Saturday, February 21, 2015

Another slow start dooms Blues in 4-2 loss to Penguins

Pittsburgh scores four unanswered; St. Louis misses chance to gain ground

ST. LOUIS -- Another slow start meant another game of catch-up hockey for the Blues.

It happened to begin the four-game homestand against the Dallas Stars last Tuesday and again on Friday against the Boston Bruins before the Blues reeled the game in and won.

Saturday against the rested Pittsburgh Penguins, it happened again, and the Blues couldn't recover.

Blake Comeau had two goals and an assist to help the Penguins solve their recent offensive woes in a 4-2 win against the Blues before 19,621 at Scottrade Center on Saturday. 
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Dmitrij Jaskin, who scored his ninth goal Saturday, is being chased by the
Penguins' Derrick Pouliot. 

The win is Pittsburgh's first in regulation in St. Louis since Nov. 1, 2008. 

Patric Hornqvist scored a power-play goal, the Penguins' first in 10 games, Brandon Sutter had a goal and Thomas Greiss made 21 saves.

The Blues (38-17-4) lost for the second time in three games during a four-game homestand; they defeated the Bruins 5-1 on Friday. Dmitrij Jaskin and Ian Cole scored, Vladimir had two assists and Brian Elliott made 25 saves.

The Blues missed out on a chance to pull within three points of Central Division-leading Nashville Predators with the game in hand but something that's been troublesome is another slow start.

The Blues are plus-1 in the first period (46-45) and for the third time on this homestand allowed the first goal of the game in the first period.

"I think you have slow starts when you're not connected in your team play," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. "We're a team that relies on structure, puck support, discipline with puck support, everybody in the same page. Some teams can maybe play on 70 percent on the same page; we're not one and we're on 70 percent.

"This is the same feeling early in December. It's the same feeling ... off the page, not all in sync so we get exposed a little bit."

The slow starts seem to be combined with the end result. The Blues' shot totals for the past three games are 28 against the Stars, 15 against the Bruins and goalie Malcolm Subban, who was making his NHL debut and 23 on Saturday against Greiss, a journeyman.

"I think they're all connected," Hitchcock said. "I think you're talking shots on goal, scoring chances, lost special teams battles ... I think you're talking all that stuff. They're all connected. For us to win, we don't rely on individual performance, we real on really good team play, and when our team play is off a little bit, we suffer, and that's that's happened."

The Penguins took a 1-0 lead on Comeau's 13th of the season, and first against the Blues in 10 games, after a fortuitous bounce. 

Blues forward Alexander Steen won a defensive zone faceoff, but defenseman Petteri Lindbohm's clearing attempt caromed into the slot, where Comeau backhanded a shot five-hole through Elliott with 3:29 remaining in the first period.

Once the Blues were in catch-up mode again, they tend to get away from what they do best.

"I feel like the other teams are starting to get into playoff hockey mode and I think we're a step behind," Blues right wing T.J. Oshie said. "It's taking us too long."

Elliott took the onus Saturday.

"Yeah, I mean, it starts with me obviously in net," Elliott said. "I want to give our team a chance to win. When you keep getting scored on throughout the game, it's got to come to a stop. We obviously didn't have the energy with playing back-to-back. But I think we've found ways to grind wins out in the past, so we've got to get back on that same page."

Hornqvist took a pass from Sidney Crosby in the slot and beat Elliott with a wrist shot 6:26 into the second to make it 2-0. The Penguins had gone 0-for-20 on the power play the previous nine games. 

"We've been struggling on the power play, but even in the last game against Columbus, we did some good things," Hornqvist said. "We're moving the puck quicker and you just have to hit the net. Tonight, we hit the net."

Comeau scored again in the second period off a redirection in the high slot of a Simon Despres shot from the point with 4:22 left in the second to give Pittsburgh a 3-0 lead.

"We did a lot of things we've been preaching over the last couple weeks, getting guys to the net and specialty teams come up big, especially the way they did for us tonight," Comeau said. " 

Crosby thought he had scored his first goal against the Blues off a quick redirection of a cross-ice pass in the third period on the power play, but a lengthy eight-minute review went with the call on the ice. Officials ruled no goal with 15:14 remaining in the game. 
(St. Louis Blues photo)
The Blues' Chris Porter (32) returned to the lineup against the Pittsburgh
Penguins and Beau Bennett (left) on Saturday.

Sutter scored with 7:39 remaining just as a Blues penalty expired on a wrist shot from the slot to make it 4-0. 

Jaskin ended Greiss' shutout bid when his shot from the low slot squirted through the pads with 5:27 remaining after taking Jori Lehtera's feed. Cole's slap shot from the top of the right circle with 1:22 remaining cut the Penguins' lead to 4-2.

"Our third period was better, but for the most part, we're not playing good enough," Oshie said. "Our goalies have been out best players all year and we're hanging them out to dry right now. 

"A few areas we can get better in; our fundamentals, our tape-to-tape passing ... I know it sounds elementary, but it's something that'll speed up our play and get us better puck possession and hopefully more O-zone time."

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