Friday, November 24, 2017

Predators blank Blues 2-0

Nashville wins initial showdown of Central 
Division giants; Hutton strong in goal despite loss

ST. LOUIS -- The game set up as a showdown for the Blues, one in which the Blues and Nashville Predators were using as a measuring stick.

But in a rematch of their Western Conference Second Round series from a season ago, one in which the Predators won in six games.

And much like their game on Nov. 1 against the Philadelphia Flyers, the Blues couldn't solve the guy between the pipes at the other end, and the Predators got the best of it Friday night in a 2-0 victory before 19,033 at Scottrade Center.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues goalie Carter Hutton (left) makes one of his 26 saves on Friday in a
2-0 loss to the Nashville Predators.

Pekka Rinne made 34 saves, and Ryan Johansen's goal early in the first period was enough to thwart the Blues (16-6-1), who were listless in the opening 20 minutes before making a push over the final two periods, only to have the Predators (14-6-2), winners of four in a row and nine of 10, go into a bit of a prevent-defense style in front of Rinne to iron out a gritty road win to pull within three points of the Blues (33-30).

The Blues, who were outshot 12-6 in the first period, had no zip, no moxie, they were fumbling over pucks, fumbling over their skates, falling to the ice, mismanaging pucks on what looked like a poor ice surface before giving off some pushback in the second and third periods.

And even when they were able to get some sustained zone time, they mismanaged pucks in the offensive zone, didn't get much space between the dots and made life fairly easy for Rinne, who surpassed Miikka Kiprusoff for most shutouts in the NHL by Finnish-born goalies (45).

"I think execution was a problem all night," said Blues coach Mike Yeo, whose club turn right back around to face the Minnesota Wild here Saturday night. "We had open guys and whether we didn't see 'em or didn't hit 'em, I think that that was evident. And it showed up not just in the passing. You see some opportunities where we're missing the net.

"You see some times when we have an opportunity to get in on the forecheck and we're dumping it to the goalie. Those are the little things, the execution plays that I felt we weren't sharp enough with to try to create some offense against a team like that."

The Blues' red-hot line of Jaden Schwartz, Brayden Schenn and Vladimir Tarasenko, who accounted for 54 points the past 13 games, were held in check, but so were the rest of their teammates.

"I don't think we got to the net tonight, there was a lot of perimeter stuff," said Blues goalie Carter Hutton, who made 26 saves on 27 shots and lowered his goals-against average to 1.59 and has a save percentage of .946 on the season after his record fell to 4-1-0. 

"[Rinne's] a pretty elite goalie and I think he kills a lot of plays with his stick and his glove. He's pretty good at puck control. We rim pucks and he gets pucks and they're out of the zone. It wasn't that gritty effort we need against a team like that. We put up a bunch of goals last game, maybe we think it's going to be easier. I don't know. We stepped our game up after the first period, and I thought we had chances but it's the heart of the Central Division is a lot tougher."

The Blues fell behind 1-0 just 2 minutes, 32 seconds into the game when Ryan Johansen's snipe from the right circle beat Hutton high, stick side after the Predators were able to get their top line out against the Oskar Sundqvist line with Magnus Paajarvi and Dmitrij Jaskin. 

It was Jaskin who's icing of the puck led to the defensive zone draw and the match that the Predators wanted.

"I saw it, but it's pretty much a perfect shot," Hutton said. "Obviously you want to save everyone. It's a little pop play that we know they like to do. We're worried about that F3 there and we lose coverage and he takes a slapshot, I don't even know if it made it to the back of the net, just bar down. Guys score good goals, it's a good league."

From there, it was looking to pounce on Blues mistakes and try to create odd-man rushes. And the Blues' ineptitude on the power play again (they were 0-for-3 with two shots) reared its ugly head.

“We didn’t get in the zone," Blues captain Alex Pietrangelo said. "We didn’t have any pressure.

"They stand up and we have to get in behind them and we didn’t. We just kind of played into their hands."

Playing into the Predators' hands was pretty much the theme of the night. 

"We knew it was going to be a good game," Pietrangelo said. "Both teams are playing well. They’re trying to catch us obviously. It was a good test for us and tomorrow (against Minnesota) will be the same.

"We had some chances, you’ve just got to find a way to score. When you don’t score you can’t win. 'Hutts' played well and its frustrating we don’t’ get any especially when we had the power play opportunities.

"... It’s tough to make plays and the ice didn’t help. I think we could have simplified especially when the ice got as bad as it was. I think we just kind of played into their hands, but when we got it in I thought we had some good chances."

The Blues' offense was so anemic, they were utilizing their fourth line with Kyle Brodziak, Chris Thorburn and Scottie Upshall, who had good shifts throughout the game.

"I liked their game," Yeo said. "They did what we needed them to do. I thought they brought momentum for us, I thought they got to the offensive zone, generated some zone time. You've gotta win battles and you've gotta find a way to separate guys from pucks, and I thought they did that tonight."

"We had some looks, but I don’t know," Thorburn said. "It seemed like we were going quite a bit. It was great, getting into the flow of the game. We had a couple of looks. I wish a couple could have went (in), or at least one of them, but unfortunately the didn’t."
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues left wing Scottie Upshall (9) gives chase to Predators defenseman
Roman Josi during action Friday at Scottrade Center.

The Blues tried to make their push in the third, but like the Flyers game, allowed an empty-net goal to Austin Watson with 47.5 seconds remaining.

"We'll have a quick conversation in the morning," Yeo said. "Whether we look at a little video or not, it's on us. We know that. But the most important thing for me is that we bounce back.

"I think that second and third period, we were probably the better team. We got off to a slow start and we gave up one goal besides the empty-netter. Gave ourselves a chance to win, but we weren't sharp enough. Obviously, you don't score a goal. We gotta be better than that."

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