Thursday, November 10, 2016

Offensively-challenged Blues fall 3-1 to Predators

Nashville rallies to score three unanswered; Jarnkrok 
gets two against St. Louis team finding it tough to score goals

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Same story, different day.

An inability to finish and tax your penalty killers by taking multiple minor penalties again.

It's a script that's happened often, and it continues to add up for the Blues in a bad way.

Nashville scored two goals in a minute and six seconds of the third period to break a tie and go on to defeat the Blues 3-1 on Thursday before 17,259 at Bridgestone Arena to spoil the homecoming for Blues goalie Carter Hutton, who spent the past three seasons here in Nashville.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues center Jori Lehtera (12) and Predators goalie Pekka Rinne watch as
Jaden Schwartz's shot put the Blues ahead 1-0 on Thursday. 

The Blues (7-5-3) wrote the chapters to their early-season book again and in a nutshell, went like this: take a lead, have the chance to build on it and grab the game, force the opposition to chase but can't. Begin to play undisciplined, take unnecessary penalties, force your top players into exerting themselves into more minutes than they have to play, fade as the game moves along, see the other team take momentum, eventually have to play catch-up and open the game up, where it turns into a quagmire of turnovers.

Such was the case in Smashville and it allowed the Predators (5-5-3) to slowly grab the game before taking control in the third period with the two quick-strikes.

"We faded in the last 25 minutes," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. "... I don't think it's the penalties. We faded.

"That maybe is part of it, but I think after a while, you start living on one goal, you're not going to win many games."

Jaden Schwartz put the Blues in front just 3 minutes, 59 seconds into the first period after a good Colton Parayko keep-in, Jori Lehtera gets puck to Schwartz, who fed Tarasenko, who flipped pass to Schwartz going to the net and he beat Rinne short side under the glove for a 1-0 Blues lead.

The Blues were building good minutes with the "STL Line," and played Nail Yakupov, who was a healthy scratch the past three games, with Alexander Steen and Paul Stastny. They looked dangerous in the first period when the Blues outshot Nashville 11-9.

But the inability to make it 2-0, 3-0 and pour on the momentum is a cause for concern.

Over the last 12 games, the Blues have scored one goal or fewer a staggering eight times and have been outscored 33-22 in those 12 games. Of those 22 goals, 11 have come in two games and 11 in the other 10 games.

"We had chances," Schwartz said. "I felt like we've been creating a lot for most of the season so far. We've just got to find a way to score a bit more. We get a goal against Chicago with good traffic in front and we've got to do a little more than that. We had our chances tonight, no question (and) a couple point-blank ones. I think knowing hockey, that's how it goes sometimes and you're going to find you're going to be scoring two a game for (a bit). You've just got to stay with it, look at some clips and see if we can open a little bit more, too."

After the Blues had chances to extend the lead and couldn't do it, they then got into penalty trouble once again, including a 5-on-3 two-man disadvantage for 1:17 and killed that off after killing one off for 1:36 on Wednesday.

Two more times, they had to kill delay of game penalties after two on Wednesday, and another for too many men, as they did on Wednesday as well.

"The too many men on the ice shouldn't have been a call," Hitchcock said. "That was the wrong call, but the puck over the glass has got to stop. That's just too much panic."

"We just have to be more disciplined," left wing Scottie Upshall said. "It's part of the game. It wears on your good players. We've got some of our top guys that have to kill and have to play hard minutes. When you're looking for offense and goals and those players are spending five, six minutes a night on the PK, especially our 'D,' we've got to be better and stay out of the box. A lot of it's simple penalties that we can correct. It's a difference in the last couple games. We've got to fix it.

"The pucks over the glass, those are tough. We've killed four of those the last two games. Too many men, those are preventable. Six penalties there in the last couple games there are easily corrected with smarter plays. If you're taking penalties, you want to make sure you're taking them in the right way, and we haven't been. That's a momentum killer. Although our PK's been keeping us in games, our goaltending has. When you look for offense and you look for energy d own in their zone, you definitely got to play 5-on-5."

The Predators finally found paydirt when Calle Jarnkrok, who scored twice, tied the game with 1:34 remaining in the second off a backhand feed from Colin Wilson and quick shot past Alex Pietrangelo, beating Hutton high off his left shoulder and in to tie the game 1-1. 

"We were really playing," Hitchcock said. "When they scored that first goal, we lost our energy."

The goal came approximately three minutes after the Blues killed the 5-on-3.

"They had four or five power plays in a row, so that gives any team momentum," Schwartz said. "We killed them off, but it wears some of our guys out and gives their players touches and making plays and we're on our heels a bit killing penalties that long. That got the momentum. And we just lost some battles. I think we had chances to score more than one goal and couldn't find a way and we ended up scoring only one. That's tough to win when you're scoring only one or two goals."

James Neal put Nashville ahead for good at 3:44 of the third when he converted Mike Ribeiro's feed down low, and Jarnkrok scored at 4:50 after Steen was stripped from behind by Filip Forsberg in the Blues zone, Mike Fisher fed Jarnkrok in the slot and his shot beat Hutton.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
The Blues' Nail Yakupov (64) and Nashville's Mike Ribeiro battle for a
puck in front of Blues goalie Carter Hutton on Thursday.

"I didn't think we had any energy in the third period at all," Hitchcock said. "It showed up in the first two goals we got scored on. We lost two board battles. Next thing you know, puck's in our net. It's disappointing. We played really well for 38 minutes and then gave up that tying goal and lost our energy."

A team struggling to score needed that second goal and couldn't get it.

"I thought we had a good first," Upshall said. "Even the second, we carry most of the momentum. We kind of lost our edge towards the third. It's almost like we came out with a lull in the beginning of the third when the game was on the line. We weren't capitalizing, we were losing battles and they scored a couple big goals."

The loss dropped the Blues to 2-4-1 on the road; they've been outscored 14-3 in going 0-3-0 the past three road games.

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