Monday, December 20, 2010

Offense remains anemic as Blues fall to Canucks

Steen goal and 16 shots all St. Louis can
muster in 3-1 defeat, fall to 1-3-1 in last five

ST. LOUIS -- As offensively-challenged as the Blues are these days, putting the third-best power play unit to work early and often doesn't enhance ones chances of winning.

The Blues were able to thwart off Vancouver's four power plays in the first period, but finding scoring chances was far and few between, which makes for an easy night at the other end against one of the game's best netminders, Roberto Luongo.

The Blues produced the second-fewest shots on goal Monday night, getting only 16 shots on net and dropped their fourth game in the last five with a 3-1 loss to the Canucks at Scottrade Center.

The Blues (15-12-5), who play at Atlanta today at 6 p.m., found the Canucks' game to be smothering and very challenging.

Vancouver, which is 9-1-1 in its last 11 games (with their lone regulation loss coming at the hands of the Blues on Dec. 5), got goals from Aaron Volpatti, Ryan Kesler and Jeff Tambellini.

However, with only 16 shots on goal -- the Blues had 15 in a game against Nashville on Nov. 24, there was little margin for error in this game. But spending too much time in the box early really got the offensive mojo rolling for Vancouver and not so for the offensively-challenged Blues.

"It definitely doesn't give us any momentum going the other way," said Blues defenseman Barret Jackman, one of the mainstays on the penalty-killing unit. "It took a lot of guys out of the game when you're sitting in the box and we're rolling over our penalty killers.

"You can look back, one way or the other, you put yourself in a position to take a penalty ... a few high sticks, they're going to call them. A guy gets hit in the face, it's a penalty. We got the kills in the first period, but definitely it ices a few of our offensive guys."

The Blues got through the four penalty kills in the first period -- including one with two men down for 35 seconds -- in fine fashion, but they were outshot 12-3 and made Luongo's night relatively easy with limited offensive zone pressure and space.

"The second period, we had some offensive zone play, but they were making it pretty tough on us in their zone, checking with a lot of good intensity and we needed to use some of the weak-side areas a little bit better," Blues coach Davis Payne said. "It's something we emphasized the last time we played them. Not as much predictable puck play for us, which decreased our zone time a little bit."

The Canucks (19-8-4) thwarted the Blues through the neutral zone as well.

"We didn't do ourselves a heck of a lot of favors in using the quick-ups that were there," Payne said. "Providing quick support is something that we talk about as opposed to letting that coverage get in place and now play into what is choreographed neutral zone coverage.

"We had some opportunity where we had to even up some of the numbers with our d-men by moving our feet. We got to that part a little bit late, but when you do that, a good-checking team is not only going to keep you from possessing the puck through the neutral zone, they're really going to slow you down with their fore-check. As a result, you saw our fore-check coming late based on that."

The Canucks broke the scoreless stalemate when Volpatti scored his first NHL goal off a turnover by Alex Pietrangelo, who along with Roman Polak returned to the lineup Monday night from injury.

Tanner Glass' fore-check as Pietrangelo retrieved a puck in his own end forced the Blues' blue liner to lose the puck, Alexandre Bolduc found Volpatti in the low slot and he beat Jaroslav Halak 7 minutes 12 seconds into the second period.

Kesler made it 2-0 at 9:16 when he broke in on a 2-on-1 with Raffi Torres and snapped a shot by Halak after Adam Cracknell was tripped in the offensive zone but no call was made.

"They got a turnover on the first goal and the second goal, we had pretty clean possession of the puck before that thing ended up heading our way on a 2-on-1," Payne said. "... It wasn't the performance we saw when Alex came out of the lineup. That's going to happen. But I thought he made enough of the plays. A turnover there on their first goal is something that we obviously need to avoid, but we had possession and opportunities prior to him getting the puck. We need to make use of those."

Alex Steen scored his team-leading 10th goal with 2:03 left in the second, as Cracknell took two players with him and created space for Steen to beat Roberto Luongo with a backhand.

Momentum was there to be had.

"Towards the end of the second, I thought we started to take over a little bit more and more," said Steen, who has three goals in two games against Vancouver. "The third period, we have some chances. It's just not enough bite.

"We were just one shot away from tying her up. ... Tomorrow, we'll have to get back on the horse and get a good effort."

Backes was called for a late high-sticking penalty on Vancouver's Kevin Bieksa in the Canucks' zone, a call that was questionable at best. Replays showed Bieksa was hit by his own stick, but the Canucks took advantage and got a power play goal by Tambellini with 1:37 remaining.

"That's the human element of the game. I'm not going to criticize," Backes said of Paul Devorski and Chris Rooney. "They're doing the best job they can, but that's our puck in their zone with a couple guys in front and 3:30 left in the game. Tough break there, but there's 55 other minutes of the game that we need to do more."

"I just heard reports from the guys on the bench there with the TV's," Payne said. "I couldn't see it. It was behind the net. I haven't seen the penalty or the stick or whatever hit (Bieksa), so it's tough for me to comment on it."

The Blues now go from playing the hottest team in the league to playing arguably the hottest team in the Eastern Conference in a 1-3-1 slide.

"You can't sit there and sulk about what you did in the last couple games," Jackman said. "We've got an opportunity going to Atlanta and get two points and come back here and play again."

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