Friday, February 23, 2018

Blues fall deeper into hole with 4-0 loss to Jets

Another home ice loss has frustrated fans taking it out on 
players after fifth straight defeat puts playoff position in peril

ST. LOUIS -- If the levels of embarrassment haven't reached the highest of decibels for the Blues, they should have after another dismal home loss.

What's become an all-too-familiar theme here at Scottrade Center, the Blues have been getting booed off the ice, which happened again after the first period Friday against the Winnipeg Jets; they play listless hockey, even though they're fighting for their playoff lives; and something that's been leaky at times was on full tilt on Friday: goalie Jake Allen getting the Bronx cheer when he would make a save/touch the puck.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues right wing Vladimir Tarasenko (91) moves the puck in action Friday
of a 4-0 loss to the Winnipeg Jets at Scottrade Center.

Roll  that all up together and it comes up to one big ball of nothing during a 4-0 loss to the Jets before 18,912 frustrated fans that have seen and had enough of the Blues (34-24-4), who have lost five in a row (0-4-1) and are hanging onto the second wildcard in the Western Conference by the slimmest of threads.

There have been similar home ice results as of late, including a 7-4 loss to Florida on Jan. 9, a 5-2 loss to lowly Arizona on Jan. 20, a 6-2 loss to Minnesota on Feb. 6 and now this, just to name a few, dropping the Blues' record at Scottrade Center to a very mediocre 19-14-0.

They're in dire straits, and the Blues have to find a way to fix the biggest problems that have faced them this season with 20 games remaining.

They've talked a good game, held team meetings and said the right things. If it came down to talk, the Blues would be at the top of the NHL standings. The problem is, that talk isn't translating to results on the ice.

"If I had the answer … it’s the reality. Just got to show up. Enough talking," Blues captain Alex Pietrangelo said. "You can only say so much. You got to go out and prove it."

Added assistant captain Alexander Steen: "Well look, we've got 20 games here. Obviously we’ve done a lot of talking and it needs to start showing up on the ice now. Twenty games and we’re in a fight here. We’re in a good division and we’re going to play some good teams, but you know I think we need to find that swagger and confidence in us again and get back to our game. Like I said, there’s a lot of points on the table, but this needs to turn around next game."

Against the Nashville Predators on Sunday? 

Good luck.

Coincidentally, this run of poor play and five straight losses started with the collapse in Nashville on Feb. 13 when the Blues coughed up a 3-0 third-period lead and lose 4-3 in overtime.

"I thought we played actually very well in Dallas (on Feb. 16, a 2-1 loss)," Blues coach Mike Yeo said. "Maybe it's both of them (Nashville and Dallas) combined to be honest with you. But to come out of those two games with how hard we played, how well we played, and to come out with one point ... that's what we have to do is stay with it.

"We didn't get the results we deserved necessarily there, but that's what we're gonna have to do is battle through it and if we do, and we play that well night after night after night, then we'll get wins."

Needless to say, on the surface, it looks like a fragile hockey team. Is it?

"I don't want to use the word fragile," Yeo said. "I think we would all take that personally, but no question we're not handling adversity as well as we can right now. It's not a question of character, that's not the case, it's a matter of us figuring out how to handle it, how to face it, and what you need to do. If your three or four players, whether you get down in a game or whether you know you need a win but are trying to do more and trying to do extra, and taking themselves out of their game. And then you have a couple other players that kind of freeze up to the moment, then obviously you're not playing to your abilities."

The Blues, who actually opened the game well and played well the first 10 minutes, froze up once the first mistake was made and the rails came off.

A horrendous Chris Butler turnover turned into Nic Petan's goal at 10:03 of the first period, trying to go up the boards with the entire ice in front of him, and instead, Mark Scheifele picked the puck off, Butler fell down and Scheifele fed Petan for the tap-in past Allen, who made 19 saves, and a 1-0 Jets lead.

Forty-five seconds later, Blake Wheeler made it 2-0 on a goal Allen admitted he should have had. Wheeler skated into the Blues' zone with Colton Parayko defending, and from the right faceoff dot, wired a shot past Allen, who was off his angle and gave Wheeler too much to shoot at.

"Yeah, that was a bad goal, that was on me," Allen said. "I wasn't happy with that one."

Kyle Connor's fourth goal in four games, on the power-play, increased the lead to 3-0 at 18:31 on the Jets' first man-advantage.

By period's end, the Blues were being booed off the ice.

"Yeah, it’s not … we don’t like that," Pietrangelo said. "Especially me."

A frail team would have no pushback, and Patrik Laine's 29th goal of the season and fourth in as many games, a wrist shot from the right circle at 6:04 of the second period, made it 4-0 on the Jets' 14th shot.

It didn't take long for Allen to start getting the Bronx cheers, which angered Blues right wing Vladimir Tarasenko.

"I'm tired of talking about the same stuff every night," Tarasenko said. "Everyone knows what spot we are in. One thing I can address to everyone of you and the fans too, the goalies are the last guys who we can blame on this. This is just embarrassing to hear. A lot of guys have never played hockey and they cheer when Jake makes a save. If not for the goalies, we'd be in a worse spot right now. They can blame us, they can blame everyone, but don't touch the goalies.

"Me personally, I know how hard [Allen] works, I know how much he's done for the organization and especially this year and last year. I don't understand why people blame the goalies. That's wrong."

Tarasenko continued.

"I want to explain, I don't blame fans, I don't blame somebody who writes bad stuff about goalies, but trust me, as a guy who understands hockey, they do a lot for us," he said. "If they not play their hockey, we'd be out of the playoffs right now."

Allen fell to 2-12-0 in his past 14 starts, and to his defense, the team has scored a grand total of 16 goals, or 1.33 per game, in his 12 losses.

"We didn’t score a goal, so you can’t win the game by not scoring a goal," Pietrangelo said. "To me it’s … I don’t like it. It’s been bothering me. I’m not going to say anything about the fans, but it’s disappointing to hear that. We’ve got his back."
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues goalie Jake Allen (34) tries to look around Winnipeg's Andrew Copp
while locating a puck Friday at Scottrade Center.

So, with road games against Nashville and Minnesota, which is now three points ahead of the Blues for third in the Central Division, what do the Blues do to get out of their funk?

"Find a way to win hockey games," Pietrangelo said. "That’s all you can do, right? Take a hard look in the mirror and win hockey games.

"We’re fighting for a playoff spot, that’s the reality of it. There’s concern. We’ve got to find a way, like I said, to win hockey games. We’ve got 20 games left and we’re just barely in the playoffs."

* NOTES -- On a good-news front, newly-acquired forward Nikita Soshnikov finally made his way to St. Louis Friday and will be on the ice with the Blues for practice Saturday morning.

Soshnikov, acquired for a 2019 fourth-round pick on Feb. 15, finally worked out his work-related visa issues and could make his Blues debut as early as Sunday.

"I think it's actually gonna be a good little injection into our group," Yeo said. "He brings speed, he brings competitiveness and I think that he's gonna bring some life. Sometimes just a little change like that can help spark things. I'm hoping that he has a good practice tomorrow and see how he is for Sunday.

"... What do we have to lose by throwing him in there? Let's get him in with the group and let's get him rolling, and obviously the quicker we do that the quicker he'll get up to speed with our game and with our group."

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