Saturday, January 20, 2018

Blues first-period no-shows in 5-2 loss to Coyotes

Arizona jumps out to 4-0 lead during uninspiring effort by home side

ST. LOUIS -- When the locker room doors opened for the media to embark in interviews, every Blues player was seated at his locker stall.

It's not often that it happens, but usually when it does, it's not for good reason.

Following an embarrassing 5-2 loss to the Western Conference cellar-dweller Arizona Coyotes, the Blues (28-18-3) found themselves answering questions about urgency issues and the need to play with conviction, especially on home ice.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues goalie Carter Hutton (left) fetches a puck out of the net in the first
period of a 5-2 loss to Arizona on Saturday. 

But after falling behind 4-0 against a team that had lost five in a row despite gaining at least a point in four of them (0-4-1), having been thoroughly dismantled in every fact that resulted in Blues coach Mike Yeo waving the white flag for goalie Carter Hutton, who was yanked for the first time after allowing three goals on 12 shots (none of them his fault), it was a stark reminder that this team can't just show up half-heartedly no matter the opponent.

"This is embarrassing," Blues right wing Vladimir Tarasenko. "We can't play like this, especially on the homestand and especially for our goalies, who actually do a lot of good stuff for us this year like always. We need to figure out ... we can't give up like 4-0 lead."

Especially not to one of the worst teams in hockey.

"Just not ready to play for whatever reason," Blues captain Alex Pietrangelo said. "I was no good. We were no good.

"Tough to come back from 4-0, then 5-0. Yeah, second half of the game we had the pressure on but we're (down) by four goals at that point. So it's just not acceptable, especially on home ice."

The Blues were blitzed from the opening faceoff and had zero response, befuddling the 19,235 watching and waiting for something -- anything -- to change.

Zac Rinaldo gave Arizona a 1-0 lead 1:53 into the first off a rebound to the left of Hutton, who initially punched out Christian Fischer's effort after the Blues lost a puck battle in their zone. Christian Dvorak scored the first of his two goals in the period at 4:02 off a deflection of Jason Demers' point shot and scored again at 7:06 to make it 3-0 after three Blues (Robert Bortuzzo, Colton Parayko and Patrik Berglund) got caught below the goal line leaving Dvorak alone in front long enough to pitch a tent.

Blues coach Mike Yeo made the change to Jake Allen at that point, perhaps trying to get Allen going, but after leaving the game, Hutton disgustingly slammed his paddle to the ground heading up the tunnel.

"I had to make the move, but I don't know if that was necessarily an opportunity to succeed either the way we were playing," Yeo said. "At that point, just trying to switch the momentum."

But Brendan Perlini scored a short side goal at 13:58 to make it 4-0. 

By period's end, the Coyotes outshot the Blues 23-7 and the home side was booed off the ice.

"I don't. There's no explanation for it," Yeo said on the first period. "To be perfectly honest, there's no explanation for it. 

"... It's pretty simple. You look at our division and you look at what's going on around the league and you'd think that you would come to the rink and number one, you can control your attitude and you can control your work ethic. You think the desperation would be there. This is a group that's won a lot and winning doesn't come easy. I can't imagine that we've forgotten the investment that's required. I can't imagine that we've forgotten that. I'm not sure. Pretty harsh from my view tonight."

The Blues spent the majority of the period in their own zone, spent much of the time watching the younger, more vibrant Coyotes skaters beating them to pucks, forechecking them into oblivion and forcing turnovers. 

The Blues looked like a cast of misfits that didn't know what hit them.

"It's just a lack of urgency at the beginning of the game," said Blues forward Alexander Steen, who tied Red Berenson for eighth on the Blues' franchise list for goals scored (172). "They plain and simple outworked us.

"It's that simple. They outworked us. They had more urgency in their game from the get-go and we got behind by four and in this league, that's too tough a hill to climb back. I think our response was late, we should have had an earlier response. Disappointing."

Beyond disappointing.

"Obviously the start was very, very disappointing," Yeo said. "Then the response to the start was even more disappointing, to be honest with you. 

"At some point, you've got to get pissed off and it didn't feel there was a lot of that. It didn't feel the emotional investment was there from the drop of the puck. We were just a little bit too OK with what was going on."

Fischer's power-play goal at 4:33 of the second pushed the Arizona lead to 5-0 and at that point, the crowd was in mock cheer mode and getting their most eventful scenes coming from the stoppages in play.

The only bright spot was the Blues did score twice on the power play (Steen and Brayden Schenn) for only the fifth time in a game this season; they were 2-for-35 the past 14 games and near the bottom of the league.

But it doesn't even come close to glossing over an uninspiring night to begin a four-game homestand, and the Blues, who started the season with five straight wins in this building, they've won just seven of 15 at Scottrade Center.

Coupled with their last game here (a 7-4 loss to Florida), the Blues have been outscored 12-6.

"This is usually a tough place to play," Pietrangelo said. "Or has been in the past. And this year for whatever reason it just isn't. So come playoff time this has got to be a place where teams come in and they're scared to play.

"We've got two and a half, three weeks here at home. We've got to make sure we take advantage of it because every other team is."

It's championship Sunday in the NFL, safe to say for the Blues, they will get to work on things to help correct what went wrong Saturday. It may not be fixed in one day, but it may be one of those days players don't necessarily like but know they need.

"I don't know. It's hard to say right now right after a game because emotions now," Tarasenko said. "Like I said, it's really embarrassing for us and embarrassing for fans seeing a game like this at home. We have a day tomorrow to figure out what's going on."
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues forward Vladimir Sobotka (left) battles Arizona defenseman Niklas
Hjalmarsson for a loose puck Saturday at Scottrade Center.

That means the leaders and veterans need to grab this team right away.

"If we don't, then we're not going to make the playoffs," Yeo said. "That's the bottom line. If we think we can play two good games and then just not show up for one, that's not the way things are going to work from here to the rest of the year. I don't know if we think that we're good enough that we can get out with half effort or working hard two out of every three games. That's not the way it's going to work. We have a lot of guys inside our locker room that know that."

* NOTES -- Berglund played in his 662nd game Saturday, tying Garry Unger for sixth overall in games played in Blues history. ... Schenn lost a head-to-head battle with older brother and Coyotes defenseman Luke Schenn for the first time in seven matchups. ... The loss snapped the Blues' 12-game winning streak against the Coyotes and 16-game point streak (15-0-1). Arizona's last win against the Blues was a 3-2 overtime win here on Nov. 12, 2013, and its last regulation win against the Blues was April 6, 2012, a 4-1 win.

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