Friday, December 1, 2017

Another clunker for Blues to end homestand, 4-1 to Kings

Slow start puts home team behind eight 
ball again; Hutton pulled after two periods

ST. LOUIS -- There have been losses this season, and the Blues have done a nice job at rectifying things that didn't go right the previous game or two and getting back on the saddle.

This is two games in a row now, and the Blues were hopeful of fixing what was not right after losing Wednesday to the Anaheim Ducks, but some of the same issues were obviously visible Friday against the Los Angeles Kings.

For the second game in a row, the Blues were playing catch-up hockey early, staking the Kings to a two-goal lead early, and the Blues never seemed to get going in a 4-1 loss to the Kings before 18,322 at Scottrade Center on Hockey Fights Cancer night.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues goalie Carter Hutton and defenseman Colton Parayko (55) defend the
net against the Kings' Drew Doughty on Friday at Scottrade Center.

On Wednesday, the Blues trailed the battered Ducks just 4 minutes, 17 seconds into the game and were caught playing catch-up hockey. They trailed 3-0 before finally gaining a pulse that was too late.

On Friday, the Blues, who said all the right things leading up to the game Friday about getting off to a better start, were down 1-0 just 1:43 into the game on a Tyler Toffoli goal and 2-0 at 6:12.

And in the end, the Blues (17-8-1) fell out of first place in the Central Division for the first time all season by one point (36-35) after the Winnipeg Jets defeated the Vegas Golden Knights 7-4 on home ice. 

The Blues have looked out of sorts lately, and the five-man unison that was working so well early in the season looks very out of whack and discombobulated.

"Yeah, I would say that. That's fair to say," Blues coach Mike Yeo said. "This is I would say the first time this year, we've lost a couple games in a row and we've lost some games before, but this the first time I would say where we weren't right. We weren't right to start the game and certainly we didn't find it along the way."

Right now, there are no answers, but the Blues, who ended a five-game homestand 2-3-0 and headed to Minnesota to play the Wild Saturday at 5 p.m., better find it out quick.

"I don't know. That's what we gotta find out," Blues center Paul Stastny said. "I think that's what it is. I think right now, we're not ... whether it's line after line or just one of the five guys on the ice or disconnected, at times we don't expect the puck when it comes. Or at times we don't support the other guy. One guy's thinking one play, another guy's thinking another play.

"When we play teams like this that are patient, that stand up, we gotta play as a unit of five. Try and chase that puck, and know it's going to be mentally a tougher game and physically. But you gotta stick with the program no matter if you're down 1-0 or 2-0 and it kind of got away from us a little bit."

Patrik Berglund scored for the Blues and Carter Hutton made 18 saves on 21 shots for the Blues through two periods before being replaced by Jake Allen.

"Obviously down 2-0 right away there quickly, it's obviously a tough start when you get in a hole like that," Hutton said. 'I thought their goalie played pretty well. It's kind of the game, so obviously the third one's a bad one and that ended my night.

"... Mike can answer that (on getting pulled). I just do as I'm told. I just try to contribute. I wasn't good enough tonight."

The Blues looked soft to play against, they gave the Kings too much real estate early and didn't grind down on them in the offensive zone against a team that played the night before in Washington.

And despite being outshot 20-11 in the first period, the Kings took a 2-0 lead.

Toffoli scored at 1:43 to make it 1-0, skating past defenseman Jay Bouwmeester and cutting in on Hutton before tucking a shot between the goalie's pads. Bouwmeester had pinched at the red line trying to poke a puck forward, got beat and then was out of position leaving Vince Dunn to fend the play on his own.

Kopitar made it 2-0 at 6:12 with a rebound goal in front of defenseman Alex Pietrangelo after Hutton gave up a rebound of Alex Iafallo's shot from the right circle.

"They came out hot and the rest of the game, we really didn't respond the way we wanted to," Blues defenseman Joel Edmundson said. "We didn't really play a team game tonight and we just weren't connecting. We have to have a short memory. We have 24 hours and we've got Minnesota tomorrow, so we'll be ready for that.

"... They got those two quick goals and it kind of silenced the crowd and the game ... the first period, we still had 20 shots. We were happy with that, but we still have to find a better way to respond. We weren't getting pucks deep, we were turning pucks over and all around, it wasn't our team game."

Berglund scored a power-play goal at 15:17 of the second period to make it 2-1 on a high-slot redirection and the Blues seemed to gain a bit of momentum with another power play late, but Alexander Steen was called for a phantom interference, the Kings used it to their advantage and scored the rally-killing goal when Adrian Kempe scored at 4-on-4 using Joel Edmundson as a screen at 18:56 and shooting between his legs out of Hutton's vision.

"No, I got caught looking around 'Eddy,'" Hutton said if he saw it. "It's still a bad goal; that's on me for sure. It's Kempe, I think, and he's coming wide. I kind of get caught leaning to my left looking around 'Eddy's legs and right as I look, he kind of puts it through his legs. Tricky shot, but at the same time, those can't go in."

"Me and 'Hutty' talked about it," Edmundson said. "Right through my legs, so it's tough for him to see, but we turned the puck over right before that and they're coming full speed. It could have been blocked, could have been saved. Just the way the game went tonight. 'Hutty' was great in net tonight, but we put Jake in net just to kind of shake things up. We've just got to be better tomorrow."

Yeo, who likely will start Allen in Minnesota, made the surprise switch Friday, but it was based on both Hutton's play and the team game in front of him.

"I think he was part of the group tonight," Yeo said. "I think just as a group, we weren't good enough tonight."

Toffoli's second came after Dunn lost the puck in his zone, Tanner Pearson centered, and Toffoli redirected a shot past Allen at 10:54 of the third period to make it 4-1.

"When you're losing all of a sudden, if you do think a little bit all of a sudden then it kind of slows down your winger, or slows down your center or your D-man, and all of a sudden guys are on different pages," Stastny said. "... You could be working hard, but if you're not working on the same page with the other guys, and their five guys are, then all of sudden you look slow or you look nervous, you look tentative out there. Not sure what to do what to do with certain plays. That's what it seems right now.

"I think the good news is we got another game tomorrow so we can kind of treat those things and get back on the road and focus on what we gotta do. Kind of stay with our game plan."

The Blues made two switches in the game, putting Carl Gunnarsson in on D for Robert Bortuzzo and Oskar Sundqvist for Sammy Blais, while putting Bouwmeester with Dunn and playing two lefties who were on the ice for the first goal.

Yeo moved Dmitrij Jaskin up to a line with Stastny and Steen, and dropped Vladimir Sobotka down to play with Berglund and Sundqvist.

The mixing and matching looks like it's throwing things out of whack, but players aren't using that as an excuse.

"No, whether it's the teams we're playing against, whether it's their system ... 
it has nothing to do with that," Stastny said. "When we're playing, it doesn't matter who you're out there with."
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues right wing Vladimir Tarasenko (91) gets denied by Kings goalie Darcy
Kuemper in a 4-1 loss to Los Angeles on Friday at Scottrade Center.

"I don't think we're disconnected," Edmundson said. "It's all around just mental mistakes, out of position. We've got 24 hours to fix it. We've got to have a short memory. Game's in the past and move on."

"I guess there's the potential of guys maybe a little bit focused on their role and how that's going to affect them," Yeo said. "Maybe it's the thought that maybe now we're just a better team than we were because we just inserted a couple guys. I've said it before, if the guys that are in the lineup, we've got two guys who it's going to take them some time to find their game. If we add those two players in the lineup and everybody else's game drops by five percent, then you're not a better team and that's kind of what it looks like right now.

"Obviously we'd like to find some consistency and we believe in that. I think we've shown that this year, but when you've got the feel and you're giving up things the way we have been, I don't think that it's a bad thing to change. We've got to find something and it wasn't happening just by leaving things alone tonight."

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