Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Blues flounder again in 5-2 loss to Canadiens

St. Louis goes 1-3-0 on homestand, 4-5-0 in past nine games

ST. LOUIS -- Teams go through their ups and downs in a long, arduous 82-game season in the NHL.

It's safe to say the Blues are in one of those down spots that will take some creative posturing from the 23-man roster to get out of what ails them most in this recent stretch.

A team that's been dominant on home ice this season concluded a 1-3-0 stretch in a 5-2 loss to the Montreal Canadiens on Tuesday night at Scottrade Center that has players and coaches alike searching for the solutions.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
David Backes (right) scores past Montreal goalie Carey Price during the
Blues' 5-2 loss to the Canadiens on Tuesday night. 

The Blues (38-18-4), who now trail the Nashville Predators -- who won 5-1 against the Colorado Avalanche on Tuesday -- by nine points in the Central Division and coupled with the Chicago Blackhawks' 3-2 shootout win against the Florida Panthers, the Blues' lead against Chicago for second place in the division is down to three points.

But that's the least of the Blues' worries.

Their game has gone dormant, their confidence is shaken and it's past gut-check time. 

A day after saying all the right things in practice and making more tweaks to their top nine forwards, it was the same old stuff on Tuesday against the Eastern Conference's top team: turnovers, odd-man rushes, no sustained offensive zone pressure, odd-man rushes, poor puck decisions, odd-man rushes.

Oh, and more odd-man rushes.

"What we're doing is not paying any respect to checking," coach Ken Hitchcock said. "We're not paying any respect to defense, to managing the puck, to managing the proper way to playing. I don't care what the shots on goal are. When you give up as many odd-man rushes we we gave up in the last two games, we're showing no respect for what matters in the National Hockey League at this time. And in the offensive zone, the sense of urgency that we're not playing with, that we've played with all year is not there. That's why we don't score, that's why we don't get second and third chances, that's why we don't win the front of the net battles. Those combinations are lethal the wrong way." 

Alex Galchenyuk scored two goals and had an assist in his return to the Canadiens lineup. Galchenyuk, who missed the past two games because of the flu, had his first three-point game since his hat trick Dec. 16 against the Carolina Hurricanes. 

Carey Price made 27 saves and set a Canadiens record with his ninth consecutive road victory. 

Brendan Gallagher scored twice, and Michael Bournival scored for the Canadiens (39-16-5, 83 points), who won in St. Louis in regulation for the first time since March 10, 2007. P.K. Subban and Andrei Markov each had two assists.

The Canadiens moved past the New York Islanders into the top spot in the Eastern Conference with two games in hand, and Price broke a record he shared with Rogie Vachon set in 1968-69.

"It's pretty neat," Price said. "I think that speaks volumes of the character of our team and the way that we compete on the road. We're a very confident team when we go into an opposing team's building and we wind up playing the right way and we've been rewarded for it."

Price leads the NHL in goals-against average (1.91) and is second behind Pekka Rinne of the Nashville Predators in wins (34). Price has allowed more than two goals in a game once in the past 15.

The Blues (80 points) got a goal and an assist from T.J. Oshie, David Backes scored and Jake Allen made 18 saves.

The Blues fell to 4-5-0 in the past nine games. And now the onus falls on the leadership to be tested as much as it has since this group was put in place. 

"It's a collective group, it's a team game," Backes said. "You win as a team. We had a January that was fantastic, where we were getting accolades and we were spreading that around the team. Now we're in a little bit of a lull and a dip and we're going to shoulder the load as a group, and then the solution is spread between everybody as well. So lean on each other, make sure we're working and getting better every day so that we've got a road trip now where we're going to have to play tough teams on the road in their buildings and we need to bear down and play our game and simplify to get a win."

Galchenyuk gave the Canadiens a 1-0 lead when he deflected Subban's shot from the right point past Allen with 6:38 remaining in the first period. 

The Blues, who have been outscored 11-3 in the first period over their past 11 games, have allowed the first goal in eight straight home games. They failed to score in the first period in seven of those games and have gone nine straight home games without a lead after one period. 

Galchenyuk gave Montreal a 2-0 lead when he took Tomas Plekanec's faceoff win and took a wrist shot from a sharp angle that beat Allen on the short side 3:11 into the second. It was his 18th goal.

Backes cut Montreal's lead in half when he took Vladimir Tarasenko's pass in the slot and redirected the puck past Price 6:01 into the second for his 20th goal.

This is when one would think the Blues would turn the dial up a notch and grab the game. They've done it in the past. 

Key word: past.

Not so much in present time.

The Canadiens scored two goals in 49 seconds to go up 4-1, and it came as a result of careless puck play. 

Gallagher made it 3-1 when he took a snap shot that beat Allen with 4:11 left in the second off a 2-on-1 after Tarasenko's blind drop pass in the offensive zone was behind Jay Bouwmeester. 

Bournival. who was serving a penalty for roughing, came out of the box, took a pass from Galchenyuk and beat Allen upstairs on a breakaway with 3:22 left in the second.

"You have no control over the hockey game because of the scoring chances you give up off these odd-man rushes," Hitchcock said. "You work your way back in the game like we did today and give up the chances on casual puck play that we're giving up ... we're a team that's made a very good ... a lot great in-roads on playing a certain way and now we don't want to play that way, and we're not interested in playing the way that's been successful here. We want to play a different way right now and it's really, really hurting us." 

Hitchcock was asked from a coaching perspective why he feels the team wants to play a different way.

"I don't know. That's probably a question you should ask in the room because those directions aren't coming from us (coaches)," Hitchcock said. "Whatever's going on, since we've come back off the Florida road trip, we have not paid the healthy respect that we need to for what's important for our team to win hockey games. Not one bit."

Oshie's shot from the high slot got through traffic and past Price after a deflection off a Canadiens defenseman at 17:45 of the second to make it 4-2. It was Oshie's 17th goal. 

Gallagher scored his second of the game, 17th of the season, on Montreal's second power play of the game at 15:47 of the third period to make it 5-2.

Allen was left bewildered after the game.

"This time of year, that can't happen," Allen said. "I don't know, not just because I'm a goalie. If I was a forward, I'd say the same thing. You can't give up that many odd-man rushes. That's where they live and die. It's almost playoff hockey time now, time to go back and tighten things up a little bit.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
T.J. Oshie (right) tries to chase down Canadiens defenseman Nathan 
Beaulieu during the Blues' 5-2 home loss Tuesday night.

"It was a weird game, lot of point-blank shots; don't know how many shots they had. Majority didn't create much, but that's their game, that's the way they play, that's why they're the best team in the East."

Said defenseman Alex Pietrangelo: "It's that time of year. If you're a step slow, you're giving up breakaways and odd-man rushes, stuff that's a little bit uncharacteristic of it.

"We're a little slow on our support, a little slow in our puck decisions and other teams are creating turnovers and they're getting those breaks."

When asked about the players saying all the right things after practice, Hitchcock wasn't buying it.

"Proof's in the pudding. Come on," he said. "It's something we need to address now."

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