Thursday, January 16, 2014

Kings push past Blues 4-1, snap home winning streak

Los Angeles got two third-period goals from Lewis, use 
familiar formula to topple St. Louis for 16th time in 20 meetings

ST. LOUIS -- Elite opponent. Big crowd. A chance for the Blues to cement a spot among the top, more consistent teams in the NHL.

But after another dud against a Los Angeles Kings team that has owned them in past couple seasons, questions will remain for this Blues team that many feel are ready to make the leap to the top.

There wasn't even enough motivation to catch the Chicago Blackhawks atop the Central Division.

The Kings' 4-1 win against the Blues Thursday night before 19,374 at Scottrade Center that once again left scratching their heads.
(St. Louis Blues/Mark Buckner)
L.A. goalie Jonathan Quick (32) makes a save on the Blues' Patrik
Berglund Thursday night. The Kings defeated the Blues 4-1.

The Blues (32-9-5) were 10-1-1 in their previous 12 games, outscoring their opponents 48-19 over that stretch. But this was the Kings (29-14-5), who won for the 16th time in the previous 20 meetings between the two teams, including the past two postseasons.

This was the big boy's game (the two teams combined for 62 hits, with the Blues having a season-high 33). It was a big boy's score -- a very similar score -- when these teams play (1-1 heading into a crucial third period). A low-scoring, tight-checking, hard-hitting affair that had plenty of extracurricular activity after whistles.

But the Kings, who won two of three regular season meetings with the Blues, got two goals from Trevor Lewis and an empty-netter from Jeff Carter.

Old nemesis Jonathan Quick did the rest with 28 saves, a number of them in typical spectacular fashion, especially in the third period.

Game. Set. Match.

"They set the tone early. They were much better than us," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said of the Kings. "... I'm kind of getting sick of watching it. They come up big. 

"If we're going to figure this out, we're going to have to get more people coming up a lot bigger. Otherwise, we're going to be in the same boat against the same type of team, probably be in that type of boat Saturday night (against the red-hot Anaheim Ducks) unless we get a change in attitude tomorrow."

Hitchcock continued: "Their best players came to play big. Their best players were the best players on the ice. Their top players had to play today, from the goalie out. Their top defensemen had to play, their forwards had to play and they did. They came up big. It was a big game, it was a game that meant quite a bit. Both teams were full, their goalie was back. Their best players were their best players and that's what was the difference in the hockey game. They rose to the occasion. We didn't."

L.A. used a similar formula they've used to to beat the Blues in the past, with heavy bodies, pinning the Blues deep and forcing them to play East-West instead of North-South.

"We started trying to make too many plays, which we've been doing a little too much of lately," said Blues right winger T.J. Oshie, whose penalty-shot goal tied the game in the second period. "They took advantage of it.

"It got a little out of hand with our penalties (the Blues took nine minors in all). "A couple of those, we're going to protect each other first and foremost. We don't want to give away two points but we're not going to let guys come in and take cheap shots on us."

Lewis broke a 1-1 tie when he fired a shot at Halak, who kicked out the puck, which caromed off Jaden Schwartz's skate and in with Dwight King on the play 2:04 into the third period. The goal was initially given to King, but the play was never reviewed to see whose skate it hit. Officials determined no matter who it was, it was not distinctly directed.

"It went off me," Schwartz said. "I just tried taking the guy to the net. Off [Jaroslav Halak's] pads and off my skate. It's a pretty (bad) bounce. ... I just tried tying [King] up. I didn't even see the puck until it hit me.

"It was bad timing. It's a 1-1 game. Tough bounce. Stuff like that happens and you've got to try and respond in the right way. We didn't do a good job of that and we couldn't get another goal." 

With the Blues on a power play, Halak went into the left corner to play a puck and it hopped over his stick into the restricted area. He let the puck go, and Lewis pounced and wrapped a shot into the empty side at 4:21.

"Unfortunately for me the puck stayed on the boards and I just couldn't pick it off the board," Halak said. "You know, the trapezoid, I didn't want to play the puck. I think I should have, I guess. I made a mistake at the worst possible time, when the game was on the line for us. 

"I'll take the blame for this one. It's unacceptable to make a mistake like that, especially in the third period."

Jake Muzzin's third goal of the season at 2:31 of the first period put L.A. on top 1-0. The Kings were able to hunt a puck off the right boards, and Colin Fraser fed Muzzin, whose shot from the top of the slot beat Halak, who appeared to be screened by a pair of players skating through the slot. 

Oshie blocked Muzzin's wrist shot from the left point in the second period and was off to the races. Muzzin pulled down Oshie as he was going in alone on Quick, creating a penalty shot. Oshie beat Quick five-hole at 5:55 to tie it 1-1. It was Oshie's ninth point (five goals) in the past six home games, and the Blues' fourth straight penalty-shot goal dating to the 2011-12 season. 

The Blues have a penalty-shot goal from Alexander Steen in the second game of the season, Oct. 5 against the Florida Panthers.

Carter's empty-netter with 55.5 seconds remaining sealed the win for the Kings, who lost 5-0 in this building on Jan. 2. But the Kings did so without Quick.

The Kings are 10-3-4 when tied after two periods; the Blues are 7-3-0.

The Blues were upset near game's end when Muzzin hit Sobotka in the face along the right boards. It was the first of several plays the Blues didn't appreciate. Robyn Regehr's check from behind on Vladimir Tarasenko got Barret Jackman to respond in the first period, then Tarasenko came to Sobotka's defense.
(St. Louis Blues/Mark Buckner)
Jaden Schwartz (9) goes to get off a shot as Kings defenseman Robyn 
Regehr (44) goes down to block it Thursday night.

"It got a little out of hand with our penalties," Oshie said. "A couple of those, we're going to protect each other first and foremost. We don't want to give away two points but we're not going to let guys come in and take cheap shots on us.

"It seems like every time we play these guys it's a playoff game. They play a heavy style of game and we've been struggling with it in the past. If we want to get to where we want to get to I guess at the end of the year, we've got to be able to beat these guys."

Schwartz said: "It was a 1-1 game going into the third. Not a bad spot to be in, but we couldn't generate enough in the third. They had a couple goals and we just couldn't get to the dirty areas and get enough second chances."

Sound familiar?

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