Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Blues fall to Minnesota 3-1

Preseason mark drops to 2-2-1; Schwartz
nets shorthanded goal, team-leading third

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- The Blues played as close to their opening night roster Wednesday as they will see. They also saw a similar roster from the Minnesota Wild.

But the 3-1 loss to the Wild at Xcel Energy Center saw a mixed bag of results.

"We were strong, and then I thought in the second half or the game, we faded," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. "I thought we lost our energy and I thought Minnesota took over in the second half of the game."
(St. Louis Blues photo)
The Blues' Jaden Schwartz (9) scored the team's lone goal Wednesday in a
3-1 loss at Minnesota.

Jaden Schwartz scored a third-period shorthanded goal, and Jaroslav Halak and Brian Elliott split time in goal, combining to make 20 saves in a game the Blues' coach was searching for certain elements.

"I wanted to see the tempo," Hitchcock said. "There were flashes of it early, but then there were times we had people who were too far behind the tempo.

"(Minnesota) came with a veteran hockey club. We were good early, and then I thought as the tempo went up, we had guys who weren't up to the pace, so we're going to have to continue to work to get better."

Matt Cooke, Charlie Coyle and Torrey Mitchell scored goals for the Wild, who improved to 4-1-0 on the preseason.

Cooke gave the Wild a 1-0 lead when his slap shot from the high slot was initially stopped by Halak, but the puck popped high into the air and in an effort to locate the puck, Halak inadvertently backed the puck into the net with his skate as Torrey Mitchell was crashing the net at 12:27 of the opening period. It gave the Wild a 1-0 lead.

The Blues, who outshot Minnesota 14-8 in the first 20 minutes, had some good chances themselves, with Max Lapierre having a couple good scoring chances as he, Chris Porter and Ryan Reaves had a good shift midway through the period but they couldn't solve Niklas Backstrom.

Halak, who stopped 12 shots and played the first period and 13:33 of the second period, also made some good early-game saves on Zach Parise (twice) right in front and Dany Heatley on a redirection from the slot on the power play. He made a couple dandy stops on Parise and Coyle early in the second to keep it a 1-0 game.

Elliott entered the game and got into it early, making a nice save in the low slot on Jason Pominville after Parise set him up on a power play chance.

But Coyle was able to give the Wild a 2-0 lead when he converted a breakaway 38 seconds into the third period off a stretch pass from Ryan Suter, beating Elliott -- who stopped 10 shots -- with a deke to his left and pulling to the forehand before scoring.

Mitchell converted a shorthanded goal for Minnesota to make it 3-0 before Schwartz was able to skate into the Wild zone and rip a shot past Backstrom, who was screened by Suter on the play midway through the period.

"I think I just got on, so I had pretty good speed," Schwartz said. "I think Sobe might have chipped that to me in the middle at full speed going 1-on-2 and they were kind of standing still. It was through a screen and I saw the goalie couldn't see much. I took a shot and went in.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
The Blues' T.J. Oshie (right) and Minnesota's Zach Parise battle for
position during Wednesday's preseason game at Xcel Energy Center.

"It's preseason, but next week we'll see when the real thing starts. It's definitely nice to be playing real well right now and get a positive feel going into the season. I think I've been playing well for the most part and burying my chances. Last year I had chances and they weren't going in. It's nice to see them go in."

Hitchcock called Schwartz the team's best player again.

"He was by far our best player today," Hitchcock said. "His competitive level, speed and energy is contagious."

The Blues will close out the preseason when they host the Wild Friday at Scottrade Center and should have a clearer picture of what the opening night roster will look like.

"I think this game gave us some indications on some people," said Hitchcock, who was mixing up line combinations in this game. "I think we'll get down to a team pretty quick here."

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