Saturday, March 22, 2014

Flyers send Blues to second straight loss

Simmonds, Hartnell, Schenn each tally goal, assist in 4-1 victory

PHILADELPHIA -- The home stretch is upon those that are fighting for playoff positions and those that have higher aspirations, like winning a division or taking the top seed in the conference.

The Blues, in a stretch of a four-game trip that could easily define where they enter the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs, are finding the waters rough right now after a 4-1 loss to the Philadelphia Flyers Saturday afternoon before 19,942 at Wells Fargo Center.

The Blues (47-16-7) are fighting for that top spot not only in the Central Division, not only in the Western Conference but also the Presidents' Trophy. They've been caught by the Boston Bruins for the top spot overall (the Bruins played at Phoenix Saturday night and could pass the Blues), and there are a plethora of teams on the Blues' heels after a second straight regulation loss, which has been a rarity this season.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Flyers goalie Steve Mason (left) made life tough for the Blues' Alexander
Steen (20) and T.J. Oshie Saturday afternoon in Philadelphia.

San Jose, Anaheim, Pittsburgh and Chicago are closing in, while the Flyers (38-25-7) won for the fifth time in succession and showed the Blues what playoff mode with a dozen or so games left in the regular season feels like.

"It's playoff time," Blues defenseman Alex Pietrangelo said. "Every team's trying to amp it up here before playoffs to get themselves ready or whether they're trying to fight for a playoff spot. We're fighting to be the top in the league and we're trying to find our game here with 12 games left. Everybody's playing for something right now."

Jaden Schwartz scored a shorthanded goal for the Blues, his 22nd goal of the season, but that was it as far as the offense is concerned.

Despite outshooting the Flyers 33-19 for the game, the Blues got a dose of Steve Mason, the former Columbus Blue Jackets goalie who found life tough against St. Louis when the Jackets were in the Central Division.

Mason stopped 32 shots and the Blues' power play continues to produce. After going 0-for-6 Saturday, they are now 4-for-55 since Feb. 4 and on the heels of scoring a power play goal in three straight games.

"You're going to have to find a way to get to a much higher level to compete in the offensive zone ... and that shows up on the power play too," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. "There's too many pucks getting turned over on the power play, we're getting outworked by the penalty killers and then we're getting outworked by the goalies. 

"I think we got lots of zone time, some good stuff there, but not at the level we need to if you're going to get into a playoff series and expect to outwork somebody who's playing well in goal. Every team's going to play well in goal."

A spirited first period in which the Blues had 13 shots saw them get on the board first with Schwartz knocking in his 22nd of the season.

The Blues broke out in a 2-on-1 with Kevin Shattenkirk after the Flyers turned it over on the power play. Shattenkirk fed Schwartz in the slot and he beat Mason high glove side 6 minutes 23 seconds into the game.

It was the Blues' fourth shorthanded goal -- second by Schwartz -- of the season and the Flyers' 11th shorthanded goal allowed, which was tied for the most in the NHL along with the Edmonton Oilers.

There were some missed opportunities that could have produced a two- or three-goal lead. Mason also stood his ground well.

"We had a few chances to maybe start to put them away, but to dwell on those and think that we're cursed or something wasn't meant to be ... that's not something that creeps into our mind," Blues captain David Backes said. "We've got to concentrate on the next chance we get to bury that and worry about what's coming ahead of us. The past can be written by you guys in some glorious article."

The Blues, who played solid in the first period, couldn't sustain it in the second. The Flyers were able to overcome the one-goal deficit and score twice.

Turnovers and transitioning the puck turned out to be a problem for the Blues, who saw Scott Hartnell tie the game 57 seconds into the period with a power play goal when the Blues failed to clear a puck when Patrik Berglund was stripped from behind to keep the play alive in the Blues' zone.

A Chris Porter turnover near the blue line created Schenn's goal after Ryan Miller stopped Wayne Simmonds initially. But he gave up a juicy rebound in the slot and Schenn banged the puck home with 6:36 left in the period.

"We made a mistake," Hitchcock said. "We didn't skate the puck out. It was the difference in the hockey game. 

"The bigger difference was our level of determination in the offensive zone isn't what it's going to need to be to beat great goaltending."

The Flyers had life, and they created their own.

"I think they just woke up a little bit," Blues defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk said. "They did a god job of pressuring us, getting back to that fast game. They play in the zone, a lot of movement and cycling. We weren't unable to get it stopped. I think that's what we did well in the first. We just got away from it.

"We stopped going forward with the puck. It wasn't necessarily turnovers. We were just trying to be a little too patient. They do a good job of back-pressuring and getting in our defensive positions. That's what was causing them to get the puck back."

The Blues came at the Flyers in the third period but could not find the equalizer, and Philadelphia, despite only putting three shots on goal, scored twice.

Jakub Voracek sealed the win with a goal when the Flyers pinched and kept another Blues clearing pass in the zone and beat Miller with 4:19 to play, and Simmonds' empty-netter with 2:54 left made it 4-1.

"There were spurts in the second where I thought we were real good, and then I thought pretty much the whole first period I thought we played a real good game," Pietrangelo said. "I think overall, it's not a bad game for us. Obviously better than Chicago. The goals we gave up, breakdowns in our end that we've got to find ways to pick them up. Can't give up 3-on-1's."

The power play, had two big opportunities during the first half of the third period, and the Blues finally got some chances on the ladder, but Mason stopped a Schwartz shot from the slot and then twice from point-blank range on Derek Roy.

"I think we're getting half-decent looks," Pietrangelo said. "We've just got to find a way to put it in the net. We're missing the net, missing shots, not getting in the zone. Every night it seems like something different. I thought tonight we had some pretty good looks. We might have been getting better bounces earlier in the year. We've got to start creating our own luck here and get some bounces by our work ethic.

"We've got to find ways to not let these goalies outwork us."
(St. Louis Blues photo)
The Blues' Jaden Schwartz (9) battles the Flyers' Claude Giroux for the
the puck Saturday afternoon at Wells Fargo Center. 

Backes added: "If we score a couple of those on the power play when it's 2-1 and make it 3-2, the momentum's different."

"We were really good in the first and then didn't outwork the goalie in the third," Hitchcock said. "We were down 2-1, have the chances you get in the third period, you've got to outwork the goalie. I thought his level of compete was harder than ours in and around the net area and we couldn't get the second and third chances that we probably need to. We hit a lot of goal posts and cross bars, but I don't think we had the second and third chances as the game wore on as we did in the first period."

The Blues don't have time to dwell, as they chartered to Pittsburgh after the game, where they'll play the Penguins Sunday afternoon (12 p.m. on FSN, KMOX 1120-AM) trying to avoid their first three-game losing streak of any kind.

"Yeah, another tough team," Shattenkirk said of the Penguins, who rallied to defeat Tampa Bay 4-3 in overtime Saturday afternoon. "Another team that's trying to push forward. Another great chance to prove ourselves."

* NOTES -- The Blues scratched Maxim Lapierre and Brenden Morrow in favor of Magnus Paajarvi, who returned after missing the past two games with an upper-body injury, and Porter. Jordan Leopold could play Sunday against the Penguins. He was cleared from the high ankle sprain suffered Feb. 8 but came down with a bout of the stomach flu. Carlo Colaiacovo replaced Ian Cole in the lineup Saturday. ... Miller stopped 15 shots and has given up seven goals on 45 shots the past two games after allowing only 13 goals the previous eight games. ... T.J. Oshie momentarily left the game during the third period after blocking a Simmonds shot with his hand but returned to the game. ... The Blues lost for only the second time in regulation (38-2-5) when scoring first. They also lost for the first time (26-1-3) when leading after one period. ... The Blues' last regulation loss to the Flyers was Dec. 17, 2005. They were 3-0-2 the past five meetings.

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