Sunday, December 13, 2015

Season-high in shots not enough as Blues fall to Avs 3-1

St. Louis can't follow up solid win Saturday, 
solve Varlamov after falling behind by two in first

ST. LOUIS -- The emotional victory against the Dallas Stars on Saturday gave the Blues fuel to perhaps start a positive stretch of hockey.

But less than 24 hours after shutting out the NHL-leading Stars, the Blues continued a stretch of yoyo games where they'd win one, lose one, win one, lose one.

They threw everything but the kitchen sink at Colorado Avalanche goalie Semyon Varlamov on Sunday night, including a season-high 43 shots but an inauspicious start put the Blues in a hole and they couldn't recover during a 3-1 loss before 17,961 at Scottrade Center.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
The Blues threw 43 shots at Semyon Varlamov (right) but could only solve
the Avs goalie once in a 3-1 defeat on Sunday.

Both teams played on Saturday, and the Avalanche (14-16-1) beat the Nashville Predators 3-2, but it was the Blues (17-10-4) that waded into the game a bit more than Colorado did in a take of two weary teams.

The Avalanche took advantage of a turnover in the neutral zone and blown coverage in front of Jake Allen and got goals from Jack Skille and John Mitchell. 

They staked Semyon Varlamov to a 2-0 lead early, then sat back and watched their goalie do the rest.

Varlamov, who made 76 of 79 saves in less than 24 hours, was good, but Blues coach Ken Hitchcock and players were obviously peeved at the night's result. The Blues felt they let this slip away.

"I just look at this as a missed opportunity. Missed opportunity," Hitchcock said. "They scored on their three chances they had in the first period, they scored two and we had five, six I guess, didn't. Obviously the last two periods, the rink tilted. Missed opportunity. Disappointing.

"I don't have the third, but it was ... doesn't really matter, but it was triple, quadruple after two, I don't know (in scoring opportunities). I think the second period was 11-2. Third was probably close to the same."

The Blues, who got a power play goal from -- who else? -- Vladimir Tarasenko with 7 minutes, 5 seconds remaining, had chance after chance after chance.

But a team that scored four or more goals in back-to-back games on Nov. 4 and 7, has only produced the four-goal marker now in only one of their past 17 games, and that came in Tuesday's 4-1 win against Arizona when David Backes scored an empty-netter.

The volume of shots (78-36 in favor of the Blues) was there again, and there certainly was a number of high-quality chances. But there were also opportunities that were in high percentage areas that players simply missed the net, they're passing up shots for a better pass and it's producing mixed results of late.

"It seems like it's happening in the game when we're not successful and we're not winning," said defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk, who had a prime chance coming alone down the slot 4:39 into the second period and missed the net. "I think that's when we really have to make sure we're bearing down on those chances ... when we have a first period like that and things aren't going our way, we have to put more importance on putting those in the net and gaining our momentum back. We're doing a good job of grabbing the game and getting it back in our favor, but when we get those chances, it's crucial that we bury them and get the goal and get the product to show for it.

"We had a few from out top where we had his eyes taken away. He's a big goalie, he goes down and he kind of keeps his shoulders up. He makes sure that he takes away as much of the net as possible and just tries to block it. Kudos to him, he made some really big saves at crucial times. We missed a lot of chances. The chance I had (early) in the second period, where I missed the net wide, that just can't happen. It's got to go in the net. When our forwards are doing such a good job for us and they give the defensemen a chance like that, we have to put it in the net."

The Blues, who were all over Dallas and outshot them 17-5 in the first period Saturday, were not able to duplicate that effort again Sunday. Instead, they were forced to play catch-up, and for a goal-starved team, it's not a good spot to be in.

The Avalanche took advantage of the six shots they took in the first period and scored twice. 

Skille's third of the season came after a Petteri Lindbohm giveaway in the neutral zone when he got crossed up with defensive partner Shattenkirk, Mikhail Grigorenko picked the pass off and sent Skille in on Allen. Skille beat Allen with a wrist shot from the high slot 6:09 into the game to make it 1-0.

"Yeah, I had kind of pinched so I was just trying to hustle back and be some sort of support or just get back and be a safety valve for him," Shattenkirk said. "As he kind of turned out of that play, I don't think he realized I was there. I kind of just got in his way. So it was unfortunate on my part, I think I kind of surprised him. He wasn't able to really make that hard play that he wanted to and then we're not able to recover on it."

After Varlamov robbed Dmitrij Jaskin in tight, Mitchell made it 2-0 for Colorado after he was able to jam a puck past Allen from in tight on a behind-the-net feed from Alex Tanguay at 11:50. The goal came 38 seconds after Varlamov's save on Jaskin and with Mitchell sandwiched between a trio of Blues players (Alex Pietrangelo, Jay Bouwmeester and Jori Lehtera).

"Yeah, it was a coverage issue," Hitchcock said. "It was a little bit there, but we got stuck behind the net with three guys for a second. 

"Those things are gonna happen, but you've got to be able to score two or more goals in your building if you expect to win. You've got to bury those opportunities. I would call this a missed opportunity; that's the best way to describe it. We've could have really grown and really extended things because we were really playing yesterday and we really played in the second and third. This is a missed opportunity. Players are a little bit angry and disappointed. We'll grow from it even further."

Allen, who came into the game with 48 out of 49 saves the past two starts including a 26-save shutout Saturday, gave up two goals on the first five shots. 

Tarasenko's 18th of the season came on his 24th birthday and put the Blues on the board with a power-play goal, ending Colorado's string of 16 straight penalty kills. He followed up Shattenkirk's drive from the point with a rebound at 12:55 of the third, but the Blues could not score the tying goal.

The Blues lamented that they couldn't get the first one sooner.

The Blues outshot the Avalanche 35-12 over the final two periods and felt they had chances but couldn't solve the goalie.

"(Varlamov) played well, but I think it's one of those games when you're down 2-0 and you just start pouring it on and they sat back a little bit and we took it to them," center Paul Stastny said. "That's what happens when you're down two goals and the other team's up two goals. For us, it's more about the way we started that game. Both teams are coming off back-to-backs. We almost had to try and find a way to get that first one and then play our game the way we wanted to, but we got behind early and that first period wasn't our best until we were down 2-0, which can't happen when we're at home."

The Avalanche, naturally credited their goalie for winning a hockey game for them. The Blues were a little more cautious.

"I think when you start giving credit to the goaltender, then you're in trouble," Hitchcock said. "At the end of the day, it doesn't really matter. You've got to outwork the goalie, and we didn't. Doesn't matter how many chances we had. We didn't outwork the goalie. You get some days where you're just exhausted. They were exhausted in the second and third period and we had them hemmed in, but we couldn't finish them off. We couldn't get the first goal early enough in the game, we couldn't finish them off. They had a highly emotional game yesterday just like we did. Both teams started kind of slowly and casual and then when it really dialed up and we started to hem them in, we couldn't put them away."
(St. Louis Blues photo)
The Blues' Magnus Paajarvi (56) and the Avs' 
Nick Holden battle for a loose puck on Sunday.

Putting Colorado away also meant at least giving themselves a chance at tying the game when the Blues pulled Allen with roughly 1:25 remaining.

The Blues used a timeout 1:21 remaining and had an offensive zone faceoff with a sixth attacker, won the faceoff and had quality zone time, but instead of using Varlamov and the Avalanche goal as a shooting gallery, the Blues passed it, and passed it, and passed it; Tarasenko, Shattenkirk and Alexander Steen all passed up chances to shoot pucks, instead looking for a better play/pass. It's something else that's been bothersome lately: passing up shots when they're there.

"I don't want to get into that right now because that part has made us really angry right now, so I'm only really angry, now I'm going to get really, really angry," Hitchcock said. "That's disappointing also."

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