Sunday, December 11, 2016

Wild puts clamps on Blues in 3-1 win

Despite strong game from Allen, St. Louis 
generated few chances in second loss on four-game trip

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- It was the kind of road game, which is so difficult to play anyway, that the Blues wanted.

Solid start, scoring chances, trying to build some momentum off the man-advantage.

It was everything the Blues wanted even though they were tied. However, not sustaining anything off a road period in which you're tied did them in, and the Minnesota Wild cashed in on two early second-period opportunities before putting away the Blues 3-1 on Sunday at Xcel Energy Center.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues goalie Jake Allen makes one of 22 saves on the Wild's Eric Staal but
it wasn't enough in a 3-1 Minnesota victory Sunday night.

The Blues (16-9-4), who are 1-2-0 on a four-game trip that wraps up Tuesday in Nashville, played a solid first period but couldn't score. They carried much of the play and outshot the Wild 11-6 but had nothing to show for it.

Matt Dumba scored early in the second, and Nino Niederreiter scored again and Minnesota (15-8-4) led 2-0 before the Blues made a push late in the second, only to be limited in the third before Mikael Granlund iced the victory for the Wild with an empty-net goal.

"I thought we got a little discouraged on the two quick goals, but I just thought they controlled the puck in the second half of the game," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. "We didn't start with it, we didn't have it enough, we chased it, lost a lot of draws and they controlled it in the offensive zone a little bit better. We did that to them the first part of the game, they did it to us the second. 

"All these games are right there, but we're not getting a big enough pushback against these teams that really check hard. They checked hard as the game wore on. We really checked them hard (early), but as the game wore on, they started to get a little bit control of it."

After the first, the Blues were outshot 19-12 the rest of the way, generating minimal scoring chances on Wild goalie Devan Dubnyk.

"I think periodically again, we played well," Blues right wing Alexander Steen said. "The story of the road this year has been a little bit of consistency throughout the games. This game, it's off of their goal; they get momentum, and then obviously the second one builds them a bit more and takes us a while to get back but we do regroup in the intermission and again, they're sitting on a lead and we're trying to come out and generate chances. 

"... I think they got some momentum after their first one and obviously the second, but we battled back. I thought we finished the period decently, but in the third period, they were playing the score a little but and we were just trying to get out chances."

Allen, who made 22 saves, had to make the save of the first period by stopping Eric Staal's breakaway attempt with 3 minutes, 31 seconds remaining. 

The Wild started quickly when Dumba scored 45 seconds into the second after being allowed easy zone entry, both Joel Edmundson and Colton Parayko allowed Dumba time and space and Dumba took it and wired a wrist shot top shelf to make it 1-0.

"It was like one of those plays where it's kind of like a 3-on-2," Parayko said. "If he's going to shoot out there, we're going to try and give the goalie the lane. ... I think it was kind of a weird shot. The puck came up on his stick and it was almost like a dropper. It was kind of a weird shot. It was maybe just a little too much time and space to give him.

"Just a lot of speed coming in. Just the shift of where the forwards are. So many things to read whereas forwards are coming back, where 'Eddy' is, where that guy's carrying the puck, where the other guys are looking to get the puck, things like that. A lot goes on so fast, but the main thing is to try and get them to shoot from a distance."

Allen called Dumba's shot a "Knuckle puck. I should have stopped it still."

Hitchcock said the mistake came earlier in the sequence.

"We gave up the middle of the ice," he said. "Forward coming on the ice (Vladimir Tarasenko) gave up the middle of the ice and (Dumba) had a lot of speed through the middle."

Niederreiter doubled the WIld's lead at 7:49 as he was allowed to skate from behind the Blues' net, Parayko maybe playing a little too far off of him, Dmitrij Jaskin came in with little resistance and Niederreiter curled and took a low shot past Allen near side with traffic in front.

"Turn around and yeah, just kind of puts one towards the net. It wasn't really a snipe, trying to shoot to score too much, but if you give guys time in this league, that's what's going to happen. You've just got to check harder in the d-zone.

"I was close to the puck, but good players make good plays and credit him, great play. Just got to be tighter checking."

The Blues picked it up again in the ladder stages of the period and got one back on Tarasenko's team-leading 14th goal. Robby Fabbri made the play, as he waited and waited for help off the bench and found Tarasenko with a backhand pass and he beat Dubnyk far blocker side with 4:12 remaining in the period to make it 2-1.

Defenseman Brad Hunt, playing his second game since being recalled from the Chicago Wolves of the American Hockey League, picked up an assist, his second in as many games.

But the Blues just didn't seem to get enough generated in the third with the game in the balance.

"We just ... our pushback wasn't strong enough today," Hitchcock said. "Their team did the same thing to Edmonton (Friday). They played really well in the third period when the game was on the line and they played really well in third period (Sunday). We never had the puck, never had the puck in the third period."

The Wild clamped down and harnessed the Blues.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
The Blues' Robby Fabbri (15) and Vladimir Tarasenko celebrate 
Tarasenko's goal in a 3-1 loss to the Minnesota Wild Sunday.

"These guys are a really good team," Allen said of the Wild. "We're going to have a battle with them the rest of the year however many times we play them left. I think they're one of the best in the league."

"Yeah, they play well with a lead. We knew that," Steen said. "We killed off a couple penalties in the third, but other than that, we're not sustaining enough time in the o-zone when we want to generate those chances. It was kind of one-and-done. One chance and then we were back in the neutral zone and back breaking it out. We've got to try and find ways to get the next line out there while we have them kind of pinned down a little bit and pressure them shift after shift instead of it being one shift, they get a couple off and then we come back at them again. We'll obviously talk about it. It's a tough team we played. I think 'Snake' was tremendous in net, gave us a chance to get points here tonight and we didn't. We'll have to get them in Nashville."

Allen, playing his fourth game in six days, gave the Blues a chance. He made some terrific saves throughout, including a Ryan Suter wrister from the high slot in the second, a Parise chance on the doorstep in the third and a Erik Haula wrister in the third as well.

"He played great. He played great," Hitchcock said of Allen. "Two goals ... you get two goals against on the road, you've got a chance to win."

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