Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Blues' slide continues with 5-3 loss to Jets

Loss was sixth in last seven at Scottrade Center, fifth in 
sixth overall; St. Louis barely holding onto wildcard berth

ST. LOUIS -- The way the month of January ended for the Blues was a microcosm of just how badly things have gotten. 

And in the process, it's got the Blues hanging onto a Stanley Cup Playoff berth by the skin of their teeth.

The Blues claimed good things happened coming out of the All-Star break in their first game, but the result was much the same.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues defenseman Colton Parayko (55) checks Jets forward Adam Lowry
during a 5-3 loss on home ice on Tuesday.

A 5-3 loss to the Winnipeg Jets on Tuesday at Scottrade Center, the Blues' sixth loss in seven games on home ice (1-6-0) at Scottrade Center and five of six overall to drop their record to 24-21-5.

In the process, the Blues have dropped into the second wildcard in the Western Conference, and they're tied with the Calgary Flames by virtue of fewer games played (two). The Jets, Dallas Stars and Vancouver Canucks are all one point back, and the Blues failed to gain ground on third in the Central Division, currently held by the Nashville Predators, who lost 4-2 at Pittsburgh on Tuesday. The Blues are three points back.

"We know the situation, we know where we are," said Blues captain Alex Pietrangelo, who had a goal and two assists. "We feel like if we get to our game, we have the opportunity to win. So there's going to be nights like tonight where we play in good spurts and we don't win. Was that our best game? No. But I thought we did a lot of good things. We've still got to find a way to win a hockey game here. That's what we're paid to do, we're paid to win and we've got to find a way to do it."

Jake Allen allowed four goals on 23 shots in his return for the Blues. 

Allen, making his first start since Jan. 19, has allowed at least three goals in seven of his past eight starts. 

"I felt pretty good, honestly," Allen said. "It wasn't the result we wanted, but for my sake, I honestly felt pretty good.

"... Yeah, no question. I felt solid out there, I wasn't chasing the game, you know. Maybe would've liked to try to seal a little bit better on (Patrik Laine's) goal, but other than that, I felt pretty good."  

Mark Scheifele and Blake Wheeler each had a goal and two assists, and Laine, Nikolaj Ehlers and Jacob Trouba scored for the Jets, who opened a three-game road trip. Ondrej Pavelec made 24 saves.

Vladimir Tarasenko had a goal and an assist and Alexander Steen scored for St. Louis.

"We made mistakes and we're paying for them right now," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. "We've got to minimize our mistakes. We've got to get more players playing to the same level that some of the guys played at today. There was some really good performances by some people today. We just have to get more people doing it.

"We had some people who played really well tonight. We had some guys that really played today."

Included in that group for Hitchcock included Patrik Berglund's line with Robby Fabbri and Nail Yakupov, and Jaden Schwartz and Tarasenko.

"Really good. Bergy's line was good, Lehtera's line ... Schwartz was excellent, Tarasenko played very hard," Hitchcock said. "There's a lot of good stuff there."

But not good enough from a number of others.

The Blues scored first at home for the first time in the past nine games when Steen's shot caromed off the left skate of Jets defenseman Josh Morrissey in the slot at 3:37 of the first period for a 1-0 lead.

It was a period in which the Blues should have exited with a lead and have a good feeling moving forward.

But as has been the case, late-period goals against come back and bite and take away the Blues' luster. And it comes as a result of poor judgment.

The Jets tied it 1-1 with 30.6 seconds left in the first on Scheifele's 23rd after an outlet pass during 4-on-4 play by Toby Enstrom, followed by a give-and-go with Wheeler.

On the play, Pietrangelo flipped a puck to Paul Stastny and instead of playing it safe and holding his ground, he pushed forward as the front man, Stastny made a bad pass that got intercepted and the Jets were able to execute an outlet that turned into a 2-on-1.

"That's a mess-up, especially on my part there at the end of the first," Pietrangelo said. "But we crawled our way back. We got down there and then we started playing the game we wanted to play. But obviously I've got to be better on that play, can't let that one happen."

The lost momentum carried into the second when Laine scored his 23rd goal 22 seconds into the second period to make it 2-1.

Defenseman Jay Bouwmeester lost a winnable board battle with Morrissey, Scheifele came in and found Laine in the slot and he beat Allen five-hole.

"We made two mistakes; we got scored twice 4-on-4," Hitchcock said. "And on the 4-on-4, both times we had the puck. We doubled in back in the zone and didn't back up a defenseman on the first goal and we got beat off the boards on the second goal. 

"We played a great second period and their fourth goal was a seeing-eye dog." 

After a Stastny tripping penalty Ehlers scored at 5:53, seven seconds after a power play started to make it 3-1 after Bryan Little won an offensive zone faceoff with Jori Lehtera, and Ehlers then was able to maneuver around Lehtera before snapping a shot from the right circle high far side past Allen.

Fabbri made the save of the game when he denied a Nic Petan shot from the slot into a seemingly empty net with 7:09 left in the second from making it a 4-1 game.

Tarasenko scored with 52 seconds left in the second to cut the Jets lead to 3-2 after a perfectly executed give-and-go with Schwartz, but Trouba made it 4-2 after his pass caromed off Pietrangelo and past Allen at 3:33 of the third period.

It was another lost puck when David Perron was stripped of the puck at the red line in the neutral zone.

"A turnover in the third period, that was a 4-on-2 back at us," Hitchcock said. "We turned it over in the neutral zone at center ice and puck's back down our throat. I know it was a deflected puck, but still, it's a 4-on-2 we gave up off of us on possession. Three of the goals we had the puck, power play goal was a power play goal. Three of the goals, we had the puck.

"... The odd-man rushes in the first period were the ones that bothered me the most. Those are defendable. Those are the ones we've got to clean up. We got scored on, we could have got scored on on another one. Those are the ones we've got to clean up. If we clean up the odd-man rushes, we'll give ourselves a better chance." 
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues center Ivan Barbashev (49) pursues Jets defenseman Jacob Trouba
near the Winnipeg goal on Tuesday. 

Pietrangelo made it 4-3 with 12.2 seconds remaining with Allen pulled for a sixth skater, but Wheeler scored into an empty net with 2.3 remaining to make it 5-3.

"I think we did a lot of good things today," Berglund said. "I thought it was an emotional game and just a hard fought game. Honestly we wanted to come out on top.

"... We've been very successful the past couple years. Right now it's just one of those seasons when it goes really up and down all the time, and we have a hard time finding momentum through a bunch of games in a row. It's just on us. We have to correct it. We have to compete harder and we've got to just play better hockey. I don't know how to say it. It's on us. We've just got to step up and play better."

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