Saturday, December 5, 2015

Leafs scored four unanswered to top Blues 4-1

Another lackluster result after St. Louis starts 
strong; Ott likely to miss time with lower-body injury

ST. LOUIS -- When Vladimir Tarasenko scored less than two minutes into the game Saturday, and then the Blues continued to pepper Toronto Maple Leafs goalie Garret Sparks, it had all the makings of the Blues getting on track doing the right things to win.

But when the Blues couldn't increase their one-goal lead, then things turned. And they turned for the wrong reasons.

The Blues got careless with the puck again, they turned pucks over, didn't win nearly enough puck battles, managed it poorly, failed to finish properly for the third game and defended poorly.

The result was a 4-1 loss to the lowly Toronto Maple Leafs on Saturday at Scottrade Center that had players and coaches once again searching for the right answers.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues' Robby Fabbri (15) gets tangled up with former Blues defenseman
Roman Polak on Saturday during Toronto's 4-1 victory at Scottrade Center.

The Blues (15-8-4), which lost its third in a row (0-2-1) and fifth in the past seven games (2-2-3), have gone through stretches under coach Ken Hitchcock where they've played poorly and go through a rough patch.

Consider this a rough patch.

The Blues have scored one goal in each of their last three games, Jake Allen made 25 saves before he was replaced by Brian Elliott after Toronto's third goal for 2 minutes, 18 seconds before coming back in the game.

But before all the mistakes and plethora of things that didn't need to happen happened, the lack of scoring has bitten this team in the behind. It cost them Friday in a 2-1 shootout loss to the New York Islanders; it cost them again against the 28th-ranked team in the NHL. 

"I think it's been hard all year, to be honest with you," Hitchcock said of the lack of scoring. "It's been one or two guys (scoring). It's been the same two or three people that have done it. 

"I think if you look at it, we do need a lot more help from other people, a lot more contribution from other people throughout the lineup, but it's been like that all year. We've had to live with that. We've had to live on this edge for a little while, and now the part that bothers me is we're leaving the edge. We played a definitive way and now we're getting away from it trying to create things that aren't there. It's the mental toughness to stay with it, to stay on the program, to demand that you stay on the program and I think good things happen. We're deviating from the program. As soon as we don't have success, we start deviating from the program."

It was Toronto's first win at St. Louis since Nov. 11, 2011 and the first time the Maple Leafs defeated the Blues in regulation since Feb. 6, 2007; St. Louis was 7-0-2 in that stretch.

The Blues had multiple chances to extend the first-period lead, but Garret Sparks, making his third NHL start, stopped a Paul Stastny chance with a sprawling left pad, then thwarted David Backes, who tried to beat Sparks five-hole on a breakaway after a line change.

"If we play the right way, that's the volume that we get over the course of the game," Backes said. "Even if you're shooting 10 percent, you're going to score four goals. We've just got to keep our nose to the grindstone and find that full 60-minute game because right now, 10 minutes to start, we're not going to blow teams away where they quit after 10 minutes. It just doesn't happen in this League."  

Instead, Nazem Kadri scored twice for Toronto (9-13-5), former Blue Brad Boyes and PA Parenteau scored and former Blues defenseman Roman Polak added two assists to rub salt wound into the faces of Blues fans, who are still lamenting Polak's trade to the Leafs in the summer of 2014.

"We played 15 minutes the right way, had all kinds of success and then refused to stay with it," Hitchcock said. "Figure out whatever term you want to use, but when you play that way, you don't respect the lines on the ice, you don't respect the deep game, you pay the price because of it. We're scoring one goal a game. We had a great start to keep up the pressure and then that wasn't good enough. We decided we wanted to play a different way. And by the time we decided to catch it back up, it was way too late." 

So why did the Blues want to change their play?

"I don't know why we want to get cute," Backes said. "We've built this thing for a long time on playing the right way and playing hard-nosed, blue-collar hockey of getting it in, grinding it out, occupying the 'O' zone, just wearing teams down til almost submission and we end up scoring three or four in the third period and run away with it. You start looking for an easier game, then start playing sideways and you end up in transition. You just can't make those mistakes. They made us pay for it time and time again. We still didn't get back to it even in the end. We've got to get together as a group and decide we're going to do the right things in order to have success and we better do that in a hurry because if you don't win on a nightly basis in the Central, you're sliding in a hurry."

Perhaps right wing Troy Brouwer has the answer.

"We stopped working," he said. "We were doing all the right things that we needed to do to succeed in the first 15 minutes of that first period. Getting pucks in, getting in on the forecheck, hemming them in their own zone, making good plays, making smart plays and then, I don't know, I think we thought the rest of the night was going to be a little bit easier. We decided to stop working in those tough areas, stop making those smart plays and they scored a late one in the first period and we just came out flat in the second period, which can't happen, especially for a team like us, who are trying to stay at the tops in our division and fight for our conference."

Boyes, who was screening Allen, tipped a Roman Polak shot from the right point at 6:11 of the second period to give Toronto the lead for good at 2-1. It was Polak's first multipoint game since Nov. 20, 2014 against the Tampa Bay Lightning. 

Parenteau's first goal in eight games came off a delayed penalty call after Tyler Bozak's shot was blocked in the slot and Parenteau came in and put a backhand five-hole at 8:57 for a 3-1 lead.   

Kadri's second of the game came off a 2-on-1 with the teams playing 4-on-4, and he beat Allen five-hole from in tight at 6:47 of the third period to make it 4-1. 

The Blues, a night after playing on the road, had the first six shots on goal, 10 of the first 12, and scored the first goal. 

Tarasenko's Blues-leading 15th goal came off a 2-on-1 passing play with Stastny. Tarasenko took the initial pass, skated into the slot and beat Sparks five-hole 1:51 into the game. 

Toronto tied the game late in the first when Allen couldn't handle Leo Komarov's initial shot. It was loose in the slot and popped to Kadri, who beat Allen with the rebound with 1:17 remaining in the first to make it 1-1.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk (22) looks to take a shot in front of Toronto
defenseman Jake Gardiner on Saturday.

The Blues are in perhaps the biggest month of the season in terms of collecting points and doing so on home ice with 11 games. Before those on the ship get nervous and tilts it in the wrong direction, this team will have to dig deep again and keep the boat from sinking.

"It might have been the best first 10 minutes of a game we've played," Backes said. "We were shooting pucks line after line, wave after wave and then we for some reason get off that game and look for something that's a little easier. ... When we didn't make solid plays going north, they made us pay in transition. We deserved to lose 4-1. We just didn't get back to that game that had us having the success of zone time and putting pucks in and making their 'D' go back for it time and time again. We hung Jake out to dry, who's been fantastic for us. He deserved a better effort in front of him and we didn't put it together."

* NOTES -- Left wing Steve Ott left the game in the first period with a lower-body injury and did not return.

Ott went for a check along the boards and crashed awkwardly. He needed help to the bench before leaving right at the end of the first.

"We'll know in the next couple days how long he'll be out," Hitchcock said, lending to the notion that Ott will miss some time.

Defenseman Colton Parayko played 19:26, one night after what looked like a serious injury to his right leg. But Parayko returned to that game against the Islanders on Friday and played with no restrictions Saturday.

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