Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Blues suffer seventh straight loss, 8-3 to Wild

Another embarrassing effort has Yeo fuming, calls players out for lacking 
necessary level of play, hints at benchings for Wednesday game against Detroit

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- Mike Yeo has normally been candid and reserves any strong comments while defending his players, win or lose, after games.

But the Blues' head coach had enough after another dismal and embarrassing performance Tuesday night in an 8-3 drubbing at the hands of the Minnesota Wild, the Blues' seventh straight defeat (0-6-1), which is their longest since Dec. 26, 2009-Jan. 7, 2010.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues goalie Carter Hutton makes a strong save against Wild forward Nino
Niederreiter during Tuesday's game at Xcel Energy Center.

In his postgame press conference, it was quite evident the sweat glands in Yeo's head were at a boiling point, although he kept his words reserved but in powerful fashion.

It's the first time Yeo, in his second season with the Blues (34-26-4), specifically named players, but it was those he DIDN'T name that bears attention, and those players should be alarmed moving forward.

"The level of some players needs to come up, it's that simple," Yeo said. "Too many guys right now that aren't giving us a chance to win hockey games. As a team game, there's actually a number of guys that I really liked the effort of and what they gave us tonight. We'll make sure that those guys continue doing that and then we'll make decisions after that as far as who wants to play and who wants to be in the lineup."

The players Yeo liked were: Scottie Upshall, Brayden Schenn, Jaden Schwartz, Jay Bouwmeester, Alexander Steen, Dmitrij Jaskin, Alex Pietrangelo, Kyle Brodziak, Vladimir Tarasenko and Carter Hutton. Starting goalie Jake Allen wasn't named, but he can be excused from the not-named list since Yeo said there was a lack of respect for the goalies by their teammates.

So ... the 18 skaters Yeo didn't name were: Carl Gunnarsson, Patrik Berglund, Vince Dunn, Tage Thompson, Jordan Schmaltz, Ivan Barbashev, Colton Parayko, Vladimir Sobotka and Nikita Soshnikov.

"Unhappy with them, yes," Yeo said.

The Blues, who headed home to turn around quickly to play the Detroit Red Wings on Wednesday, could see a vastly different lineup.

Asked if any of these players need to be made an example of and benched, Yeo didn't mince words: "Yep."

It was more blunders, more missed defensive zone coverages, more ill-timed penalties after turning pucks over.

Over and over again.

It was that bad.

"It's a matter of pride as far as I'm concerned," Yeo said. "You give up eight goals, come on! We've given up 16 in the last three games. 

"We've always been one of the top defensive teams. The turnovers that we have and the lack of respect that we have for our goaltenders and for the game of hockey, that's ridiculous. We have guys that aren't scoring and aren't contributing defensively and are not showing nearly enough as far as what they want to bring to the table in terms of playing for their teammates and defending and being hard to play against."

And the Blues players left in the locker room to speak, including Bouwmeester, Pietrangelo and Tarasenko, were left befuddled. Bouwmeester, who had a costly delay of game penalty that put the Blues down two men in the second period of a 3-2 game after having gained momentum with their second-period play to that point, looked bewildered.

"I don't know. That's a tough one," Bouwmeester said when asked how to explain that game. "The way we've been going here, you hope its kind of rock bottom. We scored some goals, I guess you can take some positives out of that, but a weird game. At times we played hard. We had some bad bounces at bad times. Yeah, it's tough. We're playing good teams. They took advantage of some opportunities. We weren't good enough again."

"... Right now, we're just so disconnected. But we've got another (game) tomorrow."

Disconnected. That's hard to fathom happening in Game No. 64 and -- believe it or not -- a playoff berth very much on the line.

"Yeah we’re completely disconnected in our game," Pietrangelo said. "It’s unacceptable. That’s the reality of it.

"... We started off well again, I thought we started off well, they got that power play goal, I thought we did some good things there and, I don’t know, just disconnected."

Tarasenko was at a loss for words.

"Not much, nothing to say," he said. "The score is on the scoreboard and there’s not much to say about that game. ... Whatever we have now is not enough. That’s it.

"Trust me, everyone is frustrated and I don’t know, we’re more than frustrated now. We can’t stop … I don’t know what to say. It’s embarrassing. Like I always said, it’s all about our goalies but we can’t put those two guys on the spot and this is just not normal." 

It was a carbon copy start for the Blues from Sunday when they fell behind 1-0 at Nashville after a penalty and ensuing Predators power-play goal.

Sobotka turns puck over in offensive zone, then holds Joel Eriksson Ek, and right off the faceoff, Jason Zucker deflects Ryan Suter's shot off Pietrangelo, who was screening Allen on the play and in at 2:57 for a 1-0 lead.

Mikael Granlund made it 2-0 after Zucker flipped a puck past Dunn, raced by him, pulled up the brakes and fed Eric Staal in the slot. Staal's shot deflected in off Granlund at 7:13 and just like that, a reeling team is chasing a game again on just their second goal on three shots.

Tarasenko, who scored twice, made it 2-1 and the Blues were right back in it at 9:59 after a great forecheck by Schenn, who checked Matt Dumba off the puck and eventually fed Tarasenko in the slot to snap the Blues' goalless drought at 150:23.

But Granlund scored 1:18 later to make it 3-1 on a shot by Nick Seeler off the back of Parayko's skate, the puck bounded into the air, Granlund chested the puck in front of him before batting it in on the Wild's seventh shot.

Allen was pulled for the third time this season after the first period in favor of Carter Hutton.

The second period saw perhaps the first glimpse in some time that the Blues may be snapping out of it, and Pietrangelo scored 15 seconds into make it 3-2 on a stretch pass by Bouwmeester to Pietrangelo, who fed Schwartz, who then fed Pietrangelo in the slot for the finish.

And the Blues were carrying the play and should have equalized on a pretty passing play that ended with Steen missing the empty side after a terrific feed from Barbashev. Steen would take a minor penalty moments later, but the momentum-zapping penalty came off the stick of Bouwmeester, who was three-quarter lengths of the ice and slapped the puck over the glass at the other end of the ice for a crushing delay of game penalty that should have been avoided with a simple dump-in down the ice.

And the Wild made the Blues pay when Staal scored by jamming a loose puck in at 8:19 to make it 4-2 and zap all that momentum after Hutton.

"I couldn't probably do that again if I tried," Bouwmeester said. "You're trying to get it down, shoot it hard and it kind of took off on me. But again, that's probably just trying to do too much or whatever. That's going through our lineup and that's not helping us. Obviously a bad play at a bad time. That's on me. I can take that."

Mikko Koivu made it 5-2 at 17:07 before Tarasenko's power-play goal with 1:28 made it a shouting distance game at 5-3.

But Jared Spurgeon's shot from the top of the right circle caromed off multiple bodies with Bouwmeester and Zucker in front of Hutton with 14.2 left in the second for a 6-3 lead.

Staal, who had five points on the night along with Zucker (Granlund had four to give that line 14 whopping points), scored twice in the third period to complete hit hat trick.

"You can't win like that," Yeo said. "'Hutts' really battled hard, that's the amazing thing. What did he give up, five? And he battled really hard and (we're) not even giving those guys a chance right now. For me, that's a complete lack of respect for your teammates. When you're not ready to block a shot, when you turn pucks over carelessly in an 8-3 game because you think it's a good idea to go score a goal with four minutes left, that's not right. We're not going to let people take away from the pride and the culture that we have here. Obviously this is a difficult stretch and I'm anxious to see who is ready to respond the right way."

Yeo felt some of his top players did put forth the effort and wanted them to know it.

"I would say that .. and I'll go through them. As far as our leaders, I thought that 'Petro' started strong, but I thought as we got down, I thought he tried to do too much and made a couple costly mistakes, but I thought there was some progress as far as his game before that but obviously as a captain, he's got to make sure that he plays it all the way through regardless of the score and he's got to lead the way there," Yeo said. "A tough play on 'Bouw,' there's no question on that, but I thought that was one of 'Bouw's better games. I liked what Schwartz, Schenn ... I liked what Steen, Tarasenko, 'Brodzy,' 'Uppy,' Jaskin, I liked what those guys brought. We had too many guys that didn't match that."
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues left wing Jaden Schwartz (17) tries to block a shot off the stick of the
Wild's Joel Eriksson Ek on Tuesday in Minnesota.

The Blues had two healthy scratches (Chris Thorburn and Oskar Sundqvist) on Tuesday. It's hard to imagine them being difference-makers, but if Yeo wants to send a message to any of those players he didn't name, if putting them in the press box doesn't get their attention, then maybe it's time to send some of them packing this summer in some form or another.

"Well, we’ll start with who we've got," Yeo said. "We’ve obviously got a couple extra bodies, so it’s time that we make sure that the quality of play, caliber of play, what they can bring offensively is one thing, but it’s a matter of showing that you care."

Time is running out, and excuses are running out.

"The only way we're going to drag ourselves out of it is to, No. 1, look ourselves in the mirror and every individual, you just have to play your best hockey," Bouwmeester said. "If we do that as a team, we can win games. Just got to get connected again."

By virtue of the win from the Los Angeles Kings over Vegas on Tuesday, the Blues now sit three points outside of the playoffs in the Western Conference. As for third place in the Central Division, a spot the Blues held for months, they now trail the Wild (36-20-7) by seven points.

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