Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Lethargic Blues fall 4-1 to Stars

Benn hat trick leads way for Dallas; game has Hitchcock "concerned"

ST. LOUIS -- The Blues will wake up on Wednesday with 78 points and still in a good position in the Western Conference playoff race and Central Division standings.

But Tuesday's 4-1 loss to the Dallas Stars displayed more disturbing up-and-down patterns in the Blues' game that has coach Ken Hitchcock concerned despite a 15-3-1 run.

"I think this is a team that wasn't ready to compete," Hitchcock said. "Weren't ready from the start."
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues defenseman Barret Jackman (5) played in his 780th NHL game on
Tuesday against Dallas, moving him past Brian  Sutter for second on the
franchise's all-time games played list. The Blues lost 4-1.

That was evident, as the Stars (27-22-8) scored three times in the game's first 8:38 sealed a game Dallas desperately needed and one the Blues (37-16-4) sure could have used on their end.

The Blues escaped a 2-1 shootout win at Florida on Sunday after dominating much of the first half of that game, then getting outshot 21-7 by the Panthers and thanks to Brian Elliott -- who was the sacrificial lamb Tuesday by giving up three goals on six shots before being pulled in favor of Jake Allen -- saving them two points. 

Tuesday, there would be no saviors in goal.

"That wasn't the problem in Florida," Hitchcock said of the start Tuesday. "We weren't ready at the end in Florida ... troubling. It would be troubling to not come back and be ready to play, especially ... Dallas has had the advantage on us the last two games early in the game and we've had to mount comebacks in the games to be competitive. It's concerning."

The Blues looked slow and lethargic early and the Stars -- sans their star player Tyler Seguin, who's out 3-6 weeks with a knee injury -- were faster and played with more structure. And their captain, Jamie Benn, made good on the Stars' scoring opportunities.

Benn scored twice in the first period that was culminated with his first NHL hat trick with a power play goal in the second period against Allen. By then, the Blues were down 4-0 and the game was over.

Benn scored twice in the first period and Cody Eakin scored 20 seconds after Benn's second goal. In all, the Stars scored three times in the first 8:38 of the game and chased Elliott. Allen made 15 saves.

"It was an ugly start," said defenseman Barret Jackman, who played in his 780th NHL game to move into second place on the franchise games played list ahead of Brian Sutter. "We weren't fighting through picks, losing some battles back to the net, just giving them way too many opportunities right in the middle of the ice. You can't blame Ells for any one of those. We let down on the coverage and gave them those chances.

"It was pretty much the same, just sloppy play, no support in our end and just losing some battles. It felt like a bit of a carryover from the other night."

Benn's 20th of the season put the Stars on top at 2:47 of the first period. Spezza won a faceoff in the Blues' zone and John Klingberg got the puck back to the Stars' captain, who stepped into a slap shot from the high slot and beat Elliott.

Benn's second of the game came off a 2-on-1 after a missed pinch by Blues defenseman Chris Butler. Spezza fed Benn for a quick one-timer past Elliott at 8:18. 

"The first goal's a blown defensive zone draw that Jamie Benn shooting from the ladies tees, he doesn't miss from there," captain David Backes said. "We give up a 2-on-1 a couple shifts later and it's 2-0 pretty early. I take a ton of responsibility tonight. I think my line will own that as a group as well and we just need to be better. I think the second half's a little bit better, but still, they skated all night and we kind of watched it and they outnumbered us all over the ice and really dominated the play."

Eakin scored 20 seconds later to make it 3-0 by following up Ryan Garbutt's bad-angled shot, ending Elliott's night. 

Elliott was obviously not pleased -- as all goalies wouldn't be -- when he was removed. But it seemed to be more of a favor to him rather than some sort of punishment.

"That was tough for Ells," Allen said. "Sometimes we deserve it, but that was tough. We started slow the first 10 minutes ... they came out flying. We've got to be prepared.  We were playing a team that's fighting for their lives for a playoff spot trying to make a statement and we came out flat. It's not the way we play, it's not our identity.

"Things weren't clicking tonight. We weren't on the same page, we weren't playing our game. We weren't putting pucks deep, we weren't playing behind their D. ... We created a few chances and their goalie made some saves, but it just wasn't us tonight. We have to get back to the drawing board and get back to the basics." 

Benn completed his hat trick on the power play when he took a puck along the right boards, skated into the circle and beat Allen with a top-shelf wrist shot to the near side 3:39 into the second to make it 4-0. It was the first hat trick by a Stars player other than Seguin since March 31, 2010, when former Star and current Blues left wing Steve Ott had one.

"It was a great shot, actually hit me in the face and went in," Allen said. "It was weird. That's why I didn't move because it was coming at my face. It head my head and went sideways. Great shot. I think he's probably the most underrated player in the league but great shot by him."

Patrik Berglund spoiled Kari Lehtonen's bid for a second straight shutout when he scored his seventh of the season off a Paul Stastny faceoff win and wrist shot from the slot with 7:30 remaining.

Jackman, in typical Jackman form, stepped up and fought Dallas' Antoine Roussel with 5:41 remaining after Roussel earlier in the period knocked down the Blues' Vladimir Tarasenko after a whistle stopped play.

"Still doing what he's done for 780 games here and that's play hard every shift no matter what the score is, stick up for his teammates and never back down," Backes said of Jackman. "He's a warrior, has been a warrior and he's a true meaning of what it means to be a St. Louis Blue. It's great to see that he's No. 2 and hopefully he's around to become No. 1 and play 1,000 games here. I think he'll give back all those interviews if we can win the game tonight and that's just the kind of character he is and that's the kind of mindset everyone in this room needs and working towards."

But the mood of Jackman's night was spoiled by the Blues' incompetent game.

"Your first word 'disappointing' is hitting the nail on the head," Blues captain David Backes said. "It starts with me, starts with our line and leading the right way."

"Weren't ready to go. Hard to play catch-up in this league," Hitchcock said. "They looked quicker, they looked ... better support. They played a good game and we didn't. It's the bottom line. We didn't do the things that make us look at act and behave like a good hockey club. We were spread out all over the ice. We're really good when we work for each other. We didn't work for each other at all today."

When asked why players fall into some of those bad habits, Hitchcock wanted no part of it.

"I don't know," he said. "You probably should ask them. That would be good."
(St. Louis Blues photo)
The Blues' T.J. Oshie (74) tries to beat Stars goalie Kari Lehtonen with a
shot Tuesday night at Scottrade Center.

"Sometimes it happens throughout the year," Jackman said. "It's all a matter of how you turn around. We've got to find a way to have better starts and continue to play 60 minutes. We did some things in the second and third period that were a little bit better but by that time it was out of hand and they were in control.

"I think it was a lack of our movement. We were standing still a lot. Even when we got the puck on breakouts, we weren't supporting each other and that's just being lazy with our feet and not working away from the puck."

The Blues will have two days to get things right before Boston and Pittsburgh come in for back-to-back games on Friday and Saturday.

"We need to regroup for a couple tough games on the weekend," Backes said.

"Tonight, it just wasn't our game, wasn't out night, weren't getting the bounces," Allen said. 

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