Sunday, February 25, 2018

Blues' failures continue as losing streak hits six games with 4-0 loss to Predators

Back-to-back shutouts first since end of 2013-14 season, losing streak longest 
since end of same season; confidence lacking with playoff hopes dimming

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Kyle Brodziak summed up the latest Blues loss to the Nashville Predators in eye-opening fashion.

"I think there's just a lot of guys who you just feel are not sure what to do, what we need to do," Brodziak said after another deflating loss, this time 4-0 at Bridgestone Arena in front of a national television audience on NBC.


Those aren't exactly words anyone wants to hear at this point with the Blues (34-25-4) in the midst of a six-game losing streak (0-5-1), their longest since the final six games of the 2013-14 season and first time they've been shut out in back-to-back games since the final two games of that 2013-14 season.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Predators goalie Pekka Rinne makes a save on Blues defenseman Colton
Parayko during Nashville's 4-0 win on Sunday at Bridgestone Arena.

But this is the state of the Blues right now, broken, fragile and lacking any ounce of confidence.

Oh, and there are 19 games remaining to try and somehow scrape enough together to make a playoff push.

When told of Brodziak's comments, Blues coach Mike Yeo said, "Well, we’ll have to help him with that. We can’t sit around and hope that something magical is going to happen. We’ve put ourselves in a hole and we’ve got to get ourselves out of it right now. It’s pretty simple … the way to make any changes that we need to make. But ultimately it’s going to come down to work, that’s the only way."

The Blues aren't scoring goals; they've gone 140:24 since Vladimir Tarasenko scored with 24 seconds remaining in the second period of a 3-2 loss to San Jose last Tuesday. Not only are they breaking down on the offensive end, but they're breaking down in the defensive end, and a team like the Predators (38-14-9), who look the part of a Stanley Cup contender once again, attacked at every spot, at every angle and pounced on a vulnerable opponent, sweeping the season series by winning all four games.

And it certainly defies description, doesn't it?

"It does, but we’re going to have to figure it out, that’s for sure," Yeo said.

Better figure it out fast.

The start was exactly what the Blues expected from the Predators, and still had no answer for it.

Defensively, too many gaps, shoddy execution, and Nashville took advantage of it twice and could have been more had goalie Jake Allen, who fell to 2-13-0 his past 15 starts, not made some key saves. 

Colton Sissons made it 1-0 just 4 minutes 45 seconds into the game after Carl Gunnarsson took a hooking penalty, leading to a power-play goal. It came off a play in which both forwards (Vladimir Sobotka and Brodziak) were casually getting back into the play leaving a seam. Sissons got a feed from Kyle Turris and snapped a shot high short side on Allen.

And on the second Nashville goal by Kevin Fiala, which was a nice shot bar down from the low slot, Alex Pietrangelo was caught up ice after he couldn't handle a puck sent to him in the corner, and the Predators turned it into a 2-on-1, with Jay Bouwmeester fending it but backing up on the play. Fiala never passed and finished at 14:21 of the first period after Gunnarsson left the ice, perhaps not knowing Pietrangelo lost possession of the puck, but created a vulnerable situation with the odd-man rush.

That pushback? Well, that's a foreign word in the Blues' locker room.

Much like Friday's 4-0 bludgeoning to the Winnipeg Jets, who gave the Blues a reprieve in the third period, the Blues wilted in the second period Sunday. And it was more mistakes, more misplays, more poor play.

Scott Hartnell made it 3-0 when the Blues just spectated another play after Ryan Ellis' point shot was stopped by Allen, but the loose puck just lay there and Calle Jarnkrok calmly picked it up, slid it to the slot where the puck caromed off Hartnell's skate at 1:20.

And on the Blues' power play, Pietrangelo's careless turnover of the puck turned into a breakaway for Austin Watson, that same Austin Watson who scored a shorthanded goal in the Blues' third-period collapse here 12 days ago, beat Allen at 13:24 to make it 4-0.

"I don't know. I think a lot of times maybe we're a little too in between trying to be aggressive, being over-aggressive at the wrong times," Brodziak said. "When you're losing a bunch of games in a row, sometimes it happens where you're not too sure what's going on and you start pressing. As a group, we've got to figure it out. Somehow, we've got to start scoring some goals and giving our goalies some help and at the same time, playing smarter so we're not giving up chances that we gave up tonight."

As for Allen, the record looks bad, but during those 13 losses, the Blues have given him a total of 16 goals of support, it 1.23 goals per game.

Hard to ask even the greatest of goaltenders to live up to that kind of support.

"Yeah, it's a loss for words, but like I said before, I think between the guys in here, we've got to find a way to get out of it," Blues center Paul Stastny said. "That starts with us top guys, leaders, all the way down. If we're not going to score goals, we're never going to give ourselves a chance to win. Whether it's 4-0 one game, 5-1 another game, it doesn't matter. It feels like when we get down 1-0, all of the sudden we tend to sit back on our heels a little bit and in a building like this, that's the worst thing you can do."

Stastny also weighed in on Brodziak's comments and doesn't feel it's a helpless issue.

"Not helpless, I think in times like this, you need everyone on the same page," he said. "It can be tough sometimes. I think sometimes you're trying to do more and you're trying to do too much for the other guy."
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues left wing Alexander Steen (20) tries to battle through the
check of Predators center Ryan Johansen on Sunday in Nashville.

As for the state of the team? Well, it's in dire straits, and with the clock ticking on the NHL's trade deadline at 2 p.m. (CT) on Monday, it appears more and more likely this group will have to be the group to get to the postseason.

"I know that the togetherness is high. I’m not worried about that," Yeo said. "The confidence is obviously the issue. The mistakes that you’re seeing are between the ears, the lack of scoring is obviously a big issue. You’re pressing, and then you’re missing nets and when you’re pressing, you’re doing things that are creating turnovers or creating chances against. I would say that that’s the biggest issue right there."

On a positive note, if one can find one, Yeo was pleased with newcomer Nikita Soshnikov's debut.

Soshnikov, acquired for a 2019 fourth-round pick on Feb. 15, played 15:27 and had two shots and four hits in the game.

"Good first game by him," Yeo said. "He brought speed, he brought competitiveness, made a few plays. I thought he fit in well. He was physical in the game, so it was a good first game for him."

Soshnikov, who drew a penalty in the third with speed around the edge, played on a line with Alexander Steen and Patrik Berglund.

"It's a good thing to get back playing after a while, but it’s a tough start, six consecutive games losing," Soshnikov said. "Circumstances is not good for us. We're playing our division right now and every game is like a playoff game. We've got to start winning games. I didn’t try to change something on the team. They've been good all season long and I just played my game. I'm trying to help my team right now. That’s my goal, to help the team, not my own reasons."

As for that playoff chase, the Blues remain in ninth place, one point outside of the wildcard.

* NOTES -- Yeo said that he'll have a better idea on defenseman Robert Bortuzzo, who was placed on injured reserve on Thursday with a left knee injury.

It's evident with both Bortuzzo and fellow defenseman Joel Edmundson (broken forearm) off the blue line, the Blues are missing a lot of beef and ruggedness back there.

"Yeah, there’s no question," Yeo said. "I think those guys are a big part of our identity, as far as being a team that’s hard to play against in the defensive part of our game. But again, I still believe that we have the personnel that can get the job done."

Defenseman Jordan Schmaltz played his fourth game of the season and first since Dec. 21 at Edmonton. He logged 12:37 of ice time and had two shots and two blocks. Tage Thompson also returned to the lineup after both were recalled from San Antonio on Friday.

"Obviously a tough loss, but I thought I was decent," Schmaltz said.

Schmaltz is coming off a high-ankle sprain sustained with the Rampage that forced him to miss six weeks.

"I never went through a high-ankle sprain like that before," Schmaltz said. "It took a little more time than I thought. I feel good now, though, and just day by day get some more games in.”

"It was in San Antonio there. I caught a rut in the ice and bent my ankle in half. ... You can’t let it really affect you. You’ve just got to get healthy, focus on that, and then once you’re called upon and you’re healthy, you’ve got to make the most of it."

Thompson played 11:29 and had two shots playing on a line with Brayden Schenn and Jaden Schwartz.

Also, the Blues placed right wing Chris Thorburn on waivers Sunday. 

Thorburn has four assists in 33 games this season after signing a two-year, $1.8 million contract to essentially replace Ryan Reaves, who was traded to the Pittsburgh Penguins.

If Thorburn clears, chances are he'll be assigned to the AHL.

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