Monday, January 4, 2016

Blues blow two-goal lead, fall to Senators in overtime

Ryan's second goal enables Ottawa to rally for 3-2 victory; 
St. Louis laments lost lead, falls for fourth time in five games

ST. LOUIS -- Two straight losses in which the Blues had the game within reach in the third period but failed, an opportunity Monday night presented itself in a good fashion.

The Blues had the Ottawa Senators right where they wanted them. The Blues had the Senators down, on the ropes in the second of back-to-back games and ready to absorb a fourth straight defeat.

But in a fashion that's becoming disturbing, the Blues aren't putting teams away -- particular in the third period where they've been so dominant in recent history -- and it reared its ugly head again in a 3-2 overtime loss on Bobby Ryan's second goal of the game with 2 minutes, 27 seconds remaining.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues left wing Robby Fabbri (15) tries to fend off Senators defenseman and
St. Louis native Chris Wideman Monday at Scottrade Center. 

The Blues (23-14-5) got a point out of the game, but in no shape or form, should have had two. And that was the sentiment in the locker room.

They had a 2-0 lead on goals by Troy Brouwer (his first in 10 games) and a power play goal from Kevin Shattenkirk and were on the verge of putting away a Senators team (19-15-6) that had been shut out in back-to-back games, including a 3-0 setback at Chicago on Sunday, but instead, gave Ottawa life with a late mistake and ensuing power goal goal in the second. Then allowing the Senators to tie the game with another power play goal following a sloppy penalty and not putting a team away.

The Blues had chances to regain the lead in the third and even win it in overtime but seemed to lose their mojo and in the end, lose the game.

"Especially tonight, playing a team that played last night, we have to find a way to bury them," defenseman Alex Pietrangelo said. "We took our foot off the gas. It's unacceptable on our part. You've got a team 2-1 in the third period that played last night, we're fresh, we have to find a way to finish that. We have to put a foot down and bury them and not let them get back into it."

The Blues, who improved to 19-1-1 in the past 21 games after downing Nashville here on Dec. 29 when ahead (11-1-1) or tied (8-0-0) after two periods, are now 0-2-1 in the past three games. They were tied with both Minnesota and Toronto 1-1 after two and lost those games 3-1 and 4-1, respectively, and led 2-1 Monday and lost.

Coach Ken Hitchcock came into his press conference and asked what the players said and when he heard players commenting on not putting the game away, he agreed.

"They're right on the mark," Hitchcock said. "We had a chance to bury them and we could have buried them a number of ways. We could have buried them offensively and we could have buried them defensively and we let them off the hook. We made at the tough moment in the game, we made some mistakes at the end of the second, but it was after complete domination in the second period, it's 2-0 with a couple minutes left in the second, but it could have been 4- or 5-0 and could have really buried them. I think the players are right on the mark."

Asked if he was concerning, Hitchcock said, "Coaches always worry about that stuff, but when it's concerning for the players, then the simplification gets dialed up. That's why I was saying if you ask them, how concerning is it for them. Is it just one of those games where you leave and you say you played well. We've had a lot of this go on lately. 

"Yes, we've played well, but at critical times, we've been the team making the mistakes. You look at the last two games against Minnesota and Toronto and it's the same thing. Critical time we were the ones making the mistake and you come there and you say you played well, but this is not the time in the season to be saying that we think we played well. It's about points, it's about wins, it's about doing anything and everything you have to do to get it done, but it's also about not having to expound a ton more energy like we had to today. We overplayed players again because we had a real advantage and we really had it on a roll, but we overplayed people again because we're chasing the game again trying to catch back into it again."

Mike Hoffman scored late in the second period and Ryan, who has 17 goals and 30 points in 23 games against the Blues, tied it early in the third period and the Blues found themselves starting over in a game that obviously had the opportunity to go easily in their favor.

"We need to be better; that's the bottom line," Brouwer said. "We show areas of brilliance where teams can't get out of their zone, teams can't do anything and we suffocate them and then we show stints where we think we have a little bit too much confidence or we think we're doing a little bit more than we should be and we turn pucks over and we end up in our zone a majority of the time. We know how to play. It's just executing it and doing it throughout all four lines the majority of the game."

Hitchcock flipped Brouwer and Tarasenko, putting Brouwer on a line with Alexander Steen and Paul Stastny and putting Tarasenko back with old friend Jori Lehtera and Robby Fabbri. The moves seemed to work, but Hitchcock found himself playing some players more minutes as the game wore on because others weren't up to par, and it seemed to zap the Blues, who normally dictate third periods.

"It takes a lot to win in the league right now," Hitchcock said. "We're going through stretch right now where we're letting people off the hook a little bit. If the players can grab onto this and really grab it and the sense of urgency inside the locker room grows, then we can grow from this. There's a lot of teams doing what we're doing and whoever comes out of the pack is going to be successful."

Slipping and falling down right before he scored the game-winning goal against the St. Louis Blues, Ryan called it a planned play.

Ryan was joking of course, but as it turned out falling down, falling down was a blessing in disguise.

Ryan, who scored his 200th NHL goal in the third period and had an assist for a three-point night, beat Brian Elliott, who made 29 saves, with a backhand shot for the game-winner after taking a pass from Mark Stone off a give-and-go. But before that, he was retrieving a puck in the Blues' zone, slipped as he was going to the side boards but got it back after St. Louis native Chris Wideman got to the puck first ahead of Blues defenseman Alex Pietrangelo, poked it to Ryan for a 2-on-1.

"That's the old rope-a-dope," Ryan said. "That's exactly the way we drew it up fall down, swipe at the puck, get it back somehow and when you get it across, you're going to get it back and it's going to lay on your tape. So the rest of it's pretty easy for me."

Ryan said he had no idea it was Wideman that bailed him out after he slipped.

"Is that how we got that? OK," Ryan said. "Yeah, yeah OK he was useful then. I guess he was out there. Yeah, a nice point for him if he got it in his hometown and I'm sure his family will be excited."   

The Blues, who led 2-1 going into the third period, have been outscored 6-0 in the past three third periods.

"I thought we actually had a decent third period to be honest with you," Brouwer said. "I thought we had a lot of zone time. We slowed ourselves down a little bit by a few neutral zone turnovers and that put us in the D-zone and taking penalties as a result. I think if can clean up our neutral zone, get in a little bit quicker, a little bit cleaner, then we look faster, we play better, we have more zone time and we spend less time in our zone."

Ottawa ended its goal drought at 174:24 when Hoffman scored a power-play goal with 1:14 remaining in the second to cut the Blues lead to 2-1. He took Ryan's pass in the left circle and beat Elliott high at the near post for his 19th of the season.

Steen, who had two assists in the game, turned the puck over near the Blues' blue line and kept a play alive for the Senators, and Carl Gunnarsson, who had his first NHL fight in his 406th game, took a holding the stick penalty.

"Those are the ones with under two minutes left, you've got to go into the (intermission) with some momentum," Elliott said. "They obviously had it and they scored again the next period. That's what the game's all about.

Ryan tied the game with Ottawa's second power-play goal, this one following Jay Bouwmeester's tripping penalty. Kyle Turris won a faceoff and Ryan was able to take a long-range wrist shot through a screen by Stone that beat Elliott high 5:01 into the third.

Turris outworked Bouwmeester along the boards, then was tripped  to give the Senators their power play chance.

"I had a hunch he was going to shoot; that's kind of why I went down," Elliott said of Ryan. "I didn't see it off his stick or in the air or anything."

When asked the Blues aren't putting teams away in the third period, Elliott said, "We're not doing it. Plain and simple. We have to hold ourselves accountable from goaltending out. When we have a lead, you keep it and you don't give it up."

Brouwer opened the scoring 14:16 into the game with his seventh goal of the season and first in 10 games; it came after Elliott made a save following a Colton Parayko turnover. On the return rush, Paul Stastny fed Brouwer; he gave the puck to Steen, then got it back and beat Hammond high at the near post.

The Blues went 152:21 between 5-on-5 goals, the last one was scored by Shattenkirk on Dec. 30. The drought was 162:12 between 5-on-5 goals scored by a forward.

"It's always nice to be able to score, especially when you're in a little bit of a drought, but to lose the game, especially in that fashion," Brouwer said. "That's what the focus is on for me. The fact that we should have had two points and we're only coming away with one is very disappointing."
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues goalie Brian Elliott (1) steers the puck away from the net with
teammate Jay Bouwmeester nearby Monday against Ottawa.

Shattenkirk's power-play goal 7:42 into the second gave the Blues a 2-0 lead. With David Backes providing a screen, Shattenkirk's slap shot from the blue line rattled off both posts went into the net for his eighth of the season.

"We came out pretty good," said Elliott, who made several key saves, especially early. "Everybody was kind of working together and getting pucks in, ragging it down low and that's what you want to see. It's there. We've got to keep doing it throughout the game.

"We've got to start burying teams when we have the chance. I felt like we could have. We had kind of our foot on the gas and then I think for some reason, we couldn't get that extra goal. When you get that 3-1 goal, that makes a big difference instead of leaving it 2-1. That's what we need to do."

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