the puck. They didn't want it, and they didn't manage it well when they had it.

"We've given up more odd-man rushes in six hockey games than we did in two months last year. You can't win like that," Hitchcock said. "This is a wake-up call. The alarm bell is going off, but you've got to make sure that you can't have half the group buying in and the other half not. It's a real good eye-opener for us.

"When you show healthy respect for the three lines on the ice, good things happen, which is what we did in the second period, until we gave up a 2-on-1 (for the game-winning goal)."

The Blues, who fired 32 shots at former teammate Ryan Miller -- at times making him look like a Vezina trophy candidate, were on the wrong end of 23 shots blocked and another 12 mising the net.

But it wasn't so much the missed opportunities, including Jori Lehtera's effort that could have given the Blues a 2-1 lead in the third and led to the ensuing odd-man rush goal by Vancouver's Nick Bonino. It was the way the Blues defended when they didn't have the puck and the way they had to regroup after giving up pucks so easily.

"When you force offense and you play careless with the puck, you have defensemen that want to play ahead of the forwards, you end up with a recipe for disaster," Hitchcock said. "You look at the last two hockey games, that's a recipe for disaster. Odd-man rushes, breakaways against, forced activity rather than pushing up from behind the play. We're forcing the activity and it's costing us points. 

"The way we have to play for success, it's tough. It's hard playing that way. It's really hard playing that way ... but very successful. So the decision that the coaches have to sell and get the players to buy into is to play the right way. This isn't skill ahead of work. We're guilty of that sometimes. This is an attitude about making the next play, forcing the next play. This is really forcing offense and putting yourself in a very vulnerable position defensively because what happens is you're not on the same page. We need to get onto the same page and value checking. A big part of checking is managing the puck the right way. When we put the value system in that like we did in the second period, we were very good."

The Blues finally solved Miller in the second on their third power play when Shattenkirk wired a wrist shot from above the left faceoff dot high short side on Miller. They got it back to 1-1 and carried play in spurts looking to get the lead that never materialized.

"I don't think we can fool ourselves into thinking that we got it back," Shattenkirk said. "We got a power play goal that made it 1-1. We had some momentum, but we were still making some mistakes that are very uncharacteristic of our team. It's not good right now ... it's not good enough.

"Puck movement, puck support, communication. We have to really harp on these things tomorrow in practice and get it ready for Saturday because we're facing an even scarier opponent on Saturday. We won't be as fortunate to be coming out of that first period 1-0 against the (Chicago) Blackhawks if we play that way."

Lehtera took a terrific feed off a give-and-go with Vladimir Tarasenko, but Miller kicked out his left pad and thwarted the Blues' bid. The Canucks broke back as the Blues got caught out of position. A 2-on-1 ensued and Bonino snapped a wrister past Jake Allen, who stopped 19 shots, at the near post 4:54 into the third period.

The Canucks, who got a power play goal from Linden Vey and an empty-netter from Jannik Hansen later in the third, scored three goals on four shots in the final period.

"To me, the second goal is a perfect example of what we've done in the last two games," Hitchcock said. "To give up a 2-on-1 from that distance, that's not us. We don't give up breakaways. We don't force plays into the middle of the ice. We play a very wide offensive game and it's very effective, but we want to bring the puck into the middle and play flat-footed. You force the issue and become very easy to check. That's what we're doing right now."

It all started from the drop of the puck.

"Any time you have slow starts, it's you're not being prepared for whatever reason," defenseman Jay Bouwmeester said. "Letting things kind of snowball sometimes when something bad happens early. If you don't correct it right away or have a good shift after something, it kind of snowballs. We haven't done a very good job of just regrouping and really just playing the way we can at the start of games.

"Tonight was a frustrating night in the fact that we really didn't give ourselves a chance, even though we were in the game. Tied in the third period, that's not the way you want to end it at home."

Added Allen: "It's a 60-minute game and every minute counts. We started the game slow and found it a little bit, found it in the second and sort of tailed off again in the third. It's teams like that that can capitalize quick if you don't play a 60-minute game. It's tough to come out on top.

"The start's crucial. The first five minutes of every hockey game is big, big momentum swings. You want to be on the side of momentum. Unfortunately we had a bad break there, they capitalized on it and put us behind the Eight-ball quick."

So with practice Friday and the mighty Blackhawks coming to town Saturday in a foul mood off a 3-2 loss at Nashville Thursday, the Blues need a wake-up fast, or it might be more of the same.

"It's imperative that everyone watches your shifts, look in the mirror, see what they can do to help us have more success," captain David Backes said. "That's how we get better. Everyone needs to do a good self-evaluation, starting with myself for sure and see whatever else we can do to help the team starting with the puck drop on Saturday.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Former Blues goalie Ryan Miller came back to St. Louis to bite the hand
that once fed him with a 31-save performance in a 4-1 victory for the
Vancouver Canucks on Thursday.

"I think we're focused a little bit too much on that skill element that we think we all of the sudden have. We're a Blues hockey team ... we're going to play the way that the Blues play to be successful and that's hard-nosed and simple and hard and let our skill kick in when we get those chances in the hard areas; getting our noses dirty. We haven't found that game yet and the results have been some unsatisfying performances."

The Blues didn't drop their third game in regulation last season until Nov. 17 (19 games) when they started 13-3-3. But this 2014-15 team is not playing nowhere near last year's squad.

"We've been having a lot of meetings, and now it's enough time for talk and just getting to it and just doing it," Shattenkirk said. "It's a matter of taking actions now and going out there and setting examples, especially as leaders. We're not doing it and unfortunately, we have to realize when our top guys are having an off-night, which is going to happen, we all have to stand by them and other guys have to step up. That's something that we need to work on and get better at."

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