Friday, October 10, 2014

Missed scoring chances have Blues thinking shoot more pucks

Stastny, Berglund miss practice Friday, will play 
Saturday against Calgary after avoiding serious injury

ST. LOUIS -- A loss on opening night was enough for the Blues to digest.

It could have been worse.

So all things considered, the Blues can deal with losing, move on and improve.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues forward Patrik Berglund (right) fights for position with the Rangers'
Ryan McDonagh Thursday night at  Scottrade Center.

The Blues' 3-2 loss to the New York Rangers ended in the strangest of ways, with Rick Nash scoring his second goal of the game with 1 minute, 50 seconds remaining after a weird carom off the side glass as the puck his a stanchion off Alex Pietrangelo's clearing attempt and came back into the low right circle in front of Brian Elliott.

Martin St. Louis passed the puck under a diving Jay Bouwmeester to Nash, who deposited the puck into the top shelf and snatched at least a point, if not two, from the Blues, who surged towards victory with a big third period.

"I didn't know where (the puck) was," Bouwmeester said. "I knew it went up in the air. You've got to look and see where everyone was looking. It's a pretty crazy bounce and falls to the guy right in front of the net. Things like that happen. It works both ways sometimes.

"Throughout the year, you're going to get your fair share of bounces go your way. The timing of it wasn't very good. It happens."

It was earlier in the game that could have cost the Blues a pair of regulars, as both Paul Stastny and Patrik Berglund suffered injuries in the game. So consider their injuries being minimal a good bounce.

Stastny's could have been more serious than originally thought after the Blues' center was upended by Rangers defenseman Dan Girardi, who stuck his leg out and appeared to make contact with Stastny's knee late in the second period. Stastny skated off the ice under his own power after being attended to by trainer Ray Barile and fortunately for the Blues, returned to the game in the third period and scored his first goal as a Blue to tie the game 2-2 after the goal originally went to Vladimir Tarasenko.

Both Stastny (quad contusion) and Berglund (upper-body) missed practice Friday, but coach Ken Hitchcock said neither will be affected for the Calgary Flames, who come to Scottrade Center for a game Saturday.

"He's sore today, but he'll be good to go tomorrow," Hitchcock said of Stastny. "Both him and Bergie (who took a slash) were sore today, but they'll both be in the lineup tomorrow, so that will be good."

Stastny said after the game he didn't feel the Girardi play was malicious and felt it was OK. Hitchcock wasn't OK with it.

"I wasn't," he said. "It's like anything else, that step-up play is dangerous. Whether it's your player or someone else's player, you're always fearful when a player steps up and then the angle changes. 

"I'm sitting there looking at him on the ice thinking MCL, ACL. We're lucky that it was a quad contusion."

The loss Thursday was marred by a slower-than-usual start for the Blues, who were outshot 16-8 in the first period -- they gave up only nine shots the rest of the way -- and a lack of shooting pucks. 

"I thought they were better than us in the first period, but not that much better," Hitchcock said of the Rangers. "It felt like it on the bench that we were behind it in the first period, but then you looked at the scoring chances and we had more scoring chances than we did in the second. And then the second, I thought, 'Jeez, we were playing really good. We didn't create a lot.' And then we created a lot in the third. We had a lot of opportunities in the third. Once we caught up to speed, I thought we played really well in the third. It was a heck of a hockey game. It was a hard, demanding game for both teams. I thought both teams' defense ... we struggled with their speed, and they struggled with our weight and size. I thought both teams' defense were under a lot of pressure and a lot of heat most of the night."

The Blues decided to come out and instead of playing their tough, gritty style of game, they tried showcasing more than usual for the 19,183 that packed into the arena.

"Maybe earlier we tried getting too cute," Bouwmeester said. "We're trying to make pretty plays instead of just doing the work. I think everyone knows the simpler you keep it early in the game, maybe it backs teams off and you wear them down. You tend to open things and you can make plays. We probably got a little ahead of ourselves not going the work and putting the skill in I guess."

Defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk agreed.

"I think we were kind of still playing preseason hockey and then we saw what it takes to get back into the swing of things in the regular season," Shattenkirk said. "You could see it in the second and third period, we definitely started playing in the right way. It was just a matter of shaking out those jitters with the ceremony and everything. We were a little flat-footed out there. We kind of took too long to shake the cobwebs out.

"We knew (the Rangers' speed) was there. If you look at their top two lines, they have a ton of speed up there. That (Anthony) Duclair kid was someone we really didn't know about. He was very fast and played a very good game. It wasn't like we weren't prepared for it. It's the style in the East, too. It's that fast-paced style. It wasn't as gritty and physical that you normally see in a Western Conference game."

But a daunting issue on many nights a season ago (shooting pucks) seemed to be a looming problem for the Blues against Henrik Lundqvist, who didn't have to work too hard until the ladder portions of the game.

The Blues passed up scoring opportunities to make an extra play. Sound familiar?

"The happy medium is to shoot the puck more," Hitchcock said. "We want to make the next play too much. That's what we have to get rid of. If we want to score more, we have to shoot the puck from the shooting positions. ... It's not hammering the points. It's understanding how you score. It's how you score in the National Hockey League. That's how you score. The teams that scored six goals last night, they were just drilling pucks at the net left and right. That's how you score. You've got bodies at the net, you've got traffic at the net, you've got people willing to stick around long enough to score and that's how you score goals.

"... What we've done since Day 1 of training camp is look for a different opportunity that's kind of there, but I've said this before and I've said this about Tarasenko: we're still too unselfish. We need to be more selfish inside the dots. We need to put more pucks and make them defend more because we have the ability to create more. But it doesn't equal scoring more because you have a little more skill. You still have to shoot the puck from the hard areas, and we were guilty of it yesterday, passing off. We've been like that since Day 1 of training camp. We've got to get that out of us. Sometimes when you play games like that and you figure it out, it helps you. Yesterday was missed opportunities. ... I think we're too busy at times looking for empty-net goals rather than let's get that funneling mentality activity at the net back again."

Sometimes, old habits tend to be tough to change.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
The Rangers' Mats Zuccarello (second from left) looks to maneuver between
Blues players Kevin Shattenkirk (22) and Jay Bouwmeester on Thursday.

"As much as you think things are going to be the same, they change," Hitchcock said. "It's just drawing guys in one player at a time. We have some guys who are already in and up and running and then we have some guys that are still trying to find their way. 

"I think the thing that really impressed me was (Jori) Lehtera's game. I thought (Joakim) Lindstrom really showed a lot of moxie also. We've got a lot of stuff we can build on, but it's the first time Ian Cole's played against top players in his career. He had a little bit of a phase where he played with Petro for a little while there, but that was a small sampling. Yesterday was the first time where all of the sudden, he's playing against top players every shift, so there's a mental adjustment for guys to go through, too. We're going to be like everybody else. There's going to be some growing pains that we go through. I just like the potential at the end of the day. Hopefully we can build on it."

* NOTES -- T.J. Oshie's fight with the Rangers' Mats Zuccarello was only the third fight of the Blues' right wing's career. But after taking a late, high hit from the Rangers' right wing, Oshie felt he had no choice.

"So I gave him a little shot to the back of the legs," Oshie said of Zuccarello. "He turned around and asked me if I wanted to go right away. I said, 'Yes' and we went."

Oshie fought San Jose's Tommy Wingels in 2013 and Colorado's Ryan Wilson in 2011.

"I don't know if it's a good thing if you can count them all on one hand," Oshie said. ""The first one (against Wilson) was actually OK. I threw a couple of punches in my one against Wilson. The second one against Wingels was kind of just a wrestling match. That one last night, I was fresh on the ice and ready to go."

One teammate was appreciative of Oshie's extra-physical activity at the time.

"I was going crazy on the bench," enforcer Ryan Reaves said. "He handled it real well. I've seen him fight once a year and he always does real well. I don't know, I guess he's got that inner-killer in him."

* * * Shattenkirk said that when he got stripped of the puck by Kreider for the Rangers' first goal -- also scored by Nash -- he wasn't aware until it was too late that there was a forward coming at him from behind.

Shattenkirk was looking to move the puck up the ice before Kreider stripped him of the puck and fed Nash, who beat Brian Elliott with a similar shot as the game-winner from the high slot.

"No, I took a little long finding the puck in my skates and then as I kind of got it and started to skate up ice, just at the last second, I heard someone call it, 'Heads up,'" Shattenkirk said. "And (Kreider) just lifted my stick and he made a good second effort to get that puck to Nash.

"That's something where more than anything, we had numbers. We had numbers back, which means you protect the puck or make a quick play. You just want to pass the puck and get it out of harm's way."

Shattenkirk said it's a matter of working out the quirks early and get better the next time.

"It's one game. We still have 81 to go," he said. "I think we can take the positives that we built in the right way as the game went on. The game-winning goal was a fluky play. It's a tough way to lose it, especially after we mounted that comeback. Now we know what it takes. It's just a matter of doing it tomorrow. If we don't do it tomorrow, then we have an issue there."

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