Monday, March 30, 2015

Listless Blues fall to Canucks 4-1

Another error-prone, mistake-filled game 
prevents St. Louis from clinching playoff spot

ST. LOUIS -- The groundwork for motivation was laid in front of the Blues on Monday.

Win and you're in.

As in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

But the motivation for the Blues should have come a while back, around the time teams around them in the standings began ratcheting up their intensity and desperation level.

Instead, a disheartening 4-1 loss to the Vancouver Canucks on Monday was another stark reason of why the Blues are once again slumping at the wrong time.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Olli Jokinen picked up his first point with the Blues in a
4-1 loss to Vancouver on Monday.

The slumping Blues (46-23-7, 99 points) remain three points behind the Nashville Predators for first in the Central Division. Their hold on second place is down to one point and on the Blackhawks and four ahead of the Minnesota Wild. It's in serious peril.

It was a quiet locker room afterwards, and the Blues were left to answer questions of why things are spiraling downward.

But as teams are making that playoff push, the Blues are making mistakes on the ice -- grave errors -- and teams are pouncing on each blunder.

Whether it's a lack of communication, indecision, second-guessing, whatever, the Blues need to find the proper tonic fast.

"It's hard to say. There are so many things," said defenseman Zbynek Michalek, who scored his first goal with the Blues. "I don't think there's one good thing about our game right now. We need to look in the mirror and start playing as a team. Right now, it just seems like everybody's going different things. We need to get on the same page, play for one another. Right now, it's not good enough.

"This late in the season, you want to build your game, play a good game so you can get your confidence going into the playoffs and right now, we're doing the exact opposite. We've got to regroup here, take a couple days and make sure we come out with a much better effort."

Making matters worse for the Blues, they lost leading scorer Vladimir Tarasenko, who was tripped 8:08 into the third period by Canucks defenseman Kevin Bieksa. Tarasenko skated to the dressing room and did not return. Blues coach Ken Hitchcock, who had nothing new to report on Tarasenko other than to say he'll be evaluated on Tuesday, was not at a loss for words after the game regarding his flailing team.

"This is really effort-based," Hitchcock said. "This is really ... as the game went on, this is two games in a row now where quite frankly, we've lost a lot of board battles, we've been indecisive with the puck, we've been slow in our heads, and I think sometimes when you're slow in your head, any information you're getting is too much information. 

"We're playing slow. Everything we're doing is slow. We're surprised by pressure, we're surprised by getting checked, we're getting beat on board battles. This is your reaction to this time of the year. Your reaction to this time of the year, things are dialed up. We'll get another team Thursday the same, desperate, hungry hockey club, and if you don't match it, then any information you're getting is too much because you're overwhelmed. We have to increase our competitive level. It's not like we're giving up a million chances, but if we increase our competitive level, we'll increase our alertness. We're not alert right now. We're not alert as a group. We're very much a group that needs to be alert together on the ice and we're not alert; not on a consistent basis. We have stretches where it's really sound, other stretches where it's not good."

The "not good" portion began quickly in the second period. A horrendous line change resulted in the opening goal by Shawn Matthias, the third breakaway for the Canucks just five minutes into the period.

 Even when the Blues were able to tie it on Michalek's blast from the right point at 12:44, they surrendered the go-ahead goal by Nick Bonino 31 seconds later off another odd-man rush.

"The 2-on-1's a perfect example. We worked hard to tie it up and then the next goal we give up, it's a back-checking mistake," Hitchcock said. "That's Hockey 101 stuff."

A pinch in the offensive zone led to the Blues losing control of the puck in the third period and Radim Vrbata snapped a shot past Brian Elliott, who made 18 saves, for a 3-1 lead and ice the game.

The Blues, who did not score for the 10th straight game in the first period (a stretch that's reached 205 minutes, 40 seconds), have prided themselves on wearing teams down in the second and third periods. The downward spiral progressed this time around and there would be no answers.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues center Jori Lehtera (12) skates with his head down as a trio of 
Canucks celebrate a goal in Vancouver's 4-1 victory Monday.

"We're not desperate. We're not desperate," Hitchcock said. "Other teams are fighting for their lives to try to get in and we're not matching that. When you're not matching the level of tenacity on the ice, you're a step behind and right now, we're a step behind, and in some cases, two steps behind, whether it's in foot speed, thinking reacting, whatever, we're a step behind. We've got phases where we're right there playing really well, but we've got too much of our game where we're a step behind."

The Blues have a mandated off-day Tuesday. Perhaps getting away from the ice may help.

"Obviously we're having troubles breaking out of our little slump here," Elliott said. "We have a day off tomorrow, take some time to think about it and think about how much we want to invest, and come back ready to go.

"(The fans) are not happy, so I don't think anybody can be harder on themselves than the guys in this locker room. So, it doesn't really change how we feel. We're going to be not happy about how we played and how we lost, but they're the best fans in the league and they'll be behind us when we figure this out."

* NOTE -- The Blues' final game of the regular season against the Minnesota Wild on April 11 has been moved from 6:30 p.m to a 2 p.m. start to accommodate NBC.

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