Thursday, January 5, 2017

Blues fall flat again in 4-2 loss to Hurricanes

Coming of Winter Classic victory, St. Louis continues trend of inconsistent play

ST. LOUIS -- It had been spoken often since one of their best games and results of the season Monday at the 2017 Bridgestone Winter Classic: will the Blues have a hangover from the hoopla surrounding their first outdoor game?

The Blues said all the right things. They were focused. They had put all that behind them. It was time to move on, put some consistency in their game and start winning games on a consistent basis.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues left wing David Perron (57) looks to pass the puck with Carolina's
Jeff Skinner defending Thursday in the Hurricanes' 4-2 win.

None of that was evident in a 4-2 loss to the Carolina Hurricanes on Thursday before 19,090 at Scottrade Center, evening the Blues' season-long six-game homestand at 2-2 and their overall record to 20-14-5.

Jeff Skinner scored a tiebreaking power-play goal with 6 minutes, 8 seconds remaining in the third period to break a 2-2 tie, and Derek Ryan scored his second goal of the game into an empty net to give the Hurricanes (17-14-7) the victory.

Joel Edmundson and Vladimir Tarasenko scored, and Jake Allen made 25 saves. 

The Blues have gone 17 games since winning consecutive games and 21 since winning consecutively in regulation.

It was Allen who was most critical of the team's play.

"I thought that was our worst game of the year," Allen said. "I don't know what you guys saw, but from everyone, we need to look at ourselves in the mirror after that game. Unfocused, (lack of execution) and just didn't play our game at all.

"... I think we just weren't focused, we never executed. They pressure really hard. We just didn't react well to it. I thought we had a lot more to give coming off the Chicago game from all of us. We all need to get back real soon. We've got a huge divisional game coming this weekend."

Skinner's 15th goal came on a slap shot from the right circle that grazed off Blues defenseman Jay Bouwmeester and went into the top left corner. The goal broke Carolina's 0-for-11 power-play drought.

Former Blue Jay McClement scored, and Jordan Staal and Brock McGinn each had two assists for the Hurricanes, and Cam Ward made 21 saves. 

But this had everything to do with this team's consistent ability to not string consecutive wins together.

The power play, even though they got one, was 1-for-5 but was pretty paltry throughout the night against the league's No. 1 penalty kill group that seemingly had better chances to score than the Blues, and when the Blues' No. 3 penalty killing unit needed a big stop, it couldn't come up with a fifth stop when Skinner scored what proved to be the game-winner after Brad Hunt, who had a tough game, had to take a slashing penalty to prevent a breakaway.

"It came down to special teams," center Paul Stastny said. "I know we scored a goal and they got one, but ours came off a rush. We knew they would be aggressive and we'd have to move quick. We just weren't ready for it. Before they scored, we had a power-play and once we were down a goal, we had a power play and we didn't get chances. When you play close games like this, special teams always makes a difference."

The Blues lacked focus, they lacked energy, and the quick Hurricanes pounced on the small battles winning pucks and creating time and space in transition and hemming the Blues in their zone a number of times.

"We certainly lost both ends of the special teams, battling -- we got outworked," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. "That's not a good sign.

"They outworked us. Pucks off the boards, won face-offs, won battles. The winning goal, we had a chance to get it 200 feet to win a board battle. We didn't win it, Those are the details that matter, game's on the line. Doesn't matter where the energy's at, we're in a position to get points in the game and we didn't do it. Very disappointing."

The Blues again allowed an early goal when Ryan scored on a 2-on-1, beating Allen from inside the left dot 1:09 into the first period for a 1-0 lead; they allowed the first goal by Chicago 1:03 into that game Monday. 

On Thursday, the Blues tied it 1-1 on Edmundson's second NHL goal, a shot from the left point short-side at 3:04 of the second period. 

Tarasenko scored a power-play goal at 7:27 to give the Blues a 2-1 lead, and that was the chance to seemingly seize the game, but McClement tied it 2-2 on a slap shot from the top of the right circle at 11:02.

It came after the fourth line of Ryan Reaves, Kyle Brodziak and Scottie Upshall got caught in their zone for an extended shift, Brodziak was hurting after blocking a Justin Faulk shot and a failed clearing attempt by defenseman Brad Hunt, plus a shot that Allen would have liked to have back was a recipe for disaster.

"This is attitude consistency," Hitchcock said. "We needed to really dig in and regroup with each other and we didn't have enough people doing it today. You can't play the game when you're losing as many races to pucks and battles -- that's the game. Our first goal was a great example of that. Did a great job on it. We needed more people involved in the game today. Many more."

Ryan scored into an empty net with 1:19 remaining to make it 4-2, the eighth empty-net goal allowed in 11 attempts while scoring only once.

So since Dec. 1, the Blues have won, lost in overtime, won in OT, lost, won, lost, lost, won, lost, lost in OT, won in OT, lost, won, lost, won and lost.

A consistent yoyo is what the Blues are.

"It's pretty similar. Win one, lose one. Play well, two or three, one or two, but the league, there's so much parity in the league, there's so much closeness throughout the league," Allen said. "If you do that, it's really tough to grab hold of the standings and climb your way up. I think you need to string together a few. You're not going to be a Columbus and string, whatever they've got, but we need to string a few together to get moving."

"Compared to last year it hasn’t been to great so it definitely wears on you, but we’re trying to stay positive in here," Edmundson said. "We know we have a good team so we’re just going to stick to the system and the wins will come."

Hitchcock said Wednesday this is an important time for the leaders to hold things together, especially after the big win Monday. 

"It's a team game. It's disappointing," Hitchcock said. "We took some poor penalties today—haven't done that for a long time. And then we lost both ends of specials teams. That's the disappointing part. We just put ourselves in a position to get points late in the game, and we take a penalty because we don't have awareness defensively to give-up an odd man break. We got to take a slashing penalty on a guy that's basically on a breakaway, and then we don't get the clear. We should have, it's disappointing. And then we get a penalty on top of that just before that and they end up with the odd-man chances. It was a big momentum swing."
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues center Kyle Brodziak (left) tries to move the puck up the wall past
Hurricanes right wing Lee Stempniak on Thursday at Scottrade Center.

Said Stastny, one of the leaders: "It's just frustrating. If we could put our finger it would be the first thing we'd try to fix. That's more mental than anything. If we look slow, mentally we're playing different or playing hesitant. That's the part we have to sharpen up. No one's going to help us we have to look within each other and do it.

"Win one, lose one, if you do that, you're a .500 hockey team and will be scratching to get in the playoffs. It's almost 40 games into the season so we have to find a way to turn this around in the 10-game stretch before the All-Star break."

* NOTES -- Former Blues right wing Ty Rattie made his Carolina debut Thursday and played a season-high 12:59. 

Rattie was claimed on waivers Wednesday after the Blues left him exposed on Tuesday after playing just four games this season and sitting out 15 in a row.

"It was fun," Rattie said. "Scratched for 15 straight games and then getting thrown out there the first period, it was a little sluggish. But after the first, I settled down, I thought I made some plays. To beat the Blues on home ice is not an easy feat, a good win for the boys."

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