Friday, December 30, 2016

Blues close out pre-Winter Classic schedule with 4-0 thud against Predators

Players claim there are no distractions, were outplayed 
in all facets; face Blackhawks Monday at Busch Stadium

ST. LOUIS -- The Blues said all the right things this week about not making the 2017 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic a distraction.

And judging by a 6-3 victory against the Philadelphia Flyers on Wednesday, the Blues displayed all the reasons why they had tunnel vision.

But then Friday happened, a 4-0 lackluster loss to the Nashville Predators before 19,483 at Scottrade Center where the Blues (19-13-5) showed very little after the first period other than getting out of the game unscathed and begin the final stages of their first outdoor game.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues goalie Carter Hutton makes a save in front of Nashville's Mike
Fisher and teammate Jay Bouwmeester on Friday at Scottrade Center.

"Maybe but not myself, no. Other guys, no, because it is a couple of days (away)," Blues center Paul Stastny said of any potential distractions. "If it was right away, but with two days between, you've got a lot of time. You want to have a good game because then you've got those two days to think about it. You always want to play well because ... you're only as good as your last game, that's all you have in the back of your mind. 

"No, I don't know, just flat. You saw it, we saw it. It's frustrating. We get down a goal and then we start playing three forwards by ourselves, we try to play two defensemen by themselves. When we get away from it, I think we get away from each other and that's the worst thing that happens to us. When we're coming back for each other, and we're supporting each other, we play a lot better. When we play too spread out, we're trying to do too much and we isolate ourselves. A team like that, that can move well, they just jump on top of you." 

And considering the Predators (16-14-6) played the night before, a tough 3-2 loss to the Chicago Blackhawks, the Blues seemed to be the ones on their heels and the Predators initiating the play.

Rookie Jusse Saros made 25 saves for his first NHL shutout, and he was supported by second-period goals by Yannick Weber, Filip Forsberg and Viktor Arvidsson for the Predators, who ended a three-game losing streak by winning their third straight road game. 

Saros played his seventh NHL game. 

"I just think we got outplayed today. It's one game," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. "We played awful well at home, but we got outplayed today. They were hungry, they were desperate, they played very well last night and lost. They were hungry. They played for the kid in goal, the kid was great in goal, he played great early, he played great late. They outworked us at the puck. They played right through us at times and I think we got some frustration because of that. We had great focus early, did a really good job and after the second goal, we lost our focus. We lost our energy and we lost our focus and we haven't done that at home at all. That's the first time we've done it for a long time at home. Disappointing."

The Blues (19-13-5) host the Chicago Blackhawks in the 2017 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic at Busch Stadium on Monday (noon; NBC, KMOX 1120-AM).

"No, we're not going to use that as an excuse," Blues captain Alex Pietrangelo said. "We've been going about our business as normal."

Added forward Alexander Steen: "No, we know the schedule. We knew we had these ... their tough divisional games. These games against Nashville, Minny and Chicago, even Winnipeg and Dallas, they're always hard-fought games. Tonight they played better than us, plain and simple."

Weber scored his first of the season, and first in 81 games, on a wrist shot to give the Predators a 1-0 lead at 4:52. 

Forsberg scored a power-play goal at 7:26 to make it 2-0, and Arvidsson got around defenseman Jay Bouwmeester and Jake Allen's poke-check to make it 3-0 at 17:36. 

"We really hit the skids when it went 2-0," Hitchcock said. "Lost our energy and lost our focus. I don't know. Disappointing. We played like there was a lot of really good things in the first period. Power play was creating chances, we got a lot of pucks deep, we did a lot of the things we talked about. Followed the plan and did a really good job and it's still 0-0, so you're right there. We made a bunch of mistakes on the first goal and can't take the penalties we took on the second goal; it really put us in a tough spot. When it went 2-0, we really seemed to lose our energy."

Allen made 11 saves and was replaced at the start of the third period by Carter Hutton, who made eight saves on nine shots.

"It was 3-0, we needed a spark," Hitchcock said. "'Hutts' was good." 

Colin Wilson scored a power-play goal from the left circle at 8:08 of the third off a rebound.

It's the first time the Blues have been shut out on home ice since Nov. 3, 2015 (3-0 against the Los Angeles Kings), but there's an underlying theme here also: the Blues have not won two games in a row since winning on Nov. 26 and 28.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues center Paul Stastny (26) tries to get away with the puck from
Predators defenseman Roman Josi during a 4-0 loss on Friday.

"I think that tells you a lot," Hitchcock said. "Obviously we have to put a lot more into it. If we expect to win on a regular basis, we're going to have to have way better 5-on-5 play than the way we're playing right now. We're sitting there relying on our power play, relying on our penalty kill to win hockey games, our 5-on-5 play has to get way better. We just have to create more, we've got to give up less. Our 5-on-5 play in the second half of the season drives the bus and you just can't keep living.

"The game before we had an advantage on the special teams, we did a great job on the power play, did a great job killing penalties and today we were on the minus side of things. You just can't keep living on special teams. Our 5-on-5 play has to get a lot better."

"If I had a reason, I'd tell you, but I don't have an answer," Pietrangelo said. "The only thing I can say is we've got to simplify. We've got to keep it as simple as possible for five minutes to change the momentum. That's what we've got to do."

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