Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Blues' slide continues with 5-3 loss to Jets

Loss was sixth in last seven at Scottrade Center, fifth in 
sixth overall; St. Louis barely holding onto wildcard berth

ST. LOUIS -- The way the month of January ended for the Blues was a microcosm of just how badly things have gotten. 

And in the process, it's got the Blues hanging onto a Stanley Cup Playoff berth by the skin of their teeth.

The Blues claimed good things happened coming out of the All-Star break in their first game, but the result was much the same.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues defenseman Colton Parayko (55) checks Jets forward Adam Lowry
during a 5-3 loss on home ice on Tuesday.

A 5-3 loss to the Winnipeg Jets on Tuesday at Scottrade Center, the Blues' sixth loss in seven games on home ice (1-6-0) at Scottrade Center and five of six overall to drop their record to 24-21-5.

In the process, the Blues have dropped into the second wildcard in the Western Conference, and they're tied with the Calgary Flames by virtue of fewer games played (two). The Jets, Dallas Stars and Vancouver Canucks are all one point back, and the Blues failed to gain ground on third in the Central Division, currently held by the Nashville Predators, who lost 4-2 at Pittsburgh on Tuesday. The Blues are three points back.

"We know the situation, we know where we are," said Blues captain Alex Pietrangelo, who had a goal and two assists. "We feel like if we get to our game, we have the opportunity to win. So there's going to be nights like tonight where we play in good spurts and we don't win. Was that our best game? No. But I thought we did a lot of good things. We've still got to find a way to win a hockey game here. That's what we're paid to do, we're paid to win and we've got to find a way to do it."

Jake Allen allowed four goals on 23 shots in his return for the Blues. 

Allen, making his first start since Jan. 19, has allowed at least three goals in seven of his past eight starts. 

"I felt pretty good, honestly," Allen said. "It wasn't the result we wanted, but for my sake, I honestly felt pretty good.

"... Yeah, no question. I felt solid out there, I wasn't chasing the game, you know. Maybe would've liked to try to seal a little bit better on (Patrik Laine's) goal, but other than that, I felt pretty good."  

Mark Scheifele and Blake Wheeler each had a goal and two assists, and Laine, Nikolaj Ehlers and Jacob Trouba scored for the Jets, who opened a three-game road trip. Ondrej Pavelec made 24 saves.

Vladimir Tarasenko had a goal and an assist and Alexander Steen scored for St. Louis.

"We made mistakes and we're paying for them right now," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. "We've got to minimize our mistakes. We've got to get more players playing to the same level that some of the guys played at today. There was some really good performances by some people today. We just have to get more people doing it.

"We had some people who played really well tonight. We had some guys that really played today."

Included in that group for Hitchcock included Patrik Berglund's line with Robby Fabbri and Nail Yakupov, and Jaden Schwartz and Tarasenko.

"Really good. Bergy's line was good, Lehtera's line ... Schwartz was excellent, Tarasenko played very hard," Hitchcock said. "There's a lot of good stuff there."

But not good enough from a number of others.

The Blues scored first at home for the first time in the past nine games when Steen's shot caromed off the left skate of Jets defenseman Josh Morrissey in the slot at 3:37 of the first period for a 1-0 lead.

It was a period in which the Blues should have exited with a lead and have a good feeling moving forward.

But as has been the case, late-period goals against come back and bite and take away the Blues' luster. And it comes as a result of poor judgment.

The Jets tied it 1-1 with 30.6 seconds left in the first on Scheifele's 23rd after an outlet pass during 4-on-4 play by Toby Enstrom, followed by a give-and-go with Wheeler.

On the play, Pietrangelo flipped a puck to Paul Stastny and instead of playing it safe and holding his ground, he pushed forward as the front man, Stastny made a bad pass that got intercepted and the Jets were able to execute an outlet that turned into a 2-on-1.

"That's a mess-up, especially on my part there at the end of the first," Pietrangelo said. "But we crawled our way back. We got down there and then we started playing the game we wanted to play. But obviously I've got to be better on that play, can't let that one happen."

The lost momentum carried into the second when Laine scored his 23rd goal 22 seconds into the second period to make it 2-1.

Defenseman Jay Bouwmeester lost a winnable board battle with Morrissey, Scheifele came in and found Laine in the slot and he beat Allen five-hole.

"We made two mistakes; we got scored twice 4-on-4," Hitchcock said. "And on the 4-on-4, both times we had the puck. We doubled in back in the zone and didn't back up a defenseman on the first goal and we got beat off the boards on the second goal. 

"We played a great second period and their fourth goal was a seeing-eye dog." 

After a Stastny tripping penalty Ehlers scored at 5:53, seven seconds after a power play started to make it 3-1 after Bryan Little won an offensive zone faceoff with Jori Lehtera, and Ehlers then was able to maneuver around Lehtera before snapping a shot from the right circle high far side past Allen.

Fabbri made the save of the game when he denied a Nic Petan shot from the slot into a seemingly empty net with 7:09 left in the second from making it a 4-1 game.

Tarasenko scored with 52 seconds left in the second to cut the Jets lead to 3-2 after a perfectly executed give-and-go with Schwartz, but Trouba made it 4-2 after his pass caromed off Pietrangelo and past Allen at 3:33 of the third period.

It was another lost puck when David Perron was stripped of the puck at the red line in the neutral zone.

"A turnover in the third period, that was a 4-on-2 back at us," Hitchcock said. "We turned it over in the neutral zone at center ice and puck's back down our throat. I know it was a deflected puck, but still, it's a 4-on-2 we gave up off of us on possession. Three of the goals we had the puck, power play goal was a power play goal. Three of the goals, we had the puck.

"... The odd-man rushes in the first period were the ones that bothered me the most. Those are defendable. Those are the ones we've got to clean up. We got scored on, we could have got scored on on another one. Those are the ones we've got to clean up. If we clean up the odd-man rushes, we'll give ourselves a better chance." 
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues center Ivan Barbashev (49) pursues Jets defenseman Jacob Trouba
near the Winnipeg goal on Tuesday. 

Pietrangelo made it 4-3 with 12.2 seconds remaining with Allen pulled for a sixth skater, but Wheeler scored into an empty net with 2.3 remaining to make it 5-3.

"I think we did a lot of good things today," Berglund said. "I thought it was an emotional game and just a hard fought game. Honestly we wanted to come out on top.

"... We've been very successful the past couple years. Right now it's just one of those seasons when it goes really up and down all the time, and we have a hard time finding momentum through a bunch of games in a row. It's just on us. We have to correct it. We have to compete harder and we've got to just play better hockey. I don't know how to say it. It's on us. We've just got to step up and play better."

(1-31-17) Jets-Blues Gameday Lineup

ST. LOUIS -- Ivan Barbashev got a text from Chicago Wolves coach Craig Berube last week and didn't know what to make of it.

"I got a text message from my coach and he said, 'Good luck,'" Barbashev said. "I didn't understand it. It was like weird. And then 'Doc' called me and said I was going up and I was kind of pumped about that."

Up, as in going to the NHL, going to play with the Blues.

"I was really excited," Barbashev said.

Barbashev, the Blues' second round pick (33rd overall) in 2014, made his NHL debut in the Blues' 5-1 loss to the Minnesota Wild last Thursday. He was sent back down to the Wolves, played Saturday at Cleveland and was recalled again and will make his home debut when the Blues (24-20-5) host the Winnipeg Jets (23-25-4) at 7 p.m. today (FS-MW, KMOX 1120-AM).

"I was really nervous before the game (Thursday)," Barbashev said. "I couldn't sleep before the game; I don't know why. I was a little nervous, but after the first shift, I just started playing my game and I think our line played hard. I'm playing in the spot of (Kyle) Brodziak and I have to play hard and I have to play smart on that line. I think I did good.

"I'm really excited to be back in St. Louis to play my first game here in front of our fans. It's just going to be fun."

Barbashev has 19 goals and 18 assists in 45 games with the Wolves this season, a far cry from last season when he had just 10 goals and 18 assists in 65 games playing primarily on a fourth line for then-coach John Anderson.

Under Berube, it's been more of a primary role.

"I've been getting more ice time, that's for sure," Barbashev said. "New coach, and I've been playing on the power play, which is good. I think this season has been very good so far and I'm really excited about it.

"I know how to play on the fourth line. It's just a simple game. I played with 'Uppy and 'Revo' last game. They talked to be last game just to be smart on their blue line and get the puck deep and go play physical, hard and smart."

The expectations for Barbashev, who will play with Scottie Upshall and Nail Yakupov tonight, won't be too great. Coach Ken Hitchcock wants him to just play his game and get acclimated with the NHL.

"He's a young player and he's had a great year with the Wolves," Hitchcock said. "It's a little bit rich to ask him to score the points with us that he does down there because where he plays down there. He's got equal size to the people. He doesn't have that here. He's a net-front guy, a down-low guy in the American Hockey League. That's unrealistic to think that's going to happen at this level on a consistent basis just based on size. But we love what he brings to the team, he brings a savvy type of game, he brings a competitive game on the boards, he stays on the puck, there's a lot of young guys in the league now playing. 

"This is really a reward for a guy that spent two summers here in St. Louis, worked his tail off, really came from being a fourth-line player last year to a third-line player in the American Hockey League and he earned the right to come up, and we've got some nice choices here. Him, (Wade) Megan, (Kenny) Agostino, these three guys have had great years offensively and I'd say over the next little while until we find out how long 'Brodzy' is out, all three guys might get a look here."

WIth Brodziak shelved with a foot injury sustained at Pittsburgh on Jan. 24, Barbashev could really make a case for his first NHL duty that could be a lasting impression in the long run.

"I'm really excited I got called up and it's just a big opportunity for me," Barbashev said. "It's a good experience for me to learn some stuff from those guys."

- - -

If the playoffs started today, the Blues would be the first wildcard team through. But they share 53 points with the Calgary Flames and lead Los Angeles and Vancouver by one and Dallas and the Jets by three.

"We have an 'A' game and kind of a 'C' game going right now and our 'A' game, that's what we want to see," Hitchcock said. "We know what it looks like, we know what it feels like, we've had it for the last little while, we've kind of lost it and then brought it back so to me, it's pretty simple: When we put work in ahead of skill and we stay on that task we're hard to play against."

The Blues shuffled their lines around a bit in practice Monday, and Ryan Reaves will move up to play with Patrik Berglund and Robby Fabbri. Paul Stastny did not skate Tuesday morning but is expected to play tonight. Dmitrij Jaskin, who skated in Stastny's spot, will sit out tonight with Yakupov returning.

"I don't know that you'd call it a promotion right now, but we want to establish two third lines and give me the flexibility to decide on the opposition and how I want to play them," Hitchcock said of Reaves' move up. "I would say at the end of the night, 5-on-5, those lines are going to play equal minutes and obviously Berglund and Robby are going to pick up extra minutes on special teams, but I want to see it balanced out and how it looks. 

"It will be based on the opponent and it will be based on the matchup that I get to have, especially at home. We're much better when we spread it out throughout our lineup and that's what we're looking to do."

Jake Allen will make his first start since Jan. 19; he has allowed 10 goals on the past 36 shots in three starts that he has been pulled from.

- - -

One other lineup change for the Blues is on defense.

Carl Gunnarsson will replace Robert Bortuzzo in the lineup.

Gunnarsson has been a healthy scratch the past two games, and Bortuzzo played in eight straight since returning from a lower-body injury.

"(It's) not a competition," Hitchcock said. "It's whoever is playing well gets to play. Not competition. No. If it was competition, you'd have seven guys playing well and lots of choices for the coach."

- - -

Left wing Jaden Schwartz has a goal and five assists the past 4 games.

Left wing Alexander Steen (three goals, three assists) has points in three of the past five games. 

Right wing Vladimir Tarasenko returned to the ice Tuesday morning after missing practice Monday because of travel from Los Angeles for the All-Star Game.

- - -

The Blues' projected lineup:

Alexander Steen-Paul Stastny-David Perron

Jaden Schwartz-Jori Lehtera-Vladimir Tarasenko

Robby Fabbri-Patrik Berglund-Ryan Reaves

Scottie Upshall-Ivan Barbashev-Nail Yakupov

Joel Edmundson-Alex Pietrangelo

Carl Gunnarsson-Kevin Shattenkirk

Jay Bouwmeester-Colton Parayko

Jake Allen will start in goal; Carter Hutton will be the backup.

Healthy scratches include Robert Bortuzzo and Dmitrij Jaskin. Kyle Brodziak (foot) is on injured-reserve.

- - -

The Jets' projected lineup:

Nikolaj Ehlers-Bryan Little-Patrik Laine

Andrew Copp-Mark Scheifele-Blake Wheeler

Shawn Matthias-Adam Lowry-Joel Armia

Brandon Tanev-Nic Petan-Chris Thorburn

Josh Morrissey-Dustin Byfuglien

Toby Enstrom-Jacob Trouba

Mark Stuart-Paul Postma

Ondrej Pavelec will start in goal; Connor Hellebuyck will be the backup.

Healthy scratches include Michael Hutchinson and Julian Melchiori. Tyler Myers (lower body), Marko Dano (lower body), Ben Chiarot (upper body), Drew Stafford (lower body) and Mathieu Perreault (upper body) are all out.

Monday, January 30, 2017


Reaves promoted to third line; Blues in heated battle for playoffs; 
Allen ready to reclaim cage; Schwartz "fine" according to coach

HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- Ryan Reaves, third-line right winger.

No, it's not a typo although it's been pretty much a staple all season when making out the Blues' lineup to use Upshall-Brodziak-Reaves as the fourth line.

But with Brodziak's right foot injury that has him sidelined for at least five weeks, and the Blues' ever-changing line combinations in search of a semblance of consistency.

"It will be fun," Reaves said. "Obviously a big opportunity for me and something I have to jump on and take advantage of while I can. It starts tomorrow.

"... Two years ago I played with 'Stas' for a couple games right after the All-Star break. Other than that, I would say you could count on two hands for sure, injuries and the way I might be playing. The way I look at it, it's obviously not a lot of times I get put up there. When I do I try to take advantage of it."

Reaves was whizzing around in practice Monday with Patrik Berglund in the middle and Robby Fabbri on left wing.

"He's made more backhand sauce passes than I have this year," Fabbri said laughing. "I don't think of him as just a fourth-liner. He's been great for us this year, whether it's been fighting or just getting energy going. He's a great leader in the room with all the guys. He's earned it.

"He was with us at the end of that Washington game there. ... He's been working hard. You see how well that line's been playing for us. He makes a lot of room out there. We're excited to play with him and we'll see how it goes."

Reaves doesn't disagree but said the backhand sauce feeds aren't necessarily by design.

"That is true, not by choice though," he joked. "Remember, we black out when we do that. I don't know if I'm just going to be going out there and throwing sauces."

Blues coach Ken Hitchcock will give it a shot but won't commit to anything long-term.

"I don't think it's going to affect his minutes at all," Hitchcock said. "He's not going to change the minutes, but it might change the way we rotate. I think it gives us two defined third lines. I'm going to move 'Revo' around based on the opponent and also the situation of the game. I'm not going to cast that in stone, but this was a time I wanted to look at it for sure. We'll see how it looks tomorrow. We'll see whether it's two shifts, a full game or whatever, but the feeling for us is we need to play two third-line situations and between him and 'Bergy' and (Ivan) Barbashev's line, we'll see where 'Revo' fits the best.

"... (The Brodziak injury) dictates a lot and it dictates how we're going to play and how much we're going to split and things like that. We've got to find a little bit different combinations here both 5-on-5 and killing penalties."

Reaves, who has three goals and four assists in 47 games this season; his career-highs came in 2014-15 with six goals and six assists in 81 games, but a leaner, quicker Reaves has shown some offensive prowess this season when opportunity knocked.

"It's made it really easy for us," Hitchcock said. "He's played well. Now sometimes when you move up a notch in the lineup, you get careless with the puck. We've talked to Ryan about it. We're hopeful that he keeps with the same deep puck play and can add some grit and determination to that line, which we think going to need moving forward.

"... I think it's all based on puck management. His ability to put every puck deep and keep it in there, protect it down there has allowed him to spend more time in the offensive zone and not chase the game like they did for a few years. That line wad controlling the puck in the offensive zone and defending that way and it was very effective."

Reaves said he's not about to go and take a walk on the wild side and go away from what he does best. But he'll try and add more to his game.

"Obviously the coaches see what I bring when they put me on that line and they're not putting me on that line to change anything," Reaves said. "They're not putting me on that line to toe-drag anyone at the blue line, make some fancy play like that. They're putting me in there to get it deep and grind and open up room for those guys to do their thing. Nothing has changed. I'm going in with my exact same mindset. Maybe test out the lungs a little bit more."

* Back on the grind -- The Blues (24-20-5), who open a three-game homestand against the Winnipeg Jets (23-25-4) Tuesday at 7 p.m., sit in the first wildcard spot in the Western Conference but by the skin of their teeth.

Although the Blues are three points behind Nashville for third place in the Central Division and the final guaranteed divisional playoff position, they are tied with Calgary in the wildcard with 53 points, but Los Angeles and Vancouver are one point back and Dallas and the Jets are three points back.

"There's thirty-something games left and can't lose faith in here," Blues right wing David Perron said. "I saw the feeling in Pittsburgh past year what it was like and the same in Anaheim when I got there, it was pretty similar. We know we've got some details that we need to get better at and other things to make sure we're competing in the playoffs, but at the same time, we've got to stay confident, keep working hard and not lose faith because it can turn and once it does, it can have a lot of success like Pittsburgh did last year."

After the Blues play the Jets, Toronto and Pittsburgh on home ice this week, they play 18 of their final 30 games on the road. The schedule has some favorable matchups, but accumulating points will be of the utmost value the rest of the way, no matter the opponent. 

"We've got 33 games left and we're in a playoff race right now," Hitchcock said. "We're in the playoff hunt. We've punched a ticket where we're still in this thing. To me, it's got to be no memory for everybody. Starting tomorrow, you are what you are. If you can help us, you get to play and if you can't, then someone else gets that turn. That's the attitude we've got to have. You can't work on past history with people. Whether it's a player or a goaltender or whatever, whatever you're doing for us immediately is what we have to honor because we've earned the right to still be in this race. We've had an up-and-down season. Our highs have been really high and our lows have been really low. We're in a situation where if we can even out our play, I like our chances. But we're going to have to even out our play. In order to do that, we're going to have to get better play from more people or we're going to have to find people within the organization who are willing to give us that even play."

The All-Star break was good for all teams, and the Blues, who came out of their post-Christmas break and won two of three, including the Winter Classic, hope to get off on the right foot again.

"Just like Christmas break, I think that break was good," Fabbri said. "We need to come back with fresh minds here and get back to what was making us successful earlier in the year. I think everyone in here's on the same page. We're confident in the group and we're ready to get to work here.

"... There's not really any room to slip a little bit. Every game, every point's important. In this league, every game's a tough one now. There's no easy games. We've got to start stringing together some consistency and get some wins going here."

Hitchcock said it's more than simply wanting it. And the Blues are prepared to utilize anyone that's willing to put the work into results to finish the season, which means there could be more of a shuttle from the Chicago Wolves if certain players don't give more.

"I think it goes a little deeper than that. I think this is the time of year that quite frankly, the only way you get in it is with your work and your determination and your grit level," Hitchcock said. "That's the only way you get in. You can have all the skill in the world you want, you can have a skilled base, but in order to get ... and this is the fun time for the players. They can see light at the end of the tunnel. 

"I said this after the Minnesota game, 'Who wants it the most?' You have to want it through your work, and if your work is at the top of the heap, and that's paramount in your game, you're going to be able to look yourself in the mirror every game, and whatever happens, happens, but you're going to feel good about the work that you put in, and that's what we want to see. We want to see a consistent work ethic throughout our hockey club. Like I said, whoever's giving it to us, they're going to be the guys we really lean on right now. We're not in a position to wait and hope and kind of nurture along. Everybody knows the system, everybody knows how we want to play. Now you've got to put the work in."

* Allen ready to go -- Jake Allen will make his first start since Jan. 19 Tuesday, and the Blues' netminder is licking his chops.

Allen, who has made it no secret regarding his recent struggles, including being pulled in three straight starts, has been working on the technical aspects of his game. But Allen feels it's time to put the work into action.

"I'm ready to go tomorrow," Allen said after practice Monday. "I'm looking forward to it. It's felt like a decade to be honest. I'm looking forward to it, I'm excited. I think the break did well for a lot of us and we have a really condensed schedule coming up and a lot of big hockey to play.

"... It felt like it's been a while for me to play. I look forward to getting back in there and going to work with the guys again, just getting back on my game. I don't expect to be perfect but just get in there, battle with the guys, give them a chance to win, start enjoying it again, have some fun with it."

Allen, who has allowed 10 goals on 36 shots the past three starts with a .722 save percentage, made a cameo appearance in Minnesota before the break and stopped three shots in the third period after Carter Hutton was relieved in a 5-1 loss. 

Allen won't blame a condensed schedule like some of the veteran goalies (Henrik Lundqvist and Carey Price, among others) have. Allen said he's just in a mental rut and is eager to break out of it.

"No, I don't feel that way at all," Allen said. "I feel our most compressed is coming up. We haven't dealt with it. March is a chaotic month for us. But every team has to deal with it and hopefully we deal with it in a good manner. That hasn't been an issue for me.

"... It's not the technical side. Everyone says it. People try to make reasons for things, but it's not the technical part of your game. Obviously you can stay sharp in certain situations, I feel really good out there. I have been. I felt great last week, felt good again today. The technical side should be the least of your worries."

* Schwartz OK -- Blues left wing Jaden Schwartz departed practice early in the second portion of the two-set phase after a battle drill along the wall. He got up a bit slowly but skated off on his own power with head athletic trainer Ray Barile.

Hitchcock said, "he'll be fine," after practice.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Brodziak to IR with right foot injury, Barbashev recalled

Veteran center will be reevaluated in five weeks; 
2014 second-round pick could make NHL debut tonight

The Blues placed fourth-line center Kyle Brodziak on injured-reserve on Thursday with what the team called a right foot injury.
Ivan Barbashev

Brodziak is expected to miss a minimum of five week and be reevaluated at that time, which would put his timeline for reevaluation around March 2; he would miss 14 games.

Brodziak has six goals and four assists in 47 games and is a main cog on the Blues' penalty kill, which is tied for seventh in the NHL with the Columbus Blue Jackets at 83.6 percent.

The Blues have recalled center Ivan Barbashev from its American Hockey League affiliate, the Chicago Wolves, a second-round pick (33rd overall) in the 2014 NHL Draft and he could make his NHL debut today when the Blues play the Minnesota Wild.

Barbashev (6-foot-1, 195 pounds) is second on the Wolves this season with 37 points on 19 goals and 18 assists.

Brodziak played 13 minutes, 25 seconds on Tuesday, and it is unknown when he may have been injured.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Like lockout season, Blues looking to eliminate "debris"

Team's three-game funk littered with mistakes, deficiencies, subpar 
goaltending; team on brink of playoff line must go into playoff mode now

HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- It was the 2012-13 lockout season, one in which the Blues had just lost five in a row and in a short season, prolonged losing streaks were not something recommended for teams seeking entry into the Stanley Cup playoffs.

The Blues (23-19-5), who play the defending champion Pittsburgh Penguins (30-11-5) on Tuesday before concluding the pre All-Star portion of the schedule Thursday in Minnesota, allowed 26 goals in that 0-4-1 stretch, a stretch coach Ken Hitchcock said was a team that played with a lot of "debris," and they needed to eliminate that debris before gaining traction.

The Blues were 6-5-1 at that point before finishing with five winning streaks of at least three games, including a six-game run where they only allowed five goals.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Winnipeg's Mark Scheifele (middle) scores against the Blues, who have
been on the wrong side of pucks lately in a three-game losing streak.

Fast forward four years and the Blues are actually there again, on a three-game losing streak in which they've allowed 18 goals -- they've allowed five or more goals in 11 times this season, or three more than all of last season -- and have done so with breakdowns all over the ice and subpar goaltending.

So in order to get things right, they have to eliminate the "debris."

"It's exactly the same," Hitchcock said. "We've got the debris, and the debris is the same thing. It's not in the effort. It is not effort-based. It is structural, discipline, stay-the-course-based. I can't say it in any simpler way. It's when you try to do too much, when it doesn't work, you're in a very vulnerable position, so it's trust your work and the skill will take over. You've got to trust your work and your work is keeping the puck in front of you as much as you can."

And as the Blues begin the day, they are in a bit of uncharted waters, much like they were in the lockout season. They're teetering on the brink of that playoff bubble, currently holding one of two wildcard spots but by the skin of their teeth (one point). They've relinquished the hold they had on third place in the Central Division, the all-important third place, which guarantees you a spot in the playoffs to the surging Nashville Predators by two points.

"They're not uncharted to deal with seven or eight," Hitchcock said of the seventh seed the Blues currently hold. "In the lockout year, same thing, and then we took off. What is uncharted for me, this is a brand new experience for me, is the way we're trying to come back in games. That's a new experience for me. I haven't seen that and having to deal with those circumstances, and that's a brand new experience. I'm sure other teams have gone through it, but we have not. So we are working hard with the players. We get it fixed, and then it rears its head. We get it fixed, and it rears its head. You're not going to win every game in the National Hockey League, but you want to have your structure in place for 60 minutes and you want to stay that structure regardless of the score because once the structure leaves with the puck, then you end up in a lot of chaotic situations and that's what we've put ourselves into. In our energy to try and come back in games, we've put ourselves in track meets quite frankly we're not going to win."

The Blues, who have boasted some of the best records in recent seasons and have had the most points in the NHL since Hitchcock arrived in 2011, haven't had to do a ton of scoreboard and standings watching during that time, at least not from a making the playoffs standpoint. Winning a division or gaining a high seed is an entirely different story and requires some scoreboard watching but never for being in danger of making the playoffs or not.

Now is that time, even with 35 games remaining. The Blues have to pay attention to what Nashville is doing, or Calgary, Vancouver, Dallas Winnipeg, Los Angeles ... all teams within grasp of a playoff position.

"I think this is the NHL and you have to monitor this stuff on a weekly basis," Hitchcock said. "There's a few teams at the top of the heap that get it the same way, but the rest of us are trying to find it and when you find it, it's like gold. It looks like it's never going to leave you , but you don't know when you find it. You keep trying like crazy to find it. 

"I've got to tell you, we're coming back from California, there's a lot of people feeling really good about themselves (after a 4-0 win at San Jose and 2-1 overtime win at Anaheim). There's a coaching staff feeling really good about themselves, there's a bunch of players feeling really good about themselves and then five days later, it's like, 'Holy smokes, let's get this thing turned around again.' So you can either live in the denial that's not happening or you can deal with the issues. You know me, I'd prefer to deal with the issues and let's move forward. Not, 'Hey, what are you doing wrong?' A lot of this is swinging for fences. Guys trying to do too much, guys trying to come back next shift. It doesn't work that way in the NHL. They get to play, too. And that's what we've been guilty of is trying to hit the home run and bringing it back in the next shift."

But the Blues have to start locking into playoff mode now, because they don't want to continue to slip while the opposition continues to climb.

"It's definitely a dangerous game that we're playing," Blues defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk said. 'This isn't where we want to be, and it's not a spot that we've been in the last few years. We're usually in those top three or four teams. This is a little new to us where I think we all in here realize all these games are important now. I don't think we're looking at it like there's a lot of games left in the season; we want to get this done now. But this part of the ups and downs of playing on a team. It's not going to be all perfect every year and we've been fortunate that we've been a good team not having to worry about this situation the last few years, but hopefully we can use this in the right way to get us going. We don't want those teams to start pulling away from us too much.

"We have to embrace that win or you're gone mentality. I think if we can get our desperation into our game a little but more, we'll be on the right side of things."

They'll have to try doing so against the Penguins, who are 13-0-1 in their last 14 games at home, outscoring the opposition 70-35.

"They're a deep team," Shattenkirk said of the Penguins. "They have obviously great goaltending, great defense. There's a lot to worry about on that team, a lot of weapons. I think the best way that we can take them off their game is if we have the puck most of the time. We're good at possessing the puck in the offensive zone. We have to make sure pucks get in there and we're not being careless in the neutral zone turning pucks over to their transition game, but if we can play that grinding game and wear them down in their zone, that's the easiest way to defend the Crosbys, the Malkins and the Kessels."

The Blues have always risen to the occasion playing the top teams. The next two opponents should definitely grab their attention.

"We play really well scared. We play very well scared," Hitchcock said. "I'm really looking forward to it. They're an all-in mentality. Everybody's on the page. We want to win tomorrow, but it's impressive to see. To see people ... sometimes this isn't the way necessarily that you want to play or you think you should play, but they're playing that way. When they're on their game, they play that way. What's interesting is when they're not, they grab themselves. That's what championship teams do. I think we are capable of giving them a real go, we've just got to stay with it. We did the same thing ... we had really pushed Washington right to the edge, and then we let up. We had them pushed right to the edge and we let up and then they scored some ugly goals on us. We'll see."

* NOTES -- Blues left wing Jaden Schwartz, who was injured in the second period of a 5-3 loss Saturday at Winnipeg blocking a Jacob Trouba shot but finished the game, did not practice Monday, nor did defenseman Jay Bouwmeester, who missed Saturday with a lower-body injury.

Schwartz appeared to take a puck flush on the inside portion of his knee area, but Hitchcock said the Blues avoided disaster there.

"Where 'Schwartzy' got hit, if it hits anywhere else in that area, we're dealing with a whole different animal," Hitchcock said. "We're pretty darn lucky there.

"Both were maintenance days today, and unless something changes, will be players tomorrow, but we anticipate both guys in tomorrow."

The lines and d-pairings at practice today included:

Robby Fabbri-Paul Stastny-Alexander Steen

Nail Yakupov-Jori Lehtera-Vladimir Tarasenko

Dmitrij Jaskin-Patrik Berglund-David Perron

Scottie Upshall-Kyle Brodziak-Ryan Reaves

Robert Bortuzzo-Alex Pietrangelo

Carl Gunnarsson-Kevin Shattenkirk

Joel Edmundson-Colton Parayko

Carter Hutton will get the start in goal against the Penguins, and Jake Allen, who returned to practice Monday after not traveling with the team to Winnipeg, is slated to start Thursday against the Wild.

Pheonix Copley, who got his first NHL start in the 5-3 loss to the Jets, will be the backup Tuesday and is expected to be the backup Thursday.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Allen's struggles continue in 7-3 loss to Capitals

Goalie pulled for third straight game, fourth in six; Blues fall for third straight time at Scottrade Center, fifth in six games here; Steen, Schwartz have three-point games

ST. LOUIS -- The Blues felt they saw enough from Jake Allen this past week to feel he's ready to take the cage again.

Allen had been pulled from his past two starts and three of the past five and watched Carter Hutton have two solid outings before he lost on Tuesday.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues goalie Jake Allen crosses paths with teammate Carter Hutton after
being pulled from Thursday's 7-3 loss to Washington.

As far as game action is concerned, nothing changed for Allen on Thursday; he was pulled for a third straight game after allowing four goals on 10 shots, and the blazing-hot Washington Capitals feasted on the Blues and their shoddy goaltending in a 7-3 victory, sending St. Louis to their third straight home loss and fifth in the past six at Scottrade Center.

In the past three starts, Allen has allowed 10 goals on 36 shots and has a .722 save percentage, and in losing three straight at Scottrade Center, the Blues (23-18-5) have allowed 18 goals, or six per game. 

"I don't know how far it sets him back, but everything we needed to see we saw at practice," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said of Allen. "There's a lot going on right now. There's a lot in his head. He's kind of locked up mentally and he's going to have to fight through this. It's like any athlete, he's going to have to fight through this. What we see at practice, we like. That's why we put him in quite frankly. 

"We know right now we're going to need way better just to be competitive. They know that, we know that. Beating it up any more isn't going to do us any good, but we've got to get him unlocked. He's just locked right up. If we can get help him get unlocked, then that's what you do. That's part of coaching. Nobody anticipated this. Nobody on our team, nobody in our city anticipated this, but we've got it and we're going to have to figure it out because there's no help wagon coming. We're going to have to do this ourselves to figure it out. He's going to have to figure it out to make himself stronger, and we're going to have to figure it out how we can help him, but right now, he's locked up."

Players refuse to lay blame on strictly goaltending.

"This is a team. There’s no individuals," Blues captain Alex Pietrangelo said, not pointing fingers directly at the goaltending. "This is a team. It’s got to come from in this locker room. It’s a collective effort. Right now, it needs to be better."

The Capitals, 10-0-2 in their past 12 games, got goals from seven different players and chased Allen twice from the game. It was the second straight game that Washington scored seven goals; the Capitals lost to the Pittsburgh Penguins 8-7 in overtime Monday.

Allen allowed two goals on three shots in the first 7:41 of the game and was replaced by Hutton for 2:22; he re-entered the game and departed again after allowing his fourth goal to Brett Connolly 7:33 into the second that made it 4-1. It was the third straight start Allen was pulled from.

T.J. Oshie and Evgeny Kuznetzov each had a goal and an assist, and Andre Burakovsky, Jay Beagle, Marcus Johansson and Justin Williams also scored for the Capitals (30-9-6). Braden Holtby made 22 saves.

The Capitals have scored five or more goals in five straight games and in eight of the past 11.

Alexander Steen had two goals and an assist, and Jaden Schwartz had a goal and two assists. Hutton allowed three goals on eight shots, and now combined with Allen, the Blues are last in the NHL in save percentage at .878, and they're 26th in goals allowed at 3.07.

Players won't admit it, but when their last line of defense continues to spring leaks, there becomes a trust factor with the skaters on the ice, and when that happens, it tends to overcompensate things in other areas.

"I think one of the things that happens when you're not trusting yourself defensively is that you overwork from the red-line in and you underwork from the red-line back," Hitchcock said. "And I think that's the one thing we've been guilty of. We're overworking, we're trying to keep pucks in, we're forcing a lot of things to try to keep it from coming into our end and then when it is, we don't have the energy to play defense. If you look at three of the goals today, they were scored in the slot with time. Bizarre things, people losing sticks, trying to stay on the forecheck, trying to not let it come in, somebody falling down on a simple 1-on-1. A lot of it is because we're just trying everything we can to not get scored on, or shots on goal. One of the things we're doing that's not helping us is we're trying to throw the big bombs from the red-line in. We're just flat overworking and not allowing ourselves to be patient in our positional play from the red-line back."

Burakovsky scored at 5:37 of the first period to make it 1-0 from a bad angle that got through Allen, and by allowing the first goal again, it marked the eighth straight game in which the Blues have allowed the first goal on home ice, which forces their hand at playing catch-up hockey.

"You never want to see a guy struggle like that," said Holtby, who improved to 5-0 in his career against the Blues. "He's not going to break down. He'll be back on the top of his game. As a fellow player/goalie, you want to win, but you don't want to see mental struggles like his."

But when Beagle made it 2-0 at 7:41 on a shot from the slot after Carl Gunnarsson lost the race and puck battle behind the Blues' net to Tom Wilson, Allen was pulled for Hutton, who made one save before re-entering with 9:57 remaining in the period.

And it was a period the Blues, who had 20 shot attempts to the Capitals' nine, were the better team.

"First period's the best period we've played in a long time," Hitchcock said. "Outstanding. Every aspect of it was everything we wanted. And ... the goals go in and then you start pressing."

Schwartz cut the Washington lead to 2-1, 19 seconds into the second in a seemingly harmless wrister through traffic, including Steen in front, but Oshie scored at 3:57  off a passing play after Patrik Berglund lost his stick in the offensive zone, tried to get to the bench to retrieve another one instead of simply getting another forward on the ice and was late in coverage. Robert Bortuzzo poke-checked Ovechkin, but Nicklas Backstrom found Oshie in the slot and he made it 3-1 before Connolly chased Allen with a breakaway goal after Gunnarsson fell down trying to retreat into position after an outlet pass off the boards, and Hutton was promptly greeted 11 seconds later with Johansson's goal from the slot after Berglund lost it in the zone after he fell down.

The goals came at 7:33 and 7:44 to make it 5-1.

"There's not much I can say other than we have to go to value ... if we continue to play the way we did until the fourth goal goes in, we've got to be happy with that," Hitchcock said. "It's a good team we played against, but it went south when it went to 4-1."

Williams added a power-play goal at 13:30 of the second to make it 6-1 on a shot from the slot, giving the Capitals, who had 18 shots and seven goals for the game, six goals on 16 shots through two periods.

Kuznetzov made it 7-1 at 6:20 of the third period, but Steen scored at 10:00 to make it 7-2, and again at 16:25 to make it 7-3.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues captain Alex Pietrangelo, being chased by the Capitals' Daniel
Winnik, said the Blues need more from everyone after 7-3 loss.

The Blues, who don't have any options right now other than to perhaps recall a goalie from the Chicago Wolves, have to find a solution, and do so fast. With Nashville's 4-3 win at Calgary on Thursday, the Predators trail the Blues by just two points for that important third place position in the division.

"This is the NHL; we're in for points," Hitchcock said. "We've got to figure what our next step is, but first we've got to get the unlocking going on. We've got to get that figured out."

"We can't really put the finger on one specific thing," defenseman Colton Parayko said. "Obviously giving up seven, there's more than one thing. I think it's a collective effort and it's something we're going to have to figure out here if we want to turn this around and become a contender."

(1-19-17) Capitals-Blues Gameday Lineup

ST. LOUIS -- If the Blues want to get back on the ball and have their attention focused in the right direction, there should be no other team than tonight's opponent that will get the Blues' radar on high alert.

The Washington Capitals, 9-0-2 their past 11 games, come in with a 29-9-6 overall mark and make their only visit to Scottrade Center (7 p.m.; FS-MW, KMOX 1120-AM).

The Blues (23-17-5) are coming off a discouraging 6-4 loss to the Ottawa Senators, a game in which was there to be had, but the Blues, who had won their previous two games, lost it in the third period after winning back-to-back games at San Jose and Anaheim.

But it seems that when the Blues get matched against some of the best teams in the NHL, they tend to bring their best game.

"If you look at the games we've played well against over this last stretch, it's against teams you know you have to play well against or you're not going to stand a chance," defenseman Jay Bouwmeester said. "Obviously tonight, we know who these guys are, so hopefully that's the case. I think that's been a little bit of our problem, too, those games against teams you maybe don't know as well like Ottawa, a team like Carolina that comes in here ... you don't want to say you take them lightly but you're not as kind of on as when you play a team like Chicago or San Jose or someone we know so well."

"They're playing the best of any team in the league right now," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said of the Capitals. "To think we're going to come in here and outscore them is unrealistic, but our 'A' game, for two of the last three games, we've had our 'A' game and our 'A' game can beat anybody. That's our attitude. If we can play our 'A' game, it's a lot different than Pittsburgh's or Washington's or anybody else's. Our 'A' game has got a strong dynamic and if we can play that way, we can beat anybody."

The Capitals are coming off a run-and-gun 8-7 overtime loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins on Monday.

"It sure is fun to watch," Bouwmeester said with a grin. "Coaches are having nightmares. Sometimes you like those if you're on the right side of things. Both of those teams have a lot of skill and a lot of firepower. If you let them run, that's what happens."

The Capitals are averaging 4.36 goals per game during their 11-game point streak while only allowing 1.91.

"And they've been beating really good teams handily," defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk said. "I think even that game against Pittsburgh the other day, it was a wild game and that's what you have to expect out of them. No lead for us is going to be safe against them especially if we're not playing the right way. They're a team that can score two, three goals in a matter of minutes. Every shift is going to be focused on and fun. These are games where we don't see this team too often, but these games grab your attention and focused to play their best game."

Hitchcock called the Caps-Pens game "fun, as long as it's on TV and you're not standing behind the bench. It's a little bit like a guy jumping off a 10-story building. So far, so good and then oops, I might hit the ground. That's what it felt like." 

- - -

The Blues will turn back to Jake Allen in goal after Carter Hutton started the past three games.

Allen has been pulled in three of his past five starts, including a 5-1 loss to the Los Angeles Kings last Thursday.

"I think we've made the conscious decision to go with him," Hitchcock said of Allen. "He needed a break mentally and physically. We needed to get some things adjusted and like any other young guy, you get a chance to work on those things and you've just got to live with. So regardless of what happens, we just live with it. We really think he's going to take some steps in the right direction. That's part of making the decision to go with a young guys, give him the ball and let him run with it.

"There's just some things technically that we want to see him get a little bit better at and we saw those in the last two practices," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. "If we didn't see that, quite frankly, we wouldn't have played him. We wouldn't put him out there until we see those things. But we saw them and I think our confidence that they're going to really impact the way he plays and get back to where he was in the first 20 games, we think he's capable of doing that."

The Blues will do everything in their power to help Allen gain his confidence back.

"The thing we did well for Carter over the weekend was we did a tremendous job of getting pucks out of our zone quickly," Shattenkirk said. "I think that helps any goalie when you're not seeing 1) Grade A chances, and 2) we're making possession plays out of our zone and we're keeping it out of there quickly. I think this is a team that we're facing that produces a lot of offense and they're going to produce a lot of scoring chances. We're going to have to be on top of our game. They're not chances that Jake just has to worry about, they're chances that every goalie in the league has problems with. We have to make sure we're ready for those because they're dynamic offensively, but if we can hold them pretty tight, they're going to give us a bunch on the other end."

- - -

The Blues want to get right wing Vladimir Tarasenko going. 

Tarasenko, who is still on a point per game clip with 45 in 45 games, hasn't scored the past five games, the second-longest stretch of the season (he had gone seven games earlier this season). Hitchcock will implement Dmitrij Jaskin on the left wing with Jori Lehtera.

"We need to be consistently a better checking team and create more space for ourselves in zone," Hitchcock said. "Our feeling in playing Jaskin is in four of the last five games he's played awful well and he's created space for whoever he plays with. We had this line together in the last Washington game (a 4-3 loss on Nov. 23) and it was a very good line for us, probably our best line. When we started watching the tape, it just tweaked us in saying, 'We need the line that 'Vladi' plays on to be a better line for us and this gives it an opportunity to have a little bit different type of onset where it can maybe control the puck a little bit more in the offensive zone rather than just be a rush-attack line.

"Ninety-one, quite frankly is getting checked to death and other people are responsible for creating the space for him. He's trying to play against four guys right now and we need more participants in order to help him." 

- - -

The Blues have shuffled their defensive deck again, putting Bouwmeester back with Alex Pietrangelo, moving Carl Gunnarsson, who's missed seven games (six because of a lower-body injury and the last one as a healthy scratch) back in and taking Joel Edmundson out for the first time in 21 games.

"Looking back on 'Petro,' he's gone from minus-12 to minus-4," Hitchcock said. "So he's been plus-8, which is very significant, so we're not afraid to go back on that. We just feel like ... we're not looking at just this game, we're looking at the next four games before the break and we feel like we're going to have defined matchups in order to be successful. We've got some really significant opponents coming up and we need some great matchups and we feel like 19 and 27 are going to have to carry the ball."

And from that perspective, looking for more consistency.

"That's kind of been the theme here for a while is to be more consistent," Bouwmeester said. "You go back, you had a good finish to that road trip and come back and those games, for whatever reason, sometimes they're hard where you have a lapse or whatever. We still had a chance to win the game the other night, but it just got away from us. Now we try to grab that momentum back. It's little steps right now. The team that's coming in here, they're a real good team. You've got to have your best game against them no matter what. Focus on that, hopefully have everyone on the same page and away you go."

Edmundson has played the past 20 games and gets to sit back and hit the proverbial reset button.

"More alert," Hitchcock said. "Young guy on the learning curve and we just ... we need him to be a little more alert, so hopefully this is like anything else with these guys, it's a reset and get right back in it and get going again."

- - -

Capitals right wing T.J. Oshie returns for the second time after being traded in the summer of 2015. 

Oshie, whose dad Tim is on the trip for the Capitals' annual dad's trip, spent the evening Wednesday with former teammates Barret Jackman, Ryan Reaves, Patrik Berglund and Jaden Schwartz.

"It's little weird still," said Oshie, who has 15 goals and 13 assists in 36 games. "It's been a while, but always great coming back and seeing good friends. I've got a lot of good friends over there. I had some dinner with them last night and go out there and battle them tonight.

"I was over at Jax's house last night. A couple of the boys come over, 'Revo,' 'Shwizz' and 'Bergy.' 

"... I imagine it will always be a little awkward being on this side, but after you get that first one out of the way, you settle down a little bit and it's fun to come back."

Oshie, who was traded for Troy Brouwer and Pheonix Copley, said he'll make sure he doesn't get too close to Reaves.

"I'm going to steer clear of Revo," Oshie joked. "You can bet a lot of money on that."

- - -

Center Paul Stastny has seven points (four goals, three assists) the past seven games.

Right wing Alexander Steen has nine points (three goals, six assists) the past eight games.

Berglund has 10 goals in 15 games after starting the season with one in 30.

Left wing Scottie Upshall returns after being a healthy scratch the past three games, and Nail Yakupov will be scratched for the first time in seven.

- - - 

The Blues' projected lineup:

Jaden Schwartz-Paul Stastny-Alexander Steen

Robby Fabbri-Patrik Berglund-David Perron

Dmitrij Jaskin-Jori Lehtera-Vladimir Tarasenko

Scottie Upshall-Kyle Brodziak-Ryan Reaves

Jay Bouwmeester-Alex Pietrangelo

Carl Gunnarsson-Kevin Shattenkirk

Robert Bortuzzo-Colton Parayko

Jake Allen will start in goal; Carter Hutton will be the backup. 

Healthy scratches include Nail Yakupov and Joel Edmundson. The Blues report no injuries. 

- - -

The Capitals' projected lineup:

Alex Ovechkin-Nicklas Backstrom-T.J. Oshie

Marcus Johansson-Evgeny Kuznetsov-Justin Williams

Brett Connolly-Lars Eller-Andre Burakovsky

Daniel Winnik-Jay Beagle-Tom Wilson

Karl Alzner-Matt Niskanen

Brooks Orpik-Dmitry Orlov

Taylor Chorney-Nate Schmidt

Braden Holtby will start in goal; Philipp Grubauer will be the backup.

The Capitals report no healthy scratches. John Carlson (lower body) is day-to-day.