Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Anemic offense bites Blues again in 2-1 loss to Predators

Pivotal divisional game goes to Nashville; St. Louis can't 
score two or more goals with goaltender for eighth straight game

ST. LOUIS -- It seems to be a recurring theme: do enough defensively to minimize the opposition, goaltending does all it can to give the Blues a chance to win hockey games.

But Wednesday's 2-1 loss to the Nashville Predators in another pivotal Central Division game is a stark reminder of why the Blues suddenly can't win games.

Take away the excuse of playing so many games in such few days. The Blues just came off a three-day break to recharge the batteries and reset the schedule.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues left wing Vladimir Sobotka (71) tries to maneuver the puck past 
Predators defenseman Yannick Weber on Wednesday. 

This team can't score goals, and it marked the sixth time in which the Blues allowed two or fewer goals and lost. Counting a 3-0 loss to Tampa Bay in which the Blues gave up an empty-net goal, you could technically say seven. 

"I'm frustrated, and not because I don't think that we can't score goals. I just think that we're better than that."

Well, since Jaden Schwartz went down, the Blues haven't been "better than that," or at least not good enough.

In falling to the Predators (22-9-5) for the second time this season on home ice (2-0 on Nov. 24), the Blues (23-14-2) fell out of first place in the Central Division by one (Nashville has three games in hand).

And another recurring theme: Blues players talking about not making life difficult enough on the opposing goalie.

Wednesday, it was Pekka Rinne, who made 29 saves after allowing nine goals his previous two starts.

Vladimir Sobotka finally scored for the Blues, their first goal against Nashville this season and first in 171:33 dating to Game 6 of the second round of the playoffs last season.

"I thought it was a fairly even game," Blues center Kyle Brodziak said. "We expected it to be an even game. That's just the way things go against this team. It seems like game are close. Again, we're having trouble scoring. We limit them, we give up two goals, pretty tight game. We gotta try and find a way to get more than one and that was the difference."

And why is that net-front presence so anemic?

"I don't know," Brodziak said. "That's something we're trying to figure out as a group here _ what we're doing, what we're not doing well. I think when you're having trouble scoring, maybe you're trying to make an extra play or make it more complicated than it needs to be.

"We just gotta find away. We're talking about it. We're trying. It's just a feeling we've gotta get as a group of getting to the net, knowing the puck's gonna get there and hopefully we'll start turning this around."

But now it's more than that. The Blues say the right things but rarely seem to implement the plan.

The Blues have gone eight straight games (all without Schwartz) with two goals or fewer against a goalie. And if you include the Buffalo game on Dec. 10, the day after Schwartz was hurt, the Blues needed overtime in that 3-2 victory.

"Well, he's a great player, but I really don't think we should be saying that because we don't have 'Schwartzy,' we can't win hockey games now," Yeo said. "We're still a really good hockey team and we're not performing offensively at the level that we can. There was a lot of good things defensively, the PK was good (5-for-5), there's a lot of things that gave us a chance to win the hockey game tonight, but it's hard to win when you score one goal."

Craig Smith and Calle Jarnkrok scored for the Predators, and both goals came as a result of turnovers, which makes it tough on an offensively-challenged hockey team.

"Ups and downs. I think we gave them everything they got," said Blues goalie Jake Allen, who made 24 saves. "A lot of turnovers on our part. You can't call it rust, three days off, but every team has to go through it, so there's really no excuse there. It was right there for the taking.

"... Their top three lines are as good as any in the West. That's why they're a good team right now. I thought if we limited those, we had some chances. It was good to see a greasier one go in there in the late third."

The Blues had the better of the territorial edge in the first 10 minutes of the game, but then had to get on the penalty kill and gain some of their edge back.

But Smith gave the Predators a 1-0 lead at 10:37 of the first period on a deflection of a Roman Josi wrist shot. It came as a result of Brayden Schenn's offensive zone turnover that led to a rush the other way.

Jarnkrok made it 2-0 at 16:49 of the second period, scoring his 10th goal of the season on a one-timer from the left circle after a Filip Forsberg pass. That one came after Sobotka's pass was intercepted inside the blue line that led to the puck going back the other way.

"Listen, obviously you come into a game like this you hope you're going to get a shutout," Yeo said. "A couple mistakes happen and when you're not scoring goals, those mistakes are magnified. I do feel there are times we have the puck on our stick and there are plays to be made and we don't execute on those plays or it could be a decision or whatever the case is. We have to be better and there's no excuses. It starts with me. We have to make sure we collect these guys, make sure we have the right mindset heading into every game and it's not just going to be something where we flip the switch here. We have to build back the mentality that we are a hard attacking offensive team with the mindset of doing things a certain way. We were scoring goals at a pretty good number earlier in the year. When things went dry we got away from things and we have to get it back."

Sobotka scored at 13:37 of the third period to make it 2-1, deflecting a Kyle Brodziak shot past Rinne as a result of the traffic this team so desires, but the Blues had multiple opportunities off the rush, particularly in the second period, where they either lost pucks or did not go at the Predators with speed with the advantage.

"There are some things that you're supposed to have an answer for," Yeo said. "We come out with the intention, you see the mindset that we start, and for whatever reason we don't want to follow through with it. I think the way we scored the goal is an example of the way we that we need to do things more frequently through the course of the game. 

"I thought the game was there for us, but we didn't capitalize on opportunities and not just opportunities that you see the final scoring chance. We had rush opportunities in the second period that we turned pucks over. I don't feel we're fast enough off the rush, I don't think we're making enough plays, I don't think we're doing enough little things on offense to create those situations."

Joel Edmundson missed an open net in the second period that could have tied the game, and Rinne made the save of the game when he went from his left to right and kicked out Schenn's doorstep attempt after Patrik Berglund's between-the-legs, no-look pass.

"Yeah, for sure, but you can't let (frustration) sink in, you've got to stay positive," Edmundson said. "It's definitely wearing guys down and everyone wants to chip in, but it's a tough game. You've just got to get bodies to the net. We've got to get greasy goals, we're not going to get fancy ones.

"Yeah, it was spinning pretty good, but I still should've buried that. It's a tough one to swallow. Yeah it was spinning, those ones are tough, but not much else I could've had done."

Allen did his part. He sprawled and kept Ryan Johansen's fluttering attempt 3:14 into the game from going in.

"Yeah, I think me and 'Hutts' [Carter Hutton] are playing great. We're playing well," Allen said. "That's our objective. We know we can't score goals, but we're not trying to get that into our heads. It's not that the boys aren't trying. It's frustrating for them; I know it is, but it's just one of those times of year where pucks aren't going in. I think every team goes through it, but we've got to snap out of it sooner or later. It's going to catch up to us."

This marks two games in which the Blues have allowed three goals (four including empty net goal) in two home games against Nashville, two winnable games, and to come away with nothing. Only one place to point the finger, and it's not who's in goal and it's not who's defending the net.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues right wing Tage Thompson (32) chases down Nashville forward
Kevin Fiala during Wednesday's game at Scottrade Center.

"We expected it to be this type of game where it's close and the little things are gonna make a difference," Brodziak said. "I thought Rinne made some good saves but in the same breath, we're not making it hard enough on him by getting more activity around the net, making it more difficult on him.

"It's where we're at as a group. We're having trouble scoring against every team right now. It's just one of the things that's part of the process that we're gonna have to work on and build back into our game. It's not gonna happen overnight. It's gonna be something that we slowly have to chip away at and things will start to grow from there."

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