Saturday, September 23, 2017

Stars blank Blues 4-0 in test for young players

Players looking to make name for themselves miss opportunity to separate 
themselves in second of three straight preseason games this weekend 

ST. LOUIS -- The more we move along in the preseason, the more games get ramped up.

That means those looking to win jobs see the pace and intensity rise up the mercury. This is where you see who really has what it takes to crack the opening night lineup and those that need obvious seasoning, whether it be at the American Hockey league level or junior level.

The Blues faced a hungry Dallas Stars group that had legs, speed and tenacity. It amounted to a 4-0 loss on Saturday at Scottrade Center.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues defenseman Robert Bortuzzo (left) and the Stars' Antoine Roussel
engage in a fight during the first period of Saturday's preseason game.

The Blues (2-2-0), who will complete their trifecta of games in three days with a Sunday tilt at Pittsburgh in the Kraft Hockeyville game in Cranberry Township, Pa., came out with some feistiness against a Stars team that brought it from the opening whistle, fell by the wayside.

The message from the locker room was no energy, no zip and no flow to the game.

"Obviously what we've got to do better," Blues defenseman Colton Parayko said. "I didn't think we brought what's needed to win. ... We flip the page as fast as possible and understand that we've got to be better.

"We had a lot of good players out here. I just didn't think we had a bunch of mojo. It's best that it's preseason and it's best that we can take our lesson right now. Focus on tomorrow now and make sure we come to the rink ... we've got a game tomorrow."

Blues coach Mike Yeo agreed.

"That's exactly what I seen," he said. "I think we came out with some intensity right off the hop first shift and then it dropped very quickly from there. Obviously they got the early power play goal, but for me what was disappointing through the night was the turnovers we had. I really felt that any time we even tried to come close to try to get any momentum, the turnovers at the blue line, the way that we executed through the neutral zone and just the way that we just gave pucks away just made it impossible for us tonight.

"It just felt like we back-checked all night long. We soon as we got to their blue line, we were trying to make plays that weren't there, trying to make soft plays and that's a bad recipe."

The Blues dressed 10 players (Tage Thompson, Robert Thomas, Klim Kostin, Robert Bortuzzo, Jake Walman, Ivan Barbashev, Magnus Paajarvi, Oskar Sundqvist Beau Bennett and backup goalie Ville Husso) that played in a 4-0 win at Washington on Friday, and Yeo wanted to test many of the young guys in back-to-back games.

"I think part of the lesson is a lot of guys played last night and the schedule is tough," Yeo said. "The lesson is that can't be an excuse and you have to be able to deal with that. You have to find a way to come to play and you have to find a way to have your legs and you also have to manage your game a little bit better. It's an easier game to play when you have the puck and it's a tougher game to play when you're chasing. Faceoffs, we weren't sharp on, I thought that 50/50 pucks we weren't sharp on, but again, they managed the puck through the neutral zone way better than we did tonight and that was the difference in the hockey game. That's why they got a lot of shifts in our zone. That forced us to change at bad times, that forced us to come onto the ice and spend time in our own zone. That for me, is the lesson there."

Obviously, there's no excuse according to the players.

"No, it's the preseason," Barbashev said. "You've got to go every single game, even if you're going to play that third game in a row. It's just a good teaching (moment) for everybody. ... We didn't get the puck to the net tonight. That's something that we've got to do better. They just played better than us today."

The game began with the zest of an intense divisional regular season game, with 14 penalty minutes in the first 12 seconds and 16 in the first 28 seconds. It started with a spirited fight between the Blues' Bortuzzo and the Stars' Antoine Roussel.

Bortuzzo would never admit it, but surely it was payback for Roussel's slash on Alexander Steen that has sidelined the Blues' forward for a minimum of three weeks.

"We're just playing hockey," Bortuzzo said. "He plays hard the same way. Things happen out there. Just happened to get in a scrap.

"We're just playing hard. You always want to stand up for teammates in any case. He plays the game hard, I play the game hard. These things happen. It was just a fight."

It got even more spirited when Kostin, not known for his fighting prowess, delivered a big hit on the Stars' Roope Hintz at the Stars' blue line, to which Dallas' Devin Shore took exception to and went after Kostin, who handled himself quite well when asked to drop the gloves.

"He's a big boy," Barbashev said of the 6-foot-3, 196-pound Kostin. "... I know him pretty well right now, so I know he can drop the gloves. He's a big boy, bigger than me. The guy can hit and he can stand up for himself and especially for a teammate."

There were sporadic moments for the Blues, but not much more. They were outshot 38-21 for the game and were 0-for-7 on the power play, including a 5-on-3 for the final 31.7 seconds. 

"That mirrored the rest of our game," Yeo said of the power play. "Too cute, too soft in our game, too soft with the puck and too easily separated from it. Obviously it's tough to score if you don't have the puck. I didn't feel like most of those power plays that we had, that we had good zone possession, that we had good zone time and obviously not a lot of looks if that's the case.

"You can't get to feeling too good about the game you had the night before. Those are the lessons. It's disppointing, but we weren't ready to put anybody on our team after last night and we're not ready to cut anybody just because of this performance. We're looking at the camp as a whole. We're still looking for progress from guys and that's our focus."

So from a standpoint in which the Blues were perhaps looking at some young players looking to crack the lineup, nobody really stood out and might make Monday's cuts easier for coaches and management to make.

"We also don't want to play guys that didn't have a chance at making our team," Yeo said. "We want to give them the opportunity. It's a tough challenge with the back-to-back. They're going to face it, too. All teams are going to face it. That's life in the NHL and you have to show that you can play well when everything's going well. We also have to show that they can perform when the conditions aren't exactly perfect."
(St. Louis Blues photo)
The Blues' MacKenzie MacEachern (62) gives chase to the Stars' Roope
Hintz during Dallas' 4-0 preseason victory in St. Louis on Saturday.

Dan Hamhuis and Jason Spezza scored first-period goals, and Remi Elie and Mattias Janmark scored in the third for the Stars (2-2-0), who got 21 saves from Kari Lehtonen. Jake Allen made 34 saves for the Blues.

"They had a pretty good lineup, especially offense," Barbashev said of the Stars. "I think we weren't really ready in the first period. We just finally got to our game maybe in the second period. I don't know, it was just a tough game for us.

"We had too many turnovers on the blue line, especially on the fourth goal. That's a bad one. It just has to be at the net or something. This just can't happen here."

"They had a lot of zip out there," Bortuzzo said of the Stars. "They played a high-energy NHL team game tonight. Collectively as a group, they had more jump as a group than we did. That's going to make you pay at the end of the day."

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