Saturday, November 12, 2016

Blues in fragile state after 8-4 pasting by Blue Jackets

Loss was most goals allowed since 8-1 loss here in 2010; 
Allen pulled, Pietrangelo suffers worst plus-minus game of career

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- It started out bad and turned into a slaughter.

But not the way the Blues wanted or hoped for. It was just a good, old-fashioned beatdown at the hands of the Columbus Blue Jackets in an 8-4 loss Saturday night at Nationwide Arena.

The goaltending wasn't good, the play on the ice wasn't good (except for the power play, which was 4-for-5). The Blues (7-6-3) were carved up early and often, and if a locker room wasn't already fragile, this broke the dam in an alarming way.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
The Blues' Jaden Schwartz (17) looks for a rebound in front of Columbus
defenseman Jack Johnson and goalie Sergei Bobrovsky (72).

The Blues, 4-6-3 since beginning the season with three straight wins, are doing what has been so unaccustomed in the Ken Hitchcock era: making mistake after mistake in the defensive zone and it's proving costly in the worst of ways.

It's the most goals the Blues have allowed since an 8-1 defeat here in Nov. 10, 2010.

Captain Alex Pietrangelo, whose minus-5 is the worst of his career, was just a sampling of everything that could go wrong, went wrong Saturday.

Jake Allen and Carter Hutton each gave up four goals; Allen on 12 shots and Hutton, who took the loss in relief, on 18 shots. The Blues were outcored 7-0 in 5-on-5 play and continued a trend of poor, shoddy play in recent weeks.

"Soft. Soft with the puck, soft on coverage," Hitchcock said, who was asked if it started from the opening faceoff. "Oh yeah, for sure.

"I think it's the last half of Nashville. Same thing happened."

In that game, the Blues led 1-0 with under two minutes left in the second period, and the bottom dropped out with a late second-period goal, and two quick goals sealed their fate.

Throw out that Vladimir Tarasenko had a four-point game (one goal, three assists), which matched a career high, David Perron had a three-assist game and Robby Fabbri returned after being a healthy scratch for the first time in his career with a two-goal game, this was one game for the trash can.

Better yet, toss it in the dumpster and burn it.

"We knew what was at stake, we were ready to play," center Paul Stastny said. "Maybe we're a fragile team. They score that first goal, a couple off the sticks, tough bounces but we've got to find ways to respond from that. It's kind of scary what we're doing to each other. We're trying to change when we're out there for too long and the d-men are stuck by themselves. We take our goalie out to kind of change momentum. A new goalie comes in right away and gets a 2-on-1, 3-on-1, 3-on-2's. Just because we score on the power play doesn't mean anything. What we're doing 5-on-5 to each other is the scary thing right now. 

"We're not playing as a team. When it's not going your way sometimes, you can't be content with just a goal here and an assist there. We've got to play as a group. I think we've got to find a way to stop the bleeding, especially in a building like this when they got a couple goals. They weren't bad plays; some were just unfortunate bounces, but that's the nature of the business. You get one bounce against you, eventually you're going to get a bounce your way. We're not playing for each other right now. We're not playing as a collective group and it shows. That's the frustrating part. We have to look at ourselves, we have to look within this locker room and figure out who we're playing for. We're playing for the guy next to us."

Allen came out and made a terrific save 40 seconds into the game on Brandon Saad, who got a Nick Foligno pass off a 2-on-1 and Allen made the right pad save, but it got disastrous after that.

Sam Gagner scored off a sharp angle shot shorthanded, and Allen didn't even move on the play just 2 minutes, 34 seconds into the game to give the Jackets a 1-0 lead.

Kevin Shattenkirk, who had a goal and assist, tied the game 1-1, getting the Blues' second power play goal in the past 27 tries off a nice pass play with Tarasenko and Perron at 6:35, but Columbus grabbed the lead right back after a bad Pietrangelo turnover after the Blues won the faceoff with Foligno beating Allen, who got a piece of the shot, from the left circle just eight seconds later for a 2-1 Columbus lead.

The floodgates opened after that.

"That hurt. That hurt for sure," Shattenkirk said. "I feel for 'Petro' because I know he's trying to make a play and it just doesn't go his way. We've all had those nights. He's someone who we back up and we play for as our captain. I thought the way he responded tonight was great. Yeah, he had a couple tough bounces go in off of him, but he stuck with it the whole game and that's what a leader does, and that's what I think we can all feed off of."

"That hurts a lot," Hitchcock said. "That's what happened in the Nashville game, too. We killed a 5-on-3 in the Nashville game and came back and got scored on the next shift when it went 5-on-5." 

Allen was momentarily replaced by Carter Hutton after the goal for 45 seconds and it was seen on replays that Hitchcock was talking to him after allowing two goals on four shots; he re-entered the game.

It didn't do much good as Alexander Wennberg made it 3-1 on a shot that deflected off Pietrangelo's stick, but bounced twice through Allen's pads on Columbus' eighth shot at 15:10.

Jaden Schwartz's effort to cut the Jackets lead to 3-2 went for nought after he broke up a potential scoring play at one end shorthanded, and split a pair of defensemen but couldn't beat Sergei Bobrovsky with 21 seconds remaining.

"We came back in here 3-1 and we wanted to go out there ... there was never a doubt in our mind that we were still in the game," Shattenkirk said. "I think we just needed to go back out there .. we couldn't get that back in our favor. We couldn't get the momentum to go our way. It's tough. It just doesn't happen for you and we've got to work through it."

But the second period didn't get any better. In fact, it got much worse. The bludgeoning continued.

Gagner's second chased Allen after four goals on 12 shots 5:18 into the period off a backhand flip shot to make it 4-1.

Brandon Dubinsky's first of the season greeted Hutton with a rebound goal into an empty side just 38 seconds later to make it 5-1.

Markus Nutivaara scored his first NHL goal after the Blues had several chances at the other end to score with a large amount of zone time, but Nutivaara scored from the slot at 10:52 to make it 6-1.

William Karlsson made it 7-1 at 13:30 on a shot from the top of the right circle that beat Hutton far side. The Jackets had seven goals in just 19 shots.

Fabbri got the Blues' second power play goal of the game at 15:54, taping in Tarasenko's centering feed.

Tarasenko ripped a power play goal past his Russian friend Bobrovsky 21 seconds into the third, but Columbus' Zach Werenski's power play goal, another shot that was deflected by a Blues player, put Columbus up 8-3 at 2:53 before Fabbri closed the scoring at 6:23 with the Blues' fourth power play goal.

The Blues, who are minus-10 in 5-on-5 goals for/against, come home with some serious soul-searching to do. Kicking the fragile state is among them.

"It's always fragile when you're not winning, but I don't think it's fragile," Hitchcock said. "We're not competing at the puck near hard enough and we're not firm with it. That's a bad recipe. We're firm in the offensive zone now. We've reversed the trend. We're firm in the offensive zone. We hang onto it. We make plays, we're determined, we get lots of scoring chances, but it doesn't matter what you do in the offensive zone if you're going to get beat 1-on-1 in your own zone and you're going to make soft plays with the puck, you're going to make soft plays with the puck and it ends up in your net and that's what's happening. They scored those three late goals against Nashville and it's continued on today.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Dmitrij Jaskin looks to shoot a backhand at the Columbus goal in front a
host of Blue Jackets players Saturday night.

"We're getting a lot of breakdowns. Every mistake we make ends up in our net. We're soft with the puck on the lines, you're going to be in trouble, and that's what happened."

"I think we're in a spot right now where we're a little dazed by the situation," Shattenkirk said. "You look back at the last five or six years, we haven't had a run like this really at all. It's new to us and we have to grow out of it. It's not fun, it's frustrating for everyone. 

"We're playing hard. It's not for lack of effort. We're playing hard. It's a matter of playing hard the right way. We're trying to use a lot of energy and turn things around, but it's a matter of doing it and doing it within our game plan and just trusting that it's going to work. Tonight there were a couple tough bounces for sure, but that was the game. That's kind of what's happening to us and we just have to keep working at it to get it back in our favor."

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