Saturday, January 22, 2011

Blues falter against Blue Jackets

5-2 loss leaves coach, team puzzled following disheartening defeat

ST. LOUIS -- It was the kind of start the Blues wanted. Good jump, good pace, collective execution. All the perfect ingredients that two points warrant, right?

Well, if a 60-minute hockey game could have been condensed into eight minutes, the Blues were winners Saturday night.

Unfortunately, the Blues were somehow forced to play the last 52 minutes of the game ... and it was all Columbus Blue Jackets after that.

The Jackets fell behind by a couple goals but were able to reel off five straight -- including three in the third period to snap a tie game in a 5-2 victory over the Blues Saturday night at Scottrade Center.

With importance on each game from here on out, the Blues (22-18-7) laid their biggest egg of the season in what was a puzzling turn of events after Eric Brewer and Patrik Berglund staked them to a 2-0 lead less than eight minutes into the game.

Even leading 2-1 after the first, the Blues began to unravel in rapid fashion. It catapulted into the third period and the train wreck was out in full force.

It left coach Davis Payne wondering what went wrong.

"I don't even think it was the second period," an obvious disappointed Payne said. "It was the seven-, eight-minute mark of the first period. I felt that we came out, established our game, got an early goal on the rush, got a power play goal, a couple scraps ... and that was it. All of the sudden, we decided to redefine ourselves mid-period. We were never able to stop the downhill slide. Not enough guys understanding what kind of decisions were needed to be made, understanding what type of battle needed to happen.

"Columbus was persistent. They didn't have the start they needed, but (they) were persistent and easy for them to feel they could come back in that hockey game."

Goals from Antoine Vermette, Jared Boll, Andrew Murray, Rick Nash and Fedor Tyutin came in disheartening fashion in front of a crowd that did its best to vault the Blues back to where they were early in the game.

"The first goal is a return in coverage, the second goal was a turnover, the third goal was a turnover," Payne explained. "... Lack of attention to detail, lack of doing things long enough. It's really quite inexcusable for a game of this importance."

Which begs the question: why would the Blues alter the game plan when things were going so right?

"We tried playing an easy game rather than a hard, simple game," forward David Backes said. "The result is them getting momentum and possessions in our zone. We didn't have much to counter."

Despite still leading the game, Vermette's goal 11 minutes, 19 seconds into the opening period seemed to burst the Blues' bubble.

"It seemed like that took more out of us than it should have," Payne said. "We came committed to play a full 60, at least that was the intent. We got off to a good start and it went away ... vanished."

The Blues fell so far off-track in the second period that they went 15:57 between shots in the first and second periods and one shot in 21:24 against a goalie (Columbus' Steve Mason) that was wobbly at best in the game.

"We gave him enough time the second half of the first period and almost the whole second period, we gave him enough time to get regrouped and get his feet underneath him," Payne said of Mason, who finished with 19 saves including the last 15 he saw. "It looked like we were going to get some chances around the blue paint, going to get some second looks. Two-goal lead changed our mindset. I felt that it was going to be a (two) point night. Not so."

Columbus took the initiative and registered the first 10 shots of the second before Jay McClement finally got the Blues a shot with 7:48 remaining in the period.

"We had a sloppy second," said forward Alex Steen, who assisted on both goals. "We weren't generating any offensive zone time. We weren't getting pucks down low, getting shots through the net.

"I didn't think (Mason) looked that great on the first two, but he made some saves in the third. ... It's our second period. We've got to get some more pucks through."

By the time the Blues tried to push back, the Jackets had tied the game after the Blues turned the puck over at their blue line that resulted in Boll's breakaway goal 7:36 into the period.

"You look up 10 minutes in, they've got eight shots already and we're still at a goose egg," Backes said. "Obviously it's indicative of how the game was that period so far."

Regardless, the Blues were tied 2-2 with 20 minutes to play and could still pick up two points by winning the third period.

"I thought we came in after the second, regrouped, came out with some energy in the third period," Steen said. "... It's a tough one."

Murray redirected a Jan Hejda shot past Jaroslav Halak 3:40 into the third to give Columbus its first lead, then Nash tallied a power play goal with 3:28 left before Tyutin added an empty-netter.

"That was our mindset going into it. We get down one, even that was something where they're going to get a bounce there, but we needed to stick with it and capitalize when we get a chance," Backes said. "We get that power play there and that only lasts for 15 seconds and it's 4 on 4 after that."

That's because Backes was whistled for interference 16 seconds after a power play had begun.

"My route's along the blue line," Backes explained. "I don't know if I can jump over him, fall to the ice, do a triple-Lutz ... I wish I could have disappeared there or stayed on the other side. I have nowhere to go. Maybe I go off-sides and we take a face-off and keep on the power play."

The Blue Jackets (23-20-5) are now tied with the Blues in points (51).

"We've got to take a gut-check here," Payne said. "This is one that when we know the momentum and the traction we're trying to gain heading out on the road, heading out to the All-Star break and the two points here staring at us with a good start and a two-goal lead and not to find a way to maintain or find a way to reverse any type of flow ... it was up and down the lineup.

"Very few guys staying with the plan, with the work that was necessary. It's one we're really gonna have to digest, swallow hard and make sure this one doesn't happen again."

* NOTES -- Defenseman Barret Jackman (lower-body) sat out the game and was replaced by Tyson Strachan. ... Steen now has points in 21 of last 25 games, including seven in a row. ... Berglund with goals in three straight, matching a career high done two other times. ... Columbus' victory was the first in regulation here since March 27, 2007. The Blues were 10-0-1 in that span against the Jackets.

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