Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Blues fall to Predators 3-2 on shorthanded goal

Weber's second of the game midway through third period spoils Elliott's return

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The Blues were looking for back to back strong performances in as many nights, and with their No. 1 goalie back in the fold, they felt like their chances were pretty strong.

But these Nashville Predators, coached by Peter Laviolette and out of the defensive-minded days of Barry Trotz, continue to defy the odds.

Simply put, Nashville will not go away. In coach Ken Hitchcock's words, the Predators knocked the Blues off the puck the entire game.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues goalie Brian Elliott (right) squares up to make one of 44 saves made
on Tuesday during a 3-2 loss to the Nashville Predators.

Shea Weber scored twice, including the tie-breaking shorthanded goal midway through the third period proved to be the difference in a 3-2 victory against the Blues Tuesday at Bridgestone Arena.

The Blues (22-12-3) certainly didn't give Elliott a break as far as action. In his first game since Nov. 25 after sustaining a knee sprain, Elliott faced 47 shots, a season-high allowed by the Blues. 

And with a tie game against a division rival with two crucial points on the line, the Blues allowed the first shorthanded goal of the season off a 2-on-1 rush with a pair of defensemen in Weber and Roman Josi.

Josi fed Weber rushing in and he fired a shot over Elliott's right shoulder 9 minutes, 2 seconds into the third that proved to be the difference.

"They earned them," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said of Nashville's goals. "They weren't coverage breakdowns. They were compete breakdowns. They knocked us off the puck. 

"The 2-on-1, they knocked us off the puck in their own zone, the winning goal. Their guy did a good job pushing us into the pile and got a 2-on-1 and made a great play.

"They use (shot volume) as a forechecking tool. I don't want to get involved in the shot total. They're a little bit unrealistic, but they use it as a forechecking tool."

Elliott said he was trying to read the play, with forward Alexander Steen defending. Vladimir Tarasenko couldn't catch up to the speedy Josi to even the numbers out.

"You're reading everything," Elliott said. "The pass wasn't flat and he kind of cradled the puck and it went right up on end. Just roofed it right as soon as he shot it. Those are the ones you really can't read when they're kind of on end. They worked to get their chances, but our power play, we can't get scored on like that, especially in that critical time of the game."

Elliott, who made some key saves throughout the game, felt pretty good afterwards.

"It's one way to get back into it, getting a lot of rubber," Elliott said. "It's probably not the game we wanted to play, but they came at us and we knew what to expect. Personally, I felt pretty good. I felt pretty comfortable in net. Trusting of everything in my game. It's tough we didn't get the result we wanted. 

"I was seeing through a crowd, picking things up and trying to control rebounds. Hopefully it only gets better for me."

The Blues were outshot 47-28 and after both teams played Monday, Nashville was able to limit the Blues' offensive zone time pretty much throughout the game.

"They knocked us off the puck a lot," Hitchcock said of the Predators, who improved to 24-9-3. "They were more determined at the puck than we were. That was the big difference in the game.

"To play a game like this, you've got to really simplify it. You've got to really have a simple game plan and we didn't have that."

"Even when we get pucks deep and check it back, it seemed like either they were forcing us to move it or knock it off our sticks or we were moving it voluntarily and they were getting possession, breaking out way too easily," captain David Backes said. "We just need that sustained zone time and wear teams out, build that offensive momentum. It's a great place to play defense from in their zone."

Weber's one-timer top shelf off the back of the pipe gave Nashville a 1-0 lead with 1:55 left in the first period off a feed from behind the net from Olli Jokinen. 

At the other end, Steen and Paul Gaustad were mixing it up as play continued, and there was room for Weber to come in from the point and take the pass that beat Elliott glove side.

The Blues gathered it in during the second period, getting goals from Butler and Oshie.

Butler's second goal in as many games -- he went 65 straight without a goal -- came after Backes won a faceoff, and Butler's shot from the left point changed direction  past Pekka Rinne 50 seconds into the period to tie the game 1-1.

It was the Blues' first road goal in 107:51, dating back to Dec. 20 on Steve Ott's goal at San Jose with 2:39 remaining in the second period.

Oshie put the Blues ahead 2-1 on a clinic of passing between he and Backes, as they went back and forth to each other twice before Oshie deposited the puck into an empty side with 5:21 left in the period.

But the Predators came back and thought they had the tying goal off the stick of Filip Forsberg, who's shot trickled over Elliott and was a hair from going in, but the officials waved it off. After a lengthy review, the Situation Room in Toronto deemed video review inconclusive and said the call on the ice stood with 3:57 left in the period.

However, the Predators got the tying goal from Bourque, after Paul Gaustad won an offensive zone faceoff and Elliott stopped Jokinen's shot, but Bourque got around Jay Bouwmeester and put the rebound in three seconds after the waved off goal to tie the game 2-2. 

It was an inopportune time for the Blues to give the break they got right back.

"You get that break, you need to take that as a momentum-builder for you and continue that momentum downhill for us," Backes said. "Three seconds later, they're scoring and it's like the replay never happened and we're at center ice and they've got the momentum again. But we don't curl into a ball. It's a 2-2 game at the end of two. We've got a tie game on the road in the third period with a great division rival. We need to bear down, dig in and find a way. Tonight, it's a shorthanded goal that's the difference, but same story, we're not managing the puck really well and they're making us pay and doing the right things."

The Blues had pucks towards the goal late, and nearly got the equalizer off a scramble but the puck squirted wide of the goal.

"We had chances," Butler said. "... I don't think we generated enough as a group. We didn't do enough job attacking as groups of five. We had a lot of even-man rushes. 

"You can't give up almost 50 shots a game and expect a positive result. ... Tonight maybe wasn't our best effort outside of Ells, who was phenomenal. You go from practice work to come into a game and getting peppered like he did tonight. I think you obviously saw their game plan was to throw everything at him. They knew he hasn't played in a while. He answered the bell for us and was phenomenal."

Backes agreed.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues' Vladimir Tarasenko (91) tries to break away from Nashville's Mike
Fisher during play Tuesday night in Nashville. The Predators won 3-2.

"He was the Ells we know," Backes said. "He was solid in there and made a lot of big saves. It's unfortunate we couldn't get him one or two more to make it more of a happy flight and let his return be a little more enjoyable.

"They put up almost 50 shots on us. I think we did pretty good job of limiting those to perimeter shots, but the three goals they get are on breakdowns, which a lot of teams are going to make good on. They didn't hesitate to put them in the back of our net."

The Blues will be off on New Year's Eve before resuming practice Thursday and then they'll head west for three more road games, beginning Friday at Anaheim, Saturday at San Jose and Jan. 6 at Arizona, then come home for a seven-game homestand.

They're 9-8-2 away from Scottrade Center and have lost four of five games (1-3-1). 

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