Saturday, December 3, 2011

Blackhawks spoil Perron's return

Blues winger scores goal; Chicago teaches St. Louis lesson in 5-2 victory

ST. LOUIS -- On a night when the Blues welcomed back David Perron after missing 97 games, the Chicago Blackhawks stole the thunder.

Perron did score, giving a sellout crowd at Scottrade Center a reason to blow the roof off the building, but in the end, the Hawks provided the lightning that ignited the trigger of a team that has that been-there, done-that mentality.

(Getty Images)
David Perron (57) scored a goal in his return to the lineup, but the Blues
fell to the Chicago Blackhawks 5-2 Saturday night. 

Led by Marian Hossa's two goals, including a game-changing shorthanded goal in the second period, the Hawks overcame a pair of one-goal deficits and handily knocked off the Blues, 5-2 Saturday night.

It turned out to be one of those games that Blues coach Ken Hitchcock calls "teaching moments," and one the Blues need to recover from quickly.

Chicago (16-8-3) won the special teams battle, scoring twice on the power play; its 30th-ranked penalty killing unit - which came in at a 73.8 percent clip -- thwarted the Blues' 30th-ranked power play unit on all four opportunities and Hossa would get a short-handed pilfer to boot.

Mistakes plagued the Blues (14-9-3) all night, and it took away all the pent-up momentum that the team had from Perron's return.

"Too many puck errors," Hitchcock said. "The whole game was like that. Every time we built really good momentum, we made errors with the puck. Against a team that's dialed up ... they treated it like a playoff game because that's as hard a competitive game as we've had against us since I've been here. They really came to play. We had stretches and we fell off in stretches.

"Chicago sent us a message. They're a veteran, seasoned playoff-ready team. When you're that type of team, you win the dots-to-board battles, and they won the dots to boards. They won those battles. They came up with more loose pucks, they won more stick fights, they won more battles in front of each net ... that's the difference. They knew the sense of urgency. You can see it from the face-off dots to the boards all around the rink."

Perron, who played 19 minutes 5 seconds in the game, was one of the Blues' best players. He scored on his only shot of the game, a tight, short-angled shot in the top part of the net past the Hawks' Ray Emery 6:21 into the game, and made several nifty plays with the puck.

"I thought the tempo was pretty good test today and that was a good test," Perron said. "That's what I expected. I didn't feel that good, but I didn't feel that bad either.

"The guys made it easier on me, talking to me a lot. Pretty much every shift coming back to the bench, I was talking to (assistant coach Scott Mellanby) asking him what we should do on this or that."

Another area of the Blues' game that plagued this team was a lack of finishing off high percentage chances.

Alex Steen missed the net in close off a David Backes pass in the first, then Steen misfired on a pass to Backes that would have led to a breakaway. In the second, T.J. Oshie missed the net in alone off a feed from Perron. Oshie fired his shot wide, and Chris Stewart, who gave the Blues a 2-1 lead in the second period, missed an empty side of the net with Emery out of goal in the third.

"I think we left some chances there in front of the net by ourselves," Perron said. "That's going to happen. We've just got to bear down next time and put it in."

Added defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk, who was critical of his play in the game: "I definitely think we had a few chances there to bury it. In the second period we had a few. Even on the stretch there, it seemed like once we went down by two goals, we kind of played with a nothing-to-lose mentality. I think we needed that desperation in our game earlier."

Oshie's chance came minutes after Stewart converted Vladimir Sobotka's strip an forecheck of Andrew Brunette that led to the Blues' second goal. Another goal there would have made it 3-1.

"One of the turning points was the no-brainer we had in front of the net in the second period when we're either up a goal or we're tied," Hitchcock said. "... It's just a shooter and a goalie ... we need to finish those off."

Shattenkirk's turnover, where he got a quick pinch along the left boards and tried throw a cross-ice feed on the power play, led to Hossa's short-handed goal that tied the game 2-2. Chicago's Duncan Keith picked the pass off and sprung Hossa on a 2-on-1 play.
(Getty Images)
Chicago's Marian Hossa reacts (left) after scoring a shorthanded goal in the
second period as Blues defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk reacts.

"I think my turnover there on the power play gave them momentum," Shattenkirk said. "I just gave them that pass and they come down and score. They get a goal three or four minutes later. It was something that I sucked the life out of the team there.

"The pass was there and I just fanned on it. Keith made a smart play there and stepped into it. Obviously we have everyone going forward. It's a hard play to react to and get back. They came down and capitalized on it."

Brian Elliott, who was trying to tie a league record for most consecutive games to start a season allowing under two goals or less, was not at fault for any of the four goals he allowed on 35 shots.

"Probably on three of them, I didn't see," Elliott said. "Sometimes those hit you and stay out, sometimes those go in. It's a good team over there. They did a good job getting in lanes and getting sticks on puck. It's not the decision we wanted.

"I don't think we played the type of hockey we want to. I think they kind of took it to us a little bit. We just have to learn from tonight. In the end, it's not the end of the world, but it's definitely a tool we can use and go back to the drawing board and look at the things we did well and what we did wrong."

Hitchcock was very complimentary of the Hawks afterwards and said his team has plenty to learn after a mistake-filled game.

"The teaching moment is understanding the level of competition out there," Hitchcock said. "You have to play with composed intensity and I thought we played nervous and light at times. And then we got going and we really played hard and then we played nervous and light. We played nervous and light in the wrong areas ... under pressure, with the puck, that's when we made nervous, light plays. ... Good teams eat you up, and that's what they did.

"We made too many mistakes with the puck from the red line back. Some under pressure, some not under pressure. It caused us to get hemmed in our own zone. I thought the big difference for me was they gained a lot of momentum mentally off the short-handed goal."

Hitchcock was impressed with Perron, though.

"He's really going to help us. Holy smokes," Hitchcock said. "He's really a good player. He's going to really help this team. About four more like him, we'll be fine."

Added Toews: "When you’re a skilled player like David Perron and to be away from the game as long as he was, it’s an incredibly frustrating thing I can imagine. I’m sure a guy like him had a lot of emotional energy coming into the game tonight. With his skill, he’s going to go out there and make something happen. He scored that big goal for them to start the game but we knew after that he was one of those guys we had to key on to make sure he wasn’t going to get too many chances after that."

Perron was able to finish off his play after Patrik Berglund threw a puck towards the net.

"It was a good feeling. It's been a while," Perron said. "It was kind of sitting right there. Dags (Matt D'Agostini) was in front of me. I was kind of waiting for him to get out of the way, but it's a good feeling obviously to score a goal in the NHL and more so when you lose that much time."

The Blues weren't able to sustain the momentum built off Perron's return.

"They just came out and out-battled us, out-competed us," Shattenkirk said of Chicago. "Me especially, I was awful tonight. Just getting beat on battles and not taking care of the puck in my end is terrible on my end.

"I think we need to know that that's a team we have to beat and compete with and learn a lesson from. They're obviously a team that's been in the playoffs every year. That's who we're trying to become."

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