Thursday, January 19, 2017

Allen's struggles continue in 7-3 loss to Capitals

Goalie pulled for third straight game, fourth in six; Blues fall for third straight time at Scottrade Center, fifth in six games here; Steen, Schwartz have three-point games

ST. LOUIS -- The Blues felt they saw enough from Jake Allen this past week to feel he's ready to take the cage again.

Allen had been pulled from his past two starts and three of the past five and watched Carter Hutton have two solid outings before he lost on Tuesday.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues goalie Jake Allen crosses paths with teammate Carter Hutton after
being pulled from Thursday's 7-3 loss to Washington.

As far as game action is concerned, nothing changed for Allen on Thursday; he was pulled for a third straight game after allowing four goals on 10 shots, and the blazing-hot Washington Capitals feasted on the Blues and their shoddy goaltending in a 7-3 victory, sending St. Louis to their third straight home loss and fifth in the past six at Scottrade Center.

In the past three starts, Allen has allowed 10 goals on 36 shots and has a .722 save percentage, and in losing three straight at Scottrade Center, the Blues (23-18-5) have allowed 18 goals, or six per game. 

"I don't know how far it sets him back, but everything we needed to see we saw at practice," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said of Allen. "There's a lot going on right now. There's a lot in his head. He's kind of locked up mentally and he's going to have to fight through this. It's like any athlete, he's going to have to fight through this. What we see at practice, we like. That's why we put him in quite frankly. 

"We know right now we're going to need way better just to be competitive. They know that, we know that. Beating it up any more isn't going to do us any good, but we've got to get him unlocked. He's just locked right up. If we can get help him get unlocked, then that's what you do. That's part of coaching. Nobody anticipated this. Nobody on our team, nobody in our city anticipated this, but we've got it and we're going to have to figure it out because there's no help wagon coming. We're going to have to do this ourselves to figure it out. He's going to have to figure it out to make himself stronger, and we're going to have to figure it out how we can help him, but right now, he's locked up."

Players refuse to lay blame on strictly goaltending.

"This is a team. There’s no individuals," Blues captain Alex Pietrangelo said, not pointing fingers directly at the goaltending. "This is a team. It’s got to come from in this locker room. It’s a collective effort. Right now, it needs to be better."

The Capitals, 10-0-2 in their past 12 games, got goals from seven different players and chased Allen twice from the game. It was the second straight game that Washington scored seven goals; the Capitals lost to the Pittsburgh Penguins 8-7 in overtime Monday.

Allen allowed two goals on three shots in the first 7:41 of the game and was replaced by Hutton for 2:22; he re-entered the game and departed again after allowing his fourth goal to Brett Connolly 7:33 into the second that made it 4-1. It was the third straight start Allen was pulled from.

T.J. Oshie and Evgeny Kuznetzov each had a goal and an assist, and Andre Burakovsky, Jay Beagle, Marcus Johansson and Justin Williams also scored for the Capitals (30-9-6). Braden Holtby made 22 saves.

The Capitals have scored five or more goals in five straight games and in eight of the past 11.

Alexander Steen had two goals and an assist, and Jaden Schwartz had a goal and two assists. Hutton allowed three goals on eight shots, and now combined with Allen, the Blues are last in the NHL in save percentage at .878, and they're 26th in goals allowed at 3.07.

Players won't admit it, but when their last line of defense continues to spring leaks, there becomes a trust factor with the skaters on the ice, and when that happens, it tends to overcompensate things in other areas.

"I think one of the things that happens when you're not trusting yourself defensively is that you overwork from the red-line in and you underwork from the red-line back," Hitchcock said. "And I think that's the one thing we've been guilty of. We're overworking, we're trying to keep pucks in, we're forcing a lot of things to try to keep it from coming into our end and then when it is, we don't have the energy to play defense. If you look at three of the goals today, they were scored in the slot with time. Bizarre things, people losing sticks, trying to stay on the forecheck, trying to not let it come in, somebody falling down on a simple 1-on-1. A lot of it is because we're just trying everything we can to not get scored on, or shots on goal. One of the things we're doing that's not helping us is we're trying to throw the big bombs from the red-line in. We're just flat overworking and not allowing ourselves to be patient in our positional play from the red-line back."

Burakovsky scored at 5:37 of the first period to make it 1-0 from a bad angle that got through Allen, and by allowing the first goal again, it marked the eighth straight game in which the Blues have allowed the first goal on home ice, which forces their hand at playing catch-up hockey.

"You never want to see a guy struggle like that," said Holtby, who improved to 5-0 in his career against the Blues. "He's not going to break down. He'll be back on the top of his game. As a fellow player/goalie, you want to win, but you don't want to see mental struggles like his."

But when Beagle made it 2-0 at 7:41 on a shot from the slot after Carl Gunnarsson lost the race and puck battle behind the Blues' net to Tom Wilson, Allen was pulled for Hutton, who made one save before re-entering with 9:57 remaining in the period.

And it was a period the Blues, who had 20 shot attempts to the Capitals' nine, were the better team.

"First period's the best period we've played in a long time," Hitchcock said. "Outstanding. Every aspect of it was everything we wanted. And ... the goals go in and then you start pressing."

Schwartz cut the Washington lead to 2-1, 19 seconds into the second in a seemingly harmless wrister through traffic, including Steen in front, but Oshie scored at 3:57  off a passing play after Patrik Berglund lost his stick in the offensive zone, tried to get to the bench to retrieve another one instead of simply getting another forward on the ice and was late in coverage. Robert Bortuzzo poke-checked Ovechkin, but Nicklas Backstrom found Oshie in the slot and he made it 3-1 before Connolly chased Allen with a breakaway goal after Gunnarsson fell down trying to retreat into position after an outlet pass off the boards, and Hutton was promptly greeted 11 seconds later with Johansson's goal from the slot after Berglund lost it in the zone after he fell down.

The goals came at 7:33 and 7:44 to make it 5-1.

"There's not much I can say other than we have to go to value ... if we continue to play the way we did until the fourth goal goes in, we've got to be happy with that," Hitchcock said. "It's a good team we played against, but it went south when it went to 4-1."

Williams added a power-play goal at 13:30 of the second to make it 6-1 on a shot from the slot, giving the Capitals, who had 18 shots and seven goals for the game, six goals on 16 shots through two periods.

Kuznetzov made it 7-1 at 6:20 of the third period, but Steen scored at 10:00 to make it 7-2, and again at 16:25 to make it 7-3.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues captain Alex Pietrangelo, being chased by the Capitals' Daniel
Winnik, said the Blues need more from everyone after 7-3 loss.

The Blues, who don't have any options right now other than to perhaps recall a goalie from the Chicago Wolves, have to find a solution, and do so fast. With Nashville's 4-3 win at Calgary on Thursday, the Predators trail the Blues by just two points for that important third place position in the division.

"This is the NHL; we're in for points," Hitchcock said. "We've got to figure what our next step is, but first we've got to get the unlocking going on. We've got to get that figured out."

"We can't really put the finger on one specific thing," defenseman Colton Parayko said. "Obviously giving up seven, there's more than one thing. I think it's a collective effort and it's something we're going to have to figure out here if we want to turn this around and become a contender."

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